La Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea


La Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea

"La Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea" ("The Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea"), or simply the "", is a literary work written by one of 17th century Spain’s most prominent and inventive lyric poets, Luis de Góngora y Argote. The poem, though borrowing heavily from prior literary sources of Greek and Roman Antiquity, attempts to go beyond the established versions of the myth by reconfiguring the narrative structure handed down by Ovid. Through the incorporation of highly innovative poetic techniques, Góngora effectively advances the background story of Galatea’s and Acis’s mutual attraction as well as the jealousy and violent disposition of the Cyclops Polyphemus.

The "Polifemo" was completed in manuscript form in 1613 and was subsequently published posthumously after Góngora’s death in 1627. The work is known as one of Góngora’s most lofty poetic endeavors and is arguably his finest artistic achievement along with his Soledades. The "Polifemo", in sum, realizes the final stage of Góngora’s sophisticated poetic style, which slowly developed over the course of his career. In addition to the "Soledades" and other later works, the "Polifemo" demonstrates the fullest extent of Góngora’s highly accentuated, cultivated, impressionistic and seemingly non-transcendent poetic style known by its Spanish designation as culteranismo.

As made evident in the opening of the poem, the "Polifemo" was dedicated to the Count of Niebla, a Castilian nobleman renowned for his generous patronage of 17th century Spain’s most preeminent artists. [Hanak 3] Ironically, the work’s predominant themes, jealousy and competition, reflect the actual competitive environment and worldly aspirations that drove 17th century poets such as Góngora to cultivate and display their artistic ingenuity. Góngora wrote his "Polifemo" in honor of Luis Carillo y Sotomayor's Fabula de Acis y Galatea, which was a contemporary poem that not only depicted the same mythological account, but indeed a work dedicated to the very same Count of Niebla. Luis Carrillo y Sotomayor was both Góngora’s friend and a fellow “culteranist” poet who died tragically at the age of 27 in 1610, three years before Góngora’s "Polifemo" started to be circulated in manuscript form. The premature death of a promising pupil in a sense prompted the creation of the Polifemo.

Conventional Restraints, the Polifemo and Poetic Liberation in the Spanish Baroque

The "Polifemo" is unprecedented for Góngora in terms of its length, its florid style, and its "ingenio" (artistic ingenuity or innovation), which remains distinctively uncompromised by the artistic clarity akin to what is outlined in Aristotle’s Poetics [see Aristotle's "Poetics" (Quotation Pending)]

Contemporary critics such as Luis Carrillo y Sotomayor would come to see Aristotelian clarity as a vice and not as a virtue. In his Libro de la Erudición Poética, Carillo would renounce such dogmatic clarity, when such an obligation imposed by "making oneself intelligible to the half-educated." [see Carillo's "Libro de la Erudición Poética" (1611)] Though culteranismo maintained this aristocratic quality, the words of the Góngora's pupil intended to jibe at Góngora's critics of the 17th century who aggressively attacked him on a personal and artistic level. The poetic explicitly demanded by more traditional poets was therefore seen as artistically inhibiting and corrosive. This fundamental debate between artistic clarity, intelligibility, novelty and free expression first outlined in the "Poetics" of Aristotle and debated subsequently in the intellectual circles of posterity would never cease to divide artists throughout the modern era. Culteranismo has consequently incurred the disdain of several critics for its liberal artistic outlooks, which critics lampooned as frivolous. [see Jauregi's "Discurso poético contra el hablar culto y oscuro" (1624) and "Antídoto contra la pestilente poesía de las Soledades" (1624) ] The primacy of "ingenio" contradicted the claims of more traditional critics who sought to tame instinct through a formulation of rules and a placating of expectations. Critics such as Juan Martínez de Jáuregui y Aguilar and Francisco de Quevedo, for reasons related to its obscure lyricism, saw "culternanist" poets as highly affected, superficial and purposefully obscure with the intention of masking poetic mediocrity. [see Quevedo's "Aguaja de Navegar Cultos"] Regardless of the charges levied against his style, Góngora would remain one the most influential poets of the Spanish Baroque and would even influence the later styles of his most malicious critics [See "Nueva Poesía. Conceptismo, Culteranismo en la Crítica Española" by Collard (in Progress)] . The sophisticated metaphors displayed in the "Polifemo" would later inspire French symbolists such as Paul Verlaine [Warshaw 1] as well as subsequent Spanish poets such as Federico García Lorca and fellow members of the Generation of '27. Culteranismo has always retained a highly arcane and mysterious character. It remains the primary technique along with conceptismo which defined Spanish Baroque Poetry. "Culteranismo" sought to elevate pure "ingenio" over the ideal of "imitatio" (Italian term for artistic imitation), a tendency that dominated Renaissance poetry. The ambiguity of "culternanists" would continue to incur criticism from more conservative Spanish poets and thinkers for centuries.

