Quevedo. Bermejazo platero de las cumbres.

Quevedo. Bermejazo platero de las cumbres.
A Apolo siguiendo a Dafne:

1.  Bermejazo platero de las cumbres,
a cuya luz se espulga la canalla,
la ninfa Dafne, que se afufa y calla,
si la quieres gozar, paga y no alumbres.

5.  Si quieres ahorrar de pesadumbres,
ojo del cielo, trata de compralla:
en confites gastó Marte la malla,
y la espada en pasteles y en azumbres.

9.  Volvióse en bolsa Jupiter severo;
levantóse las faldas la doncella
por recogerle en lluvia de dinero.

12. Astucia fue de alguna dueña estrella,
que de estrella sin dueña no lo infiero:
Febo, pues eres sol, sírvete de ella.

To Apollo pursuing Daphne:

Read-headed silversmith of the mountain tops,/by whose light the riffraff get rid of their fleas,/ the nymph Daphne who scarpers off and is silent, (i. e. silently)/ if you want to enjoy her, pay up and don’t light up.// If you want to save yourself grief/ eye of the sky, try to buy her:/ Mars sold his coat of mail for candies,/and his sword for pastries and jugs of wine.// Stern Jupiter turned himself into a purse;/ (and) the maiden lifted up her skirt/ to receive him in a shower of money.// That was (due to) the cunning of some go-between star,/ for I can’t imagine it of a star without a go-between:/ (well) Phoebus, since you are the sun, make use of her.

Structure: The poem is a sonnet, with each of its 14 lines a hendecasyllable (i.e. 11 syllables each line). It is made up of two quatrains, (i.e. each quatrain contains four lines), and two tercets (each made up of three lines). Sometimes we talk of the two quatrains together as an octave, and the two tercets together as a sestet.  If you have read Quevedo’s sonnet Ah de la vida or Góngora’s sonnet Mientras por competir…, you will recognise that this poem has exactly the same rhyme scheme: ABBA, ABBA, CDC, DCD.

For a short summary of Quevedo’s life, see Poderoso caballero/ es don Dinero.

Commentary. The title succinctly summarises the topic: the poetic “I” addresses Apollo, the sun god and god of music, archery and prophecy, in his pursuit of the river nymph, Daphne.

The myth was well known to Renaissance audiences: how Apollo, elated after his victory over the giant serpent, Python, reproached Cupid –Venus’s young son– when he saw him playing with his (Cupid’s) bow and arrows, weapons more appropriate for war than play. Cupid, annoyed by the reprimand, drew two arrows from his quiver, one gold tipped and sharp-pointed, the other tipped with lead and blunt. The golden arrow struck Apollo through the heart, leaving him desperately in love with Daphne; the leaden arrow struck Daphne leaving her totally immune to love. Apollo, lusting after her, chased Daphne who appealed to her father for help. He responded by transforming her into a laurel tree, just as Apollo was about to seize her.

The poem contains two other well-known myths (ll. 5-11), used to reinforce the bluntly stated advice offered to Apollo in the opening quatrain: that he pay Daphne if he wants to possess her. The first of the two myths refers to the adulterous relationship between Mars and Venus (Venus is alluded to only). Mars won Venus over and was able to enjoy her by selling his coat of mail.  The second myth follows in the first tercet (ll. 9-11): Jupiter, who in order to possess Danae (here alluded to as doncella), a princess imprisoned by her father, transforms himself into a shower of gold, penetrates the prison and impregnates her.

The final three lines underline the importance of a mediator or go-between –the dueña estrella— since success cannot be left to luck (estrella) alone. Apollo needs a dueña. Given the debased world portrayed in the sonnet, the dueña here may well allude to a go-between or pimp a la Celestina.  However, it is also possible that the dueña may also refer to money itself, the enabler, and the proof of its importance is in the success enjoyed by Mars and Jupiter. Hence, the exhortation to Apollo in the final line “make use of her.”

Bermejazo platero… is the first of two sonnets by Quevedo on the myth of Daphne and Apollo, the second being addressed to Daphne. Both are satirical or burlesque versions of earlier conventional Renaissance treatment where decorum and restraint reflected the respect owed to the classical sources, e. g. Garcilaso’s Sonnet XIII: A Daphne ya los brazos le crecían/ y en luengos ramos vueltos se mostraban.  “Daphne’s arms were already stretching/ and were seen to be changing into long branches.” [The sonnet concludes with a reflection on the unhappy outcome but which, with the first person “vi” (“I saw,” l.3), brings the myth down to a personal level. It suggests that the “I” sees in the Apollo-Diana myth a tale of unrequited love similar perhaps to his own experience.]

The satire begins immediately with the first word, Bermejazo, with the suffix (-azo) denoting pejoratively “huge” and even “ungainly.” Together with the root word bermejo/ red, there is a strong suggestion of antisemitism, especially within the context of the corrupting power of money. Quevedo was a known anti-Semite (see his picaresque novel, El Buscôn with its corrosive attack on Conversos (Jews converted to Christianity and/or their descendants) and red hair was traditionally associated with Judas –the iconic symbol of treachery and distrust– who sold Christ for 30 pieces of silver. So Apollo, who had significantly killed the python with a silver bow (hence platero), is by association not only reduced to human level, but to that of the despised Jew in Quevedo’s eyes.

