St. Michael's College
In many ways, Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda is like any other Renaissance romance in the Byzantine style. The protagonists, a young man and woman in love, are on a lengthy and arduous journey that takes them through unknown and often hostile territories. Every stop along the way the two encounter others with whom they trade the stories of their plights. They meet dozens of characters with varying degrees of sympathy; some help the two along, others join them, and still others seriously threaten their safety. The couple, a future king and queen traveling incognito as Periandro and Auristela, confronts each hardship without the special protection and treatment usually enjoyed by royalty, and here Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda is more like a chivalric romance or libro de caballerías, for the work features the heroics of the character Persiles. Persiles’s role is to protect Sigismunda, and he repeatedly puts his life in jeopardy to make sure that she arrives safely to her destination. On their long journey from the Arctic to Rome the two encounter danger after danger, including barbarians who nearly offer them —52→ up in a sacrificial ritual, a lascivious king who plots to abduct Sigismunda, a witch who poisons her, and Turkish pirates who almost kill them during an attack. The couple and many other characters escape all perils thanks to Persiles’s deeds. Therefore, while the story reads as a Greek romance built around the trials of the enamored Persiles and Sigismunda, it may also be regarded as a chivalric romance since it features the heroics of the protagonist Persiles38. It is the nature of Persiles’s heroics that I wish to focus on in this essay.
Persiles’s brand of heroics is different in kind from the typical heroics of chivalry because he does not carry a sword. In fact, Persiles is never reported to wound or kill anyone. What is his mode of defense then? Words. Persiles deals with his foes only through persuasion. In Persiles y Sigismunda, Cervantes reformulates the modus operandi of the chivalric hero, trading the characteristic sword-wielding hero for an eloquent and prudent orator. Therefore, we may regard Cervantes’ final work as a remarkable sort of chivalric romance that poeticizes not the heroics of war, but the heroics of persuasion. Persiles y Sigismunda is a book about the role of speeches in the world; it illustrates the view, which was widely held by the ancients, that persuasion is more efficacious than coercion when it comes to moving people and looking after the human good. The hero Persiles fully embodies the practice of persuasion.
Such a radical twist on the chivalric hero is hinted at near the
end of Part I of Don Quijote in the conversation between the Canon
of Toledo and the priest. The former portrays an ideal protagonist
for a chivalric romance:
«un capitán valeroso con todas las partes
que para ser tal se requieren, mostrándose prudente previniendo
las astucias de sus enemigos, y elocuente orador persuadiendo o
disuadiendo a sus soldados, maduro en el consejo, presto en lo
determinado, tan valiente en el esperar como en el acometer» (I,
Critics cite this passage to prove that Persiles y Sigismunda
is not a type of purified chivalric romance such as the canon and
priest describe since there is no
«capitán valeroso» or
orador» in the work40. I wish to argue, however, that the hero
Persiles is both.
The distinct nature of the heroics of Persiles y Sigismunda,
where the hero never engages in actual fighting, has made it
difficult to discern the book’s heroics. Diana de Armas Wilson
writes, for example, that
«Because no military battles occur in
[Persiles y Sigismunda], there is no call for that 'eloquent orator' in
the Canon's formula -for the captain seen as valiant when 'persuading
or dissuading his soldiers' or as bold when 'making an
attack'» (27). But the battlefield is not the only arena of conflict and
heroic enterprise. Though Persiles is not a captain in the strict
military sense because he does not lead troops of soldiers into
battle, he is a leader in charge of guiding, safeguarding, and
organizing groups of people through hostile territories and explosive
conflicts, much like the cunning Odysseus. Furthermore, he
successfully carries through his primary mission of delivering his
charges with great risk to his own safety, which defines the duties
of a captain. And though he is not fearless, he is brave41.
Elsewhere in the same discussion in Don Quijote, the canon
and the priest denounce chivalric romances for being:
las batallas, necios en las razones, disparatados en los viajes, y,
finalmente, ajenos de todo discreto artificio, y por esto dignos de
ser desterrados de la república cristiana» (I, 47; 554). Surviving
through speech and not violence distances Persiles y Sigismunda
from those chivalric romances
«largos en las batallas» and
en las razones». To the contrary, Persiles y Sigismunda is short on
battles and long on speeches. Well over one third of Persiles y
Sigismunda is composed of speeches; the rest of the work is narration.
