the text obsessive
ly fol lows the Spaniards, and in turn provides
a remarkable ethno
logic record of Spanish military culture. For example: They [the soldiers] are all expert in the art of cooking. They wash and bake, in short provide everything for their needs, from the wood they burn to the salt with which they season their food. They are expert in the art of tilling the soil. Every ho
hem clothed in shining steel as though they were encased in solid bronze. (178) The kind of ethnographic detail normally reserved for the record and study of "other" cultures is here used in the service of his own. But apparently, Villagra has no confidence that the monarch recognizes this particular
e conquistador has, in a manner of speaking, become "other" to his king. Like the earlier epics El Cid and La Araucana, the epic poem, with its linear teleology, allows Villagra to stage the conquest according to a particular conc
ty; "The victors experience history as a coherent, end-directed story told by their own power" (Quint 9). But unlike La Araucana, epic history is not the point of departure, but rather, the desired destination. Like Onate before him, Villagra relies on a historically charged conquest genre to reinvest his
h heroic significance. The Historia charts a discursive epic journey where the heroism and high moral character of the conquistadors will be progressively "discovered" by its privileged reader, the monarch. The literary frame of a perilous journ
tant throughout: "Worthy Sir, we have embarked upon our voyage and are now upon the high seas. Land has disappeared from sight, and our safety now depends upon the course we take and the management of our ship. Hearken well to my words that nothing may be lost which otherwise might prove of value from this voyage" (72). King and poet are "brought to safety," of course, by the secure and wise leadership of Onate and his captains. Each canto is framed by a moral lesson tha
ead each episode "properly." Endless platitudes, maxims, and other moralizing observations riddle the text; Villagra takes no chance that the king will fail t
o appreciate the wisdom and virtue of the Spanish soldiers at every moment in the tale. The text becomes a lesson book on mil
itary heroism, virtue, and honor. The Historia, I suggest, is a countertext to the very Ordinances of Discovery. But how indeed can a poet-soldier justify lecturing to his king on the matter of morals? Above all other narrative strategies, the fundamental authority of his text appeals not to the classics, nor to the persuasiveness of the epic model of history, but to the provenance of his authorial voice.
Here Villagra capitalizes on another trope of New World writing: the appeal to eyewitness experience.-As Pagden writes, "It is the T who has seen what no
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g has seen who alone is capable of giving credibility to the text" (89). Having n
o other claim to authority, Villagra s