Ramón Betances and Classical Reception in Puerto Rico

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  1. 1.

    See e.g. M. Malamud, Ancient Rome and Modern America, Malden, 2009, D. Rowell, Paris: The ‘New Rome’ of Napoleon, New York, 2012, J. Connolly, ‘Classical Education and the Early American Democratic Style’, in Classics and National Cultures, eds. S. Stephens and P. Vasunia, Oxford, 2010, pp. 74–99. The tradition’s imperial reuse has also received more attention, see e.g. D. Quint, Epic and Empire, Princeton, 1993, D. Lupher, Romans in a New World: Classical Models in Sixteenth Century Spanish America, Ann Arbor, 2003 (although Lupher does address critiques of imperialism as well). Antonio Cussen’s Bello and Bolívar, Cambridge, 1992, is an important exception and a foundational work on revolutionary reception in Latin America.

  2. 2.

    Recent articles by R. Andújar and D. Padilla Peralta (forthcoming at the time of submission) investigate reception in the Dominican Repbulic, see R. Andújar, ‘The Caribbean Socrates: Pedro Henríquez Ureña and the Mexican Ateneo de la Juventud’, in Classics In Extremis: The Edges of Classical Reception, ed. E. Richardson, London, 2018, pp. 101–114, and D. Padilla Peralta, ‘Classical Pasts in Caribbean Presents: The Politics of Reception in Santo Domingo’, forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Political Theory, eds. L. Jenco, M. Idris, and M. Thomas, Oxford, 2019. Regarding Caribbean reception generally, English language literature dominates (see e.g., E. Greenwood, Afro-Greeks, Oxford, 2010), but Gregson Davis’s work on Aimé Césaire is an important exception, as are the works of Elina Miranda Cancela on classical reception in Cuba (e.g. Calzar el coturno americano: mito, tragedia griega y teatro cubano, Havana, 2006). To date, however, there are no studies of classical reception in Puerto Rico, and only a handful on Cuba (in addition to Miranda Cancela’s work see the contributions concerning Cuban authors in The Oxford Handbook of Greek Drama in the Americas, eds. K. Bosher, F. Macintosh, J. McConnell, and P. Rankine, Oxford, 2015).

  3. 3.

    For Betances’s racial politics, see A. Reyes Santos, Our Caribbean Kin, New Brunswick, 2015, pp. 30–44; For the decision to pursue a legal whitening, see F. Ojeda Reyes, El desterrado de París, San Juan, PR, 2001, pp. 13–17, esp. 16. For further investigation of similar grants of whiteness, see A. Twinam, Purchasing Whiteness: Pardos, Mulattos, and the Quest for Social Mobility in the Spanish Indies, Stanford, 2015.

  4. 4.

    See Ojeda Reyes, El desterrado (n. 3 above), pp. 15–16.

  5. 5.

    For a concise chronology of Betances life and whereabouts, see J. Rivera de Alvarez, Diccionario de literatura puertorriqueña, II.1, San Juan, 1974, pp. 201–202.

  6. 6.

    Ojeda Reyes, El desterrado (n. 3 above), pp. 18–19.

  7. 7.

    For Betances’s time at the Collège Royal, including the names of numerous instructors and classmates, a discussion of his awards, and a copy of the awards list from 1844 to 1845, see J. Gilard, ‘Betances en Toulouse’, Sin Nombre, 4, 1976, pp. 42–58. For an overview of French education in the 19th century, including frequently studied authors, see A. Chervel, Les Auteurs français, latins et grecs au programme de l'enseignement secondaire de 1800 à nos jours, Paris, 1986, esp. pp. 1–24; 34–271.

  8. 8.

    Gilard, ‘Betances’ (n. 7 above), p. 45.

  9. 9.

    For Betances’s early education, see Ojeda Reyes, El desterrado (n. 3 above), pp. 17–20. For his medical education, see pp. 29–30.

  10. 10.

    Investigations of the dates and publication venues are always cursory, if they are covered at all. The most complete discussion is A. Suárez Díaz, El Antillano, pp. 19–20; 281–2.

  11. 11.

    For an overview of the debates around the dating, see C. Vasquez, ‘Exilio y libertad: la poesía de Ramón Emeterio Betances’, in Pasión por la libertad, ed. F. Ojeda Reyes and P. Estrade, San Juan, 2000, p. 39. The epyllion and the novel it accompanied were also republished in Toulouse in 1857.

  12. 12.

    According to a French biography, published in 1891, in the journal Echo Polyglot. See L. Bonafoux, Betances, Barcelona, 1901, p. 30.