Such a preponderance of speeches is not uncommon in the
Byzantine romance and works written in that tradition42. The
importance of speech in Persiles y Sigismunda is further evident in
the fact that though the pilgrims cover lots of ground, Cervantes
gives more stylistic attention to what happens between people
(the speeches and their stories) than what happens to them (the
action). Additionally, narrative descriptions of their journeys are
relatively pithy and unelaborated in comparison to the characters'
speeches, which are detailed and often lengthy. Moreover, while
the geographical details of the itinerary of the pilgrimage comprise
the visual imagery of Persiles y Sigismunda, there is also a symbolic
imagery accompanied by a choreography and corresponding
lexicon, all directed at speech. In scene after scene, the characters
are shown to gather around speakers, to listen with rapt attention,
to hang on their words, to exhibit amazement, and to respond
with tears and compassion. Finally, numerous references are made
to speech and the voice in general, telling secrets, coaxing, babbling,
shouting, whispering, murmuring, begging, promising, and
more43. In sum, speech is the central motif of Persiles y Sigismunda.
Is Persiles, then, an eloquent speaker? Though most critics of
Persiles y Sigismunda do not see him as such, most characters do.
Repeated expressions and descriptions of admiratio indicate the
effects of Persiles's words. If admiratio (amazement or astonishment)
is proof that the rhetorical conditions have been met and
that the speaker's words have fully struck the imagination and
understanding of the interlocutor(s)44, then the many cases of
admiratio associated with Persiles's words indicate that he is effective,
and effectively moving one's audience is the measure of
eloquence. Sinforosa, for example, hangs on his words:
con más gusto escuchaba a Periandro [alias Persiles] era la bella
Sinforosa, estando pendiente de sus palabras como con las cadenas
que salían de la boca de Hércules» (II, 12; 353-54)45. In other cases,
the narrator notes that
«cada palabra que Periandro decía, así le
regalaba el alma, que la sacaba de sí misma» (II, 14; 369) and
«haciendo efeto en su alma las amorosas razones de Periandro, dio
lugar a la verdad que en ellas venía encerrada» (II, 7; 317). Repeated
reactions of wonderment certainly indicate that Persiles is
a good speaker, but not until we know that he moves not just the
imagination but also the action of people with his words can we
liken him to the eloquent orator described by the canon, someone
capable of persuading and dissuading when necessary.
In effect, the results of Persiles' speeches provide the most compelling evidence that he is an excellent orator. Over and over throughout the work, Persiles's words appeal to the best senses of his listeners, change their wills, and move them to do just acts. We see this pattern for the first time in Persiles's first speech, which comes in Chapter 1 of Book I. There, Persiles, who is being kept in a dark pit in which it appears he may perish, delivers the following speech of gratitude when one of his barbarian captors pulls him out:
|(I, 1; 119)|
This speech initiates a distinguishing rhetorical technique of
Persiles y Sigismunda, descubrimiento. Descubrimiento is provoking
compassion and receiving consolation by sharing stories of personal
trials. Done in the proper spirit, revealing oneself through
stories is shown as a generous and liberal gesture. This is indicated
in the following words of the character Rutilio and echoed in
various forms throughout the book:
«es alivio al que cuenta sus
desventuras ver o oír que hay quien se duela dellas» (I, 7; 175). At
the end of Persiles's first speech of descubrimiento, which establishes
the importance of oratory early in the work, the narrator
states that Persiles's captors do not speak Spanish and therefore do
not understand his words. However, a Spaniard present among
them is moved by the speech and directly responsible for saving
Persiles's life. Had Persiles not spoken here, had he not impressed
the Spaniard and invoked his sympathy, the Spaniard would not
have stopped the captors from murdering the young prince in
disguise. Furthermore, the speech indicates Persiles's eloquence in
his mastery over the forms of rhetoric; it includes several standard
features, including apostrophe, exclamation, epithets, antithesis,
consonance, and alliteration, and its style corresponds to its apparent
intended listener, here the «high» or «sublime» style in invoking
the heavens. Persiles also uses an appeal to ethos (
cristiano») and includes several appeals to pathos.
