El Bernardo o Victoria de Roncesvalles de Bernardo de Balbuena (1624)

Little is known about the early years of Bernardo de Balbuena (Valdepeñas 1562-San Juan de Puerto Rico 1627), except that he traveled very young to America where his father had business in Nueva Galicia. Some sources find him in the cities of Guadalajara and Mexico, where he apparently studied arts and theology, participated in literary contests and received the orders of priest. He held the positions of Chaplain of the Real Audiencia de Nueva Galicia and priest of the mines of the Espíritu Santo and partido of  San Pedro Lagunillas, in the present Mexican state of Nayarit.  In 1606 he went back to Spain and the next year he obtained the doctorate in theology in the Universidad de Sigüenza. In 1608 he was appointed Abbot of Jamaica, where he lived for some years, and in 1619, he became Bishop of Puerto Rico, a position that he held until his death in 1627.

Balbuena is considered by Menéndez Pelayo the first poet authentically Hispanoamerican. He wrote the epistle Grandeza Mexicana (Mexico, 1604) and the pastoral eclogue  Siglos de Oro en las Selvas de Erífile (Madrid, 1608). He was also the author of circumstantial poetry as Compendio apologético en alabanza de la poesía, and others lost texts. El Bernardo o Victoria de Roncesvalles (…) is his most ambitious work whose composition started when he was young and continued during several decades. It was printed in Madrid in 1624 by Diego Flamenco. It is an extensive, erudite, imaginative and baroque epic poem inspired by the Italian Renaissance poem Orlando enamorado of Matteo María Boiardo and Orlando Furioso of Ludovico Ariosto, that celebrate the legendary triumph of the Asturian hero Bernardo del Carpio, who defeated the army of Charlemagne in the battle of Roncesvalles, where he killed the pair of France, Roland. The poem that has 24 songs with forty thousand verses in real octaves was praised by important personalities of the academic world of his time.

Review by Isabel Terán Elizondo
Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas
isabelteran@uaz.edu.mx

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