Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Ercilla y Zúñiga, Alonso de

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ERCILLA Y ZÚÑIGA, Alonso de (er-theel'-ya), Spanish poet, b. in Madrid, 7 Aug., 1533; d. there about 1595. He was the third son of Fortun Garcia, lord of Torre de Ercilla, and Leonor de Zuñiga, a noble lady in the service of Empress Isabella, wife of Charles V. In early youth he was a page to the Prince of Asturias, afterward Philip II., and in 1554 accompanied Philip to England on the occasion of the latter's marriage to Queen Mary. While he was in London news was received of the rebellion of the Araucanians, a brave nation of Chili, and Ercilla at once joined the expedition against them under Alderete. He highly distinguished himself in the campaign that followed, taking part in seven battles and many other fierce encounters. He afterward accompanied Hurtado de Mendoza to the conquest of Chiloe, near the straits of Magellan, and with ten followers, on 28 Feb., 1558, penetrated inland to a point that had been reached by no other Europeans, leaving a statement of that fact in verse, cut in the bark of a tree. After taking possession of those regions in the name of the Spanish monarch, he returned to the city of Imperial, and, being suspected of joining in a mutiny, was condemned to be beheaded, but was reprieved and afterward exiled. While at Lima he heard of the rebellion and cruelties of Lope de Aguirre in Venezuela, and reached Panama in 1561, on his way to fight against him; but Aguirre had just been deposed and killed, and Ercilla, after a long and dangerous illness, returned to Spain in 1562. After travelling extensively through Europe, he entered the service of the Emperor Rudolph, of Austria, as one of his chamberlains, but about 1580 returned to Madrid, where he passed the rest of his life in retirement, almost forgotten, and in extreme poverty. When Ercilla began his seven years' campaign in Chili he conceived the idea of making it the subject of a poem; and in the intervals of active duty, mostly at night-time, he composed the first part of “La Araucana,” writing his verses on scraps of paper, and often on bits of leather. The third and last part of the poem he finished after his return to Spain. “La Araucana” is one of the most celebrated of Spanish epics, and one of the best ever written in any language. It not only possesses the merit of pure diction, vivid description, and majestic style, but it is also a true history of the Araucanian war, in which the author was personally engaged, and as such has been used by the most conscientious historians. The first fifteen cantos of “La Araucana” were published in Madrid in 1569, the second part in 1578, and the third part, completing the thirty-seven cantos, in 1590. Its best editions are those of Madrid (1776 and 1828). A portion of the poem, translated into French by Grainville, is found in vol. vii. of the “Quatre Saisons du Parnasse.” An analysis of the poem, with translations of parts of it, has been made in Hayley's “Essay on Epic Poetry” (London, 1782).