On the Wings of Time: Rome, the Incas, Spain, and Peruby Sabine MacCormack
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Historians have long recognized that the classical heritage of ancient Rome contributed to the development of a vibrant society in Spanish South America. But the civil society that emerged in the Andes after the destruction of the Incan empire resulted from much more than a passive absorption of Roman tradition. Rather, as Sabine MacCormack argues, the culture of colonial Peru was an intellectual blend of classical wisdom and native Incan customs.
Michael David Snodgrass
This masterful and passionate book offers an interesting picture of the Latin American society of the sixteenth century. It challenges the paradigm of the Spanish ruling in Latin America as completely negative and dark-sided. The book reconstructs the classical roots of a period that is perhaps not very familiar to a classical audience and, conversely, shows how deeply indebted to Greco-Roman culture were the new realities of a modern empire, and how this ancient civilization and its canonical authors were read and perceived. Many fine illustrations (some by the author herself) provide a helpful corollary to the written text.
Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini
"An extraordinarily erudite and richly documenteddare I say brilliantdiscussion of the various ways in which the world of antiquity, especially that of Rome in particular, colored the manner in which Spanish and Creole chroniclers viewed not only the history of Incas, but also, starting in the seventeenth century, that of the whole of Peru."Richard L. Kagan, International History Review
"Historian MacCormack offers a fresh examination of Spanish understanding of culture and history in the lands that became Peru. . . . This clearly written, thoughtful, and perceptive volume is based on outstanding research in printed primary and secondary materials in Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, and English."Choice
"[E]legantly written and erudite . . . . This book fits into an ever-expanding historiography on and re-evaluation of the chronicles. Its most significant contribution is MacCormack's encapsulating analyses of their authors. . . . MacCormack's book places her capable analyses at the service of her colleagues and our students."Susan Elizabeth Ramirez,American Historical Review
"MacCormack provides a stunning and imaginative reconstruction of the way in which sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish and Peruvian historians perceived the history of the Inca world."James Muldoon, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"On the Wings of Time: Rome, the Incas, Spain, and Peru . . . is deeply learned and persuasive, a model of how to write the intellectual history of empires and imperialism. . . . MacCormack has contributed greatly to the intellectual history of early modern Spain and Spanish America. More than this, she has offered a model of how such investigations might proceed elsewhere on the edges of European empires."Caroline Winterer, Hispanic American History Review
"This masterful and passionate book offers an interesting picture of the Latin American society of the sixteenth century. It challenges the paradigm of the Spanish ruling in Latin America as completely negative and dark-sided. The book reconstructs the classical roots of a period that is perhaps not very familiar to a classical audience and, conversely, shows how deeply indebted to Greco-Roman culture were the new realities of a modern empire, and how this ancient civilization and its canonical authors were read and perceived. Many fine illustrations (some by the author herself) provide a helpful corollary to the written text."Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini, Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews
"[T]his book sheds a welcome light on a large number of other, maybe equally important issues connected with the impact of Roman traditions on the emergence of a distinct Peruvian polity, and it displays an impressive wealth of philological and historical erudition."Benjamin Straumann, International Journal of the Classical Tradition
"It is impossible in such a short space to do justice to the sheer range of these exceptionally learned chapters. MacCormack's splendid scholarship makes the Roman past come to life in the world of the Incas, showing convincingly how it was claimed on behalf 'of Inca past and Spanish present.'"Fernando Cervantes, European History Quarterly
"This remarkable intellectual history will fascinate scholars of classical literature, students of colonial Spanish America, and historians of empire alike. Let us now hope that scholars use MacCormack's intellectual history as a model and inspiration for similar inquiries into the early colonial periods of Mexico, British America, or New France."Michael David Snodgrass, European Legacy
"I highly recommend this book. This is an important contribution for the field of Atlantic history not only for illuminating new perspectives on empire but also for showing that intellectual history in the early modern period must not be constrained by European geographic parameters."Marcy Norton, H-Net Reviews
Richard L. Kagan
Susan Elizabeth Ramirez
Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini
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On the Wings of TimeRome, the Incas, Spain, and Peru
By Sabine MacCormack
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneUniversals and Particulars: Themes and Persons
EMPIRES LIVE on in memory and history more than other states. The Inca empire that extended along the central Andes of South America has remained present not just to historians but to the people of Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and especially those of Peru for nearly half a millennium after its fall. Why and how the Incas fell prey to the Spanish, and what the consequences were, has been a subject of reflection ever since it happened. In the early seventeenth century, an Andean lord wrote a historical meditation on this topic, short in length but weighty in content. At the center of this work lies the transformantion of Inca into Spanish Peru. The book begins with the earliest human beings in the Andes, goes on to the Inca empire, and continues to the coming of the Spanish in 1532 and the Christianization of the peoples over whom the Incas had ruled, down to the author's own day. The author's long name, consisting of Christian, Spanish, and Andean components, reflects the book's content. He was called Don Joan de Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamaygua. Joan preceded by the title "don" indicating noble birth was his baptismal name, to which he added the Christian epithet "of the Holy Cross." Yamqui was an Inca royal title, and Pachacuti, meaning "upheaval" or "end of the world," was the name given to the ruler who had initiated Inca imperial expansion on a grand scale, over two centuries before Don Joan wrote his book. Finally, Salcamaygua is a "red flower of the highlands."
