1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Celestina, La

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CELESTINA, LA, the popular alternative title attached from 1519 (or earlier) to the anonymous Comedia de Caliste y Melibea, a Spanish novel in dialogue which was celebrated throughout Europe during the 16th century. In the two earliest known editions (Burgos, 1499, and Seville, 1501) the Comedia consists of sixteen acts; the reprints issued after 1501 are entitled Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, and contain twenty-one acts. Three of these reprints include a twenty-second act which is admittedly spurious, and the authenticity of Acts xvii.-xxi. is disputed. The authorship of the Celestina and the date of its composition are doubtful. An anonymous prefatory letter in the editions subsequent to 1501 attributes the book to Juan de Mena or Rodrigo Cota, but this ascription is universally rejected. The prevailing opinion is that the author of the twenty-one acts was Fernando de Rojas, apparently a Spanish Jew resident at the Puebla de Montalban in the province of Toledo; R. Foulché-Delbose, however, maintains that the original sixteen acts are by an unknown writer who had no part in the five supplementary acts. Some scholars give 1483 as the date of composition; others hold that the book was written in 1497. These questions are still unsettled. Though profoundly original in treatment, the Celestina has points of analogy with the work of earlier writers, such as Juan Ruiz (q.v.), the archpriest of Hita; his rapid sketches of Trota-conventas, Melón and Endrina no doubt suggested the finished portraits of Celestina, Calisto and Melibea, and the closing scene in the Celestina recalls the suicide in Diego Fernandez de San Pedro’s Cárcel de Amor. Allowing for these and other debts of the same kind, it cannot be denied that the Celestina excels all earlier Spanish works in tragic force, in impressive conception, and in the realistic rendering of characters drawn from all classes of society. It passed through innumerable editions in Spain, and was the first Spanish book to find acceptance throughout western Europe. At least twenty works by well-known Spanish authors are derived from it; it was adapted for the English stage as early as 1525–1530, and was translated into Italian (1505), French (1527) and other European languages. A Latin version by Caspar Barth was issued under the title of Pornoboscodidascalus latinus (1624) with all the critical apparatus of a recognized classic. James Mabbe’s English rendering (1631) is one of the best translations ever published. The original edition of 1499 has been reprinted by R. Foulché-Delbose in the Bibliotheca Hispanica (1902), vol. xii.

Bibliography.—R. Foulché-Delbose, “Observations sur la Célestine” in the Revue hispanique (Paris, 1900), vol. vii. pp. 28-80 and (Paris. 1902) vol. ix. pp. 171-199; K. Haebler, “Bemerkungen zur Celestina” in the Revue hispanique (Paris, 1902), vol. ix. pp. 139-170; and M. Menéndez y Pelayo’s introduction to the Celestina (Vigo, 1899–1900).  (J. F.-K.)