At the 1990 conference on Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda held at Whitman College there was a consensus that «very little has been done with the names», that with the growing interest in Cervantes' last book we should give some thought to what the names of the characters may be able to tell us about it. At the beginning of this century Schevill and Bonilla pointed out a handful of literary works, probably known to Cervantes, that contain similar character names, notably Núñez de Reinoso's Los amores de Clareo y Florisea. The most remarkable echo before-the-fact in this mid-sixteenth-century Byzantine romance is a Periandra, as well as a Periandro, and an Aurismunda24. Not even one onomastic limb, however, was gone out on to suggest why Cervantes might have found those names, or his own —20→ rearrangements of them, well suited to what he was looking to do in P and S25.
It has been Diana de Armas Wilson, most recently in Allegories of Love (1991), who has jumped in with a resolve worthy of Transila to assert that the Irish character's name has to do with trans-island movements, both literal and metaphorical, and that Periandro, who says that he is like «that which is called place» and whose name has a Greek etymology meaning, among other things, «the space around a man», suggests both a free- and wide-ranging narrator as well as a man who is willing to incorporate the Other into himself26.
On a more informal level of discourse, Celia Weller answered with the word «golden» my intrigued question to her about what sort of a «stella» Auristela was, while most recently Patrick Henry has finally spurred me into quixotic adventures in the realms of authorial intent by affirming with a ring of they're-giants-I-tell-you conviction in his voice that the anaphora in a Greek-sounding pair like Persiles/Periandro must mean more than just a common sound to tie two names to a single person. So let us reflect, then, on the two protagonists' four names in their order of increasing problemicity, which I take to be: Auristela, Persiles, Periandro and Sigismunda.
«Golden Star» makes sense, characterizes Auristela
well. She is repeatedly associated with the Virgin Mary, explicitly in
reference to her portrait:
«un retrato entero,
de pies a cabeza, de una mujer que tenía una corona en la cabeza, aunque
partida por medio la corona, y a los pies un mundo, sobre el cual estaba
puesta, y apenas la hubieron visto, cuando conocieron ser el rostro de
Auristela, tan al vivo dibujado, que no les puso en duda de
conocerla» (437). In addition, on the
Fishermen's Island she is taken for a goddess in an elaborate scene I study
below in connection with the name Sigismunda (Book 2, chapter 12). The luminous
and unabashedly supernatural portrayal found there is appropriate
to characterize the immaculately conceived Virgin Mary, worshiped in Feliciana
de la Voz's hymn as alive since before the creation of the universe27:
The traditional connection of the Virgin to the stars is well
known. She is the Queen of Heaven, usually represented in the art of Golden Age
Spain, as the portrait of Auristela suggests, in the tradition derived from
Revelation 12 that speaks of a woman wearing a crown of stars. El Saffar has
observed that Auristela's name means star, as does Zoraida's in
Don Quixote (189 n. 33); Zoraida, on coming
to Spain, changes her name to María. Feliciana de la Voz sings of her as
the morning star that lights the way for the sun, her son:
«Antes que el sol, la estrella hoy da su
lumbre» (310). In the maritime context of
the first two books of
P and S one is reminded, as in Manuel de
Sousa's song, that the Virgin is also Stella Maris, that guides sailors, and
pilgrims, across the sea:
Persiles is moved to undertake his pilgrimage and then guided on
it by love of his own star, whose beauty of person and soul is to be
Neoplatonically understood as a reflection of a heavenly model. De Armas Wilson
has commented on
Renaissance Neoplatonism supposedly gave to women»
The comparison to the morning star might suggest an etymology of «aurora stella», but the single r in Auristela seems to point instead to aurum, 'gold'. Her light is golden by virtue of her great worth and purity. In mythological terms, the quest for restoration of the Golden Age is, of course, proclaimed by Don Quixote as he begins his wanderings, while Persiles and Sigismunda crown their journey by carrying the restoring spiritual light of pure, unconfused Christianity from Counter Reformation Rome to the troubled twilight lands of the Utter North.
What resonances would a name like Persiles have called forth in
early seventeenth-century readers? Schevill and Bonilla addressed the word's
ending, the final four letters, quite convincingly:
«el [nombre] de
Persiles, de cuya acentuación
[sobre la penúltima sílaba] hemos hablado, pertenece a un grupo
de vocablos de análoga forma que tiene su abolengo en la novela
caballeresca. Así en
Amadís se encuentran
Sarquiles, Granfiles, Gastiles, y todos estos nombres parecen haberse formado a
imitación del de Aquiles (llamado igualmente
But what of the rest of the word that remains after the ending is removed, the Pers-? If one is thinking in terms of heroes out of Greek romance or epic the name that comes to mind is Perseus. He and his mother appear as wave-tossed victims driven from their island home in book seven of the Aeneid, a work Cervantes knew, and Perseus' story was a favorite of writers in the seventeenth century. In the same decade that Cervantes wrote P and S, Lope, basing himself on Ovid's Metamorphoses, wrote both a play, Perseo, and a poem, La Andrómeda. Calderón wrote both a play entitled Las fortunas de Andrómeda y Perseo, which was staged in the Buen Retiro in 1653, and an auto sacramental called Andrómeda y Perseo (1680). A comparison of the biographies of the two island-raised princes is surprising, as is the Renaissance's allegorical reading of the myth.
Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae, the god, like Persiles'
father, no longer being in the mother's home when the hero's labors begin. Like
Persiles and Sigismunda on several occasions in the first half of the
Cervantine romance, the infant Perseus and his mother were set adrift on the
sea in a frail craft,
in the latter case a wooden ark, and finally
driven ashore on the island of Seriphus, where a fisherman named Dictys
«netted it, hauled it ashore, broke it open and found both Danae and
Perseus still alive» (Graves 1: 238). The episode of the
capsized ship in
P and S, Book 2, is similar in that ropes
are used to tow the vessel to shore and it must then be broken into, and also
in Cervantes' use of
«a fisherman metaphor to describe the deliverers
in their task of listening for heartbeats...». (Forcione
70). In an inversion of this element of the myth, however, Persiles and
Sigismunda are not at last picked up by a fisherman, but rather begin their
long series of nautical misadventures when Sigismunda is robbed by pirates on
the Fishermen's Island.
«When Perseus was grown to manhood Polydectes,
king of Seriphus, cast his eye on Danae, and, in order to rid himself of the
son, exacted of him a promise that he would bring him the head of the Gorgon
Medusa. The Gorgons dwelt with their sisters the Graeae (the grey women) by the
great ocean, far away in the west»
(«Perseus»). Similarly Persiles is obliged to set off
on his quest to the other end of the world because of a king's imperious wish
to force marriage on a woman Persiles loves. Guided by Hermes and Athena,
Perseus reached the Graeae and stole the one eye and one tooth that they shared
among them. In effect, he became a pirate, as Persiles does in the long
first-person narration of his exploits. In Ovid's
Metamorphoses, Book 4, the parallel goes
further in that Perseus, like Persiles, recounts this theft of his at the
request of an admiring audience28.
Using the eye and the tooth to improve his negotiating position, Perseus compelled the Graeae to guide him to the Nymphs, from whom he received magical clothing (sandals, a purselike wallet, and a helmet) to use on his quest. In the rescue effected in the famous cross-dressing scene on the Barbarous Isle Persiles likewise makes use of clothing received from women. Athena also gave Perseus a polished shield that enabled him to gaze at Medusa's reflection, not her real face, the latter being so ugly that all who saw it were turned to stone (Graves 1:239). Then, armed by Hermes with a sword shaped like a sickle, he came upon the Gorgons as they slept and, his hand guided by Athena, cut off Medusa's head. Next the hero journeyed to Ethiopia, where he slew the sea monster and saved Andromeda, —24→ both from being devoured and from an unwanted marriage to -yet another- tyrannical suitor. Persiles' own combat with a sea serpent while engaged in his piratical adventures, though presented with a suggestion that it might have been a dream (240), thus finds in the serpentine Medusa and the sea monster a linked pair of mythological parallels. It is true that Persiles did not travel to Ethiopia, but Theagenes, the hero of Heliodorus' romance that Cervantes set out to emulate, did so in a prominent way. To make a connection between the myth and the Byzantine romance subtitled An Ethiopian Story would, one would think, have seemed for this reason all the more natural to Cervantes while he was selecting material for his own heroic tale.
With Andromeda Perseus
«returned to Seriphus in time
to rescue his mother and Dictys from Polydectes, whom he turned to stone with
all his court by showing them the Gorgon's head». Similarly Persiles
returns to the island from which he and Sigismunda had set forth, in close
conjunction with her being saved from marriage to Magsimino by the latter's
death in their presence by a fortuitous fever contracted by pursuing them to
Rome at the height of the summer.
The description of the moment of his death, however, conveys an
unmistakable sense that it is Persiles who has killed him and wrested the bride
from him. On the point of expiring from the disease Magsimino exclaims,
«Aprieta, ¡oh hermano!, estos
párpados y ciérrame estos ojos en perpetuo sueño, y con
esotra mano aprieta la de Sigismunda... y obedeciendo al mandamiento de su
hermano, apretándole la muerte, con la mano le cerró los
ojos...». (474). The image of Persiles
dispatching his rival through the eyes with one hand, while seizing Auristela's
hand with his other, suggests Perseus putting an end to Polydectes through the
eyes by exhibiting the Medusa's head before him at the end of one arm. The
imagery of unseeing eyes is continued in the next paragraph by the description
of this death as «improvisa».
