Luis Ponce de León

Luis Ponce de León

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Fray Luis Ponce de León (Belmonte
Belmonte
-People and titles:*Prince Belmonte or Princess Belmonte, a Spanish and Italian noble title*Domenico Pignatelli di Belmonte, a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church*Gennaro Granito Pignatelli di Belmonte, a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church...

, Castile
Crown of Castile
The Crown of Castile was a medieval and modern state in the Iberian Peninsula that formed in 1230 as a result of the third and definitive union of the crowns and parliaments of the kingdoms of Castile and León upon the accession of the then King Ferdinand III of Castile to the vacant Leonese throne...

, Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, 1527 – Madrigal de las Altas Torres
Madrigal de las Altas Torres
Madrigal de las Altas Torres is a municipality located in the province of Ávila, Castile and León, Spain. According to the 2005 census , the municipality has a population of 1,825 inhabitants. In this village, Isabella I of Castille was born in 1451....

, Castile
Crown of Castile
The Crown of Castile was a medieval and modern state in the Iberian Peninsula that formed in 1230 as a result of the third and definitive union of the crowns and parliaments of the kingdoms of Castile and León upon the accession of the then King Ferdinand III of Castile to the vacant Leonese throne...

, Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, 23 August 1591) was a Spanish lyric
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

 poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, Augustinian friar and theologian and academic, active during the Spanish Golden Age
Spanish Golden Age
The Spanish Golden Age is a period of flourishing in arts and literature in Spain, coinciding with the political rise and decline of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty. El Siglo de Oro does not imply precise dates and is usually considered to have lasted longer than an actual century...

.

Early life


Fray Luis de León was born Luis Ponce de León in Belmonte
Belmonte
-People and titles:*Prince Belmonte or Princess Belmonte, a Spanish and Italian noble title*Domenico Pignatelli di Belmonte, a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church*Gennaro Granito Pignatelli di Belmonte, a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church...

, Cuenca
Cuenca
Cuenca may refer to:In Ecuador:* Cuenca, Ecuador, capital of the Azuay Province and named in honor to the spanish city.** Cuenca basin , the drainage basin** Cuenca basin , a geologic structural basinIn the Philippines:...

, Spain, in 1527 or 1528. His parents were Lope de León and Inés de Varela. His father practiced law, and it was due to his profession that the family moved to Madrid
Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

 in 1534. Both of his parents had Jewish ancestry, so he would have been considered to be of converso
Converso
A converso and its feminine form conversa was a Jew or Muslim—or a descendant of Jews or Muslims—who converted to Catholicism in Spain or Portugal, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries. Mass conversions once took place under significant government pressure...

 lineage - though there is no reason to consider him other than a sincere Catholic.

Luis’ life was dominated by his devotion to religion and study, but he was also an active public figure. He obtained a very thorough and extensive education, and was devoted to the interpretation and translation of religious texts and ideas. He was proficient in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.

Fray Luis entered the University of Salamanca
University of Salamanca
The University of Salamanca is a Spanish higher education institution, located in the town of Salamanca, west of Madrid. It was founded in 1134 and given the Royal charter of foundation by King Alfonso IX in 1218. It is the oldest founded university in Spain and the third oldest European...

 at the age of fourteen, in 1541, to Salamanca
Salamanca
Salamanca is a city in western Spain, in the community of Castile and León. Because it is known for its beautiful buildings and urban environment, the Old City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. It is the most important university city in Spain and is known for its contributions to...

 to study Canon Law
Canon law
Canon law is the body of laws & regulations made or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Christian organization and its members. It is the internal ecclesiastical law governing the Catholic Church , the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, and the Anglican Communion of...

 under the care of his uncle Francisco. In 1543 or 1544 he joined the Augustinian Order, and professed as a monk at the convent of San Pedro. In 1552, Fray Luis graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theology from the University of Toledo and continued his education as a student of Hebrew and Biblical interpretation at the University of Alcalá de Henares.

Academic career


In 1560 he graduated from the University of Salamanca
University of Salamanca
The University of Salamanca is a Spanish higher education institution, located in the town of Salamanca, west of Madrid. It was founded in 1134 and given the Royal charter of foundation by King Alfonso IX in 1218. It is the oldest founded university in Spain and the third oldest European...

 as a licentiate
Licentiate
Licentiate is the title of a person who holds an academic degree called a licence. The term may derive from the Latin licentia docendi, meaning permission to teach. The term may also derive from the Latin licentia ad practicandum, which signified someone who held a certificate of competence to...

 and Master of Theology, and in the following year he obtained a chair in Theology at the same university; in 1571 he attained the Chair of Sacred Letters as well. While at the University, he translated classical and biblical literature and wrote on religious themes.

In 1566 he was named administrator of the Augustinian College of San Guillermo in Salamanca, and in 1567 he took on the position of vice rector of the University.

Imprisonment


In 1571 Dominican professors Bartolomé de Medina
Bartolomé de Medina
Bartolomé de Medina, Spanish theologian and mining specialist, was born in Medina de Rioseco, Spain in 1527. A member of the Dominican Order and a student of Francisco de Vitoria, he was professor of theology at the University of Salamanca and a member of the School of Salamanca...

 and Castro put forth seventeen propositions to the Inquisition
Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...

 documenting Fray Luis’allegedly heretical opinions. His translation into Spanish and commentary of the Song of Solomon was the biggest evidence presented for their case against him. Another charge touched on his criticizing the text of the Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

.

As a result, he was imprisoned at Valladolid
Valladolid
Valladolid is a historic city and municipality in north-central Spain, situated at the confluence of the Pisuerga and Esgueva rivers, and located within three wine-making regions: Ribera del Duero, Rueda and Cigales...

 from March 1572 until December 1576, fell ill and remained in bad health throughout his imprisonment. Though he suffered greatly from his isolation and less than desirable conditions, Fray Luis continued to actively write and study during his confinement.

At the end of 1576, the tables turned, and Fray Luis was cleared of all charges and released from prison with an admonishment to be more careful and reserved in his publications and speech.

Tradition has it that he began his university lecture, on the first day after returning from four years' imprisonment with the words Dicebamus hesterna die ("As we were saying yesterday....").

Later life


He returned to the academic environment of the University of Salamanca as a professor of Biblical exegesis and held the chairs of Moral Philosophy and Biblical Studies.

He was elected to the chair of Holy Scripture at the University of Salamanca in 1579, and went on to earn a Master of the Arts degree from the University of Sahagún
Sahagún
Sahagún can refer to:*Sahagún, Spain, a town and monastery in Léon, Spain. Cradle of the Mudéjar architecture*Sahagún, Córdoba, the second town in population in Córdoba Department, Colombia, also called "The Cultural City of Cordoba"People...

.

Fray Luis did not pay heed to the cautionary admonishments of the Inquisitorial committee after his earlier imprisonment. In 1582, he had another Inquisitional run-in, but was not this time imprisoned. He was absolved two years later.

He died at the age of 64 on 23 August, 1591, in Madrigal de las Altas Torres
Madrigal de las Altas Torres
Madrigal de las Altas Torres is a municipality located in the province of Ávila, Castile and León, Spain. According to the 2005 census , the municipality has a population of 1,825 inhabitants. In this village, Isabella I of Castille was born in 1451....

, Ávila
Ávila
-History:In pre-Roman times , it was inhabited by the Vettones, who called it Obila and had here one of their strongest fortresses....

, and is buried in Salamanca in the Convent of San Agustín. Ten days before his death he was elected vicar-general of the Augustinian order.

As a writer


Between 1583 and 1585 he published the three books of his celebrated treatise, The Names of Christ, which he had written in prison
Prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

. In 1583 also appeared the most popular of his prose works, The Perfect Wife, an instruction for newly married women.

Fray Luis stopped from publishing his poems, which were not edited till 1631, when Quevedo
Francisco de Quevedo
Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas was a Spanish nobleman, politician and writer of the Baroque era. Along with his lifelong rival, Luis de Góngora, Quevedo was one of the most prominent Spanish poets of the age. His style is characterized by what was called conceptismo...

 printed them. The canon of Fray Luis's poetry, as fixed by Hispanists, consists of twenty-nine poems. Apart from those, he wrote mainly prose, most notably, The Names of Christ and The Perfect Wife. He also translated Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

's Odes into Spanish.


La Perfecta Casada (The Perfect Wife)


This book is Fray Luis’ interpretation of the Proverbs of Solomon, and was written as a moral exposition to his newly married young niece. It advises all young women on the proper behavior and duties of a married woman, both in regard to her husband and her children. The book quickly became a popular wedding gift to young women of the era, as it was an instruction manual for marriage. In addition, this book was a revolutionary defense of women’s roles in society at the time.

De los Nombres de Cristo (The Names of Christ)


Another well-known work, this was written as a guide to the layman about the essential principles of the church. It is written in dialogue form about three friends who discuss fourteen of the Scriptural names of Christ. The setting of the book is the countryside, and it takes place over two days. The predominant theme is the centrality and universality of Christ.

