Sigüenza y Góngora, Carlos de (1645–1700)

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Sigüenza y Góngora, Carlos de (1645–1700)

Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora (b. 20 August 1645; d. 22 August 1700), premier intellectual of seventeenth-century Mexico. Born in Mexico City, Sigüenza y Góngora was the son of a former tutor to the Spanish royal family; on his mother's side, he was distantly related to the poet Luís de Góngora. As a youth, he entered the Jesuit order, but curfew violations led to his expulsion in 1668. He then resumed theological and secular studies at the University of Mexico, where, in 1672, he gained the chair of mathematics and astrology. Over time, he accumulated several other important positions, including those of royal cosmographer of New Spain, chaplain of the Amor de Dios Hospital, and almoner to the archbishop of Mexico.

This talented polymath wrote extensively on a wide variety of subjects, but most of his works were not published. Despite his official capacity as an astrologer, Sigüenza y Góngora roundly belabored contemporary "superstitions." His scientific endeavors reached their summit with the Libra astronómica y filosófica (1690), an astronomical treatise in which he argued that comets were a natural phenomenon rather than an omen of divine displeasure; the work also attacked Aristotelian orthodoxy and upheld the validity of Mexican scholarship. In a more journalistic vein, Sigüenza y Góngora chronicled the triumph of Spanish arms in New Mexico and the Caribbean and wrote the finest eyewitness account of the Mexico City riot of 1692.

Sigüenza y Góngora devoted much scholarly energy to the study of Mexico's pre-Hispanic past. More important, he acquired and preserved the magnificent Ixtlilxochitl collection of codices and manuscripts. However, while he glorified the Aztec Empire, even claiming it as Mexico's version of classical antiquity, he despised the Indian masses of his own day. This contradiction ultimately proved fatal to his studies of indigenous peoples, which (along with a projected Indian museum) he abandoned after the 1692 riot.

His intellectual activities were further curtailed after 1694, when failing health forced him to resign his university post. Assailed by numerous ailments, he died in Mexico City. In retrospect, Sigüenza y Góngora appears as a precursor of both the Mexican Enlightenment and Mexican nationalism. Throughout his writings, he sought to delineate, praise, and defend the emerging creole patria, particularly as exemplified in its greatest center, Mexico City.

See alsoAztecs; Enlightenment, The; Mexico City; Nationalism.


Irving A. Leonard, Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora: A Mexican Savant of the Seventeenth Century (1929).

Elías Trabulse, Ciencia y religión en el siglo xvii (1974).

Anthony Pagden, Spanish Imperialism and the Political Imagination (1990), pp. 90-116.

D. A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492–1867 (1991), pp. 363-371.

Additional Bibliography

Lorente Medina, Antonio. La prosa de Sigüenza y Góngora y la formación de la conciencia criolla mexicana. México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1996.

Mayer, Alicia. Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora: Homenaje, 1700–2000. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, 2002.

More, Anna Herron. "Colonial Baroque: Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora and the Post-Colonization of New Spain." Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2003.

Poole, Stafford. Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Origins and Sources of a Mexican National Symbol, 1531–1797. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995.

                                      R. Douglas Cope