“Como la luz de la fe te falte”: the Privileging of the Christian over the Pagan in Calderón’s El divino Orfeo (1634)


  • Maria Czepiel Brasenose and Balliol Colleges, University of Oxford




The seventeenth century saw the rise in Spain of autos sacramentales, allegorical plays performed on the feast of Corpus Christi. The most important writer of this genre was Calderón de la Barca, and among his autos is a group of ten plays whose dramatic action is based on Classical mythology. In these plays, Calderón draws on an age-old tradition of allegorisation in order to assimilate pagan fable to the Christian story of Redemption. I begin this study by discussing how contemporary mythographers dealt with the delicate balance of synthesising the pagan and Christian narratives while affirming the truth of the latter, as well as Calderón’s own defence of the allegorical use of fable. I go on to exemplify how Calderón synthesises pagan and Christian elements while emphasising the validity of the Christian narrative in a specific play, El divino Orfeo (1634). Calderón principally exploits the myth of Orpheus, although he also draws on the Ovidian Creation myth, the myth of Proserpina, and the descent of Aeneas to the Underworld. I also discuss the use of a further myth which has not been noticed by scholars, namely that of Phaethon, which Calderón exploits in his depiction of the Devil. However, I demonstrate that Calderón privileges the Christian narrative by constantly naming biblical and patristic authorities, while never referring to Classical ones such as Ovid and Virgil. Furthermore, I will show how Calderón suppresses or elides certain elements of the Classical fable to make it more compatible with the Christian account of Redemption.

Keywords: Calderón; El divino Orfeo; auto sacramental; mythology; syncretism