Biography of Bartolomé de Arzáns Orzúa y Vela (1676-1736)

Writer and Spanish historian, born at the Villa Imperial de Potosí (within the ancient Viceroyalty of the Peru, in the territory then known as Alto Peru, which currently makes up the floor of the Bolivian nation) in 1676, and died in his place of origin in 1736. His name has been printed in the history of Latin American literature for being the author of a monumental literary and historiographical work which, under the title of history of the Villa Imperial de Potosí, turns him into one of the chroniclers more lucid and enjoyable of colonial literature written in the Spanish language.


Just some biographical data concerning this singular self-taught writer, author of a great literary effort conceived from the deep love he/she felt towards his homeland have survived to this day. It is known that, before embarking on his grandiose project, he/she had already written a short treatise entitled annals of the Villa Imperial de Potosí, text that served as a sketch to undertake, towards the year 1703, the drafting of his monumental history. Led to the fickle byways by which runs the literary transmission that, while the brief text of the annals... profusely circulated by the Hispanic Cultural gossip from the 19th and 20th, the extensive manuscript legacy of history... (which, in its current edition, occupies more than thousand two hundred pages, distributed in three thick volumes) was not rescued until the beginning of the 20th century. In the middle of this century was finally taken to the printing by Americans scholars Lewis Hanke y Gunnar Mendoza (history of the Villa Imperial de Potosí [Providence (Rhode Island, U.S.A.): Brown University Press, 1965]). Five years later be reedited also the famous annals of the Villa Imperial de Potosí (La Paz: Ministry of education and culture, 1970).

Apparently, he/she was the son of Arzáns Bartolomé de Orsua and Vela who ended the writing of history..., whose writing process had been truncated in 1736, on the occasion of the death of the writer of Potosi. That was the single stem born of a marriage contracted by Arzans, when he/she was twenty-four years of age, a woman who spent forty. The rest of his life are known only some data that can be inferred from his work, as his great fondness for the bulls, their sympathies towards the Indians and its constant presence in the most public events of their beloved hometown, which achieved fame of brilliant orator. It is also easy to detect the influence of a fierce religious formation which, beside the moralistic zeal presiding over numerous passages of history, appears in several sets of undeniable spirituality popular (thus, v. gr., when the author attributed the salvation of his friend Pablo Huancani, victim of a mining accident, to the miraculous intervention of the Candelaria de San Pedro). Regarding his literary formation, it seems undeniable that, although it is a self-taught writer, Bartolomé de Arzáns had read with enjoyment and advantage many of picaresque works which, at the same time, meet the literary tastes of the most educated inhabitants of the Viceroyalty of Peru.

History of the Villa Imperial de Potosí

From a conception of the world of the Baroque and Indian man who was Arzans, history... was raised as an entertaining literary exercise that, without departing in any part of the historiographic rigor inherent to any work of its kind, had as its main objective to please readers and to share many traditions and legends set the rich cultural heritage of the settlers of the Imperial Villa. It has emerged, as well, a dazzling miscellaneous text which, under the direct influence of the previous work of the Peruvian chronicler Antonio de la Calancha (1584-1654), collecting between her tight pages some of the most important episodes in the history of the Viceroyalty of Peru from 1545 until 1736, along with numerous local anecdotes of Potosi, specific references to relevant people of the Villa, and a host of stories and novellas that, very close to the genus cuentistico, granted to work a solid literary dimension and allowed Arzans was revealed as the great narrator who was. So much so, that the presentation of the historical data is at all times subject to the narrative of the work construction and maintenance of this fictional tension that is evident from their first paragraphs, emphasizing the manifest literary Orsua Arzans will.

Indeed, through the hundreds of pages that make up the history of the Villa Imperial de Potosí are abundant references to domestic war held between the different factions of miners who worked in the mines of silver; numerous reports of the clashes which, originating in the metropolis, is still playing there among the descendants of Basques, and Andalusians; and countless allusions to the major events that marked the historical evolution of the village since its Foundation until the moment in which he/she writes Arzans (como, v. gr., the devastating plague epidemic declared in 1719, which took the lives of twenty thousand potosinos). But above these valuable historical or testimonial documents, shine with special glare the passionate stories of love and hate; relationships between merchants, artisans and miners; the legends of martyrs enshrined in each of the different social groups that make up the protein human framework of the city (Blacks, Indians, mestizos, Creoles and Spaniards); and, in general, the stories focusing on the favorite subjects of a powerful narrator who, like Arzans, focus your aim on the female figures (which, from a man of Baroque's own mental patterns, not treated too well), festivals and local celebrations (with special attention to the bullfights) and public ceremonies, for many years, constituted the best reflection of the splendour of one of the most prosperous cities of the ultramarine Spain (at the beginning of the 17TH century, Potosi could equip your luxury and extension with some of the major capitals, such as Madrid and London).

