Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures


Raquel Chang-Rodríguez

Committee Members

Carlos Riobó

Juan Carlos Mercado

Subject Categories

Botany | Latin American Literature | Spanish Literature | Zoology


Orinoco, Historia natural, Horror animal, Horror vegetal, Terror-arte, Ilustración, Gumilla, Humboldt, Fernández de Oviedo


“Terror in the Orinoco: Forms of Animal and Plant Horror in the Natural History of José Gumilla”, analyzes the repertoire of terrifying plants and animals that the Spanish Jesuit missionary José Gumilla described in his 1745 compendium El Orinoco Ilustrado y Defendido —a work that, surprisingly, has not been read from the perspective of animal and plant studies. Based on Spanish old models of the natural history of the Indies (Fernández de Oviedo, Acosta), Gumilla reconstructs an archive of monstrous beings (alligators, piranhas, snakes, poisonous plants) that challenges old medieval religious discourses when confronted with the nascent illustrated discourses. My analysis shows that, by doing that, Gumilla’s translation of the natural world into a literary horror archive should be read as an early instantiation of what Noël Carroll calls “art-horror.” The Jesuit priest verbalizes, then, American Natural World by taking the side of the dark forces of the imagination: only there, it could be said, does his verb seem to find shelter. And that shelter, a few decades later, will be reviled and despised by Humboldt, who frontally attacks Gumilla's work and every speculative fiber that inclines Natural History to the realms of the unreal. Humboldt wants to bring back the nature of the Orinoco to the limpid lights of zoology, and botany, dissolving and denying all possibility of horror.

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