Plot Summary And Analysis

The "Polifemo" is composed of 63 stanzas, each of which are composed of 8 total lines. In its entirety, the "Polifemo" comprises 504 lines. Throughout the poem there is an abundance of poetic correspondences (i.e. organic or interior referencing), which contrast sharply with the abstruse quality of the "cultismos" (i.e. highly idiosyncratic linguistic modifications, classical lexicon and erudite references) themselves. Also, the ornamentality, verse structure and pure aesthetic considerations of the work are supplemented by a profuse usage of symbolism and external referencing (i.e. relevant mythological accounts communicated through metaphors and anecdotes). A "cultismo", though often intuited as an umbrella term for a particular display of culteranismo, can be thought of as a highly convoluted device that abandons the precision of quotidian language for the sake of artistic expression and devotion. Within the poem, parallelism, proportionality, dissonance and intricate array of puns involving both similitude and antithesis also give the poem greater complexity than that of its classical predecessors.

The Opening (Dedication to the Patron of Niebla) – Stanzas 1-3

The elaborate summoning of the Sicilian Muse Thalia celebrates antiquity and the pastoral genre. Furthermore, this introduction involving a Grecian muse emphasizes "ingenio" itself over that of a more rudimentary imitation delineated by regulations and set expectations. "Imitatio" (the reverential imitation of the art of the ancients) was prevalent in Renaissance poetry as seen in the verse of the highly influential Spanish poet Garcilaso de la Vega who in turn borrowed heavily from the Italian Dolce Stil Novo poets, such as Petrarch, who revolutionized the poetry of the 14th and 15th centuries.

The Cave and the World of Polifemo – Stanzas 4-12

Contrary to the tranquil and idealized settings typical of the pastoral genre, Góngora maintains a fluctuating Background–Foreground dynamic throughout the "Polifemo", which makes itself apparent at the very beginning of the poem. Given his fondness for convoluted and self-fashioned metaphors in addition to his profuse use of hiperbatón, the quality of the lyrical poetry defamiliarizes and reconfigures all aspects of the original narration (see ostranenie). The presence of contrasts, of antithesis and dissimilitude reflects a veritable lack of aesthetic concentration as well as deficient narrative unity deemed necessary in traditional Aristotelean aesthetics. Instead, Góngora juxtaposes conflicting images of beauty and ugliness, harmony and discord to hint at an underlying dichotomy of erotic love as both prolific and destructive. The interspersing of the unsavory and the melancholic with the idyllic deviates from the Renaissance ideal, which differentiated forms by establishing boundaries, namely foregrounds and backgrounds where central objects or figures displaced the prominence of other things. Within the art of the Renaissance, there is a higher degree of hermetic focus, concentration and stability of form. “In contrast to the classical delineation of boundaries”, which gives precedence to forms with greater density and texture, the Baroque style sought to dissolve the divisions between the ‘intended figure’ and ‘unintended background’ or apeirion “in favor of a vision characterized by ‘a mysterious interflow of form and light and colour.’” [Dolan 225] .

In Góngora's description of the scenery and the characters of the Polifemo, the descriptions themselves become the focus and take on an existence of their own. No longer are properties subordinate to the objects from which they emanate. No longer is there the subjugation of form required in Renaissance art. Instead, the Baroque is often characterized by a breakdown in such distinctions and the deterioration of these established ideals. As with Baroque visual art, within the Polifemo, there is a genuine lack of easily recognizable forms. In turn, this new awareness and appreciation of form in-itself became the chief artistic concern for "culteranists", a group of like-minded poets who furthermore celebrated and, at the same time, critiqued the Western Humanist and Hermeneutic traditions of this epoch. The figures of the "Polifemo" themselves are often depersonalized by their metaphoric descriptions, by anecdote and by the portrayal of their circumstance or immediate environment in which they are blended. In the context of Baroque aesthetics, depersonalization in this sense is not the complete abandonment or deterioration of the individual as a distinguishable entity, but emphasizes instead the justification of those characters as forms themselves. The objective individual exists as both a series of phenomena as well as an aspect of the overall representation. Conversely, it is the subject who is the ultimate arbiter of artistic experience though they also limited to merely reflect a bundle of individual perceptions and privately-held associations. Using this understanding, the distinction between Polyphemus and his cave is no longer deemed relevant as an overarching sympathy exists between the two. All of these forms serve an aesthetic purpose of preeminent importance as both capture the melancholic sense of longing and neglect that Góngora attempts to develop and incorporate into the overall narration. Ultimately, it is the poet who goes beyond the mere resemblance and commonality of things as orchestrator of inter-subjectivity to both imagine and project a kindred will. This issue of similitude and the underlying perception of persistent sympathies that arise between two separate entities was an idea deeply rooted in the 16th century épistémè, as Michel Foucault exposes in his highly influential work Les Mots et Les Choses. [see Foucault's "The Prose of the World", second chapter within "The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences" (1970)]

Galatea Described – Stanzas 13-17

Góngora portrays Galatea as both the inspiration whom the whole island of Sicily admires and adores. He goes on to deify her in the minds and rituals of the Sicilian locals. Her femininity remains the unparalleled source of inspiration for all of the inhabitants of the island as well as 'the good' (summum bonum), the ultimate pursuit and the sole object of desire. The sanctification of feminine beauty and grace eventually leads to an emerging cult of Galatea.

