Sor Juana's Diglossia: The Pyramids of Primero sueño

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This article offers a symbolic and stylistic analysis of Sor Juana’s description of the Memphis pyramids (Primero sueño, lines 340-411), paying attention to its sources. It is my contention that Sor Juana reflects the early modern awareness of its distance from antiquity. I also argue that the poet’s ambivalent address to Egypt constitutes an example of ‘diglossia’. Sofie Kluge (2014) deploys this term to mean the doublespeak produced by the Baroque moralisation of pagan literature. I will use it to describe Sor Juana’s ambiguous approach to Egypt, comprising both criticism and praise. This dual assessment appears balanced until the poet uses Homer as a source, who tips the scales in favour of these constructions by revealing their allegoric nature. According to Sor Juana’s perception, Homer represented a receptacle of ancient, revered wisdom that predated Greece. In this sense, it is her understanding of this Greek poet, rather than his writings themselves, that is key to my reading of the pyramids. The conclusion will frame Sor Juana within two poetic/historiographical concepts – Góngora as the Spanish Homer and the translatio studii – in order to shed further light on Primero sueño.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1195-1219
JournalBulletin of Spanish Studies
Issue number8
Early online date1 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019