1569, 1578, and 1589 (first complete edition)



Alonso de Ercilla

La Araucana


Alonso de Ercilla’s La Araucana (published in Spain in three parts, 1569, 1578, and 1589, the latter gathering all three parts) is probably the best known epic poem of the Spanish colonization of the Americas and a paradigmatic text of New World epic poetry. Its subject is the attempted conquest of Chile (particularly the expedition led by García Hurtado de Mendoza between 1557 and 1561), a failed enterprise that contrasts with the victorius conquests of Mexico (1519-1521) and Peru (1532-1536), by Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, respectively.

Lautaro al frente de su Ejército, hacia 1550. En La Araucana : poema / de D. Alonso de Ercilla y Zuñiga. Madrid : Impr. de Gaspar y Roig, 1852. 168 p. Source:

La Araucana lacks an exemplary Spanish hero and presents many ambiguous views about the would-be conquerors, casting doubts about the grandeur of the Spanish conquest itself. Many studies, moreover, have called attention to the poem’s heroic presentation of the Araucanian leaders.[1] Nonetheless, Ercilla’s support for the Spanish imperialist agenda is discernible in the larger scheme of things because of his support of the Crown’s perspective vis-à-vis the greedy and cruel conquistadores. This duality is based in part on the classical literary models (mostly Virgil and Lucan) which informed Ercilla’s writing. David Quint has argued that Ercilla identified the emergent Araucanian heroes, freed of the monarchical yoke, with the Castilian martial aristocracy whose power had been diminished under the reign of Charles V (Epic and Empire 175). The complexity of Ercilla’s portrayals can also be attributed to the influence of Bartolomé de las Casas’s thought and the Neo-Scholastic movement, both of which stridently criticized the greed and arrogance of the conquistadors, a position Ercilla clearly recognizes in Chant 1 of La Araucana. Paradoxically, Ercilla’s text ultimately supports an expansionist imperial project directly regulated by the Spanish Crown; after all, he advocated many of the same principles as the official discourse against the land-owner conquistadores-encomenderos (see the illuminating work by Mejías-López, “La relación ideológica”). In this sense, La Araucana must be located within an imperialist, centralizing project.

Don García Hurtado de Mendoza was the second son of Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza, Marquis of Cañete and Viceroy of Peru from 1556 to 1560. In 1557, Don García was sent as governor of Chile by his Viceroy father to “pacify” that territory after the Araucanians there had revolted and killed the former Spanish governor, Pedro de Valdivia. Alonso de Ercilla was one of the soldiers in Don García’s four-year expedition to Chile, although the young nobleman only served for one and half years, from 1557 to early 1559. Don García would go on to become the Viceroy of Peru in 1589, after having inherited the title of Marquis of Cañete upon the death of his older brother.

Ercilla’s La Araucana depicts the young Don García Hurtado de Mendoza in a rather unfavorable way. In Chant 37 (the last) of the poem, Ercilla refers to him as a “mozo capitán acelerado” [“anxious young captain”] in reference to the latter’s alleged hastiness in his treatment of officers and of war affairs in general.[2] It would appear that Ercilla here decided to exact some revenge for an incident that had occurred while he was serving under Don García. During a 1558 celebration of the assumption of King Phillip II (son of Charles V) to the throne, the young Ercilla had apparently drawn his sword to provoke a duel, a grave offense for which Don García condemned him to death. Although Don García would pardon Ercilla at the last moment and exile him to Lima (where he would remain three more years and continue the composition of La Araucana), Ercilla still had good reason to loathe Don García as the cause of his humiliation and public scorn. Historian Pedro Mariño de Lobera (396) attributes Ercilla’s resentment to this humiliation.

In his eagerness to criticize the awkwardness of Don García and the ambition of the conquistadors, Ercilla presents numerous Mapuche leaders in the light of classic models of heroism and virtue. His portraits of Caupolicán, Coco-Colo, Lautaro, Galvarino, and others are models comparable to the heroes of Ariosto and Tasso and even to the ideal of the cortesano proposed by Baldassare Castiglione. Likewise, some Mapuche women are elevated as paradigms of virtue and bravery.

