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  • The Refracted Muse: Literature and Optics in Early Modern Spain by Enrique García Santo-Tomás
  • Frederick A. de Armas

Frederick A. de Armas, Enrique García Santo-Tomás, Vincent Barletta, Early Modern Spain, Astronomy, Optics, King Philip IV, Galileo, Cervantes, Góngora, Lope De Vega, Tirso de Molina, Garzoni Boccalini, Juan de Espina, Quevedo

GARCÍ A SANTO-TOMÁ S, ENRIQUE. The Refracted Muse: Literature and Optics in Early Modern Spain, translated by Vincent Barletta. U of Chicago P, 2017. 325 pp.

The Refracted Muse is bound to transform the way we approach early modern Spanish literature and culture, from the angle of science and of literature. From the scientific standpoint, among its many contributions, this fascinating book rewrites the history of astronomy and optics in early modern Spain. Focusing on the motif of the occhiali (antojos/anteojos) it shows that its many meanings have as much to do with new ways of seeing in the Spanish Baroque as with the new scientific discoveries that were being made in Italy. Thus, The Refracted Muse claims that the rise of the novel in early modern Spain cannot be fully understood without taking into account new scientific discoveries. This assertion is clearly proven in this fascinating, immensely erudite, and suggestive book.

The book is divided into four sections with a total of eight chapters. The Introduction provides some of the theoretical and historical bases for the study while emphasizing that it will focus on the reign of Philip IV (1623–1665), albeit taking into account previous developments that impact this period. García Santo-Tomás argues that Philip II's isolationist policies and the consequent reduction of foreign titles was not the full story: "it is necessary to revise somewhat the popular notion of Spain as a country relegated to backwardness" (10). Pointing to the work done at Seville's Casa de Contratación, at Madrid's Academy of Mathematics, and at the University of Valencia, the author stresses Spain's atmosphere of curiosity. The fact that Copernicus was taught at Salamanca and the adoption of the Gregorian calendar that utilizes the work of Copernicus are but some of the elements that must be included in a revision of Spanish science. With the placement of Copernicus on the Spanish Index of 1616, the attitude of writers becomes more cautious. The condemnation of Juan Piquer, an academic from Valencia and disciple of Giambattista della Porta, as well as the suspicions aroused by Luis Rosicler of the Academy of Mathematics in Madrid further strengthens the cautionary mood. Having presented the situation prior to Philip IV's reign, the book then turns to its main areas of study.

Part I, "Writing on the Firmament," is to me one of the most fascinating. It examines how Galileo's telescope traveled to the court in Madrid and how it was received. The chapter also deals in great detail with the invention of concave lenses and their diffusion, leading to the invention of the telescope. Galileo stands front and center in this chapter as he observes the maculate moon, the nature of the Milky Way, the phases of Venus, and the four satellites of Jupiter. Although it was the later controversies dealing with the heliocentric universe that led to his full condemnation, his earlier discoveries, and particularly the telescope, were of great [End Page 384] interest to Spain, being advocated by the poet Bartolome Leonardo de Argensola. We also learn that Galileo actually offered to go to Spain to train users of the telescope and to show them how to determine longitude. Although initial negotiations failed, Galileo tried again in 1616; and even in 1620 Galileo was asked to meet with the Viceroy of Naples. There was a final unsuccessful attempt in 1629.

Part Two, comprised of three chapters, is entitled "Galileo and His Spanish Contemporaries." A full chapter is devoted to the major writers of the Golden Age (Cervantes, Góngora, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina), showing how the Ptolemaic vision permeates their works, while new notions and new discoveries are limited to a few allusions. Although Cervantes had a good knowledge of astronomy, García Santo-Tomás argues...


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pp. 384-386
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