The Early Modern age may be described as the Age of the New. Renaissance peoples’ fascination with novelty had innumerable objects, none more alluring than the wonders of nature. Whether in the form of exotic plants and animals from the New World or the long-hidden “secrets of nature,” novelty was a singular feature of Renaissance science. This chapter describes the spaces, institutions, and personalities that shaped Spanish science in the Age of the New, showing that Spanish science differed from science in the rest of Europe in that scientific activity in Spain was driven by the needs of the Spanish empire. The most creative and original science in Early Modern Spain took place not in universities but in the institutions that the monarchy established to keep its vast empire running: the Casa de la Contratación, the Imperial College of Madrid, and the Council of the Indies. Spanish missionaries, the Jesuits in particular, also contributed to science, producing volumes of observations about New World nature and indigenous cultures. The science of comparative ethnology emerged from the Spanish imperial context.
The outbreak of syphilis in Europe elicited a variety of responses concerning the disease's origins and cure. In this essay, I examine the theory of the origins of syphilis advanced by the 16th-century Italian surgeon Leonardo Fioravanti. According to Fioravanti, syphilis was not new but had always existed, although it was unknown to the ancients. The syphilis epidemic, he argued, was caused by cannibalism among the French and Italian armies during the siege of Naples in 1494. Fioravanti's strange and novel theory is connected with his view of disease as corruption of the body caused by eating improper foods. His theory of bodily pollution, a metaphor for the corruption of society, coincided with Counter-Reformation concepts about sin and the social order.