The Athenaeum of Greatness
I named this blog after one of my favorite literary works by Josep Romaguera (1642-1723), one of the authors I wrote about it my dissertation. It’s an emblem book written in Catalan, a Romance Language with 10 million speakers similar to Spanish and French spoken in Eastern Spain, France, Andorra, Italy and elsewhere.
The Athenaeum of Greatness—Atheneo de grandesa in the original Catalan–attempts to make literary Catalan a tool capable of negotiating a space for Catalonia and Catalan writing within the wider context of the Habsburg empire based in Castile, in the center of Spain. During the Baroque in Spain, most literary works were written in Spanish, like Don Quixote. Romaguera wanted to reverse this trend by creating a literary Catalan that imitated the Baroque stylings of Spanish writers like Luis de Góngora and Baltasar Gracián. By extension, he wanted to reclaim autonomy for Catalonia as a member of the states that composed the Spanish empire.
Romaguera was an important politician, clergyman, and intellectual in the years between the Catalan revolt of 1640-52 and the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14) in which Catalonia tried to preserve its autonomy, though he is still a virtually unknown figure even in Catalan literature.
The Athenaeum, one of a few texts by Romaguera that survive, is an interesting mix of poetry, prose and illustrations. It’s the only emblem book written in Catalan. Here are a few images that I’ve scanned myself. The book is out of copyright (it was published in 1681 by the press of Joan Jolis in Barcelona). The book is about improving yourself by developing certain virtues by applying maxims like “aspire to be the greatest”–in a sense, a Baroque motivational or self-help book.
The Atheneo de grandesa is a fascinating work of Baroque artifice. In its dynamic performance of Baroque esthetics found in texts written in Spanish, its appropriation of language and images, and its construction of the ideal Catalan poet-hero, the text dramatizes the dilemma of a Baroque author writing from the margins of empire.
I have scanned in the entire book–it’s out of copyright–and it’s now on the wikimedia commons. You can download it via the link below: