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Decolonizing Renaissance Humanism Review Summary

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Reviewed Work(s): The Grandchildren of Solano López: Frontier and Nation in Paraguay,
1904-1936 by Bridget María Chesterton
Review by: Matthew Hughes
Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Summer 2014), pp. 108-
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43829594
Accessed: 12-01-2023 03:10 UTC

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The Grandchildren of Solano López: Frontier and Nation in Paraguay, 1904-
1936. By Bridget Maria Chesterton (Alberquerque, University of New
Mexico Press, 2013) 179 pp. $50.00

Chesterton’s history of the disputed “wilderness” known as the Chaco
between Paraguay and Bolivia provides an excellent interdisciplinary
study of how an emerging nation imagines a frontier region and how a
frontier in turn can shape a nation’s identity and history. Thus does it
echo the trajectory of the United States in its westward expansion. The
Chaco was Paraguay’s Manifest Destiny, the site of a supposed agrarian
national movement, even if few Paraguayans ever visited, or even
wanted to visit, this region, given its physical remoteness from Para-
guay’s heartland east of the Paraguay River (the one road leading into it
has been paved but is heavily potholed). Chesterton’s study combines
history with geography, anthropology, literature, poetry, sociology,
theater, and psychology in a textured and engaging narrative.

Too little has been written about the Chaco, certainly in English;
the scant material that is available usually features a military history of the
Chaco War (1932-1935). Chesterton’s welcome presentation ranges
from Marshal Solano Lopez’s disastrous War of the Triple Alliance
(1864-1870), which shattered Paraguay and left the Chaco in Bolivia’s
hands, to the nineteenth-century scientific Social Darwinism that
justified Paraguay’s annexation of the late Chaco, then inhabited by In-
dians who were presented as ethnically Paraguayan and in need of being

© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association.
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Stuart Michael McManus

Decolonizing Renaissance

When we think of Renaissance humanism, it is unfortunate that Antonio Valeriano
(ca. 1521–1605) does not come to mind. Indeed, not only did the life of this Nahua
humanist from Azcapotzalco, in the Valley of Mexico, overlap with those of Erasmus,
Giordano Bruno, and Isaac Casaubon, but Valeriano shared many of the preceding
men’s scholarly interests and standards. To take just one example, he was a lover of
Latin eloquence, one of the defining features of Renaissance humanism. As one Span-
ish friar put it, he was “a great Latinist who could speak extemporaneously (even in the
last years of his life) with such mastery and elegance that he brought to mind Cicero or
Quintilian.” Valeriano has even left us a glimpse of this exquisite Latinity in action in a
1561 letter to Philip II, in which he argued for the hereditary privileges of his pueblo.1

Of course, there were also significant differences between Valeriano and the cast of
European characters we normally associate with the early modern impulse to reform
education, politics, and society as a whole on the model of an idealized “antiquity”—
Greco-Roman in the first instance but capacious enough to include other connected
and analogous pasts. Like Marsilio Ficino, Valeriano devoted much of his life to teach-
ing Latin letters and Christian philosophy. Yet he did so not at a Medici-sponsored aca-
demia in Florence but at a Franciscan colegio for indigenous nobles in Tlatelolco. Like
Erasmus, he was a translator. This said, his focus was on translating not Greek into
Latin but Latin into Nahuatl. Like the famous French legal humanist Jacques Cujas,
he devoted himself to the study of law. However, he did not write commentaries on
Justinian’s Digest. Rather, he was a cacique judge in Azcapotzalco and Tenochtitlan. Indeed,
it is in this role as a judge (juez) that he is presented in the romanized Nahuatl, Spanish,

1 “Fue también hijo del dicho colegio de Sancta Cruz, y uno de los mejores latinos, y rethoricos que del
salieron (aunque fueron muchos en los primeros años de su fundación) y fue tan gran latino, que hablava
extempore (aun en los ultimos años de su vejez) con tanta propriedad y elegancia, que parecia un Ciceron,
o Quintiliano.” Juan Bautista, A Iesu Christo S.N. ofrece este sermonario en lengua mexicana (Mexico City,
1606), “prólogo,” 3. On Valeriano, see Frances Karttunen, “From Courtyard to the Seat of Government:
The Career of Antonio Valeriano, Nahua Colleague of Bernardino de Sahagún,” Amérindia 19/20 (1

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