  13. 13.

    Bonafoux’s 1901 original contains occasional typographical errors, but I strongly caution the reader against relying on the 1970 reprint of Bonafoux, printed in San Juan, which introduces many more. For Bonafoux’s literary activity, see Rivera de Alvarez, Diccionario, II.1, pp. 234–8.

  14. 14.

    See Suárez Díaz, El Antillano (n. 10 above), pp. 281–2.

  15. 15.

    Ojeda Reyes, El desterrado, p. 27. It is unlikely that Betances would have encountered the Aulularia as a school text, as Terence was more commonly read. Perhaps reflecting a wider increase in interest in the play, the Aulularia was introduced into French schools in 1874. See Chervel, Les auteur (n. 7 above), pp. 34–271, for lists of contemporary schooltexts.

  16. 16.

    Vasquez, p. 40; C. Meléndez ‘Día y noche de Betances’, Revista del instituto de cultura puertorriqueña, 40, 1969, pp. 48–51.

  17. 17.

    F. Ojeda Reyes and P. Estrade, Ramón Emeterio Betances: Obras Completas, II, San Juan, 2008, p. 183. The newest edition containing this letter shows Betances wrongly attributing the Aulularia to Plutarch rather than Plautus, but this is likely an editorial error. Ada Suárez Díaz reports that Plauto is written, see Suárez Díaz, El Antillano (n. 10 above), pp. 57–131.

  18. 18.

    See Reyes Santos, Our Caribbean Kin (n. 3 above), pp. 42–43.

  19. 19.

    His poem, Exil et liberté, originally published in French in 1886, was translated into Spanish by a Dominican author and appeared in the Parisian journal América in Paris in 1891. See Ojeda Reyes and Estrade, Obras Completas, II (n. 17 above), p. 14.

  20. 20.

    I have omitted discussion of the relationship between Betances and Martí, although it would have been productive and is worthy of fuller treatment elsewhere. Although they communicated largely through intermediaries, Betances read and admired Martí’s Versos Sencillos, which he obtained as a gift from Martí himself. Their interactions could form the subject of another article, especially in consideration of their mutual relationship with Rodríguez de Tió, whose revolutionary classicism also demands treatment. For the Versos Sencillos, including a discussion of Martí’s autograph dedication to Betances, see Ojeda Reyes and Estrade, Obras Completas, V (n. 17 above), pp. 251–3; Ojeda Reyes, El desterrado (n. 3 above), p. 329. For Martí’s revolutionary receptions of classical literature and history, see E. Miranda Cancela, José Martí y el mundo clásico, Mexico City, 1990, pp. 5–37.

  21. 21.

    He leído con gran placer su oda que es muy bella, y tiene trozos dignos de los mejores poetas americanos. No creo que en Puerto Rico haya levantado tanto la voz vate alguno; si hasta el bello corazón de Gauthier fue el de un buen poeta pero el de un mal patriota. See Ojeda Reyes and Estrade, Obras Completas, V (n. 17 above), pp. 175–7.

  22. 22.


  23. 23.

    Ibid. Su oda, querida Lola, es el canto más caliente que haya lanzado hasta hoy ningun poeta puertorriqueño y el valor es lo único que le ha faltado a algunos para llegar a la altura de la gran poesía. Reciba mis más sinceras felicitaciones.

  24. 24.

    Further support also appears in the postscript, where Betances praises the journalist Mario Braschi for opposing Gauthier’s Puerto Rico with “the words of an Italian poet.” See ibid…: Mis felicitaciones a Braschi que en su discurso opone con muchísima habilidad las palabras del poeta italiano a las de Gauthier. For Braschi, see Rivera de Alvarez, Diccionario, II.1 (n. 5 above), pp. 244–6.

  25. 25.

    For an assessment of Tapia’s influence, consult Rivera de Alvarez, Diccionario, II.2 (n. 5 above), pp. 1489–97.

  26. 26.

    Ojeda Reyes and Estrade, Obras Completas, II (n. 17 above), pp. 86–8, esp. 87–8: hace tiempo que he publicado una novelita. Debo decirte que fue inspirada por tu heroína. mi idea fue hacer a mi indio bastante interesante para que una española muriese por él. Va la poesía mientras tanto.

  27. 27.

    For a theoretical approach to this geographical apparatus and how it supported imperialist thinking, see E. Said, Culture and Imperialism, New York, 1993, pp. 43–61. For the applicability of this idea to the Caribbean, see A. Díaz-Quiñones, Sobre los principios, Buenos Aires, 2006, pp. 46–8.

