A patriot by sentiment, a lawyer by profession, and a man of letters by avocation, Cecilio Apostol was a colossus in Spanish-Filipino poetry. He was recognized not only in the Philippines but also throughout the Hispanic world as "the greatest Filipino epic poet writing in Spanish." According to Claro M. Recto, Apostol was "the greatest writer of both prose and poetry."
He was born in Sta. Cruz Manila on November 22, 1877, to Jose P. Apostol and Marcelina de los Reyes. He began writing poems as early as when he was in the third grade. In school programs, he used to declaim verses that he himself wrote. Aside from poetry, he loved art. At home and in school, he used to paint landscapes, flowers, birds and people. His first published poem was El Terror de los Mares Indicos in El Comercio. After his elementary education, he enrolled at the Ateneo Municipal where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1894. He later took up law at the University of Santo Tomas. However, he joined the Revolution in 1896 before finishing his law course.He also joined the editorial staff of the newspaper, La Independencia, and used either Catulo or Isagani as his pen names.When peace was restored, he continued his journalistic carrer and worked in various newspapers, such as La Fraternidad, La Democrecia, La Patria, and El Renocimiento. Finishing his law studies after the Revolution, he passed the bar and was appointed assistant fiscal of Manila in 1908.
During his spare time, he dedicated himself to poetry, painting and linguistics. He learned several foreign languages, translated Bonifacio's Decalogue into French and the Ilocano epic Lam-ang into Spanish. Apostol's patriotic poem, Mi Raza, won first prize in the national literary contest sponsored by the Club International in 1902. In it he demonstrated evidence of his supremacy over all Filipino poets in Spanish. His poetical masterpiece A Rizal (To Rizal), is still unsurpassed in epic sweep and patriotic fire. The poems of Apostol have been compiled by Professor Jaime C. de Veyra and published under the title Pentelicas (Manila, 1941). Included in this collection are: Al Heroe Nacional, Mi Raza, A La Bandera, La Siesta, Sobre El Plinto (dedicated to Mabini), Paisaie Filipino, A Emilio Jacinto, Los Martires Anonimos de la Pairia, and El Solo de la Independencia.
Apostol's fame was acclaimed in practically all Spanish-speaking countries of the world. His poems, together with his biography, appeared in the World Anthology of Spanish Poetry and in the world-famous Enciplopedia España, and in many other books. In recognition of his poetical genius, Apostol was made a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Literature. Some of his poems have been translated into German. Upon the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1935, this great poet-lawyer was asked to become one of President Quezon's legal advisers. He refused the lucrative offer, and a few months later he retired from his position as Manila's assistant fiscal without claiming the customary retirement privileges. He joined the law office of Don Vicente Francisco and distinguished himself there as a brief writer and legal researcher. On September 17, 1938, Apostol died of cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Caloocan at the age of 61. He was survived by his wife Margarita San Jose and six children.
Al Heroe Nacional
Weep not in the mystery of the tomb,
over the Spaniards’ momentary triumph,
for if a bullet your cranium destroye
your idea, in turn, an empire destroyed.