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  • The Spanish Arcadia: Sheep Herding, Pastoral Discourse, and Ethnicity in Early Modern Spain by Javier Irigoyen-García
  • Steve Vásquez Dolph

Pastoral, Ethnicity, Ideology, Renaissance Spain, Spanish Identity, Christianity, Sheep Herding, Wool Trade, Moriscos, Conversos, Biopower, Javier Irigoyen-Garcia, Steve Vásquez-Dolph

Irigoyen-García, Javier. The Spanish Arcadia: Sheep Herding, Pastoral Discourse, and Ethnicity in Early Modern Spain. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2014. x + 343 pp.

What is pastoral? This apparently simple question seems to refuse a definitive answer. Is pastoral, as William Empson famously argued in his landmark essay, Some Versions of Pastoral, ultimately a process of attributing complex thoughts to outwardly simple people, thus emphasizing the qualities both share? Or is it rather an idealization that, by aestheticizing social relations between landlords and workers, serves only to obscure and evade bitter economic realities, as Raymond Williams responded, four decades later, in The Country and The City? Or perhaps, as Friedrich Schiller proposed in On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, pastoral is simply the elegy for the lost relation of innocence between the human and the natural world. Whatever it may be, recent critical interest in pastoral has generated a lively dialogue among scholars, bringing fresh eyes to one of the most enduring, and polemical, literary forms.

In the present volume, Javier Irigoyen-García argues that the figure of the shepherd was crucial to the formation of a Spanish identity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This figure appeared in a variety of discourses—ecclesiastic, protoscientific, and literary, among many others—and was often employed to represent both a timeless and a homogenous community of Old Christians and their rulers, who were expected to ethically and effectively shepherd their flock. In many texts, efficacy meant the removal of undesirable elements—namely Muslims, Jews, Gypsies, and New Christian conversos or moriscos (those whose families had recently converted to Christianity or who could not convincingly fabricate an Old Christian genealogy). Thus the agricultural practice of culling undesirable phenotypical characteristics from a flock—central to the economy of imperial Spain, which was heavily dependent on the export of white Merino wool—became a metaphor for the exclusion, expulsion, and even genocide of ethnic groups considered to lack limpieza de sangre. This ideology took shape around what Irigoyen-García calls the “pastoral habitus,” a hegemonic, though rarely explicit, system of tropes and practices that, he argues, “can only be reconstructed by looking at the tacit projections and denials of the discourses . . . that use sheep herding and the figure of the shepherd to reshape an image of the Spanish people” (13).

One such discourse is exemplified by the courtly pastoral romance, a genre that enjoyed greater popularity in the latter half of the sixteenth century in Spain than in the rest of Europe combined (17). Strikingly, popular interest in this genre suddenly vanished in the second decade of the seventeenth century, subsequent to the expulsion of the moriscos in 1609, a circumstance that Irigoyen-García argues is hardly coincidental. Still, the idea of Spain as a nation of shepherds never really [End Page 245] disappeared, and remained vital well into the twentieth century, informing the ideology of the Fascist movement as well as present-day cultural manifestations in music and cinema.

Irigoyen-García examines the trajectory of the Spanish pastoral romance, and in doing so explores the relation between sheepherding, blood purity, and pastoral literary representations. He argues that the genre’s decline cannot be explained by shifting aesthetic tastes; rather, it lost favor in parallel with a waning in debates on the morisco question. Following recent sociohistorical reappraisals of the genre, such as Rosilie Hernández-Pecoraro’s feminist study Bucolic Metaphors: History, Subjectivity, and Gender in the Early Modern Spanish Pastoral (2006), Irigoyen-García compellingly argues that pastoral operates according to a “symbolic negation” of both ethnic diversity and class struggle in early modern Spain, such that the genre’s idealizing classicism works to “promote a homogeneous conception of national identity” that is exclusively Old Christian and Castilian (25), while simultaneously obviating “conflict between rural and urban spaces” (26). Pastoral, in short, is most productively read as the classist, ethnocentric...


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