The speeches of descubrimiento, which are nearly always instigated by Persiles, introduce the travelers to a wide variety of fascinating characters in equally numerous and complex situations, and the journey is marked by these encounters. In total, the pattern is repeated nearly forty times throughout the book. Most of these instances of speeches of descubrimiento begin in medias res and explain the current situation of the speaker and what brought him or her to that point. In several cases, the character is in the scene only long enough to give the speech; nothing is revealed about these characters other than that which they themselves tell in their stories46.
Somewhat later in the same chapter comes Persiles's second speech, which is similar to the first both in effectiveness and in sophisticated implementation of rhetorical forms. He is pulled out of a raging sea and addresses these words to the captain of the boat that has rescued him:
|(I, 1; 122-23)|
Here again are the standard rhetorical devices. Appeals to ethos and pathos such as those here abound in Persiles y Sigismunda. Every time the characters encounter a new group of people, —58→ Persiles or someone else gives a speech of introduction to establish character and sympathy and therefore secures their safety. Here Persiles praises himself, though with requisite humility, to show that he is worthy of being rescued. Again, he is effective; the captain of this ship remains loyal to Persiles throughout the remainder of the story.
Another persuasive speech by Persiles, one that demonstrates
his ability to use a wide variety of rhetorical methods to secure
persuasion for good ends, is found in Chapter 7 of Book III where
the pilgrims come across the enraged Ortel Banedre. When Persiles
asks him what is wrong, Ortel reveals that he is on a murderous
path to kill his cheating wife and her lover in Madrid where
the two are being held. Ortel claims that no one can stop him.
Madrid voy... y no me lleguen a los oídos ni ruegos de frailes, ni
llantos de personas devotas, ni promesas de bien intencionadas
corazones, ni dádivas de ricos, ni imperios ni mandamientos de
grandes, ni toda la caterva que suele proceder a semejantes acciones,
que mi honra ha de andar sobre su delito como el aceite sobre
el agua» (III, 7; 502-03). Nonetheless, Persiles proposes to stop
Ortel from carrying out this plan. His speech is a long one, but
worth producing almost in its entirety in order to illustrate his gift
with ars dicendi.
|(III, 7; 503-05).|
One could say that Persiles uses a shotgun form of rhetoric here. Since Persiles does not know Ortel and, thus, do not know what moves him, he must resort to every persuasive mode he can summon. In fact, we can distinguish various means of persuasion in the speech: fable and popular sayings, logical argumentation, projection of future shame, hypophora (raising and answering rhetorical questions), and appeal to reason.
Persiles begins by warning Ortel that by trying to recuperate —60→ his honor he will only stain it further, since killing the couple will spread the news of his cuckoldry as far away as Madrid. If Ortel is proud and acting to preserve his honor, as he says, then Persiles's point will dissuade him from his original plan. Persiles then tries another approach: he tells the fable of the man who raised a snake in his bosom, showing Ortel by example that he himself is culpable in part and should not be pursuing his runaway bride. If Ortel is at all reasonable, upon hearing this fable he will reconsider his wrath and his quest to find and kill his wife. Next, Persiles reminds Ortel that marriage is a sacrament and that he should treat his wife and their relationship accordingly, appealing to Ortel's piety.
Following that, Persiles changes his tone and paints a horrifying picture of Ortel's bloody vengeance scene. If Ortel is sensitive, the image of himself as bloodthirsty will put him off, and if fearful he will cringe at the idea of the irate mob seeking justice for his awful act. Persiles then returns to the theme of public honor -the one motivation Ortel has revealed- and suggests a relatively mild solution that he says will be the hardest punishment of all for the wife: to leave her. If Ortel is cruel, he will take interest in how to give his wife the worst punishment.
But Persiles does not stop there. He pleas for Ortel to be merciful and not exact justice and then ends the speech by appealing to the fact that murder is a mortal sin and must not be committed for any worldly gains. Again, if Ortel is pious, he will be moved by the appeals to religion regarding the sin of murder and concerned about his immortal soul. Finally, if Ortel is acting in a fit of passion and unlike his regular self, Persiles's long speech, his resoluteness, and his concern should help to calm Ortel. Ortel Banedre's reaction indicates the effectiveness of Persiles's words:
|(III, 7; 505)|
There is no indication that these words do not honestly express how Ortel is moved by Persiles's words. At least for the time being, Persiles has saved two lives, maybe three. Here he convinces Ortel to mend his ways and redirect his course of action both for his good and for the good of others. This speech is only one of a dozen others in this vein, all of which are as effectively convincing, if shorter. Persiles is nearly always successful at either moving his listeners to some understanding and subsequent course of action or at inspiring hope in a situation that appears to be irreparable or intolerable.
