- Front Lines: Soldiers' Writing in the Early Modern Hispanic World by Miguel Martí Nez
Elizabeth R. Wright, Epic Poetry, Literature In Early Modern Spain, Literature In The Early-Modern Spanish Empire, Miguel Martínez, Soldiers' Writings
The point of departure for charting a soldiers' republic of letters is an epigraph taken from the Aeneid (9.774–77), which mourns the battlefield poet killed by Turnus. Crethus was "always singing / of cavalry, weapons, wars, and the men who fight them" (Fagles translation, qtd. 1). That is, stories of battles belong as much to the legions of anonymous soldiers as they do to famous commanders waging single combat. With this epigraph serving as a leitmotif from start to finish, Martínez explores the ways that soldiers' writings reshaped classical literary forms, changed notions of truthfulness, and fomented new autobiographical subjectivities.
Chapter 1 ("The Soldiers' Republic of Letters") unfolds as a catalogue of soldier-poets and -chroniclers whose texts and lives Martínez has pieced together in archives and rare book rooms. For instance, Miguel Piedrola epitomizes the tortuous paths to literacy for many soldiers, as well as the potential perils of their literary ambitions. Martínez documents how Piedrola used money earned while assisting a priest in alms collection to fund grammar lessons. But this literacy proved a two-edged sword. In time, Piedrola attracted Inquisitorial scrutiny after attaining fame for letters and prophecies that reached even the king and the pope. Another portrait is of Andrés Rey de Artieda, whose collected poetry records four decades of military service, offering an illustration of soldierly sociability and writing practices organized around the camarada, an informal unit of three to six men who shared lodging, meals, and, as Martínez shows, literature.
In the final section of the chapter, Martínez compares two accounts of the Sack of Rome, where Spanish soldiers seized Paolo Giovio's manuscript of the Historiarum sui temporis. Martínez hypothesizes that the raiding soldiers understood that the historian was preparing a critical account of Spanish imperialism. This surmise—that looting soldiers may have grasped the argumentative subtleties of Giovio's humanist Latin—would require more sustained development and documentation (40). But the underlying point the episode proposes is convincingly developed and rigorously documented over the course of the book. That is, the [End Page 128] actions of soldiers shaped and were shaped by history writing in the far-flung but interconnected realms of the Spanish Monarchy.
Chapter 2 ("The Truth about War") examines and contextualizes six soldier-writers who chronicled wars and in so doing, upended the hierarchies of authority for epic. Of particular interest is how Martínez applies Michael Murrin's notion of the "gunpowder epic," understood as narrative poetry of a new kind of war waged by an increasingly specialized soldiery, armed with artillery weapons. Works discussed within this framework include the Carolea (1560) of Jerónimo Sempere; Baltasar del Hierro's epic focused on the naval campaigns of Don Álvaro de Bazán (the Marqués de Santa Cruz); La Maltea by Joan Navarro (1582); Juan Rufo's La Austriada; and Luis Zapata's Carlo famoso (1566). Of these, only Rufo's epic is extensively studied. This is a disciplinary challenge Martínez addresses at the outset, noting the "canonical inertias" his book seeks to overcome (9). In terms of methodology, the chapter is a model for analysis and writing, especially in the way Martínez presents, unpacks, and contextualizes the works he discusses. A prime example is the analysis of Juan de Oznaya's Historia de la guerra de Lombardía (1544), which ponders an anecdote of the Spanish arquebusier who offered king Francis I of France—when taken captive by Spanish forces—the golden bullet that had been meant to kill him. Unspent, it was presented as a donation to fund the king's ransom. Martínez proffers this perhaps apocryphal anecdote to explain bizarría, a quality which marked soldierly subjectivity in a manner analogous to sprezzatura for courtly identity. To conclude the chapter...