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Introduction ANY STUDENT of Cervantes' literary production must at some point . take into account the theories which inspired the plan and creation of Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, for of all Cervantes' works, the Persiles is the one most directly related to the author's awareness of literary theory. In conceiving his epic in prose, Cervantes was attempting to solve the basic aesthetic problems preoccupying contemporary theorists and to create a masterpiece according to their envisioned ideal of the highest literary genre, the epic. William Atkinson has written that Cervantes' "discovery of Aristotle, even at second or third hand, with the revelation that literature had its own body of precept, its rules, was the great aesthetic experience of his life."1 Whatever the artistic merits of the Persiles may be, the work represents Cervantes' tribute to the classical aesthetic which his age had erected on the double foundation of Horace's Ars Poetica and Aristotle's Poetics. I propose to trace the evolution of the literary problems associated with the romances of chivalry, the emergence of the theoretical pressures centering on the re-creation of the classical epic, and the development of the critical evaluation of Heliodorus' Ethiopian History in the sixteenth century. In doing so, I hope both to situate the Persiles in its historical literary circumstances and to reply to the surviving judgment of Menendez Pelayo, who, subordinating historical understanding to personal taste, wrote that "there could be little glory for Cervantes in the attempt to surpass Heliodorus, Achilles Tatius, and all their imitators together, and it is a pity that he should have undertaken such a sterile task."2 At the same time I shall attempt to clarify a much more difficult and fundamental problem—namely, Cervantes' relationship to the great crit1 "Miguel de Cervantes," Fortnightly Review (November 1947), p. 375. 2 "Cultura literaria de Miguel de Cervantes y elaboration del 'Quijote,'" Discursos (Madrid, 1956), p. 132. It is worth recalling F. Baldensperger's words on the importance of an objective foundation for literary historiography. Observing the limitations of Brunetiere's method of literary study in its emphasis on "les oeuvres mattresses et les grands courants actuellement memorables," he asks: "A ne prendre, en effet, que les resultats filtres aujourd'hui, et d'ailleurs toujours provisoires, de la notoriete et de la reputation, comment savoir . . . qu'Heliodore importe autant peut-etre qu'Eschyle dans Ie legs de l'Antiquite?" ("Litterature comparee: Ie mot et la chose," Revue de Litterature Comparee, I [1921], 24). 3 Introduction ical movement which affected in one way or another all the writers, theorists, and academic circles of his time. Since Giuseppe Toffanin's discovery of the importance of Aristotelian literary theories in the genesis of the Quixote, various studies have dealt with this subject, from De Lollis' Cervantes reazionario (1924) to Riley's Cervantes's Theory of the Novel (1962). As valuable as these contributions have been, I believe that there is still more to say on the matter. For nearly all these studies have yielded to the temptation to extract Cervantes' various discursive statements on literary matters from their surrounding contexts and present them as an abstract system or a corpus of literary ideas. The general result has been the portrayal of Cervantes as a mediocre theorist, who was more or less classical and conservative in literary tastes and who had no real theory of what he was doing in creating the modern novel. The studies deal excellently with the classical tendency in Cervantes but neglect his "anticlassical" tendency , or, put another way, his critical response to Aristotle. While it is undeniably true that Cervantes had no novelistic theories such as those which three hundred years later Ortega y Gasset and Americo Castro were to formulate on the basis of his work, his position on literary theorizing is far more complex and sophisticated than the designations "conservative" or "classical" would suggest. Indeed, it can be properly evaluated only by returning to Toffanin's method of analyzing the context which always frames the appearance of a literary idea. By examining the commonplace ideas as they function within the Quixote, Toffanin concluded that Cervantes' great achievement in discovering the poetic possibilities of historical reality—which, in deference to Aristotle's distinction between poetic and historical truth and the general idealizing tendency of the Horatian-Aristotelian dogma, the classicists had excluded from serious literary treatment—resulted precisely from his simultaneous interest in and independence of the Aristotelian position.8 3 La fine dell...


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