Yet there is another rhetorical activity that defines Persiles: his lies. By keeping the truth secret and telling something credible in its place, Persiles avoids or quells many potential conflicts. His lies are justified because they are aimed at diverting undeserved and unnecessary harm from him and from those he is in charge of47.
One central deception accounts for most of Persiles's lies; for
various reasons, mostly to keep interested suitors away from
Sigismunda, no one must know who he and Sigismunda really
are. To cover this, Persiles gives them false names, Periandro and
Auristela. He also claims to be her brother (I, 2). When the character
Arnaldo proposes marriage to Sigismunda, she begins crying,
and Persiles speaks to divert suspicion, telling Arnaldo that her
silence and tears come from being overwhelmed at encountering
Arnaldo in such an unexpected place (I, 15). This is a lie designed
to appease Arnaldo temporarily, and it works. Later, however,
Arnaldo again asks about Sigismunda, and again Persiles lies.
Ultimately, Persiles begs Arnaldo to stop asking questions about
«porque no me obligues a que sea mentiroso, inventando
quimeras que decirte mentirosas y falsas, por no poder contarte
las verdaderas de nuestra historia». Arnaldo responds with a
comment showing his tractability to Persiles's urgings:
mí... a toda tu voluntad y gusto, haciendo cuenta que yo soy cera
y tú el sello que has de imprimir en mí lo que quisieres» (I, 16; 227).
Through this deception Persiles has shielded Sigismunda from the
undesirable advances of other men, and kept her free from entanglements
that may have kept her away from her goal of reaching
A similar situation occurs later when a prince's servant, hopeful of finding a bride for his master, inquires about Sigismunda (III, 13). Persiles answers -and Cervantes adds that Persiles trembles throughout this deception- saying that her name is Auristela, that she is not interested in any earthly prince but only God, and that he is her brother and knows that pursuing her further will only bring pain to everyone involved48.
Not only does Persiles use lies himself when the situation may
demand it, he also counsels others to use lies when it is prudent
and for worthy ends. When Persiles needs time to devise a plan of
escape from Hibernia, he directs Sigismunda to lie to King Policarpo
and his daughter in order to avoid suspicion:
«con tu buen
juicio entretén al rey y a Sinforosa, que no la ofenderás en fingir
palabras que se encaminan a conseguir buenos deseos» (II, 7; 318).
Sigismunda manipulates her speeches in this prudent but deceptive
manner for the first time in the book after this instruction from
Persiles, whose idea rings very much like the following line from
«No se pueden ni deben llamar engaños -dijo don
Quijote- los que ponen la mira en virtuosos fines» (II, 22; 188).
While speech is most valuable as an instrument for revealing the
truth of things and lying is typically considered base and cowardly,
the «noble lie», as Socrates calls it in Book III of Plato's
Republic, is the exception. Persiles's lies are not to cover up selfish
motives or to mislead others to their harm, but rather to protect
those in his care.
We find a counterpoint to Persiles's prudential use of lies in
the character Clodio, whose role is to show the potentially malicious
side of truth-telling. Clodio is the literal minded truth-teller,
who boldly exposes the weaknesses, shortcomings, and errors of
others, and it is in account of this that he has been permanently
exiled from his homeland. When the pilgrims meet up with
Clodio, he describes the delight he takes in this activity:
cierto espíritu satírico y maldiciente, una pluma veloz y una
lengua libre; deléitanme las maliciosas agudezas y, por decir una,
perderé yo, no sólo un amigo, pero cien mil vidas. No me ataban
la lengua prisiones, ni enmudecían destierros, ni atemorizaban
amenazas, ni enmendaban castigos» (I, 14; 217). After several
characters in the story point out his contemptible and dangerous
lack of prudence, Clodio answers that at least no one can accuse
him of ever having told a lie and then adds that he is incorrigible:
«si quieren que no hable o escriba, córtenme la lengua y las manos,
y aun entonces pondré la boca en las entrañas de la tierra, y daré
voces como pudiere, y tendré esperanza que de allí salgan las
cañas del rey Midas» (I, 14; 219).
