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ArribaAbajo La Galatea: The Novelistic Crucible

Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce

University of California Santa Barbara

In the year 1585 the printing press of Juan Gracián in Alcalá de Henares witnessed the delivery of a manuscript novel by a son of that same university town, although he had been away from it for many years and he was practically unknown in the world of letters. The novel was, of course, La Galatea, whose author always referred to it as an égloga, and the novelist-to-be was Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The new author was not less than 38 years old, which, to us, is not precisely the age of «haviendo salido apenas de los límites de la juventud», as the author will describe himself in the prologue to the «Curiosos lectores». Such a bold statement, however, fits well with the traditional divisions of the ages of man -Dr. Juan Huarte, for example, had recently stated that youth extended from the 25th to the 35th year of a man's life. The youth of the novelist had been brutally stormy, and had thrown him around both extremes of the Mediterranean, and in one of them he had recently spent five years in anguishing imprisonment. All of this helps to explain, in some way, the late formal literary debut. Another possible motive, also of a biographical nature, which might have contributed to such a delay, was the fact the novelist had been married at about the same time as his first-born work was being printed. The licencia of La Galatea was signed by his friend Antonio de Eraso on 22 February 1584; the wedding was celebrated on 12 December 1584.

The fact that Alcalá de Henares was chosen as the place for printing his first work could have been dictated, at the simplest level,   —8→   by the evidence that this was the birthplace of the author. Besides, it was a town of a very illustrious typographical tradition, abetted by the happy circumstance of harbouring its already very famous university, the favourite creation of the formidable Cardinal Cisneros. It was there, precisely, that the world-famous Biblia Políglota Complutense had been printed, to become the pride of the Spanish press, all of this at the behest of Cardinal Cisneros. Ever since then the university town kept in its midst some very illustrious printing houses. The printer of the Galatea, Juan Gracián, was not chosen by Cervantes, as I will explain shortly. Furthermore, Juan Gracián would die soon after: by 1588, the second edition of the Cancionero general de la doctrina cristiana of Juan López de Úbeda was published by the «herederos de Juan Gracián». But Gracián had been a distinguished printer, who in 1580 had brought out the first Spanish translation of Os Lusiadas of Camoens, done by his compatriot Benito Caldera. To be sure, the same four poets who praised Caldera's translation in Gracián's edition (el maestro Garay, Luis Gálvez de Montalvo, el maestro Vergara and Pedro Laínez) were allotted laudatory octaves in Cervantes' Canto de Calíope, and Pedro Laínez even appears as a character in La Galatea, under the poetic pseudonym of Damón. The same place, the same printer, and the same four poets appear in both works. I mention this en passant for I think that it would be worthwhile to reconstruct and study these provincial poetic cliques, because they might solve more than one small literary mystery of the times.

I mentioned that Cervantes had not chosen Juan Gracián as his printer, and I say that based on the following information. On 14 June 1584 Cervantes had sold the original manuscript of «un libro de prosa y verso en que se contienen Los seis libros de Galatea» and the privilegio to Blas de Robles, a librero from Alcalá de Henares. The same document tells us that in exchange for the 1,336 reales that he paid for La Galatea, he would have it printed and he would sell the first novel of his paisano. So it is to Blas de Robles that we owe the first edition of La Galatea, as the man who owned the privilegio and who paid for the printing costs. Such cases occurred quite frequently at that time. An author lacked the financial means to pay for the printing costs of his work, so he set about looking for a librero who would do so, in exchange for the privilegio and some additional sum that the librero would pay the author. Of course, if the author had the wherewithal he would pay for the printing costs. Much later on, Cervantes would dramatize some of this familiar dilemma, when, in Barcelona, Don Quijote visits a printing house and talks to the famous translator of Le   —9→   Bagatele, and asks him: «Pero dígame vuestra merced: este libro, ¿imprímese por su cuenta, o tiene ya vendido el privilegio a algún librero? -Por mi cuenta lo imprimo - respondió el autor-, y pienso ganar mil ducados» (II, 42). The author of La Galatea could never fool himself with such an illusion, because on its title-page we read: «A costa de Blas de Robles mercader de libros».

I would like to stop here for a minute, on the attractive personality of Blas de Robles, because, as will be seen immediately, we cervantistas owe our earnest gratitude to him and his family. They were a veritable lineage of libreros from Alcalá de Henares. The first one to stand out was Bartolomé de Robles, who practised that trade in Alcalá, and who was a contemporary of the licenciado Juan de Cervantes, grandfather of our novelist, and who must have known Rodrigo de Cervantes, father of Miguel. The son of Bartolomé was our Blas de Robles, also a librero alcalaíno, as we already know, and who paid for the first edition of La Galatea. Blas married Mari López, daughter of Francisco López el Viejo, a librero from Madrid, and this explains why Blas established himself in Madrid, although not giving up the family trade in Alcalá de Henares. In Madrid Blas quickly appears with the honorific «librero del rey», and as such he dedicated to Philip II the Methodus medendi of the famous contemporary physician, el divino Valles, which appeared in Madrid, 1588. It was the worthy Blas de Robles who facilitated the entrance of the unknown Cervantes into the republic of Spanish letters. He died in 1592. He was followed in the trade, as honorific «librero del Rey», by his son Francisco de Robles, who lived all his life in Madrid, where he signed his will in February, 1623. Circumstances in the lives of both men made Francisco de Robles keep the same relations with Cervantes that his father had had, and gave them new impetus and effectiveness. It was Francisco de Robles who bought from the author the two parts of Don Quijote and the Novelas ejemplares. What this means is that in three decisive moments of the life of the novelist Cervantes, it was Francisco de Robles who stood up and solved his most immediate economic problems. I want to remind you, and to repeat, that the father of Francisco, Blas de Robles, had done the same for the unknown and inexperienced author of La Galatea. I think all of us cervantistas have contracted a debt of gratitude with this attractive family of libreros from Alcalá de Henares, a family of worthies in Spanish letters.

By June, 1584, as I have said, Cervantes had solved the vexing problem of how to pay for the edition of La Galatea. Other   —10→   prerequisites of the contemporary censorship laws had been met beforehand. But he still had to fulfill a pleasant convention of the time, which could be quite profitable, if one was lucky. I am referring to the ever-present, or almost, dedication of the finished work to someone the author considered the appropriate Maecenas. In the case of Cervantes and his Galatea the search could not have been very long, and the novel appears «dirigida al ilustrísimo señor Ascanio Colonna, Abad de Santa Sofía», as is printed on the title-page, illustrated with the canting arms of the Colonna family. I am sure the search was brief because Luis Gálvez de Montalvo, author of the much admired El pastor de Fílida, was a dear friend of Cervantes, for whose Galatea he wrote a sonnet, and at this time was serving in the household of Ascanio Colonna. In the search for a Maecenas the name of Colonna must have seemed natural. Furthermore, Ascanio Colonna had studied at the university of Alcalá de Henares, where he had taken his licenciatura and maestría in 1578. In the academic years 1579-1580 Colonna was registered at the University of Salamanca among the estudiantes generosos (with Góngora), and at this time the second Spanish translation of Os Lusiadas, done by the maestro Luis Gómez de Tapia and published in Salamanca, 1580, was dedicated to him. It is interesting to observe that for the second time the great epic of Camoens, in Spanish, appears in the background of the still shadowy figure of the novelist-to-be Cervantes. Anyhow, the essence of all of this is that the Galatea appeared dedicated to Ascanio Colonna, and that the dedication was written after the sale of the privilegio to Blas de Robles, in other words, when the novel was already being printed. This is easy to prove: in the dedication Cervantes alludes to the recent death of Ascanio's father, Marco Antonio Colonna, General of the papal galleys at Lepanto, and this had occurred on 1 August 1584, in Medinaceli, not far from Alcalá de Henares.

The printing of La Galatea was dictated by the terms of the contract signed between Blas de Robles, librero, and Juan Gracián, impresor. The contract is not extant, but to judge by the available copies of the editio princeps the terms were good, easy and favourable to Robles and Cervantes. I will quote, at this point, the dean of Cervantine bibliographers, Don Leopoldo Ríus y Llosellas, who describes that edition as: «Letra de gran cuerpo y clara; buena impresión y excelente papel. Esta edición príncipe de La Galatea es bastante correcta y esmerada, superior en ambos conceptos a varias de las posteriores».

While Juan Gracián's workmen were busy setting up the body of the novel, the author to be published went about meeting the   —11→   requirements of a last convention of his time, which consisted in soliciting and printing laudatory poems from friends, acquaintances, relatives. This audience is well aware of how many of these conventional preliminaries were discarded or mocked in the next novel of Cervantes, which happened to be the Quijote of 1605. Therefore, I will not insist upon that. Again, Cervantes did not have to look far for complimentary poems, because he was not as yet «tan falto de amigos», as the venomous Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda would make him out to be much later. Three true friends Cervantes had then at hand, or nearby. These were Luis Gálvez de Montalvo, Don Luis de Vargas Manrique and López Maldonado. I have already mentioned some aspects of the relations between Gálvez de Montalvo and Cervantes. The latter always praised most eloquently El pastor de Fílida, and he once referred to its author as «único pintor de un retrato» (Coloquio de los perros). Montalvo would drown off the coast of Sicily shortly after the publication of La Galatea, as Lope de Vega would remember in la viuda valenciana: «Con hábito de San Juan / murió en la mar». Don Luis de Vargas Manrique was a good friend of Cervantes and of Lope de Vega, who would still remember him in his late Dorotea. Of a jocund nature, his name was dragged, together with Cervantes' own, very few years later, into the scandalous and unedifying Proceso de Lope de Vega por libelos contra unos cómicos (1588). The sonnet of López Maldonado obviously pleased its own author very much, for he would have it reprinted in his own Cancionero, about to come out the year after in Madrid (1586). In this Cancionero Cervantes repaid doubly the debt he had contracted for the sonnet in praise of La Galatea, for among its preliminaries there are a sonnet and some décimas of our novelist. To be sure, in the preliminaries of this Cancionero the name of Don Luis de Vargas Manrique will reappear, as author of a sonnet. In the event, the names of these good friends and poets will each receive its laudatory octava in the Canto de Calíope, towards the end of our novel.

