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They made many valuable suggestions, but are not to blame when I failed to take their advice. The following people read some or all of the manuscript, at various stages of completion: The latter directed the dissertation on which this book is based; he has been for many years a mentor and friend.
Clifford Flanigan and Frank Warnke taught me a good deal about scholarship and generosity. Many other friends, teachers, and colleagues also provided guidance and advice. Many students, over the years, helped me develop ideas, particularly participants in my seminar on Spanish Petrarchism, and my research assistants: This book is dedicated to my wife, Hester, whose love, patience, and support cannot be measured.
Petrarch was the great model for Renaissance poets throughout Europe, thanks partly to his canonization in Italy as the model poet for vernacular lyric poetry; in Spain, as elsewhere, the imitation of Petrarch was an aspect of the larger phenomenon of copying Italian styles in painting, architecture, education, and even courtiership. Petrarchism was a particularly vital force in Spain, however, for the combination of Spanish political domination over Italy, and a continuing sense of cultural inferiority, led Spanish poets to respond to perceived crises in the national lyric tradition by continuously rereading, reinterpreting, and reappropriating Petrarch's work.
For successive generations of Spanish poets Petrarch became an alternative model, and a defense against the overwhelming stature of national predecessors who were thus reduced to the status of siblings.
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As such, although there is continuity in his influence throughout this period, there occurred major changes in the nature of that influence.
He was consistently a source of poetic renewal, so it is those poets most concerned with transforming Spanish poetry who were the ones most self-conscious about the conflict between their role as imitators of Petrarch and their differences of age, nation, and temperament.
Yet the importance of Spanish Renaissance lyric goes beyond literary history and aesthetic value. Petrarch's power to engender Spanish imitators was not due to the strength of his poetry alone, nor to Italianism as a literary fashion. Lyric poetry thus played a unique role in the Spanish struggle for cultural self-justification.
Although Spain was the first powerful and unified nation-state in Europe and had the first self-conscious national literature, its poets spent more than a century trying to create a body of literature that befitted its imperial stature, and in particular that matched the cultural achievements already attained in Italy. In classical theory the epic was more noble, but it was also contingent on military achievement. Lyric poetry, as the most nonmimetic genre, became the arena of the struggle for a modern cultural legitimacy independent of military conquest, which paradoxically gave the lyric a social dimension: The concern with national backwardness was a consequence of what Ernst Robert Curtius diagnosed as, but mislabeled, Spain's "cultural belatedness"which more recently has been called the "Spanish difference" and which casts an important sideways light on literary developments throughout Europe.
The remainder of this introduction first examines the ideology of Petrarchism in Italy, particularly the consequences of Bembo's appropriation of the historiographical models of the classical humanists and their application to the vernacular; when examined in the context of Petrarch's theories of history and of imitation, we see how Bembo both crystallizes Petrarch as a unique model and provides a degree of freedom by subjecting him to what Thomas Greene 88—93 called the humanist hermeneutic.
There, we see the translatio studii as the key trope explicating the stillemergent state of Spanish literature, and the inexorable connection between imperial rule and cultural dominance. Bembo, Petrarch, and Renaissance Belatedness In its strictest sense, Petrarchism is the result of the transfer to the vernacular of models of literary history originally elaborated within the context of an attempt to ameliorate composition in Latin through the imitation of Cicero.
The figure most associated with this transfer, both during the Renaissance and today, is Pietro Bembo, who in his landmark dialogue-treatise, the Prose della volgar linguaproposed the strict imitation of Petrarch and Boccaccio as a solution to the problem of creating a national literary language for Italy. Bembo in his youth developed a reputation as a strict Ciceronian in matters of Latin style, and his theory of imitation was first worked out in an exchange of letters with Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola, in which he rejected the eclectic approach promoted by earlier generations of Renaissance writers, particularly those associated with the Florentine Neoplatonists.
To Bembo, imitation involves copying not only the style but "if you please, the same organizing principle which he has used whom you have set before you as an example" Scott, 11 ; hence copying stylistic details alone, an inevitable consequence of eclectic imitation, would only result in a travesty. Imitation also gives a work a certain resonance; describing his own early attempts to avoid imitation, he concludes, "It pleased me and I experimented in it as far as I could, but all my thought, care, and study, all my labor was vexatious and void; for I invented nothing which could not easily have been drawn from the old writers; and when I tried to avoid that, it lacked the charm, the propriety, the majesty of those ages" Scott, Cicero and Virgil themselves attained this majesty by imitating their Creek predecessors, and they thus showed the way for Bembo and his contemporaries who, if they are diligent in their imitations, may someday hope to surpass their classical models.
