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«De gente que a ningún rey obedecen»: Republicanism and Empire in Alonso de Ercilla's «La Araucana»

Imogen Choi (née Sutton)

Alonso de Ercilla famously defines the first part of his epic poem La Araucana (1569-1589) as an unmitigated account of the 1554-1557 Chilean wars, a «relación sin corromper sacada | de la verdad» (Ercilla 1998: 78)1. A long history of scholarship has sought to qualify this claim: the legitimacy of the New World conquests, and the political capacity of the Amerindians, were unresolved issues in Spanish juridical discourse, and the question of the poem's relationship to this polemic has been one constant in the critical literature. An earlier consensus -at least in the Americas- was that Ercilla, whose familiarity with the arguments of influential figures such as Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolomé de las Casas was established by Alberto Cruchaga Ossa (1935) and August Aquila (1978) among others, broadly ascribed to the humanitarian and scholastic critique of the conquistadors, and idealized his Araucanian protagonists in their armed resistance to the Spanish invaders and settlers (see Durand 1964; Mejías López 1992; Pastor 1983; Pérez Bustamante 1952). In recent decades, this axiom has been held up to scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic. The tendency to regard the poet as a «king's man» articulated early on by Frank Pierce (Pierce 1984: 6) has reasserted itself in new forms in analyses of the poem's apology for empire, or at the very least the ideological fractures implicit in marrying the eulogistic virtues of the epic form to a first-hand account of conflict on the frontiers. The influential studies of Michael Murrin (1994), David Quint (1993) and Elizabeth Davis (2000), for instance, drew attention to the poem's internal contradictions in this sense, a phenomenon that Paul Firbas has connected more recently with the poem's pioneering use of the autobiographical first person narrator (2010). Another line of thought represented most prominently by James Nicolopulos (2000), María José Vega (2010) and Lara Vilà y Tomàs (2001), tends to sideline this ambivalence, prioritizing a philological or historicist approach that reads the epic form in Spain in the sixteenth century as a means of sustaining and shaping a Renaissance ideology of empire.

In this article, I would like to present a case for one approach to these questions that has been largely unexplored. While scholars have generally accepted that the models for Ercilla's Araucanian warriors and battles are predominantly European, this assumption has not been developed much beyond an observation of their individual parallels in classical and Renaissance epic, pastoral and romanzi. By contrast, I undertake an examination of the poem's relationship to the melee of ideas surrounding European republicanism in the mid-sixteenth century, and in particular the attempts of such ideas to accommodate the perennial problem of empire. A number of heterogeneous and often ambivalent understandings of republicanism can be traced in Spanish political thought in this period, and the process of narrowing down the various ideas of Machiavelli, polemical but not yet prohibited, to a series of particular, defined and objectionable principles was not yet complete -it was a moment, perhaps, when indirectness may well have been advisable, but thoughtful engagement was possible. I suggest that Ercilla's humanist education, his extensive travels and European connections, and his continuing proximity to courtly and military circles in Spain make him particularly attuned to the challenges to political thought and military practice arising from the flow of ideas from other parts of Europe as well as to the specific problems of governing and maintaining Spain's mainland and overseas dominions. The representation of the Araucanian «estado» as a political community, and the narrative of its rise and fall as such, constitutes one oblique way of engaging with these concerns poetically.

I also take seriously the observation often made, if infrequently substantiated, by scholars that the significant timescales separating the three published parts of La Araucana (1569, 1578, 1589) must be taken into account. The evolution in thought from one to the other can be profound; to gloss over the inconsistencies this generates often comes at the expense of a real understanding of the poem's complexity, and for this reason I will restrict my focus to the Primera parte, first published in 1569. That this is the book which most explicitly presents itself as a «true history» by no means excludes a political reading. The prioritization of the study of history in the European humanist curriculum during the sixteenth century led to its high valuation in a number of areas of intellectual inquiry; in particular, it quickly became associated with a realist and empiricist understanding of the political art. In this light I explore how the (admittedly paradoxical) form of republic that emerges in the opening cantos of this book might present a debate within the realm of political theory proper in such a way as to intersect with some contemporary and very pragmatic concerns about the stability of the monarchical Spanish empire.

Republicanism and the Citizen Militia in the State of Arauco

«The greatest and best of all forms of rule and magistracy is monarchy or kingship» (Vitoria 1991: 12). After the revolt of the comuneros in 1521, there appeared to be few serious challenges to the ideological hegemony of the monarchy in Castile; when Francisco de Vitoria restated this axiom of the perfect political community in his De potestate (first published in 1557) he could call on prestigious authorities from St. Paul to Thomas Aquinas in its defence, with Aristotle's admittance of the hypothetical superiority of kingship in book III of the Politics in the background. While he dismisses the arguments of the republican school of thought as «madness», however, he devotes several chapters of serious dialectic to doing so. There are other indications, too, that republicanism resisted complete marginalization in the sixteenth century in Spain. When the humanist scholar Sebastián Fox Morcillo placed the two traditions of thought in dialogue in his De regno, regisque institutione (1556), if the monarchist interlocutor occupies more space, the polemic is never entirely resolved, remaining, intriguingly, «a genuine and continuing dialogue within the writer's mind» (Truman 1999: 68). It is arguable that there existed more of an overlap in the Renaissance between «republican» and «monarchical» ideas than one might expect. The ideal of the mixed constitution containing some combination of the three «true» forms of government, for instance, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, was often recognized in both. In the fourth book of Aristotle's Politics this originated as a government of the «middle class», or union between democracy and oligarchy, but the Polybian or Ciceronian form was perhaps more influential in the Renaissance, with its harmony of all three forms.