  28. 28.

    R. Márquez, Puerto Rican Poetry, Boston, 2007, pp. 27–30. See also E. Rivera Rivera, La poesía en Puerto Rico antes de 1843, San Juan, 1981, pp. 127–60.

  29. 29.

    For Afonso’s life and the influence of the works he published in Puerto Rico, see Rivera Rivera, La poesía, pp. 183–207.

  30. 30.

    The translation of epílogo as “epitome” is taken from Márquez, Puerto Rican Poetry (n. 28 above), p. 35.

  31. 31.

    Cette nuit, Dieu prit une étoile

    Et, contemplant les flots amers,

    Comme une nacelle sans voile

    Il la déposa sur les mers.

    Puis dit, la dirigeant sur l’onde :

    « Là-bas est un lointain pays,

    Encore inconnu du vieux monde…

    « …mais crains que le sombre esclavage,

    Démon qui ronge l’univers,

    Ne vienne un jour souiller ta plage,

    de ses pieds noirs chargés de fers. »

    Il dit. – Et comme sur la toile

    Qu’un peintre anime de couleurs,

    Le peintre divin sur l’étoile

    Repandit la vie et les fleurs…

  32. 32.

    Fuyons! Ce ne sont point des hommes / Assis sur des monstres altiers / ils semblent d’horribles fantômes.

  33. 33.

    E.g. Juan de Castellanos’s epic on the colonization of the Americas and the Caribbean, Elegías de varones ilustres de indias. This massive poem of more than 15,000 lines treats numerous episodes of Spanish conquest, including the wars of Juan Ponce de León. Alongside more subtle classical references, the poem includes Latin epitaphs for conquistadors such as Ponce de León, who was buried in Puerto Rico: Mole sub hac fortis requiescunt ossa Leonis / Qui vicit factis nomina magna suis.

  34. 34.

    See Rivera Rivera, La poesía (n. 28 above), pp. 148–9; For the autocratic nature of de la Torre’s governorship, see F. Picó, Historia general de Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, 1990, pp. 167–9.

  35. 35.

    For an English translation of “la ninfa,” see Márquez, Puerto Rican Poetry (n. 28 above), pp. 57–60. For the original Spanish see E. Barradas, Inventario poetico puertorriqueño, San Juan, 1992, pp. 42–5. The poem also reinforces the image of Puerto Rico as a distant, peripheral land.

  36. 36.

    See A. Cussen, Bello and Bolívar, Cambridge, 1992, ubique. For the manipulation of e.g. the word augusto, see esp. pp. 73–84.

  37. 37.

    Bonafoux, Betances (n. 12 above), pp. 379–84.

  38. 38.

    Most Puerto Rican sources follow Manuel Sama, who parses Bin-Tah as “una palabra india que significa corazón herido,” leaving the language unidentified (see M. Sama, Bibliografía puerto-riqueña, Mayagüez, 1887, p. 33. I tentatively suggest that its origin lies with Bin-Tah, a leader of the Caddo nation, whom John Mix Stanley painted in 1843. The portrait toured widely in the United States thereafter. English translations often render Bin-Tah as “wounded man,” although they identify the injury as a chest wound. See J. M. Stanley, Portraits of North American Indians, II, Washington D.C., 1852, p. 48.

  39. 39.

    Suárez Díaz, El Antillano (n. 10 above), pp. 58–9.

  40. 40.

    D. Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, Princeton, 2000, p. 16. See also pp. 32–4, 42–6.

  41. 41.

    Díaz-Quiñones, Sobre los principios (n. 27 above), pp. 65–166.

  42. 42.

    Ibid., pp. 70–73, 158–160.

  43. 43.

    I. M. Rodríguez-Silva, Silencing Race: Disentangling Blackness, Colonialism, and National Identities in Puerto Rico, New York, 2012, p. 191.

  44. 44.


  45. 45.

    Ibid., pp. 83–8 and p. 191–8. See also Díaz-Quiñones, Sobre los principios, for both diachronic and 19th-century fears of African-ness in Puerto Rico, pp. 51, 134–5, 135–53.

  46. 46.

    P. Blanchemain, Oeuvres complètes de P. de Ronsard: Tome 1, Paris, 1857, p. 125. Note the verbal correspondences to Betances’s incipit:

    Mais que me sert d’avoir tant leu Tibulle,

    Gallus, Ovide, et Properce et Catulle,

    Avoir tant veu Petrarque et tant noté

    Si par un roy le pouvoir m’est osté

    De les ensuivre, et s’il faut que ma lyre

    Pendue au croc ne m’ose plus rien dire ?