But for now this is only an elusive hope, as "it is not so arduous to surpass the one whom you equal as to equal the one whom you imitate" Scott, He thus identifies the dispute over Ciceronian imitation with perennial aesthetic issues in the history of literature, though at the cost of the historical specificity of the issues involved.
Although he correctly sees Pico, an advocate of the eclectic approach, as grounded in humanist historiography—that is, emphasizing the difference between antiquity and the sixteenth century and the freedom of the modern writer to pick and choose—he overlooks that it is Bembo who locates a writer in the historical process of reading and writing, and who has no illusions about the easy restoration of antiquity.
Yet this consistency is in itself remarkable, for the Prose contains the first overt application of imitation theory, previously reserved for the more exalted area of Latin prose composition, to the vernacular. In order to transfer his ideas, Bembo had to preserve not only his phenomenological outlook but also the humanist conception of history as divisible into a tripartite structure comprising classical achievements, medieval decline, and Renaissance renewal.
The process by which Bembo establishes Petrarch as a model therefore deserves closer scrutiny. To appropriate the humanist scheme of history, Bembo begins by justifying the use of Italian rather than Latin; the Romans, he argues, composed in their own language, even though they valued the literary accomplishments of the Greeks more highly than their own.
Had they ignored the rule of composing in the native language, they would have written in Creek, while the Greeks themselves would have written in Phoenician, and they in turn in Egyptian, and so on.
In this way, Bembo describes each culture's sense of inferiority to a preceding one, which is itself largely forgotten as the new cultures arise.
Moreover, this cycle occurred not only in antiquity but in the recent past as well: Bembo thus implies that this fate may hang over Italian as well, and that the Prose represents an attempt to ward it off. As alternative solutions to the language problem, Bembo entertains two possibilities. The first is the lingua cortegianathe common language spoken by courtiers throughout the peninsula.
This however is rejected as being too unstable and lacking in uniformity. Moreover, speakers alone cannot guarantee immortality to a language: Here Bembo moves from arguing that writers insure that a language will be studied in ages to come to asserting that only writers make up the language.
By citing them rather than more contemporary Tuscans, Bembo underlines the endangered state of Italian poetry, courting the same fate that had earlier befallen the Sicilians. Yet by positing this gap, and turning to Petrarch and Boccaccio as models, Bembo saddles the vernacular with the same sense of cultural inferiority with which the humanists had earlier burdened Latin composition.
By turning away from Latin in the Prose at leastBembo rejects the humanist ideal; but his method for improving the vernacular was derived from humanist practice. Again and again as Bembo repeats his key point—that Petrarch and Boccaccio have never been surpassed and that Italian literature in fact has decayed since the time they wrote—he appropriates for the vernacular the key elements of the humanist tripartite division of history: Ultimately, Bembo concludes the discussion of vernacular imitation with a nearly necromantic model of imitation, a description of artists in Rome disinterring ancient monuments and dutifully sketching the paintings, sculptures, and buildings.
Reversing Petrarch's description of strolling through Rome and imagining what lay beneath the ruins, Bembo presents a city in the course of recovering its ancient cultural artifacts in such a way that modernity begins to merge with the predecessor that formerly lay underneath. This process of recovery, by providing adequate models, is responsible for the achievements of Michelangelo and Raphael, both of whom have become so proficient in their art that it would be difficult to tell their work from that of their antique models.
While there is now an overabundance of books in Latin, however, the vernacular is most in need of development: Thus Bembo establishes a heuristic equivalence among Latin literature, the architectural and artistic monuments of ancient Rome, and the state of modern Italian letters. Bembo's understanding of Petrarchist imitation is primarily linguistic and stylistic, and his appreciation of Petrarch's phonetic structure led Cesare Segre to characterize it as "linguistic hedonism.