:::“A Pales su viciosa cumbre debe:::Lo que a Ceres, y aun mas, su vega llana;:::Pues si en la una granos de oro llueve,:::Copos nieva en la otra mil de lana.:::De cuantos siegan oro, esquilan nieve,:::O en pipas guardan la exprimida grana,:::Bien sea religión, bien amor sea,:::Deidad, aunque sin templo, es Galatea.”

:::“To Pales are its rugged peaks indebted:::For what are fields, and more, to Ceres owing;:::If one is with a rain of gold grains wetted,:::Wool flakes in scores are on the other snowing.:::Or to those who fleece the snow or gold are moving,:::They worship, either out of love, or piety,:::Without a temple, Galatea’s deity.”

:::(English Translation by Miroslav John Hanak [Hanak 53] )

Description of Sicily – 18-24

Sicily, the setting of the tale, resembles the classical archetype of Arcadia. This contrasts sharply with the Darkness of Polyphemous’ cave. Contrasts or dissimilitude were often employed Baroque art, more so than the art of the Renaissance. As Enrica Cancelliere explains in her article "Dibujo y Color en la fabula de Polifemo y Galatea", the commonality of aesthetic interests existing between visual and poetic artists was often quite remarkable during the Baroque epoch:

:::"Dentro de la época barroca que privilegia en todas las artes los contrastes a partir de la técnica del claroscuro en pintura, este poema ya desde el título Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea pone de relieve el tema del contraste cromático, el choque entre lo obscuro y lo resplandeciente; un poema escrito, pues, según la técnica del claroscuro. Así Dámaso Alonso escribe: «De un lado lo lóbrego, lo monstruoso, lo de mal augurio, lo áspero, lo jayanesco; de otro, lilio y plata, lo albo, lo cristalino, lo dulce, la belleza mortal. Tema de Polifemo; tema de Galatea». Esta radical técnica pictórica, que en España toma el nombre de tenebrismo, traduce también significados alegóricos, antropológicos y simbólicos: vida-muerte, Eros-Thánatos, gracia-perdición, que llegarán hasta el teatro de Calderón donde semantizarán el verso, matizarán la escena con juegos de luces y sombras que de la escena pasarán al verso y del verso a la escena. Si en los polos hallamos los límites de la escala cromática —el blanco y el negro—, en el interior, el cuadro explota con manchas de color vividas, oximóricas, que a través de sus significados simbólicos construyen imágenes, personajes,paisajes, sentimientos y emociones."
[Cancelliere 279]

:::Being a work written during the Baroque Epoch, an epoch which favored the profuse use of contrasts in painting more so than any of the other period in Western History, the Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea takes upon itself this very theme concerning chromatic contrasts, the clash between darkness and radiance. The poem was written with a technique akin to the chiaroscuro style one would see in the visual arts. As Dámaso Alonso wrote: "On one side, there is this gloomy presence, that accompanies that which is monstrous, that which is foreboding, that which is surly, that which is grotesque; at the same time, there is the presence of the precious flower and the purest of silver, that which is immaculate, the crystalline, that which is sweet, immortal and beautiful. What we have, in sum, are the respective domains of Polyphemus and Galatea." This radical technique, which in Spain was dubbed tenebrismo, also applies on the allegorical level in form of the characters and symbols that are depicted: life-death, Cupid-Thanatos, grace-perdition, all of which reemerges in the theatre of Calderón where they assume an intelligible form, they bring harmony to the scene with games of light and shadow that pass from scene to verse y from verse to scene. If at the poles we find the limits of the chromatic scale -white and black-, in the interior, the painting explodes with specks of vivid color, dissolve to the oxymoronic that by means of the underlying symbolic meanings construct whole images, characters, settings, thoughts and emotions.

This poetic trend entranced with antithesis is concurrent with the Chiaroscuro style that matured in 17th century Western painting. The striking contrast of the poem rests in the juxtaposition of the dark, gloomy and burdened existence of Polifemo with the figure of Galatea, the paragon of light, beauty and contentedness.

;Description of Acis and the meeting of the lovers – Stanza 25

An interesting correlation of Góngora's poem to that of the classical source is the individual's appeal through his pedigree. The divine lineages of the two suitors, an issue of prevalence within classical works, is incorporated into the poem.

;The Meeting of the Two Lovers and Courtship – Stanzas 26-37

In these lines, Acis pursues Galatea with under a different approach than his wistful cycloptic rival. John McCaw in “Turning a Blind Eye: Sexual Competition, Self-Contradition, and the Impotence of Pastoral in Góngora’s Fabula de Polifemo y Galatea” affirms that Acis’s courtship stratagem engages the sensuality of Galatea and triumphs over the “contemplative love” of Polifemo. [McCaw 30] Acis expresses his desire through means of luxurious material offerings, hinting at the old pagan practice of the Anathema, as well as unadulterated “erotic passion” that is not transcendent and thus, anti-intellectual.

;The Consummation of the Lovers – Stanzas 38-42

In these stanzas, Galatea’s inaccessible character as an ideal (see Platonic idealism) is made tangible:

:::“Más agradable y menos zahareña,:::Al mancebo levanta venturoso,:::Dulce ya concediéndole y risueña:::Paces no al sueño, treguas si al reposo.:::Lo cóncavo hacia de una pena:::A un fresco sitial dosel umbroso,:::Y verdes celosías unas hiedras,:::Trepando troncos y abrazando piedras.”