In Europe as a whole, Venice provided the most powerful living example of this ideal, with its Doge, Senate and Great Council: as William Bouwsma has argued, the city uniquely represented «the central political values of Renaissance republicanism, which she made available to the rest of Europe in a singularly provocative and attractive form» (1974: 445). The most popular panegyric of several by humanist Venetian patriots, Gasparo Contarini's De Magistratibus et Republica Venetorum (1547 [1543]) which represented the city and its institutions as a perfect organic harmony, was never published or translated in Spain, but its central concepts at least seem to have entered into literary discourse -a plethora of local historians writing around this period present the city as a proud analogy to their own. Municipal government, in fact, as Xavier Gil has suggested (2002) was one of the spheres in which republican and civic principles could coexist, to a greater or lesser extent, within a broader monarchical framework, particularly in the realm of Aragon. Thomas Aquinas' version of a «tempered» monarchy with the implicit consent of the governed, given further impetus by Erasmus, also seems to have gained substantial credence, and it is perhaps in this sense that Vitoria alleged the Spanish monarchy to be a «mixed» government in his own political writings.

Other readings were possible, however. The Valencian humanist Fadrique Furió Ceriol, for example, in El concejo y consejeros del príncipe (1559), regarded Castile as a pure monarchy, Venice as «govierno de solos nobles», the Swiss as «solos plebeios», Rome, Athens and the other Italian republics as one of nobles and plebs, and Poland, Germany and his native Aragon as a true harmony of the three forms of government (1993: 38). The mid-sixteenth century is also an interesting point in the reception of the Machiavellian concept of the republic in Spain, defended and explored in detail in the latter's Discorsi. As Helena Puigdomènech (1988) establishes, his works were not only not prohibited in the peninsula before the Quiroga Index of 1583-1584, but circulated relatively freely; in particular, the Spanish translation of the Discorsi by Juan Lorenzo Otevanti (1552, 1554) went through two editions, and received the explicit approval of Charles V and the implicit support of the dedicatee, the future Philip II. The Arte della guerra (1521) was widely disseminated both in the original Italian and in Diego de Salazar's popular adaptation De re militari (Alcalá, 1536), and Puigdomènech also cites evidence for the reading of the other major works, particularly Il principe and the Istorie fiorentine. Although the Roman condemnation and early anti-Machiavellian attacks were not unheard of, these did not decisively gain the upper hand until at least the 1570s.

The Araucanian form of government without a king is not given a great deal of credit by Ercilla to begin with. At the outset he presents it as something of a prodigy, typical of the outlandish travel literature of the period, a falling short of monarchy more than a serious argument for republicanism:

Cosas diré también harto notables
de gente que a ningún rey obedecen.

(Ercilla 1998: I.2)                

This is, in context, not surprising. That urban life constituted the first step towards a truly human (civic) form of existence and a prerequisite to all forms of political organization was an axiom of the Renaissance, and early Spanish republican thinking, in common with the rest of Europe, seems to have been particularly concerned with city states, as the urban emphasis of Alonso de Castrillo's Tractado de república (1521) would suggest. The Araucanians, who live «sin tener en todo él [término] pueblo formado, ni muro, ni casa fuerte para su reparo» (Ercilla 1998: 70) are by this analysis quite justifiably referred to as «bárbaros». The absence of most of the other primary indicators of civilization, such as religion, an established creed (I.40), or written laws, further bolster this impression. When, in the second canto, they gather to elect a «capitán general» to lead them in the forthcoming war against the Spanish colonists, their prospects do not much improve. As the assembly quickly descends into bravado and fighting when the drunken caciques begin to contend for supremacy, the reader might remember that the counterpart to «good» democracy was the primordial state of anarchy. Even when Caupolicán's election as leader is settled by a superior show of strength in the notorious «prueba del tronco», the dispute over «cuál era el más valiente | y digno del gobierno de la gente» (II.19) remains at best the most primitive form of society. In the cycle of republics in the third chapter of Machiavelli's Discorsi (1531), for instance, anarchy evolves first into a mutual gathering for the purposes of defence, in which people «began to look to the strongest and bravest one among them», only after which does a regard for justice and wisdom gradually develop (Machiavelli 2002: 28).

From an early stage, however, there are indications that all might not be quite as it seems. In the heroic catalogue of Araucanian warriors in the second canto, we are presented with the epitome of exotic savagery in figures such as the gigantic and ferocious Lincoya (Ercilla 1998: II.15) -but in the subsequent stanza, the Araucanians' practice of designating the alliance of territories that constitute their «Estado» by the name of the principal valley of Arauco elicits an unusual analogy:

como Venecia, pueblo libertado,
que en todo aquel gobierno más florece,
tomando el nombre dél la señoría,
así guarda el Estado el nombre hoy día.


