Spain Literature – Humanists

Spain Literature – Humanists


But at the very end of the century (Burgos, 1499) the converted and semi-clandestine Jew Fernando de Rojas (d.1541) gave Spain his first modern masterpiece: the Tragicomedia de Calixto y Melibea, later called La Celestina, from the name of his a newer and more powerful character, an old and unscrupulous mugger who favors the loves of two young people who are unable to marry (perhaps due to religious and social prejudices), leading them to a catastrophic destiny. A sort of long, dialogued and unrepresentable novel, La Celestina from the beginning presented several critical problems, not all solved. But the originality of the work – despite the evident humanistic and Renaissance sources -, its ferocious hopeless amorality, the impressive violence of the passions that are unleashed and of the underlying social criticism, the total icasticity of the characters, noble or plebeians who are, in addition to making it something artistically unique and unrepeatable, they explain the immense and lasting fortune that it had then in the theater and in fiction, and not only in Spain (but also, for example, in the Elizabethan drama). From Celestina to the beginning of the Counter-Reformation (whose first concrete connotation was the Index of forbidden books, 1559, by the inquisitor Juan de Valdés), Spanish culture experienced a European moment of Renaissance fullness and vitality. According to, t

he close contacts with Italy led to a splendid flowering of philosophical and religious thought, classical studies, lyric poetry, fiction and theater, favored by the patronage of Charles V, the European emperor, aristocrats and even ecclesiastical dignitaries, such as Cardinals Manrique – the inquisitor general who even sponsored the edition of Erasmus ‘s Enchiridion, later put on the Index in 1559 -, A. de Fonseca and B. Carranza, the latter victim himself, later, of the Inquisition. Movements of spiritual rebirth flourished,(enlightened), of the Erasmusists and of Franciscan and Dominican asceticism, foundations of what was then the original Spanish mysticism up to Santa Teresa and San Giovanni della Croce. Fertilized by Erasmian stimuli, religious humanism produced figures of the highest moral and intellectual importance, such as the philosopher and pedagogist Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540), the brothers Alfonso (ca. 1490-1532) and Juan de Valdés (d. 1541), the Greek scholars Francisco (d. 1545) and Juan de Vergara (d. 1557), the brilliant and enigmatic Cristóbal de Villalón, the physician-philosophers Andrés Laguna (1499 / 1511-1559), probable author of the Viaje de Turquía, and Francisco López de Villalobos (ca. 1473-1549), the encyclopedic Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas, known as El Brocense (1523-1601), and many others, culminating in the theologian, Judaist and great poet Luis de León (1527-1591), “Christian new ”(ie descendant of Jews), like many of these Catholic reformers. Lyric poetry, renewed in spirits and forms by Italian examples, begins with the great Garcilaso de la Vega (1503-1536), a perfect example of a Renaissance “courtier”, a triumphal ascending path on which the aforementioned Luis de León also moved, Juan Boscán (ca. 1490-1542), the Sevillian Fernando de Herrera (1534-1597), Francisco de Aldana (1528-1578), Gutierre de Cetina (ca. 1520-1557), Cristóbal de Castillejo (1480 / 1490-1550), Baltasar del Alcázar (1530-1606), Jorge de Montemayor (ca. 1520-1561), Francisco de la Torre, Francisco de Figueroa (1536-1617), Hernando de Acuña (1520 -1580), Bartolomé (1562-1631) and his brother Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola (1559-1613), Francisco de Medrano (1570-1607), Andrés Fernández de Andrada(considered author of the stupendous Epístola moral a Fabio, ca. 1626), and several others, up to the Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), whose short songbook, apart from the religious value illustrated by the poet himself in the long and dense comments in prose, touches very high levels of pure lyricism. Nor were the developments of the theater less interesting, in which the examples of the Italian comedians of the Art (even more than the humanistic texts and the translations and imitations of Plautus, Terentius and the Greek tragedians) aroused original continuators such as Lope de Rueda (d. 1565), Juan de Timoneda (d.1583) and Juan de la Cueva (ca.1543-1610), as well as Gil Vicente (ca.1460-maybe 1536) and Bartolomé de Torres Naharro (d. Maybe 1524), who worked outside of Spain.