“Following the initial shock, Galatea becomes somewhat friendlier and less inaccessible. She coaxes the lucky young man to his feet; sweet and smiling, she is now ready to give, not peace to sleep, but indeed allowing a truce to rest, i.e., not excluding it, but postponing it for later. A hollow rock forms a shady cover for a cool, inviting settee with ivy twines serving as green shutters, climbing around trunks and embracing rocks.”

(English Prose Translation by Miroslav John Hanak [Hanak 106] )

The Song of the Cyclops – Stanzas 43-58

Contrary to Acis, Polyphemus represents failed self-cultivation, convention as opposed to nature, and the fruitless application of the virtues of neo-platonic thought, which stressed upward progression, refinement, beauty and universal harmony [Ricapito, Josph V. "Galatea's Fall and the Inner Dynamics of Gongora's Fabula de Polifemo y Galatea." Need Source] Unlike the usual burlesque representations of Polyphemus and Galatea (as seen in Theocritus), the words of the Góngora's Cyclops are incongruous with his outward appearance and his essential barbarism. The emphasis on the intellect, the dialectical or, the ancient rationalism Aristophanes satirically labelled as "thinkery" (Phrontisterion - from The Clouds) as well as the vigilance against moral and bodily corruption are central to neo-platonic understanding that interestingly enough finds its way into this bucolic landscape through the most unlikely of characters. Throughout the poem the Cyclops’ eye is identified with the sun, a traditional Apollonian symbol for dispassionate truth or enlightenment. The Cyclops realizes his surrogate beauty in the form of discourse and song, which he contrasts with the tangible beauty of a lover.

:::Stanza 48:

:::“Sorda hija del mar, cuyas orejas:::A mis gemidos son rocas al viento::::O dormida te huerten a mis quejas:::Purpúreos troncos de corales ciento,:::O al disonante numero de almejas:::--marino, si agradable no, instrumento—:::Coros tejiendo estés escuchas un día:::Mi voz, por dulce, cuando no por mía.”

:::“Deaf daughter of the sea, your ears resistant:::Are to my dirges like to winds this boulder::::Either, they’re blocked, when slumber makes you distant:::By coral trunks that in the sea waves molder.:::Or, the dissonant clash of clams persistent:::--An ocean music, yes, and none is bolder—:::Lures you to dancing; some day, you’ll discover:::My beauty in my voice, not in the lover.”

:::(English Translation by Miroslav John Hanak [Hanak 138] )

It is within the Song of the Cyclops where Polyphemus arises from his obscurity. His perpetual pain and incessant longing drive his lyrics. It is through his situation that his art emerges.

As stated by Cancelliere in her investigation of the poem's visual dynamics, primordial darkness itself, embodied by the character of Polifemo, seems to be the recurring cradle and grave of all perception or advancement:

:::"La noche se muda en posibilidad de regeneración y no solamente por la topología uterina del antro sino por el vuelco mismo de la calidad cromática, connotando el negro, la ausencia absoluta de color, una infinita posibilidad receptiva y regeneradora: campo de epifanías de donde se espera que nazcan otra vez la luz, los colores, la profundidad, las apariciones, en fin, la caverna esotérica, sea de Platón, sea de los antiguos ritos iniciáticos y de los misterios."
[Cancelliere 270]

:::"The night, in its vacuity, welcomes the posibility for redefinition or regeneration y this is possible not merely by means of its concavity, its uterine topology which begs to be filled, but by means of the natural overturning occuring firstly on this very chromatic dimension, connotating the black, the absolute abscence of color, an infinite receptive and regenetive possibility: realm of possibilities where one can await the recurrent birth of light, of life, of both profundity and form and, ultimately, the esoteric cavern of Plato, of those ancient rites and of those long forgotten mysteries."

Lovers discovered, Death and Transformation of Acis – Stanzas 59-63

In the versions of both Góngora and Ovid, the ending of the poem is one of violence and transformation. In both tales, after the Cyclops laments, the two lovers are eventually discovered, thus provoking the anger of Polyphemus who strikes the fleeing Acis with a boulder that he rips from the landscape. In both the Latin and the Spanish poem, the youthful Acis is crushed and killed by Polyphemus’s striking boulder. Only after violent death is the boy is subsequently transformed into a river.

The Backdrop, the Classical Precursors of the Polifemo and Poetic Innovation

Though the mythological characters themselves can be traced to various pre-Hellenistic sources, such as book 9 of the Odyssey, the comprehensive artistic representation of the fabled lovers’ tryst, the rejection and consequent dejection of Polyphemus and the subsequent murder of Acis was realized much later in "Ovid"’s Metamorphoses.

Nevertheless, Ovid was not the first poet to exploit the poetic potential of these mythical figures. Though his influence on this poem is less direct, the founder of the bucolic or pastoral genre, Theocritus, wrote a burlesque poem representing Polyphemus and his unrequited love for the Sea-nymph Galatea. The pastoral genre was subject to later imitation by other prominent figures of antiquity, as seen in Virgil’s Eclogues, as well as by prominent figures of the Italian and Spanish Renaissance, such as Petrarch and Garcilaso de la Vega.