In response to La Araucana, Creole poet Pedro de Oña dedicated his Arauco domado (1596) to Don García Hurtado de Mendoza. This latter poem constitutes a heroic version of the 1557 expedition to Chile, sprinkled with long references to events from the 1590s, including the tax rebellion in Quito (1592-1593) and the arrival of British corsair Richard Hawkins to Peruvian shores (1594). These two events occupy the last six chants (14 to 19) of Oña’s extensive poem.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were two styles of epic poetry: the verosimilista and the verista. The former followed the orthodox, Aristotelian criterion of exposing universal rather than particular truths (as in the poetry of Bernardo de Balbuena and the treatise Philosophia Antigua Poetica by El Pinciano); the latter followed a more realistic or particular approach to the subject of narration, although, according to José Durand, it did not fall completely in the genre of the “rhymed chronicles” or “artistic history in prose, in the classic or humanistic way” (“Caupolicán, clave historial” 367). Both Ercilla and Oña participated in the two styles, with diverse shades and intensities, especially in regard to the representation of native costumes and rituals. La Araucana’s verista perspective is especially prominent in its meticulous account of the battles and the chronological follow-up of García Hurtado de Mendoza’s campaign.

Ercilla’s poem immediately gained immense popularity after the publication of its First Part in 1569. The following two parts were no disappointment, and Ercilla remained in Spain until his death in 1594, at age 61, recognized as the most outstanding epic poet of the Spanish Renaissance.


[1] Among the many studies of La Araucana, Corominas and Pastor represent opposing readings of Ercilla’s presentation of the Araucanians or Mapuche. The modern bibliography is abundant, and dates back at least to the erudite studies by José Toribio Medina in the early twentieth century (Vida de Ercilla and his “Edición del Centenario” about Chile’s independence in 1914). For another good overview, see the introduction and notes by Lerner in his edition of La Araucana (1998).

[2] The passage is from Chant 37, stanza 70, second line. This Chant was renumbered and modified in the definitive edition of La Araucana in 1597. The line originally appeared as part of Chant 35 of the Third Part of the poem published in 1589.


José Antonio Mazzotti

Tufts University


Works Cited

Corominas, Juan María (1980): Castiglione y La Araucana. Estudio de una influencia. Madrid: Porrúa Turranzas.

Durand, José (1978): “Caupolicán, clave historial y épica de La Araucana,” Révue de Littérature Comparée, nº 52, pp. 367–89.

Ercilla, Alonso de (1998 [1569, 1578 y 1589]): La Araucana. Ed. de Isaías Lerner. Madrid: Cátedra.

Lerner, Isaías, ed. (1998): “Prólogo” in his edition of Ercilla’s La Araucana (vid. supra).

Mariño de Lobera, Pedro (1960): Crónica del Reino de Chile. In Crónicas del reino de Chile. Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, vol. 131. Ed. y estudio preliminar de Francisco Esteve Barba. Madrid: Ediciones Atlas.

Medina, José Toribio (ed.) (1910-1918): La Araucana de d. Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga: Edición del centenario, ilustrada con grabados, documentos, notas históricas y bibliográficas y una biografía del autor. Santiago de Chile: Imprenta Elzeviriana, 1910-18. Includes Medina’s Vida de Ercilla.

Mejías-López, William (1995): “La relación ideológica de Alonso de Ercilla con Francisco de Vitoria y Bartolomé de las Casas,” Revista Iberoamericana, LXI / nº 170-171, pp. 197–218.

Oña, Pedro de (1944 [1596]): Primera Parte del Arauco Domado. Facsímil de un ejemplar enmendado de la primera edición [Lima: Antonio Ricardo]. Madrid: Ediciones Cultura Hispánica.

Pastor, Beatriz (1984): Discursos narrativos de la conquista. Mitificación y emergencia. La Habana, Casa de las Américas.


Early edition (Part One) online:

La Araucana, by Alonso de Ercilla. En Salamanca, : En casa de Domingo de Portonarijs … 1574 … A costa de Vicente, y Simon de Portonarijs. John Carter Brown Library


Rengo luchando con un español:

From: La Araucana : poema / de D. Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga. Ed. ilustrada. Madrid : Impr. y Libr. de J. Gaspar Editor, 1884. 168 p. Source: Wikimedia