Mexican historian Lilian Illades Aguiar tells us that, as “general inspector” [visitador general] for Puebla’s judicial system, De Benavides claimed to had been “entrusted to undertake certain extremely secret inquiries to directly notify the king of his findings.”
Hence nicknamed “El Tapado” [The Undercover One], De Benavides was known also as Marquis de San Vicente and apparently well received by the local aristocracy, as the story goes in Illades Aguiar’s “La nobleza criolla angelopolitana durante el gobierno de los Austria” — one of the chapters in “América bajo los Austrias: economía, cultura y sociedad.”
|John Milton [left] in the Ford Madox Brown painting|
However, Illades Aguiar says, “he was neither a noble nor a royal envoy or anything of the sort; he was a bon-vivant, perhaps a spy or a pirate,” who was promptly apprehended and imprisoned when his ruse was discovered by Puebla’s deputy mayor, don Tomás de Arana González.
One may conclude that De Benavides’ impersonation was bold and daring but the con of the colonial era is not the reason why he has become famous beyond his own merits.
Some 300 years after the scandal rocked the nobility in New Spain, the Mexican poet and writer Octavio Paz highlighted the case in “Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, o Las Trampas de la Fe.” The book — the Nobel Prize winner tells us in the Preface to the 1988 Harvard University Press edition — took him more than 30 years to complete.
“Among the poems dedicated [by Sor Juana] to the Viceroy and Vicereine [of New Spain] are several containing petitions. In one she asks Tomás de la Cerda to spare the life of one Antonio de Benavides, who had impersonated a Field Marshal, the Marquis de San Vicente,” says Paz.
We’ll come back later to “El Tapado” and Sor Juana’s intercession. Promise.
About 30 years before this was happening in New Spain, in 1655 to be precise, another poem — a sonnet — had been written. The link will give you full details on the massacre of the Waldensians, a Protestant denomination persecuted by Roman Catholic forces in Northern Italy, and also summarizes what moved the English poet John Milton — he of Paradise Lost — to denounce the slaughter.
You can click here for a thorough analysis of Milton’s sonnet, with added data on the socio-political, economic, and religious background that will give you the needed information to better understand the poem.
|Sonnet 18: On the Late Massacre in Piedmont|
As we know more than well, the “early sectarian cleansing shocking to readers of any age” — as Minot refers to the killing of the Waldensians — is not the only one to have occurred in history.
We also know, more than well, that is the type of behavior undertaken and being advocated and publicized nowadays.
There are many ways to react to massacres in the name of God.
Some keep silent, as is the case of those who are prompt to even kill whenever they feel that their religion has been offended, to refer to just one of the many segments of the global society in play.
And there may even be those who try to rationalize [“That’s about the same as ‘rational lies’ ”, I heard somebody say once] the murderous behavior of the radicals by saying, in a kind a conspiratorial whispering that will make it clear that they definitely don’t share that belief but …, “Look at what happened during the Crusades!”
Not all of us can write in the vigorous way Milton did 350 years ago, to deplore gruesome and barbarous killings such as the ones of late in the Middle East.
But who the enemy is we know.
And we can share and proclaim the truth that, back in 1684, sustained Sor Juana’s appeal for a ruler to spare a life.
“Nobody knows,” says Illades Aguiar, “what prompted the Tenth Muse to implore” the Viceroy to spare El Tapado from the gallows, “but she did it in a subtle, intelligent, and beautiful way.”
In the masterful translation for Las Trampas de la Fe, we read what Sor Juana advised the ruler:
Any man can take a life
but only God can breathe life in;
thus only thru the gift of life
may you hope to resemble Him.
As much as we know who the enemy is we also know who the enemy is not following.