By displacing to the vernacular realm the theoretical foundations of Ciceronianism, he provided an ideological framework that justified the effort to illustrate the languages of contemporary Europe. From Ciceronianism, however, he also brought to the realm of the vernacular the tripartite historiography of the humanists, and the attendant sense of deficiency, which made Petrarchism the truest form of Renaissance vernacular lyric poetry, for it reflects the idea of decadence and rebirth inherent in the idea of a renaissance.
Thus his theories were self-serving, for from the Prose there emerge two sets of linguistic heroes, Petrarch and Boccaccio in the fourteenth century as the original illustrators of the language, and Bembo himself as the vanguard of its restoration.
Bembo's popularity, like that of contemporaries such as Sannazaro and Ariosto, may partly have been due—as Curtius argued 34 n. To appreciate more fully Bembo's position in the development of vernacular humanism, we can situate him in a context that includes Petrarch's own views on literary history and imitation, and the subsequent history of what we might call the trope of the continual Renaissance. In his history of the Renaissance as a historical concept, Wallace Ferguson credited Petrarch with conflating models drawn from civic and sacred history to posit the tripartite division of time into the ancient Greco-Roman world, an intervening "dark age," and the contemporary, incipient revival.
Beginning with Petrarch, the two major tools for the humanist restoration of ancient standards of literary culture became scholarship, for the purification of model texts, and imitation, as a guide for the development of the moderns see Ulivi, 9. Ferguson's view of Petrarch as the source of humanist theories of alienation from antiquity is echoed by Greene, who sees Petrarch as the founder of the "humanist hermeneutic," the recognition that classical texts had a meaning in ancient times that can be recuperated only through scholarship, not through the atemporal allegorical and anagogic modes of interpretation practiced during the Middle Ages.
Greene takes as paradigmatic Petrarch's description of a stroll through Rome, in the course of which he evokes the historical associations of the mounds and ruins he encounters. The passage echoes the eighth book of the Aeneid in which, as Aeneas walks through the site of the future Rome, the poet cites the buildings and monuments that will some day stand in the same locations. But Petrarch's retrospective tour, by emphasizing the decayed state of the scene, also underlines the fact that Rome is gone for good, and that its former magnificence can only be imagined.
Thus even as he imitates Virgil, Petrarch recognizes the gulf of radical discontinuity that separates them and locates in that gulf his own freedom, his alterity from both antiquity and the middle ages. Thus as we have already seen in Bembo, archaeology—whether literary or architectural—would become the model science of the Renaissance: Yet if Petrarch was responsible for the tripartite view of history through a self-representation as the one who began the revival of antiquity, subsequent generations often denied him that honor.
This continual, rhetorical postponement of the "renaissance" allows them comfortably to predict future achievements that will equal the ancients even as they emphasize their own attempts to begin to make up for the defects of the past. Ferguson's account of the history of humanist self-consciousness makes several important points. First, it recalls the connection established by Petrarch himself between politics and culture, which led later writers such as Bruni to remark on the lag between the rates of political and cultural development, and which was to have important consequences outside Italy.
Second, it points out the overt sense of deficiency by comparison to antiquity, constantly cited as the standard; although there is contempt for what the humanists saw as the dark age that followed the collapse of Rome, there is also an implicit feeling of insecurity about their own age, only tenuously distinguished from that which preceded it. Third, it emphasizes that the beginning of the restoration of letters was variously dated, with the proclamation of a revival attaining the status of a trope.
By constantly reappropriating Petrarch's idea of a renaissance as a defense against antiquity, the later humanists betray their chronic feeling of insecurity about the present when compared to the ancient past, and to the true pioneer humanists whom they attempt to ignore; by bringing forward the time of the rebirth, it is made to seem as if the moderns have had less time to catch Up.
I argue that this tendency represented an attempt to excuse their own shortcomings, their own failure to achieve according to the antique standards that they themselves had reestablished, and the desire on the part of the later humanists for a degree of priority. How to account for the seeming inability to compose literary monuments on a par with those of antiquity?
One way was to pretend continually that they lived at only the beginning of the revival, that they were the pioneers, and thus that they were only laying the groundwork for future generations.
Borrowing from Cicero, Petrarch advises an imitator to be like a bee, tasting from various flowers but transforming the nectar into a honey all its own. I have read Virgil, Flaccus, Severinus, Tullius not once but countless times, nor was my reading rushed but leisurely, pondering them as I went with all the powers of my intellect; I ate in the morning what I would digest in the evening, I swallowed as a boy what I would ruminate upon as an older man.