Critics have discussed Clodio as a satirical poet (Wilson), a slanderer (Forcione), a maldiciente representing satire (Casalduero), and a character personifying rumor, such as «fama» in the Aeneid (Schevill). Some may regard him as a literal-minded philosopher in as much as he is shown to love the truth of things, albeit a rather low sense of truth, but mainly he is a loose cannon. Neither the «cielos» nor the «santos» as the character Rosamunda says, are safe from his tongue (I, 14; 218). Clodio has no sense of maintaining «noble» lies or at least maintaining the required silence, nor is he concerned with using rhetoric or irony. He is an imprudent truth-teller whose truths no one wants to hear because his efforts are spent exposing the worst of people, that which they do out of weakness. Clodio lacks the ability, or the desire, to tell his truths in careful and beneficial ways and dies halfway through Persiles y Sigismunda with a symbolic arrow to the mouth, silencing him forever. After seeing the effects of Clodio's misuse of the truth, we come to appreciate Persiles's judicious use of speech.
As counterpoint to the role of speeches in this work, one can
look to the group of characters not moved by Persiles's speeches.
In fact, in the broadest of outlines we can discern two key groups
of characters in Persiles y Sigismunda: those who move and are
moved through reason and logoi and those who do not or are not.
Cervantes associates the former with peace, temperance, liberality,
and compassion and the latter with violence of all forms: murder,
war, torture, and rape, not only between larger groups but also
within close communities and even families. The fates of the
constituents of these two general groups reflect their respective
modi operandi: where there is no way of persuading -that is to say
where one isn't disposed to listen, there is only some form of
coercion. For example, one of the most violent scenes in Persiles y
Sigismunda is the description in I, 2-4 of a chaotic and murderous
melee that occurs on an island of rapacious pirates who dedicate
their days to human sacrifice. When Bradamiro, a just man, speaks
out to save the lives of Persiles and Sigismunda, the furious and
tyrannical chief draws an arrow and shoots it through Bradamiro's
«quitándole el movimiento de la lengua y sacándole el
alma» (I, 4; 146). The chief's violent act begets another. A barbarian
seeking vengeance immediately lunges at the chief and drives a
dagger through his chest, killing him instantly. This second murder
stirs the passions of many, and the deaths multiply. Before
long, the barbarians are all involved in a frenzied battle, clawing
at each other's flesh without any regard for family or friends in an
awful scene of death, darkness, and flames. The barbarians of this
island are «moved» only in the most brute ways and to the most
brute ends, through violence to violence. When a mind is not
disposed to hear reason, no amount of speeches will genuinely
move it in any way; only force works. This episode illustrates the
utter breakdown of the rational and a situation where not even a
sword will accomplish anything. Our hero would not enter this
fray because these are not his arms, nor is there anything to be
achieved by adding one more sword.
Another island with a violent practice is the homeland of the character Transila, which practices ius primae noctis. Transila flees her village on her wedding night in order to avoid this ritual deflowering, and the eloquence of the speech she delivers to the crowd gathered at her wedding party equals that of Persiles:
|(I, 13; 209-10)|
Breaking the violent practice requires someone capable of exposing this custom for what it is and of persuading others to end it. Transila, a woman armed with a sharp wit, a sharp tongue, and a sharp spear, escapes from becoming the community's latest sexual scapegoat, as Wilson frames it (184). In this community, only the threat of the spear saves her.
It is a fascinating detail of this book that Transila's deeds are
glorified while those of her father Mauricio are shown to be
abstract and ineffectual. Mauricio, by far the harshest critic of
Persiles's speeches, is a Renaissance scientist, and more specifically
«buen positivista» (Baena 147). While he may be disposed to
reason, his reasons are only those of a narrow scientific rationalism.
He is obtuse to appeals to reasons that do not fit in his positivist
methodological framework. Thus, it is not surprising that
Mauricio shows himself to be generally uninterested in Persiles's
speeches and that he often censures Persiles for not adhering to
strict poetic precepts, regarding his speeches from a literalist's
formalistic standpoint that does not take into account their meaning.
For example, when Persiles's eyes fix on the starry sky as he
begins to tell an episode from his personal adventures, Mauricio
comments to his daughter:
|(II, 14; 375-76)|
For Mauricio, the starry sky to which Persiles alludes is associated
uniquely with astrology, of which Mauricio is a scientific expert.
