Baltasar Gracián


Biography of Baltasar Gracián

Baltasar Gracián y Morales, SJ (January 8, 1601 – December 6, 1658) was an Aragonese Jesuit and baroque prose writer. He was born in Belmonte, near Calatayud (Aragon). His proto-existentialist writings were lauded by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

The son of a doctor, in his childhood Gracián lived with his uncle, who was a priest. He studied at a Jesuit school in 1621 and 1623 and theology in Zaragoza. He was ordained in 1627 and took his final vows in 1635.

He assumed the vows of the Jesuits in 1633 and dedicated himself to teaching in various Jesuit schools. He spent time in Huesca, where he befriended the local scholar Vincencio Juan de Lastanosa, who helped him achieve an important milestone in his intellectual upbringing. He acquired fame as a preacher, although some of his oratorical displays, such as reading a letter sent from Hell from the pulpit, were frowned upon by his superiors. He was named Rector of the Jesuit college of Tarragona and wrote works proposing models for courtly conduct such as El héroe (The Hero), El político (The Politician), and El discreto (The Discreet One). During the Spanish war with Catalonia and France, he was chaplain of the army that liberated Lleida in 1646.

In 1651, he published the first part of the Criticón (Faultfinder) without the permission of his superiors, whom he disobeyed repeatedly. This attracted the Society's displeasure. Ignoring the reprimands, he published the second part of Criticón in 1657, as a result was sanctioned and exiled to Graus at the beginning of 1658. Soon Gracian wrote to apply for membership in another religious order. His demand was not met, but his sanction was eased off: in April of 1658 he was sent to several minor positions under the College of Tarazona. His physical decline prevented him from attending the provincial congregation of Calatayud and on December 6, 1658, Gracian died in Tarazona, near Zaragoza in the Kingdom of Aragon.

Gracián is the most representative writer of the Spanish Baroque literary style known as Conceptismo (Conceptism), of which he was the most important theoretician; his Agudeza y arte de ingenio (Wit and the Art of Inventiveness) is at once a poetic, a rhetoric and an anthology of the conceptist style.

The Aragonese village where he was born (Belmonte de Calatayud), changed its name to Belmonte de Gracian in his honour.

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