Portrait of Ludovico Ariosto

    1.-  The learned epic of the Renaissance period takes the form of a series of poems, more or less extensive, which dedicate their verses to relating exploits, real or legendary, of famous heroes of disctint epochs.
   It is based on a series of works:
   Among those of the Greek-Latin epics, one would read Homer, in adapted versions and very far from the original; Lucan and above all, Virgil, whose Aeneid was translated in 1555. Gregorio Hernández de Velasco wrote in royal octaves, verse in which the epic of this time would be developed.
   From Italy arrived that which we know as Ferrara´s canon, which is a model for the educated epic, in which are included fabulous exploits of known heroes - sometimes royal - the dedication of the poem to a noble character or family, etc.
   The two most important Italian works were Furious Orlando by Ludovico Ariosto, translated into Castilian in 1549 by Jerónimo de Urrea and Liberated Jerusalem by Torcuato Tasso.
    2.-  Among the first noteworthy works in Castilian, Famous Carlo (1566), by Luis Zapata and The Famous and Heroic Deeds (...) of the Cid Ruy Díaz de Bivar (1568), by Diego Jiménez Ayllón are outstanding. This makes it evident that the Spanish epic was more true to history than the Italian.

Cover of Os Lusíadas
by Camoëns
    One of the masterpieces of this genre was Os Lusíadas by Luis de Camoëns (1524-1579), written in Portuguese and edited in 1572. It sings the praises of the expeditions of exemplary Portuguese navigators at the end of the 15th and 16th centuries. Notable amonst these is Vasco de Gama. In these, the author entwines his own experiences as a sailor with mytholigical stories which round off the feeling of this work.
   Moreover, the author left an extensive lyrical production in Castilan which embraces different genres.
   The moment of his death marked the separation of Portugal from the rest of Spain for more than half a century, but also led to the translation of his masterpiece into Castilian.

Portait of
Luis de Camoëns

    3.-  Two important works undertaken during the 1580´s achieved distinction: La Austriada (1584) by Juan Rufo, which recounts with historical accuracy, the deeds of John of Austria in Granada and in Lepanto, and secondly, Angelica´s Tears (1587), by Luis Barahona de Soto. This latter poem takes up the themes of Furious Orlando again and plots a story - parallel to those of the books of chivalry of that epoch - filled with adventure and sensitivity.

Alonso de Ercilla
   We could add to these, Montserrate (1587) by Cristóbal de Virués, which is part religious and part epic.
    4.-  Without doubt, the masterpiece of the Spanish epic is The Araucanian by Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga (1533-1595). It was published in three parts between 1569 and 1587 and deals with the conquest of Chile by the Spaniards, and their fight against the indigenous Americans, the Auracanians. Ercilla, who took active part in these expeditions, does not hide his sympathy for the Indians. In adding fictional episodes of romances and witchcraft to his poem, he projects the heroism of the Araucanians. He also revealed himself to be a great geographer, naturalist and a person of high cultural values.

Cover of The Araucanian
with its three parts

Cover of La Cristíada
    5.-  Although exceeding the limits of the century we are dealing with here, we must point out the existance of the two great poems written in Hispanoamerica: firstly, La Cristíada (1611), by Diego de Hojeda (1570-1615), which recounts the Passion of Jesus Christ, and secondly, El Bernardo (1624) by Bernardo de Balbuena (1568-1627), about the Spanish hero Bernardo del Carpio. This poem, scarcely read today, was considered one of the masterpieces of Spanish literature during other epochs.

D.Miguel Pérez Rosado.
Ph. D. in Philology.