Don Joan and his forebears came from Guaygua, a couple of days' journey south of the old Inca capital of Cuzco, in the central highlands of the Andes-the region designated poetically by the "red flower." Part of the history that Don Joan recorded in his book was about the incorporation of this region into the Inca empire in the time of the Inca Pachacuti. From childhood, Don Joan had heard about the "ancient records, histories, customs and legends" of his homeland, and when he had reached adulthood, people were still "constantly talking about them." But just the memory on its own was not sufficient if the events, especially those of the years after the Spanish had come, could not also be explained. Given the cataclysmic nature of what had happened-a change not just of governance, but of language, culture, and religion, not to mention the deaths of countless people-much explanation was called for.
Don Joan was proud to be a Christian, glad to live with the "holy benediction" of the church and "free of the servitude" of the ancient Andean deities. As he looked back over the history of the Incas, and to the times before the Incas, it seemed that traces and tokens of the true Christian religion had been present in the Andes for a very long time. Like several of his contemporaries, Don Joan thought that one of the apostles had reached the Andes and had made a beginning of teaching this true religion. So it was that the Incas themselves had worshipped the one and only god and battled against false gods, perceiving in the festivals that they celebrated for the Maker of the world an "image of the true festival" that was to come in eternity. And yet, so Don Joan believed, the Incas were also aware that something was as yet missing, without being able to comprehend exactly what it was.
Take the Inca Pachacuti. In his old age, he heard that a ship had come to the Andes "from the other world" and a year later a young man appeared in the main square of Cuzco with a large book. But the Inca paid no attention to the boy and gave the book to an attendant. Whereupon the boy took the book away from the attendant, disappeared round a corner, and was gone. In vain did Pachacuti Inca order that the boy be looked for. No one ever learned who he was, and the aged Inca undertook a six-month fast "without knowing." Some decades later another enigmatic event occurred. A messenger cloaked in black arrived before Pachacuti's grandson, the Inca Guayna Capac, and gave him a locked box which-so the Maker of the world had instructed- only the Inca was to open. When Guayna Capac did open the box, something like butterflies or little pieces of paper fluttered out of it, scattered, and disappeared. This was the plague of measles that preceded the coming of the Spanish and that killed so many Andean people. Before long, the Inca himself died of it.
Don Joan wrote in a mixture of Spanish and his native Quechua. His style and outlook reflect that of missionary sermons and Christian teaching. Did he perhaps also know the story of the Sibyl and King Tarquin of Rome? The Sibyl had appeared before the king, offering for sale nine books containing the "destinies and remedies" of Rome for 300 gold coins. When the king refused to buy the books, the Sibyl burned three of them, still asking the same price, and when he refused again, she burned another three. Whereupon the king purchased the remainder for the price originally stipulated and the Sibyl disappeared. And did Don Joan know the Greek myth about Pandora's box that was opened unknowingly and contained the ills that ever thereafter befell humankind? If he did, this myth would have conveyed an independent Andean meaning to him. For pputi, the Quechua term for box that Don Joan used, is semantically linked to a cluster of terms denoting sadness and affliction. At any rate, in both these pairs of stories the explanatory drifts of the Andean and the European versions are closely intertwined.