Later in his life Perseus was said to have fathered the
Persiles, a famous line of kings. The concluding sentence of
P and S similarly stresses that the royal
pair lived to see their great grandchildren. Sigismunda,
«vivió en compañía de su esposo Persiles
hasta que biznietos le alargaron los días, pues los vio en su larga y
feliz posteridad» (475).
While this is the end of the plot line in P and S, two other points of possible contact with the myth can be observed. First, —25→ both Persiles and Perseus participate in athletic games held in honor of the country in which they are visiting. While so engaged Perseus accidently slew his grandfather with the throw of a quoit; Persiles sweeps all the competitions held in honor of Policarpo, thereby contributing to his death by fanning the flames of both his daughter's love for Persiles and indirectly the fatal amorous obsession of Policarpo with Auristela.
Second, there was a parallel myth to that of Perseus in which
Herakles rescued Hesione from a sea monster and,
«In one version of
the story of Hesione, Heracles is said to have spent three days, like Jonah, in
the belly of the beast, and it is noteworthy that the Greek representations of
Andromeda's monster were models for Jonah's fish in early Christian
art» («Perseus»). The capsized ship in
P and S, with its echos of the Jonah story,
thus is tied in tradition to Perseus via Andromeda as well as via Danae.
Turning from action to theme it is instructive to see what the
Medieval and Renaissance tradition had done to allegorize the Perseus myth for
a Christian worldview. In general, Perseus, son of Zeus by a virgin birth, came
to be seen as foreshadowing Jesus (Bonnefoy 2:663). One can follow the
evolution of the allegory inherited by Cervantes beginning with the
thirteenth-century tradition found in the French writer Bernardus Silvestris,
author of a
Commentary on the First Six Books of the
Aeneid. In it Bernardus reminds us that the Medusa was one of three
sisters, together called the Gorgons, and that when Perseus killed Medusa the
winged horse Pegasus was born from the blood shed. Bernardus interprets Perseus
as virtue, «his sister Pallas and his brother Mercury» as wisdom
and eloquence respectively, Pegasus as the far-traveling fame of good deeds,
and Medusa as «wicked act». Surprisingly, Medusa's wickedness is
associated primarily with senseless killing:
«A drop of blood then
fell (after wicked deed had been killed), and the bloodshed stopped (the savage
men having been called from the bestial way of bloodshed)»
Probably the most influential fourteenth-century work of allegorical interpretation of the classical gods was Boccaccio's Genealogia deorum gentilium (Moss 13). As in Bernardus, Perseus represents the virtuous hero carried aloft by the desire for fame, Pegasus (bk. 12, ch. 25). Pallas' wisdom here becomes more specifically prudence, especially in understanding and guarding against the schemes and weapons of one's enemies (bk. 10, —26→ ch. 10). The primary difference between the two interpretations is that now the three monstrous sisters stand for the seductive power of bodily beauty, while Medusa's hair is equated with the snakelike worries that go with material possessions, 'mordentes sollicitudines curasque' (bk. 10, chs. 10-11).
The fifteenth century's perspective on the question is well documented by the French compendium of allegory, Ovide moralisé en prose. The characterization of Perseus now moves even further toward the courageous defeat of sexual desire, for the Gorgons are interpreted first as fear, which we must slay so that we may afterwards soar in valor, and then as «vain glory, lust and carnal pleasure» 'vaine gloire, convoitise et delectacion charnelle' (162). Christian mythological parallels, a typical feature of the work, are also introduced for both Perseus and his mother, who are equated to Christ and the Virgin. While the non-violent nature of Perseus stressed by Bernardus is not explicit, one might assume that to some degree it has been absorbed in the identification with Christ.
Through what specific channels Cervantes might have been
acquainted with these French and Italian allegories of Perseus is not known.
However, as Michael McGaha has pointed out to me, one contemporary Spanish work
touching on the subject with which Cervantes was likely to have been familiar
was Juan Pérez de Moya's
Philosophia secreta, first published in
1585. The latter's interpretation is, in general outline, very much like his
predecessors'. Medusa is again the iniquity, especially sexual misconduct, that
the hero overcomes. Pegasus is the fame that flies from our actions (2:158),
while Pallas Athene, appearing under her Roman name of Minerva, is prudent
(2:158, 166-67) and holy (2:164) wisdom. Pérez de Moya compares valorous
action undertaken without her help to going forward without a guiding light:
«como dice Aristóteles, que los que
tienen virtud natural de fuerzas sin prudencia, harán mayores errores
que aquellos que no la tienen, como el que se va sin
One difference of note separates the Spanish version of the
allegory from the earlier ones. While duly recording that Perseus receives help
from both Mercury and Pallas, Pérez de Moya gives no moral reading at
all of the god's gift of wings and a sword, but enthusiastically develops over
two pages the significance of the goddess's gift of a shield. The importance of
being guided by Minerva, who is linked to divine instruction, is brought out
repeatedly, chapter 32 concluding with the assertion that,
«Serle necesario a Perseo la ayuda de Minerva, denota
si somos instruidos con los preceptos
divinos, y nos ayuda Dios, con trabajo nos podremos templar de los halagos de
los deleites» (167).
