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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


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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VIII. Valdés and His Critics: A Poem Misunderstood


chapter eight

Valdés and His Critics: A Poem Misunderstood

This study and others like it that re-evaluate and to some extent reconstruct past literary history face a fundamental problem of how to judge today the aesthetics of distant centuries in a manner that honors models of sensibility and patterns of production. Our approach, which also aims to show how Poema heroyco can be taught, is to first juxtapose the text briefly before the published reviews it has generated since its publication in order to mark the changing critical assessment that frames both Valdés and his poem, followed by a rationale for why the text deserves further study today.

Chronologically, in the front matter to the Poema, which we will appraise shortly, Valdés’ contemporary and fellow Jesuit Antonio del Cuadro37 wrote on 30 August 1682 a Carta de edificación. In it he spoke of the unusual talents of Valdés and the equal value that he placed on Valdés’ love of poetry, the priesthood, and history. The Poema seems to have languished for the next fifty years until Peralta in Lima fundada (1732) lauded Valdés’ gift for convening the Latin and Spanish languages in service to the realm of new-world letters: “Como, uniendo al latino el canto hispano, / Hará con el más puro suave electro / Milagro la ciudad, milagro el plectro” (Canto 7, cli). In addition to the literary merit of Valdés’ text and its...

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