A century after the arrival of the Spanish, Don Joan like other Andean nobles of his time portrayed his ancestors as having welcomed these newcomers, bearers as he described them of the Christian message. On their side, so Don Joan thought, Andean people were ready for the Gospel, willing and able to worship the true god and to pray to him in their own native Quechua. But the presence of the Spanish in the Andes brought with it a host of evil consequences that it was rarely possible to discuss other than indirectly and allusively. Rome's King Tarquin was left with three of the Sibyl's nine books, but Pachacuti Inca was left "not knowing." Yet worse, the gift of the box to Inca Guayna Capac, in which somehow the Maker of all things was involved, turned out to be a purposefully murderous gift of which the Inca had been forewarned but that he could not avert. Before the box arrived, Guayna Capac saw a midnight vision: he felt himself to be surrounded by "millions and millions of people" who were "the souls of the living whom God was showing him, indicating that they all had to die in the pestilence." These souls, so the Inca understood, "were coming against" him and "were his enemies." Don Joan resorted to the stories about the book and the box of afflictions, charged as they already were with ancient and multiple meanings, to express the fundamental contradiction that pervaded the lives of so many people: on the one hand, the undeniable evil of subjection to alien rulers, and on the other the-to him-equally undeniable good of being gathered into the community of "our holy faith." In the process of being retold, these ancient stories acquired new dimensions, and they served as a communicative bridge of sorts between Andean people and Spanish newcomers, all of whom Don Joan addressed in his book of historical meditations.
The Spanish, even those who read rarely or not at all, could be expected to understand such a communication because they were all steeped not just in Christianity but also in remnants of the Greek and especially the Roman past. Many would have heard the Sibyl chant her prophecies about the coming of Christ during the celebration of his Nativity according to the old pre-Tridentine Spanish liturgy. From late antiquity onward, through the long sequence of cultural and political upheavals that transformed Roman into early modern Spain, the Greek and Roman past lived on in the present by virtue of ordinary continuities of daily life. The layout of some cities, the design of private and public buildings, the shape and decoration of tools and utensils, the titles and functions of dignitaries, and the content of law all bore traces of Roman and post-Roman antiquity. Throughout the Iberian Peninsula, people were walking and riding along the old Roman roads, passing Roman ruins and whatever Roman monuments had withstood the ravages of time. Not infrequently, the traveler would pass a Roman distance marker, and some of these dated back to the time of Christ. The figures of classical myth and history continued to occupy poets, storytellers, and artists to such an extent that many of them became familiar friends, speaking from the pages of books, looking out at from tapestries, paintings, and sculptures, and singing in songs both sacred and secular. Planets named after the ancient gods-Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn, along with Sun and Moon were imbued with a divine and personalized energy. They circled the sky and extended their influence over humans and their environment. Finally, the political forms, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, that had engaged the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero lived on in the writings of jurists, in legal practice, and in the governance of cities and kingdoms.
It was not long before this manifold legacy was felt in the Americas as well. Legal and administrative practices that were taken for granted in the Peninsula were imposed on indigenous peoples without further ado and soon became ubiquitous. In the Andes as elsewhere, the layout of the cities the Spanish founded, the buildings that indigenous masons and artisans erected in them, the stories the Spanish told, and even the fabric of Christian teaching all bore a stamp of the Greek and most of all the Roman past. Representations of Roman deities decorated Andean churches, mythic and historical figures of the Greek and Roman past paraded through the streets during festivals, Latin and sometimes Greek were taught in universities. Public rituals, the arrivals and departures of viceroys and other dignitaries, the accession and funerary ceremonies of the kings of Spain as celebrated in Lima and other Peruvian cities were deeply imbued with Roman gestures and political concepts.
In short, the classical past in the Andes was a dynamic and far from uniform force that changed over time, as it had done in Spain also. In one sense, throughout the Middle Ages, the figures of classical antiquity were simply absorbed into the fabric of the present. As a result, scholars and historians in fifteenth-century Spain were able to think about knightly honor and military discipline, lived and practiced in their own day, as continuous with, and even as identical to, Roman precedent. Equally, Cicero's precepts about political friendship as implemented in the late Roman republic were found to be directly relevant to the pursuit of friendship and influence at the court of the Catholic Kings.
