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Rodrigo de Valdés: Poema heroyco hispano-latino panegyrico de la fundación, y grandezas de la muy noble, y leal ciudad de Lima

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Edited By Neal A. Messer and Jerry M. Williams

Poema heroyco hispano-latino (1687), a national chronicle or “epic poem,” commemorates the founding and greatness of Lima, Peru. Its unique rhymed quatrains can be read in either Latin or Spanish with equal meaning, and its insightful marginal notes interpret the city’s cultural history. Rodrigo de Valdés (1609–1682) underscores the decadence of peninsular Spanish letters in contrast to the compositions of New World writers. The poem is a tribute to the superiority, versatility, and interchangeability of Spanish and Latin as instruments of power that led to Spain’s world dominance, and to Lima as the locus of marvels and a quasi biblical garden of delights.

Lima has occupied without exception a privileged space within the colonial situation, as a metaphorical sovereign of new-world experiences and potentialities. Influenced by the spirit of Baroque sensibilities and Creole pride in his patria, Valdés bequeathed to Lima a staged panegyric that served as King Charles II’s introduction to the bounty of his American colony. Valdés, acting as commentator, guides the reader through a journey that spans centuries of Peru’s illustrious history. Working within the classical tradition of laus urbis or the praise of cities, Valdés depicts America as a paradise found with Lima at its center.

In tracing the poem’s relationship to the genre of classical panegyrics, Neal A. Messer and Jerry M. Williams argue its literary merits and elucidate how it enriches the colonial family of Latin American texts. Republished for the first time, this critical edition introduces Valdés to students and scholars of Ibero-American letters.

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II. Complexity by Design

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chapter two

Complexity by Design

…para los eruditos e ingeniosos (a quienes solo dedico esta poesía) suele ser más gustosa la taza penada de misteriosas alusiones. (Prólogo al lector)

The poetry of Valdés was not intended or designed to be read by the commoner. It was written for the new-world elite, those who had received a classical education and a solid grounding in Latin, the study of which was a requirement for formal education and found in academic halls. A factor that may have intimidated the aesthetics and sensibilities of Valdés’ modern readers is the richness of his exalted Baroque verse, affectation, layered metaphors, and allegories. Valdés’ literate readership (the clergy, the palace court, inquisition officials, academicians, and literary salon members) understood his linguistic and literary contrivances. Presumptively Valdés would have considered his poetry a failure if it were readily intelligible to the layperson. In this way, he chased the model of his idol, Góngora (specified by name several times in Poema heroyco), who said “Demás que honra me ha causado hacerme oscuro a los ignorantes, que ésa es la distinción de los hombres doctos, hablar de manera que a ellos les parezca griego; pues no se han de dar las piedras preciosas a animales de cerda” (Roses Lozano, “Una poética” 104). Valdés exhibited erudition as a badge of distinction (a badge customarily tied to one’s place in society) and wrote for...

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