Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Poetry, Controversy and the Inquisition: Tomás de Iriarte

Tomás de Iriarte y Oropesa (Puerto de la Cruz, Spain, 18th September 1750 - Madrid, Spain, 17th September 1791)


Tomás de Iriarte by Joaquín Inza (1736-1811)
Tomás de Iriarte by Joaquín Inza 

For all of our gadding about Europe, it strikes me that we've not spent nearly enough time beneath the Spanish sun so on the birthday of Tomás de Iriarte y Oropesa, it seemed like the ideal opportunity. The nights are drawing in at Gin Lane and what better way to prolong the summer than a trip to Tenerife to meet a neoclassical poet who did not shirk from making enemies.

When he was born to Don Bernardo de Iriarte and Doña Bárbara de las Nieves Hernández de Oropesa, Tomás was the latest member of a family who enjoyed a rich reputation as writers, many of whom had a particular interest in humanism. Raised in an atmosphere of academia and literature, at the age of 14 he went to Madrid with his uncle, the writer and translator, Juan de Iriarte. Following his uncle's lead, the young man began his career by translating plays from French to Spanish for performance at court, de Iriarte enjoying no small influence with the king. 

At the age of 20 Tomás produced his first play and a year later was given the position of official translator at the State Department, a role he left in 1776 to progress to the War Office as an archivist. He was a gifted public speaker and adored debate, eventually finding himself welcomed into Spain's intellectual circles.

Though he was enjoying a successful professional career, Tomás found that his true love was poetry and he wrote tirelessly, in 1780 publishing the acclaimed work, La Música. Two years later he followed this with Fábulas Literarias, a hugely ambitious collection of fables that satirised his fellow writers and parodied their style. It was to prove a fateful publication for Tomás and made him powerful enemies; though he found himself reported to the Inquisition in 1786 for his supposedly controversial ideas, Tomás continued to write prose, poetry and drama without compromising his satirical style. In fact, he even branched out into composition, enjoying some success as an accomplished violinist.

Despite the enemies he made with his satires, the writer's popularity endured and he enjoyed success until his death, gout carrying him off just one day shy of his 41st birthday.

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