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C H A P T E R I The Critique and Purification of the Romance of Chivalry If I were permitted now, and my hearers desired it, I would say something about the qualities that books of chivalry require in order to be good. Pero Perez, the curate1 IF IT COULD ever be said that a work of literature is almost exclusively a product of literature and literary theory, it could be said of Cervantes' final work Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda. Everywhere the eclectic character of the work is visible: in its undisguised appropriation of scenes and passages from Virgil's Aeneid and Heliodorus' Ethiopian History, in its inclusion of an Italian novella and many brief reminiscences from biblical tradition, medieval romance, and other works of classical antiquity, and in its presentation of various recurrent topics of imaginative literature which are as old as literature itself. Moreover, the specific literary theories which inspired the fusion of so many widely disparate elements into a coherent whole are everywhere apparent in its texture. They are revealed in occasional authorial digressions about aesthetic problems and in brief remarks of the self-conscious narrator drawing attention to the criteria governing his selective processes in the inclusion of a specific element. But more basically they become deeply imbedded in the action of the work itself, informing an extended dramatic situation and its development in the second book. Considered from any point of view, e.g., Cervantes' orthodoxy, Cervantes' idealism, Cervantes' supposed senility, the Persiles is undeniably both literary and literarily self-conscious. In this respect it can be said of Cervantes' final work that it was a product of his epoch, an age that has been called by one of its recent analysts the "age of criticism."2 With the rediscovery of Aristotle's Poetics 1 "Y si me fuera licito agora, y el auditorio Io requiriera, yo dijera cosas acerca de Io que han de tener los libros de caballerias para ser buenos" (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. M. de Riquer, 2 vols. [Barcelona, 1958], I, 325; all subsequent volume and page references are to this edition). 2 "Sixteenth-century Italy was the time and place in which philosophers turned their full attention to the nature of creative activity, in contradistinction to the 11 The Genesis of the Persiles shortly before the middle of the sixteenth century, the appearance of the numerous commentaries on Horace and Aristotle that immediately followed, the rising influence of the literary academies in Italy in the second half of the century, and the literary polemics associated with these academies, the artist of the time could hardly escape the heavy burden of a critical self-consciousness and its inevitable effect on his creative powers. It was in this "age of criticism" that Cervantes' sensibilities were molded, and his creative production can be understood properly only against the background of critical ferment that surrounded the solidification of the Aristotelian canon of criticism. In order to discover the way in which literary theory was the generating force in the conception and creation of the Persiles, it is necessary to trace briefly the fortunes of the romance of chivalry in critical thinking of the sixteenth century. It is my belief that both Cervantes' aesthetic orientation and literary aspirations were analogous to those of his Italian contemporary, Torquato Tasso, whose theories and example dominated literary thinking in both Italy and Spain of the period. Like Tasso, Cervantes was deeply attracted to the free fantasies of the medieval romance, which he knew to be an outmoded literary genre. At the same time he conceived of the possibility of a new genre which would retain the appeal of the romances and, by its observance of Aristotelian rules, meet the demands of contemporary literary tastes. Fortunately Greek antiquity, though not precisely the classical period, offered a model for the endeavor in the prose romance of Heliodorus. Just as Tasso had the examples of Virgil and Homer to guide him in his task, Cervantes had in the Aethiopica, the rediscovery of which coincided roughly with that of Aristotle's Poetics, a model which in academic circles was regarded as an epic in prose, a model, along with the works of Virgil and Homer, for the aspiring epic poet of the period. fifteenth century when the Humanists were filled with passion for the study of the poetry of Greece and Rome, supposing it to be more important than philosophy, and to the...


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