PhiN 8/1999: 27

Reinhard Krüger (Berlin)

Shipwreck and gunpowder.
Poetic Imagery and Social History in Gracián's Criticón

"Créeme [...] que toda passa en imagen,
y aun en imaginación, en esta vida."

Gracián: El Criticón
(Gracián 1990, 401)


Baltazar Gracián's novel El Criticón is much more than just an allegorical narrative. The reference of the text is the political, moral and economic reality of late seventeenth century Spain. Allegory in this text is turned to an intellectual and linguistic instrument for analyzing the structures of contemporaneous Spanish society. Subsequently the sense of the semiotic and poetic procedure of the allegory in this case is to be useful as a tool to analize extra-literary reality. The instruments which Gracián involves are especially the intellectual tools and principles he had already developed in his treatise on Agudeza y arte de ingenio. There he shows how intellectual and linguistic wit can be employed to put something in evidence. In El Criticón there are especially two 'acute' concepts he puts in work: it is first of all the metaphor of shipwreck - naufragio, which always fits very well with regard to to hazardous dynamics of life. The second metaphor is the pólvora, the gunpowder which has marginalized old heroic and knightly virtues and lead to an irreversible changement in social-political structures in the Spanish society of the seventeenth century. Recognizing the depressive and catastrophic structures of Spanish economies in the seventeenth century, Gracián gives an analysis of Spanish reality which is more than unfavorable to the cultural glamour of the siglo de oro.

1 Gracián's method: "disfrazar la verdad para mejor insinuarla"

With regard to the literary and moral tradition of the menosprecio del mundo, it has often been observed, that Gracián's diagnostics of human society would have been the same, if there would not have been any obvious references to social reality of 17th century Spain in his Criticón.1 In spite of this, none of the poetic images, in which he counterfeits some aspects of the declining siglo de oro's reality, is without function within Gracián's concept of human beings under the conditions of total decline.2 To put it more precisely: the pitiful economic and social conditions in Spain in the middle of the 17th century gave rise to Gracián's poetic images and the resulting strategies, which also relate to social practice. These images also reveal Gracián's strategy of writing. This strategy seems to be a poetic application of the poetic and pragmatic strategema, Gracián has already suggested in his Agudeza y arte de ingenio (1642/48) and in his Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia (1647). (cf. Krüger 1999) Fortunately, there are especially Benito Pelegrín's advanced studies on the implicit poetics of Gracián's writing, yet they mostly do not aim at the historical semantics of linguistic artifice and strategy of writing in Gracián's texts.

PhiN 8/1999: 28

Thus, we may discern in El Criticón a poetic strategy of writing as well as an invention and application of poetic images, that refer precisely to the Spanish reality of the 17th century. Hence we shall not distinguish poetic strategy and political discourse, even not for analytical purposes, since Gracián himself does not contrast poetic and political discourse. On the contrary, he considers every social practice as to be carried out in an artful way. This conviction gives rise to the value of a conscient and artistically staged speech or writing, which may be like paradigmatic for every human action. Gracián considers linguistic and poetic artifice as one – and perhaps the only – instrument for scanning and scrutinizing man's experience of reality, that should lead to a more precise insight into reality: "disfrazar la verdad para mejor insinuarla." (Gracián 1969, II, 195) Thus, the text should not represent 'reality', because – as we are going to see later on – every representation of reality is necessarily subject to fictitious combinations of experience, knowledge, and signs. Engaging poetic form, that is to say its methods and unforseen inventions, is a kind of deviation from the commonly accepted and necessarily 'false' linguistic and discursive representations of reality.

As we will see – and therefore some longer quotations in the following text may be allowed – Gracián proves to have a striking knowledge of and an analytical insight into the causes of Spain's decline in the 17th century. Yet this – and Gracián himself would avow – necessarily unprecise and fictitious knowledge do not entail a political discourse, but a poetic imagery, which leads to the construction of a labyrinthine tale. Hence we may suppose, that Gracián would have written different texts without his particular 17th century Spanish background. And above all he would certainly not have written this three-part El Criticón of 1651, 1653 and 1658.

2 Providence and man-built puentes

At the very beginning of the first paragraph of the Crisi I.1, Gracián makes clear, that contemporary Spain is the starting point as well as historical horizon of his novel: "Ya entrambos mundos habían adorado el pie a su universal monarca el católico Filipo." (Gracián 1990, I.1, 65) Living in new spatial dimensions between the Old and the New World, going west with the católicas flotas del Oriente, man experienced a new conditio humana, which Gracián describes as follows: man, being himself a "monstruo de la naturaleza y de la suerte" (ib), is at the mercy of nature (olas, vientos) as well as at the mercy of Fortuna (desaires de la fortuna). Under these premises, man is fighting with nature and chance. This continuous movement and struggle gave rise to human industry and invention, which finally destructed the old providential order of his world: "En vano la superior atención separó las naciones con los montes y los mares si la audacia de los hombres halló puentes para traegar su malicia." (Gracián 1990, I.1, 66) Providence has established natural boundaries between the nations, as for instance mountains and seas, just for the sake of defining man's circuit. Yet man's drive has found a way out to surmount his natural borderlines.

PhiN 8/1999: 29

In his narrative, Gracián employs the images montes and mares, which have been surmounted by man-built puentes, and in doing this, Gracián works out a semantic prestructuring of the following text: the puentes might be some human inventions, which apply to montes and mares. But in fact, Gracián presents these inventions only in an elliptic way, because we cannot make out any direct correspondence between these puentes and any appropriate invention. The only correspondences which the reader may detect, are the consistent and pernicious effects due to the invention of these puentes, but until then, these correpondences remain unknown to the reader. The puentes could either stand for shipbuilding or construction of passes through mountain-ranges. Their absence from the text however refers to the poetic method and linguistic strategy of the agudeza por correspondencia ausente, which has been analysed by Gracián in his Agudeza y arte de ingenio (1642, 2nd edition 1648). (Gracián 1969, II, 72) This kind of agudeza presupposes, that the reader has to supply the absent linguistic and semantic correspondences to fuentes. Thus, the agudeza por correspondencia ausente implies, that the reader is abruptly confronted with the secondary and fatal effects of human industry. Having run ashore on the island of Santa Elena as a result of a shipwreck, Critilo worries about his plight: "Todo cuanto inventó la industria humana ha sido perniciosamente fatal y en daño de sí misma." Inventions that should have been beneficial measures for establishing international communication between the nations, have lead to the contrary. As the first and most eminent – which is to say: most pernicious – invention Critilo speaks of a certain powder: "La pólvora es un horrible estrago de las vidas, instrumento de su mayor ruina." As the second fatal invention he mentions the ships, and consequently navigation itself, which neccessarily led to shipwreck: "Una nave no es otro que un ataúd anticipado." (Gracián 1990, I.1, 66) This image represents an agudeza de improporción y disonacia on the linguistic plan. (Cf. Gracián 1969, II, 64) The result of this textual construction is obvious: under the reign of Philipp IV Spain got stuck in shipwreck and manslaughter. The new conditio humana turns out to be a historical category, which refers to the reality of Spanish – or more precisely: Castilian – life in the 17th century.

3 On heroes and pólvora

3.1 The riddle of the pólvora

The contemporary reader would have immediately recognized, that Gracián/Critilo speaks above all about gunpowder. But in fact, Gracián presents Critilo as not knowing precisely, what he is on about: several hundred pages later, Critilo seems not to get any allusion to the gunpowder, which el de los cien coraçones is speaking about in a more or less metaphoric way. Hence Critilo's first statement on the pólvora seems to refer to some knowledge of gunpowder and its effects, yet it finally turns out, that later on, and under other textual conditions, this knowledge seems to be nil.

