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“FRENTE A FRENTE”: FRANCISCO DE ALDANA AND SUBLIMATIONS OF DESIRE Dian Fox Brandeis University I t is customary to read Francisco de Aldana’s lyric poetry with the circumstances of his death in mind. InAugust of 1578 at the personal request of King Sebastian of Portugal (1554-78), and at the king’s side, the Spanish soldier and poet helped lead Portuguese forces against the Moors in North Africa. In a battle that Aldana had argued against and knew would be a fatal mistake, both the Spanish poet and the Portuguese king were killed. At the time the ruler was twenty-four, leaving as heir to the throne his old, feeble, and celibate great-uncle, Cardinal Henry, who himself soon died.1 In 1580 Sebastian’s maternal uncle, King Philip II of Spain, claimed the Portuguese throne, and Spain retained sovereignty over Portugal for the next sixty years.2 Born of Spanish parents in 1537, probably in Naples, Aldana grew up in the heady atmosphere of Cosimo de’Medici’s humanist Florentine court.3 He apparently thrived there, but was forced to leave at the age of sixteen by his father, a military man who wanted a military son (Rivers 1955b, 48). We have little historical information about Aldana’s emotional life, and he never married. Aldana was deployed to the Low Countries in 1567, where he remained for nine years, engaged on the battlefield and at court. He was unhappy there and suffered a wound in battle from which he spent seven months recovering.4 He petitioned a number of times to return to Spain, and was finally allowed to do so in 1576 (Rivers 1955b, 63). At the age of thirty-nine,Aldana was ready to retire from active military service to the post of Alcaide of San Sebastián. In September of 1577, he wrote the poem for which he is best known, the Carta para Benito Arias Montano. The verse epistle praises the retired life, expresses a mystical aspiration, and invites Arias Montano to share this retirement in San Sebastián. But the desires of two kings intervened. One of them was Sebastian of Portugal, a fascinating historical figure, as is the way in which the end of his life intersects with that of Aldana. Even before his birth he was known as “o Desejado,” being the only son of Prince João, who had died before Sebastian’s birth and had been heir to the throne of CALÍOPE Vol. 11, Number 1 (2005): pages 65-85 66 Dian Fox D D D D D King João III (1521-57). Considerable pressure therefore rested on Sebastian’s shoulders to perpetuate the Avis dynasty.5 However, from an early age Sebastian’s attendants were concerned about his mental and physical constitution. Contemporary documents express the conviction that Sebastian would be unable to generate successors. He hated women and resisted all attempts to marry him to suitable potential queens. He suffered bouts of a vague chronic illness that reportedly resulted in a fluxum seminis or ‘seminal discharge’ (Queiroz Velloso 81). Spain’s ambassador to Portugal don Juan de Silva conveys concerns about Sebastian’s illness and impotence in correspondence with King Philip (see Lefebvre and Rivers 1955b); and a 1585 Italian book (attributed to Ieronimo de Franchi Conestaggio and likely ghostwritten by de Silva) assigns the physical and mental deficiencies of the young king to royal inbreeding (7b), exacerbated by a Jesuit education that encouraged chastity and militant defense of Catholicism (9a-b).6 Sebastian preferred to spend his time practicing war games, and declared his intention to crusade for the Catholic faith, a project that he planned to begin by conquering North Africa. In 1577 and into 1578, King Philip II of Spain unsuccessfully attempted to discourage his nephew from pursuing the campaign. Francisco deAldana was instrumental in the Spanish king’s efforts. Philip, concerned about Sebastian’s grandiose military designs, in 1577 sent Aldana to Fez, disguised as a Jewish merchant, to reconnoiter the forces of the Moors. Upon his return in June, Aldana’s report was so pessimistic about the chances for a Portuguese victory, that he was immediately dispatched to Lisbon. His...


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