Front Lines: Soldiers' Writing in the Early Modern Hispanic World

Front Lines: Soldiers' Writing in the Early Modern Hispanic World

Front Lines: Soldiers' Writing in the Early Modern Hispanic World

Front Lines: Soldiers' Writing in the Early Modern Hispanic World

Synopsis

In Front Lines, Miguel Marténez documents the literary practices of imperial Spain's common soldiers. Against all odds, these Spanish soldiers produced, distributed, and consumed a remarkably innovative set of works on war that have been almost completely neglected in literary and historical scholarship. The soldiers of Italian garrisons and North African presidios, on colonial American frontiers and in the traveling military camps of northern Europe read and wrote epic poems, chronicles, ballads, pamphlets, and autobiographies--the stories of the very same wars in which they participated as rank-and-file fighters and witnesses. The vast network of agents and spaces articulated around the military institutions of an ever-expanding and struggling Spanish empire facilitated the global circulation of these textual materials, creating a soldierly republic of letters that bridged the Old and the many New Worlds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Marténez asserts that these writing soldiers played a key role in the shaping of Renaissance literary culture, which for its part gave to them the language and forms with which to question received notions of the social logic of warfare, the ethics of violence, and the legitimacy of imperial aggression. Soldierly writing often voiced criticism of established hierarchies and exploitative working conditions, forging solidarities among the troops that often led to mutiny and massive desertion. It is the perspective of these soldiers that grounds Front Lines, a cultural history of Spain's imperial wars as told by the common men who fought them.

Excerpt

… then Cretheus, friend of the Muses, the Muses’ comrade,
Cretheus, always dear to his heart the song and lyre,
Turning a verse to the taut string, always singing
Of cavalry, weapons, wars and the men who fight them.

—Virgil, Aeneid

Virgil was the son of a tinker and he was the best of Italian poets.

—PEDRO MEXÍA, Silva de varia lección

It has been remarked that soldiers do not inherit letters but conquer them. Against all odds, the rank-and-file soldiers of early modern Spain participated in the production, distribution, and consumption of a remarkably innovative set of works on war that have been almost completely neglected by literary and historical scholarship. the soldiers of Italian garrisons and North African presidios, on colonial American frontiers and in the traveling military camps of northern Europe, read and wrote epic poems, chronicles, ballads, pamphlets, and autobiographies—the stories of the very same wars in which they participated as rank-and-file fighters and witnesses. These Spanish soldados plánticos, professional soldiers conversant with war, turned into soldados curiosos, inclined to letters, by engaging in a wide variety of writing and reading practices. Furthermore, it was precisely the vast network of spaces articulated around the political and military institutions of an ever-expanding and struggling Spanish empire that facilitated the global circulation of the men themselves and of their textual production, and constituted what I call “a soldierly republic of letters.” the lines they wrote on the front provide a critical view from below on state violence and imperial expansionism. It is their perspective that grounds . . .

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