In Theocritus, Ovid and Góngora, the Songs of the Cyclops resemble one another to varying degrees. The two classical poems, which served as the framework for Gongora’s version, are characterized by the Cyclops’s invocation of Galatea which retains both a presumptuous and wistful tone. Some shared characteristics of classical origin are:

#Theocritus and Ovid have Polyphemus compare Galatea’s physical beauty and allusiveness to natural and pastoral phenomena. The lamenting of Polyphemus is marked by the statement of her rejection of him and his consequent despondence. In Theocritus, “Polyphemus’ four comparisons are with the daily business of agriculture and husbandry, made special nevertheless by the endearing simplicity of this Cyclops.” [Lehrer 19] In contrast, Góngora portrays Polyphemous as deeply poetic and sophisticated despite his ferocious appearance, lifestyle and the egotistical/antisocial disposition.
#There exists in all three poems a description of his unappealing physical appearance. Góngora’s song is more subtle and consciously avoids the burlesque comedy found in Ovid.
#Polyphemus lists his fecundity or material wealth in all 3 poems.
#Polyphemus admonishes Galatea to be with him.

Interestingly enough, Theocritus’s version ends in the young Cyclop’s self-reprimands. Furthermore, The tone is purely innocent and humorous, while hope for another love remains.

Though other imitations and related works exist, the primary inspiration for Góngora was undoubtedly Ovid who portrayed the tale in a way that conformed to the Metamorphoses’s integral theme of transformation where beginnings and ends that feed into one another.

Though the narrative structure differs substantially from that found in Ovid’s version, Góngora assumes a similar plot with the Cylops’s murder of Acis followed by the young boy’s transformation. Though Ovid’s work serves as the thematic and narrative framework for the "Polifemo", Góngora doesn’t seem content to merely imitate Ovid. The two poets had different aspirations that are clear to distinguish. In writing the Metamorphoses, Ovid sought to compose a narrative of mythic time united by the theme of constant transformation. Ovid's intention is, thus, cosmological in nature. Given his drastically opposing style and clear deviation from the ancient poet’s narrative structure, the Spanish poet attempts to reexamine this popular myth, which grants him wide parameters for the display of his sophisticated wit as well as a peculiar aesthetic sensibility that are not nearly as developed in the Roman's poem.

Deviations from the Ovidian Portrayal and Gongorine Innovation

There are several notable differences in terms of content that distinguish the Polifemo from its predecessor. As Melinda Eve Lehrer states in her work "Classical Myth and the “Polifemo” of Góngora", “Góngora made many innovations in the myth which he inherited from Ovid. Some of them have a merely ornamental function, while others are organically essential to Góngora’s poem.” [Lehrer 28]

There are several ornamental additions that detract from the narration that are obviously not present in its classical counterpart:

:St. 48:

:“O dormida te hurten a mis quejas:Purpúreos troncos de corales ciento,:O al disonante numero de almejas.”

:“Either, they [Galatea’s ears] are blocked, when slumber makes you distant:coral trunks that in the sea waves molder.:Or, the dissonant clash of clams persistent”

Furthermore, as Leher points out, when displaying his wealth and fecundity [Lehrer 29] :

:St. 50

:“Cuyos enjambres, o el abril los abra,:O los desate el mayo, ámbar destilan:Y en ruecas de oro rayos de sol hilan”

:“Whose swarms will April free, if not as many:As May unleashes, wax the amber sealing,:As if were sunrays off gold distaffs reeling.”

In addition to ornamental descriptions giving life to the Cyclops' mundane possessions, Góngora often incorporates anecdotes that detract from the overall narration as in St. 50-53 regarding the shipwrecked Genoese merchants.

The thematic aloofness of Góngora’s verse contrasts sharply with his purely conceptista contemporaries who valued a verbal economy of correspondences and a less convoluted interplay between words (signs) and their meaning (signifiers) as the true testament of wit, which they in turn used to costume a thematic focus. Góngora recreates events by focusing on the sensual impressions granted by the narrative. This reluctance to appeal to or rely on preconceived abstractions and prosaic lexicon and expressions forces the reader to reconstruct meaning. Given his highly sensorial lyrics and his reluctance to directly engage or placate the reader’s understanding, literary critics, such as Dámaso Alonso, have labeled Góngora’s style as particularly impressionistic. [Alonso: Estudios y Ensayos Gongorinos and Poesía Española: Ensayo de Métodos y Límites Estilísticos]

The Murder of Acis: Premeditated vs. Crime of Passion

Ovid, Gongora’s predecessor, portrays Acis’ murder as a premeditated act:

“Well, he may please himself for all of that, but what I don’t like is, he pleases YOU, Galatea –just let me at the guy, he’ll learn that I’m as strong as I am big! I’ll tear his living guts out and I’ll scatter his body parts in fields and in your waters, so you can mingle with his mangled limbs.”10 (Translation Bk. XIII of the Metamorphoses ln. 1249-1259)

Unlike Ovid, Góngora does not opt for such a calculating and cold-blooded portrayal of Polyphemus and instead stresses the impetuousness of the genuinely committed Cyclops as he accidentally catches the two lovers together:

