Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Loyola's Acts: The Rhetoric of the Self

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Loyola's Acts: The Rhetoric of the Self

Article excerpt

Loyola's Acts. The Rhetoric of the Set: By Marjorie O'Rourke Boyle. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997. 274 pages.

The so-called autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola is a textual scholar's nightmare: it covers but 17 years (1521-1538) of the saint's 65-year life, and was dictated by its subject. Its Portuguese scribe reconstructed it from a temporal and geographic distance, rendering some of it in Spanish to a Spanish scribe, then dictating the rest to an Italian scribe. As Boyle indicates, it is five times removed from Ignatius's lips, and not even a manuscript of the complete Spanish/Italian version exists.

A highly unstable narrative, Loyola's Acta attract speculative interpretations, which have historically tended toward literal readings. Boyle proposes that as epideictic, its primary purpose was to praise God, not represent Ignatius in a historical fashion, and reading it was intended to produce a moral impression, which the author elucidates by typecasting Loyola as he moves through it. Emphasizing the Acta's first episodes, she selects its textual models from a very wide gamut of texts ranging from classical and Biblical works to sixteenth century literature.

"The Knight Errant" is young, chivalric Ignatius, whose early follies and vanities are meant to instruct by via negativa. Here as throughout the book, Boyle adduces evidence from far-ranging texts (to cite a few, Plautus, Homer, and d'Etaples) to set forth her thesis that the young hero's stand against the French in Pamplona constitutes a prideful act rather than a valiant one. She immediately identifies the principle sin with which she believes Ignatius grapples throughout the Acta as vainglory. Leaving nothing to literal reading, she finds, for example, that the limp which resulted from surgery to Loyola's wounded leg symbolizes "the imbalance of intellect and will" of humanity, and the fallen Adam himself (44).

"The Ascetic" treats the saint's travels to Montserrat and Manresa, pausing at length over Loyola's reported dispute with a Moor about the Immaculate Conception, after which he fails to defend his "Lady's" honor, and winds up letting his mule decide between the path to revenge against the Moor (who represents the heretic) or to Montserrat, an episode laden with chivalric fantasy; Boyle prefers to relate the incident to Hercules at the crossroads rather than Amadis at the same, and this tendency to read the Acta in light of remote literary sources rather than more period-specific models is characteristic of her interpretation. …

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