The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

January 17, 2012

January 17, 1600

 Pedro Calderón de la Barca (January 17, 1600 to May 25, 1681), was a soldier, and a priest, and a dramatist. It is of course his literary output that guarantees this native of Madrid a place in world culture: he is one of the greatest playrights we have. His topics have a serious philosophical dimension. Here is an excerpt from a play, Life is a Dream, that Calderon wrote between 1629 and 1635:

What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
A shadow, a fiction,
And the greatest profit is small;
For all of life is a dream,
And dreams, are nothing but dreams.

And the following is clever, though not in a superficial sense; a distinct sincerity is apparent in his writing. This is part of a dialogue from the play,The Devotion to the Cross (1637).

[ To the question, "Who art thou?" a painter replies}
And a painter by profession.
I to Celio Batistela,
Of Florence, this fine picture bear
Of a lady young and fair,
Call'd Madama la Florela,
By him order'd, to him sold.

[Eusebio, the questioner,  continues]
Let me see it. A fair dame
Truly! but why write her name

List! a tale doth run
Of a painter to whom sat
For her picture Puss: below her,
So that every one might know her,
He inscribed, " This is a cat."
Calderon here is concerned to make clear questions about words and reality, art and reality.
He carries out the painter's thought to it's logical extreme, and says finally:

Flowers to him are like a salad; 
Give him some colours and a pallet, 
Let him eat of what he paints.

Calderon's point in the above dialogue is that labeling the painting, confuses, not clarifies, for when you say "this is a cat" on a painting, you are not accurate. Should the label then, read: "this is a painting of a cat?"  And of course if you did this, your artistic creation would fail---because your goal was to paint something that looks like a cat, not looks like a painting of a cat. Nice post modern discussion, only it was written out over 400 years ago, and with perhaps more clarity than our 21st century contemporaries. 

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