Vatum Columbus: The Epics of Francisco Cabrera

William H. Cooper (Translator, Dark Virgin Books)

The appearance of Francisco Cabrera’s eleven epic Latin poems celebrating Mexican history and culture vindicates the classical tradition and opens new prospects for world literature.   

Monumenta Mexicana: Mexican Heritage, published in 2004, begins with portraits of heroes.  In Quetzalcoatl the legendary emperor descends from the gods to give the people the arts and sciences and a humane design for peace to a society steeped in human sacrifice.  In Malintzin, the Indian woman who translated for Cortez and made the Conquest possible is torn between the native culture which abused her and that of the Conquistadors, who fascinate her but cast her aside.  Gonzalo Guerrero portrays a hardy Spanish sailor who is captured by the Mayans, rises to command of the Mayan army, and marries the king’s daughter.  Though he falls in battle with the conquerors, his descendants live on as the modern Mexican race.

The second section of Monumenta, Cities, begins with Mexicus-Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, presenting its mythical origins and showing the pyramids and Montezuma in their glory.  Angelopolis depicts the founding and growth of the poet’s native city of Puebla, with its unique artistic heritage as cultivated by Bishop Palafox and culminating in its magnificent cathedral.  Quauhnahuac is a tribute to the beauties of Cuernavaca, the city to which Sr. Cabrera retired and the retreat where he composes his poetry. 

Next the poet celebrates other poets, beginning in Joannae Virginis Laudes with Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the Phoenix of Mexico, who from her convent cell in the 17th century wrote penetrating sonnets in Spanish and Latin on love, death and women’s rights.  In Amato Nervo Sr. Cabrera narrates the love experiences and tortured inner life from which the great 19th century poet drew his work.

The Dark Virgin of Guadalupe has been a unifying influence ever since her appearance in the 17th century to the Indian Juan Diego.  Laus Guadalupensis portrays not only her miraculous appearance but the tribute she receives from every corner of the nation.  Tamoanchan, the final poem of Monumenta Mexicana, rounds off the collection with a return to mythical origins, as it shows the gods at work opening the heartland of the Mexican nation to its people and conferring the blessings of tequila and copper.

Benito Juarez, published in 2006, pays tribute to the heroic accomplishments of Mexico’s greatest president, who preserved the nation in civil war, repelled the European invasion, and defended its Constitution at all costs.

Beyond the excellence of Francisco Cabrera’s hexameters, his narrative skill and his effective use of classical allusions and techniques, the appearance of these poems two millennia after the death of Virgil vindicates the classical tradition.  Moreover, they make us aware of the vigorous scene of modern Latin poetry.  Latinitas continues as it always has for 2,500 years – it is up to us to recognize it and to project it forward around the world.  Who will write the epics of the future?  If we teach them, they will come.

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