Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Preface by José Martí
- Translator’s Preface
- Chapter 1. La Victoria (February 12, 1814)
- Chapter 2. San Mateo (February and March, 1814)
- Chapter 3. The Siege of Valencia (June 19 to July 10, 1814)
- Chapter 4. Maturín (1814)
- Chapter 5. The Invasion of the Six Hundred Improperly Called the Retreat from Ocumare (July 17 to September 27, 1816)
- Chapter 6. La Casa-Fuerte (“The Strong House”) (April 7, 1817)
- Chapter 7. San Félix (April 11, 1817)
- Chapter 8. Matasiete (July 31, 1817)
- Chapter 9. Las Queseras (April 3, 1819)
- Chapter 10. Boyacá (August 7, 1819)
- Chapter 11. Carabobo (June 24, 1821)
- Index of Names
- Series index
Finishing this book feels as if one had won a battle; or at least, as if one were ready to win one—and then to pardon the vanquished. This book is patriotic without being vulgar, great without being puffed up, correct without ostentation. It is a journey to Olympus, from which one returns strengthened for the earthly struggles, having been tempered in the high forges, made by gods. Whoever speaks this way to humans is a servant of the people. May he be praised.
This book contains descriptions of five battles: La Victoria, which belongs to Ribas; San Mateo, that amidst the tombs becomes a cradle; Las Queseras, that rivals Troy; Boyacá, the gateway to Colombia; and Carabobo, which marks the death of Hernán Cortés.2 These extraordinary deeds are told in extraordinary words. Each battle has its heroes and its forms, and, with artistic artifice, the humane and the minute details of the struggle—like the distribution of the ← xiii | xiv → troops and the different terrains—are skillfully mixed with the sublime. Thus the legions were unbounded; thus they pushed; thus they were undone, they stumbled, they roared, and they won. From here every Venezuelan home derives its household gods: Cedeño, Jugo, Montilla, the brothers Anzoátegui, Ybarra, Silva, Urdaneta: freedom’s entire nobility has here its spring: no people ever had a loftier pantheon! The brave Englishmen are praised; the Spaniards, once defeated, are left whole. Each armed contest is preceded by notable historical essays that deal with the elements, the conditions, and the meaning of the times in which they take place, the entire narrative seasoned with such richly varied, pithy, and forceful language that in this book the last page seems next to the first. In Venezuela Heroica, everything pulses, everything inflames, everything overflows, explodes in sparks, smokes, and sparkles. It is like a storm of glory, after which the earth remains covered in gold dust. Horses run to and fro, flags flutter, harnesses shine, colors glitter, drums call to arms, to perish with a smile, and neither meanness nor complaint is possible after reading this splendid book. As in Fortuny’s3 paintings, the battlefields seem to be devoid of blood. How has the historian contrived to be loyal to the facts without being cold, to paint horror without being horrible? Should we not admire, not so much the exploits that inspire us, as the heart that is fired by them and sings of them? One feels capable of all the glory that is well sung. Eduardo Blanco could well raise himself up on the stirrups of Bolívar’s horse.
Some images might have been drawn up with greater propriety; the stance might have been more robust in some vibrant passages, the form more concise when expressing a profound thought. And it is possible that the language could have had a more sure footing, certainly not when it wars and shines, as if carried off by glory, but rather when he plays for some brief moments of rest with people and their successes, without falling short in the excellence of his judgments or the moderation of his energy. But this book is a flame whose warmth comforts and pleases. This is a must-read for American school children. Venezuela Heroica is the natural prize of masters for their pupils, of parents for their children. Every adult should write it, every child should read it, every honest heart should love it. Contemplating the stature of such heroes awakens in us the irresistible desire to imitate them.
1 These words of José Martí (1853–1895), great writer and Liberator of Cuba, were composed in praise of Venezuela Heroica on the occasion of the appearance of the first edition of the work. That edition contained only the five vignettes that Martí mentions, to which the author added another six later on.
2 Hernán Cortés (1485–1547), conqueror of Mexico, who extended the Spanish dominion to this land. The author probably means that the Battle of Carabobo marked the end of Spanish supremacy in the Americas. [Tr.]
3 Mariá (Mariano) Fortuny i Marsal (1838–1874), leading Catalan painter of the day. [Tr.]
“Venezuela Heroica is the gospel
of the Fatherland.”