There is an obvious incongruity here, and it is tempting to read the comparison of the barbarians of Chile to one of the wealthiest and most culturally sophisticated states of contemporary Europe as a fleeting instance of irony at the expense of Spain's sometime rival, defiantly independent of Spanish authority and often at diplomatic odds with the Crown, but in demographic and military decline since the beginning of the century. The passing reference here, however, becomes something considerably more substantial as the scene progresses. To begin with, the separation of the quarrelling chiefs, as «otros caciques se metieron | en medio destos bárbaros de presto» (II.27), implies a more nuanced division between «barbarous» and «civilized» elements within the same assembly based on the reasonableness of their actions. Then the elderly cacique Colocolo's famous set-piece oratory «a razón» (II.28-30), a partial paraphrase of the opening of Lucan's Pharsalia with its excoriation of civil war, brings the scene back into the realm of humanist eloquence and historiography, presenting the new perspective of a free «patria» defending itself against tyranny. The change of lexis at this point, as the «junta» is described as a «parlamento» moderated by «opiniones» and «consentimiento [...] acordado» in the conventional language of institutional procedure (II.36), is further indication of the shift.

All this prepares for the stroke of irony as Ercilla informs his reader -surprised, he imagines, that «una provincia poderosa, | en la milicia tanto ejercitada | de leyes y ordenanzas abundosa, | no hubiese una cabeza señalada» (II.37)- that Arauco always had a single leader, «electo del senado», of whom it had been deprived not by its own disorder but by his alleged poisoning «por nuestra nación [...] viniendo de paz» (II.38). Poisoning of political rivals is a charge frequently brought against the peoples of Chile by the earlier (unpublished) chronicler Gerónimo de Vivar (1988 [1558]), and its transferral to the Spanish poses a disconcerting reevaluation of the ethical typology of peoples. The reader's second «objection» that «un senado | de tan gran diciplina y pulicía | pusiese una elección de tanto peso | en la robusta fuerza y no en el seso» (Ercilla 1998: II.60) is similarly answered by Colocolo's «prudencia», astute enough to realize that Caupolicán's strength is only a means by which to assure his election2. Ercilla's description of the leader (II.47) introduces distinctively political virtues -his «autoridad, grave y severo [...] áspero y riguroso, justiciero»- alongside physical prowess.

In fact, the order of government that now emerges has more than a passing resemblance to the institutions of the mixed government of Venice as they were understood in common parlance. That there is no truly «popular» element would be unlikely to surprise the sixteenth-century reader: Contarini had already manipulated the definition of the mixed government so that the (essentially aristocratic) Council and Senate formed a microcosm of the perfect political community in and of themselves. Caupolicán's authority, like that of the Doge, is clearly kinglike rather than kingly: although surrounded by an aura of dignidad anxiously maintained by ceremonials, on each occasion he must persuade the senate to endorse his directive with a majority vote ratified after a fixed interim (I.35-37), and is susceptible to being swayed by other interests. The «senado» seems to represent both democracy and aristocracy, while the sixteen caciques (apparently an innovation of Ercilla's) who are described in the opening canto as possessing ultimate jurisdiction over the region are clearly aristocratic and may owe something to the prominence accorded the sixteen Savi of Venice in Contarini's account. This model also touches on the traditional controversy of virtue and nobility particularly live in Spain during the reign of Philip II, which saw the opening of important posts within the administration to talent, as well as ongoing disputes in the Indies over the proper allocation of the encomiendas originally awarded for military prowess. Arauco is a meritocracy taken to extremes: the leading offices «ni van por calidad, ni por herencia, | ni por hacienda y por ser mejor nacidos; | mas la virtud del brazo y la excelencia, | éste hace los hombres preferidos» (I.17).

This particular version of meritocracy is, of course, inherently militaristic, and a further significant element of Ercilla's rewriting of humanist tropes is the extent to which war is, quite literally, taken to the level of an art form in these opening cantos. The bellicosity of the Araucanians is itself no argument for civilization: permanent warfare was one of the barbarian attributes of the Amerindians in sources as diverse as Las Casas' adversary Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, Ercilla's epic predecessor Luis Zapata in his Carlo famoso (1566; see Zapata 1984), and early French prints of the New World. The well-known late Roman military strategist Flavius Vegetius had given the trope a «scientific» slant in his De re militari: those nearer the equator, he suggested, are wiser but less courageous, while the «furor» of northern peoples is explained by the fact that «remote from the sun's heat, they are less intelligent, but having a superabundance of blood are readiest for wars» (Vegetius 1996: 12), an idea that Ercilla seems to be transferring here to the distant south. This kind of bellicosity is usually associated with disorder and inefficacy in the heat of battle itself, which also finds some resonance in Ercilla's narrative, as small groups of Spaniards with their «antiguo valor» devastate vastly superior numbers of the enemy. The dedicatory sonnets to the first edition seem to support this reading, praising the poet as a Caesar-like soldier-author, gloriously and personally conquering «la gente jamás domada» (Ercilla 1569: [395]).

While tropes of barbarity are certainly present, however, I would like to suggest that in this respect too, they are inconsistently employed and at times subverted. There has, perhaps, been too much emphasis in the critical literature on the slaughter of the Araucanian army at the battle of Mataquito towards the end of this book; as will become clear, this is in some senses the exception that proves the rule. In the opening cantos, the extent to which the citizen militia dominates and dictates socio-political life paradoxically seems to substitute at times for the elements of civilization otherwise found to be lacking. It constitutes, for instance, a parody of the seigneurial regime of the encomienda, using juridical language familiar except for its substitution of military service for manual labour, and the art of warfare for catechesis:

Sólo al señor de imposición le viene
servicio personal de sus vasallos,
y en cualquiera ocasión cuando conviene
puede por fuerza al débito apremiallos;
pero así obligación el señor tiene
en las cosas de guerra dotrinallos
con tal uso, cuidado y diciplina,
que son maestros después desta dotrina.

