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La Celestina (Fiction, Poetry & Drama)

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The racy and irreverent Spanish tragicomedy that is considered the first European novel -- in a spirited new translation A Spanish Romeo and Juliet, Celestina was published in 1499 and became Spain's first-ever bestseller. Readers thrilled to the salty character of Celestina and her world of prostitutes and black magic even as they mourned the fate of Calisto and Melibea, t The racy and irreverent Spanish tragicomedy that is considered the first European novel -- in a spirited new translation A Spanish Romeo and Juliet, Celestina was published in 1499 and became Spain's first-ever bestseller. Readers thrilled to the salty character of Celestina and her world of prostitutes and black magic even as they mourned the fate of Calisto and Melibea, the young lovers she unites using her wiles as a seller of perfumes and potions. Fernando de Rojas's exhilarating mix of street wit, obscenity, and cultured rhetoric mark Celestina as a masterpiece: an original, explosive, genre-defying work that paved the way for the picaresque novel and for Cervantes.


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The racy and irreverent Spanish tragicomedy that is considered the first European novel -- in a spirited new translation A Spanish Romeo and Juliet, Celestina was published in 1499 and became Spain's first-ever bestseller. Readers thrilled to the salty character of Celestina and her world of prostitutes and black magic even as they mourned the fate of Calisto and Melibea, t The racy and irreverent Spanish tragicomedy that is considered the first European novel -- in a spirited new translation A Spanish Romeo and Juliet, Celestina was published in 1499 and became Spain's first-ever bestseller. Readers thrilled to the salty character of Celestina and her world of prostitutes and black magic even as they mourned the fate of Calisto and Melibea, the young lovers she unites using her wiles as a seller of perfumes and potions. Fernando de Rojas's exhilarating mix of street wit, obscenity, and cultured rhetoric mark Celestina as a masterpiece: an original, explosive, genre-defying work that paved the way for the picaresque novel and for Cervantes.

