Dec 12, 2012

And I Will Love a Shepherd, Though He Be Dumb as F***

The cyclops stopped typing and stared in disbelief at the woman across the desk.
"I'm not sure I understand," said the cyclops.
"Yes, you do," the woman said. "I want to insure my future husband's eye. I haven't met him yet, but I'm pretty sure his name is Polyphemus."

The first printed book on insurance was penned by a Portuguese jurist, Pedro de Santarém, in 1488 and, as was the custom, it bore a ponderous Latin title: Tractatus de Assecurationibus et sponsionibus mercatorum, which is to say, On Insurance and Merchants' Bets.

These bets, by the way, had little to do with gambling. As Pedro de Santarém wrote, "[I have been] encouraged to write an opuscule on assurances and promises between merchants, which in the vernacular are called bets [...]"

Pedro de Santarém also outlined what may be the first modern definition of an insurance policy as a contract taken out in good faith, whose purpose is not to make the insuree rich but solely to avert losses.

The Tractatus was first printed in 1552. Yes, it gathered dust on a shelf for 64 years before a savvy printer took an interest in it. 64 years... Talk about moving at a leisurely pace. We didn't have Smashwords or Scribd back then.

Pedro took his family name from the Southern Portuguese city of Santarém. Although the area had been settled by Celtic tribesmen for a long time, it was the Romans who founded the city in the 2nd century BC. They called it Scalabis. Its present name is a corruption of Saint Irene, after a Visigoth saint. The region around Santarém has been held by Lusitani (the Celts I mentioned above), Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors and finally Portuguese Christians. Santarém was once a part of the Al-Andalus, a province of the Umayyad Caliphate. 

The castle of Almourol, near Santarém.

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