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Inca Garcilaso de la Vega [1539-1616]

Chronicler of Spanish Conquest of the Americas

By

Garcilaso de la Vega (The Inca)

Garcilaso de la Vega (The Inca)

Los Vargas
Coat of Arms of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega

Coat of Arms of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega

Published in La Florida (1605)

The Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, born in Cuzco, Peru on April 12, 1539, was an important literary figure in 16th and 17th century Spain, best known for his historical works of the Spanish exploration and conquest of the Americas. Christened Gómez Suárez de Figueroa, de la Vega was the son of Captain Garcilaso de la Vega y Vargas, one of the members of the conquest force of Pedro de Alvarado. His mother, Palla Chimpu Occlo, was a member of the Inca royal family, granddaughter of the Inca emperor Tupac Inca Yupanqui [1471-1493], niece of Huayna Capac [1493-1527] and cousin of Atuahallpa and Huascar, whose battles ended the Inca Empire.

As a child and young man, de Figueroa moved freely between his parents separate households: they were not allowed to marry, and the boy mainly lived with his mother. Nevertheless, de Figueroa's father wanted his son to get a good education, and in Cuzco the boy was instructed in Spanish culture, Latin and the classics, under the tutelage of Father Juan del Cuellar. At the same time, de Figueroa learned the history, folklore and oral traditions of the Inca from his mother and uncles. At a fairly early age, he spoke both Quechua and Spanish.

At the age of 20, in 1560, de Figueroa left Peru for the royal court of Spain, where he attempted to clear his father's name. Captain de la Vega had chosen the wrong side in the failed uprising led by Gonzalo Pizarro; and although he eventually switched to the royal side, it was too late. De Figueroa could not clear his name. Instead, he went to Montilla in Córdoba and began reading and studying, among other things, what the Spanish had written about the Inca. Recognizing that the accounts were incomplete or false, he resolved to reconstruct his own version of Incan history.

Inca Garcilaso

Among the things that drove de Figuroa was his dual heritage in language and culture: he was raised speaking primarily Quechua, yet became an elegant and celebrated writer in Spanish. In addition, he was wedged between the Incan nobility and the Spanish literary world during the Renaissance. Inca Garcilaso transformed himself into a poet soldier, taking a new Spanish name and adopting a coat of arms that reflected both Incan and Spanish worlds. This metamorphosis took place by 1563, three years after arriving in Spain. He never returned to Peru.

During the 1580s, Garcilaso served a tour of duty as the captain of a ship in the failed Spanish Invincible Armada of 1588, which was directed up the English Channel and into the North Sea against the English navy. This sea challenge was plagued by fierce storms and ultimately proved an important naval victory for Francis Drake.

By 1590, the Inca Garcilaso published his first book, a translation of Italian poetry, under the name of Garcilaso de la Vega the Inca, to distinguish himself from the famed Renaissance poet Garcilaso de la Vega [1501-1536]. [Note: Although I have two sources for this publication, I wonder if it is correct. Translations of Italian poetry were definitely what the other Garcilaso de la Vega was famous for.]

La Florida

The Inca Garcilaso's next project was the history of Hernando de Soto's 1539-1543 expedition to the North American continent. For this work, Garcilaso interviewed Captain Gonzalo Silvestre, and consulted the accounts of Juan Coles and Alonso de Carmona, all of whom were on the expedition. The Inca's text is a literary masterpiece, a blend of historical fact and fiction, an epic adventure modeled on the chivalric novels of the day. La Florida, published in 1605, is one of four DeSoto chronicles used by scholars of the Mississippian cultures visited by De Soto.

At the same time, Garcilaso began working on the two part Royal Commentaries, a vision of the Inca empire as he had known it as a boy at the time of the Conquest. Part 1, published in 1609, details what he was told of the Inca empire. Part 2, the General History of Peru published in 1617, describes the Incan civil wars between Atuahallpa and Huascar, and the beginning of the colonial era. Like La Florida, the Royal Commentaries are in part a work of fiction, painting the Inca Empire as a peaceful, altruistic place and downplaying any mention of human sacrifice or empire building.

The Inca Garcilaso de la Vega died in Cordoba, in 1616.

Books:

  • Translation from the Italian of Leon Hebreo's Dialogues of Love (1590) [?]
  • La Florida (1605)
  • Royal Commentaries (part 1, 1609)
  • A General History of Peru (Royal Commentaries Part 2, published posthumously in 1617)

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to the Inca Empire, and the Dictionary of Archaeology. Resources used for this article are on page two.

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