Academic journal article Hispanic Review

SUBVERSIVE DEMYTHOLOGIZING IN CALDERÓN DE LA BARCA'S Fineza Contra Fineza: The Metamorphosis of Diana

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

SUBVERSIVE DEMYTHOLOGIZING IN CALDERÓN DE LA BARCA'S Fineza Contra Fineza: The Metamorphosis of Diana

Article excerpt

From as early as the fourth century BC, philosophers have sought to deconstruct the logic of myths. Plato, for example, systematically contrasted logos, or rational argument, with mythos.1 By the third century BC, Greek scholars began to either repudiate the mythological tales altogether, regarding them as fatuous explanations for natural phenomena, or to interpret them symbolically, identifying the divine figures as natural elements and forces such as the sun and the wind. In an attempt to reconcile Greco-Roman polytheism with Hebraic theology, early Christian thinkers established a parallel between the dogma of Christendom and the mythologems, that is, they interpreted the myths as religious allegories.

This theocentric exegesis was ineluctable if mythos was to survive, particularly after classical Greco-Roman civilization went into decline and gave way to Christianity in the early centuries AD. The Olympians, by and large, were anything but paragons of virtue; Xenophanes, precursor of the Eleatic school of philosophy, contended that much of the degenerate anthropomorphic behavior ascribed to the gods in Homeric and Hesiodic epics was unworthy of divine beings.2 Classical mythology was therefore transformed, especially in the Middle Ages with the revival of Neoplatonism, into a moral tradition in which the legends were explicated principally as spiritual metaphors. Renaissance mythographics was grounded in this mediaeval practice, and in Calderon's Spain, as elsewhere in early modern Europe, the prime function of myth was didactic: its purpose was to censure "passion" and commend "virtue."

Until recently, critical appraisals of the plays in the Calderonian repertoire that are set in mythic times or rooted in mythologems were informed fundamentally by the religio-allegorical mode. Moreover, since these dramatic works were meant to entertain royalty, the evaluations undermined any intrinsic value in these pieces other than moral indoctrination or frivolous diversion designed solely for the delectation of the Hapsburg Court. This traditional approach, which reduces the dramatic and thematic dimensions of the works to a facile moral, accounts for the critical disparagement and neglect that the texts have suffered in the past. As William Blue observes: "Allegorical readings of these plays do more to destroy their depth, their variety, and their multiple meanings than the resulting aphorisms do to edify us morally" (126). These religio-allegorical readings do not only tarnish the aesthetic beauty of the corpus, but also suggest that the playwright was hidebound by the conventions of his society. Even though many seventeenthcentury writers favored a homiletic approach in their treatment of the GrecoRoman legends, the function of myth in Calderón's theatre resists a discourse of catechetical allegorization. It is in this light that new research contends that while these spectacular fiestas provided pleasure to the aristocracy of seventeenth-century Spain, they did not indiscriminatingly champion the conservative ideology and absolutist political structure of the dramatist's day. This is what Margaret Greer denominates "Calderón's mastery at juxtaposing, a 'celebratory text of royal power' and a critical 'political text' " (Play of Power 104).

Calderón consistently adapts and rewrites mythos in significant ways. This is usually a very effective means by which he reveals his rejection of archetypal ideals in his works. What is particularly novel and salient in the case of Fineza contra fineza is the role reversal. Instead of the conventional mythological drama in which the gods exact vengeance on a mortal, it is a human being, Anfión, caught up in a belligerent maelstrom of human passion, who successfully avenges himself on a goddess, unaided by any other divinity. In fact, he is the only mortal in the Calderonian repertoire to openly, boldly, and successfully declare war on a deity. This reversal of stereotypical roles conveys, in a very compelling manner, subtle undercurrents at the ideological core of the play. …

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