Celestina by Fernando de Rojas (Author), Margaret Sayers Peden (Translator)

celestina, fernando de rojas, margaret sayers peden, spanish literature,

Celestina by Fernando de Rojas was written in 1499. Writes Roberto González Echevarría, the editor of this Yale publication, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden: "Celestina is a masterpiece of Spanish literature that appeared during the reign of the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella. It is recognized by scholars and critics as being second only to the Quijote as a work of prose fiction in the Spanish language. Written in dialogue form and divided into acts as if it had been intended for the stage, which it was not, Celestina is pitiless in its depiction of human weaknesses, particularly those related to love". It started as "a comedy - its first title was Comedia de Calisto y Melibea - winds up as tragedy; in 1514 it was renamed Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, and by 1518 its title was transformed into La Celestina, in recognition of its true potential". Roberto continues , "painstaking research revealed that Rojas, who never published another work, was, at the time Celestina appeared, a law student at the University of Salamanca. He was from the nearby township of Montalban, where he was born probably in 1475 or 1476, and in around 1507 he moved to Talavera de la Reina, where he worked as a lawyer for almost forty years, rising to the position Lord Mayor. He died in 1541. It has also been ascertained that Rojas descended from the conversos, or new Christians who had converted from Judaism".

Celestina, the central character, is a procuress and provides girls for the men of church, wealthy bachelors, and everyone in between. Her skills as a stitcher are unmatched and makes virgins out of the wanton ones. Calisto encounters Melibea in her garden, and falls for her. His servants Sempronio and Parmeno get him Celestina, who promises to help setup a meeting between the lovers and, behind Calisto's back, strikes a deal with his servants for sharing the spoils. Celestina goes back on her words after getting a gold chain and ends up getting killed, while the killers, Sempronio and Parmeno, get caught by a constable and justice is delivered the very next morning in a fashion true to its times: decapitation. Calisto continues his overtures and while trying to get down a ladder after his visitation and tumbles, loses his balance, and dies. Melibea commits suicide on hearing this and leaves behind her parents, Peberio and Alisa, grieving.

Translation by Sayers is laden with references to a world which no longer exists, but she weaves a magical sieve with words which add much more excitement than would have been possible without them. Calisto deep love: "I am a Melibean, and I worship Melibea and I put my faith in Melibea and I adore Melibea". Sempronio when trying to dissuade his master from falling into what fools get mired in. The comic insults heaped by one and all are not demeaning, but uplifting for the mood.

Sempronio: I said that her locks are very different from an ass's tail.

Elicia, one of the girls of Celestina, on seeing Sempronio: "May boils and tumors eat you, or may you die at the hands of your enemies; may you find yourself in the hands of a severe justice for crimes deserving a cruel death!".

Celestina conspiring with Sempronio: "There is no place so high that an ass laden with gold cannot climb it. Caisto's stupidity and ardor are enough to ruin him and award us again". And later reminding him of her seniority: "But when you were born, I had all my teeth to eat a hard loaf".

Celestina to Alisa, describing her old age: "By my faith, old age is the inn of illness, the hostelry of recollection, a friend to quarrels, a never-ending misery, an incurable sore, an herb from the past, pain of the present, sad worry of the future, a neighbor of death, a roofless hut that lets in rain everywhere, and a wicker staff that bends beneath the slightest weight".

Reading Celestina is like being lost in a play, visualizing each written word uttered with intensity, punctuated by vagaries of tone and diction. Celestina is a part of the enviable body-of-work being translated under the Margellos World Republic of Letters.


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