LA CELESTINA
 



First page of the
Comedy of Calisto and Melibea
(Burgos, 1499)

 
    1.-  In Burgos, 1499 was printed an anonymous and nowadays headless
-without title- Comedy of Calisto and Melibea. This work was developped in sixteen acts.
 
   Its beginning was similar to that of the medieval elegiac comedy, but its ending was rather different: Calisto, in love with Melibea and obeying his servant's advices, asks the services of the procuress Celestina. In this way he gets his maiden. Celestina's and servant's covetousness cause the murder of the procuress and the servants execution. After a piteous accident Calisto falls down from the wall to the garden of his parents mistress, he dies breaking his head and causes Melibea's suicide when she throws herself down from a tower after telling her candid father her love tragic story.

Preliminary pages of the
Comedy (Toledo,1500)
   Toledo was the city where appeared in 1500 the Comedy of Calisto and Melibea, with a foreword of "The author to a friend" and some strophes that point -through an acrostic code- out the author's name: Fernando de Rojas from Puebla de Montalbán (Toledo). At the end of the sixteen acts we can read many verses by Alonso de Proaza.

   This work will be printed in Sevilla (1501) in a similar way to that from Toledo.

Preliminary pages of the
Comedy from Toledo, 1500

 
   Four sevilian editions seem to have been printed in 1502 as well as one from Toledo and other from Salamanca. They are composed of 21 acts, but the fact is that they are many years later than 1502.

   We think that the Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea in 21 acts should have existed from 1500 or 1501. The new acts were inserted after the 14th one in the Comedy and they are known as Treatise of Centurio. The new work included interpolations along the whole book. New acts introduced a Calisto's monolog; two pupils of Celestina: Elicia and Areusa's revenge by the bully Centurio; the aim of Melibea's parents of marring her daughter, and Calisto's last visit to his lover's home with his new servants cut short by Traso's disturbance. This bully was sent by Centurio who cannot realize the riot by himself.


Tragicomedy of
Calisto and Melibea

(Zaragoza, 1507)
   Because of that disturbance Calisto must help his servants but he falls down the garden wall and dies.

   Though additions in Tragicomedy seem to be written by Fernando de Rojas the fact is that the first copy we know of the Tragicomedia is an italian translation of 1506. The castilian one will be preserved in an edition of Zaragoza, 1507, that we can read today.

   For many years critics believed that the text closer to the original was that of Valencia, 1514, that has been therefore used for modern editions of the work.

Tragicomedy of
Calisto and Melibea

(Valencia, 1514)
   In Toledo, 1526 we read between acts 18 and 19 the Play of Traso never written by Fernando de Rojas. We begin to enter in a chaos of translations, remakes, continuations, versifications, latinizations, commentaries, prohibitions... The work already belonged to universal literature.

   The extant fragment of a manuscript text was published in 1990. Though catalogued, this copy of Celestina's beginning was forgotten in Madrid Royal Palace Library.

First edition of
La Celestina (Toledo, 1526)
with the Play of Traso

Beginning of
Celestina from Palace

 
   This copy of the Comedy was written during the second half of 16th century but many of his words let us imagine a text prior even to that of the printed edition of Burgos, 1499.
 
 
    2.-  According to the acrostic verses of l500, his author was Fernando de Rojas, born in Puebla de Montalbán (Toledo).
   He could be born between 1473-6 and have studied laws in Salamanca about 1488. Because of the same verses we know that he was a bachelor of Laws in 1500.

End of
Celestina from Palace

 
   He settled as a lawyer in Talavera de la Reina (Toledo), and married a woman belonging -like Fernando- to a converted from Judaism family. That apparently caused him no social desease. He had seven children and was Mayor of Talavera in 1538. He died in 1541 and, as his will can proof, he enjoyed a high social and economic status.


Beginning of Fernando
de Rojas' will
   Because of his converted origin he was supposed to be hunted down in its age, hostile to converted Christians, but his life seems to go placidly among wealth and prosperity.

    3.-  On the preliminary pages in 1500 edition Fernando de Rojas told in wich way had he found in Salamanca the beginning of this anonymous work that he finished in fifteen days of vacation. Acrostic verses from the work repeat the names of Rodrigo Cota or Juan de Mena as posible authors for the first act he had found in his holidays.
   We accept the presence of two writers in La Celestina after an analysis of the sources of each part of the whole work. At the beginning of the play we read many sentences by Petrarca author of an imitation of Seneca: De remediis utriusque fortunae.

 

Performance of
La Celestina
    4.-  We cannot say wich is La Celestina's literary gener. Although it has been performed on stage, difficulty for doing it is more than evident.