The figurative language and functions of oratory elude Mauricio,
and his reactions, apart from being comical, serve to illustrate
Mauricio's often anti-rhetorical attitude, which is attached to his
role as the literal-minded scientist. Mauricio is incapable of persuading
his townsmen not to deflower his daughter on her wedding
night, justifying his inability to block the act by arguing that
custom is another kind of human nature and therefore inmutable:
«la costumbre es otra naturaleza, y el mudarla se siente como la
muerte» (II, 12; 208-09). Mauricio gives Cervantes an opportunity
to touch on contemporary literary matters, as Forcione has demonstrated,
but also to show how an anti-rhetorical attitude can affect
life in community. Mauricio's impatience with speeches shows his
lack of sensibility to the political arena and the necessary functions
and concomitant demands of rhetoric in that arena. It is significant
that Mauricio can do very little to help the group during the
journey, a fact that is not incidental in a book about the role of
speeches in the world. Mauricio the scientist knows all about the
movement of the stars and planets, but he knows nothing about
what moves men and women.
Having described the general contours of Cervantes' attention to speech in Persiles y Sigismunda, Persiles's role within this scheme, and the positions of his detractors and what they represent, I would like to turn now to Persiles's central story, which extends over the ten middle chapters of the work. This personal story is a long narration that provides the occasion for a discussion on aesthetic precepts49. It is also a politically prudent tactic, as Forcione notes (241). As usual with his lengthy speeches, Persiles has his eye on the welfare of the group. We saw above how some of his most rhetorically loaded speeches are rooted in self-defense, on the one hand, or defense of someone else or his group, on the other. In the ten chapters encompassed by his long speech, the group of pilgrims is experiencing its most ominous stretch of bad luck. The group is in great danger and has no plan of action. It —67→ would appear to some characters (and readers) neither the place nor the time for a long, anecdotal, and entertaining story. Persiles's judgment, however, is that the situation requires him to tell in a dilatory fashion the series of events that brought him to this point. If we are charitable to Persiles's rhetorical strategies and look for prudential functions behind this long story, we discover several.
Persiles begins to tell the story in Chapter 10 of Book II when the pilgrims are being held on an island whose king is concocting plans to marry Sigismunda. Persiles and Sigismunda are at their weakest personal moments during this most difficult part of the journey. Sigismunda falls dangerously ill from jealousy, the king pursues her, the king's daughter pursues Persiles, and Persiles suffers for Sigismunda and her precarious position. Witchcraft is used on one of the pilgrims, Clodio is killed, and dangerous plots are being formed. In sum, the travelers are vulnerable, and their defenses are weak. They are at the mercy of many people whose desires and means of satisfying them are decidedly at odds with those of the traveling group.
It is precisely at this moment that Persiles decides to catch
everyone up with the series of events that have occurred to him
since the book began. He gives speeches within stories within
dreams within stories such that the listeners often «lose their
place» and forget their immediate danger. Much like the maiden
in 1,001 Arabian Nights, he distracts everyone with his tales.
Looked at as a rhetorical strategy from a clever leader, we may in
part regard this long speech and its stories as something of a
prudential move. It keeps everyone occupied, diverts the attention
from other problems, keeps the imagination from straying down
treacherous paths, and gives Sigismunda time to recuperate. The
long tales, many of which feature Persiles's valor and skills, also
allow Persiles to regain some power as the leader of the pilgrims
through establishing ethos. This is important because Persiles has
not been able to act in their favor and himself is psychologically
very weak at this point. In sum, he is delivering a rallying story.
The restorative power of his words animates the group and unites
the listeners who -at this point in the story- are at cross-purposes
among themselves. Persiles is planning an escape, but needs to
keep his group together and recuperate strength before putting
the plan into action. Thus, one of the functions of Persiles's mini-epic
is like that of all epideictic rhetoric, which is, as George Kennedy
«to increase social bonding and the solidarity of the
cultural group» (22).