30 review for La Celestina (Fiction, Poetry & Drama)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Two pages from an early edition. In 1499 appeared the first 16 "acts" of the Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, now better known as La Celestina, a work that Juan Goytisolo called "Spanish literature's most audacious and subversive work" in his excellent article celebrating the 500th anniversary of the text's publication.(*) First published anonymously, then again with the author's name in acrostics, it was eventually revealed that the author was the still quite young Fernando de Rojas (c. 1465 Two pages from an early edition. In 1499 appeared the first 16 "acts" of the Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, now better known as La Celestina, a work that Juan Goytisolo called "Spanish literature's most audacious and subversive work" in his excellent article celebrating the 500th anniversary of the text's publication.(*) First published anonymously, then again with the author's name in acrostics, it was eventually revealed that the author was the still quite young Fernando de Rojas (c. 1465/76 - 1541), a son of Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity. In 1502 appeared a version with 21 "acts" and further additions. In fact, many of the subsequent new editions during the author's lifetime had additions of some sort or other. There is no wonder, then, that as of 2002, there has been no critical edition of this text in Spanish, since it is apparently difficult to decide in all cases which additions are Rojas' and which have been added by the publishers. I came upon this title in Steven Moore's very informative survey The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600. It appears, however, that in Spain everyone reads this along with Lazarillo de Tormes and Don Quixote. Though the text presents itself in acts and many consider it to be a (failed) play for the stage, others, including Moore, view the work as the first novel in dialogue. Goytisolo refuses to pigeonhole the text, and I'll go along with that choice. Whether or not the 5 acts added to the original in 1502 were written by Rojas or were the fabrication of another, these acts are not of the same quality and badly unbalance and de-center the text, in my opinion, though I can understand how the original might seem a bit abrupt to some. Of the many translations into English of this work, I read the one by Lesley Byrd Simpson, which presents only the text of the original edition, without the interpolated 5 acts, the "Argumentos" and the other additions. It reads beautifully, as I shall illustrate below. I also looked through the more recent translation by Peter Bush mentioned earlier in order to compare the translations and to read the added 5 acts to decide for myself about their quality, for Bush has incorporated most, but not all of the additions to the original text. However, I also read the second "original" text in a heavily annotated edition apparently intended for students in Spain, in which nearly all the additions made during Rojas' lifetime are included and extensive footnotes explain background and obsolete usage and words.(**) So, three different versions of the text, quite aside from the language... Let's turn to the common core of the texts. The initial set up of attempted seduction of the young and lovely Melibea by the intemperate Calisto and the subsequent firm rejection provides a standard frame within which to carry out the main business of the work - the reduction of most of the ideals of aristocratic and Christian Spain to absurdity in the corrosively ironic gaze of the lower classes.(***) Moreover, most of the characters representing the lower classes are rogues of the first water: self interest, money and a smooth line of bullshit rule the day. These two elements shape the comedic side of the tragicomedy. As entertaining as that is, it fades to shadow when the main character arrives - the aged, worldly, vain, greedy procuress and witch, consummate liar and manipulator, and former prostitute, Celestina, who undertakes to bend Melibea to Calisto's will by magical means, after a significant "gift," of course. What a character! No wonder the original title fell into desuetude and was replaced by her name. I'd be willing to conjecture that this is an early example of a character occurring to an author and then taking over completely. As for the tragedy, is it a spoiler to reveal that all the main characters die? "Innocent" or not. Dead. I think it's likely that Rojas' bitterness was not directed merely at the oligarchy and its ideology. I cannot close this review without praising the unique style in which Celestina is written, which gave me even more pleasure than the characters did. First, the pure dialogue (at least in the first version) is tightly woven with proverb after proverb, most taken from the treasure chest of the Spanish people, but no few are lifted from classic authors like Plutarch. Sometimes the proverbs are very apt, but many times they are non sequiturs, recalling to me the modern novels whose characters speak solely in free association clichés. Every act, whether considered or completed, is commented on at length by the characters using vast arrays of proverb. And when Rojas winds up and throws his fast ball, what arrives at the plate are the kinds of effervescent, coruscating lists to be found in some of the better modern authors' works. Some are lists for the sake of seeing rare and incongruous words side by side, such as this tiny excerpt from a two page romp: The oils she used for the face you would hardly believe: storax, jasmine, lemon, melon seed, benjamin, pistachio, pine nut, grape seed, jubejube nut, fennel, lupine, vetch, carilla, and chickweed. But others are lists in poetic flight, such as this excerpt from the last act of the original version: When I was young I thought the world was ruled by order. I know better now! It is a labyrinth of errors, a frightful desert, a den of wild beasts, a game in which men run in circles, a lake of mud, a thorny thicket, a dense forest, a stony field, a meadow full of serpents, a river of tears, a sea of miseries, effort without profit, a flowering but barren orchard, a running spring of cares, a sweet poison, a vain hope, a false joy, and a true pain. (Both in Simpson's words. I think Bush's version of this passage is relatively weak.) I very much enjoyed this work, one which engendered a host of followers (la literatura celestinesca) and with which Cervantes was well acquainted when he wrote his masterpiece nearly a century later. In fact, Cervantes called Rojas' work "divine" in the introduction to the first part of his tale of the Knight of La Mancha. Come to think of it, Sancho Panza, a servant commenting freely on the absurdities of his employer Don Quixote, is definitely a celestinesque touch... (*) A somewhat modified version of Goytisolo's essay serves as the Introduction to the recent Penguin edition of Peter Bush's new translation of Celestina. (**) La Celestina, Editorial Castalia, Madrid, 2002. (***) According to Goytisolo, Rojas' father was burned at the stake by the Inquisition, and he and the other conversos were constantly disadvantaged and persecuted by the true believers. Goytisolo sees La Celestina as an expression of Rojas' bitterness towards the oligarchy and its ideology. Quite possibly. Rating http://leopard.booklikes.com/post/962...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    For about a month they have been having sex clandestinely at night, inside Malibea's room, right under the noses of her unsuspecting parents. To get to her room Calisto has to climb up a steep ladder carried to the site every night by his servants. During this last night, after three exhausting but blissful encores, Calisto heard a commotion outside. Rushing to check what it was, suspecting his servants may be in trouble, he slipped off the ladder and fell to his death, his head split into three For about a month they have been having sex clandestinely at night, inside Malibea's room, right under the noses of her unsuspecting parents. To get to her room Calisto has to climb up a steep ladder carried to the site every night by his servants. During this last night, after three exhausting but blissful encores, Calisto heard a commotion outside. Rushing to check what it was, suspecting his servants may be in trouble, he slipped off the ladder and fell to his death, his head split into three (as many as their encores that night) like a crushed watermelon. The last words he shouted, as he was about to fall, were: "Holy Mary, I'm done for! Confession!" The two became lovers through the help of Celestina--probably one of the vilest characters in literature. She's a sixty-year-old former prostitute, now a madam who counts among her clients several clergymen. Being a madam at that time wasn't as lucrative a profession as it is now, so to make ends meet she sidelines as a hymen-repairer, a love guru, a faith healer and an itinerant vendor of various merchandise. She also dies violently, stabbed repeatedly until she was almost like the corned beef you often have for breakfast, by Calisto's own men. Her last words echoed that of Calisto: "Ay, he's killed me! Ay! Confession! Confession!" This looks strange now but not at that time when the way to salvation was clear cut: you die with your sins unconfessed, you go to hell. This novel was first published in 1499--more than 500 years ago--in Christian Spain during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. This was about 100 years before Don Quixote and was said to have inspired Cervantes' inventiveness. The author, Fernando de Rojas, wrote this when he was barely out of his teens, while studying law at the University of Salamanca. His family was Jewish. They suffered a lot during the Spanish Inquisition where the "Holy Office" was relentlessly pursuing and burning "heretics" who either lose their lives, or honor, or properties, or all of these. When Fernando de Rojas was already a lawyer, he defended his father-in-law against these inquisitors after the old man, drunk, argued with a priest and declared that he does not believe there is life after death. It was in this world made false, hypocritical, cruel, hopeless and deadly by religion that Fernando de Rojas conceived of this novel. A world where the only consolation one can find is the fleeting pleasure (especially carnal pleasure) he/she may luckily encounter between birth and death. Calisto and Malibea inside her room that last night: Calisto: My lady and my bliss, if you want me, sing more softly still. It sounds sweeter in my presence than the delight it brings when you're wearied by my absence. Malibea: How shall I sing, my love? What shall I sing? Of my desire for you, firing my song and tuning my melody? As soon as you showed up, my song went, and the tune with it. And you, my lord, are such a model of politeness and good manners, how is it you can bid my tongue to sing but not your hands to keep still? Why don't you give up these ways? Tell them to be quiet and stop their unseemly converse with me. You know, my angel, I love to gaze at you peacefully, but not this insistent pawing. I like your respectful play but find your hands are rude and annoying, especially when they get too rough. Let my clothes be, and if you must find out whether my over-garment is silk or cotton, why do you need to touch my shift that's undoubtedly linen? Let's play and pleasure in a thousand ways I can show you. Don't be so violent and mistreat me as you like to do. Why do you feel the need to rip my clothes? Calisto: My love, if you want to taste the bird, first you must get rid of its feathers. Malibea (panting, playing coy): My lord, shall I tell (my servant)Lucrecia to bring us some food? Calisto: I only want to eat your body and hold your beauty in my arms. Money buys food and drink at any time of day and anyone can do that. What's priceless is what's in this garden that nothing on earth can equal. Do you think I'm going to give up a single moment of my pleasuring?...My lady, I hope day never dawns. My senses feel ecstasy at this exquisite contact with your delicate limbs. Malibea (while they were going at it): My lord, I'm the one most loving this. I'm the winner thanks to the incredible gift you bring on each of your visits. Then the distraught Malibea while Calisto's dead body was being taken away: Malibea (to her servant): Can you hear what those boys are saying? Can you hear their sad laments? They're praying as they carry my life away with them and carry my happiness that's gone stone dead! This is no time to live. Why didn't I take more pleasure when I pleasured? Why did I value so little the bliss I gripped between these two hands? Ungrateful mortals, we only see our good fortune when it's gone! Then the harrowing lamentation of Malibea's father (said to be the most moving part of the novel), after his only child has died, condemning the World and Love itself: (no way. too long to type. read the book yourself!)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zadignose

