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“O stolidas hominum mentes, o pectora caeca! Classical Traditions, Indigenous Imagery and Judeo-Christian Ideology in José de Villerías' Guadalupe”

Bernardo Berruecos (National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM))

José Antonio de Villerías y Roelas (1695-1728), a largely unknown poet from Novohispanic Mexico, composed a highly Vergilian and erudite epic poem in Latin titled Guadalupe. In hexameters and 1752 verses long, it is organized in four books and only available in a manuscript preserved in the National Library of Mexico (Ms. No. 1594). The poem narrates Charles V’s imperial expansion and conquest, the evangelization of the New World, the presence of Pluto as a refugee in Mexico with different indigenous peoples under his control (Otomíes, Huastecos, Tarascos, Matlazincas and Chichimecas) and Pluto’s alliance with his daughter, the indigenous goddess Tonantzin, to conspire against the Spaniards.

I. Osorio’s El sueño criollo (1991) remains the most comprehensive study on Villerías’ Guadalupe. A. Laird (2010) presented Villerías and his work to the English-speaking world focusing mainly on the author’s deep relationship with Vergil, which plays an important part in colonial cultural history. Apart from these studies and a few more references, there is no more bibliography on this topic.

This paper focuses on some passages of Guadalupe that show the hybridization through which the Guadalupan myth was depicted (Laird 2007) – classical traditions blended with indigenous imagery and Judeo-Christian ideology – and how this helps to understand the ways in which Mexican identity-building processes were interacting with each other (Lafaye 1976, Brading 1980). I am particularly interested in analyzing the complex tensions implied in writing Latin poetry in 18th-century México which reveal, on the one hand, that the use of classical languages was a way of adopting an ideological superstructure, and, on the other hand, the construction of a new subjectivity or identity – that of the creole – defined by the belief that they were the real and authentic heirs of Western culture which had been blended with the Prehispanic past (on creole subjectivity as a tension between collaboration with colonialism and resistance to the metropolis, see N. R. Altschul 2012: 13-25).

Based on an analysis of Villerías’ complex amalgamation of sources, I will identify some of the main hypotexts of the classical authors that he had as models, namely Lucretius, Vergil, Ovid and Lucan, whose works were certainly known in New Spain in Villerías’ times. The title of this paper comes from a passage from Guadalupe (1.55) where the poet describes the practice of human sacrifice among indigenous people. The verse is a clear example of Villerías’ contamination of classical, humanist and renaissance sources. The first hemistich, which seems a variation on Lucretius (2.14), from where the second hemistich comes (on Lucretius’ influence in colonial Spanish America in the eighteenth-century, see A. Laird, 2020: 291), can be traced back to Boethius (Consolatio 3.8.19). The Dutch poet Jan van der Noot (1539-1595) began his oeuvre (Het theatre oft toon-neel, 1568), with a Latin hexametric poem by another Dutch Poet, Melchior Barlaeus (1540-1584), in which we read: O stolidas hominum mentes! non iste Deorum/Cultus (…) The same phrase is used in a Latin poem called Mutineis published by the humanist poet Francesco Rococciolo (1470-1528): O stolidas hominum mentes, o vota prophana! This wealth of intertextual references and the enormous and rich background of Latin texts that Villerías’ words reflect are all the more surprising given that he wasn’t an official member of any of the religious orders and he was a civil and marginal figure separated from ecclesiastical structures. This and other passages from Guadalupe show the complex processes of appropriation and revamping of classical traditions and provide a suitable framework to analyze the role of Latin epic in building national identities and ideologies as hybrid cultural products.

Session/Panel Title

The World of Neo-Latin Epic

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