Qualifying the pólvora as an estrago, Gracián emphasises the polysemic function of words and, in doing so, he prepares an undetermined semantic pattern of different connotations, which he is going to explore in a narrative way much later on in his text. An estrago is every destruction of life, which is caused by epedimics, drugs, poison, war or whatsoever. The estrago qualifies the pólvora and its etymon polvo simultaneously at least in a triple way. The pólvora may either be the cause of disease, of poisoning, or of death in wars. This method of using the polysemic function of a word fits in well with Gracián's own theory of employing words in a 'conceptuous' way, wich he worked out in his Agudeza y arte de ingenio. In this (more aphoristic than systematically structured) treatise, he stresses the linguistic and poetic value of combining two or more meanings in just one word or two obviously neighbouring words. This combination may be effectuated by employing homonyms, paronomasies, assonances, alliterations, onomasiologic manipulations of words, or by changing a word by the substitution of just one character, and so on. Thus, the word becomes a "hidra bocal una dicción, pues a más de su propria y directa significación, si la cortan o la transtruecan, de cada sílaba renace una sutileza ingeniosa y de cada acento un concepto." (Gracián 1969, II, 37)

PhiN 8/1999: 30

The poetic effect of this conceptuous use of words leads to a condensation and strenghtening of meaning as well as to a continuous shifting between different meanings. Yet there should be no misunderstandig of the function of conceptuous poetic work: if the ludique manipulation of words do not reveal any linguistic concept, which refers to reality, it is pointless to carry on the quest for linguistic artifice. In the act of writing itself, this method allows to explore the different dimensions of polysemic 'clusters of meanings' in a narrative context. In this case, the polysemic structure of pólvora seems to have been fit to meet the needs of a further elaboration in the text. But if we scan the text, which follows Critilo's statement on the fatal effects of the powder, we find nothing but a continuous discourse in which Critilo does not mention the pólvora any more. However, Gracián picks up the polysemic topic of pólvora in the second volume of El Criticón (1653); after a break of two years and after an innertextual shifting of no less than twenty crisis.

In Crisi II.8 Gracián introduces the allegory of valour (el Valor) who is about to die. Leaving France, Critilo and Andrenio meet a man-like allegory called el de los cien coraçones, who tells them about the vanishing of el Valor. To effectuate this, Gracián employs a semasiologic increase of pólvora by strenghtening the underlying sense of poisonous polvo. Andrenio demands el de los cien coraçones: "¿Y de qué murió?" and obtains the answer: "De veneno." (Gracián 1990, II.8, 441) The semantic coherence of this construction is evident and logical: poison may be an appropriate explanation for the death of a man-like allegory like el Valor. Even if this explanation would be semantically appropriate, it is nevertheless not reasonable because of the special status, which someone like el Valor holds in the hierarchy of values. Consequently, Gracián opposes the unworthy 'death by poisoning' by a 'heroic death', which one may encounter in a battle of historic and heroic dimensions: "¡Qué lástima! Si fuera en una immortal, por tan mortal batalla de Norlinguen, en un sitio de Barcelona, passe, que un buen fin toda la vida corona; ¡pero de veneno! ¿hay tal fatalidad? ¿Y en qué se le dieron?" (ib.)

In the reply of el de los cien coraçones, Gracián carries out the lexical and onomasiologic shifting from pólvora to polvo, aiming at the activation of the underlying meanings of 'poison' and 'cause of disease': "En unos polvos más letíferos que los de Milán, más pestilentes que los de un royo, de un malsín, de un traidor, de una madrastra, de un cuñado y de una suegra." (ib.) In his next reply Gracián uses a new lexical shifting from pólvo(ra) to polvareda, for the sake of presenting the polysemic structure of this lexical pattern: "Diráslo porque estos valientes siempre acaban levantando polvaredas que paran en lodos de sangre." (ib.) After having dealt with three meanings, which are 'poison', 'cause of disease' and 'battle-dust', Gracián procedes – while keeping the reader in suspense – to a solution of the 'riddle':

No, sino con toda realidad; digo que la malicia humana se ha adelantando de modo que no dexa qué obrar a los venideros. Ella ha inventado ciertos polvos tan venenosos tan eficaces, que han sido la peste y la ruina de todos los grandes hombres, y desde que éstos corren, y aun vuelan, no ha quedado hombre de valor en el mundo. (ib.)

PhiN 8/1999: 31

The beginning of the sentence ("con toda realidad") is a poetic marker, which refers to the circumstance, that hitherto only the metaphoric meanings or the meanings obtained by a semantic and onomasiologic extension of pólvo(ra)-polvareda have been involved. Yet it points out as well, that now 'reality' and 'truth', or the most widely accepted meaning of the word, should substitute the metaphoric meanings. After this, Gracián repeats the topics of poison (venenoso) and disease (peste), and he introduces for the first time the much more precise topics of traffic/currency (correr) and 'flying dust' (polvos que vuelan). By doing so, he establishes a semantic opposition of the topics of 'poison/disease' and the very first arguments of 'gunpowder', and augments both sides of this opposition by lexical and semantic extensions. On the one hand, he compiles "basiliscos molidos, entrañas de víboras destiladas, colas de escorpiones", and presents them as possible ingredients of the pólvora. On the other hand and, by the way, rather precisely in a chemical sense, he gathers "alcebrite infernal, salitre estigio, carbones alentados a esternudos del demonio" (ib.), and closes with a very dense agudeza por contrarios, por paronomasia y por etymologia: "una invención tan sacrílega, tan execrable, tan impía y tan fatal como es la pólvora, dicha assí porque convierte en polvo el género humano." (Gracián 1990, II.8, 442.) This agudeza is based on the semantic opposition of man's creation from the polvo and man's decay to polvo caused by the fatal pólvora. Yet this agudeza is also based on the paronomasy of pólvo(ra), and finally on the revealed pseudo-etymology of pólvora (an estrago which turns men to polvo).3 In fact: the etymological links of polvo and pólvora being evident, Gracián establishes a semantic relation, which is completely fictitious. He invents a semantic artifice, which puts the most accepted meaning of pólvora (gunpowder) in contrast to the meaning of two of its morphemes: pol-vo (dust). Due to this, polvóra acts in the text like a hidra bocal: if we omit the final "ra", a new 'head' results from is and we obtain polvo, if we substitute the final "a" by the second "o", we get polvar(o), which is the stem of polvareda. Gracián has worked out the implicite poetics of this linguistic artifice in his Agudeza y arte de ingenio. Under different circumstances the word transforms itself, revealing different aspects: "Variadas las circunstancias, se varía con grande artificio la conformidad del nombre, haciendo ya un viso, ya otro." (Gracián 1969, II, 39.) Yet we may discern another element of Gracián's strategy of writing. The reader has to turn continuously to former pages, to former chapters and even to former volumes of the text, if he wants to comprehend the narrative construction of the agudezas, which join together and tighten the text like a semantic and linguistic network.4

3.2 The trace of the heroes

Just after having spread out the etymology and the semantics of pólvora, Gracián points out, that the pólvora has had fatal effects on heroic virtues: "Esta ha acabado con los Héctores de Troya, con los Aquiles de Grecia, con los Bernardos de España; ya no hay coraçón, ni valen fuerças, ni aprovecha la destreza: un niño derriba un gigante, un gallina haze tiro a un león y al más valiente el cobarde, con que ya ninguno lucir ni campear." (Gracián 1990, II.8, 442.) In this statement, Gracián takes up a topic from his text, which hitherto had not been related to the gunpowder: the loss of heroic virtues. In Crisi I.6. Critilo and Andrenio meet the Centaur Chairon and tell him, that they could not find any hombre anymore who was worthy to be called this name. "No me espanto", replies Chairon, "que no es éste siglo de hombres; digo, aquellos famosos de otros tiempos. ¿Que, pensabais hallar ahora un don Alonso el Magnánimo en Italia, un Gran Capitán en España, un Enrico Cuarto en Francia haziendo corona de su espada y de sus guarniciones lises? Ya no hay tales héroes en el mundo, ni aun memoria dellos." (Gracián 1990, I.6, 128.) Gracián contrives a lexical shift from hombres to famosos hombres de otros tiempos, and to héroes, and, by doing so, he supposes an equivalence of hombres and héroes. In fact, there is a relation between hombres and héroes, which works on the onomasiological plan, and which is based on a slight anagrammatical manipulation (la agudeza por retruécano del vocablo) (Gracián 1969, II, 45sq.) of these words: the word hombres contains every character which is necessary for writing down the word héroes. Thus, subject to certain circumstances, the written word hombres may contain the word héroes, even if there was no evidence, that all hombres were héroes.