Without such precedents, the great theatrical revolution begun around 1580 by Cervantes and, even more, by Lope de Vega, would remain inexplicable. In the prose, finally, two strands were born from the same humanistic matrix, destined to diverge: the moral, historical and religious one, and the narrative one. The first was cultivated, with various results, as well as by the aforementioned Erasmusists (who often still wrote in Latin, such as Juan Luis Vives), by cultured writers such as Antonio de Guevara (1480-1545), known in Europe for the elegant Epístolas and two short rhetorical-moral texts, the Relox de príncipes (Princes’ Clock) and the Menosprecio de la corte y alabanza de aldea (Disdain of the court and praise of the village); and also from Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (1503-1575), author of a classic Historia de la guerra de Granada; Pero Mexía (ca. 1499-1551) and Luis de Ávila y Zúñiga (1500-1573), historians of Charles V; numerous historians of American discoveries and conquests, including Hernán Cortés, conqueror of Mexico, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478-1557), Francisco López de Gómara (1511-ca. 1562), Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492-1581), the whose Verdadera historia de los sucesos de la conquest de la Nueva España is an authentic masterpiece, Francisco de Jerez (1504-1539), chronicler of F. Pizarro, and other. But even more numerous is the group of religious, ascetic and mystical writers, which includes personalities of the first order, such as Francisco de Osuna (1497-ca.1540), the poet fray Luis de León (also author of the admirable De los Nombres de Christ), Saint John of Avila (ca.1500-1569), the multiform Luis de Granada (1504-1588), Diego de Estella (1524-1578), John of the Angels (1536-ca.1609), Alonso de Orozco (1500-1591), Pedro Malón de Chaide (ca. 1530-1589) and many others, up to the extraordinary Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), reformer of Carmel and unparalleled writer in autobiography (Libro de su vida), in mystical Moradas (Dimore), in letters and in other works of great historical and literary interest. The narrative vein includes various genres: the chivalrous novel, born from Amadigi and continued by dozens of widely read “commercial” texts up to Cervantes (who far surpassed them with Don Quixote); the pastoral novel, born from Iacopo Sannazaro ‘s Arcadia, culminating in Jorge de Montemayor’s Diana (1558-59) and Gaspar Gil Polo’s Diana enamorada (1564); the Moorish tale, with the Historia del Abencerraje y de la bermosa Jarifa (History of the Abenceragio and the beautiful Jarifa) by Alonso de Villegas and Las guerras de Granada by Ginés Pérez de Hita (ca. 1544-ca. 1616); the Italian short story, transplanted by Juan de Timoneda with El Patrañuelo (1567; The storyteller) and finally the picaresque, begun in 1554 with a short and extraordinary masterpiece by an anonymous author, the Lazarillo de Tormes, which overturned, so to speak, the triumphalism of “imperial” literature to narrate with realistic irony (not separated from human piety) and open polemical intentions, the not at all edifying “biography” of a miserable proletarian. Halfway between Celestina and Don Quixote, Renaissance Spain opened with Lazarillo another new way to European literatures. Last – and less – given, in the very rich and varied picture of the Hispanic Renaissance, is the epic poem. Born together from the unforgettable classical and Italian examples (Virgilio, Ariosto, Tasso) and from the historical reality of Spanish enterprises in Europe and America, the epic ambition tormented many Iberian poets, but the results generally remained far below the intentions, except in one case: that of Araucana, by Alonso de Ercilla (1533-1594), who prolixly sang the conquest of Chile, in which the poet took part. The long reign of Philip II (1556-98), coinciding with the religious Counter-Reformation and the desperate struggle of Spain against too strong enemies (England, France) to defend too vast domains, represented the beginning of a cultural involution destined to soon end in open decay. This did not mean, however, the loss of all creative faculties, in literature and art, but the inquisitorial processes, the Index of Forbidden Books, cultural isolation from the rest of Europe, nationalistic pride encouraged by official rhetoric., inevitably led, in the long run, to a spiritual drying up, pícaros) and the convents of desengañados.

Spain Literature - Humanists