Alonso de Ercilla : biography
Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga (August 7, 1533 – November 29, 1594) was a Spanish nobleman, soldier and epic poet, born in Madrid. While in Chile (1556–63) he fought against the Araucanians (Mapuche), and there he began the epic poem La Araucana, considered one of the greatest Spanish historical poems. This heroic work in 37 cantos is divided into three parts, published in 1569, 1578, and 1589. It tells of the courageous insurrection of the Araucanians and also relates the history of Chile and of contemporary Spain.
Alonso de Ercilla in the Retratos de Españoles Ilustres ("Portraits of Illustrious Spaniards"), 1791. Ercilla’s great work is La Araucana, an epic poem of thirty-seven cantos, describing the difficulties encountered by the Spaniards during the insurrection in Arauco, and the heroic deeds of the natives as well as his companions. The epic partakes of the character of history, and the author adheres with such strict fidelity to the truth, that subsequent historians characterize his work as thoroughly trustworthy. In it the difficult art of story-telling is carried to perfection. Places are admirably described, dates are given with accuracy, and the customs of the native faithfully set forth, giving to the narrative animation and colouring.
The poem was published in three parts, of which the first, composed in Chile and first appearing in 1569, is a versified narrative adhering strictly to historic fact; the second, published in 1578, is encumbered with visions and other romantic machinery; and the third, which appeared in 1589-1590, contains, in addition to the subject proper, a variety of episodes mostly irrelevant. Withall, many scholars consider it the most successful Renaissance epic in the Classical mode written in Spanish. The best editions are those published by the Spanish Academy in 1776 and 1828.
There is a municipality in the Araucania Region of Chile named after Ercilla.
In his novel In Search of the Castaways (1867), Jules Verne wrote,In Search of the Castaways, Chapter XI, "Traversing Chile". "Araucania is populated by the Mapuche, the native Chilean race extolled in verse by the poet Ercilla".
Ercilla was born into a Basque noble family. His father was Fortuño García de Ercilla, and his mother Doña Leonor de Zúñiga, both from Bermeo (Biscay). In 1548, after his father’s death, his mother became lady-in-waiting to the Infanta María and made young Alonso a page to the heir-apparent, Prince Philip (afterwards King Philip II). Ercilla received a very thorough education, for, besides having the most learned teachers, he enjoyed the advantages of very extensive travelling and of living at court where he came in contact with high personages. When he was only fifteen he accompanied Philip through Italy and Germany; and their travels lasted three years. Later, Ercilla accompanied his mother to Bohemia where he left her and then visited Austria, Hungary, and other countries. Returning to Spain, he soon started out again with Philip. In this capacity Ercilla (sometimes spelled Arcilla) visited Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, and was present in 1554 at the marriage of his master to Queen Mary I of England.
In London, he made the acquaintance of Jerónimo de Alderete (1555), whose stories of his thrilling adventures in the New World so fired Ercilla’s imagination that he determined to accompany Alderete to the New World. He therefore obtained leave from Philip, and they set sail for America, 15 October 1555. Soon after their arrival, however, Alderete died (near Panamá, April 1556). Ercilla continued on his way to Peru, and in 1557 hearing that an expedition was preparing to subdue the Araucanians of Chile, he joined the forces of García Hurtado de Mendoza, who had recently been appointed Governor of Chile.
He distinguished himself in the ensuing campaign; but, having quarrelled with a comrade, he was condemned to death in 1558 by his general, García Hurtado de Mendoza. The sentence was commuted to imprisonment, but Ercilla was speedily released and fought at the Battle of Quipeo (December 14, 1558).