PhiN 8/1999: 32

Whereas Andrenio and Critilo ask Cheiron, why there were no heroes any more, the Centaur can give no satisfying reply: "¿No se van haziendo? – No llevan traça, y para luego es tarde. – Pues de verdad que ocasiones no han faltado: ¿cómo no se han hecho? pregunto Critilo. – Porque se han deshecho. Hay mucho que dezir en esse punto – ponderó el Quirón –." Even if the Centaur seems to promise, that there would be some satisfactory and exhaustive explanation ("hay mucho que dezir en esse punto"), he only carries on to utter some very general, moralistic, and commonplace notions:

Unos lo quieren ser todo y al cabo son menos que nada: valiera más no hubieran sido. Dicen también que corta mucho la envidia con las tixerillas de Tomeras; pero yo digo que ni es eso, ni essotro, sino que mientras el vicio prevalezca no campeará la virtud, y sin ella no puede haber grandeza heroica. Creedme que esta Venus tiene arrinconadas a Belona y a Minerva en todas partes y no trata ella sino con viles herreros que todo lo tiznan y todo lo yerran. Al fin, non nos cansemos, que él no es siglo de hombres eminentes ni en las armas ni en las letras. (Gracián 1990, I.6, 128-129)

Venus, who formerly would have encouraged Bellony and Minerva, nowadays just keeps company with villainous herreros, with 'akward blacksmiths'. Gracián engages a chiasmic structure, which occurs on the semantic level: whereas Bellony and Minerva refer to the héroes de la guerra y de las ciencias, the viles herreros refer to Vulcany, the divine blacksmith. In this construction we encounter the simultaneous play of agudeza por retruécano del vocablo and of agudeza por improporción y disonancia: on the onomasiological plan, héroes and herreros are neighbouring words, although their meanings are totally contradictory in this context. After all we encounter the theme of the vanishing heroes twice in Crisi II.6. There a soldier blames Fortuna for the death of the heroes. (Gracián 1990, II.6, 412-13.) And finally we reach Crisi II.8, where Gracián ties together the topic of the pólvora and the topic of the vanished héroes. Therefore we may observe, that two topics are coinciding in the dialogue of Critilo and el de los cien coraçones: the topic of the pólvora from Crisi I.1. and the topic of the deshecho de los héroes from Crisi I.6, respectively from Crisi II.6.

In this context, we may also conclude, that Gracián has built the etymological and semantic network of pólvora just for the sake of giving an idea of the deep historical and social cut effectuated by the invention of the gunpowder. The assessment of gunpowder as being pernicious to heroic virtues seems to sggest itself from a historical perspective. Macchiavelli has been the first to discover this transformation of european warfar in his L'Arte della guerra and his Discorsi sopra la prima deca de Tito Livio (1513-1522).

PhiN 8/1999: 33

In fact, the introduction of gunpowder in European warfare did put an end to the old knightly-heroic concept of war. It increased the distance between the warring parties up to canon- or gunshot-range. Therefore, the hitherto most important knightly-heroic virtues, like circumspection in mounted individual fight, physical strenght, and charisma became obsolete. Even if the adverse armies have physical contact, the cavalry turns out to disarrange the strategy and formation. In this, Macchiavelli also refers to the experience of roman warfare, and concludes "si debba stimare più le fanterie che i cavagli." (Macchiavelli 1949, 280) This is why Macchiavelli would like to order the knights to dismount and to affiliate them with the infantry-men. (Cf. ib.) There were continuous complaints that the fire-arms had decreased the oportunity to prove individual bravery, reports Macchiavelli: "Gli unomini non possono mostrare la virtù loro, come ei potevano anticamente, mediante l'artiglieria." (Macchiavelli 1949, 277) He even points out the dangers which one has to encounter with fire-weapons, as being inevitable. Particularly individual military action is under the constant threat of the modern weapons: "è vero che, dove gli uomini spicciolati si hanno a mostrare, che ei portano più pericoli che allora, [...] dove gli uomini non ristretti insieme ma di per sé l'uno dall'altro avessono a comparire." (ib.) Hence Macchiavelli proposes, that artillery, infantry, and the dismounted cavalry ought to move in a collective way, as if they were just one single body ("in frotta condensati, e che l'uno spinge l'altro"), which requires a collective bravery ("virtù nell tutto.") (Macchiavelli 1949, 278)5

It has become evident since the rise of fire-weapons, that there is no more place for knightly and individual bravery. Although knightly virtues have turned out as being superfluous in modern war, many of the noble warriors are still knights and try to maintain their position in the military and social hierarchy. Hence Macchiavelli gives them a new task. They should no longer be brought into action for the battle, but only "per fare scoperte, per iscorrere e predare i paesi, per seguitar i nimici quando ei sono in fuga." (Macchiavelli 1949, 281) Consequently, in modern war, the former heroes finally turn into mere organizers, who act far away from the battle-field and who appear since the 16th century as the looters of villages and towns.

We don't know whether Macchiavelli already had any idea about the long-term effects of the knights' removal from the battle-field. Gracián, however, was a witness of these effects. First of all, he rejects the notion of the impossibility to prove individual bravery, which has been reported by Macchiavelli:

Antes, ahora – dixo Critilo – he oído ponderar que está más adelantado el valor que antes, poque ¡cuánto más coraçón es menester para meterse un hombre por cien mil bocas de fuego, cuánto más ánimo para esperar un torbellino de bombardas, hecho terrero de rayos! Esse sí que es valor, que todo lo antiguo fue niñería: ahora está el valor en su punto, que es en un coraçón intrépido: que entonces, en un buen braço, en tener más fuerças que un gañán, en los jarretes de un salvage. (Gracián 1990, II.8, 442.)

But then it turns out, that this was just the opinion of some foolhardy and crazy people: "Engañase de barra a barra quien tal dize: ¡quá dictamen tan exótico y errado! Pues ésse que él celebra no es valor, ni lo conoce; no es sino temeridad y locura, que es muy diferente." (ib.) Thus Gracián shares Macchiavelli's opinion concerning the inevitable loss of individual bravery: the modern war, which is waged with fire-arms, has necessarily made the knightly valour obsolete. And anyone, who wants to keep fighting modern wars with an attitude of más coraçón, turns out to be a crazy fool. In modern wars "ya no hay coraçón, ni valen fuerças, ni aprovecha la destreza".

PhiN 8/1999: 34

Consequently, the former knights have completely changed. Being away from the battle-fields, the knights took off their leathern armour and discarded their old weapons: "¿Que soldados eran aquellos de acullá, vestidos de pielos y calçados de cuero, que repetían de fieras? - Essos eran los almugávares, la milicia del rey don Jaime y de su valeroso hijo; no como los capitanes de agora, vestidos de tafetán, dando cuchilladas de seda." (Gracián 1990, III.10, 757.) Instead of this, the former warriors were "gente de mucha sustancia y poca circunstancia, gente de apoyo y no de tramoya y de sola apariencia," (ib.) whereas now a day capitanes are acting like 'heroes' in the scenery of plays: they never act in reality but in verisimilitude. Gracián takes this metaphor from the poetologic discourse of verdad and verosimilitud for the sake of illustrating the theatrical aspect of the engaño, which determines the play of social relations.

3.3 The victory of the dwarfs: el enano y el engaño

In Crisi II.6 Gracián accuses Fortune of ruining all kinds of brave men: "Sugeto, al fin, de bravo capricho, era de modo que acababa con todos los hombres eminentes en gobierno, en armas, en letras, en grandeza y en nobleza: que había muchos y muy a propósito." (Gracián 1990, II.6, 407-08.) In place of these, the 'heroic stage-actors', which means the 'dwarfs' in a sense of moral and physical waekness, easily climb the ladder which leads to fortune. (Cf. Gracián 1990, II.6, 408.)6 Thus, they have come to power and occupy the most important places in social hierarchy. Yet it is just the dwarfs' life in verisimilitude, that causes the image of their notability and tallness: "Y tú – dixo el estudiante – ¿qué vas a buscar? Voy – dixo [el enano] – a ser gigante. – ¡Bravo aliento! Pero ¿cómo podrá ser esso? – Muy bien: como quisiere mi señora la Fortuna; que si ella favorece, los pigmeos son gigantes, y si no, los gigantes son pigmeos. [...] Al fin, ella se dará maña cómo yo sea grande o lo parezca, que todo es uno." (Gracián 1990, II.6, 403.) Gracián discerns an obvious gap between individual valor and social esteem. While individual valors correspond to reality, social esteem corresponds to the publics' imagination (engaño), which may even contradict reality. Inventing the image of the dwarfs, who are identified as giants or who at least seem to be giants, Gracián evidently employs a linguistic artifice, which is based on the onomasilogical relation between enano and engaño. We may discern this linguistic artifice as a triple agudeza por paronomasia, por correspondencia ausente y por retruécano del vocablo. Between enano and engaño there are paronomastic and scriptural relations, which determine the semantics of this agudeza, even if the word engaño would not be involved, but its semantic equivalents: cómo yo sea grande o lo parezca, que todo es uno.

As a consequence we may assert, that the historical cut, which has been caused by gunpowder, seperates two ages: 1. the epic age of the héroes, which has been the period of the moral and physical heroes' rule, and when social imagery and social practice were identical, and 2. the actual, theatrical age, which is an age, in which social imagery and social reality drift apart. In Gracián's understanding this shift from epic to theatrical life must have been so thourough, that even the memory of the former epic life has completely faded: "Ya no hay tales héroes en el mundo, ni aun memoria dellos." (Gracián 1990, I.6, 128.) This is why Gracián discerns another fact: the theatrical character of actual life in Spain requires successful speech rather than heroic deed: "¿Qué varones sean más famosos: los que discurren o los que obran; los sabios o los valerosos? Son más los desempeños, por el dicho." (Gracián 1969, II, 139.)

PhiN 8/1999: 35

Although Gracián's image of the ruling dwarfs seems to be just a representation of the moralistic discourse and its imagery as well as the result of a linguistic artifice, it may as well have been chosen directly from the courtly life at the Escorial, the Alcazar or the Buen Retiro. The courtly dwarfs belonged to the courtly society of Madrid, and they sometimes even held the ranks of a duke or a marquise. The eminence of the dwarfs is to be conveyed in some paintings of Diego Velázquez, who portrayed these dwarfs. They also appear in the Meñinas as for instance in the portrait of Don Antonio el Ingles, who was a member of Philip IV's court. In this painting, there is no recognizable 'realism'; realism in the sense, that the dwarf has to be portrayed as belongig to reality. Yet there may be an underlying artistic and ethical choice, which comes very close to Gracián's image in El Criticón: the 'dwarfs' – in a sense of moral unworthiness – now occupy the same positions in social hierarchy as the héroes did in former times.7

The result of this shift from the 'heroic ages' to the 'age of the dwarfs' is the regretted loss of heroic virtues, since – in Spain – there seems to have been no real alternative to heroic live at all. Yet Gracián's regret is just a fictitious one. He knew only too well that the age of heroes had definitively come to an end: "No llevan traça, y para luego es tarde." But he also knew that the pitiful domestic conditions in Spain, especially the economic, demographic and mental crisis were responsable for this decline.

4 Navigation and shipwreck

If the critique of gunpowder seems to be obvious, as it has been demonstrated before, the critique of navigation seems to be a kind of paradox. Navigation – inspite of its real dangers – should have been beneficial to mankind and shipleading nations. Thus, how could Gracián have come to emphasize the dangers of navigation, while at the meantime Spain itself was one of the most important seafaring nations of the time? In fact, even the complaints about the dangers of navigation have never been an impediment for going off shore, as the history of navigation proves. Running the risks of shipwreck has always been less dangerous than running the risks of missing out on profits. Due to this, the subject of shipwreck is a more metaphorical one, than a mere reference to the dangers of navigation. As a matter of fact: since the end of the 16th century, and notwithstanding the import of gold and silver from the so called New World, Spain made the experience of a fatal economic and demographic decline. Gracián was a witness of it and gives a precise record, sometimes even with poetical images.

4.1 Bourgeois' ennoblement and the lack of spanish craftsmen and merchants

In Crisi II.8 Gracián observes the continuous succession of nobility and villainy, and vice versa, which – in his words – is caused by Fortuna:

Caían las casas más ilustres y levantábanse otras muy obscuras, con que los decendientes de los reyes andaban tras los bueyes, trocándose el cetro en aguijada, y tal vez en un cepillo. Al contrario, los lacayos subían a Belengabores y Taicosamas. Vieron un nieto de un herrador muy puesto a la gineta, y otro muy a caballo, rodeado de pages aquél cuyo abuelo iba tal vez lleno de pajas. Decantábanse la rueda y començaban a bambalear los aguares, y al cabo de años los nobles eran villanos. (Gracián 1990, III.10, 758.)

PhiN 8/1999: 36

Then, Gracián gives an idea of the bourgeois' rise to the ranks that were formerly occupied by nobility. Craftsmen and merchants now live in the aristocrats' houses, which they have purchased with the money, they have earned in their professions.

¿Quien es aquél, dezía Andrenio, que vive en la casa solar de los condes de Tal? – Un hornero que, haziendo mala harina, hizo muchos ducados; de modo que valen más sus salvados que la harina de muchos nobles. – ¿Y en aquella otra de los duques de Cuál? – Un otro que vendió mal y las compró bien. – Pues ¿es possible – ponderaba Critilo – que no se contente ya la desvergonçada vanidad de éstos con levantar sus casas de nuevo, sino que quieren hollar las más antiguas y la que eran de mejor solar? (ib.)

We have to be careful in our interpretation of this: Gracián criticises only the dishonest and not all craftsmen and merchants. On the contrary: later on he defends trade and industry as the most efficient ways to create a flourishing country. By criticising only the dishonest bourgeois, he is also able to accuse plausibly the social rise of the bourgeois to the noble ranks. In France the ennoblement of the bourgeois led the way to a continuous revolution of the state. In spite of the ennobled bourgeois' imitation of the aristocratic way of life, they brought with them a new knowledge for the state management and notably much more loyalty to the king's centralized power. Yet the 'demobilization' of bourgeois energies did not cause a lack regarding industry and craftsmenship, since there were always new emergent forces to substitute the ennobled.

In Spain, however, the conditions were quite different. During the last feudal combats (the so-called reconquista), the knightly-heroic way of life and the quest for ennoblement, even if it only aimed the most humble level of a hijo de algo, had turned out as being the most promising strategy for social rise. Striving for ennoblement had been so attractive, and rather easily to achieve, that since 1492 the middle classes were about to disappear. The strategy of social rise by ennoblement caused in the long run an aversion against manual labour, which increased the lack of craft and trade in Spain. In his Voyage en Espagne (1603-1604), Barthélemy Joly relates the demographic and mental conditions in Barcelone: there were more French than native people living in the city, and the native "viuent presque tous sans rien faire [...] Les plus qualifiés [...] voyent les dames ou vont aux comédies." Even those who keep on working do as little as possible:

L'autre peuple, es jours de trauail ordinaire, ainsy qu'en ville bien marchande, vacque au traffic et mestiers le matin; apres disner, vous les voyés inutilz se promener es places ou en gens de qui la besogne est faicte, vont es boutiques des barbiers, qui sont grandes et n'ont autre boutique que d'un rideau, là où partie joue aux eschés, l'autre s'entretient de nouuelles ou de badinnerie. ( Joly 1909, 483.) Leaving Catalonia, Joly entered the Kingdom of Valencia "où les personnes sont comme partout inutiles." (Joly 1909, 507.)

Arriving at Murviedro, Joly reports, that this city is "habitée comme les autres de gens oisifs, promenans à la place, l'espee au costé." (ib.) In Peña Roya "ville de douze cens feux [...] Le peuple estoit assemblé par les rues, comme si le Roy y ust deub passer [...] partout ilz en font de mesme, viuans en loysir et faineantise, ne s'adonnans à aulcunes œuures manuelles ny à aulcune science, si ce n'est de vieilles histoires de leurs romans." (Joly 1909, 530.)8

PhiN 8/1999: 37

We could find innumerable examples of this, and they all would lead to one single conclusion: Striving for ennoblement, refusing to work as crafts- or tradesman, and doing nothing else, besides taking a walk with their sword, playing chess and going on about their old romances, the Spanish did nothing to overcome the lack of bourgeois strata. Yet who took over the functions of the missing middle classes and even of peasantry? Joly explains: the Spanish, "ayans affaire de leurs hommes pour la guerre, souffroient ces Mores affin de cultiver la terre et tenir le pais fourny de viures, d'ailleurs deshabité de chrestiens." (Joly 1909, 522.) Whereas the Moriscos mainly worked in agriculture, the French focused on manufacturing and made a lot of money "parce que les manufactures en Espagne y sont cheres". Even the unskilled French were employed as pages, and the French peasants, who come to Spain, were very welcome "à cause de la paresse des naturelz." (Joly 1909, 535-36.) Due to this, the only men who were willing to work, as it has been recorded by Joly, were the remaining Moriscos and other foreigners, especially the French.

