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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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1. For a thoughtful account of the influence of Virgil’s Aeneid over the years, see The Virgilian Tradition: The First Fifteen Hundred Years edited by Jan Ziolkowski and Michael Putnam (2008).

2. Perhaps reflecting Spanish preocupation with purity of blood, many contemporaries of Valdés saw Latin as a “purer” language. For example, Alonso Venegas in Agonía del tránsito de la muerte (1682) describes the transformation from Latin to Spanish as a kind of violation: “Demanera, que no es otra la lengua castellana, que la latina, sino fuera dejarretada de su natural proporcion por las gentes barbaras, que despues vinieron a España; las quales assi como asolaron las poblaciones antiguas, assi no perdonaron a la virginidad de la lengua, sin que con su Babilonica barbareria la corrompiesen” (276). Valdés’ hybrid poetry, which blends two distinct languages yet preserves the ancestral Latin intact, in some ways reflects the reality of mestizo bloodlines in the Americas.

3. Cf. the biographical sketches in Mendiburu, Torres Saldamando, Lavalle y Arias, and Coello de la Rosa (2010). We use the modern spelling of Garavito over the contemporary Garabito; the original front matter gives both spellings. Likewise we retain the original spelling of Messia over Mesía only in the front matter and body of the poem itself.

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