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Rodó, José Enrique (1871–1917)

Rodó, José Enrique (1871–1917)

José Enrique Rodó (b. 15 July 1871; d. 1 May 1917), Uruguayan writer and literary critic. Rodó was born in Montevideo. In secondary school and at the University of Montevideo he was weak in the sciences but excelled in literature and history. As professor of literature at the University of Montevideo (1898–1902), deputy in Congress for the Colorado Party (1902–1905, 1908–1914), and essayist, he was the spokesman for intellectual motivation, moderation, and good taste—in public life as well as in literature. His principal books are Ariel (1900), his first and best-known work; the much longer and less-structured spiritual quest Motivos de Proteo (1909; The Motives of Proteus, 1928); and a collection of essays, vignettes, and literary criticism, El mirador de Próspero (1913; Prospero's Balcony). His writings are collected in Obras completas, edited by Emir Rodríguez Monegal, 2d ed. (1967).

Like José Martí in Cuba and Rubén Darío in Nicaragua, Rodó was a leading exponent of modernism in Hispanic American literature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As the symbolic name Proteus in one of his titles suggests, change was a fundamental virtue for Rodó: "To change is to live," the first sentence of The Motives of Proteus, reflects the indirect but vital influence of Charles Darwin's and Herbert Spencer's evolutionary thought on Rodó's essentially aesthetic view of the world.

Ariel and most of the rest of Rodó's work were composed with clearly didactic intentions and in a refined rhetorical manner. Writing for him was a vocation more than a profession, a quiet endeavor that seemed to symbolize his solitary and meditative way of life. In The Motives of Proteus the author extends and elaborates on the encouragement of individualism, expounded before in Ariel, and underscores the energy of youth and the importance of self-education and self-knowledge. In his repeated mention of the need for intellectual heroism, which he divides into "wisdom," "art," and "action," he shows agreement with some ideas of Carlyle, Emerson, and Nietzsche.

Rodó was writing in an era of transition for Latin America. The war of 1898 between the United States and Spain awoke a new Latin American consciousness of cultural ties to Spain and sharpened awareness of North American hegemony in the Western Hemisphere. In those circumstances he called consistently for a reaffirmation of Hispanic American "spiritual" values as distinct from allegedly more pragmatic North American values. All his written work was an elegant elaboration of that point of view.

See alsoDarío, Rubén; Literature: Spanish America.


Víctor Pérez Petit, Rodó: Su vida, su obra, 2d ed. (1937).

Medardo Vitier, "El mensaje de Rodó," in his Del ensayo americano (1945).

Mario Benedetti, Genio y figura de José Enrique Rodó (1966).

Peter G. Earle, "José Enrique Rodó," in Latin American Writers, vol. 2 (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Brading, D.A. Marmoreal Olympus: José Enrique Rodó and Spanish American Nationalism. Cambridge: Center for Latin American Studies, University of Cambridge, 1998.

Rocca, Pablo. Enseñanza y teoría de la literatura en José Enrique Rodó. Montevideo: Ediciones de la Banda Oriental, 2001.

Suiffet, Norma. José Enrique Rodó: Su vida, su obra, su pensamiento. Montevideo: Ediciones de la Urpila, 1995.

                                       Peter G. Earle

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