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Gabriel García Márquez and the Greek and Latin classics

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Many elements of Greco-Roman culture still alive in our time, among many others, myths and literary topics. The current writers and artists sometimes look to them directly and consciously even quoting verbatim, sometimes develop the same issues adapting them to changing times and on other occasions they integrate them into their work unaware naturally.

This is also the case of Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian Nobel laureate, recently deceased, who opened, together with other great Latin American authors, the eyes and horizons in an explosion of tropical color and imagination to people who  in the sixties of the past century were  avid letters young.

Bringing grist to the mill of this blog, I make a reference to the importance of the classics in Gabriel García Márquez, which is no small, both directly and textually as naturally similar.

In his autobiography "Living to Tell the tale" makes clear references to the importance of knowledge of the classics. So in chapter 6, recalls, referring to his friend Gustavo Ibarra Merlano:

The thing that bothered him about me was my dangerous contempt for the Greek and Latin classics, which I found boring and useless, except for the Odyssey, that I had read and reread to pieces several times in high school. So before you say goodbye,  he  chose a bound leather book from his library and gave it to me with a certain solemnity. "You could become a good writer-he said- but you'll never be very good if you do not know well the Greek classics."  The book was  the complete works of Sophocles. Gustavo was from that moment one of the key persons  in my life, because Oedipus is revealed to me in the first reading as the perfect work.

The author recognizes again and again this impact of Sophocles' Oedipus, for example in one of the script workshops which he has imparted. According to Professor  at the University of Huelva.  Manuel Cabello Pino in his article "Mayor Oedipus: Sophocles through the eyes of Gabriel García Márquez”:

I would almost say that Oedipus Rex was the first great intellectual shock of my life. I already knew I would be a writer and when I read that, I said, " This is the kind of things I want to write." I had published some stories and , while working as a journalist in Cartagena , was trying to see if I could finished a novel. I remember one night talking about literature with a friend,  Gustavo Ibarra Merlano , who besides being a poet,  is the man who knows more in Colombia on customs duties - and comes and tells me: " You'll never amount to anything until you read the Greek classics . " I was very impressed , so that night I walked his home and put me in the hands a volume of Greek tragedies. I went to my room , I slept , I started reading the book to the first page - Oedipus was just - and I could not believe . He read , and read , and read - started about two in the morning and it was already dawning - and the more I read the more I wanted to read . I think that since then I have not stopped reading this blessed work . I know it by heart .

Like so many others, the discovery of Greek tragedy struck García Márquez and he realized the importance of knowing the classics. Many influences from Oedipus Rex and its inexorable force of destiny, fatum, are found  in his novels “Autumn of the Patriarch  and Chronicle of a Death Foretold .
Shortly thereafter, in the same work “Living to tell the tale, García Márquez  informs us about his progress in the knowledge of the classics:

I returned to Cartagena with the air of someone who had discovered the world. The after dinners  in the house of Franco Munera family were not on poems of Golden Age and Twenty Love Poems of Neruda, but with paragraphs from Mrs. Dolloway and delusions of his torn character, Septimus Warren Smith. I turned the other, anxious and difficult, to the point that I seemed to Hector and to maestro Zabala a conscious imitator of Álvaro Cepeda. Gustavo Ibarra, with his compassionate vision of Caribbean heart,  was amused by  my narration of the night in Barranquilla, while I was growing increasingly reasonable tablespoons tablespoons of Greek poets, with the express and never explained  exception of Euripides. He  discovered to me Melville and his literary feat of Moby Dick, the great sermon on Jonah for whalers tanned in all seas of the world under the huge dome built with whale ribs. He lent me The House of Seven Gables, of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which marked me for life. We try together a theory about the fate of nostalgia in the wandering of Ulises Odysseus, in that we missed without exit. Half a century later I found it resolved in a masterful text by Milan Kundera.

Garcia Marquez confirms  us later that readings and discussions on the classic produced fruit, even without being aware of it, with his first novel "Leaf Storm”  which tells the tragedy of a land ravaged by the powerful United Fruit Company:

Instead, again ignoring Ramon Vinas, I did get to Gustavo Ibarra full draft, though still untitled, when I considered it finished. Two days later he invited me to his house. I found him in a rattan rocker on the terrace of the sea, sun tanning and relaxing in beach clothes, and I was touched by h tenderness with which he stroked my pages while he spoke me . A true master, who  did not gave a lecture on the book nor  told me if it  looked good or bad, but he made me aware of their ethical values. At the end he show me with pleasure and concluded with everyday simplicity:
-This is the myth of Antigone
By my expression he realized that I had left the lights, and took  from their shelves the book of Sophocles and read me what he meant. The plight of my novel, in fact, was essentially the same as one of Antigone, condemned to leave unburied corpse of Polynices his sister by King Creon, the uncle of both.  I read Oedipus at Colonus in volume which  the same Gustavo had given me in the days when we met, but I remembered very bad the myth of Antigone to reconstruct it by memory in the drama of the banana zone, whose emotional affinities had not noticed hitherto. I felt the revolt soul for happiness and disappointment. That night I reread the work, with an odd mixture of pride by having agreed in good faith with such great writer and of pain  by public embarrassment of plagiarism. After a week of cloudy crises I decided to make some fundamental changes to save my good faith, not yet realizing the superhuman futility of  edit a book of mine for it does not seem to Sophocles. In the end, I felt resigned to the moral right to use a phrase of his as a reverential title, and I did.

