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C H A P T E R IX The Cervantine Figure of the Poet: Impostor or God? IN THE microscopic examination of the complex of scenes in the Quixote and the Persiles in which the creating author confronts a critical audience, I hope to have shown an unbroken continuity in theme and structure. In all of these scenes the principle of authorial freedom is opposed to artistic restrictions which the great critical movement of the sixteenth century had formulated. The ensuing dramatic interplay is in each case comic, and in each case the comedy functions at the expense of the spokesmen for the classical aesthetic. Enough has been said of the particular aesthetic principles which form the substance for these interchanges and the ambiguity which the dramatic scenes bring to the Persiles, which was originally conceived in terms of the classical principles. It remains for us to redirect our attention from the classical aesthetic, which is always overcome, to the triumphant figure who continuously asserts his independence of it. The Renaissance classicists' views of the poet and the poetic mission were founded on Strabo's oft-repeated phrase that the "excellence of a poet is inseparably associated with the excellence of the man himself, and it is impossible for one to become a good poet unless he has previously become a good man,"1 on the high civilizing function which Horace attributes to poetry and the poet, on the Platonic notion of the poet as vates, an instrument of divine revelation, and on the neo-Platonic belief that the poet's creative powers are analogous to those of divinity. Contemplating human experience in relation to a set of rational principles, the classicists saw in the poet a conveyor of norms. He is preeminently a man of society and a spokesman for its conventional values, the values of the house and the city. For them the prototype of the poet is to be found in the mythic civilizers, Orpheus and Amphion, who, according to Horace, built the Theban wall and labored to "circumscribe men's rights" and to "build rampired towns, engrave their 1 The Geography of Strabo, I, 63. 305 The Cervantine Figure of the Poet laws on wood/ And knit the bonds of social brotherhood."2 The classicists' iconological conception of poetry was well suited to their view of the poet—the young maiden whose sweetness and beauty attracts all men, the dotti and the rozzi, and who is attended by moral and natural philosophy.3 Cervantes' various surrogate poets have little in common with the inspired figures who haunt the groves and springs of Parnassus . Nearly all of them are tainted with criminality; they glory not in the act of edification but rather in the act of deception; any supernatural connections which they may have are infernal; and their abode is not the city, but some underworld kingdom which is opposed to all conventional values. The contrast can be so sharply drawn that one is tempted to invoke Goethe's distinction between classical and romantic—das Gesunde vs. das Krauze. The problem is then why does Cervantes surround his poets with such "negative" attributes. Is it simply a question of negation; do the figures represent a parodistic inversion of the classical figure ? Or is the "negative " in fact transvaluated into the "positive"; does it reflect a major function which Cervantes associates with the artistic undertaking? Two of the minor works are illuminating, for they deal directly with these questions. In La Gitanilla and Pedro de Urdemalas the figure of the poet, whom we glimpse only occasionally in the Quixote and the Persiles, assumes a central role, and his destiny as poet never ceases to be a part of the essential thematic substance on which the works are founded. Taken together these two works present the full biography, the apprenticeship and triumph, of the Cervantine figure of the poet. THE POET AS AN OUTSIDER: LA GITANILLA In Master Pedro we observe the figure of the poet moving back and forth across the border which separates society from a realm in which disorder, criminality, and demonic forces prevail and his redemption in his artistry. The situation of the artist beyond the pale of society is equally apparent in Cervantes' conception of the figures of the counterfeit captives, whose livelihood depends on 2 See Ars Poetica, 11. 391-399. I cite Howes' translation, The Art of Poetry, ed. Albert S. Cook (Boston, 1892), p. 29. 3 See Cesare Ripa, Iconologia (Siena...


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