   From the end of 15th century humanistic comedy was developped in Italy. It began with Paulus (1390) by Pier Paolo Vergerio, close to our work. La Celestina has much to do with these latin works, writen in Colleges and Universities, that were practiced in Spain until the beginning of 17th century. La Celestina is maybe an instance of a play to be declaimed between scholars rather than to be performed.
 
 
    5.-  The author's aim can be puzzling.

Cover of La Celestina
(Sevilla, 1502 or 1518-20)

 
   According to Rojas' words he advises of the evil ways of servants and procuresses and against results on their followers. This moral is false for those who see in La Celestina vital distress usual in converted from Judaism. Indeed, this work can also be seen as a ridiculous parody of sentimental fiction, a well-known literary gener in its age whose insincerity would be attacked in our book. Perhaps the author's aim could be a mixing of all.
 
 
    6.-  Carachters in our work are specially interesting.
   Celestina took soon the first place as a protagonist instead of Calisto or Melibea. Her hybrid condition made her a key to the work: she controls the action parts, coordinates lovers and servants and makes things hard. She is also the first carachter who pays crimes with her life. The death of Calisto is a consequence of her pupil's revenge.

Celestina seen by
Picasso in 1904

 
   Calisto and Melibea mean destructive passion out of control. They cannot master their defects and they live far from reason. Matrimony is not a solution for them who just look for the pleasure for themselves.
   Their servants, Parmeno and Sempronio as Elicia and Areusa, pupils of Celestina, are vile and dishonest. They cannot see beyond immediate benefit and never calculate their actions results.
   Melibea's parents, Alisa and Pleberio misunderstand reality and suffer crudely for their mistake.
 
   We note that unlike works as Lazarillo de Tormes or Don Quijote de la Mancha, La Celestina never shows gentle or deserving respect carachters, excepting Pleberio. On the contrary they offer a sample of self-interests and egotisms that cannot neither awaken reader's sympathy nor justify their actions. Could have Fernando de Rojas expressed his own inner diseases through them?

Epistles by Seneca
(Zaragoza, 1496)

 
    7.-  Scholarship and sources of La Celestina are clearer when we read its pages after seeing the catalog of books that Rojas cites in his will.
   About a half of his library was composed by juridical books. The other half by amusement literature.
 
   Fernando de Rojas should have known medieval elegiac comedy featuring a suitor who, quided by a procuress, can be married to his lover. He also should have known latin humanistic comedy from Universities, presenting situations close to that writen by him. The most important books in his library were
 
   The Epistles to Lucilius by Seneca, that can be the most frequent cultural reference in La Celestina as well as some of the latin author tragedies like Troyans. Boethius and his Consolation of Philosophy were among his books.
   We also find Petrarca and Boccaccio in Rojas' work and library though De Remediis utriusque fortunae is present in the former and not in the latter.

Amphitruo by
Plautus (1554)

 
   Latin dramatists are represented by Terentius and Rojas library kept Plautus' Amphitruo.
   Bible -Proverbs, Eclesiastes or New Testament- is often indirectly quoted through authors as Petrarca.
   More than a half of La Celestina's sources are proverbs or folk sentences as those that we find collected in scholar books and called popular philosophy.
   La Celestina comes out from this rich and complex mosaic and from an individual and personal genius.
 
 
    8.-  Its success can be similar to that of Amadis de Gaula. Soon imitations will appear. Interpolations and additions will grow from 16th century, but original works based on La Celestina were also composed:
 
    Comedia Thebaida was printed ca. 1520: Berintho gets Cantaflua's love thanks to Franquila, loved by Aminthas and helped by procuress Veturia who ends the work. Comical scenes are usual in it.
   It was bound together with Hipolita Comedy and Seraphina Comedy both written in the path of our masterwork.

   Most popular imitation of La Celestina is Second comedy of Celestina (1534) by Feliciano de Silva (Ciudad Rodrigo, 1491-1554), a chivalry-romans writter.
 

Second Comedy of Celestina
by Feliciano de Silva
(Medina del Campo, 1534)

 
   It deals with the love of Felides and Polandria, conducted by Celestina, who simulated her death realized by Parmeno and Sempronio. She was rescued by an archpriest and now turns to the stage. We know the servants surrounding: Elicia and Areusa, Centurio, etc., speak about Calixto and Melibea. The works finshes with the marriages of the lovers and of two wise servants.

Second Comedy of Celestina
by Feliciano de Silva
(Venecia, 1536)

 
   There is also a Third Celestina and a Celestina's Daughter by Salas Barbadillo; there are imitations as The Lush Andalusian Girl; comedies as Himenea by Torres Naharro, La Dorotea or The Knight of Olmedo by Lope de Vega.
   A writter could no more compose his work without reading La Celestina.


 

D.Miguel Pérez Rosado.
Ph. D. in Hispanic Philology.