auto, while written some years after
Cervantes' death, reveals a narrative development of the allegorical
interpretation very similar to that found in
Persiles y Sigismunda. Medusa has become
more generically both sin and death, while Perseus is Christ. Moreover, he is a
Christ right out of Byzantine romance, since for the love of a lady he goes
from adventure to adventure in disguise as a pilgrim (3:1708),
«que hasta el prefinido tiempo, / que una
belleza, a quien rondo, / con los disfraces de amante, / para las dichas de
esposo, / merezca llamarla mía, / nadie me ha de ver el
rostro» (3:1703). His valor has exiled
him from his native land, and until the time that he must wait for sweet union
with his beloved has elapsed he devotes himself to winning fame by means of
«aventuras, que / sean venturas para
Much of this dual Christian/classical allegorical tradition
seems relevant to Persiles. Like Christ and the self-controlled Perseus, he is
anything but a senselessly violent hero, putting an end, with a willingness to
sacrifice himself for his beloved in combination with an almost apocalyptic
fire, to the bestial bloodshed of the Barbarous Isle. A model of forbearance
and forgiveness, he never violently attacks a rival. Similarly, his sexual
self-mastery is remarkable. He defeats several erotic temptations, including
both the primary one of spending months in the unchaperoned company of his
beloved and the climactic one at Rome in the last book. Like the Greek
mythological figure, he wins fame throughout all the nationalities represented
in his audience when he recounts his Perseuslike exploits, including his ride
through the air on King Cratilo's horse. What corresponds to the beheading of
Medusa is his gaining of mastery over evil, both lust and anger. El Saffar
identifies the symbolism of Persiles riding King Cratilo's horse as
«achieving control over the forces that would otherwise move
This is a transformed dragon slayer, either Christianized or tricksterized or feminized or, as I think Ruth El Saffar would say, all three at once29. The feminist/Girardian reading of P and S —28→ seems applicable, too, to this traditional allegorized understanding of the Perseus story. The non-violent heroism of both Persiles and the allegorical Perseus is aided by the feminine. Auristela, seemingly so passive, becomes an active principle by being equated with the feminine, the goddess on the Fishermen's Island and the Virgin. The latter's nurturing, forgiving love, antithetical to both lust and violence, is a fundamental theme in the book, especially prominent in the central episode of Feliciana de la Voz30.
The feminine affects Persiles not only in the person of his fiancée and future Christian wife whom he must befriend and protect but also through other women, from whom he learns and receives help31. It is his earthly mother who sends him to Rome to avoid violent mimetic rivalry with his brother the king32, while his Heavenly mother -a mother-son relationship that is more evident when we think of Persiles as Perseus and Perseus as a foreshadowing of Jesus- gets him safely across a rival-infested sea with her guiding principle of avoiding violent conflict and «letting it be».
If we return to the starting point of these three Perseus allegories, the original myth, we find that there, too, the hero befriends and protects women -both Danae and Andromeda- and, as Pérez de Moya's version foregrounds, is in turn helped by the feminine. In fact, from several goddesses comes help that seems to shape his personality. In addition to his sister Athena, the old Grey Women are essential to his success by providing him with their tooth and eye, symbols of sexuality in psychoanalytic terms, while the young Nymphs give him clothing, traditional definer of identity.
Although I find no parallel in
P and S to the three Graeae, the three
Nymphs may well be present, provided we think of them as the three Graces, who
were usually similarly depicted
as a trio of young, beautiful
maidens. That trio in Cervantes' romance seems to be the three French young
women seeking to marry the Duke of Nemurs, introduced to the pilgrims (Book 3,
ch. 13) in the following order: Deleasir, Belarminia, and Feliz Flora. Such an
interpretation becomes no longer far-fetched when one considers the names of
the three Graces, which the
Enciclopedia Universal, following Hesiod,
lists as follows:
gozosa), Aglaia (la resplandeciente) y Thalia (la
Italian contemporary of Cervantes, Vicenzo Cartari Reggiano, describes them as
the goddesses of
& amicitia, & di quella allegra vita, che gli huomini desiderano
«Deleasir», which sounds like an approximation of
the French «de loisir», 'at
leisure', suggests an idea similar to that of
gozosa. Belarminia is clearly
«beautiful ermine» (Weller Colahan 388), which shines by her
whiteness and so is like Aglaia. The stress on her brightness is reinforced
when (Book 4, ch. 1) she offers the following aphorism:
mujer ha de ser como el armiño, dejándose antes prender que
enlodarse» (418). Feliz Flora's name is
nearly identical to Thalia's. When introduced, the three behave most
«con alegre rostro y
cortés comedimiento» (368).