  47. 47.

    Except for Horace, there is no direct evidence to suggest that Betances would have encountered these authors in school. It is certain that Ronsard was read in schools much later in the 19th century, but his role in curricula of the 1830s and 1840s would have been confined to anthologies and grammars. The same is true for the Latin elegists. See Chervel, Les Auteurs, pp. 34–271, esp. p. 172.

  48. 48.

    There are two textual issues in this passage, both likely the result of typographical errors. The first is simply that nyrte is printed rather than myrte, but the second is the troublesome and unrecognizable word, lave. Since Betances’s autograph original is now lost, I have followed L. Hernandez-Aquino’s translation of cantos (y enturbiados sus cantos por los cantos guerreros). See: L. Hernandez-Aquino, Betances poeta, Bayamón, 1986.

  49. 49.

    Propertius 2.28; 2.30.

  50. 50.

    Catull. 3; Ovid Am. 2.6.

  51. 51.

    Fasti 4 is particularly important here, as it includes an account of Venus’s relationship to myrtle (4.133–44), as well as the elegiac poet’s relationship to the goddess (4.14: et vatem et mensem scis, Venus, esse tuos). See also Ov. Am. 1.1.29–30.

  52. 52.

    For further exploration of the elegiac tendency to contrast mollitia and militia, and the antiphrastic etymology wherein miles is derived from mollitia, see F. Cairns ‘The Etymology of Militia in Roman Elegy’, in Apophoreta Philologica Emmanueli Fernandez-Galiano oblata, ed. L. Gil and R. M. Aguilar, 2 vols, Madrid, 1984, pp. 211–22.

  53. 53.

    Bonafoux 1901 transmits n’ent rather than n’est, an evident misprint.

  54. 54.

    The phrase craignant toujours de trop vite finir provides support for an identification with the Eclogues, as Ecl. 10 is the final poem in the collection, and the target line (containing omnia vincit amor) is the 69th of 77 lines.

  55. 55.

    Ov. Am. 1.9; Met. 1.452–480.

  56. 56.

    Maria Wyke is careful to observe that while these mistresses are fictive, heaped with literary baggage from earlier poetic traditions, they still speak to actual socio-historical realities women confronted in the Augustan age (M. Wyke, The Roman Mistress: Ancient and Modern Representations, Oxford, 2002, pp. 15–18). For an overview of the idea that Ovid’s mistress, Corinna, has always been acknowledged as a literary fiction, see Wyke, The Roman Mistress (n. 56 above), p. 20, esp. 20–24. For further discussion of the mistress as a means of metaliterary manipulation and canonical positioning, see pp. 24–5, as well as Wyke’s chapter-length argument regarding the Cynthia figure’s efficacy in defining and representing post-Callimachean poetics (pp. 46–77). A concise summary, perhaps, is ‘the reader appears to be offered a glimpse of a real woman only for her to be overshadowed by literary concerns’ (p. 69).

  57. 57.

    The descent of Juno occurs at Met. 4.432–80, the Proserpina narrative at 5.332–571, while the Orpheus episode begins in Book 10.

  58. 58.

    E.g. Aen. 6.128–131, 6.185–6, 6.309–310. Of especial interest perhaps is 6.185–6, where Aeneas looks upon the surrounding wood, styled by the narrator as silva immensa.

  59. 59.

    For an overview of this Propertian scene, as well as exploration of its generic interactions and antecedents, particularly mime, see P. Knox ‘Cynthia’s Ghost in Propertius 4.7’, Ordia Prima 3, 2004, pp. 153–69.

  60. 60.

    The text of Propertius is taken from Heyworth’s edition of 2007, unless otherwise indicated. Here, for example, I depart from Heyworth’s text by printing viae rather than tubae, an emendation of Housman’s that would have been unknown in the 19th century. L. Richardson also prints viae in his edition of 2006.

  61. 61.

    Amour de Poètes 112–113. Cf. Prop. 2.1–2: Quid iuvat ornato procedere, vita, capillo / et tenuis Coa veste movere sinus; See also 1.2.31–32.

  62. 62.

    For the frequency of Falernian wine in Horace see A. P. McKinley, ‘The Wine Element in Horace’ Classical Journal, 42, 1946, pp. 161–7 (161–19, 166).

  63. 63.

    The rejection of riches occurs throughout Tib 1.1. The poet’s fantasies about his own death at 1.1.59–68 may also be relevant here.

  64. 64.

