Juana Inés de la Cruz
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, O.S.H.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera
|Born||Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana|
12 November 1648
San Miguel Nepantla,
New Spain, Spanish Empire
|Died||17 April 1695 (aged 46)|
Mexico City, New Spain,
|Occupation||Nun, poet, writer|
|Relatives||Pedro Manuel de Asbaje and Isabel Ramírez (parents)|
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, O.S.H. (English: Sister Joan Agnes of the Cross; 12 November 1648 – 17 April 1695), was a self-taught scholar and student of scientific thought, philosopher, composer, and poet of the Baroque school, and Hieronymite nun of New Spain. She was known as a nun who demonstrated the courage to challenge opinions and speak out for her beliefs. Her outspoken opinion granted her lifelong names such as, "The Tenth Muse", "The Phoenix of America", or the "Mexican Phoenix".
Sor Juana lived during Mexico's colonial period, making her a contributor both to early Mexican literature as well as to the broader literature of the Spanish Golden Age. Beginning her studies at a young age, Sor Juana was fluent in Latin and also wrote in Nahuatl, and became known for her philosophy in her teens. Sister Juana educated herself in her own library, which was mostly inherited from her grandfather. After joining a nunnery in 1667, Sor Juana began writing poetry and prose dealing with such topics as love, feminism, and religion. Her criticism of misogyny and the hypocrisy of men led to her condemnation by the Bishop of Puebla, and in 1694 she was forced to sell her collection of books and focus on charity towards the poor. She died the next year, having caught the plague while treating her fellow nuns.
She was born Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana in San Miguel Nepantla (now called Nepantla de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in her honor) near Mexico City. She was the illegitimate child of a Spanish Captain, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje, and a Criolla woman, Isabel Ramírez. Her father, according to all accounts, was absent from her life. She was baptized 2 December 1651 and described on the baptismal rolls as "a daughter of the Church". She was raised in Amecameca, where her maternal grandfather owned an Hacienda.
As a child, Juana often hid in the Hacienda chapel to read her grandfather's books from the adjoining library, something forbidden to girls. She learned how to read and write Latin at the age of three. By age five, she reportedly could do accounts. At age eight, she composed a poem on the Eucharist.
By adolescence, Juana had mastered Greek logic, and at age thirteen she was teaching Latin to young children. She also learned the Aztec language of Nahuatl and wrote some short poems in that language.
In 1664, at the age of 16, Juana was sent to live in Mexico City. She asked her mother's permission to disguise herself as a male student so that she could enter the university there. Not being allowed to do this, she continued her studies privately. She was a lady-in-waiting at the colonial viceroy's court, where she came under the tutelage of the Vicereine Leonor Carreto, wife of the Viceroy of New Spain Antonio Sebastián de Toledo. The viceroy (whom Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography names as the Marquis de Mancera), wishing to test the learning and intelligence of this 17-year-old, invited several theologians, jurists, philosophers, and poets to a meeting, during which she had to answer many questions unprepared and explain several difficult points on various scientific and literary subjects. The manner in which she acquitted herself astonished all present and greatly increased her reputation. Her literary accomplishments garnered her fame throughout New Spain. She was much admired in the viceregal court, and she received several proposals of marriage, which she declined.
As a nun
In 1667, she entered the Monastery of St. Joseph, a community of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, as a postulant. She chose not to enter that order, which had strict rules. Later, in 1669, she entered the monastery of the Hieronymite nuns, which had more relaxed rules. She chose to become a nun so that she could study as she wished since she wanted "to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study."
In the convent and perhaps earlier, Sor Juana became friends with fellow savant, Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, who visited her in the convent's locutorio. She stayed cloistered in the Convent of Santa Paula of the Hieronymite in Mexico City from 1669 until her death, and there she studied, wrote, and collected a large library of books. The Viceroy and Vicereine of New Spain became her patrons; they supported her and had her writings published in Spain. She addressed some of her poems to paintings of her friend and patron María Luisa Manrique de Lara y Gonzaga, daughter of Vespasiano Gonzaga, Duca di Guastala, Luzara e Rechiolo and Inés María Manrique, 9th Countess de Paredes, which she also addressed as Lísida.
