A Sonnet from Carthage: Garcilaso de la Vega and the New Poetry of Sixteenth-Century Europe

Overview

In 1492 the Spanish humanist Antonio de Nebrija proclaimed that "language has always been the companion of empire." Taking as his touchstone a wonderfully suggestive sonnet that Garcilaso de la Vega wrote in 1535 from the neighborhood of ruined Carthage in North Africa, Richard Helgerson examines how the companionship of language and empire played itself out more generally in the "new poetry" of sixteenth-century Europe. Along with his friend Juan Boscán, Garcilaso was one of the great pioneers of that poetry, ...

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Overview

In 1492 the Spanish humanist Antonio de Nebrija proclaimed that "language has always been the companion of empire." Taking as his touchstone a wonderfully suggestive sonnet that Garcilaso de la Vega wrote in 1535 from the neighborhood of ruined Carthage in North Africa, Richard Helgerson examines how the companionship of language and empire played itself out more generally in the "new poetry" of sixteenth-century Europe. Along with his friend Juan Boscán, Garcilaso was one of the great pioneers of that poetry, radically reforming Spanish verse in imitation of modern Italian and ancient Roman models. As the century progressed, similar projects were undertaken in France by Ronsard and du Bellay, in Portugal by Camões, and in England by Sidney and Spenser. And wherever the new poetry emerged, it was prompted by a sense that imperial ambition—the quest to be in the present what Rome had been in the past—required a vernacular poetry comparable to the poetry of Rome.

But, as Helgerson shows, the new poetry had other commitments than to empire. Though imperial ambition looms large in Garcilaso's sonnet and others, by the end of the poem Garcilaso identifies not with Rome but with the Carthaginian queen Dido, one of empire's legendary victims. And with this startling shift, which has its counterpart in poems from all over Europe, comes one of the most important departures the poem makes from its apparent imperial agenda.

Addressing these rival concerns as they arise in a single sonnet, Richard Helgerson provides a masterful and multifaceted image of one of the most vital episodes in European literary history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This is a beautiful book, a lucidly written and elegantly crafted scholarly and critical essay on the rise of a new poetry in the sixteenth century."—David Quint, Yale University

"A tour de force in the practice of reading."—Hispanic Review

"A masterful reading of poetry in context. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812240047
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/2007
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Helgerson is Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of many books, including Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England, winner of both the British Council Prize in the Humanities and the James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association. His translation and edition of Joachim du Bellay is also published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.
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Table of Contents


Preface: Diagnosis for an Essay     ix
A Sonnet from Carthage     3
What They Expected (...and What They Got)     5
Arms and the fury of Mars     22
Italian art     31
Here     40
I am undone     48
Boscan     56
Epilogue: Poetry of the New     66
Garcilaso's Tunisian Poems: A Bilingual Anthology   William Gahan   Richard Helgerson     71
Epistle to Boscan     74
Sonnet to Mario     80
Elegy to Boscan     82
Elegy to the Duke of Alba     92
Ode to Gines de Sepulveda     108
Bibliography     113
Acknowledgments     119
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