Laureano Vallenilla Lanz
This book is a translation—that is, the rendering of an original into another language.
Translation is a task, and the taskmaster is the text. Some modern translators let their biases or orthodoxies drip into their translations, and they are untrue to the text. This is why Italians say that translators are traitors (“traduttore traditore”), but I have always felt compelled to be true to the text no matter the consequences. As Walter Kaufmann wrote many years ago, “To meddle with a text one translates and to father one’s translations on another man is a sin against the spirit.”1 For “Truth,” as my old master said, “blushes only when it is hidden.”2
All my life I have enjoyed translating, and the originals have been many: Spanish, Gujarati, Latin, Greek, French, Sanskrit. Some times the task involved snippets, some times poetry, some times longer texts, as in this case. ← xv | xvi → My very first published work was a translation from Spanish into Gujarati; that was more than fifty years ago. Nearly all my translations have been into English, whose genius I thought I had grasped enough to express in it the genius of another’s words. Some times that genius is impossible to capture, as Buber averred when queried about the meaning of some passages in I and Thou.3
Bringing out this work of translation has been for me a matter of family pride: Eduardo Blanco (1838–1912), the writer of Venezuela Heroica (1881), which is here translated into English for the first time, was the first cousin of Teodosio Adolfo Blanco, born in 1838, author of Bocetos para cuadros Venezolanos (1884), the father of my grandmother, Josefina Blanco de Götz (1875–1965), who together with her husband, my grandfather, Ignatz Leopold Götz (1877–1909), presided over the Colegio Católico Alemán (later Colegio Católico Venezolano), a well-known school in Caracas.
Eduardo Blanco was a young military officer, ascending to the rank of colonel by 1875, and, later in life, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of President Cipriano Castro. He was a member of the History and Literature faculties of the Universidad Central de Caracas, and he was a successful novelist and historian. In fact, it is for these academic and literary activities that he is best known and remembered.
The original edition of Venezuela Heroica contained only five vignettes of important battles and heroes of the Venezuelan War of Independence, but he added six more for the second edition, and the edition of the text translated here, the 12th (1944),4 contains eleven. Many of these stories come from eye witnesses to the events, such as General José Antonio Páez (1790–1873), later President of Venezuela, whose favorite aide-de-camp Blanco was, and who was himself a participant in the Battles of Las Queseras and Carabobo. Listening to Páez recount the details of his exploits while visiting the battlefield of Carabobo in 1861, Marshal Juán Crisóstomo Falcón (1820–1870), who was present, placed his hand on the shoulder of Blanco and told him, “Young man, you are listening to the Iliad from the very lips of Achilles.”5 ← xvi | xvii →
Eduardo Blanco’s other works include the novel, Una noche en Ferrara (1875), the drama, Lionfort (1879), an “original novel,” Historia de un cuadro (1881), another novel, Zárate (2 vols; 1882), Cuentos fantásticos (1893), Noches del Panteón (1895), a fourth novel, Fauvette (1905), and Tradiciones épicas y cuentos viejos (1912), probably published posthumously in Paris.