(Ercilla 1998: I.14; my italics)                

More deliberately constructed and sustained is the description of the military practice of the Araucanians, the discipline and skill of whose militia is meticulously described according to the standards of the artes de la guerra that proliferated on the shelves of the Spanish nobility during this period (see Vega 2010: 115-21). Each stanza in this part of the canto finds resonance in particular portions of Vegetius' treatise and of Machiavelli's Arte della guerra of 1521 (see Machiavelli 2003) among other works. The reader is shown, firstly, how recruits are selected en masse from youth by a mixture of persuasion and force, and trained for a particular specialism in arms (Ercilla 1998: I.15-17) along with regular exercises such as foot races, drills and jumping (I.27). All this is immediately comparable to Vegetius 1996: I.4 (young recruits) and 9 (running and jumping), and Machiavelli's levy of men who come «neither forced nor altogether unwillingly» (2003: 159) -in contrast to the Spanish preference for small groups of more mature men motivated by financial incentive. Their variety of defensive and offensive arms (Ercilla 1998: I.19-22) is mostly described using contemporary European (and some Roman) terminology rather than a borrowed lexis; the emphasis on defensive armour not only rebuts a common stereotype of the Amerindian fighter, but responds to Vegetius' evaluation of its importance (I.20). Both treatists emphasize a disciplined formation like that of the Araucanian army, which divides into compañías and «formados | escuadrones distintos muy enteros» distinguished by «colores» and reinforced by drills. In particular, the manoeuvre of one small row of soldiers replacing another (I.24) resembles the ancient phalanx, or contemporary Swiss battalions of pikemen in Machiavelli's modern equivalent (8), particularly with the Araucanian specialism in pikemen interspersed with sheltered bowmen (Ercilla 1998: I.23 -in Europe, of course, they would be harquebusiers). Their fortification of camps is a practice that both treatists lament having fallen into disuse and describe at length (Vegetius 1996: I.22-25; Machiavelli 2003: Book VI); the marking out of the camp and readiness for a quick sally accords with Roman practice (Ercilla 1998: I.28), while the «fort within a fort» with towers and «pequeñas troneras» from which to shoot (I.29) reflects Machiavelli's preference.

More generally, the emphasis on the adaptability of the army to changing conditions and the practice of the enemy, and the employment of ruses such as disguise from the very first battle (Ercilla 1998: II.68) reflects the high valuation of «invention» and prudent assessment of the enemy in both previous treatists. As in the Arte della guerra, soldiers in Arauco, far from being disreputable, are valued as the greatest patriots. Like the virtuous ancient militia of Machiavelli, they cultivate valour through neither expecting nor showing mercy, in contrast to relaxation of the pressing «necessity to defend oneself» (Machiavelli 2003: 60) when the stakes are lowered in wars between Christians. It would be quite possible to continue to supply further, specific examples of Ercilla's deliberate alignment of the battle strategy of the Araucanians with the ancient and contemporary military treatises most popular in Spain, but at this point it is also necessary to nuance the argument by considering how the army undergoes a number of changes when the young Araucanian Lautaro turns his back on the Spanish whom he was serving as an auxiliary to become its chief commander in cantos III-IV.

Suffice it to say in summary that what the reader seems to be encountering in the opening of the poem is a progressive negotiation between a view of Ercilla's «bárbaros» as savages, and as an ordered political community. There is, of course, an additional ambivalence inherent in the affiliations of this community to republicanism. Ercilla's model of a republic centred around its militia implicitly raises the question of the relationship between civil and military power, or laws and force, raised throughout Machiavelli's writings -and here the poet is not on politically or intellectually neutral ground. The latter's assertion in Il principe that the strength of all principalities should ultimately be measured by their capacity for self-defence alone, that «if there are good arms there must also be good laws», and that a ruler «should have no other objective and no other concern, nor occupy himself with anything else except war and its methods and practices» (Machiavelli 1988: 42-43, 51-52) are highly contestable premises, and it remains to be seen how Ercilla negotiates the ethical and literary challenges they present.

Imperial Expansion and the Rise and Fall of virtud

The first point to be made here is that the command of Lautaro, whose death at Mataquito closes this part of the poem, represents a particular kind of military heroism, one characterized by «industria», «presteza» and «astucia», moral flexibility and pragmatic adaptation to the needs of the moment, which has more than a passing resemblance to the special qualities of Machiavelli's ideal commander, or prince. He progressively reforms his forces, who are prone to the typically «barbarian» faults of impetuous attack and undisciplined flight, through numerous subtle innovations -he exchanges the primitive «atambores» for the more sophisticated «trompeta» as a means of giving out military signals, for instance (Ercilla 1998: XII.55)- as well as displaying a broader grasp of strategy. To give only a few examples familiar from the treatises mentioned previously, he acts always in total secrecy (XII.4-5); he exploits the features of the terrain (III.80, IV.93) and seasons (IX.24); and knows the strengths and weakness of the enemy as he pre-emptively captures their artillery (V.24). When he feigns precisely the sort of textbook error he has not fallen prey to in his false negotiations with Pedro de Villagra on the campaign towards Santiago -«gran necesidad de bastimento [...] por orden mala y poco regimiento» (XII.26)- his Spanish counterpart is left «maravillado del ardid astuto». His change of tactic, from the sudden, massive attack to the carefully orchestrated siege, is perhaps best exemplified in the appeal to his men as they attempt to lure the Spanish out of Santiago:

Amigos, vamos engañados
si con tan poco número de gente
pensamos allanar los levantados
muros de una ciudad así eminente;
la industria tiene aquí más fuerza y parte
que la temeridad del fiero Marte.