I have thoroughly absorbed these writings, implanting them not only in my memory but in my marrow, and they have so become one with my mind that were I never to read them for the remainder of my life, they would cling to me, having taken root in the innermost recesses of my mind.
Elsewhere, he warns against slavish imitation, comparing it with wearing someone else's clothing; in contrast, he claims to prefer his own "garment," however rude and ill-cut. To Greene this passage constitutes evidence of Petrarch's strong sense of the self, and of its expression through an individual style; the successful assimilation of models along these lines characterizes the best poetry of a humanist period that extends to the eighteenth century 97— Summarizing Petrarch's contribution to the development of humanist inferiority as a cultural phenomenon, Greene argues that the "humanist poet is not a neurotic son crippled by a Freudian family romance, which is to say he is not in Harold Bloom's terms Romantic.
He is rather like the son in a classical comedy who displaces the father at the moment of reconciliation" But Greene takes too benevolent a view of father-son relationships when he offers the following letter to explain the connection between imitation and sonhood: While often very different in their individual features, they have a certain something our painters call an "air," especially noticeable about the face and eyes, that produces a resemblance; seeing the son's face, we are reminded of the father's.
We must thus see to it that if there is something similar, there is also a great deal that is dissimilar, and that the similar be elusive. Like the earlier tropes emphasizing the imitator's divergence from models his own suit of clothes, however ill-fitting; his own honey, made of the nectar gathered from many flowersthis one stresses both similarity and difference.
Slavish imitation is likened to mimesis, but while the possibility of deviating from the prototype offers some comfort, the analogy between model and father, and imitation and son, suggests that the model poet engenders the imitator, and this relationship of direct dependency is closer to medieval notions of midgets on the shoulders of giants than to the humanist hermeneutic.
Moreover, the reader's constant back-and-forth comparison between imitation and model, to Pigman a sign of competitive emulation 26hardly eases the anxiety of poets attempting to compete with the great writers of the past.
The father-son model established in the letter on imitation underlies Petrarch's letter about Dante. There, Petrarch compares the Tuscan poet to his own father, both of whom were exiled from Florence at the same time: Because of Petrarch's own thirst for fame and his resentment about life in Avignon, he imagines Dante as a fantasy father, more appropriate than his own.
Yet he then denies that relationship by asserting that he never imitated Dante. Petrarch concedes that there are grounds for the allegation, but goes on to justify his behavior: While always passionately hunting for other books with little hope of finding them, I was strangely indifferent to this one, which was new and easily available.
I admit this to be so, but deny that it was for the reasons that they give. At the time I too was devoted to the same kind of writing in the vernacular; I considered nothing more elegant and had yet to learn to look higher, but I did fear that, were I to immerse myself in his, or any other's, writings, being of an impressionable age so given to indiscriminate admiration, I could scarcely escape becoming an unwilling or unconscious imitator.
This one thing I do wish to make clear, for if any of my vernacular writings resembles, or is identical to, anything of his or anyone else's, it cannot be attributed to theft or imitation, which I have avoided like reefs, especially in vernacular works, but to pure chance or similarity of mind, as Tullius calls it, which caused me unwittingly to follow in another's footsteps.
Instead, predecessors become dangerous and imitation an unavoidable snare for the unwary poet. In contrast to his earlier admission of casually reading minor authors and studying the major ones until they became part of him, he now denies ever being an imitator, and where similarity to a model was earlier explained on a genetic basis, Petrarch now resorts to the mimetic imitation of a similar reality, or even happenstance, to account for the resemblance of his works to Dante's.
In the same letter Petrarch also emphasizes his turn to Latin and away from the vernacular, attempting to elevate himself above Dante, who had followed just the opposite path in his career. Dismissing the notion that he is envious of Dante's popularity, Petrarch becomes shrill and unconvincing: Forgetting his republican principles, Petrarch here resorts to the tropes of vituperatioportraying himself as a literary aristocrat appealing even in the vernacular to the more cultivated tastes of those who can appreciate Virgil and Homer which is to say few indeed, as Petrarch himself probably did not know Greek.
