Sins of the flesh: Bullfighting as a model of power

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Durs càstigs eren conservats en sí mbols vells. The ancient Roman geographer Strabo is best known, within Iberian studies, as being the source of the infamous comparison of Hispania to a bull‘s hide. As with most quotations taken out of context, Strabo‘s original source bears more complexity than is revealed by common discourse. Using a more precise translation, Strabo actually writes that Spain (and he certainly means Hispania) resembles an ox hide, just as Sicily is akin to a triangle and the Peloponnese to a plane-leaf (128). Strabo, more importantly, argues that a totalizing image of a landmass is not at all the ideal manner by which to derive information through geographical inquiry. He writes, just a few lines earlier, that when gleaning geographical detail it is best to separate territories into limbs: “the best way to define a country is by the rivers, mountains, or sea; also, where possible, by the nation or nations [who inhabit it], and by its size and configuration” (127). With respect to epistemology, therefore, one is encouraged to deconstruct a landmass limb by limb, with special attention paid to the configuration of the individual geographical and sociological parts, rather than drawing conclusions from an all-encompassing, macro perspective. Whatever was Strabo‘s intent, that bullfighting is commonly referred to as Spain‘s fiesta nacional points toward the indisputable fact that the bull has become a symbol widely contextualized within Spanish literature, art, and cinema as a kind of totemic identity image that is imbued with qualities meant to describe, affirm, and at times reject national character.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIberian Modalities: A Relational Approach to the Study of Culture in the Iberian Peninsula
Subtitle of host publicationA Relational Approach to the Study of Culture in the Iberian Peninsula
EditorsJoan Ramon Resina
Place of PublicationLiverpool, UK
PublisherLiverpool University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781846317880
ISBN (Print)9781846318337
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2013 Liverpool University Press.


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