This situation, as it has been related by nearly every foreign visitor to Spain, had already been diagnosed by the Spanish arbitraristas, as for example by Gonzáles de Cellorigo. In his Memorial de la Politíca Necesaria y Util Restauración à la República de España (1575), he had already assertained a decline of Spain since the year 1492. Spanish society has lost its social and economic balance of power, says Cellorigo, because of the disappearence of the middle classes. Since then extreme poverty, obscene richness, and a rapidly deminuishing class of merchants, craftsmen, artisans, and even peasants have been characteristic for the development of the Spanish society. (Cf. Soldevila 1963, 390sq; Elliott 1970, 310) This is why the demobilization of the remaining bourgeois forces in the social rise to the noble ranks has been so pernicious for Spain. Another way to demobilize bourgeois' energies was the investment of the capital in juros and fueros, and along with this, the private sacking of money, which has been left of the state's fiscal income. So we may assertain, that Gracián's critique of the social rise of 'dishonest' bourgeois to noble ranks seems to be much more justified, than it would have been within the French context.

4.2 The depopulation of the cities and the invasion of the fieras

In Crisi I.5 Critilo and Andrenio, lead bei Cheiron, arrive in Madrid, one of the "más célebres ciudades, gran Babilonia de España, emporio de sus riquezas, teatro augusto de las letras y las armas, esfera de la nobleza y gran plaza de la vida humana." (Gracián 1990, I.5., 125.) But they do not meet anybody: "Lo que más novedad le causó fue el no topar hombre alguno, aunque los iban buscando con afectación, en una ciudad populosa y al sol de medio día. – ¿Qué es esto? [...], ¿dónde están estos hombres?, ¿que se han hecho? ¿No es la tierra su patria, y tan amada, el mundo su centro, y tan requerido? Pues ¿cómo lo han desamparado?, ¿dónde habrán ido que más valgan?" (Gracián 1990, I.5., 126.) Yet there is no answer, since the author cuts the dialogue: "Iban por una y otra parte solízitamente buscándolos sin poder discubrir uno tan solo, hasta que ..." (Ib.) Gracián interrupts his narrative consciously with this "hasta que ..." and promises, that "la otra crisi" will provide an answer.

PhiN 8/1999: 38

In fact, there is an answer in "la otra crisi" and the reader has to go on to Crisi I.6. There, Gracián tells us about the arrival of Critilo and Andrenio at the plaza mayor of a big city, but this city is inhabitated by wild beasts such as "leones, tigres, leopardos, lobos, toros, panteras, vulpejas, sierpes, dragones y basiliscos." In other words: it is populated by the – artistocratic – bearers of coats of arms, heraldic and emblematic signs depicting lions, snakes, dragons, and so on. As Cheiron leads his company to the plaza mayor, they make the remarkable discovery that all human beings have been replaced by these wild beasts:

Fuelos guiando a la Plaza Mayor, donde hallaron paseádose gran multitud de fieras, y todas tan sueltas como libres, con notable peligro de los incautos: había leones, tigres, leopardos, lobos, toros, panteras, muchas vulpejas; ni faltaban sierpes, dragones y basiliscos. – ¿Qué es esto? [...] ¿dónde estamos? ¿Es ésta población humana o selva ferina? – Sin duda [...] que las fieras se han venido a las ciudades y se han hecho cortesanas. (Gracián 1990, I.6, 131.)

The reference to the fieras who have changed into cortesanas reveals, that Gracián speaks once more of Madrid and the centralization of aristocracy at the King's court. In France this process had led to the domestication of the feudal aristocracy and consequently to the pacification of the country, but there had also been enough money to pay for the courtiers' livings. Thus Spain faced conditions, which were quite different. Since even for most of the nobles, life on their own estates was not profitable any longer, so they rallied at court. In the year 1611, Philipp III ordered all nobles to leave Madrid, but without any effect. Due to this, already in 1630, the annual expenditure for the most important aristocratic families, who lived at court, exceeded 5 Million ducats, which is five times the annual average income from the treasury fleet. (Cf. Elliott 1970, 312-14.)

As the royal orders concerning the nobles' staying in Madrid were not set into practice, they kept invading Madrid. This is why, in Gracián's words, Madrid was populated rather by fieras than by hombres. Here we receive the answer to Andrenio's question in Crisi II.5: "Sin duda que los pocos hombres que habían quedado se han retirado a los montes." (Gracián 1990, I.6, 131.) In fact, spanish cities had suffered a considerable depopulation in the first half of the seventeenth century. Most of the data concerning the quantity of the urban population tell us, that it had decreased till the middle of the century by about 50%. (Cf. Menéndez Pidal 1990.) Yet already about the beginning of the 17th century, Joly came to recognize this depopulation. Arriving at Sagunte he gives a crushing description of this city: "Ceste fameuse Sagunte si renomee, forte ville si puissante en hommes de guerre et richesses, consiste maintenant en cinq cens habitans. Je n'en diray autre, parce qu'il ne s'y voit plus rien." (Joly 1909, 507.)

In spite of this, the number of aristocratic and ecclesiastic inhabitants of the cities had considerably increased, since, as it has been pointed out before, with the decline of merchant und artisanal crafts since the late 16th century most of the former craftsmen and merchants went for noble or ecclesiastic ranks, for the sake of ensuring their livings. (Cf. Defourneaux 1964) So far, Gracián's image is not correct, because there were indeed inhabitants in the cities, ... or the urban aristocracy and clergymen do not tie in with the prevailing notion of hombres. If Gracián speaks of depopulated cities, we may first of all deduce that it is a poetic image, which mirrors more the trend of an actual decrease of population rather than 'reality' itself. Nevertheless there is one fact, for which we obviously won't be able to find any reference in this text: in a city like Madrid and despite of its considerable decrease of population, there were about 40.000 foreigners who were working in trade and crafts, whereas the number of Spanish craftsmen in Madrid was practically nil. ( Kulischer 1958, II, 203.) So we may ask, who were the hombres, which had retired to the mountains? From the presence of the fieras and the textual absence of the foreign craftsmen in Madrid we may conclude, that both did not fit in Gracián's concept of hombres. Consequently an hombre should not be a foreigner but a Spanish man, who does not neither belong to the urban aristocracy nor to the ecclesiastics gathered in Madrid. Therefore, neither the foreigners nor the urban aristocracy and ecclesiastics belong to the hombres. Yet Madrid is only an example, because the conditions, which Gracián records in a poetic way, were similar in nearly every Spanish city.

PhiN 8/1999: 39

So, what does the image of the hombres, who have retired to the mountains, refer to? Gracián uses an antinomy, which is based on the chiasmic structure of fieras – ciudades and hombres – montes, for pointing out, that these are unnatural circumstances, because the fieras belong to the montes and the hombres to the ciudades. If the hombres have withdrawn to the mountains, this means as well, that they are now living in the parts of the country which are the most difficult to work in. This is why the hombres rather live in 'nature' than in 'civilisation', which may sufficiently explain why there was no industry and agriculture any longer in Spain. Finally we may suppose, that this image also refers to men, working in the mountains which, considering the conditions in Spain and its overseas posessions also imply men working in the silver-mines.9 If this is right, 'haberse retirado a los montes' may be a metonomy of the enormous demand for workforce in the colonies. The new territories needed much more men than Spain actually could afford, and the attraction of the New World had been so enormous, that this process led to a serious depopulation, which has been observed by nearly all foreign travellers to Spain in the 17th century. ( Brunel 1914, 153) Indeed, it has been one of the first of Columbus' tasks to lay down the principels for the settlement of Europeans on the island of Hispaniola. With every passage to the island, 2.000 men should be taken there. (Colombo 1991, 33) This is why Spain since then suffered a continuous loss of men and workforce, which went on until Gracián's days: and even Critilo, when leaving Spain, was on his way to las Indias.

