Every country have that masterpiece which is not as read as it should be because it's "an old classic". Definitely Spanish old classic is (besides Libro de buen Amor o Cantar del Mio Cid) La Celestina. One of my favorite books (++), one of the greatest pleasures literature ever gave me.
It’s usually consider Spain's most important book after Don Quijote, a book considered “heavenly if it weren’t so human” by Cervantes. It’s a dialogued novel, a tragic love story, Calisto in love with Melibea is dismissed by her, and only can conquer her with the aid of Celestina, the old procuress. Their story, as their servant’s story, all ends in tragedy.
Published by Fernando de Rojas in 1499 its real name is Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea, but it was very soon known as La Celestina, because of the procuress and most unforgettable character in the story. She is the one who will conquer Melibea for Calisto, using witchcraft and intelligence.
Historian Martin de Riquer wrote this beautiful commentary:
When Calixto enters for the first time in Melibea’s garden following his falcon and is hurt by the girl’s beauty (a usual hunting scene in medieval romances as Cliges from Troyes), a gale arrises which will devastate everything, the lowest and the highest, the freest affection and the most interested greed. And the reader after so much beauty, so many delicacies, so much poetry, so much realism, and after a so carefully lead story about a group of restless souls, he sees that Rojas’ Tragicomedy, despite its declared moralizing purpose, falls in the void, as Melibea does when she throws herself from the tower, because after the death of this two young people Rojas only let us glimpse at a “hell of lovers”
Celestina is the leading character, a witch, procuress, owner of a brothel, and a very intelligent and greedy old woman. She is the only one who can win Melibea for Calisto. This is a scene when Lucrecia, Melibea’s maid comes to Celestina’s house/brothel (where she’s having dinner with Calisto’s servants Parmeno and Sempronio and her girlfriends, a couple of prostitutes) with a message from her mistress, and Celestina talks about her good old times:
Lucrecia.__I hope you all enjoyed your meal. May God bless so many honorable people.
Celestina.__All these people, daughter? You think this is a lot? It appears you never knew me during the days of my prosperity, which was twenty years ago. Oh, who could have seen me and who could see me now, I do not know how their heart would not burst with sorrow! I would see, my love, in this very table, where your cousins are now sitting, nine young women about your age, for the oldest was no greater than eighteen and there was nobody younger than fourteen. But that is how the world goes, it spins on its own wheel, the buckets rise and fall, some full others empty. The law of fortune is that nothing will stay the same age for long: it is the order of change. I cannot speak without tears about much honor I used to have; because of my sins and bad luck, little by little it hs diminished. Justas my days decline, so my business. It is an old proverb that says; everything in the world either grows or diminishes. Everything has its limits, everything has its degrees. My honor reached its peak, according to what I was: and now it is necessary that it should decline and decrease. I am close to my end. I know that I have little life left. But I know that I went up to come down, I flourished only to wither, I delighted only to be sorrowful; I was born to live, I lived to grow, I grew to age, and I aged to die. And since I am aware of this, I will suffer my plight with less sorrow; although I cannot completely get rid of my sadness, since I am made of flesh and feelings.
Lucrecia.__You had a great business, mother, with so many young girls, a herd very hard to guard.
Celestina.__Hard, my love? It was more like a pleasure and a relief. All of them obeyed me; I was esteemed by them all and none of them ever angered me; whatever I said was good and to all I gave what they earned. They did not want more than what I gave them; wether lame, one-eyed or one-handed, to them he was healthy who gave me more money. I was there for the profit; they were there for the work. As for servants, because of them, why did I need any? Gentleman, old men and young boys, church men of all dignities, from bishops to sextons. When I would enter the church, hats would come off in my honor, as if I was a duchess. He who had the least business with me, felt more miserable. When they would see me half-a- league away they would stop what they were doing. One by one, two by two, they would come to me to see if I needed something, or they would ask me about their mistress. What men they were, for when they were praying in mass and would see me enter, all of a sudden they would get so flustered that they could not do or say anything correctly. Some would call me lady, others aunt, others lover, other honorable old woman. There in church they would arrange their visits to my house or when I should go to theirs. There they would offer me money and promises while others would give me gifts. Some would kiss the end of my cloak and others would even kiss my face, in order to please me more. But now fortune has brought me to such a place that people say to me: I hope your shoes do you good.