One of the best examples of this rare ability of Arzáns Bartolomé when combining historical data with the local anecdote appears in its relationship of civil wars extended between 1622 and 1625, in which, in a terrifying climate of violence unleashed more than three thousand three hundred Spaniards lost their lives and about two thousand five hundred Peruvian. According to narra entertaining writer of Potosi, in the midst of this cruel fratricidal strife his countrymen made a "ceasefire" to mourn the death of Felipe III and celebrate the canonization of san Ignacio de Loyola, events celebrated with luxury, the pageantry and the sumptuousness that, despite years of war, were accustomed potosinos.

A good test of supremacy granted by Orsua Arzans to the literary dimension of his narration is reflected in their need to make up some of the historical works that allegedly supplied the data handling. Thus, textually quotes the names of certain "historians" who has never found any reference, as Antonio Acosta, Juan Pasquier, Juan Sobrino, Pedro Méndez and Bartolomé owners, all of them "authors" - always according to the fictional game of Arzans - of different stories about the town of Potosi. In fact, Arzans is is inventing as well a historical and literary tradition that allows you to present its hometown as that mythic territory which, from then on, will have to become one of the key procedures of the particular fictional creation of many Hispanic-American authors.

This procedure succeeds, especially in the first part of his work, organized in three great cycles which always culminate with terrible divine punishments caused by sinful life of the inhabitants of Potosi. In the second part of the story, much closer to the chronic "journalistic", Arzáns Bartolomé evident sadness to present their city's decline, while recounts the revolt of Indians and mestizos against the Spanish at the beginning of the 18th century cities. Thus, the ideological background of the Narrator, embodied in the pessimism of the Creole that longs for the legendary greatness of the past of the city (located in its economic glory during the 16th and 17TH centuries), from hard prosaic reality of the moment (evident in the decline of the 18th century) can be seen in an overall reading of the work.

Moreover, other very significant details also reveal that Orsua Arzans predilection for literary aspects of his work. Thus, v. gr., mentioned inclusion of all the stories, traditions and legends that circulate in the city, admitted as true by the author and presented as a fun collection that, over time, would give rise to some of the collections of colonial tales of Bolivian letters and Peruvian (such as the famous traditions, Ricardo Palma). This will be added its express statement that writes to please the reader, and the use of a constant irony while introducing a certain distance from the Narrator to the narrated facts, which relativizes the purely historical discourse of his work.

The importance of the history of the Villa Imperial de Potosí in later Andean literary tradition not only became patent in the mentioned text of the Peruvian Ricardo Palma, but also in many other works which, in one way or another, accused the direct influence of Arzáns Bartolomé. Indeed, the miscellaneous and expressive richness of its history... is a fruitful source of subjects, topics, motifs, events and characters which has assortment of literary material to some writers such as the philosopher and dramatist Bolivian Guillermo Francovich (author of play the monk of Potosí, which retrieves one of the legendary Chronicles of Arzans), or fellow- Néstor Taboada Terán (responsible for the novel Manchay Puytu(, love wanted to hide God, also based on the story... of Arzans). To this we must add the importance of the text of Bartolomé of Arzáns at the time of transmit to the present day knowledge of some samples of colonial of his time, collecting poetry between the pages of the history of the Villa Imperial de Potosí shaped songs and anonymous leaflets.


PABLO Garcia, Leonardo. Andean space, colonial writing and Creole country. The history of Potosi in the narrative of Bartolomé Arzáns (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1990).

HANKE, Lewis and MENDOZA, Gunnar. "Introduction" Bartolomé de Arzáns Orsua and sailing: history of the Villa Imperial de Potosí ([Rhode Island, U.S.A.] Providence: Brown University Press, 1965).

HANKE, Lewis. "Um bibliographic mystery: A history of Potosi, Antonio Acosta", in Revista Portuguesa de Historia, VIII (1961), pp. 5-10.-. Bartolomé Arzans Orsua and candle's History of Potosi (Providence [Rhode Island, U.S.A.]: Brown University Press, 1965).-. "Bartolomé Arzáns Orsua and sailing, and opinions about Indians in his history of the Villa Imperial de Potosí", in XXXVI International Congress of Americanists. Records and memories (Seville, 1966), vol. IV, pp. 131-141.MENDOZA, Gunnar. "Analysis of the manuscripts of the history of Potosi used for this Edition", in Arzáns Bartolomé de Orsua and sailing: history of the Villa Imperial de Potosí ([Rhode Island, U.S.A.] Providence: Brown University Press, 1965), vol. III, pp. 461-467.RIVERA Rhodes, Óscar. "Levels in the Chronicles of Arzans diegeticos", in Revista Iberoamericana (Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania, USA]), 134 (1986), pp. 9-28.