The Araucanian use of trickery in war has been regarded as an indication of moral inferiority by the few critics who consider it, including Murrin (1994), and Davis (2000), and Vega also suggests that the «guerra limpia» was consistently held up as an ideal in the Spanish epic of this period (2010: 117). In this part of the poem, at least, this is not the picture that emerges. It is important to distinguish between treachery -which is condemned- and the use of fraud against the enemy in warfare, which with few exceptions Spanish treatises of the period fully endorse. In fact, the approach to military command exemplified here has much in common with contemporary calls for reform of the Spanish military around these years. In a revealing article, Fernando González de León (1996) argues that the reign of Philip II was a period of transition in perceptions of the military career, from a codified focus on ethics to a call for technical specialization and effectiveness in combat. The wars in Flanders from 1567 under the Duke of Alba stimulated a stream of popular works which he terms the «ideal officer genre» (1996: 85): while respecting the value of lineage, they call for a more meritocratic selection process for senior officers based on ability and experience; in common with generic convention, they cite a decline from the military standards of the past, but include specific skills such as a command of artillery alongside the moral virtues needed for renewal. Although most of these works did not appear in print until the 1580s, their composition is contemporaneous with La Araucana and undoubtedly reflects concerns of which an author so immersed in courtly life and military circles (and who had accompanied Philip on his 1548-1551 journey to Flanders) would be aware. The tactics of the astute Indian captain, then, seem to be one way of addressing aspects of these questions that remained controversial, while also keeping them at a distance.

A second, crucial question here is the broader legitimacy of the warfare in which the Araucanians engage, and it is here, I would suggest, that a real moral decline can be traced across the course of this part of the work. Arnold Chapman outlined a similar argument in a brief but insightful article several decades ago (1978: 87-97), but few critics have followed his lead since. The understated claim that the Araucanian military machine is geared towards «lícitas guerras y batallas» (Ercilla 1998: I.18) implicitly airs the question of just warfare from the beginning. While Ercilla cannot in practice go so far as to claim that justice was on the side of his indigenous protagonists, he is unsparing in his attacks on the corruption of the governor Pedro de Valdivia and the other Spanish settlers, and repeatedly refers to the rebellion as an instrument of divine justice or «verdugo». It is worth noting that the Araucanians commit none of the «crimes against nature» cited by Sepúlveda and his followers, although the number that are alleged in Vivar's chronicle (1988) suggests that these could have been present had Ercilla wished, and the alternative legitimating factor of the conquistadors' intention to spread the faith is given similarly short shrift. The Araucanian surrender to the conquistadors is motivated by fear (Ercilla 1998: I.64) and ignorance (I.65), neither legitimate criteria in scholastic terms for true conversion or voluntary submission. Vitoria had earlier asserted that «the Spaniards, when they first sailed to the lands of the barbarians, carried with them no right at all to occupy their countries» (1991: 264), and even Sepúlveda condemned abuses such as those detailed here, and suggested that were it not for their crimes against nature, idolatry and stubborn rebellion, the peoples of America would have a right to resist conquest (Sepúlveda 1984: 118).

It is arguable that the decline and fall of Araucanian military fortunes in this part of the work corresponds to a moral fall susceptible to articulation in the juridical terms of Just War Theory. In the sixth canto, the Araucanians commit the first unquestionable atrocity of the war, as they massacre women and children in a captured settlement in cold blood (Ercilla 1998: VI.17-35). Their subsequent sack and destruction of the deserted city of Concepción is hardly commendable either, with its undisciplined greed and wanton violence. The mock-epic similes comparing the plunderers to the Greek destroyers of Troy so horrifically presented in the second book of the Aeneid (VII.48), to Nero watching Rome burn (VII.62) and to the «frecuencia, | priesa y solicitud» of the bees collecting honey (VII.50) illustrate an ironic reversal of the images usually associated with the ordered and constructive political community. There is a further turning point in canto IX, in which an attack on the city of La Imperial is thwarted by the miracle of a Marian apparition. Both Vitoria and Sepúlveda argued that, in the case of an evident miracle, there was a moral obligation to convert without the usual need for a lapse of time and persuasive arguments to be made. It is following this -although the incident is never developed- that the Araucanians resort to the archetypal crime against nature of cannibalism when the land is struck by famine (in part as a divine punishment, as Ercilla implies). When they reconvene for a second, this time ultimately futile, campaign, the narrator takes on an unaccustomed tone of censoriousness as he describes their «borrachera», «orden antigua y detestable vicio» (IX.26). Finally, their uprising seems to be condemned by association, as the new Viceroy of Peru, Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza, crushes the Peruvian rebels in canto XII and the Araucanians are described in new terms, as a «rebelde pueblo libertado» now opposing not settlers, but Crown (XIII.24). As the book closes, there is a sense that a new kind of war is beginning of more clearly delineated ethics, as a group of theologians embarks with the narrator and royal forces, «necesarios [...] para evitar insultos de la guerra, | usados más allí que en otra tierra» (XIII.31).

