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   Volume III, Issue 1
October 2006   

Hispanic Cultural Heritage Month: Testaments of modern anguish and religious edification

Falvey celebrated Hispanic Cultural Heritage Month with presentations on Tiempo, the unfinished last testament of twentieth-century poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, and the Epítome, a short biography of St. Thomas of Villanova, written by the seventeenth-century humanist Francisco de Quevedo.

Dr. Mercedes Juliá
On September 28, Dr. Mercedes Juliá, a Spanish professor in the classical and modern languages and literatures department, spoke about her experience preparing the critical edition of Tiempo, an autobiographical prose work by Nobel Prize laureate Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958). Composed when the poet was already advanced in years and living in exile in Florida, Tiempo comprises 41 typed, single-spaced pages of rambling prose with unfinished lines and blank spaces where quotations were to be inserted.

Just as time and space are closely related in Einstein’s theory of relativity, a major influence on Jiménez’ writings, so too Tiempo (Time) is closely related to his poem Espacio (Space). While in Espacio Jiménez transcends his own life and experiences, as he interprets monumental events such as the Spanish Civil War and World War I, in Tiempo he places his own life and personal destiny at the very center of these historical milestones.

A long monologue in stream-of-consciousness style and a radical departure from the concise verses of his earlier Poesia Desnuda, Tiempo has long been misunderstood by literary critics, according to Juliá. Like the facets of a Cubist painting, Jiménez presents his life in terms of his three favorite activities: dreams, music and reading. He expresses his anguish as he comes to grips with the emptiness of the universe, the inexorable passage of time and the elusiveness of God. Like Rousseau’s Confessions, Tiempo is the self portrait and clarification of ideas that Jiménez wished to leave for posterity.

Dr. Carmen Peraita
In the second library-sponsored event, held on October 3, Dr. Carmen Peraita, a professor of Spanish in the classical and modern languages and literatures department, spoke about Francisco de Quevedo’s brief work on the life and holy example of St. Thomas of Villanova, El Epítome á la historia de la vida ejemplar y gloriosa muerte del bienaventurado Fray Tomás de Villanueva.

Quevedo (1580-1645) was well-known in the humanist circles of Europe, thanks to his widely circulated manuscript works. In his youth, Quevedo had come under the influence of Augustinian teachers, in particular Blessed Alonzo de Orozco, court preacher and counselor to the Holy Roman Emperor, who had known St. Thomas.

In 1620 Quevedo wrote the Epítome, his first printed work, as his contribution to the festivities in Valencia in honor of the beatification of St. Thomas which had taken place in 1618. Printed in octavo format, the Epítome was pocket sized and relatively inexpensive. It became a favorite of contemporary readers. Soon other authors produced dramatic adaptations in verse that were performed as far away as in the streets of Peru, spreading devotion to St. Thomas among the common folk.

Of the 1200 or so printed copies of the Epítome, only three survive to this day. One of these copies, housed in a library in France, is richly illustrated with woodcuts depicting scenes of the beatification festivities. In the illustrations we see parade floats carrying costumed participants who reenacted episodes from the life of the beloved archbishop of Valencia.

Praised as “one of the most elegant prose works in Spanish,” the Epítome is truly a literary jewel.

Contributed by Barbara Quintiliano; photography by Laura Hutelmyer and Anne Ford.