::“Viendo el fiero jayan, con paso mudo::Correr al mar la fugitiva nieve::(que a tanta vista el Líbico desnudo::Registra el campo de su adarga breve)—::Y al garzón viendo, cuantas mover pudo::Celoso trueno, antiguas hayas mueve:::Tal, antes que la opaca nube rompa,::Previene rayo fulminante trompa””

::“At last, the giant spied the muted paces::Of fleeing snow, as to the sea she hurried::(Such might sight a Lybian buckler traces,::A brief defense, by naked tribesmen carried)—::On seeing Acis, through as many races::His voice beech trees as jealous thunder harried:::So, too, before the livid cloud will sunder,::Before the lightning, trumpets come of thunder” (English Translation by Miroslav John Hanak [Hanak 186] )

This underlying difference hints at Góngora’s primary concern with form and his concern in capturing the full aesthetic effect through his representation of the emotional torrents of love, jealousy and murder. Stephen Wagschal argues in "Mas no cabrás allá": Góngora's Early Modern Representation of the Modern Sublime” that in doing this, Góngora fully demonstrates the aesthetic character of the sublime, as Kant defined it, where the sublime in its dynamic form inevitably occurs at the climax of the narrative itself. The revelation of betrayal is accentuated by an analogous impression of the sublime as experienced in nature. This impression is the precursor to violence, destruction and the complete devolution of the Cyclops to his natural state. Essentially, Góngora pushes the concept of jealousy to its fullest extent by interfacing the human emotion with its corresponding destructive aspect of nature.

Within the scope of the Polifemo, the presence of ugliness and the grotesque which taints the Arcadian landscape of the pastoral, proves predestined to annihilate both the beauty and harmony inherent in pastoral naivety, something which was cherished in both Renaissance art and the ancient bucolic. [Wagschal 179] Even in paradise, where a harmonious and fruitful relationship between the loved and beloved remains a possibility, love never forms or subsists in a vacuum and is instead constantly tested and reshaped by the external realities that also allowed for it. Love eventually enters into a state of disequilibrium where both exterior circumstance and the instrinsic instability of the emotion jointly transmute the original form. The intemperance of love and the existence of evil as the result neglecting the good are deeply rooted in a non-Christian pagan morality birthed by Socrates in which excess and evil are the products of ignorance, which can be effectively ameliorated with proper education. Evil is a condition when perceived through the lense of this highly deterministic outlook, which contrasts sharpely with the Judeo-Christian explanation for the existence of evil. Instead of relying upon a preexisting cosmological force and the doctrine of Original Sin, the pagans offered a much more rational explanation that rested in the philosophical categorization that delineated the good. All conditions contrary to this understanding were in a sense flawed to various extents (see Nichomean Ethics).

The Beauty of Galatea: The Material vs. Transcendental

Within pre-Christian texts the portrayal of Galatea differs drastically from that of early modern depictions. Certain recurrent images present in Ovid and Theocritus that seem to be avoided altogether in Renaissance and Baroque poems are the mundane associations that pertain to her femininity. According to Ignasi Ribo Labastida, when emphasizing the "blancura" or “whiteness” of Galatea, Theocritus and Ovid both utilize the metaphor of milk. In fact, etymologically Galatea can be translated to mean “milk-white.” Nevertheless, within the context of Góngora’s poem a reference or metaphor to milk does not occur. Given that Góngora was fully aware of this, it is interesting that he consciously choose to filter this image out of his "Polifemo". Labastida notes that Góngora opts instead for other representations of feminine beauty that appeal to the platonic or Marian or Beatricean abstraction of femininity. Some examples are, “más brillante que el cristal” (brighter than cristal) and “más luciente que el hielo” (more translucent than ice). Labastida believes that this transposition of feminine ideal corresponds to the neo-platonic tradition that became exceedingly popular in the later stages of Roman antiquity. These philosophical trends undoubtedly allowed for the gradual Christianization of the empire. Labastida would elaborate that medieval Christianity greatly shaped European perceptions and taste placing parameters on those of even the most avid of Humanists during the Renaissance.

Character Portrayals: Galatea

Ovid seems to represent Galatea as entirely helpless and passive as she laments over the brutality of Polyphemus:

::“One day, Galatea, spreading her hair for Scylla to comb, heaved a sigh and said: “You, dear girl, are pursued by the kind of men you would hardly consider uncouth, and you can say no to them, as you do, without a second thought. But consider my case: My father is Nereus; my mother, sea-blue Doris; and I have a group of sisters who protect me; yet I was unable to escape the love of a Cyclops without suffering for it,” and her voice choked with sobs. The girl wiped away Galatea’s tears with a hand white as marble and consoled her, saying, “Tell me about it, dearest, don’t hide your sorrow- you can trust me.”

(Ovid Book XIII of the Metamorphoses ln 742-749. English Translation by Michael Simpson)

Within the Polifemo, Galatea transgresses the established gender roles that were rigidly maintained particularly in 17th century Spain. Góngora places Galatea in a much different light by having her assume a more sexually assertive role. Her shamelessly unrestrained behavior is distinct. Midway through the poem, there is a reversal between the role of the lover (Galatea) and the beloved (Acis). This inversion of the courtly poetry popular in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in which women were confined to the role of the humble, reticent and inactive role of the beloved spars with the expectations of the 17th century reader.