The sort of assistance that these three women give to Persiles
is not hard to identify when one keeps in mind that their role is essentially
to be nubile, marriageable, and that the Graces have a strong connotation of
fruitfulness, their names originally corresponding to the three periods in the
development of fruit. In harmony with the image of the Virgin as a fruitful
garden mentioned above, these three young women represent ideas about fertile
relations between men and women, ideas reflected in the aphorisms they provide
to Diego de Ratos. Deleasir writes,
todas las acciones desta vida tiene imperio la buena o la mala suerte; pero
más sobre los casamientos» (418).
This carefree approach to finding happiness in marriage is certainly
appropriate for a woman at leisure, concerned primarily with pleasure.
Belarminia's proverb, concerned with spotlessness, refers, of course, to the
expectation that wives be pure and chaste. Feliz Flora writes,
«A mucho obligan las leyes de la obediencia
forzosa; pero a mucho más las fuerzas del
gusto» (417), a principle in harmony with
Cervantes' well-known belief that a woman, though chaste as a flower, cannot be
happy unless her own wishes have been respected.
Of these three the most prominent is Feliz Flora, who, appropriately enough for a goddess of friendship and a happy life, is instrumental in showing Antonio Hijo, who incarnates one aspect of Persiles' still-growing character, that women can be friends with men, can mean more to them than a sexual temptation to be brusquely rejected. These graceful, feminine marriage specialists, then, do have helpful counsel for the hero.
But what of Perseus killing the oppressor and his court by turning them to stone? Since the deaths shed no blood and no blow is struck, the victory achieved by the simple unveiling of wickedness undone, we may assume that it was understood as the non-violent triumph of virtue over vice. With this background the strange death of Magsimino at the end of P and S seems less arbitrary. Paradoxically, Persiles has slain his rival not by force of violence but by virtue and gentleness. Throughout the two years of his journey and rivalry with his brother he has practiced generosity of spirit and self-restraint. We are led to the conclusion that, like Perseus exhibiting the slain head of evil and the triumph of virtue, Persiles' example has somehow, with a little help from Heavensent disease, slain the evil in his ferocious brother and transformed him, not into stone, but into a Christian capable of a final self-denying act. When Persiles and Sigismunda return to their kingdom, they will transform it, too, into something very different, a purified Christian society.
There is a well-developed sense of radical transformation in
the death scene33 that
recalls the climactic transformation in the Perseus myth. The deadly fever is
called «la mutación»
and is mentioned by name three times (468, 471, 474). The narrator, in fact,
intervenes in the story here to comment that many sudden changes are taking
«Dejóse caer del coche
sobre los brazos de Sigismunda, ya no Auristela, sino la reina de Frislanda, y
en su imaginación, también reina de Tile; que estas mudanzas tan
estrañas, caen debajo del poder de aquella que comúnmente es
llamada fortuna, que no es otra cosa sino un firme disponer del
Magsimino's heavensent generosity is presented, by means of a
conceit, as extraordinarily sudden, so sudden that the transformation of heart
is simultaneous with the death, which
happens almost as quickly as
a fatal glance. Only two paragraphs after Cervantes has recorded Magsimino's
still active imaginings of future marital bliss the reader encounters this
striking turn of events involving the figure of death and a reference to St.
Paul, who was suddenly struck down and transformed by the Jesus he had pursued
«En efeto, frontero del templo
de San Pablo, en mitad de la campaña rasa, la fea muerte salió al
encuentro al gallardo Persiles y le derribó en tierra, y enterró
a Magsimino, el cual, viéndose a punto de muerte, con la mano derecha
asió la izquierda de su hermano...».
This personification of death is, in addition, not only practically instantaneous in striking but fea as well. What agent of death could be more repugnant than Medusa's head, as ugly as, and the symbol of, sin? And Magsimino is not said to have been killed but simply buried (enterró) -placed with a strange abruptness in the ground, like a stone.
Ruth El Saffar has argued that in each of the first three books of P and S there is a savior. First there is Antonio, the son, who appears in the midst of the conflagration on the Barbarous Isle and leads them to safety. In Book II Mauricio, the judicial astrologer, accurately predicts the future twice, finding his lost daughter and foreseeing the sinking of the pilgrims' ship, but he is powerless to prevent disaster. Third, the holy hermit Soldino combines the best of his two predecessors by not only predicting a fire but by saving the party from it. There is a progression here from physical strength to mind to spirit (162-63). The fourth book, I would argue, continues this development in a way that the allegorized Perseus story now reveals. Magsimino, reformed at the moment of death, is the savior who in his wisdom and holiness dies a selfless death, like Christ, so that Persiles and Sigismunda can be saved.