    "You antic ass! You've made me laugh, which I did not intend to do again this year." Celestina is every bit the great classic that its reputation among Spaniards suggests. It's bold, funny, cynical, and at the same time affecting, provoking a strange mix of derision and sympathy. Along the way it scorns most of society's values, as well as its hypocrisies, general human frailty, and most of all it cries out against the inhuman cruelty of God, Love, Fortune, the World itself, or whatever it is tha "You antic ass! You've made me laugh, which I did not intend to do again this year." Celestina is every bit the great classic that its reputation among Spaniards suggests. It's bold, funny, cynical, and at the same time affecting, provoking a strange mix of derision and sympathy. Along the way it scorns most of society's values, as well as its hypocrisies, general human frailty, and most of all it cries out against the inhuman cruelty of God, Love, Fortune, the World itself, or whatever it is that condemns us poor mortals to futile, purposeless suffering. It does so as tragicomedy should, through bitter and insightful humor.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Free download in Spanish available at Project Gutenberg Free download in Spanish available at Project Gutenberg

  5. 4 out of 5

    Miquel Reina

    What could I say about one of the major Spanish classics as "La Celestina"? Well, I think that this book is certainly one of these novels that a big part of Spanish people have read. In my case, I did it in school time and despite the years that have passed, I still remember the story perfectly. "La Celestina" is a novel that despite its age is still entertaining, fun and easy to read. Romances, misunderstandings and especially a funny intelligence has made it become not only one of the big clas What could I say about one of the major Spanish classics as "La Celestina"? Well, I think that this book is certainly one of these novels that a big part of Spanish people have read. In my case, I did it in school time and despite the years that have passed, I still remember the story perfectly. "La Celestina" is a novel that despite its age is still entertaining, fun and easy to read. Romances, misunderstandings and especially a funny intelligence has made it become not only one of the big classic of the Spanish literature but also a synonymous of a "person who intrudes on the lives of two people to achieve they fall in love". I recommend to read it to all those who have not read it yet, and especially to all English-speaking community that is getting into the vast Spanish literature to put it into their "must-read" list ;) Spanish version: ¿Qué podría decir del clásico de la lengua española, La Celestina? Éste es sin duda uno libro que muchos de los hispanohablantes han leído alguna vez, yo lo hice en la época escolar y pese a los años que han pasado, aún recuerdo perfectamente la historia. La Celestina es una novela que pese a su antigüedad sigue siendo igual de entretenida, divertida y fácil de leer. Los romances, los malentendidos y sobretodo la inteligencia que destila la obra ha hecho que se convierta no solo en uno de los referentes de la lengua española sino en un sinónimo de "persona que se entromete en la vida de dos personas para conseguir enamorarlos". Recomiendo a todos los que no la habéis leído que lo hagáis, y animo a toda la comunidad de habla inglesa que esté adentrándose en el extenso mundo literario español que ésta novela la pongan en su lista de "must-read" ;)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ellinor