Despite the sexual overtones of the poem, the Bucolic environment captures the Adamic or Pre-fall Edenic innocence of Western tradition, which effectively predicates the licentious and exploitative associations with human sexuality. In this sense, the poem escapes the regular criticism so prevalent in Góngora's time. The bucolic genre effectively bypassed the social formalities, norms, taboos and concerns of posterior civilization.

Physical Consummation of the Lovers

Ovid is not so suggestive and does not note whether or not the love was consummated.

Meanwhile, Góngora makes this evident and limits the ambiguity of the extent of the brief relationship and by doing so Galatea substantiates her latent sexuality.

Temporal Differences in the Narrative

Ovid presents the tale as a recollection and incorporates it into other mythological accounts of transformation. His rendering of the tale portrays the act as something already experienced.

As stated by Leher, “Góngora is not interested in this story for the same reason as Ovid. Góngora was interested in this particular story for the contrasts, tensions, and resolutions of the forces which it offered, and his innovations and alterations were directed toward that purpose.” [Lehrer 35] In sum, Góngora seeks to recreate the experience in order to capture the full aesthetic potential provided by the background narrative.

Other Narrative differences

The eloquence of Polifemo’s words as he serenades Galatea is particular to Góngora, which contrasts sharply with the grotesque and humorous classical portrayals of the barbarous Cyclops. Góngora chooses to exclude the image of the Cyclops raking (i.e. combing) his hair and other instances in which scrupulous attention is given to his physical appearance. In Ovid, this was used likewise for a humorous effect, which was inappropriate for the graver tone set by Góngora. There are several comedic elements to the ancient texts that were selectively discarded by Góngora.

A noticeable difference is in the discovery of the lovers. While in Ovid, the Cyclops stumbles upon them while he is roaming the countryside, Góngora has the discovery interrupt the song of the Cyclops as he is lamenting. As Lehrer goes on to state in her mythological analysis of the "Polifemo", “interruption of a speaker is in fact a motif that occurs in Góngora’s and suggests displacement and alienation. The interruption of Polifemo’s song resembles a “jog in timing which hastens the denouement of the poem.” [Lehrer 29] Thus, while it does not deviate from the unfolding of the plot, it definitely elicits an aesthetic effect not present in its Roman predecessor.

The Polifemo and the Renaissance Ideal

The question of perfection, of a harmonious situation where nothing can be added without worsening conditions for individuals and set relationships, drives the narrative of the Polifemo. Essentially, the poem exposits the implausibility of Arcadia, of an ideal world, given the persistent problem of evil. The poem presents evil not as an unjustified primordial element in an absolute sense, but as a corollary of the finite nature of the material universe. The zero-sum metaphysics assumed in the narrative prompt egocentric feelings of vanity and jealousy, which work in tandem to foment a pervasive sense of competition that predicates violence and destruction. At the same time, beauty itself as a pleasurable distinction amid a multitude of phenomena is permitted by the existence of outlying inferior qualities or distinct forms that surrounds the beautiful (this is akin to the background-foreground issue characterizing Renaissance painting). By its scarce, tenuous or exclusive nature, beauty becomes the unending pursuit or focus that endows the aspirant pursuer with the necessary sense of purpose and meaning. Furthermore, presupposing the belief that the world resumes under a cyclic progression of infinite transfiguration, as engendered in the thesis of Ovid, the situation that originally gives rise to feelings such as love is likewise just as ephemeral. Within the narrative, tension develops between this intractable and predetermined outlook espoused by Neo-Platonism and that of free will, namely of self-assertion through personal choices. In the growing tension between metaphysics and the world of subjective experience, the idealized nature of the Neo-Platonist is gradually undone by its eternalist perspective, which entails a web of associations ranging from non-Catholic determinism to fatalistic nihilism or the subversion of guiding principles. The very self-contained and immutable reality behind things propounded during the height of the Renaissance, in which entities remained suspended in their particular web of semblances and associations, is portrayed as a specious and unavailing contraption or constraining dogma that thoroughly undermines the present by denigrating the very sensibility of phenomena. The poem has anti-intellectual undertones as portrayed by Polifemo's unavailing lamentations mirroring the courtly love of Christendom. In the Polifemo, the Arcadian world of bucolic poetry is just as insecure as our own. The world, as the subject experiences it, remains exposed to a plethora of outside influences, which by nature of their interaction with the subject beg a response on the part of the individual. Whether through a direct or indirect capacity, the external phenomena inevitably prompts a change in the present condition in the same manner that originally gave rise to the condition at hand. Essentially, life as experience is that of constant flux and constant dialogue where the perception of the status quo is merely illusory. In the process of flux, the subject is made a victim of circumstance. The principle of causation underlying Neo-Platonism of the Renaissance portrays a world of specious harmony existing between the macrocosmic and microcosmic. The injustice experienced on a personal level, of change and of loss offers a different rendition of what occurs on the plane of remote abstraction. In the face of destruction and suffering, Gongora portrays life as being ultimately redeemed by the sensorial experience of life itself. Pleasure is realized in its absence and full appreciation develops as a result of its loss. Thus, beauty and ugliness, tranquility and turmoil allow for one another, making life sensible through their contrasts (seedifferance). What an entity is not allows for the intellection of its reality. This could explain the fixation with contrasts present throughout Gongora's other works. During the early 17th century, several scientific and cultural breakthroughs were being made that greatly shaped Western cosmological perceptions. It seems that Gongora's work reflect this period marked by insecurity, doubt and transformation. In contrast to the courtly poetry of the Renaissance, the love of Acis and Galatea as portrayed by Gongora is grounded in the innocence of physical attraction, something which had been traditionally marginalized throughout the Middle Ages. The actual degeneration of pagan sensibility is rooted in the metaphysical hierarchies of Neoplatonism and its more popular successor, Christianity. Sensualism in poetry had always been viewed with some degree of vigilance particularly during the Renaissance when there was a renewed interest in Pagan culture. This was understandable given that the literature of antiquity clearly possessed a distinctive ethos that at times drastically opposed the rigid moral standards later established by the Church. The Polifemo ultimately represents the redeeming aspect of love as it arises from and is consequently destroyed by the inscrutable primordial chaos that gives form to passion. The poem celebrates Pagan Love as described by Robert Jammes and conversely criticizes the intellectualism that needlessly justifies and consequently stifles erotic love. The "Polifemo" is in a way a critique of Neo-Platonic cosmology and its particular world view that evolved over the course of Western history. Eventually, during the Renaissance, interest in ancient belief systems revitalized paving the way for the Hermetic tradition that was to offer refreshing insights into life's possibilities.