What is interesting is the way in which this more straightforward ethical dimension interacts with the underlying dialogue with the works of Machiavelli outlined above, for it is arguable that, in addition to contingent moral failings, Arauco also undergoes an evolution to a different model of republicanism in the course of these cantos. In the Discorsi, Machiavelli presents a hypothetical portrayal of «true political life and true peace in a city» that bears some resemblance to the twenty, rugged leagues of Arauco at the beginning of the epic: such a city would be «located in a strong place and fortified so that no one could believe he could quickly overwhelm it [...] nor so large that it threatened its neighbours», with a limited population or limited soldiery, and therefore protected from both attack and expansion (Machiavelli 2002: 41). This ideal, he suggests, was one expressed by Venice and Sparta in their earliest history, but the model could not bear the weight of empire. The question of imperial expansion remained problematic for republican thinkers throughout the early modern period. While an expansionist policy tended to be associated with a cultivation of military virtue among the citizens, it also posed dangers of tyranny and corruption, the ills that had afflicted the Roman republic. Venetian contemporaries expressed similar reservations about their state's terraferma expansion (see Libby 1973), and even Contarini (1547) criticizes the subordination of other offices to those of war on land.

The dilemma of the militaristic republic forced to decide between a policy of pure self-defence or pre-emptive attack presents itself frequently in the Araucanian councils narrated by Ercilla. After their first victory, there is a popular proposal to push their advantage as far as Europe, «pasar la vuelta de España [...] que fuesen cultivadas las iberas | tierras de las naciones estranjeras». This is immediately perceived by Caupolicán, «como diestro y sabio», as a «vano intento» (Ercilla 1998: III.73-76), and successfully thwarted. The militaristic estado, however, contains an essentially aggressive impulse even when this remains latent (they are «amigos de domar estrañas gentes», I.45), and after a second victory, Caupolicán too is arguing for a European campaign (VIII.16-20). Again, this leads to bitter dispute within the senate, and is with difficulty turned aside by the arguments of Colocolo and Lautaro who return the focus to immediate strategic needs. Encamped near Santiago, Lautaro too seems to have succumbed to the delusion of conquering Spain (XII.13); although at this point he may simply be demonstrating bravado in an address to his Spanish listener, his regretful soliloquy in XII.37 suggests that the promise of global domination was one made to his own people too.

It goes without saying that the foolishness of such a proposal is in every case evident. It is one promoted by the impetuous younger warriors, and opposed in the eighth canto by the «razones sabias» of Peteguelén, the elderly and dignified lord of the valley of Arauco, and the wise Colocolo. There is also a sense of fatality at this point about the Araucanians' intent: the hot-tempered Tucapel's furious threats that «a guerra incitaré al supremo cielo» (VIII.29) have an unquestionable tone of hubris, and it is at this point that the seer Puchecalco intervenes with a doom-laden prophecy of the «furiosa Muerte» (VIII.43) that lies in wait for his people. The hechicero is, admittedly, treated with mild irony by Ercilla, but when he is murdered for his speech by Tucapel, who turns against the whole «senado religioso» as they try and fail to avenge the crime, there is the clearest indication yet of serious discord within the community.

It is the second time that Caupolicán's authority as leader has failed to prevail against abuse (the first being the killing of Valdivia), and although his dignity is preserved by a skilful act of disimulación (VIII.59) in both instances as he is entreated to pardon the offender, certain flaws in the elective model of leadership are apparent. His ultimate dependence for authority on the assembly that elected him means that even when his decisions are wise, the competing claims of important families and the favour of army and people frequently leaves him impotent to enforce them. Both failures to assert his authority also turn aside the two most significant moments of potential for a fair peace with the Spaniards in this part of the poem; there is a suggestion, then, that this model of republicanism itself, with its inherent tendencies towards factionalism and the right of might, is not only internally unstable but prone to a destructive prolongation of external warfare beyond where it might be considered just and proper.

One significant point, moreover, and one that has not to my knowledge been fully recognized, is that there is a fundamental change around the mid-point of this book in Araucanian strategy from defensive to offensive and expansionist warfare. After the failed attack on La Imperial, the Araucanians are invited by the «pueblos comarcanos» to expel the Spanish in return for a «suma de dineros» fixed in advance. Their action is described not in the language of patriotic self-defence, nor even legitimate alliance, but that of business, a «doble y solícito contrato» (IX.36). The victory games that follow the second assault on Penco show an expansion in their sphere of influence -they are populated by «naturales, vecinos y estranjeros» (X.13). On Lautaro's next campaign, his 500 troops are motivated by gain rather than patriotism, and picked with no regard for their moral character or even, necessarily, skill: «mozos gallardos, de la vida airada | por más bravos que pláticos tenidos» (XI.34). They behave, in fact, precisely as the sort of reckless, lawless, professional mercenaries whose use Machiavelli consistently condemns:

Perdidos por bullicio y disensiones,
en el duro trabajo ejercitados,
diabólicos, rufianes, desgarrones,
a cualquiera maldad determinados,
amigos de mudanzas y cuestiones,
homicidas, sangrientos, temerarios,
grandísimos ladrones y cosarios.