4.3 "¿Qué Indias para Francia como la misma España?" Luxury and the flow-off of silver

Spain had an annual expenditure of between 8 to 9 million dukats just for the purpose of maintaining its political and military hegemony in Europe. The atlantic fleet, which Spain needed to protect the transatlantic traffic, caused annual costs of 1 million dukats. Yet the annual income from the colonies however hardly exceeded 2 million dukats. (Cf. Elliott 1970, 321-22.) And there were even some years, when the treasury fleet did not return, because it had been sacked by corsaires. Nevertheless, the subsidies for Spanish influenced parts of Europe had to be paid. Therefore, Gracián accuses the foreign engangements in Europe and the flow-off of the silver, and points out, that all this wealth should better have been employed to improve domestic conditions: "Pues si España no hubiera tenido los desaguaderos de Flandes, las sangrías de Italia, los sumideros de Francia, las sanguiselas de Génova, ¿no estuvieran todas sus ciudades enladrilladas de oro y muradas de plata?" (Gracián 1990, II.3, 344.)10

PhiN 8/1999: 40

The silver flew off, and even the remaining domestic products did so. Foreign merchants had always come to Spain, despite its peripheric location:

Parece que está muy apartada del comercio de la demás provincias y al cabo del mundo. – Aun había de estarlo más, pues todos la buscan y la chupan lo mejor que tiene: sus generosos vinos Inglaterra, sus finas lanas Holanda, su vidrio Venecia, su açafrán Alemania, sus sedas Nápoles, sus azúcares Génova, sus caballos Francia, y sus patacones todo el mundo. (Gracián 1990, II.3, 341.)

Although in former times, being surrounded by the sea was not an obstacle to commerce, but on the contrary made it quite easy. Cross-country transport of goods was much more expensive than navigation. Thus, there were some Spanish products, for which there was demand in Europe. Yet it should have been Spanish ships taking domestic products to other European ports, in order to make profit. Even the trade with the New World was mostly run by foreign ship-owners who, despite pertinent instructions, carried on an illicit trade. (Kulischer 1958, II, 202-03.) If the fiscal imcome was reduced by this, the increasing self-sufficiency of the colonies reinforced this tendency. Nevertheless, the wealthy kept on living a life in excessive luxury:

Pues es cosa cierta que con lo que gasta hoy una muger, se vestía antes todo un pueblo. Más plata echa hoy en relumbrones una cortesana, que había en toda España ante que se descubrieran las Indias. No conocían las perlas aquellas primeras señoras, pero éranlo ellas en fineza. Los hombres eran de oro y se vestían de paño; agora son asco y rozan damasco. (Gracián 1990, III.10, 745.)

Gracián is well aware of the fact, that this excessive luxury was not a result of domestic industry and diligence, since there was no economic activity in Spain which would be worth mentioning. Instead of this, luxury was imported from France, and the silver flew off continuously.

In Crisi II.3 Fortune repudiates the complaints of the French, that they were not given any Indias. There is no reason of complaining, says Fortune, since the French treat Spain as is if it was their own Indias:

¿Cómo que no os he dado Indias, esso podéis negar con verdad? Indias os he dado bien baratas, y aun mogollón, como dizen, pues sin costaros nada. Y si no, dezidme, ¿qué Indias para Francia como la misma España? Venid acá: lo que los españoles executan con los indios ¿no lo desquitáis vosotros con los españoles? Si ellos los engañan con espegillos, cascabeles y alfileres, sacándoles con cuentas los tesoros sin cuento, vosotros con lo mismo, con peines, con estuchios y con trompas de París ¿no les volvéis a chupar a los españoles toda la plata y todo el oro? Y esto, sin gastos de flotas, sin disparar una bala, sin derramar una gota de sangre, sin labrar minas, sin penetrar abismos, sin despoblar vuestros reinos, sin atraversar mares. [...] Creedme que los españoles son vuestros indios, y aun más desatentos, pues con sus flotas os trean a vuestras casas la plata ya acendrada y ya acuñada, quedándose ellos con el vellón cuando más trasquilados. (Gracián 1990, III.3, 332-33.)

Therefore, an 'original accumulation of capital' did not take place in Spain. And only the treasures from the New World gave rise to the illusion, that Spain could afford everything, while neglecting the developement of domestic industry. Joly discerns these circumstances as being "comme une merueille et miracle de Dieu que ces innumerables richesses n'ayent de rien auancé l'Espagne, qui y appuyoit sa grandeur, au contraire qu'elles soient cause de l'acheminement à sa ruine." (Joly 1909, 596.)

PhiN 8/1999: 41

4.4 "Si en manos de los italianos hubieran dado las Indias"

Critilo and Andrenio have been searching for their wife and mother in Roma. They could only find the beloved woman in a place associated with love because, as Gracián puts it in his Agudeza y arte de ingenio "el nombre Roma vuelto al revés dice amor." (Gracián 1969, II, 41.) Hence, on their quest for Felizinda, they were led by an agudeza nominal to Italy. However they have to suffer a desengaño since, as they are told in Rome, Felisinda has already departed this life. (Gracián 1990, III.9, 737.)11 Nevertheless, this Crisi is entitled Felisinda descubierta and we may ask, how it was possible to discover her.

Instead of finding Felisinda, Critilo and Andrenio realize that Italy is a model of modern culture and successful economy. Whereas Spain is stuck in stagnation, Italy – that means the Italy of the 17th century – has, in comparision with Spain, reached cultural, economic and social supremacy. In Spain, however, nothing has changed since roman time:

Es de notar que España se está hoy del mismo modo que Dios la crió, sin haberla mejorado en cosa sus moradores, fuera de lo poco que labraron en ella los romanos: los montes se están hoy tan soberbios y zahareños como al principio, los ríos innavegables, corriendo por el mismo camino que les abrío la naturaleza, las campañas se están páramos, sin haber sacado para su riego las azequias, las tierras incultas; de suerte que no ha obrado nada la industria. (Gracián 1990, III.9, 738.)

When el gran canceller de las Letras, digno presidente de la docta Academia advises some scholars to read the texts of Juan Luis Vives, the ignoramuses just laugh. (Gracián 1990, II.11, 505-506.) The study of the humanioria and the texts of Spain's most important humanist has come to an end in Spain.

Thus, Spain represents a state of nature, due to a poor situation in the arts, industry and culture. According to Gracián's Agudeza y arte de ingenio, arts and industry are the only way to leave the primitive state of nature behind and to reach modernity. (Cf. Gracián 1969, I, 47-48; II, 253-54; 257.) Hence, Gracián's description of Spain is crushing: nothing in this country could encourage an optimistic attitude towards the social and economic conditions on the iberic peninsula. On the contrary, Gracián pictures a more than glorious image of Italy:

Al contrario, la Italia está tan otra y tan mejorada que non la conocerían sus primeros pobladores que viniessen, porque los montes están allanados, convertidos en jardines, los ríos navegables, los lagos son vivarez de pezes, los mares poblados de famosas ciudades, coronados de muelles y de puertos, las ciudades todas por un parejo hermoseadas de vistosos sus plaças adornadas de brolladores y fuentes, las campañas son Elisios, llenas de jardines; de suerte que hay más que ver y que gozar en sola una ciudad de Italia que en toda una provincia de las otras. (Gracián 1990, III.9, 738-39.)

We find the same enthusiastic image with regard to Italian culture and science: "Ella es la política madre de la buenas artes, que todas están en su mayor punto y estimación, la política, la poesía, la historia, la filosofía, la retórica, la erudición, la elocuencia, la música, la pintura, la arquitectura, la escultura, y en cada una destas artes se hallan prodigiosos hombres." (Gracián 1990, III.9, 739.)

The quest for Felisinda is an allegory of the quest for feliz India, because Felisinda is not only the name of Critilo's wife and Andrenio's mother, but it is also a paronomasy of feliz India.12 As history and Gracián's critique of the Spanish conditions in the 17th century show, Spain did not manage to have any long-term advantage from its overseas-possessions, since the domestic conditions remained miserable and disillusioning. This is why the opportunity to find Felisind[i]a, has definitively been squandered.