The establishment of a connection between Perseus and Persiles also gives an additional insight into the character of Auristela. Patrick Henry has observed to me that the mythological hero is also a constellation, and that a starry connotation for Persiles would balance the star in Auristela. Such a balance in their names would reflect the balance between Auristela's association with the Virgin and Persiles' association with Christ. It is also true that Perseus is a very northern constellation, always defined in Spanish as a «constelación septentrional», and that it is located in the sky near two other northern constellations that figure in the myth, Andromeda and the Dragon. One could —32→ almost suppose Cervantes took his cue from some judicial astrologer in moving the cast of the Perseus story up to the far north.
Historically, the Greek name Periandros is associated with a ruler of Corinth included by most classical authorities among the seven wise men of antiquity, albeit he had a reputation for harshness. As a future wise ruler the Periandro in Cervantes' romance fits the description, although harshness is scarcely part of his character unless we focus on his claim of «cleansing» the seas («escombramos», 245) of some sixty pirate ships in Book 2. The etymology of the word, though, is curious and somewhat different from what has been suggested to date in connection with P and S.
Peri means «round» or
«wide», and also, by extension of the idea of breadth, «very
much». In the first sense, a peripatetic walks around, the pericardium is
the area around the heart. In the second Pericles is very much, i. e.,
«widely», famed. It is this second sense that led Gutierre
Tibón to explain the word's etymology as follows:
andros, «hombre», 'el muy
varonil'» (427). When I put the question
to my colleague in classics, Dana Burgess, his first reaction was «round
man». That is close to the solution presented by Pape and Benseler:
«Vollmann (d.i. voller Mann od. um u. um ein Mann)», 'A whole man
(i. e., a man who is whole or an all-around man)' (2:1173).
The combination of the idea of wholeness with that of roundness cannot fail to recall, to anyone familiar with De Armas Wilson's book, the image of the round Platonic androgyne. If she is right in maintaining that Leone Ebreo's positively revalued hermaphrodite was at the back of Cervantes' mind as he worked so much gender role reversal into his romance (148-9), then the very name Periandro suggests an ironic authorial comment that in order to be «muy varonil», a real man, one must learn to be half a woman.
A German name that coincidentally lends itself to a Spanish folk etymology, Sigismunda confronts the perplexed philological pilgrim with two choices, one Germanic and the other Hispanic. —33→ On the southern side of this dilemma we have Reinoso's use of the name Aurismunda, which in Spanish practically shouts out «Golden World», with the Golden Age connotations I referred to in connection with Auristela. In that case, interpreting Sigis -as sigue, Cervantes' heroine could be thought of as «following the world», which as a pilgrim she certainly does physically.
Metaphorically she does not follow or adopt as her own the ways of the world, in contrast to those of Heaven, except -and I think it is a suggestive exception- in her dramatized choosing of marriage and family over the easier path to Heaven represented by life as a nun withdrawn from the world. As is shown by the episodes of Manuel de Sousa and Leonora Pereira, Renato and Eusebia, and Auristela warning Constanza not to make a rash vow, the Counter Reformation theme of Christian marriage as superior to monastic life is basic to the book.
The northern route has another, more mythological resonance. But would Cervantes have thought, or expected his readers to have thought, germanically? Almost certainly the name was selected in part, as in La vida es sueño, for its northern ring, and Charles V was, after all, a German-speaking Hapsburg.
Sigis- comes from
sieg, 'victory', while -munda from
mund, 'hand'. Philologists agree that the
combination means 'the hand of victory', a metaphor for
protection of victory» (Tibón 491; Bahlow 474).
Such an appellation for Sigismunda makes sense if we accept the role of the
Virgin, and of the feminine for which she stands, as central to bringing about
the victorious happy ending of the romance. Such an interpretation can be
supported even more substantially if we make a connection between the Virgin
and Pallas Athena. Athena, who indeed was often represented carrying victory in
one hand, was also seen by both the Classical and Medieval traditions as the
goddess of wisdom. She protects and gives victory to Perseus, just as the
virtues of forbearance and forgiveness -associated with the Virgin- give the
final victory to Persiles and Sigismunda.
Such a version of Athena would seem to be unlike the warlike connotations attached to Athena in ancient Greece, but the fact is that from late Classical times on, Athena came to be associated primarily with wisdom in the abstract (Downing 1:491). In a parallel fashion the Virgin came to be tied to Biblical passages, such as Proverbs 8, that speak of wisdom personified as a woman (Reumann 2:249). The link between the two personages was securely established in the Greek church; in sixth- and —34→ seventh-century Byzantium the emperors replaced Nike with the Virgin and child in their seals, in Athens the Parthenon was dedicated to her in the sixth century, while in Syracuse Athena's temple was converted into a church later dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin (Warner 304, 314).
Dante's Beatrice has been thought of as representing this same
fusion in the middle ages (Greeley 138). Bernardus Silvestris writes that
media vel intima cogitatio,
'central or innermost thought', is wisdom which resides in the brain...
According to Virgil's narrative, Aeneas brought Minerva and Cybele (that is,
the exercise of wisdom and the cultivation of the earth) to Italy. He calls
them deities (deos) in so far as they pertain to
the interior intellect, the interior powers of the soul; he calls them
wanderers (errantes) because in man's first age
they have wandered» (47-48). One cannot help observing
that Sigismunda similarly wanders until reaching Italy.
The exact nature of Athena's association with war even in
Antiquity is worth examining. Sabine Oswalt writes,
Nikephoros (Bringer of Victory) and was worshipped together with Nike, goddess
of victory... She is also called Promachos, she who fights in front, not,
however, for wanton destruction but to protect home and city»
«Athena, although she will help her friends in war,
is quite unlike Ares, the Sacker of Cities, for she despises violence and brute
force» (49). In this same line mythologists are
unanimous in stressing her nurturing activities.
«She protects cities
which are centres of civilizations and the arts... Athena is known as Polias or
Poliouchos, She Who Keeps the City, and under this title she was
worshipped...». (Oswalt 50). Similarly the Virgin Mary
is associated with walled gardens, temples and cities, and especially the City
of God34, explicitly so in Feliciana de la Voz's hymn:
Writing in 1910, John Henry Freese summed up Athena's
«The goddess of war develops into the goddess of peace
and the pursuits connected with it... As early as Homer
especial interest in the occupations of women... In short, as the goddess of
the whole intellectual side of human life» (52)
Christine Downing's over-all evaluation in 1986 is similar:
the goddess of art, sublimation, transformation: the dark energies she draws on
support communal human life» (1:49135).
In connection with Sigismunda's possible ties to Athena a
closer look at the episode on the Fishermen's Island (Book 2, chapter 12) is
revealing. When Sigismunda arrives by boat she comes from her home on Frisland
in the remote Northwest of the world, while
«Athena was born on the
River Triton in the far west of the world...». (Oswalt
50). Triton, son of Poseidon and Aphrodite, is a sea god, and to him, as
to Poseidon himself at times, was attributed in early myths the paternity of
Pallas, an avocation of Athena, even though in a later tradition Athena is said
to have sprung directly, immaculately conceived, from Zeus' head (Pérez
Rioja 408; Graves 1:45-47). Sigismunda's maritime nature in this episode is
suggested first by the description of her arrival:
Apenas nos hubieron descubierto, cuando se vinieron a nosotros y rodearon nuestro barco, por todas partes. Levantóse en pie mi hermana, y echándose sus hermosos cabellos a las espaldas, tomados por la frente con una cinta leonada o listón que le dio su ama, hizo de sí casi divina e improvisa muestra, que como después supe por tal la tuvieron todos los que en las barcas venían, los cuales a voces, como dijo el marinero, que las entendía, decían: ¿Qué deidad es esta que viene a visitarnos y a dar el parabién al pescador Carino y a la sin par Selviana de sus felicísimas bodas?
One of the fisherfolk then develops the references to the sea:
«Ven, señora, y si en lugar de los
palacios de cristal, que en el profundo mar dejas, como una de sus habitadoras,
hallares en nuestros ranchos las paredes de conchas y los tejados de mimbres, o
por mejor decir, las paredes de mimbres, y los tejados de conchas,
hallarás, por lo menos, los deseos de oro, y las voluntades de perlas
para servirte. Y hago esta comparación, que
parece impropia, porque no hallo cosa
mejor que el oro ni más hermosa que las
perlas». The image of pearls and gold I will address
shortly, but the
conchas might well recall Triton, who is
normatively represented in art blowing one as he rides the waves. The
underwater palace recalls Poseidon, who built his off the coast of Euboea
As regards the goddess' appearance, she is known as Athena of
the Bright Eyes and
«came into the world wearing her radiant
armour» (Oswalt 49). On the Fishermen's Island Auristela
wears not only the golden ribbon in her hair cited above but other
de industria, se aderezó y compuso con los mismos vestidos que
tenía, y con ponerse una cruz de diamantes sobre su hermosa frente, y
unas perlas en sus orejas, joyas de tanto valor, que hasta ahora nadie ha
sabido dar su justo precio, como lo veréis cuando os las enseñe,
mostró ser imagen sobre mortal curso
Sigismunda's role on the Fishermen's Island is to make right,
as though providing divine guidance, two mismatched betrothals that the parents
have arranged against the wishes of their children. Carino, one of the two
bridegrooms, tells her that,
milagrosa esta tu llegada a tal sazón y tal coyuntura, que con ella has
dilatado mis bodas, tengo por cierto, que mi mal ha de tener remedio, mediante
tu consejo». The repeated references to pearls and
gold also suggest marriage. In the episode of Feliciana de la Voz the gold
chain stands for marriage (El Saffar 152), while Pérez Rioja recalls
«Entre los griegos, la perla era emblema
del amor y del matrimonio, y, en general, de la fuerza
Athena, whose avocation of Pallas Athena means Virgin Athena,
is the protector of maidens and of chaste marriages (Pérez Rioja 83), so
such intervention would be appropriate for her, as well as, of course, for the
Virgin Mary. And finally, it is in this episode that Sigismunda's wisdom,
wisdom being Athena's primary quality in the later tradition, is most highly
«Ella es tan discreta, que parece que
tiene entendimiento divino, como tiene hermosura
Yet for all this evidence, one would like to know whether Cervantes was the only writer of his time working with the allegorized Perseus story to have made the logical connection between the wise helper Pallas Athena and her counterpart, the Virgin Mary. While Boccaccio does not take the step from classical to Christian mythology, in the Ovide moralisé, as we have seen, Danae represents the Virgin, while Andromeda stands for —37→ the bride of Christ, explicitly said to be the Catholic Church (168). Similarly, in Calderón's auto, Perseus/Christ's bride is Andromeda/Human Nature, whom he saves before marrying her. It is rather in the passage from Pérez de Moya cited above -and very possibly known to Cervantes- that we find a strong suggestion, in the stress on Minerva's divine precepts by which we receive heavenly help to be chaste, that the Greek goddess has been fully assimilated into the Catholic worldview.