    Surprisingly funny (in the beginning), very tragic at the end, but always very wise. A novel written in dialogue and built up in acts and scenes, similar to a drama, La Celestina is the first European novel. It is not widely known today which is a pity actually. I don't quite understand the low rating (probably from people who had to read in school) because it is very readable and entertaining. (view spoiler)[The book ends very dramatically (almost everyone dies) and has one final conclusion: nev Surprisingly funny (in the beginning), very tragic at the end, but always very wise. A novel written in dialogue and built up in acts and scenes, similar to a drama, La Celestina is the first European novel. It is not widely known today which is a pity actually. I don't quite understand the low rating (probably from people who had to read in school) because it is very readable and entertaining. (view spoiler)[The book ends very dramatically (almost everyone dies) and has one final conclusion: never fall in love! (hide spoiler)]

  7. 4 out of 5

    Silvia Cachia

    Read many years ago, but planning to re-read for the Classics Club. It's come to mark a beautiful and long gone time in my life (high school years reading with the class, -a small group of students-, with an alcoholic teacher we loved and hated at the same time, a lonely woman who did love good books.

  8. 4 out of 5

    DeLys

    One of the "must reads" of Spanish literature, this book represents both the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance in Spain. The character of Celestina is the basis of one of the three literary types from Spanish literature, along with Don Quijote and Don Juan. I've taught it multiple times and am always amazed by how much the issues raised in this book resonate with my students.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    “La Celestina” sits between the last gasps of the Middle Ages and the first breaths of the Renaissance. Written for the most part by a 25 year old graduate of the Universidad de Salamanca, it also stands slightly behind “Don Quijote” in Castile’s novelistic rankings. It is still, over 500 years after its composition in 1499-1502, a masterpiece of Western literature. Arguably, it also could lay claim (according to Otis Green in his” Spain and the Western Tradition”) to being the first novel or “t “La Celestina” sits between the last gasps of the Middle Ages and the first breaths of the Renaissance. Written for the most part by a 25 year old graduate of the Universidad de Salamanca, it also stands slightly behind “Don Quijote” in Castile’s novelistic rankings. It is still, over 500 years after its composition in 1499-1502, a masterpiece of Western literature. Arguably, it also could lay claim (according to Otis Green in his” Spain and the Western Tradition”) to being the first novel or “truly dramatic work produced in modern Europe.” The story is the universal one of passionate love won and lost. Calixto, a young nobleman in hot pursuit of his falcon, finds himself in the garden of Pleberio and eyeball to eyeball with Pleberio’s daughter, Melibea. Instantly smitten, he declares himself mesmerized by her beauty and unworthy of her love; she agrees, telling him in no uncertain words to bug off. Calixto returns to his home where his servant, not at all oblivious to his master’s “mental aberration” (Ottis Green), proposes a solution to what, at this point, is unrequited love. [“Loco está este me amo” says Sempronio.] Enters the old bawd Celestina whom Calixto employs to soften Melibea’s heart. Celestina, described as a bearded lady, is a piece of work. In addition to running a brothel, she is a purveyor of drugs and creams that cure all imaginable defects and conditions. She knows magic and is in touch with the supernatural. She is also a seamstress—a cover for her other arts but also a talent that allows her to repair maidenheads by sewing small bladders into the broken membrane. [She sold the French ambassador “one of her wenches three times a virgin.”] Ostensively a seamstress, she is able to gain entrance into any number of places, monasteries and homes. And, using that ability, she visits Melibea, learning that Melibea, too, in spite of her initial claims to the contrary, is equally smitten with Calixto. It would seem that love among the nobility and the lower classes is never easy even in the XIV Century. Calixto, overjoyed with Celestina’s success, rewards her with a gold chain. But Calixto’s servants believe that they, too, should share in the reward. When Celestina refuses to share, they kill her. They in turn, captured before they can escape, are summarily beheaded by the law. But Calixto is essentially oblivious to the fates of the underclass. He and Melibea begin a month long affair—a nightly, amorous encounter in the garden of Melibea’s parents –with little though to things beyond their own pleasures. However, in leaving one night, Calixto falls off of the wall and dies instantly. Melibea, distraught, kills herself by jumping off a tower. On one level, the author purports his work to be a lesson on the wages of sin. But here “sin” is not sex but unbridled self-interest. Vividly reflected in “La Celestina” is the social world of a new, a modern age wrapped in an emerging capitalism. Fernando de Rojas moves his characters in an urban world were new social constructs are emerging to define the relationships between and among the classes. Notes Juan Goytisolo in his preface to Peter Bush’s excellent English translation: “Pleberio’s distraught invective against ‘the deceitful fairground of life’ [after he sees his daughter fall to her death] take [sic] on a disturbing slant when read in the light of the ceaseless decline of democratic, humanist values of solidarity in today’s global village, shop or casino, where the only law is the immediacy of profit. Does human life exist outside the laws of the market, or is it just one more product for sale?” It would seem that the world of “La Celestina” is no different than our world today and the answer to Goytisolo’s question is the same in 2011 as it would have been in 1499.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Leo

    This play was written by Fernando Rojas in the year 1499. It is a wonderful play about love and tragedy. Calisto fell in love with Melibea who was a beautiful young woman who would inherit a great fortune from her father. Calisto was rich and paid Celestina, an old astute witch of a woman, money so she could make Melibea love him. Calistos servants, Sempronio and Parmoneo were in cohuts with Celestina but she kept all the gold for herself. When she defaulted on her deal Sempronio kills her.

  11. 5 out of 5

    John David

    This review may contain spoilers. “Celestina” is one of those literary peculiarities that you might not have had the pleasure to be introduced to if you had not taken a course in Spanish literature. I first ran across the title in the Dedalus European Classics series, which has a lot of similarly obscure and wonderful things, including Georges Rodenbach and Gustav Meyrink. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that a more mainstream publisher like Penguin had the same translation, by Peter This review may contain spoilers. “Celestina” is one of those literary peculiarities that you might not have had the pleasure to be introduced to if you had not taken a course in Spanish literature. I first ran across the title in the Dedalus European Classics series, which has a lot of similarly obscure and wonderful things, including Georges Rodenbach and Gustav Meyrink. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that a more mainstream publisher like Penguin had the same translation, by Peter Bush. Celestina, the local procuress and alchemic mage, makes a living off of restoring the hymens of previously deflowered young girls so that they may be marriageable again. The rich noble Calisto has fallen in love with Melibea, yet it is wholly unrequited. He enlists Celestina to fix this, and through some crafty manipulation she eventually succeeds. Two of Calisto’s servants, Parmeno and Sempronio, promise to offer their own services to Celestina if she will split Calisto’s payment three ways. Parmeno starts out being honest, telling Calisto that Celestina is nothing but a money-hungry crook, but eventually gives up when he sees how hopelessly in love Calisto really is. Once Celestina refuses to pay them, everything starts to go horribly, horribly downhill. What read for the first two-thirds as a bawdy comedy turns into a bloodbath on par with “Hamlet.” The label tragicomedy seems especially appropriate here, having equal measures of both. The plot is fast-paced and easy to follow. It is divided into twenty-one short, heavily dialogue-driven chapters that read very much like a play (even though it was apparently never mean to be staged). Throughout, the best advice is given through numbing, stultifying bromides, and this is especially true of Celestina. You can almost open the book randomly and find clichés, though the humor of the characters still manages to jump off the page. Simone de Beauvoir wrote a beautiful description of Celestina in “The Coming of Age.” She wrote, “This was the first time that an old woman had appeared as the main heroine; in the traditional way she was of course a bawd, but a bawd of dimensions quite unlike those of any character who had yet been produced. She was a former whore who had stayed in the trade because she liked it, a self-seeking, lewd, and intriguing old woman, and something of a witch as well – the leading, most active character in the play [though play, as I noted above, is not the right word for this piece]. In her are summed up all the vices that had been attributed to the old women since classical times, and in spite of all her shrewdness she ends by being severely punished. The French theatre turned to this source of inspiration, but with less striking results: we find old bawds and prostitutes in Jodelle, Odet de Turnebe, and Larivey.” The reader gets the feeling that, when it was first published at the very end of the fifteenth century, “Celestina” was meant first and foremost to be a savage critique of the reigning morality of the time. While it has lost its critical punch, it is still full of characters, ideas, and bawdy that make it enjoyable, humane, and lovable. Since it was written before most modern-day genres had the chance to fully gel, the style takes getting used to; it cannot be easily pegged down, like we do more easily with Cervantes and Shakespeare, who in theme and style and both heavily foreshadowed here (especially the former). I can’t read Spanish, so I can’t comment on the original. However, I can recommend Peter Bush’s translation to anyone who is looking for a unique reading experience far off the beaten path.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vita Mia

    2.5 stars This was the first real book I read in spanish and I was very proud when i finished it. The plot was not too bad, but I absolutely did not like the fact that it was written in "play mode".

