The Dragon

by sarahkburke

El Dragon

Primera y segunda y tercera partes de la historia medicinal…

Nicolas Monardes

1574

Record in HOLLIS: http://hollis.harvard.edu/?itemid=|library/m/aleph|001240009

In his botanical study of the New World, Nicolas Monardes—a Spanish physician based in Seville—documents some of the extraordinary specimens being brought to Europe by explorers and travelers.  In this woodcut, an open seedpod reveals a small dragon.

Before exploration of the New World, there was already a European market for “dragon’s blood” derived from Asian plants such as Pterocarpus draco.  Perhaps Monardes’ “El Dragon” is an imaginative depiction of a New World plant that produced a red juice or resin.  Or is this dragon hinting at something more?

Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, in Puritan Conquistadors: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550-1700 (2006), explains the long-held belief that dragons inhabited the New World.  Johann Faber (1574-1629), a member of the Accademia dei Lincei, wrote about New World dragons, and explorers reported sightings in Africa and America.  Juan Bustamante de la Cámara wrote (in De reptilibus vere animantibus sacrae scripturae, 1595) of a New World plant that grew from the bodies of dead dragons and bore dragons as its fruit.  Was he inspired by this 1574 image, or do both Cámara and Monardes document the same belief in dragons?

Monardes describes the plant as follows: “We opened a leaf where the seed was, and the leaf being opened, there appeared a Dragon made with so much Art, that it seemed as though it had been alive, having a neck long, the mouth opened, the bristles standing up like thorns, the tail long, and standing upon his feet, that surely there is no man that shall see him that will not marvel to behold the figure, made with so much Art, that it seemed to be framed of Ivory, and that no craftsman were so perfect that could make it better.” [Quotation from the 1596 translation, Ioyfull newes out of the new-found worlde, also at Dumbarton Oaks: http://hollis.harvard.edu/?itemid=|library/m/aleph|001251507.]