The Literature of the Spanish People: From Roman Times to the Present Day

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE ROMAN AND VISIGOTHIC PERIODS

TOWARDS 1766 two Franciscan friars, Fray Pedro and Fray Rafael Mohedano, sat down to write the history of Spanish literature. It was the age of long books and the good friars wished to do the job thoroughly. When at last they died, after twenty-five years of continuous work, they had finished ten volumes, bringing their history down to the year A.D. 65.

With this warning I shall try to deal with the beginnings of literature in Spain expeditiously. In fact there is not much, I think, that need be said about the first centuries. We know from Strabo that the Iberians of Andalusia had a literature, including epic poems and books of metrical laws, but it has not come down to us. All we can say is that it probably helped them to absorb Roman culture more rapidly than they would otherwise have done. They certainly showed a remarkable susceptibility to it. By the time of Julius Caesar the cities of the Guadalquivir and Ebro valleys--that is to say, the regions where the Iberians and not the Celts had settled--had become great centres of Latin civilization. We can see the results of this in the literature of the first and second centuries. The Silver Age, as it is called, is crowded with Spanish orators, teachers of rhetoric and poets. The two Senecas and Lucan from Cordova, Quintilian and Martial from Aragon, Columella from Cadiz are only the leading figures among a host of minor literati whose names alone have come down to us. But can we say that there is anything specifically Spanish in their writings? These men were trained in the Latin schools of rhetoric, spent their lives at Rome and wrote for Italians, just as the Spanish American poet José- Maria de Heredia lived in Paris and wrote for the French. The Roman character too--grave, ceremonious, sententious, at once emotional and stoical, humane and quick to shed blood--resembled

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