Los problemas de Villalobos: Medical Humanism, Translation and Early Modern Prose Fiction
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AuthorPérez Fernández, José María
TranslationMedical HumanismEarly Modern SciencePicaresqueEarly Modern Prose FictionLópez de Villalobos, Francisco, 1473-1549
The Spanish doctor Francisco López de Villalobos (1473-1549) shared an interest in translation with fellow humanist physicians like Andrés Laguna or François Rabelais. His Spanish rendering of Plautus’s Amphitryon, first published in Alcalá de Henares by Brocar in 1517, was printed again as part of Los problemas de Villalobos: que tracta de cuerpos naturales y morales, y dos dialogos de medicina: y el tratado de las tres grandes y una cancion y la comedia de Amphitrion (Zamora, 1543). As its unwieldy title reveals, this new volume included a large variety of texts. Next to Plautus’s comedy the reader could find moral and political treatises, essays on natural philosophy, dialogues peppered with comic stories, and passages that verged on the picaresque. Villalobos’s abundant comments to his translation of Amphitryon moralized the plot, provided contextual information, and glossed the medical import implicit in some of its passages. This colourful array of texts is interspersed with autobiographical episodes which displayed his disenchantment with life at the Castilian court where he served, and also hinted at the harassment that Villalobos arguably suffered because of his Jewish converso background. Its tragicomic satura of serious and humorous matter, its combination of poetry, dialogue, narrative episodes and essayistic prose turns Los problemas into a fascinating text that defies categorization. This paper aims to explore how this peculiar admixture responded to a growing demand from an increasing readership that sought to be both enlightened and amused, and how it also coincided with a crucial moment in the early modern canon that pointed to the development of prose fiction as an essentially protean and heterogeneous genre.