This letter, written at roughly the same time as his letters on imitation, gives us a very different image of Petrarch, struggling not with the ancients but with the living legacy of a more recent poet. The transparent defenses against Dante reveal the identity of his true poetic father and force Petrarch to employ every sort of reproach in his rhetorical warehouse. Just as his descriptions of the imitative process heuristically refer to both his Latin and his vernacular poetry, so too this letter reveals how even the strongest and most successful imitator can feel anxiety about his task.
Reviewing Petrarch's letters on imitation and the one on Dante, we can distinguish between two distinct reactions to his predecessors. The first is a sense of being inferior or deficient in comparison to the achievements of the ancients; this is what Harold Bloom calls "cultural belatedness" Map77—80and it became a defining feature of the Renaissance. Although Petrarch clearly looks up to their achievements and feels that his own culture as a whole has no comparable attainments, he is not ashamed to admit he has read their work.
Indeed, he uses the digestive trope to emphasize how much labor he expended on study of the principal classical authors, to the point that they have been absorbed and transformed into a part of himself; in actuality, it is the very gulf between them that allows him the freedom to imitate these models in the fashion that Greene dubbed "heuristic.
Dante is threatening to Petrarch in a much more immediate way than were the classical authors because his works, however rough Petrarch may judge their language to be, are the towering accomplishment of Italian vernacular literature, and in textual, structural, and mythic terms they are a necessary model for Petrarch's own work. Petrarch's shrillness regarding Dante is striking compared to his generosity about ancient authors; poetic belatedness is a much more emotional phenomenon than humanist belatedness, yet for that very reason, in a strong poet it produces greater results.
Shifting to Bembo, we can now appreciate the full implications of transfer to the vernacular of the tripartite model of history, and its attendant sense of humanist cultural belatedness. Bembo in the Prose explicates Petrarch's texts in terms of a rather idiosyncratic set of linguistic theories that were to have relatively little influence; what was influential was his designation of trecento Tuscan as the national literary language.
Similarly, however much Bembo's theories of imitation may have been motivated by the need for well-trained writers in a papal chancery that was shifting its language of operation from Latin to Italian see Donisotti's introduction to Bembo's Prose e rime36; and more recently Partner, —44Bembo's argument is presented in terms of a myth of decline, and a proposal to stem the decline by reversing Petrarch's own self-proclaimed move from the vernacular into Latin.
By using this myth, however, Bembo runs the risk of conflating the cultural belatedness of the humanists with the poetic belatedness Petrarch felt about his vernacular predecessor and rival. By crystallizing this union, Bembo transforms Petrarch from a mere linguistic model one whose example is to be "followed," in Pigman's terms into a classical model subject to transformation and competitive emulation.
Yet if he burdens the Renaissance vernacular poet with Petrarch as a type of poetic father, he also provides that poet the freedom inherent in the humanist hermeneutic.
This distance allows writers to make of Petrarch what they will; however much Bembo may have meant Petrarchism to be a sociolinguistic concept, Petrarchism—particularly outside Italy—can take on a variety of generic, stylistic, thematic, and even ethical dimensions.
The freedom of the foreign imitator, however, is conditioned by the horizons offered by the national tradition; hence, we must turn our attention from Italy to the country that is the focus of this study, and examine the construction of a Castilian literary identity in the late fifteenth century. Spanish alterity arises from just such an interplay of social and literary factors: Spain, the first unified nation-state in Europe and for more than a century the most powerful, early on attained a self-conscious national literature.
This process coincided with the completion of the so-called Reconquest of Granada, even as an intimate relationship with Italy brought a perception of Italian cultural superiority. Far from diminishing Petrarch's role as a model, alterity expands the ways in which he can be imitated, as imitators look beyond the linguistic surface that was Bembo's main concern: Petrarch was repeatedly a source of poetic renewal, as poets continuously reread, reinterpreted, and reappropriated his work.
The new horizons led to imitations that at their worst fixated on the decorative aspects of Petrarch's style, but at their best looked to the organization of the Rime sparse as a macrotext and, in exceptional cases, tackled the profound issues of love, morality, and individuation that troubled Petrarch himself. Humanist belatedness, while not unique to Italy, necessarily acquired different characteristics in other countries, resulting in the elevation of different topoi to the status of master tropes.
Italians, for example, regarded the Romans as their ancestors, so the death and rebirth of ancient culture, while influenced by external invasions, were viewed as national concerns and expressed through the trope of the tripartite model of history.
