Góngora. Brief Biography of a Gambler, Rebel, Poet.

Luis de Góngora y Argote. Brief Biography.
Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561-1627) was one of the most prominent/ outstanding poets of Spain’s Golden Age, a period of remarkable literary achievements in prose fiction, drama and verse. In poetry, Góngora has traditionally been seen as the culmination of a rich trajectory beginning with Garcilaso de la Vega (1501-36) and progressing via figures such as Fray Luis de León (1527-91), San Juan de la Cruz (1542-91) and Fernando de Herrera (c. 1534-97), to name a few.

Portrait of Góngora by Diego de Velázquez

During his day, Góngora was rivalled only by the poet-dramatist Lope de Vega (1562-1635) and the multi-talented Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645). The former held a lukewarm and grudging admiration for Góngora but the latter was a bitter critic and implacable enemy.

Born in Córdoba to a noble family, Góngora was known as an aficionado of card playing and bullfighting from his early years. At the age of 15, he attended the University of Salamanca for four years with apparently little enthusiasm, and returning to Córdoba without a degree. Soon after his return, he accepted a Church office as prebendary, a post an uncle of his renounced in his favour. Although not a priest, as prebendary Góngora could be expected to officiate and serve in the church, for which he received a stipend (a fixed sum paid periodically for services). However, his religious vocation and dedication were clearly wanting to judge from the criticisms directed at him by the Bishop of the Cathedral: he was accused of absenteeism, of talking during prayers, of going to bullfights and of associating with actors and writing frivolous verse. He received a small fine as punishment. 

Nevertheless, his rebellious/ irreligious behaviour did not preclude him travelling widely on business for the cathedral. Significant were trips in 1602 to Valladolid (when it was the temporary capital of Spain, 1601-06) and in 1609 to Madrid (once again the permanent capital).

He continued to live in Córdoba until 1617 when thanks to the Duke of Lerma he was named to a royal chaplaincy in the court of King Philip III in Madrid, a position that required him to be ordained a priest. By now, he had already established himself as a poet of note and his visits to the centres of power allowed him rub shoulders with both literary, social and political heavyweights, including the Count of Villamediana, the Count of Lemos and the powerful and influential Duke of Lerma, the king’s favourite.

He spent most of the last ten years of his life in Madrid where, despite the favours of his protectors –first Lerma and, following Lerma’s fall, the Count-Duke of Olivares— Góngora found himself in financial difficulties. Most galling for Góngora was the purchase of the house in which he lived by his arch enemy, Quevedo, for the sole purpose of evicting him from it.

In 1627, following a serious illness, Góngora returned to Córdoba where he died on May 23 of the same year.

For a long time, Góngora ’s poetry was divided into two parts, his early poetry being viewed as “easy” and his later considered “difficult.” The former was identified as being inspired by popular or folk poetry associated with traditional, native verse forms such as letrillas, romances and romancillos. His later verse is the kind that made him most famous and earned him enemies and supporters. Its complex, highly ornate style and esoteric/ obscure allusions has given rise to the term gongorismo and is best represented by his two most celebrated works: La fábula de Polifemo y Galatea (“The Tale of Polyphemus and Galatea”) and Soledades (“Solitudes”), both completed in 1613.

Gaylord, Mary Malcolm “The Making of Baroque Poetry” in The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature, ed. Gies, David T Cambridge 2009, pp. 222-37.
Rivers, Elias ed  Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain Prospect Heights Illinois 1988 (With English prose translations of the poems.)
Robbins, Jeremy The Challenges of Uncertainty: An Introduction to Seventeenth-Century Spanish Literature New York 1998.
Walters, D. Gareth  The Cambridge Introduction to Spanish Poetry Cambridge 2002.
Wardropper, Bruce   Spanish Poetry of the Golden Age  New York 1971

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