New Book: Mercedes López-Baralt’s Orfeo mulato

Orfeo mulato: Palés ante el umbral de lo sagrado [Mulatto Orpheus: Palés at the Threshold of the Sacred (2009)] Mercedes López-Baralt’s latest book, explores the feminine archetype in the poetry of Luis Palés Matos (1898-1959). This is Dr. López-Baralt’s third book on this national poet—born in Guayama, Puerto Rico—whose Tuntún de pasa y grifería is the most emblematic among his many poetry collections. Well-known for his Afro-Caribbean style, Palés Matos immortalized Filí-Melé, a character that, although inspired by a “flesh-and-blood” woman, according to López-Baralt constitutes an ever-changing and multiply-signifying figure.

López-Baralt states that Filí-Melé is “a result of Palés’ previous heroines, such as Lepromonida or Tembandumba,” sharing with them African roots, dance, sensuality, and their mythic stature,” the culmination of the many transformations of the feminine archetype in Palés’ literary corpus. She stresses that “although she is the beloved, the biographical heroine also has literary and mythical roots. She represents love, the beauty of poetry, and the sacred.” Through her meticulous readings of Palés, the author found clear references to Ovid’s Metamorphosis. In the sphere of mythic, she explains, Filí-Melé has elements of the deities of Greek mythology, such as Venus (goddess of love and beauty), Galatea (eternal fugitive), Daphne (woman-tree), Medusa (dangerous), or Eurydice (unattainable muse). Furthermore, she shares much with figures from African mythology, especially Ochún, the goddess of love and one of the major deities of the Yoruba.

Mercedes López-Baralt holds a PhD in anthropology from Cornell University and an MA in literature from the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, where she is a distinguished professor of Hispanic Studies. This prolific scholar is well-known for her publications on the Andean chronicles, Guamán Poma de Ayala, Taíno myths, Luis Palés Matos, and other subjects explored from the critical axis of literature and anthropology.

Image: Detail from Rafael Trelles’ 2007 “Filí-Melé, la escapada” [Filí-Melé, The Escaped] (featured on the book cover).

For article (by Tatiana Pérez Rivera) and review, see and

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