The process of demythification—typical of the Baroque—continues in lines 2 and 3 where the unpoetic language of the “riffraff delousing themselves” destroys the seriousness which is implicit in the classical picture of Apollo pursuing Daphne. In this lowlife world of the riffraff, “nymph” was a common term for prostitute, so that Daphne is reduced to a slut hightailing it in a most inelegant fashion. It is a comical picture, underlined by the verb se afufa whose labiodental sound brilliantly evokes the puffing from the exertion of running.

And finally, the advice to Apollo to pay up if he wants to possess Daphne. The relationship is reduced to a commercial transaction, and nothing is more demystifying than money which is alien to the traditional world of gods and goddesses. It contaminates their world and brings them down to earth, demonstrating in effect that they are no different from humans. 

The scorn with which Quevedo treats Apollo is reinforced in line 6 where the god is addressed as ojo del cielo, where ojo was a common euphemism in the criminal underworld for “arsehole.”  The implication is clear: “you arsehole, stop running after Daphne, try paying her. That’s how you’ll succeed.”

The “I’s” advice to Apollo to buy Daphne’s favours then leads to two examples from classical mythology of successful purchases, at least in Quevedo’s caustic view. The first (ll. 7-8) is Mars who was able to seduce Venus with gifts.  But again, the treatment is irreverent. Mars has sold what most identifies him as warlike and therefore worthy of respect: his coat of mail and his sword, which are exchanged for candies, pastries and jugs of wine. In other words, his conquest depends on frivolous purchases rather than on any heroic or godlike accomplishments.

This example is followed by another demystified myth. Jupiter, who originally descended from a cloud in a shower of gold now becomes a shower of money willingly gathered in her lap by Danae (the doncella). By doing so, Danae reveals herself to be no more than a prostitute and her lifted skirt suggests her readiness for sex.

Money with its power to corrupt and debase (so brilliantly demonstrated in Quevedo’s famous letrilla, Poderoso caballero/ es don Dinero) is the silent protagonist of this sonnet. It enables commercial transaction and is vital for lovers in Quevedo’s sarcastic treatment. Without it lovers are impotent and ladies unreceptive.

The final three lines draw conclusions from the experience of Mars and Jupiter and apply them to Apollo (now addressed as Phoebus). Playing on the word estrella (star, fate, luck) and dueña (dueñas were chaperones who accompanied young girls in their paseos (walks in public). Although their role was to keep an eye on their wards, the dueñas were popularly viewed as enablers of trysts between those they chaperoned and the latters’ admirers. Hence they were also reputed to be go-betweens), the narrating “I” emphasises the need for a go-between: a dueña estrella. This has been interpreted as possibly referring to engaging a dueña, who will –for money—facilitate Apollo’s access to Daphne. More persuasive, however, is the idea that in this context dueña refers to money and go-between, both being necessary to ensure success. Apollo, the star (both estrella and sol, l.14) alone cannot succeed, he needs an accomplice, a dueña i. e. money. The last line closes the argument repeating the same kind of advice in line 4 (paga) and line 6 (trata de compralla): sirvete de ella (i. e. the dueña).

Much of the impact of Bermejazo platero… lies in readers’ knowledge of the original classical tales. The title A Apolo siguiendo a Dafne leads to certain expectations in line with earlier Renaissance treatment. In this sonnet, however, those expectations undergo a rapid and immediate reassessment as readers react to the irreverent picture of the relationship between the gods and their ladies. The demythification of the pagan gods leads to disillusion (desengaño), which is very much part of the Baroque world of the 17th century.

This new interpretation of the classical myths is also helped by Quevedo’s verbal dexterity where plays on words destabilise the certainty of a unidimensional world. All of this is part of conceptismo, a major literary development of the Baroque which sought to produce surprise and astonishment in readers and awaken their admiration for the poet’s ingenio (“cleverness”) and agudeza (‘wit” “subtlety”).

The 17th century is a period of uncertainty as the familiar is subjected to new challenges. Apollo is no god but a red-headed arsehole, Mars sells his armour in return for candies and jugs of wine and Jupiter surrounds himself with money. And Venus and Danae and are no more than prostitutes. Money is fundamental in debasing myths. We see it, for example, in Don Quixote, Part II, Chptr 71, where Dulcinea is disenchanted thanks to Don Quixote’s money and not to any heroic deeds on his part. This is the world of knight-errantry turned upside down and brought down to earth. Similarly, the artist, Velázquez, brings the pagan gods down to our level in, e. g. The Forge of Vulcan or The Topers.

Velázquez. The Forge of Vulcan. 1630. Apollo informing Vulcan of Venus’s adultery with Mars. Venus was Vulcan’s wife.

Even in politics, Spain’s leadership in Europe was severely tested although it still strutted on the international stage as if it were still a great power.  It was all a façade, and nothing more than an appearance of greatness. And so it is with the world of classical gods: they are an illusion and really are no more than humans in disguise.

Gaylord, Mary Malcolm “The Making of Baroque Poetry” in The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature, ed. Gies, David T Cambridge 2009.

Price, R.M ed. An Anthology of Quevedo’s Poetry Manchester 1969.
Rivers, Elias ed  Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain Prospect Heights Illinois 1988 (With English prose translations of the poems.)
Terry, Arthur Seventeenth Century Spanish Poetry Cambridge UP 1993.
For those who read Spanish, the two following links are useful:
María José García Rodríguez http://www.tramayfondo.com/actividades/vii-congreso/las_diosas/downloads/garcia-rodriguez-maria-jose.pdf