With a brief look at the prólogo I will complete this rapid examination of the introductory material which the inexperienced author Cervantes, literary conventions, and the censorship laws put before the eyes of any possible reader of La Galatea, or any other book of the period. In this case a brief approach is particularly pertinent because we are confronted with the first novel of the first novelist of the world, that is to say, the reading of the prologue should allow us to appreciate the first public attitude, that, knowingly, Cervantes adopted toward his written work. Of course, we are all fully conversant   —12→   with the fact that the designation prologue is deceiving. Because we all know that a prólogo is not what antecedes the discourse, the written text, it is not what is written first, but rather what is written last, after the work has been finished. There one usually gathers as in a sheaf the final conclusions of the work, one points or hints at its moral, social, or aesthetic message, or what have you. Strictly speaking, a prologue is an epilogue.

From this vantage point, we must consider the prologue to the Galatea as the retrospective look the author gives his finished book. From this perspective, the author sees some points which he considers the most appropriate to underscore for his informative aims, so that the reader can confidently enter the world of the novel. And it is at this point that we must realize that the prologue is indeed very cervantino, because of the fact that the author can very well ask «que se le den alabanzas, no por lo que escribe, sino por lo que ha dejado de escribir», as the plaintive Cide Hamete Benengeli once wrote. The truth of the matter is that the prologue to La Galatea tells us very little about the true nature of the work we are about to read. A new reading of the prologue leaves the following balance of intrinsic characteristics of La Galatea that the author wants to emphasize on this occasion: 1. the work was written to be aesthetically pleasing («para más que para mi gusto sólo le compuso mi entendimiento»); 2. there is a mixture in it of philosophy and bucolic («haber mezclado razones de filosofía entre algunas amorosas de pastores»), and 3. its characters are real persons disguised («muchos de los disfrazados pastores della lo eran sólo en el hábito»). One need not be particularly erudite to conclude that these three characteristics constitute some of the fundamental elements of the pastoral genre in Spain, that all three are the most habitual and commonest ingredients of the pastoral novel. In other words, the author pretends to give us the principal characteristics of the Galatea, when what he is really doing is to point up some of the more general and external traits of the pastoral as a whole. This is to say that we are given the indispensable pieces of clothing that Galatea needs to dress herself up as a shepherdess, just like the Diana of Montemayor or the Fílida of Gálvez de Montalvo. But those intrinsic characteristics that will allow her to be Galatea, and not Diana nor Fílida, those are left unmentioned, with the reticence that will become fundamental to the art of allusion-elusion, so central to the Cervantine narrative, and which I have expounded at length elsewhere. When we come to it, what do we know about La Galatea as a novel of differentiated personality within   —13→   the Spanish pastoral genre when we have finished reading the prologue? Nothing. There can be no doubt left: much more important here is what the author has left unwritten, than what he actually wrote. He alludes profusely to the pastoral, and he eludes its characterization hic et nunc.

Allow me now to go back to some of my favourite truisms of today. When he wrote his prologue (which is really an epilogue) Cervantes knew only too well (how could it have been otherwise?) which were the strident novelties, of a truly revolutionary nature, which he had introduced into his pastoral, which could not be a run-of-the-mill pastoral, or else he would not be Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. I lapse into a truism when I say that Cervantes had a very clear and perfect knowledge of how anti-pastoral, at bottom, his pastoral really was. But, on second thought, who was Cervantes in 1585 to start vociferously calling everybody's attention to the revolutionary newness of his novel, which went brutally against the grain of some of the things most jealously treasured by the Spanish pastoral? The inexperienced but prudent author would not come out to the main forum of the republic of letters and start tearing down the building. An identical attitude will dictate the prologue to the Quijote of 1605, but I will not insist upon this today. Let us not forget that in spite of the assurance with which he goes about his pastoral revolution in 1585, twenty years later, by 1605, he is still not disposed to call the public's attention to such novelties, nor is he very satisfied with his solutions: «Propone algo y no concluye nada», he will tell us about his Galatea in the Quijote of 1605. Only in 1613, in the prologue to his Novelas ejemplares, will Cervantes feel himself sufficiently authorized to declare in public something which he knew from way back: «Yo soy el primero que he novelado en lengua castellana». Yes, indeed, sir. But this he could not have said, and did not want to say in 1585, he could have said it, but certainly did not want to say it in 1605, he could say it, he did want to say it, and he said it, in the loudest of tones, in the prologue to his Novelas ejemplares.

