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  • La musa refractada: literatura y óptica en la España del Barroco by Enrique García Santo-Tomás
  • Cory A. Reed
enrique garcía santo-tomás. La musa refractada: literatura y óptica en la España del Barroco. Iberoamericana, 2015, 365 pp.

An ingenious and highly original blend of literary studies and history of science, La musa refractada is a fascinating exploration of the rise of optics in Europe and its significant influence on early modern Spanish culture, particularly its literary and artistic production. Enrique García Santo-Tomás thoroughly documents the Italian provenance of the "new sciences" of optics and astronomy [End Page 202] as well as their diffusion in Spain, seamlessly incorporating this intellectual history into an insightful interpretation of notable literary texts published during the seventeenth century. In doing so, he proposes what might be described as a critical lens, based on new ideas about distance and perspective, which characterizes satirical writing in the period. Deftly teasing out ambiguities and meanings in the terms antojo and anteojo in the scientific and literary contexts of the Spanish Golden Age, García Santo-Tomás establishes the centrality of the motif of the occhiali politici (or "anteojos políticos") as a rhetorical device or instrument for methodically examining political controversy in literary satire.

The starting point of the study is a consideration of the work of the Italian satirist Traiano Boccalini, whose Ragguagli di Parnaso (1612) introduced the occhiali politici motif to an audience of Spanish readers and, presumably, satirical writers. Along with the 1615 Spanish translation of Tomaso Garzoni's La piazza universale di tutte le professione del mondo, Boccalini's work likened satire to a new way of seeing, inspired by the invention of the telescope and the theories of Kepler, Brahe, Copernicus, and Galileo, which were circulating contemporaneously throughout Europe. That these scientific theories also reached the Iberian Peninsula (sometimes openly and other times via clandestine translations) is evidenced by the temporary inclusion of Copernican cosmology in the curriculum at Salamanca and the publications of Spanish scholars such as Benito Daza de Valdés and Juan Cedillo Díaz, who developed an active discipline of optics, both theoretical and practical, in Habsburg Spain.

From this double analysis of early modern optics and political satire emerges a picture of a complex network of social, scientific, and literary interconnectivity in Italy and Spain that challenges the traditional academic separation of scientific and literary discourse and disproves the obsolete notion that Spain was entirely closed to the new ideas and epistemologies emerging in Europe. Here, García Santo-Tomás joins a growing number of scholars in the field (such as Víctor Navarro Brotons, William Eamon, Nicolás García Tapia, and José María López Piñero) who have rightly questioned the idea of a "backward Spain" in light of substantial evidence of scientific activity and who localize this myth in the political context of the Black Legend and growing rivalries with emergent northern European powers. During the early modern period, Spain was a leading developer of new technologies that could be used in the administration of its imperial and colonial interests (such as advances in navigation and artillery), and it is precisely this tension between burgeoning scientific advancement and conservative, counter-reformation doctrine that creates a paradoxical scientific culture in Spain that is fascinating to study. Throughout his book, García Santo-Tomás references an impressive catalogue of Iberian scientists, including Rodrigo Zamorano, Vicente Mut, Juan Bautista Labaña, Andrés García de Céspedes, and countless others, to paint a vibrant portrait of active scientific engagement in early modern Spain. Indeed, an important contribution of this book is its careful documentation that challenges the assumption that Spain languished as a scientific backwater while the rest of Europe charged forward to embrace scientific discovery.

The science of optics is a clear example of a highly practical discipline, derived from Galilean theory and the development of the telescope, which could be used [End Page 203] to improve navigational equipment and also to fabricate lenses to correct human vision. As García Santo-Tomás demonstrates, the field of optics...


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