Barnola calls Venezuela Heroica “an admirable work, a true epic in prose, symbol and expression of the glorious heroism of a people who knew how to win its freedom at the expense of the most generous and incredible sacrifices.”6 And he adds: “Until late into the present [twentieth] century, the only Venezuelan book that had obtained proof of its success and popularity, was Venezuela Heroica. And so identified was, from the first moment, in the general feelings of the Venezuelan readers, the name of the author with the title of his book, and so much has this feeling increased with the passage of the years and the number of editions, that with ample justification Doctor Key Ayala has been able to write, in his beautiful essay, that Eduardo Blanco is Venezuela Heroica, and Venezuela Heroica is Eduardo Blanco.”7
Eduardo Blanco was crowned “Poet Laureate” on July 28, 1911, at a literary function in the Teátro Municipal of Caracas. On this unique occasion, the Newspaper Guild presented him with a gold pen. Barnola, who considers Zárate the first Venezuelan novel, calls him “the prose singer of the national epic.”8
The work of Eduardo Blanco, with special attention to Venezuela Heroica, was the subject of a chapter in Perfíles Venezolanos (1881), by Felipe Tejera. His comments on Blanco’s work in general, and specifically his critique of Venezuela Heroica, are invaluable in presenting the views of contemporaries about the author. I have included here some excerpts from Tejera’s work:
Intelligence slumbers often in a prolonged gestation, like the lava that boils silently at the heart of the mountain, then suddenly explodes, and the summit, serene till then, is crowned with fiery plumes. Such was the unexpected transfiguration of Eduardo Blanco: those who thought him a hero discovered him turned into a poet; the warrior exchanged his sword for the pen, and instead of waging battles, he wrote novels. This is why, when he published his first romances, titled Número 111 and Vanitas vanitatum, which appeared in the weekly La Tertulia in 1875, the wonder of this rare ← xvii | xviii → metamorphosis was so great that opinions were divided as to the genuine paternity of such works, which, besides, originally appeared under a pseudonym. People could not agree that Blanco was capable of writing a novel. Even his friends doubted it …. Parnassus hesitated to open its doors to someone who had never been seen riding Pegasus, but only on the bare back of Babieca.9 This led Eduardo Blanco to publish quickly his precious novel, Una noche en Ferrara (1875), and after this publication, with so flowery a laurel, his literary reputation was secure.10
Tejera goes on to critique Lionfort (1879), presented in the Teatro Caracas on August 2, 1879, which was well received. Then he continues:
Lately, Blanco has published a precious work titled, Venezuela Heroica (1881), vignettes of our great war. This publication was so successful that the first edition of 2,000 copies was sold out in a few days. The work consists of five chapters that describe five battles, La Victoria, San Mateo, Las Queseras, Boyacá, and Carabobo. Unfortunately, these brilliant episodes are not linked among themselves by any philosophical connection or special interest that might form like a backbone to the book; so that, when we finish reading one, we might be prompted to go to the next, thus acquiring a perspective on the whole. They are like expensive marble pillars sculpted in beautiful detail, over which, because they have not been made according to a definite plan, it is impossible to construct an arch.11
In a more critical tone, Tejera writes:
One could note in this work the repetition of similes or of epithets, a kind of exuberance of adornments; also, the lack of a certain ubiquitousness with which an author must encompass his entire work in order to unite, compare, and deduce a philosophy of history. In Venezuela Heroica, one enters a mountain which, while growing some useless shrubs, reveals also rich veins of porphyry, and raises corpulent trees whose tops reach up to the clouds.12
Tejera is correct, of course. But I think there is a reason why Eduardo Blanco adopts this style, at times prolix and seemingly redundant: he is striving to construct another Iliad, and just as Homer’s tale abounds in epithets that are repeated often in the descriptions of heroes and events, so here, in Venezuela Heroica, certain words, adjectives, and expressions flow from the pen of the author in the pursuit of an heroic narrative that can rival the ancient one. In fact, in a sense, it is this vocabulary that constitutes an architrave, uniting the ← xviii | xix → distinct columns, and supporting the friezes in which are sculpted the various singular events. Thus, the unity of the work is philological. It is achieved by a narrator whose language is recognizable in each and every page.
But there is more. The heroes of the Iliad belong to an era in which individual military prowess was at its height. There were heroes who served primarily themselves and their own narrow, often provincial interests, and only secondarily the objectives of the community as a whole. Achilles fights, of course, for Greece, which did not, in fact, exist at the time. But he really fights for his Myrmidons, and with them, but primarily for his own glory; for this is the foremost duty of the hero. Surely, he knows the Greeks are fighting the Trojans, but this, in a sense, is secondary to his purposes. In fact, when Agamemnon slights him by retaining Briseis for himself, Achilles refuses to join in the fray, and is finally convinced to return to the the contest only after the death of Patroklos, his dear friend. His concern, therefore, was solely with his own glory, which had been insulted by Agamemnon. “The Homeric hero,” writes Moses Hadas, “may not compromise loyalty to his own being with loyalty to any other, human or divine.”13 This can be said, to a lesser extent, of the other heroes of the ancient poem, except, perhaps, for Ulysses.
In Ulysses, it is not only military prowess that is the primary concern: he is “wily Ulysses,” cunning, plotting, as well as courageous in battle. If Blanco has in mind the paradigm of Achilles, or Ajax, or Hector, for his portrayal of the heroes of the Venezuelan war of Independence, Ulysses is mirrored by Bolívar, in whom it is not just military honor that enthuses him, but equally statesmanship and politics.
