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Home » Language Resources » Spanish Literature » History of Spanish Literature » The Renaissance » La Celestina

La Celestina

La Celestina

In the 15th century Italian influences took root in the Peninsula and shaped a new cultural phenomenon: Humanism. The theocentricism that had ruled the Middle Ages had finally ended and anthropocentrism appeared. Man became the center of the universe. A certain joie de vivre appeared and authors stopped writing about divine love, instead focusing on human love. The classic books by Greek authors were reinstated. The Turks had invaded Constantinople and the Greek sages had brought the books to Italy.

The Greek myths, comedies and tragedies of Hélade appeared. The tragedies told stories about the people of the town, as well as the gods and classic heroes.

Among these appeared a book called “Tragicomedia de Calixto y Melibea” (The Tragic Comedy of Calixto and Melibea), one of the pinnacle pieces of Spanish literature, whose original title was eclipsed by the name of one of its characters, La Celestina. The book was written by a mysterious author called Fernando de Rojas, about whom little is known. We only know that he was born in Puebla de Montalbán, graduated in Salamanca, and was probably a Jewish covert.

The book is written in dialogue form as if it were a play. But it was too long to be learnt by heart and performed in this way with the resources at the time. Certainly, it was written to be read aloud in a lounge where every guest would be invited to play a role, as was the custom at the time.

The story takes place in Salamanca. Calixto is a young boy who falls in love with Melibea, a beautiful girl from the upper classes. In order to satiate his passions, Calixto enrolls the help of Celestina, a witch and owner of a brothel which Calixto and his slaves frequent. Celestina manages to arrange a date between the lovers but then tragedy unfolds.

If we analyze Calixto, who according to the classic norms should be a hero, we see that he is nothing more or less than a man controlled by his base instincts; he is a comic character. It is because of this that the book is known as a “Tragicomedia”. Melibea is the symbol of idealized love, but her innocence is corrupted by the intervention of Celestina and Calixto. The servants live on the edge of society among witches and prostitutes, and are all protected by Celestina. However, they will eventually be responsible for her demise.