Is style an ornamental feature of writing separate from the content or can it be a vehicle of political and ethical expression? This essay takes as point of departure the incipit of Miguel de Cervantes’s posthumously published epic novel, Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (1617) to argue for a richer understanding of style. More specifically, it shows how through the use of a high epic style in the Persiles Cervantes questions central humanist tenets and assumptions about the relation of language to humanity, of individual speakers and linguistic communities, as well as the expectations of a linguistic chain of being that would unflinchingly equate clarity of speech with civilization. By focusing on the representation of barbarian speech, this essay examines the ways in which Cervantes’s work offers a more ethical alternative to classical and Renaissance epic models that would either deny speech to barbarians or limit barbarian speech to the enabling curse that will get the heroic adventures going. By making the barbarian’s words intelligible through translation and more daringly, by making that very act of translation effect a change in the very texture of the receiving language itself, barbarolalia in Persiles emerges as poetry’s twin.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 205-221
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.