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American BaroquePearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700$
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Molly A. Warsh

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469638973

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638973.001.0001

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Sex, Death, and the Sea

Sex, Death, and the Sea

Pearls in the Early Modern Imagination

(p.12) 1 Sex, Death, and the Sea
American Baroque

Molly A. Warsh

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter considers the late medieval cultural and legal contexts that shaped ideas about pearls and laws governing their harvesting and use in Iberia and Europe more generally. It focuses on two sources in particular. The first is Pliny the Elder’s Natural History and its emphasis on pearls’ sensual, maritime origin as the product of living organisms (oysters) associated with female sexuality as well as the allure and danger of the sea. The second work at the chapter’s heart is the thirteenth-century Spanish law code known as the Siete Partidas, which would form the basis of the capitulaciones (or sailing orders) that Columbus agreed upon with Spain’s monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel before sailing in 1492. The chapter also considers the words for pearls that were in circulation in Spain in 1492 and contained within Antonio de Nebrija’s Castilian Grammar, published that year. As Nebrija acknowledged explicitly, the Grammar stood as a testament to the growing importance of vernacular language and the centrality of language itself to the extension of power. Vernacular language (including the words for pearls) and practice would be transformed by the encounter with the Americas.

Keywords:   Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Oysters, Siete Partidas, Capitulaciones, Antonio de Nebrija, Sea, Vernacular, Female sexuality, Law

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