    Resistance inheres in elegy as a medium, particularly in Catullus and Ovid. Catullus’s most famous example of resistance to Caesar is an elegiac couplet (Catull. 93), while Ovid’s resistance to Augustus (and his own exile) is perhaps the central point of his biography. For the triumph of poetic autonomy over imperial power in Ovid, see W. R. Johnson, A Latin Lover in Ancient Rome, Columbus, 2009, p. 124–45, esp. 139.

  65. 65.

    For the centrality of wine in Horatian poetics and general overview, see G. Davis, ‘Wine and the Symposium,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Horace, ed. S. Harrison, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 207–20, esp. 207–8; for the metapoetics of wine and table fare, see W. H. Race, ‘Odes 1.20: An Horatian “Recusatio’” California Studies in Classical Antiquity 11, 1978, pp. 179–96; E. Gowers, The Loaded Table, Oxford, 1993, pp. 126–80. For Falernian wine generally see A. Dalby, Empire of Pleasures, London, 2000, pp. 49–50.

  66. 66.

    58.4–5: nunc in quadriviis et angiportis / glubit magnanimi Remi nepotes. Text of Catullus from R.A.B. Mynors’s edition of 1958.

  67. 67.

    Prop. 4.7.19–20.

  68. 68.

    T. D. Papanghelis, Propertius: A Hellenistic Poet on Love and Death, Cambridge, 1987, p. 185, but see pp. 145–98 for Papanghelis’s full reading of Prop. 4.7.

  69. 69.

    Blanchemain, Ronsard (n. 46 above), pp. 22–3.

  70. 70.

    The comparison of the mistress to Aurora is common to both Ronsard and Petrarch. For an overview of the references and their interrelation see, E. MacPhail, ‘Rich Rhyme: Acoustic Allusions in Ronsard’s “Amours’”, French Forum, 27.2, 2002, pp. 1–12.

  71. 71.

    For a history and rigorous catalogue of the revisions Ronsard made to his work, see L. Terreaux, Ronsard: Correcteur de ses Oeuvres, Geneva, 1968, esp. p. 448. A more concise discussion of the changes made to Sonnet 37 can be found in A. P. Pouey-Mounou, L'imaginaire cosmologique de Ronsard, Geneva, 2002, pp. 109–110.

  72. 72.

    Blanchemain, Ronsard (n. 46 above), p. 23:

    Retourneray-je en eau, ou terre, ou flamme ?

    Non, mais en voix qui toujours de ma dame

    Accusera l’ingrate cruauté.

  73. 73.

    Ibid., p. 22, esp. v. 2 : Ainsi que moy, Phoebus, tu lamentois….

  74. 74.

    The interested reader may also compare Ronsard’s Sonnets pour Hélène 42, which also treats immortality, remembrance, and the celebration of names, carefully placing the word ‘Ronsard’ in the poem’s centre. See ibid., p. 340.

  75. 75.

    For the full text, see L. Muñoz Rivera, Obras Completas: Poesía, San Juan, 1960, pp. 193–5.

  76. 76.

    Hor. Satires 1.4.43–44.

  77. 77.

    An analysis of Rodríguez de Tió’s classicism remains a desideratum, but numerous poems refer to the classical tradition (including mi ofrenda, mentioned in section 2). Rodríguez de Tió authored two different poems titled Anacreontica, the first in 1877 (L. Rodríguez de Tió, Obras Completas, III, San Juan, 1968, pp. 241–2), and the second in 1880 (I, p. 13). To these may be added classicizing titles and themes, e.g. Sperans spero spes (III, p. 266), which begins with an invocation to a muse (¡Ven, o Musa Gentil!). Similarly, A Plauto (I, pp. 170–74) incorporates Latin phrases and identifies the plectrum with poetic production (I, p. 170).

  78. 78.

    R. Brown and C. Johnson, ‘An Interview with Derek Walcott’, Cream City Review, 14.2, 1990, pp. 209–23 (216–17); found in R. Hamner, Epic of the Dispossessed, Columbia, 1997, p. 1.


I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers at IJCT for their thoughtful comments on this draft. I must also extend my sincere thanks to my friend Mario Morales, who has long supported my interest in Puerto Rican history and classical reception on the island. Finally, I am grateful to the many friends and colleagues who have heard or read full or partial versions of this article. To thank you all by name would render this note far too long, but I appreciate your help and your interest in this research. I dedicate this work to the memory of my grandfather, Manuel Rosado, who inspired this project through his love of learning and love of Puerto Rico.

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Hartman, J.J. Ramón Betances and Classical Reception in Puerto Rico. Int class trad 27, 63–88 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12138-018-0496-4

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