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The Return of Astraea

The Return of Astraea: An Astral-Imperial Myth in Calderón

Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 272
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    The Return of Astraea
    Book Description:

    In classical mythology Astraea, the goddess of justice, chastity, and truth, was the last of the immortals to leave Earth with the decline of the ages. Her return was to signal the dawn of a new Golden Age. This myth not only survived the Christian Middle Ages but also became a commonplace in the Renaissance when courtly poets praised their patrons and princes by claiming that Astraea guided them. The literary cult of Astraea persisted in the sixteenth century as writers saw in Elizabeth I of England the imperial Astraea who would lead mankind to peace through universal rule.

    This and other late flowerings of the Astraea myth should not be taken as the final phases of her history. Frederick A. de Armas documents in this book what may well be the last great rebirth of Astraea, one that is probably of greater political, religious, and literary significance than others previously described by historians and literary critics.The Return of Astraeafocuses on the seventeenth-century Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and analyzes the deity's presence in thirteen of his plays, including his masterpiece,La Vida es Sueho.

    Her popularity in this period is partially attributed to political motives, reflecting the aspirations and fears of the Spanish monarch Philip IV. In this broad study, grounded on such diverse fields as astrology, iconography, history, mythology, and philosophy, de Armas explains that Astraea adopts many guises in Calderón's dramas. Ranging from the Kabbalah to Platonic thought and from satires on Olivares to cosmogonic myths, he analyzes and reinterprets Calderón's theater from a wide range of perspectives centered on the playwright's utilization of the myth of Astraea. The book thus represents a new view of Calderón's dramaturgy and also documents the popularity and significance of this astral-imperial myth during the Spanish Golden Age.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6279-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Astraea Returns: Genesis
    (pp. 1-21)

    Observing the early evening sky during the spring months, astrologers of ancient Greece and Rome would have been struck by a bright blue-white star shining with unrivaled splendor in the south-eastern corner of the heavens. The stargazers labeled herspica, marking the ear of wheat that the zodiacal sign Virgo holds in her left hand. The Asiatic Greek astronomer Hipparchus compared his own observations of the distance ofspicafrom the equinox with measurements made by Timocharis 160 years before and thus discovered the annual lag of the heavens known as the precession of the equinoxes.¹ According to Copernicus’s more...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Astraea in the Spanish Golden Age
    (pp. 22-58)

    Spain, although mentioned only in passing by scholars who have delved into the Astraea myth, contributed as much or even more to its popularity than Italy, France, or England. The first major utilization of the myth occurs during the reign of the Catholic kings. In theBucólicas, Juan del Encina renders into Spanish verse Virgil’s tenEclogues. Not all agree on the merits of Encina’s work. Menéndez Pelayo believes that the freedom with which the poet of Salamanca deals with the Latin poems is a sign of irreverence and parody. Others take a more positive and balanced approach, stressing the...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Priestess of Justice and Fortune
    (pp. 59-87)

    A sense of wonderment could be felt throughout Madrid and Aranjuez as a succession of astonishing and unpredictable events filled the year following Philip IV’s accession to the throne. The Spanish court in 1622 did not have to turn to Cervantes’sPersiles y Sigismundaor to Góngora’sSoledadesto experience aperegrina aventura. The accidents of fortune and the balancing of the scales of justice set the stage for happenings stranger than those encountered in fiction. While exiles and enemies of the previous king returned triumphantly to the court, scores of noblemen left Madrid in disgrace. Some were imprisoned; others...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Fallen Virgin
    (pp. 88-107)

    Approximately ten years after the portrayal of Astraea as the priestess of fortune and justice inLa gran Cenobia, Calderón returned to the goddess in his masterpiece,La vida es sueño. Her importance in thiscomediahas been ignored by most critics, since the dramatist himself seems to downplay her role.¹ Mention of this deity occurs in the second act when Rosaura pretends to be Clotaldo’s niece, adopting the name Astraea. This scene belongs to the secondary action of the play, which has been labeled as “frivolous” by some critics.

