The legend of Don Juan

I think everyone knows that the term “Don Juan” is used to describe a womanizer – a symbol of libertinism, licentiousness. But how did the legend of Don Juan begin?

The legend was born with “The Seducer/Trickster of Seville,” by Tirso de Molina, written in 1630. In this story, Don Juan kills Gonzalo, the father of one of the women he seduces, when the father hears his daughter’s screams and rushes to defend her honor. Later, when he passes Gonzalo’s tomb, he taunts Gonzalo’s statue on the tomb, saying that Gonzalo’s dying words of haunting his killer have not taken place. Don Juan even invites the statue to join him for dinner, which the statue does, in the form of the Gonzalo’s ghost.

Gonzalo invites Don Juan to join him in the churchyard for another dinner, which Don Juan does. At the end of the meal, Gonzalo grabs Don Juan by the wrist and strikes him dead, dragging him to Hell.

And then there is Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni based on the legend of Don Juan, and Byron reversed the role in his Don Juan – his Don Juan is not a womanizer but is instead someone easily seduced by women. In Spain the most popular version is Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla, which has Don Juan repent and gain salvation.

Well there is a man, Miguel Mañara, from Sevilla in the 1600’s that some suggest was the original model for Tirso de Molina’s work. However, Mañara was only three years old when Tirso’s work was written. But many claim Mañara was a womanizer for years, but upon the death of his wife, he entered into deep reflection and turned to God. He led the Brotherhood of the Holy Charity, and the Hospital of Charity which still looks after the poor and disabled. Some claim he was never really a womanizer, but that in the 19th century when there was a movement to make him a saint, his detractors manufactured the tales of his womanizing. But in his own words he describes himself as ash and dust, a miserable sinner, with a thousand abominations, pride, adultery, swearing, scandal, and robberies.

Because of the story of Miguel Mañara, and its relation to Don Juan, the Hospital de la Caridad is one of my favorite places to visit in Sevilla. There are two interesting paintings by Juan de Valdés Leal in the church of the Hospital. One is titled “In Ictu Oculi,” which is Latin for “in the blink of an eye.”

The Latin phrase and title of the painting comes from I Cor 15:52: in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. There is a skeleton, a symbol of death, that points to the words “In Ictu Oculi,” has the world under his foot, a casket under his arm, and the scythe to put out the light of life - in the blink of an eye.

The other painting is “Finis Gloriae Mundi,” Latin for “the end of the glory of the world.” This one shows a crypt with the putrefaction of the body of a bishop and a knight of the Order of Calatrava, showing that even the richest men face death in the blink of an eye.