Homer was able to highlight the heroes of his epic battles, because at the time, the common soldier truly depended on the hero to achieve any military aim. The common soldiers simply provided the mass that was necessary for the heroic deeds of their leaders: their names, and their deeds (for the most part) are forgotten, because they were not recorded, though they were decisive in the fray.
It is the same with the Romans: we know nothing of the Roman forces that confronted Hannibal (247–182 BCE) under the command of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus “Cunctator” (280–203 BCE), who was relieved of command by the Senate, which appointed Gaius Terentius Varro instead, ← xix | xx → who was soundly defeated at the Battle of Cannae (216 BCE). Thousands of men lost their lives at this time, but only the exploits of their generals have been recorded by history.
A similar situation occurs with the Teutonic knights during the Crusades, which were really popular movements in which ordinary people participated, fought, and lost their lives, to become not even a footnote to history. The glory belongs to the knights, especially to their leaders, like Richard Coeur-de-Lion (1157–1199), Frederick Barbarosa (1122–1190), and others, whose horses are bigger, whose armor is stronger, whose physical stature is greater, whose courage is unequaled, and whose deeds are more glorious. They have the power to win battles; they are the axles of the wheels of war that roll through the Middle East with devastating efficiency.
And it is the same with their enemies: we know nothing of the forces of Saladin (1137–1193), except that they were numberless and committed in their bravery to the cause of their leader and the restoration of the Muslim Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Blanco’s purpose is to re-create the Iliad on Venezuelan soil for the edification of his readers. He is explicit about this, just as the Greeks were self-consciously aware of the reasons for immortalizing the hero. According to Plato, the poet “clothes all the great deeds accomplished by the men of old with glory, and thus educates those who come after.”14 José Martí understood this when he wrote his Foreword to the first edition of Venezuela Heroica: “From here, every Venezuelan home derives its household gods: Cedeño, Jugo, Montilla, the brothers Azoátegui, Ybarra, Silva, Urdaneta: freedom’s entire nobility has here its spring: no people ever had a loftier pantheon!”
Translating Spanish romantic prose of the 19th century, such as that of Venezuela Heroica, proved to be every bit as hard as I had envisioned. As Tejera notes, the language is very flowery, taxing the vocabulary reserves of the translator; for its not enough to know what the text means, one also has to put the meaning down on paper and communicate it to the reader. Moreover, one has to do it without sacrificing what makes the reading pleasurable and exciting. None of this has been easy, and I am certainly not sure if it has been successful. But these are risks one takes, and mine has not been greater or more harrowing than the one the author took when he originally wrote this book. ← xx | xxi →
The copy of the edition I have translated here belonged to my mother, Ilse Römer. It was part of her library. I found it intriguing that she might have read the book, since she had bought it in 1945, shortly after it was published. It was exciting to me that I might be reading the very words she had read.
I have kept the organization of the paragraphs as they are in the Spanish. Many of them are broken down into single-line units, though sometimes they are arranged as ordinary paragraphs would be in English, clustered around a central idea. I have also substituted the terms “eastern” and “western” for the text’s “Oriental” and “Occidental” because of the inappropriateness of the latter in contemporary social writings. Also, besides those authored by Blanco, I have added brief footnotes to explain or elucidate personages or events. I have made ample use of Wikipedia, and also of Hector Bencomo Barrios, Los Heroes de Carabobo (Caracas: Ediciones de la Presidencia, 2004), and of other sources indicated in the Notes. These notes are always marked as [Tr.]. In many instances, I was unable to find the sources of people or places or quotations referred to in the text.
Any additional materials that found their way into the text are contained within square brackets [ ].
Finally, I must add that reading Venezuela Heroica, and translating it, awakened in me the memories of events and people I had become acquainted with in my youth when studying Venezuelan history. I got to converse, again, with many personages from the past, and this alone, whatever other merits, if any, this translation contain, has been for me an enjoyable and memorable pastime. ← xxi | xxii →
Ignacio L. Götz
Point Harbor, NC
August 29, 2012
1 Walter Kaufmann, “Prologue” to his translation of Martin Buber’s I and Thou (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970), pp. 43–44.
2 Tertullian, Adversus Valentinianos III, 2.
3 See Walter Kaufmann, Ibid., p. 25.
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- Publication date
- 2015 (December)
- Latin America Bolivar America
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XXI, 361 pp.