To scholars such as Curtius, the very idea of the "Middle Ages" is "a coinage of the Italian humanists and only comprehensible from their point of view" The "Renaissance" was a strictly Italian affair, and "the concept that Spain, France, Germany, and so on, experienced 'Renaissances' is to be rejected. It is true, however, that these countries had one or more waves of 'Italianism'—which was the export form of the Italian Renaissance" 34 n. According to this theory, the center of learning shifts periodically and moves gradually to the west: The Italian revival might be a continuation of Rome, but, viewed from abroad, a Renaissance in France or Spain indicates a new movement farther to the west, so French or Spanish humanists had to posit a translatio studii that lagged behind the translatio imperiiwhich had already been accomplished.
Thus, like the trope of humanist belatedness, that of the translatio serves as much as a sign of hidden worries about the lack of priority, as an effective antidote.
Moreover, it prompts an added degree of anxiety, for as a cyclical scheme of history it implies an eventual downfall for the very nations that use it to account for their rise. As Italian humanist ideas spread abroad, they carried with them, as Johan Nordstroem put it, Italian notions about the importance and superiority of Italian civilization, and a disdainful attitude regarding "barbarians" who lived beyond the Alps The result of appropriating such Italian ideas may be termed "displacedness," a geographical sense of national inferiority parallel to the historical sense of belatedness.
In Spain a tradition of classical scholarship existed throughout the late medieval period, particularly in the wake of contacts fostered with Avignon during the reign of the Spaniard Pedro de Luna as Benedict XIII.
In his "Proemio e carta"—the preface to an anthology of his poetic works, written in the late s—Santillana presents a panoramic history of poetry from the ancients to his own day. The twelve-hundred-year gap he posits between the ancients and the moderns suggests the tripartite division of history that opens the way for the humanist hermeneutic, but by and large his is a chronologically and geographically inclusive list.
Though deeply involved in the political events of his day, Santillana does not link the situation of Spanish poetry to military attainments, or view literary history in terms of a translatio studii that would set up an opposition between Spain and Italy. Similarly, Santillana's sonnets, though considerable poetical achievements in their own right, show an eclectic approach to imitation, and while permeated with Petrarchisms as decorative devices, they do not struggle to appropriate Petrarch as a single, privileged model.
Yet Santillana's importance to Spanish humanist self-consciousness stems as much from the posthumous praise of his followers as from his own accomplishments. Even more interesting, as Di Camillo points out, are the comments of Diego de Burgos in Schiff, — By attributing the revival of learning to Santillana, Burgos employs a trope already well established in Italian humanist circles; but Di Camillo is correct in underlining its significance, for Burgos uses it to set up an opposition between Italy and Spain.
With language that anticipates later writers, he depicts Santillana as a warrior successfully looting that eloquence which was formerly the property of the Italians and bringing it to Castile, where now it begins to Flourish. Yet if fifteenth-century humanist belatedness was primarily indigenous, it was transcended at the end of the century by national developments that led to a more complex relationship with Italy. As Di Camillo observed, in humanist rhetoric Antonio de Nebrija ca. By the end of the fifteenth century, the homogenization of Spain was clearly at hand, as the dynastic union of the crowns of Aragon and Castile presaged the imminent conquest of Granada and the expulsion of the Jews.
Rather the appearance of the legend in late eighteenth-century texts and visual imagery, suggest the town-founding event under the ceiba tree as a late colonial invented tradition. Or does the significance of the ceiba tree of Havana belong more to its function as a continuously redefined symbolic object? Does its significance derive from its place as a physical aspect of the urban landscape, a focal point for ritual practice, and more broadly an element of the Cuban cultural landscape of colonialism, slavery, revolutionary events, and African American culture in the history of the Atlantic World?
The study of cultural landscape can be useful in examining urban objects in Cuba and the Caribbean, if one accounts for multiple understandings and appropriations of objects by diverse human inhabitants. The site of abrupt human displacements under European colonialism, the introduction of thirteen million Africans in the history of the slave system, and countless cultural transformations, the Caribbean islands are a dynamic region of human habitation, where researchers of cultural landscape must be sensitive to multiple interpretations.
In this article, I keep cultural landscape singular, however, this usage assumes that different individuals and groups interpreted the human-made landscape in different ways depending on a host social, cultural, political, and economic factors.
