Erotic Spirituality: The Integrative Tradition from Leone Ebreo to John Donne

By T. Anthony Perry | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Ideal Love and Human Reality: Montemayor's Pastoral Philosophy

The Pastoral

The cardinal sin of positivistic criticism was to forget that art is a function of intention, that if Romanesque sculpture or Indian icons are "unrealistic," this shows not ignorance or inability but simply a desire to do something else. These attitudes were especially inappropriate when applied to those great medieval works of mythology and contemplation, of which Jorge de Montemayor's Los siete libros de la Diana ( 1559) is a worthy descendant. 1 Only recently has it been possible to reconsider such charges against the pastoral as "artificial," "extravagant," and "confused." It is now time to suggest the noble profundities of the first and best Spanish pastoral romance.

It has been observed that the pastoral "device" is particularly useful in the study of the complex emotion of love. Mia Gerhardt writes that Montemayor "used the pastoral only insofar as it allowed him to expose the condition of love in its pure state, so to speak." 2 The otiose shepherds of La Diana have no social or economic cares that might complicate the free expression of their sentiments. Such abstraction from "real" or material existence and the concomitant idealization of scene and character permit another kind of concentration as well: full aesthetic immersion into the emotions depicted. From this perspective the novel is a sustained contemplation of the mournful pains of love and yields a direct knowledge of, as well as about, love. The characters and situations convey a feeling about existence, a persistence and expansion of emotion. As Sylvano says of his love: "relating my love causes it to increase" ( La Diana, p. 31). Especially the first half of the novel (books 1-3) may be viewed as an extended complaint over the sorrows of unrequited love. In Montemayor's language of love, it is often music that carries and extends emotion: "music can increase both the affliction of an unhappy person and the joy of a happy person" ( La Diana, p. 229). The novel alternates between slow, spacious, rhythmical prose and verse experiments that, far from introducing new materials or advancing the action, simply repeat and elaborate what has occurred, but as emotion. The shepherds' song has an ambivalent effect, however: "there is no pain that music cannot dispel, nor

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