The Chicano Translation of Troy: Epic Topoi in the Novels of Rudolfo A. Anaya

By Taylor, Paul Beekman | MELUS, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

The Chicano Translation of Troy: Epic Topoi in the Novels of Rudolfo A. Anaya


Taylor, Paul Beekman, MELUS


"Homo fuge! Whither should I fly??" (Faustus II, i, 77) "How has it come to pass that a people can hold So long in their memories marvels of things As resplendent as the deeds that did the Trojans in bold battle?"(1)

The Trojan war spawned the civilization of Europe and seeded the Europe story. Destroyed Troy set loose wandering tribes displaced from one homeland in search of another, just as the destruction of the fourth world, in the myths of North and Meso-America, set loose tribes in migratory waves, destined someday to rediscover one another and their ancestral home. Each of Rudolfo A. Anaya's novels in his trilogy, Bless Me, Ultima, Heart of Aztlan and Tortuga,(2) mirrors this general pattern of displacement and migration, and each is interextually linked to the European literary tradition which records it. The extent to which Anaya reaches to European myth and legend in his reshaping of Native American myth has not been sufficiently scanned as a central topic of Anaya criticism, which has been focused almost exclusively on his representation of indigenous materials. Anaya not only refers occassionally to classical myth in his works, but he appropriates in large measure the topoi of classical story as a means of aligning distinctive features of early European and traditional Meso-American culture.(3) What is at stake, ultimately, is finding a proper place for the Chicano story in a Eurocentric literary economy.

The two branches of European cultural myth which are most prominent in the framework of Anaya's fiction are, first, the destruction and displacement story whose basic, but not exclusive, archetype is Homer's Odyssey,(4) and, second, the founding myth whose archetype is Virgil's Aeneid.(5) The two are complementary, since destruction of a nation and displacement of its inhabitants force the founding of a new home which will infuse into a new terrain what it salvaged of the older culture.

The typical Odyssean hero is a restless wanderer, careless destroyer and trickster whose adventures are occasions to serve personal interests, while a founder-hero like Aeneass i led to disdain self-interests in deference to an announced detiny concerning a future nation. The purpose of the Aenean hero is single-minded and his errant wandering is an accidental straying from a straight-line course toward a new location where the cultural rituals of his lost land can be re-instituted. The Odyssean hero seems almost reluctant to get home, or to hold to it once he ha returned.

In the Ulyssean mold we can see the restless, apparently aimless vaquero of the llano, hard-drinking, tale-telling, full of the pleasures he can find on the land, such as Gabriel Marez and his three older sons in Bless Me, Ultima, the sons and daughters of Clemente Chavez in Herat of Aztlan, and Tortuga in the novel of that name who, even a she is returning home, anticipates returning to the palce he has just left. In the Aenean mold is the agricultural village founder epitomized in Bless me, Ultima by the Luna priest who founds El Puerto, by Clemente Chavez, who leads his family from Guadalupe to Albuquerque in Heart of Aztlan, and most curiously by Juanito Faraway, the Indian in Tortuga who is exiled from his pueblo and in his attempt to return home loses his way only to found, inadvertently, a cultural tradition in a faraway place (TOR 78), hence his name.(6)

Let me begin, however, at the beginning, with Anaya's stories of foundations. Before Troy, Zeus seized the Phoenician Europa, daughter of Phoenix, and in the form of a bull carried her westward across the sea to Crete, where she gave birth to Minos and, therefore, to the greta Minoan culture of the second millenium before Christ. In this story is tha archetype of violence, displacement, and founding, whose nucleate emblem is the phoenix, the bird reborn out of its own ashes. An essential element of this primal myth is the engendering of a mestizo generation, for European culture is born of the union of opposite tendencies and opposing spirits of place. …

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