But this was not the whole story. When, in the early fifteenth century, Enrique de Villena produced a prose translation of Vergil's Aeneid, he made a point of noting that his intention was to convey exactly what Vergil had written, which was not the same thing as what the reader of the translated text might expect. There was something strange, something not immediately accessible about Vergil. Similarly, at the end of the fifteenth century, the humanist Antonio Nebrija in the footsteps of Italian humanists wanted to return to the Latin of the ancients: their vocabulary, syntax, and style. This meant that the Latin that was the vernacular of schools and universities, the Latin of medieval theologians, jurists, historians, and poets had to be disowned. For what Nebrija, who viewed the Latin of the schools as an aberration, wanted to bring back was the Latin of Cicero and Livy: the language of the Romans themselves. Here again, what the Romans stood for was strange and unfamiliar. It had to be learned with effort. The same was true for the Greeks, once universities in the Peninsula began teaching Greek and printing presses there published Greek texts.
Altogether, humanistic learning added an entirely new dimension to the meaning of Greece and Rome. The cultivation of classical Latin as distinct from the Latin spoken in schools and universities, the addition of Greek to the repertoire of learned languages, the rediscovery of many Latin and Greek texts, and the scholarly study of ancient monuments and artifacts transformed the old established, easygoing familiarity and intimacy with the ancient world. A great deal now emerged about the Greeks and Romans that seemed strange and required explanation. Rituals and beliefs that had marked the stages of a Roman life from birth to death, the worship of and sacrifice to the pagan gods emerged not just as alien, but as profoundly incompatible with Christian practice. Studied closely, the pagan Romans emerged as utter strangers in the Christian present, and as much more pagan than they had been perceived formerly. Similarly, the constitutional significance and functioning of Roman voting assemblies and the nature of Roman military and civilian power emerged as research paths into unknown lands. But unlike earlier investigations of Roman law and politics, this new work was not necessarily directed toward practical applications, nor was it necessarily capable of such application. The workings of Roman law in Roman times therefore came to be understood as distinct from its workings within the Roman legal tradition that lived on in the secular and ecclesiastical law of the time. As a result, the classical past turned out to be infinitely more distant and harder to understand than it had been previously.
Familiarity with this past was reestablished on new and different grounds. The attention that was lavished during the fifteenth and subsequent centuries on editing, translating, explaining, and printing Greek and Roman poetry and philosophy, historical and biographical writings transformed historical personages who had lived in the imagination as exemplary figures for so many centuries into human beings who now became intimately knowable. The lives, decisions, and actions of Caesar and Pompey, Augustus and Constantine, of Cicero, Vergil, and Livy could be and were questioned, evaluated, and reflected upon. As a result, their errors turned out to be as illuminating as their positive achievements. Other mythic and legendary personages appeared in emblem books and treatises of practical advice and also in civic and courtly spectacles. All these figures, whether mythic, legendary, or historical, were models and interlocutors regarding thoughts, words, and actions to be imitated and others to be eschewed. Such interlocutors played a role in shaping the narratives of several of the early historians of Spanish Peru, who confronted the forbidding task of describing the course of the invasion and conquest of the empire of the Incas.
The influence of classical traditions from the ancient Mediterranean on the Andes was enormous. More was at issue, however, than mere influence. For just as Don Joan Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamaygua resorted to strange stories involving an enigmatic book and an ill-fated box to explain what had changed in the Andes with the coming of the Spanish, so the Spanish themselves resorted to ancient historians, geographers, statesmen, and also to the flotsam and jetsam of classical fragments of thought and information, to comprehend and explain the history and government of the Incas. To write, as happened often, that the Incas resembled the Romans in this or that particular did not mean that the Spanish were imposing their own European past on the Andean past and present. The Romans themselves were exceedingly strange and distant. Rather, such comparisons enshrined an effort of conceptualization and understanding. Roman antecedents provided a springboard of cognition into the hitherto unknown Andean past and present. These antecedents when applied in the Andes also enshrined cultural recognition, the perception of shared humanity and historicity. The Spanish were the masters and exponents of the dominant culture in Peru. Their language was the dominant language, and Quechua was an "oppressed language." However inescapable this reality indeed was, Roman and mediterranean antiquity introduced a certain disruption and discontinuity into the mechanics of power. For this antiquity, while itself subject to ongoing reinterpretation, was perennially eluding the grasp of those who were seeking to lay hold of it. Besides, insofar as it provided models of conduct, it set before the eyes of the Spanish a mirror of their own failures and shortcomings.
Excerpted from On the Wings of Time by Sabine MacCormack Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Bruce Mannheim, University of Michigan
Sabine Hyland, Saint Norbert College
Meet the Author
Sabine MacCormack is Theodore Hesburgh Professor of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame. Her books include "Religion in the Andes: Vision and Imagination in Early Colonial Peru" (Princeton).
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