(Ercilla 1569: XI.35)3                

As they march through neighbouring territories «de paz», they nevertheless behave as aggressors, «a fuego y sangre sujetando», demanding the submission of their caciques, tribute, weapons and recruits, as well as the requisite sustenance (XI.36), and in acts of total warfare that:

La comarca arruinen y destruyen,
talan comidas, casas y heredades,
que los indios de miedo al pueblo huyen
stupros, adulterios, y maldades
por violencia sin término concluyen,
no reservando edad, estado y tierra,
que a fuego y sangre rota era la guerra.

(1569: XI.37)                

The error is clearly strategic as well as moral, as Lautaro will later lament: after three months of campaigning, his «campo mal regido» turns back having sustained nothing but losses (XII.38), to a large extent through its own failure to observe orders. It is perhaps this context that should be borne in mind when considering Lautaro's final downfall. There are, clearly, anomalous errors at Mataquito: after having sworn solemnly «ni de tratar de cosas de contento» (XII.41) until expelling the Spanish, he finds himself naked and in bed with Guacolda, complacently refusing to arm himself and guard the camp, when death finds him. This peripeteia is, in literary terms, tragic. Contemporaries also made similar criticisms, however, with regard to the corrupting effects of landward expansion on the Venetian youth -as the historian Andrea Mocenigo put it in his well-known history of Venice's involvement in the Italian wars, «weakened and enamoured of the land, they easily turned from labours to delights» (Mocenigo 1544: 31; my translation).

The crucial factor in the outcome of the battle is the betrayal of «un comarcano bárbaro», who does not feature in earlier sources, and who leads Francisco de Villagra through the mountains to Lautaro's otherwise impregnable fort. Elizabeth Davis has commented on this and other acts of Indian treachery against their own in La Araucana as part of what she calls an inversion of the «discourse of virtue» intended to present the Amerindians as inherently treacherous and deceitful (Davis 2000: 46-51). It is necessary, however, to read this incident, and the subsequent abandonment of the Araucanians by their allies (Ercilla 1998: XIV.20-22) against what has gone before. On one level, there is an evident social as well as political contrast between the indomitable Araucanians, who continue to resist hopelessly «con ánimo y sin arte» to the point of annihilation, and the «baja y vil canalla» who immediately abandon the fort. On another, though, in terms of the military strategists referenced above, Lautaro made a fundamental error in receiving so many auxiliary troops in the first place into what should be a predominantly citizen militia -again a consequence of rapid expansion. According to Machiavelli, there is perhaps a deeper error at stake too- in trusting that those whom he had injured in his earlier actions could be relied upon. The mistaken imperialism of Lautaro, read alongside the more straightforward ethical errors discussed above, seems to undermine the earlier eulogy of the republican militia by implicitly questioning its sustainability. There is perhaps a suggestion, as in Machiavelli, that the self-contained republican state can only exist in the realm of ideas; in the real world, it is inherently prone to a cycle of expansion, instability and decline, for «necessity leads you to do many things that reason does not» (Machiavelli 2002: 42).

There are, however, reasons to prevent the reader from understanding the narrative as a critique of republicanism alone. David Quint briefly notes in his introduction to Epic and Empire that when the Araucanians parade in Spanish clothing and threaten to conquer Spain, they are at one level a source of humour, but also a mirror image and implicit interrogation of Spain's own claims to the «derecho» of lordship of the other pole (1993: 16-18). It is possible to develop, and nuance, this observation. There are, of course, other parodies of the Spanish model of imperial power -like the pseudo-encomienda system quoted earlier. More significant, though, is that Lautaro's reshaping of his forces, which continues until his final downfall, has a number of more specific features in common with Spanish military and colonial practice. Some of these are incidental, if visually striking -he trains some of his men to perform cavalry manoeuvres with the horses he has captured, for instance (Ercilla 1998: XII.19), and like the other caciques, prefers to wear European armour rather than an indigenous leather cuirass (XII.8)- but there are also indications that the final ends of his campaign begin to shift significantly after his departure from Arauco. In a diplomatic exchange with his erstwhile comrade Marcos Veaz, he demands a costly peace, rather than the complete withdrawal of the foreign forces from Chile:

mas si queréis en tiempo reduciros
haciendo lo que aquí os será mandado,
saldré de la promesa y juramento
y vosotros saldréis del perdimiento [...]
Treinta mujeres vírgines apuestas
por tal concierto habéis de dar cada año [...]
También doce caballos poderosos [...]
y seis diestros lebreles animosos
en la caza me habéis de dar cebados:
este solo tributo estorbaría
lo que estorbar el mundo no podría.

(XII: 13-15; my italics)                

This is, of course, in part a carefully staged performance before his Spanish listener. Nevertheless, rather like the Araucanians' triumphant celebration in Spanish clothing in canto VIII, the campaign here seems to be a further parody of the Spanish model of conquest, complete with the same legalistic jargon and cultural preferences. Lautaro has replaced the massive citizen armies of the opening with a small squad of professionals supplemented by auxiliaries, and the Spaniards' surprise that «tan pequeño número de gente» should promise so much, against such superior numbers, «lejos de su tierra y apartada» (XI.39), is a further reminder of the resemblance. Although Ercilla does not elaborate the point, there is an uncomfortable suggestion that the Spanish have to some extent given birth to the force that is now turned against them. Lautaro, as he often reminds his compatriots, was educated and fought under Spanish auspices, who also experience here the negative side of the employment of auxiliaries. It might be said, too, that the greed, cruelty and ambition that emerge to plague the Araucanian army are at times as much a product of their imperial encounter as of the nature of republicanism itself.