PhiN 8/1999: 42

In fact, Critilo has been on his way to both Indias. After having suffered a first, metaphorical 'shipwreck' by spending all his money he had earned in the first India (in Goa, where he lost Felisind[i]a for the first time) for useless things, this time he suffers a real shipwreck on the island of Santa Elena, half-way to feliz India in the New World. Yet, returning back to Europe, he arrives in Italy, a country which has risen from 'nature' to reach a climax of 'culture' and 'industry'. Therefore Italy would have been the only country to profit from the New World: "Pero si en manos de los italianos hubieran dado las Indias, ¡cómo que las hubieran logrado!" (Gracián 1990, III.9, 739.) As Felisind[i]a does not exist any longer, since Spain has wasted a historical chance, there is just one possibility left: to adopt the 'Italian method', to reveal the real feliz India (since this Crisi is entitled Felisinda descubierta), and to change Spain in such a way, that it would be justified to say that "los montes están allanados, convertidos en jardines, [y ...] las campañas son Elisios, llenas de jardines."

5 Labyrinthine representations of the fábrica and applicable readings of it

Gracián does not mind if the relations between a word and its derivates (engaño – enano, Roma – Amor and so on) correspond to linguistic 'hard-facts' in a scientific way. This circumstance, by the way, limits the usefulness of systematically applied linguistic approaches to such texts.13 Working with language is a process of continuous invention of new and unusual combinations and applications of words. Therefore, Gracián refuses categorically all worn-out rhetoric and its conventional metaphors. (Gracián 1990, III.10, 759.)14 The invention of unknown linguistic artifices has the sole task to create mental concepts ("Denkbilder"), which may represent in a proper way some structures and effects in non-linguistic reality ("las correspondencias de los objetos"). In this sense, language is an instrument for scanning non-linguistic reality. However, as Gracián himself considers language and images as the only way of perceiving reality, language itself is an object of linguistic and poetic research. Therefore, it is the word itself which seems to be put on stage like an actor (in the text) by Gracián. Sometimes it may appear in disguise (with some orthographical or semantic alterations) just in oder to make a final appearence and to point out precisely some meaning. Every sentence, every word, and even every character may contain possibilities of signification, which have been hitherto unknown and not yet adopted by the daily use of language. Hence, the conceptuous poet's quest aims to find and create deviations from everyday uses of language.

PhiN 8/1999: 43

Thus Gracián considers writing of poetic texts as scrutenizing polysemic meaning of words. Looking for a single meaning is not an appropriate way to comprehend the poetic or the physical universe. As every action of a human being depends on its own unpredictable circumstances and therefore depends on chance (this by the way is a topic which Gracián never tires of repeating), the same applies to the practice of language, and especially to poetry and conversation. Perhaps there might be circumstances in which prefabricated patterns may fit. Yet most of these situations are characterized by unforeseen circumstances, which require a spontaneous desempeño en el hecho. To say it in French: they require "une démerde", which is effectuated by non systematic cunning: "No se sujeta a preceptos este artificio, por ser tanta su variedad y depender los medios de las ocasiones. Hállalos comúnmente una despejada prontitud, imperturbable perspicacia, que como tal halló siempre los desempeños muy a mano." (Gracián 1969, II, 134.) Consequently, in conversation as well as in poetic texts, there is hardly any identifiable unerringly pursued structure of poetic and linguistic proceedings. Instead we discover networks – as Gracián would have put it: laberintos – of occasionally employed textual strategies.

A superficial reader may doubt whether there was any point in writing – and reading! – such labyrinthine texts. At the uttermost he may even be convinced, that such texts represent some kind of extravagant 'baroque architexture', and that these 'baroque' texts were indeed 'baroque' ones. This corresponds, by the way, to the method, which has been proposed by scientific research for many years. Even criticsm which undermined the concept of the 'baroque' has not yet abolished the term 'baroque'. After more than 100 years of presence in the scientific discourse – since Wölfflin introduced it in 1888 –, it still keeps on haunting our thinking and perception. Subjected to these premises, a text of the period in question may turn out as to be nothing more than a mere 'historical' document and proof of the 'baroque' artifice, which predominates the 'baroque' way of composing texts. Yet, two objections may be allowed. First of all, the self-reflection of our – even deconstructed – knowledge and understanding of the 'baroque' in a 'baroque' work of art does not lead to any increase of our understanding. I would even totally agree with those who say that the linguistic artifice in these texts is so sophisticated and exaggerated, that to a modern reader they are hardly accessible, and that they are therefore discussed as being boring and not particularly delightful.

All the same, we have to agree that we are not contemporary readers of Gracián, who belonged to a culture in which different languages of art and different ways of reading have been adopted. Yet, we have to decide, whether we want to read and 'understand' Gracián or not. And if so we will have to accept, that authors like Gracián did not write their texts for the purpose of being a legitimate form of 'mortification of intellect', which indeed plays a role in Loyola's Exercitia spiritualia, ... and Gracián was a member of the S.J.. Besides a certain 'utility' (prodesse) of writing, authors like Gracián also experienced their poetic and artistic pleasure (delectare) by inventing skillfull linguistic and textual constructions. Thus we may conclude, that three hundred years ago artistic pleasure played an important role in the production of texts. This could have been experienced during the writing process as well as during decoding it. And even a modern reader may approve of this pleasure as well. Yet he has to be able to read the text in a way, which attempts to the level of the underlying artistic concepts.

PhiN 8/1999: 44

In order to decipher these texts, we have to know their contemporary poetological discourse. However, this discourse, especially in Spain and Italy, did not exist as an autonomous kind of discourse, which could easily be distinguished from the contemporary discourse of the 'practical philosophy'. As the ethical and esthetic were integral parts of one discourse, we encounter the contemporary concept of human perception and semiotic representation of the world in nearly every kind of text. For instance at the very beginning of Gracián's El Criticón: Andrenio, having spent his life until then in a den and receiving no further informations and impressions from the outside world, had to make up and imagine in a thousand different ways the order of the world. Hence, when facing reality, it turns out that all his ideas were not adequate to the order and great variety of the big fábrica, which is the world:

Una cosa puedo assegurarte: que con que imaginé muchas vezes y de mil modos lo que habría acá fuera, el modo, la disposición, la traça, el sitio, la variedad y máquina de cosas, según lo que yo había concebido, jamás di en el modo, ni atiné con el orden, variedad y grandeza desta gran fábrica que vemos y admiramos.

But in fact even if experience would confirm our ideas of the world, the situation remains the same, due to the fact that we cannot and never will be able to represent in a precise way the order of the world:

'¿Qué mucho?' says Critilo, 'pues si aunque todos los entendimientos de los hombres que ha habido ni habrá se juntaran antes a traçar esta grán máquina del mundo y se les consultara cómo había de ser, jamás pudieran atinar a disponerla; ¡qué digo el universo!: la más mínima flor, un mosquito, no supieran formarlo.' (Gracián 1990, I.1, 72-73.)

It is inevitable that we keep on interpreting and combining our impressions and experiences in many different ways, which is also the reason for the infinite number of cifras, which occur in our and other's images and discourses: "¿Cuántas cifras habrá en el mundo? – preguntó Andrenio. – Infinitas, y muy dificultosas de conocer [...]"(Gracián 1990, III.4, 616.) Images, which are the result of our 'art of combining', always fail to be precise, but they are the only ones we ever can have.

If human perception and representation of the fábrica is constrained in this way, every text and every human artifice cannot represent but a new labyrinthine mezclada of existing impressions, signs and knowledge. Life itself, and particularly urban and courtly life, can be considered with the topographic model of a labyrinth. (Cf. Gracián 1990, I.7, 160; I.11, 236.) Human existence is somewhat like labyrinthine and unordered tangles, which are continuously striving for being resolved by the motion of the celestic spheres:

Era mucho de ver cuáles andaban los hombres rodando y saltando como si fueran otros tantos ovillos, sin parar un instante, al passo que la celestiales esferas les iban sacando la sustancia y consumiendo la vida hasta dexarlos de todo punto apurados y deshechos, de tal suerte, que no venía a quedar en cada uno sino un predaço de trapo de una pobre mortaja, que en este vine a parar todo. De unos tiraban hebras de seda fina; de otros, hilos de oro; y de otros, de cáñamo y estopa. (Gracián 1990, III.10, 761.)