Still, the marriage of Perseus and Andromeda, when taken to represent that of Christ with human nature, either in the individual or collectively understood as the church, raises the question of whether Cervantes, in arranging the marriage of Persiles and Sigismunda, could have accepted that at a second level of allegory Christ was marrying his own mother. While a strange notion to Protestants, such an outcome would not have been unacceptable in seventeenth-century Spain.
The explanation lies in the interpretation of the Biblical Book of Revelation, where the church is called the New Jerusalem. However, that celestial city was also often compared to the Virgin Mary, as was noted above in connection with the hymn sung by Feliciana de la Voz. Further evidence for the widespread acceptance of this equation is the best known biography of the Virgin Mary, written in mid-seventeenth-century Spain by Sor María de Agreda and entitled La mística cuidad de Dios, at the time a readily recognizable reference to the protagonist.
The ending to Cervantes' romance seems to make a point of the
same connection, for Persiles is murdered, run through by a sword that inflicts
an obviously fatal wound, then supported in the arms of Sigismunda in a pose
that recalls the Pieta:
Periandro en los [brazos] de Auristela, la cual, faltándole la voz a la
garganta, el aliento a los suspiros y las lágrimas a los ojos, se le
cayó la cabeza sobre el pecho, y los brazos a una y a otra
parte» (472). Should we miss the
suggestion, Persiles' miraculous recovery, a veritable resurrection, reminds us
of Jesus and Mary. That not withstanding, the happy couple are married soon
thereafter. Similarly, at the close of Calderón's
auto Perseus informs Andromeda that
he has recently died fighting against Death but has subsequently come back to
life and is ready to marry his beloved:
muriendo puedo / vencer, triunfar y morir. Prevente para las
Two different allegorical renderings of the feminine, then, exist in Sigismunda. In the first half of the book, compared to a goddess on the pagan Fishermen's Island, she appears with the —38→ emphasis on her sisterhood with the hero and her wisdom. In the second half, as the pilgrims approach Rome, she is painted explicitly as the heavenly woman in the Book of Revelation who is understood to be the bride of Christ, and here the emphasis is less on her help and wisdom than it is on her role as soon-to-be bride. The importance of the feminine was great enough the Cervantes to give his heroine both roles, with Feliciana's hymn at the center to tie the two together and mark their importance.
This mythological, allegorical northern reading of Sigismunda's name is suggestive, too, because it would point toward a certain philosophical relationship between the names Sigismunda and Auristela, one that would balance a similar relationship between Persiles and Periandro. If there is, indeed, a Neoplatonic context for the book, then would not the protagonists' authentic names and identities, retaken after reaching «el cielo de la tierra», represent in some way their Platonic essence, while their assumed names, used only while journeying through the world, would be the concrete manifestations of those heavenly models? Perseus (Persiles), the archetype of the virtuous, restrained hero and foreshadowing of Christ in the Medieval fusion of Christian and Classical mythology, is lost to view in Periandro, a historic ruler and a man becoming whole by incorporating into himself traditionally feminine virtues. The Christianized Athena (Sigismunda) expresses the idea of victory through wisdom and the avoidance of senseless violence, two essential Marian qualities, but is most visible in the world as beauty of body and soul, the golden star that guides men toward all that is heavenly.
De Armas Wilson has pointed out that the actively desiring
P and S are the opposite of the beautiful
but inaccessible lady-without-a-heart stereotype parodied in Dulcinea (236).
Yet the care with which Cervantes seems to have chosen the name of his
protagonists in his final work echoes what he wrote about Don Quixote's careful
selection of the name Dulcinea del Toboso:
«nombre, a su parecer, músico y peregrino y significativo,
como todos los demás que a él y a sus cosas había
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