Here we see Persiles the future king in the final trabajos before
he ascends the throne and assumes his political role. Disguised as
a wandering Everyman -as El Saffar interprets his assumed name
Periandro- he is exposed to hardships from which royalty commonly
is protected. Through these trabajos, however, Persiles gains
invaluable experience for his future role as king of a country with
a long history of war. Along this journey he has no riches, no
troops, no titles, and as such no authority or power other than that
which he secures by his own means: his only available methods
for protecting his group are his wits and his words. The more danger
the group of pilgrims is in, the more Persiles speaks. He talks
the least after he has finally established the group safely in Rome,
uttering only the
«sí» sealing his marriage vows to Sigismunda.
Persiles is nothing if not an eloquent orator50. He shows nearly magical skill in moving an audience and wins the hearts and the respect of his interlocutors amenable to reason. He stays violent murders and secures political stability and the safety of his group of traveling pilgrims. He is patient in waiting out crucial moments and helps distract others from precipitous and dangerous moves. A truly skilled orator such as Persiles, who is a king in the making, always aims at establishing civility among those in his community. He is less concerned with entertaining or impressing his charges with his knowledge than he is with safeguarding their journey. In this regard, Persiles may be likened to Aeneas.
Several critics, such as Schevill51, Forcione (187-211), O'Neill
(59), and Romero (48) have associated Persiles y Sigismunda with
Virgil's Aeneid, an oratorical masterpiece whose speeches have
served as models of rhetoric for millennia and whose author is
esteemed equally as heroic poet and orator. Highet begins his
study of the speeches of the Aeneid by alluding to their importance
in a passage that could very nearly describe Cervantes' craft in
Persiles y Sigismunda:
«In the Aeneid, the speeches are one of the
most important elements of Vergil's art. Through them he shows
us the inmost hearts of his characters; recalls the past and forecasts
the future; and expresses conflicts almost as violent as a duel in
Furthermore, there are several points of similarity between
Persiles and Aeneas. Both are the principal speakers in their
respective works and both are introduced to us with speeches of
despair. Both deliver one particularly long and central speech. In
the epic tradition, both Persiles y Sigismunda and the Aeneid begin
in medias res, providing the occasion for many speeches with
stories recounting the events that occurred prior to the book's
beginning, such as the personal story speeches of both Persiles and
Aeneas. Both give encouraging speeches to their fellow travelers,
and both dissimulate with the end of protecting companions. They
pray often52, have several monologues of pathos, and speak less as
the story nears its conclusion. Furthermore, like those of Aeneas,
Persiles's speeches vary in style, length, model followed, and frequency,
according to circumstances. Highet's characterization of
Aeneas and what he accomplishes through his speeches in many
ways describes Persiles:
«Aeneas is performing the first duty of a
commander: strengthening his men with confidence in their
purpose, encouraging them by reminding them of their past
exploits, and uniting them in loyalty to himself. Never again do
we see him in such hopeless agony as in his first speech; yet he is
still subject to fits of gloom until he reaches Italy» (30).
Comparing Persiles to Aeneas shows how the former may be
regarded as a leader (the
«capitán valeroso») closely associated
with rhetoric. He is also the perfect picture of a prince-orator,
constantly exercising persuasion and prudence. His eloquence, as
is Aeneas's, is measured by its effectiveness. There are differences
between the two: Persiles's effusiveness versus Aeneas's general
restraint, for example, but the truly fundamental difference is that
Persiles is not associated with violence. Aeneas's most animated
speeches are designed to rouse his men to battle, and he himself
is shown to spill much blood. This is not the case with Persiles,
whose most rousing speeches persuade others to virtuous activities
and who is never associated directly with violence53. Persiles's
rousing speeches, unlike those of Aeneas and other chivalric
heroes, do not rally to war, but rather thwart violence and appeal
to civility. In his heroic work, Cervantes chooses not to glorify the
«Arma virumque cano», I sing of a man and
arms, are the opening words of Virgil's Aeneid and express the
traditional formula for heroic poetry, which poeticizes the heroics
of war and also praises and glorifies the hero's battleworthiness.
Cervantes might have begun his Persiles y Sigismunda
virumque cano», I sing of a man and words.
Spain's Golden Age of literature, Don Abbot writes, coincided
with a golden age of rhetoric: hundreds of treatises on rhetoric
were produced in Spain during this period, and rhetoric was a key
component of the educational curriculum (104). Thus, it was
natural for Cervantes to have known the forms and uses of rhetoric
well, but it was his genius that turned words into the only arms
of a hero.
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