Civic authorities commissioned memorials to the tree twice during the colonial period in andreconfiguring its meaning as a symbol of town founding at two specific moments. In textual sources, the town-founding legend appears in the most authoritative eighteenth and nineteenth-century histories of Havana.
The work of Ortiz as well as subsequent scholarship, however, lacks broader cultural considerations as now employed by contemporary Atlantic World studies to investigate how and why the ceiba tree became a prominent symbolic element of the plaza in Havana.
Nor did earlier scholarship consider the multitude of meanings that the tree could have carried for the diverse Early Modern and Modern populations of the city.
How could we benefit from viewing this tree in relation to other arboreal symbols in the Early Modern Atlantic World? These trees grow equally well in Africa, Asia, and the Americas; however ceiba morphology varies considerably according to place. Ceiba trees can be tall and vertical in form, often when found on open savannahs, or have shorter, widely spreading branches and profiles, typically when found in or near forests.
Their trunks can be thorn-covered or smooth, buttressed by roots or more purely cylindrical. Branching patterns can be regular or highly contorted. Ceibas are adaptable, resilient, and opportunistic, often becoming colonizers of disturbed habitats, particularly at the edges of streams and other bodies of water. Ceiba wood is soft, coarse, and was of little commercial value to Europeans throughout the colonial period. Our primary source of information for the contact era comes from the work of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Spanish chroniclers.
He wrote of how Indians carved out large trees to build canoas dugoutslarge enough to carry many men. From that point on to the top of the tree, there were many large branches…I named that mountain the peak of the Tripod Tree. The drawing represents three roots rising to a long vertical trunk, which then branches outward into a forked canopy.
The site of this event became a sacred space thereafter. The zemi was then placed into a house fashioned for the site, which became a votive shrine.
Amor Powers and Eduardo Buenavista’s encounter in “Pangako Sa ‘Yo”
People would come to the site, and the village lord would use the zemi sculpture as a divining tool, to predict victories over enemies and other future events. To what extent the Spanish colonizers took advantage of Amerindian religious beliefs, spatial practices, or urban planning in relation to trees in the process of colonization is interesting but difficult question to address.
Traces of Amerindian settlement patterns beneath colonial towns are difficult to discern compared to the great stone temple foundations of the Aztec, which life buried beneath Mexico City.
We thus have less to support a transculturation of European and Amerindian views of natural phenomenon in the Caribbean. From a sixteenth-century Christian point of view, various aspects of the ceiba may have also evoked a sense of sacredness: In the planning of colonial towns, large trees, including ceibas, seem to have been used by the Spanish on such islands as Cuba.
Eighteenth-century historians state that a ceiba tree stood on this site inthe year it was cut down. Francisco Cagigal de la Vega, governor of this plaza, who constructed on the same site a memorial stone that preserves this memory. The pillar consisted of a circular base that gave rise to a stone shaft configured in plan as a triangle. The pillar was crowned by a small entablature supporting a statue of the Virgin and Child.
This visual connection is interesting given the growth of historicism in eighteenth-century Spain and its overseas colonies under the Bourbon monarchy and the general awareness and appropriation, among the educated classes, of ideas and imagery from the conquest era.
The fact that this tree relief has no leaves is also highly suggestive of tree death, a theme appropriate to the site but also one that functioned across a broader range of discourses in colonial Cuba at this time. Captain General Cagigal de la Vega led conservation efforts during his administration to limit the harvesting of large trees, and mandated that those trees removed be replanted.
Its absence here is due largely to the fact that Spaniards and Creoles island-born inhabitants in Cuba found relatively fewer commercial uses for the ceiba, if any. In a trip to the Havana-Matanzas district intraveler Abiel Abbot wrote that the ceiba was primarily used for ornamenting the landscape.
The cotton, however…which it yields in a very scanty crop, is sometimes used to stuff a pillow. The governor had ordered the ceiba on the plaza removed, its roots apparently threatening the neighboring fortification wall, and the new trees sustained the replanting mandates in the Havana-Matanzas district.
At the very least, the decision to create a memorial in the Plaza de Armas, suggests a favorable public reception of the ceiba tree and its historical narrative by a heterogeneous colonial population.
The Afro-Cuban Sacred Ceiba: African Diffusion and Cuban Construction Atlantic World slavery brought thousands of people from Africa to Cuba in the colonial period.