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  • Writer's pictureCláudio Giordano

Theater of agriculture and management of the fields

Olivier de Serres (1539-1619) French, born in a wealthy family, received a good education, but completed his training autodidactically and traveling through France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland to observe the uses and customs of different regions and cultures.

Of a humanistic nature, he has accumulated formidable scholarship; pragmatic and realistic, he applied his knowledge in the exploration and management of the land. He became the main creator of French agronomic science, when he published in 1600 his portentous work Le Théâtre d’Agriculture et Mésnage des Champs, an impressive half-folio of more than a thousand pages, which between 1600 and 1821 had 21 editions, being published in 1991 impeccable facsimile of the 3rd edition (1603). More than an agricultural treaty, it is an “apostolic” work in favor of agriculture, written in clear, easy-to-read French even today.

He says in the dedication to King Henry IV: “I hope that my work, aiming to provide citizens with goods so that they can live with satisfaction - which is your Majesty’s wish - is pleasant and V.M. welcomes it. My work deals only with Earth and soil treatment, things recognized as being of the utmost importance, because nothing bigger can be presented to humans than what leads them to the conservation of life.

“The book is divided into eight parts, in which all agronomic and horticultural practices are exposed, and includes a large number of innovations such as the methodical use of soil improvement, the deep plow, the triennial rotation or the cultivation of newly known plants (potato, cotton etc.). It dedicates substantial sections to the house, the kitchen, practical medicine, irrigation, forestry, medicinal plants, fruit trees, the administration of employees; it also analyzes the duties of the housewife, and the remedies for all kinds of diseases that men and animals suffer” (Antaño Catalog).

Serres opens the chapter on the grapevine and wine, which stretches for over a hundred pages, saying: “After bread comes wine, the second food given by the Creator for the preservation of this life, and the first to be celebrated due to its excellence. It is used not only to support men but also to cure various diseases, causing astonishment the variety of its effects, as it warms the body, when ingested through the mouth, and cools it when applied as plasters. Drunk in small quantities it stimulates and revives those who are dying due to weakness of the heart; in great quantity it dulls and kills the drinker, becoming an instrument of all intemperance to those who shamelessly abuse it; on the other hand, it stimulates the spirit, when taken in the right measure. These things are harmonized according to Anacarse, who says that the vineyard provides three bunches: the first with pleasure, the second with drunkenness, the third with sadness and weeping. Wine has always had enormous prestige, as various testimonies prove: including the dispute between the three young men of King Ciro’s court who coveted wine on an equal footing with the other two greatest things in the world, namely: the king and women”.

And demonstrating that he had read the reports of travelers who have been to Brazil (Jean de Lery certainly), writes to end the long wine chapter: “Several other drinks have been invented according to needs and desires, with some so excellent that they outperform wines. But they are produced only at great expense (not to mention Cleopatra’s pearl) by distillations, infusions of sugars, cinnamon and other rare spices, and available only to the richs or the sicks: they are not, therefore, for the common work; so we will not describe them here, nor did the caium, which is the common drink of the American Tupinambás, who extract it from some roots that nature provides them without much cultivation, and of which nothing is known beyond the names.

In addition to the first edition of the Théâtre d’Agriculture from 1600, from which we extracted the illustrations from this blog, the Biblioteca Vinária Reppucci also has three more in its collection: the third (1605); one of the two printed in Rouen in 1623, considered the tenth edition, and the 21st, from 1805, in two volumes.

Translated by Google Translate.

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