  13. 4 out of 5

    Juanjo Carin

    CELESTINA: As soon, lady, dies the young lamb as the old sheep; they go both to the shambles together: there is no man so old but he may live one year more, nor no man so young but he may die to-day, so that in this you have little or no advantage of us.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    “La Celestina” sits between the last gasps of the Middle Ages and the first breaths of the Renaissance. Written for the most part by a 25 year old graduate of the Universidad de Salamanca, it also stands slightly behind “Don Quijote” in Castile’s novelistic rankings. It is still, over 500 years after its composition in 1499-1502, a masterpiece of Western literature. Arguably, it also could lay claim (according to Otis Green in his” Spain and the Western Tradition”) to being the first novel or “t “La Celestina” sits between the last gasps of the Middle Ages and the first breaths of the Renaissance. Written for the most part by a 25 year old graduate of the Universidad de Salamanca, it also stands slightly behind “Don Quijote” in Castile’s novelistic rankings. It is still, over 500 years after its composition in 1499-1502, a masterpiece of Western literature. Arguably, it also could lay claim (according to Otis Green in his” Spain and the Western Tradition”) to being the first novel or “truly dramatic work produced in modern Europe.” The story is the universal one of passionate love won and lost. Calixto, a young nobleman in hot pursuit of his falcon, finds himself in the garden of Pleberio and eyeball to eyeball with Pleberio’s daughter, Melibea. Instantly smitten, he declares himself mesmerized by her beauty and unworthy of her love; she agrees, telling him in no uncertain words to bug off. Calixto returns to his home where his servant, not at all oblivious to his master’s “mental aberration” (Ottis Green), proposes a solution to what, at this point, is unrequited love. [“Loco está este me amo” says Sempronio.] Enters the old bawd Celestina whom Calixto employs to soften Melibea’s heart. Celestina, described as a bearded lady, is a piece of work. In addition to running a brothel, she is a purveyor of drugs and creams that cure all imaginable defects and conditions. She knows magic and is in touch with the supernatural. She is also a seamstress—a cover for her other arts but also a talent that allows her to repair maidenheads by sewing small bladders into the broken membrane. [She sold the French ambassador “one of her wenches three times a virgin.”] Ostensively a seamstress, she is able to gain entrance into any number of places, monasteries and homes. And, using that ability, she visits Melibea, learning that Melibea, too, in spite of her initial claims to the contrary, is equally smitten with Calixto. It would seem that love among the nobility and the lower classes is never easy even in the XIV Century. Calixto, overjoyed with Celestina’s success, rewards her with a gold chain. But Calixto’s servants believe that they, too, should share in the reward. When Celestina refuses to share, they kill her. They in turn, captured before they can escape, are summarily beheaded by the law. But Calixto is essentially oblivious to the fates of the underclass. He and Melibea begin a month long affair—a nightly, amorous encounter in the garden of Melibea’s parents –with little though to things beyond their own pleasures. However, in leaving one night, Calixto falls off of the wall and dies instantly. Melibea, distraught, kills herself by jumping off a tower. On one level, the author purports his work to be a lesson on the wages of sin. But here “sin” is not sex but unbridled self-interest. Vividly reflected in “La Celestina” is the social world of a new, a modern age wrapped in an emerging capitalism. Fernando de Rojas moves his characters in an urban world were new social constructs are emerging to define the relationships between and among the classes. Notes Juan Goytisolo in his preface to Peter Bush’s excellent English translation: “Pleberio’s distraught invective against ‘the deceitful fairground of life’ [after he sees his daughter fall to her death] take [sic] on a disturbing slant when read in the light of the ceaseless decline of democratic, humanist values of solidarity in today’s global village, shop or casino, where the only law is the immediacy of profit. Does human life exist outside the laws of the market, or is it just one more product for sale?” It would seem that the world of “La Celestina” is no different than our world today and the answer to Goytisolo’s question is the same in 2011 as it would have been in 1499.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Howard

    This book is arguably the first European novel from 1499, predating Don Quixote by some 100 years. The book was written by Rojas (also of Salamanca) supposedly after someone else wrote the first chapter and he decided to finish it; it was written in vernacular old Spanish as a tragicomedy much more as a play/dialogue driven story than a prose book per se. The history of the book, around the time of Columbus’ voyages, recent Moor’s expulsion for Granada, the Spanish Inquisition, Rojas’ forebears This book is arguably the first European novel from 1499, predating Don Quixote by some 100 years. The book was written by Rojas (also of Salamanca) supposedly after someone else wrote the first chapter and he decided to finish it; it was written in vernacular old Spanish as a tragicomedy much more as a play/dialogue driven story than a prose book per se. The history of the book, around the time of Columbus’ voyages, recent Moor’s expulsion for Granada, the Spanish Inquisition, Rojas’ forebears being one of those forced to convert from Judaism etc, certainly sets one in a time and place. The book The story is that Calisto (23) has fallen for reluctant, virgin Melibea while her parents want better for her. Calisto is persuaded by his servants Sempronio and Parmeno to enlist the aged brothel owner Madame Celestina to use her powers to make the love match. She is experienced in potions, what women and men really want, selling women, corrective surgery to restore girls’ hymens etc. Everyone sees the opportunity to make money out of Calisto. There’s brutal murder, executions, swords, earthy language, jealous prostitutes, clandestine ladders to breach walls and revenge – will it have a happy ending? You can probably guess since the book has been likened to Spain’s Romeo and Juliet. The book is quite remarkable. How can this be so obscure? The story is there, the mixed motives and style make this a masterpiece – it might not perhaps have the overly developed novel design of later works but this is a trend setter that deserves wider reading. A couple of quotes to give you a flavour:- In the following quote ‘pain’ are (pregnant?) cramps in one of Celestina’s whores whom she’s getting to sleep with Parmeno. “You’re worried about politeness and permissions? I’m off and I hope you wake up without that pain and with his colour drained. But as he’s a crafty sod, a little rooster, a strip of a lad, I expect he’ll keep his pecker up for at least three days. He’s the kind doctors where I come from said I should eat only when my teeth were in better state” “Wealth makes this lot get praised for their beauty, not for any real charms their flesh has. I tell you that for a young girl she’s got tits of a woman who’s given birth three times. They sag like two enormous marrows. I’ve not seen her belly, but if her top half is anything to go by, hers must be as flabby as a fifty-year-old’s” 5 stars for the history, true medieval setting, style, uniqueness and indeed story.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nick Bond