Notes

References

*Baena, Julio. "Tiempo Pasado y Tiempo Presente: De la Presencia a la estereofonia en la Fabula de Polifemo y Galatea." "Caliope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance & Baroque Hispanic Poetry" 2.1 (1996): 79-99.
*Barnard, Mary E. "The Gaze and the Mirror: Vision, Desire, and Identity in Gongora's Fabula de Polifemo y Galatea." "Caliope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance & Baroque Hispanic Poetry" 8.1 (2002): 69-85.
*Cancelliere, Enrica. "Dibujo y Color en La Fabula de Polifemo Y Galatea." "Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas" Actas X (1989): 789-798.
*Carenas, Francisco. "El Lenguaje, ese oscuro y enigmatico objeto: El Caso de El Polifemo de Gongora." "Letras de Deusto" 20.48 (Sept. 1990): 151-159.
*Dolan, Kathleen H. “Figure and Ground: Concrete Mysticism in Gongora’s ‘Fabula de Polifemo y Galatea’.” "Hispanic Review" 52.2 (Spring, 1984): 223-232.
*Friedman, Edward H. "Creative Space: Ideologies of Discourse in Gongora's Polifemo." "Cultural Authority in Golden Age Spain". 57-78. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995.
*Garcia, Luis M. Vicente. "El lenguaje hermetico en la Fabula de Polifemo y Galatea de Gongora." "Edad de Oro" 23 (2004): 435-455.
*Hanak, Miroslav John." The Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea". New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1988.
*Lehrer, Melinda Eve. "Classical Myth and the ‘Polifemo’ of Gongora". Potomac, MD: "Scripta Humanistica", 1989.
*McCaw, John R. “Turning a Blind Eye: Sexual Competition, Self-Contradiction, and the Importance of Pastoral in Góngora's ‘Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea’.” "Hispanofila" 127 (September 1999): 27-35.
*O'Connor, Thomas Austin. "Sobre el Bozo de Acis: Una Apostilla a los Versos 279-280 del Polifemo de Gongora." "Boletin de la Biblioteca de Menendez Pelayo" 68 (1992): 143-148.
*Pabst, Walter. Translation by Nicolas Marin. "La Creación Gongorina En Los Poemas Polifemo Y Soledades". Imprenta Aguirre: Madrid, 1966.
*Parker, Alexander A. "Polyphemus and Galatea: A Study in the Interpretation of a Baroque Poem". Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977.
*Raulston, Stephen B. "Vision, Desire, and the Reader of the Polifemo." "Lucero: A Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies" 1 (Spring 1990): 17-27.
*Ribo Labastida, Ignasi. “Galatea o la leche. La descripción de la belleza femenina en Teócrito, Ovidio y Góngora.” "Revista de Literatura Española Medieval y del Renacimiento" 10 (2006).
*Ricapito, Joseph V. "Galatea's Fall and the Inner Dynamics of Gongora's Fabula de Polifemo y Galatea." "Women in the Discourse of Early Modern Spain" 160-180. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2003.
*Ruster, Michael Bradburn. "Fabula de Polifonia: Harmony and Discord in Gongora's Polifemo." Lucero: A Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies (Spring 1991): 112-119.
*Simpson, Michael. "The Metamorphses of Ovid". Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.
*Wagschal, Steven. "Mas no cabrás allá": Góngora's Early Modern Representation of the Modern Sublime.” "Hispanic Review" 70.2 (Spring, 2002): 169-189.


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