PhiN 8/1999: 45

Therefore it may be allowed, to establish a certain analogy between man's lifes and man's representations of the world. Human life develops like an unpredictable winding-up of the thread of life, and man's knowledge and representation of the world does not resemble any more than organized discourses and systematically structured architectures of thinking. Due to this, every attempt to effectuate a well-structured reading of these representations as well as of human life is bound to fail. Consequently an appropriate kind of reading is required, which should be homologue to the labyrinthine structures of our innumerable ways of living and imagining "el modo, la disposición, la traça, el sitio, la variedad y máquina de cosas". Therefore, men need a 'book', which has the qualities of an "ovillo de oro". (Gracián 1990, I.11, 236.) In Gracián's own words, the reader of the labyrinthine representations of reality should be a Zahorí, a man who is able to decipher the unknown order of the 'pack of playing cards' shuffled by the tahúres. The modern reader should even be a "mental Teseo", someone who is able to combine simultaneously practice and interpretation in this world, which necessarily is represented by labyrinths: "Hay laberintos del discurso, que el mental Teseo, con el precioso ovillo de una acertada perspicacidad, mide y vence." (Gracián 1969, II, 133.)




Apollinaire 1965: Guillaume Apollinaire: La Victoire, in: OEuvres poétiques, ed. Adéma/Décaudin, Paris 1965, 310.

Brunel 1914: Antoine de Brunel: Voyage d'Espagne [1655], in: Revue Hispanique, 20, 1914, 119-376.

Colombo 1991: Cristoforo Colombo: Memoriale ai reali sul popolamento delle Indie, in: id.: Lettere ai reali si Spagna, ed. Martinetto, Palermo 1991.

Defourneaux 1964: Marcelin Defourneaux: La vie quotidienne en Espagne au siècle d'or, Paris 1964.

Elliott 1970: J.H. Elliott: Imperial Spain. 1469-1716, Middlesex, 1970.

Gracián 1969: Baltazár Gracián: Agudeza y arte de ingenio, ed. Evaristo Correa Calderón, 2 vols., Madrid 1969.

Gracián 1990: Baltazár Gracián: El Criticón, ed. Santos Alonso, Madrid 1990.

Hafter 1966: Monroe Z. Hafter: Gracián and Perfection. Spanish Moralists of the Seventeenth Century (= Harvard Studies in Romance Languages XXX), Cambridge/Mass. 1966.

Joly 1909: Barthélemy Joly: Voyage en Espagne, in: Revue Hispanique 20/1909, 460-618.

Justi 1983: Carl Justi: Diego Velazquez und sein Jahrhundert, Leipzig 1983.

PhiN 8/1999: 46

Krauss 1943/47: Werner Krauss: Graciáns Lebenslehre (1943), Frankfurt/Main 1947.

Krüger 1999: Reinhard Krüger: "Graciáns Agudeza y arte de ingenio und die Säkularisierung des maravilloso", in: Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift, 1999, im Druck.

Kulischer 1958: Josef Kulischer: Allgemeine Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, 2 vols., Berlin 21958.

Macchiavelli 1949: Niccolò Macchiavelli: Discorsi sopra la prima deca de Tito Livio, in: Tutte le opere, ed. Flora/Cordie, Verona 1949.

Menéndez Pidal 1990: Ramón Menéndez Pidal: Historia de España, vol. 23: La crisis del siglo XVII, Madrid, 21990.

Paricio 1986: Francisco Hernandez Paricio: Andrenio y el lenguaje: notas para una historia de las ideas lingüisticas en España durante el siglo XVII, in: Gracián y su epoca. Actas, ponencias y comunicaciones, Zaragoza 1986, 271-284.

Pelegrín 1991: Benito Pelegrín: Arquitextura y arquitectura del «Criticón». Estética y ética de la escritura graciana, in: Neumeister / Briesemeister (eds.): El mundo de Gracián. Actas del Coloquio Internacional, Berlin 1988, Berlin 1991, 51-66.

Ridruejo 1986: Emilio Ridruejo: El nombre proprio connotativo en «El Criticón», in: Gracián y su epoca. Actas, ponencias y comunicaciones, Zaragoza 1986, 285-294.

Soldevila 1963: F. Soldevila: Historia de España, IV, Barcelona, 161963.



1 Cf. for instance Hugo Friedrich's postface to the fragmentary german translation of Gracián's Criticón, Hamburg 1957, 220.

2 The aspect of ethical discourse under the conditions of social and moral decline has been discussed by Monroe Z. Hafter ( 1966), especially 1-19.

3 Gracián was particularly interested in questions of etymology and the development of languages, for instance in Crisi III.10 he discusses the etymology of filius – fillo– hijo. El Criticón, III.10, 754. Here, he takes the modification of words as a proof for an arbitrarily caused linguistic decline. For the linguistic interest of Gracián cf. as well Paricio (1986).

4 Cf. Krauss (1943: 123): "Der Sinn rundet sich erst, wenn man zurückgleitet zum Anfang, im Satz den Gegensatz aufdeckt, den Begriff von seinem Gegenbegriff abhebt und die ausbalancierten Widersprüche aus einem System von Wortentsprechungen heraushört." Cf. also Pelegrín (1991: 63).

PhiN 8/1999: 47

5 See also ib.: 275: "Son bene sostenuti gli assalti italiani, i quali non in frotta ma spicciolati si conducano alle battaglie, [...] e questi che vanno con questo disordine e questa freddezza a una rottura d'un muro dove siano artiglierie, vanno a una manifesta morte, e contro a loro le artiglierie vagliano; ma quegli che in frotta condensati, e che l'uno spinge l'altro, vengono a una rottura, se non sostenuti o da fossi o da ripari, entrono in ogni luogo, e le artiglierie non gli tengono, e se muore qualcuno non possono essere tanti che l'impedischino la vittoria."

6 "Esta, como digo, era la escala para subir a lo alto. No tenía remedio Critilo por desconocido, ni el cortesano por conocido, ni el estudiante ni el soldado por merecerlo; sólo el enano tuvo ventura, porque se le hizo pariente, y assí luego estuvo arriba."

7 Carl Justi was probably one of the first to discover the possibility of an underlying ethical discourse in the paintings of dwarfs in 17th century Spain: "Vielleicht gab es unter den Nachkommen der Haudegen der Reconquista Herrn, die auf dieses Maß herabgekommen waren; Köpfe, die noch eine Familienähnlichkeit mit jenen Matamoros bewahrten, saßen auf Leibern von Gnomen. Sie wurden aber um so höher getragen." ( Justi 1983: 373sq)

8 Antoine de Brunel gives account of another observation in his Voyage d'Espagne (1655): Spanish men prefer to live in poverty, rather than working in crafts or in trade (Brunel 1914: 141).

9 In fact, the Spanish silver-mines were not exploited, as it has been recorded by Joly (1909: 529).

10 Cf. also Joly (1909: 596): "Nonobstant ce Roy est necessiteux, tant à cause des debtes crees par le roy Philippe son pere, qui laissa sa couronne engagee de deux cens millions, que pour la grande despense des guerres de Flandre, estas d'Italie, de Sauoye, donnee au diable par les Espagnols, comme espuisant l'Espagne d'hommes et de moyens et l'acheuant de ruiner, [...] ce qui a endebté le roy d'Espagne aujourdhuy en Gennes, enuers tous en Allemagne, enuers les Foucres [les Fugger] et autres de plusieurs millions, dont l'interest change et rechange, qui se monte, ce dict-on, bien sept millions par an, engloutist les tresors des Indes, les assigne et distribue auant que d'estre desbarquez..."

11 "Ya murió para el mundo y vive para el cielo. Hallarla heis allá, si la supiéredes merecer en la tierra."

12 Pelegrín (1991: 64) has discovered this agudeza por paronomasia, yet without considering any further function of this. For the poetic work with names cf. as well Ridruejo (1986).

13 Cf. also Apollinaire (1965: 310): "O bouches l'homme est à la recheche d'un nouveau langage / Auquel le grammairien d'aucune langue n'aura rien à dire."

14 Cf. also Krauss (1943: 124).