- Eighty-Six Sonnets on Killing a Bull
- Calíope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance and Baroque Hispanic Poetry
- Penn State University Press
- Volume 15, Number 2, 2009
- pp. 65-73
- View Citation
- Additional Information
EIGHTY-SIX SONNETS ON KILLING A BULL Elias L. Rivers Professor Emeritus SUNY-Stony Brook W hat cultural and political sense can we make of the fact that in 1631 King Philip IV of Spain, well known as a skillful hunter, was nationally acclaimed by poets for his elegance in shooting a bull in a Madrid arena? European kingship is not easy for us to understand from a modern political-science point of view. Ernst Kantorowicz´s The King´s Two Bodies (Princeton UP, 1957) is the classical study of the theological and juridical underpinnings of that peculiar institution, at least as it was theorized in England from Norman to Tudor times; it had medieval roots and later merged with the early modern European invention of the nation-state. The first document that Kantorowicz quotes from in his book (p.7) was written during the reign of Elizabeth I; it explains that the monarch has a dual legal status, as both a natural person, who is born, lives, and dies, and as the quasi-divine political personage who embodies the nation´s enduring royal institution. In Spain the Count-Duke of Olivares decided to organize an unusual event for the 13th of October, 1631, in order to celebrate the birthday of the Crown Prince Baltasar Carlos. Inviting an international audience, he gathered together a large group of wild and domestic animals in a Madrid arena and turned them loose on one another (FernándezGuerra , 445 ff.). The results are narrated in detail by Don Joseph Pellicer de [Ossau Salas y] Tovar (1602-1679) in his Anfiteatro de Felipe el grande. Pellicer is best known to literary scholars today as one of the major explicators of Góngora´s poetry in his Lecciones solemnes (Madrid, 1630), a book brimming with humanistic erudition and criticized by competitors (Alonso). He was also criticized and appreciated as a chronicler, the author of Avisos históricos; even Jesuit reporters, CALÍOPE Vol. 15, No. 2, 2009: pp.65-73 66 Elias L. Rivers ! ! ! ! ! according to James O. Crosby´s new index, found it useful to check his chronicles for their news of the Madrid court. His official status, proudly claimed on the title-page of the Anfiteatro, was that of cronista real; concerning his controversial career as a historian, see especially the lively account recently published by Richard L. Kagan (235-44). As chronicler, he was sending a report in his Anfiteatro (folios 2-11) to Philip IV´s sister, Maria Anna of Habsburg, married to her cousin Ferdinand, king of Hungary and Bohemia. His report, telling her of her brother´s impressive performance, is entitled “Noticia del espectáculo de las fieras . . .” In preliminary unnumbered folios the volume is dedicated, in the usual flattering terms, to the king himself, and is put under the protection of the king´s chancellor, the CountDuke of Olivares. This double dedication is followed by a prologue to the readers, “A los curiosos,” preceding the much longer “Noticia.” In this introduction, nominally addressed to Maria Anna of Austria but obviously intended for all readers of the volume, we find a descriptive narration of the animal show and the king´s intervention. Pellicer´s rhetoric and his classical erudition give a humanistic “spin” to the whole event and to its celebration in poetry. In the following paragraphs, I will summarize in English his “Noticia,” while at the same time recognizing that such a paraphrase loses the elaborate texture of his Spanish prose. Pellicer begins by stating that wild animal spectacles, while common in imperial Rome, were rare in Spain, although bulls in particular were part of Spain´s Roman heritage. Later, he says, the Arabic horseback tradition of light cañas with adargas was a more popular combative display in Spain than the heavily armed French jousts and tournaments. As a break with both of these established traditions, in order to celebrate the princés birthday, the Count-Duke decided to revive the animal fights of ancient Rome by gathering an African lion, an Indian tiger, a bear, a bull, horses, dogs, and smaller animals into an arena that he calls “la plaza del Parque,” not Madrid´s Plaza Mayor...