One noted critic of her writing was the bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, who in November of 1690 published Sor Juana's critique of a 40-year-old sermon by Father António Vieira, a Portuguese Jesuit preacher. In addition to publishing that without her permission, under the pseudonym of Sor Filotea, he told her to focus on religious instead of secular studies. He published his criticisms to use them to his advantage against the Priest and while he agreed with her criticisms, he believed that as a woman, she should devote herself to prayer and give up her writings.
In response to critics of her writing, Juana wrote a letter, Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz (Reply to Sister Philotea), in which she defended women's right to education: "Oh, how much harm would be avoided in our country" if women were able to teach women in order to avoid the danger of male teachers in intimate setting with young female students. She said that such hazards "would be eliminated if there were older women of learning, as Saint Paul desires, and instructions were passed down from one group to another, as in the case with needlework and other traditional activities."
She famously remarked by quoting an Aragonese poet and echoing St. Teresa of Ávila: "One can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper." In response, Francisco de Aguiar y Seijas, Archbishop of Mexico joined other high-ranking officials in condemning Sor Juana's "waywardness."
By 1693, she seemingly ceased to write, rather than risking official censure. However, there is no undisputed evidence of her renouncing devotion to letters, but there are documents showing her agreeing to undergo penance.
Her name is affixed to such a document in 1694, but given her deep natural lyricism, the tone of the supposed handwritten penitentials is in rhetorical and autocratic Church formulae; one is signed "Yo, la Peor de Todas" ("I, the worst of all women"). She is said to have sold all her books, then an extensive library of over 4,000 volumes, and her musical and scientific instruments as well. Other sources report that her defiance toward the church led to all of her books and instruments being confiscated although the bishop himself agreed with the contents of her letters.
The Dream, a long philosophical and descriptive silva (a poetic form combining verses of 7 and 11 syllables), "deals with the shadow of night beneath which a person falls asleep in the midst of quietness and silence, where night and day animals participate, either dozing or sleeping, all urged to silence and rest by Harpocrates. The person's body ceases its ordinary operations, which are described in physiological and symbolical terms, ending with the activity of the imagination as an image-reflecting apparatus: the Pharos. From this moment, her soul, in a dream, sees itself free at the summit of her own intellect; in other words, at the apex of an own pyramid-like mount, which aims at God and is luminous.
There, perched like an eagle, she contemplates the whole creation, but fails to comprehend such a sight in a single concept. Dazzled, the soul's intellect faces its own shipwreck, caused mainly by trying to understand the overwhelming abundance of the universe, until reason undertakes that enterprise, beginning with each individual creation, and processing them one by one, helped by the Aristotelic method of ten categories.
The soul cannot get beyond questioning herself about the traits and causes of a fountain and a flower, intimating perhaps that his method constitutes a useless effort, since it must take into account all the details, accidents, and mysteries of each being. By that time, the body has consumed all its nourishment, and it starts to move and wake up, soul and body are reunited. The poem ends with the Sun overcoming Night in a straightforward battle between luminous and dark armies, and with the poet's awakening."
In addition to the two comedies outlined here (Pawns of a House [Los empeños de una casa] and Love is More a Labyrinth [Amor es mas laberinto]), Sor Juana is attributed as the author of a possible ending to the comedy by Agustin de Salazar: The Second Celestina (La Segunda Celestina). In the 1990s, Guillermo Schmidhuber found a release of the comedy that contained a different ending than the otherwise known ending. He proposed that those one thousand words were written by Sor Juana. Some literary critics, such as Octavio Paz, Georgina Sabat-Rivers, and Luis Leal) have accepted Sor Juana as the co-author, but others, such as Antonio Alatorre and Jose Pascual Buxo, have refuted it.
In the scholarly article, “Humor in Spain’s American Colonies: The Case of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz,” author Julie Greer Johnson describes how Sor Juana protested against the rigorously defined relationship between genders through her full-length comedies and humor. While literary dramas “became secularized and levity was added to otherwise austere moral themes,” women often emerged as comic characters, frequently exemplifying negative behavior. Although “such misconduct was regarded as serious, presenting the commission of folly within a humorous context was thought to make the lesson to women more palatable.” Humor “reinforced male authority and attempted to control female sexuality,” but Sor Juana was undaunted and ultimately turned this attitude to her advantage. By recognizing the power of laughter, she “endeavored to appropriate it on behalf of colonial women,” deducing that humor “has the capacity to defuse contention or even silence opposition,” and “the potential to provoke an imaginative framework in which reality may be restructured without provoking disapproval.” Through her use of humor, she “could call attention to the inequality of male-female images of femininity imposed upon them.”