Many are the things which differentiate La Galatea from the rest of the Spanish pastorals, which give it an unequivocal novelistic identity. Cervantes took care not to mention them in his prologue, in the certainty that his most absent-minded reader would notice them as soon as he entered the world of his first novel. Its beginning must be fresh in all your memories, so I will briefly point at some very few things. Its opening is rigourously stationary; there is not the slightest movement, only the sound of a song, its sense of sonorous, sad   —14→   melancholy underscored by its initial words: «Mientras que al triste lamentable acento». It is Elicio, who is singing his love sorrows for Galatea. The presence of Erastro breaks this motionless solitude, and he is also in love with Galatea. In the ensuing dialogue we are informed that there is no rivalry between them, just a painful friendship. The canto amebeo that they both sing expresses all the sentiments mentioned. And at this very moment comes the most strident break with the established pastoral canons: «Ya se aparejaba Erastro para seguir adelante en su canto, cuando sintieron, por un espeso montecillo que a sus espaldas estaba, un no pequeño estruendo y ruido». It is the shepherd Lisandro, pursuing the shepherd Carino, whom he catches, «y asiéndole por el cabezón del pellico, levantó el brazo cuanto pudo, y un agudo puñal que sin vaina traía se le escondió dos veces en el cuerpo». This is a cold-blooded murder in the middle of the stage of the pastoral world, with witnesses, as if to leave no doubt as to the homicidal violence of the opening incident. Nowadays we are all familiar with the fact that this crime tears apart completely the most elementary canons of the pastoral, and we can all recite with satisfaction Fernando de Herrera's definition of égloga in his Anotaciones to Garcilaso (1580). By now, we are used to the idea that a certain degree of violence does exist in the pastoral world, but either as violence justified ideologically, or well wrapped up in some intercalated story, which withdraws it from the bucolic world of the main narrative. But here in the Galatea we are confronted with an extraordinary, initial and inexplicable murder, which decidedly, forcefully and overtly breaks all literary canons. This is a case of absolute novelty within the traditional pastoral world, to which the words of the prologue seemed to direct us. There had been, to be sure, other subtler (more Cervantine) ways in which the author had prepared the alert reader for this veritable literary earthquake, which is precisely what this crime represents in the idyllic world of the shepherds. In the dialogue that precedes the crime, Erastro tells how, in order to cure his lovesickness, he went to the village physicians, and, even more unheard of, its priests. The latter ones had recommended to him that «me encomiende a Dios». Upon hearing all of this, Elicio reacts in a most unusual way, given the gamut of feelings that structure the pastoral: «No pudo dejar de reírse Elicio de las razones de Erastro». There is no point in insisting today that physicians and priests are professions totally alien to the pastoral world, for its hermetic and paganizing bucolism rejects the entry of the Christian God. And insofar as laughter is concerned, we know that it is   —15→   incompatible with pastoral love, which is pained and sad in its very root. The pastoral novel is not concerned with happy love, and smiling attitudes are alien to it.

The elements which I have just mentioned are not customary in the literary pastoral world, and some, like the town priests, are antagonistic to its very essence. Upon gathering them in a sheaf, we can appreciate the Cervantine intention -given the narrative place they have- of using them as a gradual introduction to the outrageous murder of Carino by Lisandro. Death has entered Arcadia, led by the hand of Cervantes, and this more than fifty years before Nicolas Poussin saw her, hallucinated, murmuring to the shepherds, Et in Arcadia ego. But Death's hegemony is exercised only where there is Life, and its presence in the Cervantine Arcadia should make very clear the fact that Cervantes wanted to create live shepherds, flesh and blood beings, not the idealities that the Diana of Montemayor had brought into Spanish soil. The Dianas and Siralvos are pure theory, and abstraction untouched by reality. But in the card-game of Life, Death is the trump. This is why, in the first moments of the Cervantine pastoral Carino will be stabbed to death in front of the other astonished shepherds. The shepherds of Cervantes live in the shadow of death precisely because they are alive (or such is the artist's intention), because they want to assert the fact that they are not theoretical creatures valid only as abstractions. In a forthright way which will become characteristic of Cervantes' art, without the slightest hesitation, the first step has been taken towards the humanization of the literary character, in what I shall call the mortalization of the bucolic shepherds, who had lived, until now, in timeless Arcadias.