Elizabeth Wright's Juan Latino Talk

Heed Black Wit and Wisdom: A Guide for Empire Building from Juan Latino, Europe’s First Black Poet (1572)

Mar 22
5:30 PM
International Commons, Carole Weinstein International Center

Elizabeth R. Wright, Distinguished Research Professor, Spanish Literature, Department of Romance Languages at the University of Georgia and author of The Epic of Juan Latino. Dilemmas of Race and Religion in Renaissance Spain will deliver a talk on Europe's first Black poet.

In the euphoria unleashed by Spain’s victory in the Battle of Lepanto (7 October 1571), Juan Latino (1518-1594), a former slave whose clandestine education in Latin gained him a professorship at the Cathedral and the University of Granada (Spain), crafted an elegy for king Philip II. This vivid poem trumpets the Black poet-and-educator’s connections to Don John of Austria, the commander of the victorious Holy League coalition navy at Lepanto. More subtly, literary and topical allusions interwoven into the poem warn that bias against blacks in Spain will undercut the king’s imperial ambitions. Fashioning himself as a Black bard from another world, Juan Latino informs Philip II about realms with Black rulers and elites. In turn, the poetic voice suggests that global rule will require that Spain’s own elites heed a diversity of talent and nobility that they have yet to grasp.

This lecture will examine and contextualize Latino’s elegy, first in terms of the cultural impact of Lepanto and, in turn, from the longer range perspective of the literature of the Black diaspora.

The talk is funded by the Office of the Provost and the Cultural Affairs Committee.