Pawns of a House
The work was first performed on October 4, 1683, during the celebration of the Viceroy Count of Paredes’ first son’s birth. However, some critics maintain that it could have been set up for the Archbishop Francisco de Aguiar y Seijas’ entrance to the capital, even though this theory is not considered reliable.
The story revolves around two couples who are in love but, by chance of fate, cannot yet be together. This comedy of errors is considered one of the most prominent works of late baroque Spanish-American literature. One of its most peculiar characteristics is that the driving force in the story is a woman with a strong, decided personality who expresses her desires to a nun. The protagonist of the story, Dona Leonor, fits the archetype perfectly.
It is often considered the peak of Sor Juana’s work and even the peak of all New-Hispanic literature. Pawns of a House is considered a rare work in colonial Spanish-American theater due to the management of intrigue, representation of the complicated system of marital relationships, and the changes in urban life.
Love is More a Labyrinth
The work premiered on February 11, 1689, during the celebration of the inauguration of the viceroyalty Gaspar de la Cerda y Mendoza. However, in his Essay on Psychology, Ezequiel A. Chavez mentions Fernandez del Castillo as a coauthor of this comedy.
The plot takes on the well-known theme in Greek mythology of Theseus: a hero from Crete Island. He fights against the Minotaur and awakens the love of Ariadne and Fedra. Sor Juana conceived Theseus as the archetype of the baroque hero, a model also used by her fellow countryman Juan Ruis de Alarcon. Theseus’ triumph over the Minotaur does not make Theseus proud, but instead allows him to be humble.
Sor Juana and Music
Besides poetry and philosophy, Sor Juana was interested in science, mathematics and music. The latter represents an important aspect because, not only because musicality was an intrinsic part of the poetry of the time but also for the fact that she devoted a significant portion of her studies to the theory of instrumental tuning that, especially in the Baroque period, had reached a point of critical importance. So involved was Sor Juana in the study of music, that she wrote a treatise called El Caracol (unfortunately lost) that sought to simplify musical notation and solve the problems that Pythagorean tuning suffered. In the writings of Juana Ines, it is possible to detect the importance of sound. We can observe this in two ways. First of all, the analysis of music and the study of musical temperament appears in several of her poems. For instance, in the following poem, Sor Juana delves into the natural notes and the accidents of musical notation.
Propiedad es de natura
que entre Dios y el hombre media,
y del cielo el be cuadrado
junto al be bemol de la tierra.
On the other, Sarah Finley offers an interesting idea. She argues that the visual is related with patriarchal themes, while the sonorous offers an alternative to the feminine space in the work of Sor Juana. As an example of this, Finley points out that Narciso falls in love with a voice, and not with a reflection.
Other notable works
Academic literature on her
There is a vast amount of scholarly literature on Sor Juana in Spanish, English, French, and German.
Her works have appeared in translation. An early translation of Sor Juana's work into English was Ten Sonnets from Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz [sic], 1651-1695: Mexico's Tenth Muse, published in Taxco, Guerrero, in 1943. The translator was Elizabeth Prall Anderson who settled in Taxco. One musical work attributed to Sor Juana survives from the archive at Guatemala Cathedral. This is a 4-part villancico, Madre, la de los primores.
An important translation to English of a work by Juana Inés de la Cruz for a wide readership is published as Poems, Protest, and a Dream in a 1997 Penguin Classics paperback, which includes her response to authorities censuring her.
Arguably the most important book devoted to Sor Juana, written by Nobel Prize laureate Octavio Paz in Spanish and translated to English in 1989 as Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden). This work examines and contemplates Sor Juana's poetry and life in the context of the history of New Spain, particularly focusing on the difficulties women then faced while trying to thrive in academic and artistic fields. Paz describes how he had been drawn to her work by the enigmas of Sor Juana's personality and life paths. "Why did she become a nun? How could she renounce her lifelong passion for writing and learning?"However, it wasn't only the enigmas that attracted Paz to research on the nun's life and works. Octavio Paz's book on Sor Juana is perhaps his most personal search. It is unavoidable to see the coincidences between these two writers, separated by more than 3 centuries, and who are the product of a Mexico that has yet to resolve its own historical identity. Sor Juana, who possessed an admirable genius, was trapped within a context that did not understand, nor accept her completely. On the other hand, we have an Octavio Paz who also felt a fractured connection with his own country. A country he constantly tried to comprehend through his writings.
In his book, Paz makes a thorough analysis of Sor Juana's poetry and traces some of her influences to the Spanish writers of the Golden Age and the Hermetic tradition, mainly derived from the works of a noted Jesuit scholar of her era, Athanasius Kircher. Paz analyses Sor Juana's most ambitious and extensive poem, "First Dream" ("Primero Sueño") as largely a representation of the desire of knowledge through a number of hermetic symbols, albeit transformed in her own language and skilled image-making abilities. In conclusion, Paz makes the case that Sor Juana's works were the most important body of poetic work produced in the Americas until the arrival of 19th-century figures such as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.
An equally valuable feminist analysis and interpretation of Sor Juana’s life and work is found in The Answer/La Respuesta by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Electa Arenal, a Sor Juana scholar who is recognized among feminists who changed America, and Amanda Powell, a poet and translator. The original publication, released in 1994 by The Feminist Press, was re-released in an updated second edition in 2009, also by The Feminist Press. The bilingual publication includes poems, an annotated publication of Sor Juana’s response to church officials and her impassioned plea for education of women, analysis and a bibliography. The Answer applies a valuable gender lens to Sor Juana’s writings and life. 
Tarsicio Herrera Zapién, a classical scholar, has devoted much of his career to the study of Sor Juana's works. Some of his publications (in Spanish) include Buena fe y humanismo en Sor Juana: diálogos y ensayos: las obras latinas: los sorjuanistas recientes (1984); López Velarde y sor Juana, feministas opuestos: y cuatro ensayos sobre Horacio y Virgilio en México (1984); Poemas mexicanos universales: de Sor Juana a López Velarde (1989) and Tres siglos y cien vidas de Sor Juana (1995).
Furthermore, Dr. Theresa Yugar who has written her Master's and Doctoral theses on Sor Juana, wrote Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Feminist Reconstruction of Biography and Text, a book in which she discusses the life of Sor Juana through a feminist lense and analyzes Sor Juana's La Respuesta and El Sueño. Dr. Yugar argues Sor Juana is the first feminist of the Americas and even one of the first ecofeminists. She claims that Sor Juana was ahead of her time and was able to intelligently critique the oppressive, patriarchal structures of the church. 
Historical memory and influence
Sor Juana was a famous and controversial figure in the seventeenth century. In the modern era, she has been honored in Mexico as well as being the part of a political controversy in the late twentieth century. During renovations at the cloister in the 1970s, bones were found that are believed to be those of Sor Juana. Also found at the same time was a medallion similar to the one depicted in portraits of Sor Juana. The medallion was kept by Margarita López Portillo, the sister of President José López Portillo (1976-1982). During the tercentennial of Sor Juana's death in 1995, a member of the Mexican congress called on Margarita López Portillo to return the medallion, which she said she had taken for "safekeeping". She returned it to Congress on November 14, 1995, with the event and description of the controversy reported in The New York Times a month later. Whether or not the medallion is Sor Juana's, the incident sparked discussions about Sor Juana and abuse of official power in Mexico.
Official recognition by the Mexican government
She was honored by the Mexican government in significant ways.
- Sor Juana's name was inscribed in gold on the wall of honor in the Mexican congress in April 1995.
- Sor Juana is pictured on the obverse of the 200 pesos bill issued by the Banco de Mexico.
- Sor Juana also appears on the 1000 pesos coin minted by Mexico between 1988 and 1992
- The convent in Mexico City in which she lived the last 27 years of her life and where she wrote most of her work is today the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana in the historic center of Mexico City.
Inspiration and influence
Sor Juana has been the inspiration for film makers and authors of poetry, plays, opera, and literary fiction.