The Araucanian political community thus represented is both the antithesis and the mirror of the Spanish. It must be remembered that in one sense the New World colonizers are also a people without a king, adrift rather like the storm-tossed ship that symbolically figures in the final canto, «sin gobierno derramada» (XV.69). When the new viceroy Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza reasserts royal authority in his entrance into Peru in canto XII, it is in a distinctly contingent and questionable sense. His methods might legitimately be described as Machiavellian: «sagaz y receloso», he enters «mostrándose benigno y amoroso», but once his position is secured, he fills the tribunals with new occupants and ruthlessly eliminates the rebels, even those whose crimes had been pardoned (XII.80-81), leaving the province «suspensa», in «terror y estraño miedo [...] atónito y confuso» (XII.83). Although Hurtado formally embodies «la voz del rey», this seems to extend only so far as the awe of authority that he inspires; Ercilla remits his actions to Philip's judgement alone. Yet the allusion to «la obligación con que nacemos | que a Nuestro Rey y príncipe tenemos» (XII.97) is something of an afterthought; the analysis of human motives for doing good overall has been much more cynical. The implication here seems to be that, far removed from the practical reach of the Crown, even its legitimate ministers are obliged to make use of cunning, ruthlessness and even immorality before ordered government can be reestablished.

The problems implicit here -of the extent to which the king can be present in the distant reaches of empire, and of whether different moral standards must come into play to enforce this- were particularly live in Flanders at the time of writing. Such questions would, I suggest, be both recognizable and uncomfortable for the poem's early readers. Beset by the Morisco rebellion that by 1570 «had been the most brutal war to be fought on European soil that century», struggling with English hostility in the Atlantic, at odds with France over religious policy and the destruction of the Huguenot colony in Florida, shaken by the Vilcabamba Inca rebellion in Peru and the alleged conspiracy of Martín Cortés in Mexico, increasingly threatened by Turkish belligerence, and facing a new escalation of violence in Flanders, military resistance to the Spanish Crown by independent and radically different categories of political community appeared to pose an increasingly unavoidable dilemma (Kamen 1997: 131). According to Henry Kamen, «At the time Philip must have seen 1568-1569 as possibly the worse year of his reign» (129). There seems to have been a sense of an almost ubiquitous threat to the very stability of Europe and of the empire that seemed both urgent and extremely hard to address or define; the courtier and captain Juan de Zúñiga observed in a letter to Philip II on 14 October 1569 that «parece que anda un clima de rebeliones en el mundo» (Serrano 1914, III: 165); Philip himself wrote of the threat of heresy and rebellion in France in 1567 that «por todas partes cresce el fuego» (Rodríguez and Rodríguez 1991: doc. 70). As Spain continued to stretch its already overburdened finances and population to fund an increase in its military capabilities, new circumstances posed new questions. Such themes, polemically and repeatedly raised in the official correspondence of the period, are not addressed directly by Ercilla in this part of the poem, but their existence perhaps adds something to our understanding of the dedication to the monarch in which he promises a poem that holds «algo escondido», and of the testiness of the enigmatic assertion in IV.5 that

no quiero meterme en tal hondura,
que es cosa no importante y peligrosa;
el tiempo lo dirá y no mi escritura,
que quizás la tendrán por sospechosa;
sólo diré que es opinión de sabios
que adonde falta el rey sobran agravios.

Readers are free to draw their own conclusions. To have done so more explicitly would arguably have been prejudicial to Ercilla's position at the fringes of court life, and writing in a genre outside the bounds of religious or academic disputes.

My overall analysis of the first part of Ercilla's poem is one illustration of how what is usually considered to be a «colonial» epic might nonetheless be creatively -perhaps primarily- concerned with contemporary European politics, and of how the realm of pure ideas and the pragmatic challenges of political life overlap as they are played out obliquely by the Indians of Arauco. The thoughtful engagement with a diverse range of ideas about republicanism in this book may suggest that this is an area of sixteenth-century Spanish intellectual life that merits more attention by literary scholars. Analyses of the impact of «Machiavellian» thought in the peninsula tend to focus on its implications for kingship, secularism and individual morality -but in the Discorsi, arguably the most accessible work in Spain at this time, Machiavelli was concerned with the nature of the political community as much as the behaviour of its rulers, and it is this aspect that seems to exert most fascination for Ercilla in 1569. The author does not, in this light, read either as straightforwardly «anti-imperial» nor as an unquestioning «king's man», although these are the categories, still, into which most scholarly criticism attempts to place his work. He is, instead, a courtier and humanist whose presentation of his indigenous community creatively deploys the familiar conventions of humanist and scholastic literature to raise new, and often controversial, questions about empire. The sheer daring of his presentation of Arauco is said to have left his early modern readers stunned; according to the Jesuit Andreas Schottus, its impact was as fresh at the start of the seventeenth century as at the time of its first publication -«ut cum stupore legunt, sic de manibus non deponunt» (Schottus 1608: 322). Perhaps it would do us well as modern readers of the work to attempt to regain some of the quality of that first surprise.

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