Cantar de los Cantares (translation of Song of Songs)


In 1561, he began translating the Song of Songs
Song of songs
Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, is a book of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. It may also refer to:In music:* Song of songs , the debut album by David and the Giants* A generic term for medleysPlays...

, a book of the Old Testament, into Spanish for his cousin, Isabel Osorio, a nun who could not read the Latin text, and wrote an accompanying commentary. At this time in Spain, translation of biblical texts into Spanish was not viewed favorably, so Fray Luis faced a certain amount of risk in the undertaking of this task. However, his detailed commentaries explaining portions of the Bible in Spanish were highly popular among his peers.

Exposición del Libro de Job (Commentary on the Book of Job)


This is another contribution made by Fray Luis to make Scripture available to those who could not read Latin. In other words, he wanted ordinary people to be exposed to the Biblical message. The story tells of Job
Job
A job is a regular activity performed in exchange for payment.Job may refer to:In the Bible:* Book of Job, part of the Hebrew Bible* Job , the central character in the Book of JobPeople named Job or Jobs:...

's patience and suffering, and also serves as a correctional guide to man's behavior. It is written in both verse and dialogue, to make it both enjoyable and informative.

Twenty three original poems in Spanish


See two of his most well-known examples below: The Life Removed and Ode to Salinas.

The Life Removed


In the poem The Life Removed, of which an excerpt is shown below, Fray Luis, following the beatus ille theme introduced by Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

, expounds upon the notion of choice and its consequences. He says that those irrational men who aspire to power and wealth and are guided by the talk and opinion of others will not achieve the peace, happiness, and liberty assured to those who travel the hidden path. The poem continues on to mention a ship in a storm, and how the sailors aboard are motivated only by greed and ambition, and they will not meet the harmonious end of those who travel the hidden path.
La Vida Retirada The Life Removed
¡Qué descansada vida
la del que huye el mundanal ruïdo
y sigue la escondida
senda por donde han ido
los pocos sabios que en el mundo han sido!
How tranquil is the life
Of him who, shunning the vain world’s uproar,
May follow, free from strife,
The hidden path, of yore
Trod by the few who conned true wisdom’s lore!
Que no le enturbia el pecho
de los soberbios grandes el estado,
ni del dorado techo
se admira, fabricado
del sabio moro, en jaspes sustentado.
For he with thoughts aloof
By proud men’s great estate is not oppressed,
Nor marvels at the roof
Of gold, built to attest
The Moor’s skill and on jasper piles to rest.
No cura si la fama
canta con voz su nombre pregonera,
ni cura si encarama
la lengua lisonjera
lo que condena la verdad sincera.
He cares not though his name
Be raised aloft, to winds of rumour flung,
He cares not for the fame
Of cunning flatterer’s tongue,
Not that which truth sincere would leave unsung.
(Peers 165)

Ode to Salinas


Another well-known poem composed by Fray Luis is an ode written for his friend Francisco de Salinas
Francisco de Salinas
Francisco de Salinas was a Spanish music theorist and organist, noted as among the first to describe meantone temperament in mathematically precise terms, and one of the first to describe, in effect, 19 equal temperament. In his De musica libri septem of 1577 he discusses 1/3-, 1/4- and 2/7-comma...

. They frequently spoke about art and poetry, and listened to music together. Salinas was an organist and composer, who shared Fray Luis's belief that music can make one more religious, and that it inspires man to contemplate spiritual matters. The ode, an excerpt of which is listed below, includes numerous positive images about music as a means to contemplate the divine and to overcome ignorance and foolishness.
Oda III - A Francisco de Salinas Ode to Salinas
¡Oh, desmayo dichoso!
¡Oh, muerte que das vida! ¡Oh, dulce olvido!
¡Durase en tu reposo,
sin ser restituido
jamás a aqueste bajo y vil sentido!
O blessed swoon! O life-
bestowing death! O sweet oblivion!
Would that I could linger
in your bliss and never be restored
to this lower, viler sense.
A este bien os llamo,
gloria del apolíneo sacro coro,
amigos a quien amo
sobre todo tesoro;
que todo lo visible es triste lloro.
Glory of Apollo's sacred choir,
I call you to this rapture,
friends I love
above all treasure,
for all the rest is but sad plaint.
¡Oh, suene de contino,
Salinas, vuestro son en mis oídos,
por quien al bien divino
despiertan los sentidos
quedando a lo demás amortecidos!
O let your strains ring
always in my ears, Salinas,
by which my senses wake
to heavenly good
while to all else they stay asleep.
(Trans. M. Smith)

External links