"El consejo de los dioses" in Konseho ng mga Diyoses; Sa May Ilog Pasig (El Consejo de los Dioses; Junto al Pasig) by José Rizal, translated by Virgilio S. Almario and Michael M. Coroza (Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, 2016) [dual language edition]
On 23 April 1880, the Liceo Artistico Literario de Manila accepted entries for an annual writing contest to commemorate the 264th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes. For that literary competition the nineteen-year old José Rizal (1861-1986) submitted a one-act play about an unusual literary competition called El consejo de los dioses. In his play, the gods reunited in Olympus to serve as literary jurors and choose from among three writers the most deserving of immortality. The finalists were: Homer, Virgil, and Cervantes. No, this was not a conventional Nobel Prize for Literature. The judging panel could not arrive at a consensus choice from among the three formidable writers. Each writer had his own celestial champion. The heated deliberations of the gods almost resulted to a Ragnarök of sorts. If not for the wise intervention of Jupiter and one impartial judge, the brewing conflict among the judges would have resulted to a civil war among the divine.
The play opened with Jupiter announcing the idea behind the literary contest, the three major prizes to be won by the laureate (a soldier's trumpet, a lyre, and a crown of laurel, all magnificently crafted), plus the criteria and scope of judging. Jupiter's motive behind the contest – commemorating the triumph of the deities against the rebellion of Titans now incarcerated in Tartarus – was similar to the nasty Hunger Games.
JUPITER: Nagkaroon ng isang panahon, mga kataas-taasang diyoses, na ang mga suwail na anak ni Terra ay nagtangkang makaakyat sa Olimpo upang agawin sa akin ang kaharian, sa pamamagitan ng pagpapatong-patong ng mga bundok. At natupad sana ang kanilang nasà, nang walang anumang alinlangan, kung hindi nagtulong ang inyong mga bisig at ang kakila-kilabot kong mga kidlat upang ihulog silá sa Tartaro at ibaón ang iba sa púsod ng naglalagablab na Etna. Ang ganitong kalugod-lugod na pangyayari ay nais kong ipagdiwang nang buong dingal, na siyáng nababagay sa mga inmortal [...] Kayâ nga, ako, ang Kataas-taasan sa mga diyoses, ay nagpapasiyang ang pagdiriwang na ito ay magsimula sa isang timpalak-panitik. Ako'y may isang marangyang trumpeta ng mandirigma, isang lira, at isang koronang lawrel at pawang napakarikit ang pagkakagawa. [...] Ang naturang tatlong bagay ay magkakasinghalaga, at ang makilálang may napakataas na ambag para sa pagkalinang sa panitikan at sa mga katangian ng puso't damdamin ay siyáng magkakamit ng nasabing kahang-hangang hiyas. Ipakilála nga ninyo sa akin na ang mortal na sang-ayon sa inyong paghatol ay karapat-dapat na tumanggap ng mga ito.*
Hubo un tiempo, excelsos dioses, en que los soberbios hijos de la tierra pretendieron escalar el Olimpo y arrebatarme el imperio, acumulando montes sobre montes, y lo hubieran conseguido, sin duda alguna, si vuestros brazos y mis terribles rayos no los hubieran precipitado al Tártaro, sepultando á los otros en las entrañas de la ardiente Etna. Tan fausto acontecimiento deseo celebrar con la pompa de los inmortales [...] Así, que yo, el Soberano de los dioses, quiero que comience la fiesta con un certamen literario. Tengo una soberbia trompa guerrera, una lira y una corona de laurel esmeradamente fabricadas [...] Las tres valen igualmente, y el que haya cultivado mejor las letras y las virtudes, ese será el dueño de tan magníficas alhajas. Presentadme, pues, vosotros e mortal que juzguéis digno de merecerlas.
One by one, the bookworm-gods spoke and nominated their favorite writer. Juno made a case for Homer on account of his bold and daring ("matapang at pangahas") Iliad and his thoughtful and restrained ("mapaglimi at mapagtimping") Odyssey.
After Juno, Venus took center stage and respectfully objected to the former's choice. She herself made an impassioned plea for Virgil who celebrated the life of her son Aeneas (yes, these gods had their own interest in mind, they were not about to inhibit themselves from the proceedings!). She pointed out to Jupiter the great and merciful quality of Aeneas compared to the fiery temperament of Achilles. For her, Virgil satisfied all the criteria of the singular writer Jupiter was looking for: the one with a substantial contribution to the cultivation of literature and the heart ("may napakataas na ambag para sa pagkalinang sa panitikan at sa mga katangian ng puso't damdamin" / "el que haya cultivado mejor las letras y las virtudes").
A word war ensued between Venus and Juno, after which Minerva took the stage and made an equally heartrending plea for Cervantes, the "son of Spain" who was at first a neglected and pitiful figure (Minerva was alluding to the adventures of Cervantes as a soldier before becoming a novelist) before giving birth to the light his masterpiece.