- American composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars used two of Sor Juana's poems, Pues mi Dios ha nacido a penar and Pues está tiritando in their libretto for the Nativity oratorio-opera El Niño (2000).
- The Spanish-language mini-series Juana Inés (2016) by Canal Once TV, starring Arantza Ruiz and Arcelia Ramírez as Sor Juana, dramatizes her life.
- María Luisa Bemberg wrote and directed the 1990 film, Yo, la peor de todas (I, the Worst of All), about the life of Sor Juana.
- A telenovela about her life, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was created in 1962.
- Diane Ackerman wrote a dramatic verse play, Reverse Thunder, about Sor Juana (1992).
- Alicia Gaspar de Alba wrote a historical novel, Sor Juana's Second Dream (1999).
- Jesusa Rodríguez has produced a number of works concerning Sor Juana, including Sor Juana en Almoloya and Striptease de Sor Juana, based on Juana's poem, "Primero Sueño".
- Canadian novelist Paul Anderson devoted 12 years writing a 1300 page novel entitled Hunger's Brides (pub. 2004) on Sor Juana. His novel won the 2005 Alberta Book Award.
- Helen Edmundson's play The Heresy of Love, based on the life of Sor Juana, was premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company in early 2012 and revived by Shakespeare's Globe in 2015.
- Composer Daniel Crozier and librettist Peter M. Krask wrote With Blood, With Ink, an opera based around her life, while both were students at Baltimore's Peabody Institute in 1993. The work was premiered at Peabody and won first prize in the National Operatic and Dramatic Association's Chamber Opera Competition. In May 2000, excerpts from the opera were included in the New York City Opera's Showcasing American Composers Series. The work in its entirety was premiered by the Fort Worth Opera on April 20, 2014 and recorded by Albany Records.
- Puerto Rican singer ILE (singer) recites part of one of Sor Juana's sonnets in her song "Rescatarme".
- Playwright, director, dramaturg, teacher, and producer Kenneth Prestininzi wrote Impure Thoughts (Without Apology) which follows Sor Juana's experience with Bishop Francisco Aguilar y Seijas. "".
- Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood's 2007 book of poems 'The Door' includes a poem entitled 'Sor Juana Works in the Garden'.
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- In the final verse we come to know it is Sor Juana herself because she uses the first person, feminine.
- Sor Juana is inspired by Fray Luis de Granada's Introducción al Símbolo de la Fe, where an extended verbal description of physiological functions is the closest match to what is found in the poem.
- It must be understood that this light of intellect is Grace given by God. poemas cortos
- This pinnacle of contemplation is clearly preceded by Saint Augustine (Confessions, X, VIII, 12), who also inspired Petrarch's letter about the contemplation of the world created by God from the summit of a mountain (in his letter Familiares, IV, 1)
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- Paz p. 2
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- ROSAS LOPATEGUI, Patricia, Oyeme con los ojos : de Sor Juana al siglo XXI; 21 escritoras mexicanas revolucionarias. México: Universidad Autónoma Nuevo León, 2010. ISBN 978-607-433-474-6
- SABAT DE RIVERS, Georgina, El «Sueño» de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: tradiciones literarias y originalidad, Londres: Támesis, 1977.
- SORIANO, Alejandro, La hora más bella de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, México, CONACULTA, Instituto Queretano de la Cultura y las Artes, 2010.
- WEBER, Hermann, Yo, la peor de todas – Ich, die Schlechteste von allen. Karlsruhe: Info Verlag, 2009. ISBN 978-3-88190-542-8
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Juana Inés de la Cruz|
- Works by Juana Inés de la Cruz at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Sor Juana Ines the Tenth Muse from Inside Mexico
- Sor Juana, the Poet: The Sonnets from National Endowment for the Humanities
- Sor Juana, la poetisa: Los sonetos from National Endowment for the Humanities
- The Imperfect Sex: Why Is Sor Juana Not a Saint? by Jorge Majfud
- The Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Project
- Academic resource on the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
- On-line facsimile edition of Sor Juana's Fama y obras posthumas
- Six sonnets in Spanish with English translations
- Free scores by Juana Inés de la Cruz in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)