For a sixteenth-century European audience avid for adventure stories in exotic
places, the wanderings through oceans, rivers, deserts, and jungles were not just
traces on the face of the earth . . . but . . . events with a transcendental
significance. Indeed, explorers and conquerors wrote and designed their
narratives anticipating that allegorical meanings would be drawn from the
events. The conquistadors knew that their feats would be read as if they were in
themselves inscriptions in golden letters on the pages of history.
“Allegory and Ethnography in Cabeza de Vaca’s Naufragios and
Those whom God begins to lead into these desert solitudes are like the children
of Israel, when God began giving them the heavenly food which contained in
itself all savors and, as is there mentioned, changed to whichever taste each one
hungered after . . .
SAN JUAN DE LA CRUZ
The Dark Night
Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new?” It has been already, in the
ages before us.
Eccl. 1:10 (RSV)