    Sometimes credited as the first novel and the work that marked the beginning of the Spanish literary Renaissance, La Celestina uses a combination of tragedy and comedy to cast its bizarre spell on unsuspecting readers. It provides a truly unique experience that I enjoyed a great deal, though a number of warnings are necessary before anyone dives into it headfirst. First off, let's be clear -- for all intents and purposes, this is a play. It consists only of dialogue and its style is far closer to Sometimes credited as the first novel and the work that marked the beginning of the Spanish literary Renaissance, La Celestina uses a combination of tragedy and comedy to cast its bizarre spell on unsuspecting readers. It provides a truly unique experience that I enjoyed a great deal, though a number of warnings are necessary before anyone dives into it headfirst. First off, let's be clear -- for all intents and purposes, this is a play. It consists only of dialogue and its style is far closer to that of the Ancient Greek and Roman playwrights than any modern novel. The only respect in which it differs from traditional theater is in the length of the story and the complexity of the dialogue. Rojas' style can actually be confusing at times, as he does not specify which character is speaking (at least in the version I read, translated by Peter Bush), forcing you to determine the speaker from context. It also leaves little room for visualization, as the dialogue reveals only the essential details about the setting in which the characters are interacting. Also unsettling was the comedy-tragedy genre mash-up. The dialogue is tongue-in-cheek throughout, even as the oft-gruesome tragedy is unfolding, and the reader is left wondering how this goofy gang of rag-tags ended up being dealt such cruel cards. You can kill off the comic relief in a slasher film, but imagine how disoriented you'd be if Mel Brooks left the characters of Spaceballs in a bloody heap at the end... Anyhoo, it's still a great read and I don't want to discourage the adventurous fan of classic literature. I think we all could have used a Celestina in our lives at one time or another...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    It’s difficult to pin down La Celestina, a late medieval work attributed to Fernando de Rojas that is a long dialogue separated into twenty one acts. It’s far too long to be a drama (but apparently it has been staged!) and is written entirely in dialogue, so it’s not quite accurate to call it a novel. Even so, the narrative flows more like a work of prose than a drama. It is neither episodic nor structured as quasi-troubadour verse, like Ruiz’s The Book of Good Love. It is not funny enough to be It’s difficult to pin down La Celestina, a late medieval work attributed to Fernando de Rojas that is a long dialogue separated into twenty one acts. It’s far too long to be a drama (but apparently it has been staged!) and is written entirely in dialogue, so it’s not quite accurate to call it a novel. Even so, the narrative flows more like a work of prose than a drama. It is neither episodic nor structured as quasi-troubadour verse, like Ruiz’s The Book of Good Love. It is not funny enough to be a comedy, but lacks the tension and arc of a drama. Often, I can put aside any attempt to classify a text and just write a review based on its intrinsic qualities. Unfortunately, the weird no-man’s-land occupied by this book is the primary stumbling block for me. The narrative is too long and rambling, as if it is a five-act play extended unnecessarily, or perhaps a short story stretched into a novel. Even worse, the most interesting characters are killed off about two-thirds of the way through, leaving an anti-climactic and predictable ending dragged out by very long monologues. I appreciate La Celestina’s place in Spanish literature as an experimental work that paved the way for the novel, but I think the experiment was a success for the lasting impact of what followed in its wake, rather than for the text itself.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mochizuki

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I first read “Celestina” in my literature class when I was fifteen. The book turned out to be exhilarating, a story chock-full of passion, sexual tension, and cunning. The book provided material for hours of debate on morality, sexuality, premarital sex, etc. The book, divided into twenty-one dialogues in prose, was not meant to be a play, but it boasts the tempo of well-timed drama. The plot is simple enough: Celestina is a procuress who restores hymens and sells the body of young maidens as vir I first read “Celestina” in my literature class when I was fifteen. The book turned out to be exhilarating, a story chock-full of passion, sexual tension, and cunning. The book provided material for hours of debate on morality, sexuality, premarital sex, etc. The book, divided into twenty-one dialogues in prose, was not meant to be a play, but it boasts the tempo of well-timed drama. The plot is simple enough: Celestina is a procuress who restores hymens and sells the body of young maidens as virgins – over and over again. She is hired by the wealthy Calisto to mediate between him and the beautiful bourgeois Melibea. At first, Celestina plays on Calisto’s insecurities in order to charge more for her services. She enlists the help of Calisto’s two servants, and promises to split their master’s pay in a mutually beneficial deal. When she refuses to keep her promise, they kill her, and are immediately beheaded in punishment. Calisto and Melibea, grief notwithstanding, carry out a one-month love affair until the girlfriends of Calisto’s two dead servants plan to make their illicit sexual liaison public as revenge. Calisto dies when he falls off a ladder; Melibea confesses to her parents that she is no longer a virgin and jumps to her death out of a tower. The laments of Melibea’s elderly parents close the text.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sergio

