Girolamo Benzoni (c. 1519; - c. 1572 in Spain) was born at Milan about 1519. He went to America in 1541 and successively visited the Antilles and the Isthmus, Guatemala, and the west coast of South America. He returned to Spain and thence to Italy, in 1556. Of his subsequent life nothing is known. Some hints in his book suggest that his main purpose in the New World was commerce, which he often had to carry on with difficulty as trading by foreigners in the Spanish colonies was not looked upon with favor by the Spaniards.
Benzoni, while not unsuccessful in what he undertook, conceived an inveterate hatred of the Spanish people and Government and in return for the protection given him and for favors which he was compelled reluctantly to acknowledge, wrote and published a book of diatribes and accusations against Spain in America. It contains interesting details about the countries he visited, but abounds in errors and often in intentional misstatements. What Benzoni states about the Antilles is a clumsy rehash of Las Casas. His reports on the conquests of Mexico, and Peru bristle with errors.
The book of Benzoni "Historia del Mondo Nuovo" was published at Venice in 1565. He dedicated it to Pope Pius IV. It was at the time when the controversy concerning the treatment of the Indians was hottest, and a work, written by one who had just returned from the New World after a stay of fifteen years could not fail to attract attention. In writing it, no standard of criticism was applied; this was not in the spirit of the times. The ultra-philanthropists found Benzoni a welcome auxiliary, and foreign nations, all more or less leagued against Spain for the sake of supplanting its mastery of the Indies, eagerly adopted his extreme statements and sweeping accusations. Several editions were published in rapid succession; translations were made into English as well as into several other languages.
Intrinsically, the book has small merit, except in as far as it presents and describes facts witnessed by the author. Even these are not always faithfully reported. It might be called a controversial document because of its violent partiality and hostility. It does not notice mitigating circumstances, and ignores what is good when it does not suit the author. Benzoni writes sometimes like a disappointed trader, and always as a man of limited education and very narrow views. His "Historia del Mondo Nuovo" (Venice, 1565) was reprinted in 1572, and translated into French by Eustace Vignon, 1579. Aside from the annotations which are often trivial and as partial as the book itself, the English translation, "History of the New World by Girolamo Benzoni" (London, 1857), by the Hakluyt Society, is certainly the best.
Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 2 (1913)
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