Sempronio.__You are frightening us with such stories about those religious people and blessed nobility. Yes, as if all were like that!
Celestina.__No, son, not even God would want me to say such a thing. For there are many devoted old men with whom I have had but small interactions with and even some that could not stand me; but I think it was beacasue envy of the others who did talk to me. The clergy is very large, and there are all types of people; some very chaste and others who would help maintaining those in my business. And even now I believe that there are some of those. They used to send their squires and young men to accompany me, and I would hardly ever enter my house without seeing chickens and hens, geese, ducks, partridges, turtle-doves, legs of ham, wheat cakes and suckling pigs. Each one, as soon as they received their tithes from God, would come to register them for me, so that I and their devoted ones could eat. As for wine? Were we ever lacking! The best that there was to drink in the city, from all over: Monviedro, of Luque de Toro, from Madrigal, of San Martin and from many other places, And so many thateven though I still remember the difference in their tastes and the bouquets inmy mouth, I cannot remember from where they all came from. It is too much for an old woman like me to be able to tell you where a wine is from by just smelling it. As for the other priests who had no income, they would bring me offerings from the altar, because as soon as the parishioners had kissed their robes, they would come and bring them immediately to my home. In great bunbers, as stones thrown to the wooden target, their boys would carry provisions to my door. I do not know how live now, having fallen from such a state.
After the first edition, another one added some more chapters, as delightful as this one. Here Melibea, who has been Calisto’s lover for more than a month, listen to her parents (Pleberio and Alisa), who are planning her marriage:
Melibea.__What are you doing hiding there, you crazy woman?
Lucrecia.__Come here, mistress, you will hear the urgency your parents have to marry you.
Melibea.__Quiet, by God, for they will hear you. Let them speak, let them fantasize. It has been a month since they do not speak or think about anything else. It looks as their hearts are telling them about the great love I have for Calisto as well as everything that has happened between us in the last month.I do not know if they have heard me, and I do not know why this has become such an issue for them lately. Well, they are working in vain. Of what use is the clapper in the mill[ if the miller is deaft]. Who could take away my glory? Who could take my pleasures away from me? Calisto is my soul, my life, my sir, the one in whom I have all my hope. I know that I am not being fooled by him. For he loves me, with what other thing can I repay him with? All of the debts in the world receive their compensation in a diverse manner; the only payment for love is love. When I think of him I get happy, when I see him I am delighted, when I hear him I am glorified. Let him do and order me at his will. If he wants to go to sea, I will go with him; if he wants to travel around the world; he will take me with him; if he wants to sell me on enemy land, I will not resist his wishes. My parents should let me delight in him, if they want to delight of me. They should not think of these vanities or of my marriage; for it is better to be a good friend than to be unhappily married. Let me delight of my happy youth, if they want to delight of their tired old age; if not, they can quickly prepare my perdition and their graves. I do not feel sorry for anything except for the time that I lost not delighting of him and knowing him, since the time after I knew myself.
Lucrecia.__Quiet, mistress, listen for they are still talking.
Pleberio.__So, what do you think, my wife? Should we speak with our daughter, should we tell her how many are asking for her, so that by her own will she can tell us which one pleases her? For these laws give liberty to men and women to choose, although they are under the paternal power.
Alisa.__What did you say? Why are you wasting your time? Who is going to go and tell this news to our Melibea, without scaring her? How! And do you think she knows anything about men? Or if they get married or what is marriage? Or how the joinning of husband and wife creates children? Do you think that her simple virginity can tell her about any clumsy desires which she does not know or has ever understood? Do you think that she knows how to err, even with her thoughts? Believe, sir Pleberio, that whether of low or high blood, whether ugly or handsome, she will be pleased with whomever we tell her to take for she will know it has been done for her own good. For I know well how I have raised my, well protected daughter.
Melibea.__Lucrecia, Lucrecia, run quickly, come in through the back of the room and interrupt their conversation. Interrupt their praises of me with some made-up message, unless you want me to get in screaming like crazy, because of how angry I am at their foolish ideas about my ignorance.
Lucrecia.__I am going, mistress.