    Calisto was of noble lineage, light wit, gentle disposition, breeding cute, thank you very much endowed with, medium condition. He was imprisoned in love Melibea, wife wench, very generous, and high blood Serene, sublimated into prosperous state, one Pleberio heir to his father, and his beloved mother Alisa. At the request of pungido Calisto, defeated the chaste purpose of it between joining Celestina, poor and wise woman, with two servientes the defeated Callisto, deceived and this unfair torna Calisto was of noble lineage, light wit, gentle disposition, breeding cute, thank you very much endowed with, medium condition. He was imprisoned in love Melibea, wife wench, very generous, and high blood Serene, sublimated into prosperous state, one Pleberio heir to his father, and his beloved mother Alisa. At the request of pungido Calisto, defeated the chaste purpose of it between joining Celestina, poor and wise woman, with two servientes the defeated Callisto, deceived and this unfair tornado, dam your loyalty with hook greed and deleyte, I came lovers and which minister unto them in bitter and disastrous end. My personal opinion: It is a dramatic story of love apasional dominated by dialogue and action, with characters that are situated in a dramatic time and space.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Looking4Books

    ” Calisto: The hearts accustomed to adversity are protected by a sturdy wall that no misfortune can cross … ” Pros: -The book is considered a classic of the literature. -It’s a short book. -The book is written to be represented theatrically so only have dialogues. Cons: -If you are a sensitive person you may cry with the final pages of the book. -If you don’t understand this historical season you don’t understand the book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marco

    Read for university. La Celestina was an interesting read and I can see why it is one of the most important and creative works of its time and how it changed Spanish literature.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    A highly enjoyable read of what seems to be an excellent translation of a resurrected Spanish classic. Celestina (or "La Celestina," in the original Spanish) is a tragicomedy first published in 1499, but very quickly republished several times due to its immense popularity in the early 16th century. It follows the tale of a couple of aristocratic young lovers in a small Spanish town. The man, Calisto, becomes so smitten with the lovely Melibea that he enlists the aid of a local matchmaker/witch/ma A highly enjoyable read of what seems to be an excellent translation of a resurrected Spanish classic. Celestina (or "La Celestina," in the original Spanish) is a tragicomedy first published in 1499, but very quickly republished several times due to its immense popularity in the early 16th century. It follows the tale of a couple of aristocratic young lovers in a small Spanish town. The man, Calisto, becomes so smitten with the lovely Melibea that he enlists the aid of a local matchmaker/witch/madame - the eponymous Celestina - to use her wiles on Melibea. Celestina's machinations work, but all too well. The two fall in love, but tragic consequences befall many of those involved with the entire affair. This translation feels wonderfully authentic and organic. This story contains no small amount of colloquial language, sexuality, and a very clever, cynical look at love and the selfishness that it can breed in people. It ultimately serves as a rather conservative, cautionary tale against lust, young love, and greed. Despite it's overall moralizing, I found it a pleasure to read, given the amount of comedy and intrigue in its first two-thirds. Things do grow rather grim by story's end, but this hardly detracted from the vibrant prose and lively spirit of most of the tale. It doesn't take much to see how this story must have been a tremendous influence on later masters of stage and literature. This being a sort of bridge between the Medieval and Renaissance periods of performance and literature, the book is itself a bit of a hybrid. Apparently meant to be read aloud by a reader to a listener more than read silently to oneself, it has a certain "stagey" feel to it, though without the actual stage notes that one finds in a written play script. It takes some adjustment, but is hardly a major impediment. This edition includes several welcome supplemental materials, such as the original author's and publisher's introductions, apologies, explanations, and the like. There is also an illuminating little afterword by the translator of this edition, which was done in 2009. All of these help offer some welcome context to a tale which I had never heard of until a few years ago, but can now see for the amazing masterwork which it is.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carmen Ramirez

    The book is comprehensive in its literature. I met many new words and it allows you to know a little of the reality of how women and men were seen in those times. The dialogues between the characters are long. It is a tragicomedy, which is more tragic than comedy. In particular, I do not like the outcome of this type of work, but I was able to add one more literary work to my personal library.   l

  24. 4 out of 5

    Millo H.

    one of the books I ever read, the storyline is very simple but what makes the book special is the way the book was written, I would not recommend it if you are not going to read it in spanish, but if you are, give it a chance, it is a different experience because of the language they used back then but it is beautiful.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    A classic renaissance Spanish novel.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Waller

    Like Romeo and Juliet if it was written in the style of Titus Andronicus

  27. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    Absolutely loved this play, so glad I was asked to read it

  28. 4 out of 5

    नरहरी

    Well, not the most complicated book, but of course it has historical and social layer embedded throughout the tragic-comedy.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Star

    Well, I have to say that i really liked it. At first, the book is a bit broing...but it continues and it becomes a really enjoyable reading. I recommend it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Martin Rodríguez

    So good 💝

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