And indeed, as "reverential" preface he put the following text  of Antigone, with which she informs  to Ismene  about  decision of Creon on the funeral of her brothers Eteocles and Polynices. It is well forever established the relationship with Sophocles:

As for the poor corpse of Polyneices, however, they say that an edict has been published to the townsmen that no one shall bury him or mourn him, but instead leave him unwept, unentombed, for the birds a pleasing store [30] as they look to satisfy their hunger. Such, it is said, is the edict that the good Creon has laid down for you and for me—yes, for me—and it is said that he is coming here to proclaim it for the certain knowledge of those who do not already know. They say that he does not conduct this business lightly, [35] but whoever performs any of these rites, for him the fate appointed is death by public stoning among the entire city. (Antigone, 26 ff; tr. by Sir Richard Jebb. Sir Richard Jebb. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1891.)

In the novel by García Márquez, the doctor, whom he does not name, is condemned by the mayor, the priest and the people of Macondo to not be buried because he had not  received and denied care to the wounded in the Civil War .

So with cited friendships and recommended readings (Homer, Sophocles, the classic Golden Age, Hermann Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf ...) Garcia Marquez wrote Leaf Storm and then as branches of the same tree No One Writes to the Colonel, In evil Hour,  Big Mama's Funeral (1962) One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The echoes of the classics are preceived in all the works of García Márquez  one way or another..

In One Hundred Years of Solitude he recreates the myth of Prometheus chained as punishment from the gods for having given fire to men for their progress. José Arcadio Buendía also tried to create a new society and so Macondo  born.

Also in One Hundred Years of Solitude he recreates the myth of Teuth by Plato about the value of writing, character that reminds us  Melquiades of Hundred Years of Solitude; to the subject of the invention of writing is dedicated precisely the previous article in this blog http://en.antiquitatem.com/origin-of-writing-memory-plato-phaedrus

It is very frequent the inclusion of Latin texts and references in works of fantastic modern literature exploiting the nature of mystery and archaism of Latin, which in these contexts can acquire a magic value. It does so in García Márquez One Hundred Years of Solitude, by talking to Jose Arcadio Buendia Latin:

“-Hoc est simplicissimum- Jose Arcadio Buendia said -; homo iste statum quartum materiae invenit.
Father Nicanor raised his hand and the four legs of the chair fell on earth at the same time.
   -Nego- he saido-. Factum hoc existentiam Dei probat sine dubio.
And in this way people knew that  the devilish jargon of Jose Arcadio Buendia was Latin.

Obvious relationship between The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother, one of whose characters is called precisely Ulysses,  and the Odyssey is also appreciated. This Ulises of García Márquez, adventurer, traveler, lovesick clarifies to the innocent Erendira clarifies that Ulysses is not a Gringo’s name but  navigator’s name, in what is a direct evocation of the Homeric hero.

In Love in the Time of Cholera reasons and kind of love coincide with classic erotic topics, from love sickness (morbus amoris) to the remedies of love (remedia amoris ). Love in its various forms is precisely one of the favorite issues of García Márquez, who proves very familiar with the treatment of love which Greek and Latin classics had made.

Another fact that demonstrates the impact that Sophocles caused him, is that García Márquez is the writer of the Colombian film Oedipus Mayor (1996), transposition of classical tragedy Oedipus Rex to the situation in his country, Colombia. García Márquez, of  course, is not limited to merely write a screenplay adaptation, but actually he is the author of the film in which he mixes  once again the issue of the plague with the violence in Colombia and the impact of Sophocles, of whose Oedipus Rex said to be the perfect work, as we read in the above quotes. It was directed by Jorge Alí Triana and starring by Jorge Perugorria,  Ángela Molina, Francisco Rabal, Jairo Camargo.

Anyway, we will not be as demanding as John of Salisbury, who many centuries before, in the twelfth century, stated in his Policraticus (The statesman):

All those who are ignorant of the Latin poets, historians, orators, and mathematicians should be called illiterati even if they know letters. (Bk. VII, ch.9, ed. C.C. J.Webb(1909),II,p.126)

But instead we will recognize the need to know the classics if you will be a great author of literature and a good reader. It tells us and tests Gabriel García Márquez, Gabo for friends.

Note: John of Salisbury is one of the best Latinists of his day, but unfortunately I have not been able to schedule his  Policraticus in Latin.


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