    The subordinate plot centers around Rosaura. Her plight, according to...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Serpent Star
    (pp. 108-122)

    Astraea-Virgo is but one of many features in the celestial map ofLa vida es sueño. Yet all references to the firmament can be linked to Astraea in that they either instill fear of apocalyptic destruction or build up hope for the coming of a new golden age. These celestial occurrences are always focused on Segismundo, since he is the person that serves to trigger future events in Poland. The prince, following the portents, has the potential of becoming the universal ruler who will reestablish the happiest of ages. Thus, while Rosaura-Astraea points to the possibilities and guides Segismundo, it...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Imperial and Mystical Eagle
    (pp. 123-138)

    At the beginning of the second act ofLa vida es sueñoClotaldo, Segismundo’s teacher and jailor, recounts to Basilio how he has been able to transfer the prince from prison to palace. He has utilized knowledge of the hidden properties of certain plants in order to induce a deep sleep in Segismundo. As the prince is about to drink the potion, Clotaldo speaks to him of an eagle’s flight in order to “levantarle más / el espíritu a la empresa” (vv. 1034-35). The avowed purpose of the anecdote is to aid Segismundo in assuming his proper role at the...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Maids of Autumn
    (pp. 139-163)

    Soon afterLa vida es sueño, Calderón wroteEl mayor encanto, amorfor presentation at the Buen Retiro. In his first mythological spectacle play, Calderón continues to reflect an intense interest in astrology. In thiscomedia, Astraea, who had played such a significant role inLa vida es sueñoand inLa gran Cenobia, becomes a minor character who, together with Libia, attends the witch Circe. The following year (1636) Calderón again prepares a play for the Buen Retiro during the night of Saint John. In the first act ofLos tres mayores prodigiosJason meets Medea, another witch versed...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Empire Without End
    (pp. 164-180)

    The story of Coriolanus, a Roman patrician whose dislike of democracy led to his exile from the immortal city and whose stained honor demanded nothing less than the burning of Rome, is the medium through which Calderón reintroduces a character named Astraea into his theater.El privilegio de las mujeres, a play composed by Calderón de la Barca in collaboration with Antonio Coello and Juan Pérez de Montalbán, is considered the source for Calderón’s recasting of the Coriolanus theme inLas armas de la hermosura. Both plays have been the subject of adverse criticism for their departures from historical fact...

  12. CHAPTER NINE The Malefic Astraea
    (pp. 181-196)

    Calderón’s nostalgic stance toward the imperial dream as represented by the goddess-queen Astraea inLas armas de la hermosuramust be balanced by an understanding of his continued “mistreatment” of the heavenly figure incomediasthat point to the subversion and dissipation of an ideal. We have seen how Astraea, as one of the “maids of autumn,” was subjugated by the sorceresses Medea and Circe. InEl mayor encanto, amor, Ulises emerged triumphant from the snares of a witch who attempted to control him just as she sought to manipulate stars and situations. This apparently wiser Ulises now becomes the...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Achilles as Astraea
    (pp. 197-211)

    Calderón de la Barca’s finalcomediadealing with Astraea,El monstruo de los jardines(1667), is an important and intriguing piece. Perhaps the disparate elements in this play have constituted a barrier to critical appreciation until recently. In the words of William R. Blue, “This strange combination of palace intrigue, prophecy and love triangles is played out against the mythic background of Achilles’ role in the Trojan War.”¹ Yet Calderón’s careful craftsmanship brings these elements together to create a coherent whole. Blue notes that most of the images of thiscomediaare taken from nature and that the primary ones...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 212-216)

    One of the most compelling desires of traditional societies is the actualization of the “perfection of beginnings.” According to Mircea Eliade, what took placein principiowas that “the divine or semidivine beings were active on earth.… Man desires to recover the active presence of the gods; he also desires to live in the world as it came from the Creator’s hands, fresh, pure and strong.”¹ The urge to travel back to origins, to a time of perfection, to a paradisiacal or mythological situation, is at the heart of the Astraea myth. Together with Saturn, she was one of two...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 217-248)
  16. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 249-253)
  17. Index
    (pp. 254-262)