Garcilaso de la Vega, El Inca (1539–1616)

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Garcilaso de la Vega, El Inca (1539–1616)

El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (b. 12 April 1539; d. 22/23 April 1616), Peruvian author and historian. Born in Cuzco, son of Captain Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega and Inca princess Chimpu Oello, his original name was Gómez Suárez de Figueroa. He studied, along with other mestizo children, under the cathedral canon Juan de Cuellar. About 1552 his father married a wealthy Spaniard, and Garcilaso's Inca mother and siblings were forced to leave the household. His father died in 1559, and the following year the young Garcilaso set sail for Spain, planning to live and study with the support of a small stipend provided by his father's will. He would never return to Peru.

After settling in Montilla, in southern Spain, under the patronage of his uncle, Alonso de Vargas, Garcilaso fought briefly (1570–1571) in Granada during the uprising of the Moriscos of Alpujarras. About 1591 he moved to nearby Córdoba and devoted much of the remainder of his life to writing. His first literary effort was the translation of the Diálogos de amor (Dialogues of Love) of Leon Hebreo (Madrid, 1590), which served as a model of stylistic accomplishment. His first history, La Florida del Inca (1605), tells the story of the famous Hernando de Soto expedition to what became the southeastern part of the United States. Based on published sources and the oral account of soldier Gonzalo Silvestre, Garcilaso was able to weave a detailed and compelling picture of the trials and tribulations of the Spanish exploration of Florida. When facts were lacking, he created with vivid ingenuity. His next history, the First Part of the Royal Commentaries of the Incas, appeared in Lisbon in 1609. Based on recollections of what he learned as a youth in Peru and on written sources, including the chronicle of Blas Valera, this is an articulate and compelling, if not always accurate, account of Inca civilization. With a brilliant prose style, and with the authority of speaking in the native American voice, he attempted to bring Inca institutions and history to the Europeans.

Continued reliance on Garcilaso as a primary source clouds and blurs an authentic vision of Tahuantinsuyu (The Land of the Four Quarters), even in the twentieth century. Indeed, Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, in his Historia de la poesía hispano-americana, wrote that the Royal Commentaries was not really history but might best be classified as a utopian novel. The second part of Garcilaso's commentaries, published one year after his death under the title of Historia general del Perú (1617), outlines the Spanish conquest of the Incas to the execution of Túpac Amaru I during the administration of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo (1567–1581). That Garcilaso was the first native American writer to be widely read in Europe, and continues to be read with pleasure and profit in spite of lapses into historical fantasy, is a lasting testament to his superb literary skills.

See alsoIncas, The; Indigenous Peoples.


John Grier Varner, El Inca: The Life and Times of Garcilaso de la Vega (1968).

Donald G. Castanien, El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1969).

Margarita Zamora, Language, Authority, and Indigenous History in the "Comentarios reales de los Incas" (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Fernández, Christian. Inca Garcilaso, imaginación, memoria e identidad. Lima: Fondo Editorial, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2004.

Flores Quelopana, Gustavo. La metafísica de la luz: Claves del primer filósofo mestizo Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Lima: Instituto de Investigación para la Paz Cultura e Integración de América Latina, Fondo Editorial, 2005.

Ortega, Esperanza. Garcilaso de la Vega. Barcelona: Ediciones Omega, 2003.

Valcárcel, Carlos Daniel. Garcilaso: El inca humanista. Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 1995.

                                     Noble David Cook

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Garcilaso de la Vega, El Inca (1539–1616)

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