Ang Quijote, ang kanyang kahanga-hangang anak, ay isang latigong nagpaparusa at nagwawasto ng mga kamalian, nagpapabulwak hindi ng dugo kundi ng halakhak. Isa itong nektar na hinaluan ng mga birtud ng isangmapait na medisina; isang kamay na humahaplos ngunit matigas na pumapatnubay sa mga pasyon ng tao.
EL QUIJOTE, su parto grandioso, es el látigo que castiga la risa; es el néctar que encierra las virtudes de la amarga medicina; es la mano halagüeña que guía enérgica á las pasiones humanas.
And then Minerva discussed some more the form of enlightenment Cervantes brought not only to his land but to other shores. Apollo then spoke to second Minerva's appreciation of the Spanish novelist, with this parenthetical quip between his lofty statements: "I implore you not to assume I am partial to Cervantes because he devoted many beautiful pages to me." ("Ipinakikiusap ko sa inyo na huwag ipalagay na ako'y mahilig kay CERVANTES sapagkat ako'y pinag-uukulan ng kanyang maraming magagandang pahina." / "Os ruego no me tachéis de apasionado porque CERVANTES me haya dedicado muchas de sus bellas páginas.")
The deliberation of the gods continued becoming less and less godlike (read: uncivil), with some of them resorting to the oldest tricks in the book: appeal to pity and argumentum ad hominem.
Marte (Mars) joined the fray by slamming Cervantes who apparently defamed him in the novel and ridiculed his exploits ("ang aklat na nagpabagsak sa lup ng aking kaluwalhatian at umuyam sa akong mga nagawa" / "el libro que echa al suelo mi gloria y ridiculiza mis hazañas se alce victorioso"). The angry Marte even marched to the middle of the hall, issued a challenge with his defiant eyes, and brandished his sword.
Minerva spoke again in support of Cervantes and contextualized the Spanish writer's position on the use of arms and letters. (I think she refers to Don Quijote's discourse on arms and letters.) Then she accepted Marte's challenge and prepared for an Olympus showdown. Belona sided with Marte, while Apollo hopped to Minerva's side and stretched out his arrow ready for battle.
Seeing the warlike attitude of the gods, Jupiter's temper flared and he wielded his lightning. Like the wise Solomon he ended the debate by enlisting the help of a most impartial judge who will weigh (literally) the books in her scales using the highest standard possible (not the thickness, one presumes).
Mercurio put each of the two books (the Aeneid and the Quijote) first on the scales of Justice, and what do you know, the scales tipped right in the middle, not a hair's breadth more or less to the right or left! The two tomes were equal in weight. Mercurio removed the Aeneid and replaced it with the Iliad. Up and down went the two scales, up and down, the suspense built up. Then the two scales would stop at the very same level! Justice had spoken not in so many words. What Justice said, was justice served. Jupiter distributed the prizes to the three candidates.
JUPITER: [...] Mga diyoses at mga diyosas: Naniniwala ang KATARUNGAN na magkasimbigat ang tatlo: patas. Magsiyukod kayo, kung gayon at ibigay natin kay HOMERO ang trumpeta, kay VIRGILIO ang lira, at kay CERVANTES ang lawrel. Samantala, ilalathala ng FAMA sa buong daigdig ang pasiya ng KAPALARAN.
Dioses y diosas: la JUSTICIA los cree iguales; doblad, pues, la frente, y demos á HOMERO la trompa, á VIRGILIO la lira y á CERVANTES el lauro; mientras que la FAMA publicará por el mundo la sentencia del DESTINO.
Rizal's "Alegoría", as El consejo de los dioses was subtitled, unanimously won the first prize from the Liceo Artistico Literario de Manila. The play's epigraph "Con el recuerdo del pasado entro en el porvenir" (“I enter the future remembering the past”) hinted at the how the young Rizal valued and appreciated literature not only in literary terms but on "the weight of history", a world history fraught with monsters and wars, cruelties and inhumanities.
Unlike his two famous nationalist novels, Rizal's short play was often neglected because he wrote it when he was only a teenager. But here one could detect the source of didacticim in Philippine novel writing where writings were supposed to not only contribute to the development of literature but also to contribute to a positive change in attitudes and behaviors. The only possible arbiter of such writings is justice and to find justice in a work is to weigh them dispassionately and blindly. For Rizal, works that serve justice in all its forms are the kind of works that last, the works that must be celebrated are the ones that celebrate human dignity and human rights. Perhaps it is the "rights-based framework" of literary criticism that integrates the piecemeal concerns of Philippine literature. Not the Marxist alone, not the nationalist, not the feminist, not the queer, not the postcolonial.
*Above quotations in Filipino are from the translation of Virgilio S. Almario. The Spanish quotations are taken from El consejo de los dioses at Project Gutenberg which has slight variations from the Spanish in the book published by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino.