Baltasar Gracián - El Criticón


This monumental masterpiece by Gracián, which appeared in three successive volumes, is undoubtedly the masterpiece of its author and one of the masterpieces of the Spanish Golden Age. In the form of an extensive allegorical novel of a philosophical nature, this novel brings together in the form of fiction the entire literary career of its author.

The three parts of Criticón follow the life cycle of a man living in the world in crisis of Baroque society. This work combines invention and didacticism, erudition and personal style, disillusionment and social satire. The Criticón exudes pessimistic overtones.

It is an epic with allegorical character where two characters, mentor and disciple, learn through experience, picaresque, disappointment and pessimism. It is an extensive allegory of the life of man, represented in its two facets: the impulsive and inexperienced (Andrenio), who represents instinct, the natural man, and the prudent and experienced (Critilo), who represents reason, the prudent and judicious man. These two symbolic characters, pursuing Happiness (Felisinda, mother for Critilio and wife for Andrenio), end up traveling all over the known world pursuing the learning of virtue that, despite the deception that the world commonly offers, will lead them to gain Immortality for their deeds when death arrives at the end of the novel.

A journey is made through the course of human life and the four ages of man (childhood, youth, maturity and senescence), allegorically identified with the four seasons of the year. Gracián abandons his didactic and sententious style of his previous works to enter into narrative fiction.

Critilo and Andrenio, a mature man and a young man, have just met after the shipwreck of the former and his timely rescue by the latter. Critilo, as his own name indicates, is the judicious and thoughtful man, while Andrenio, raised in solitude from birth, suckled by a wild beast and alien to any human contact, symbolizes man in his natural state, free from any social influence. Both undertake a long journey through the main places of the world, observing and censuring all the vices and extolling the virtues and wisdom.

The work is divided into “crises”, in the etymological sense (from the Greek κρίσις ‘decision’, from the verb κρίνω ‘I decide, I separate, I judge’): judgment made of something after having carefully examined it.

Gracián constantly exhibits a perspectivist technique that unfolds the vision of things according to the criteria or points of view of each of the characters, but in an antithetical way, and not plural as in Cervantes. The novel reflects a pessimistic view of society, a bitter and desolate look, although its pessimism harbors hope in the two virtuous protagonists, who manage to escape the prevailing mediocrity by achieving eternal fame.