History of Literature



Spanish literature



Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro


Friar Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro (Spanish pronunciation: [be'nito xe'ronimo fej'xoo]; 8 October 1676 – 26 September 1764) was a Spanish monk and scholar noted for encouraging scientific and empirical thought in an effort to debunk myths and superstitions.

He joined the Benedictine order at the age of 12, and had taken classes in Galicia, León, and Salamanca. He later taught theology and philosophy at the University of Oviedo, where he earned a professorship in theology. Feijóo was a prominent essayist for the Spanish, and his critiques, letters, and plays helped change the steadfast beliefs of many during the 18th century.

His two famous works, Teatro crítico universal (1726-1739) and Cartas eruditas y curiosas, are multi-volume collections of essays that cover a range of subjects, from education, law, and medicine, to superstitions and popular beliefs. He is also of interest as a writer in the Galician language. He also wrote what is considered to be one of the first pieces of feminist literature in his essay entitled "Defensa de las mujeres". In which, he discusses the lack of reason and/or evidence, a huge focus of the Enlightenment, in the attitudes towards women during that era in Spain. However, in some occasions, he showed certain credulity, assuming as a natural possibility the existence of the "Anfibio de Liérganes" (Lierganes Amphibious Man), a being half man, half fish.

Father Feijoo was a debunker of myths. He had great interest in natural science and many of his essays touch on topics related to this subject and to the many myths about creatures and lands that abounded at that time. One example of how far his naturalistic bent went can be found in a story told by Julio A. Feijoo, one of his descendents, born in Cuba in 1910. Father Feijoo believed that demonic possession was a psychological phenomenon. Once he was called upon to perform an exorcism, and in order to demonstrate that this phenomenon was more due to suggestibility than anything else, in performing a spurious exorcism on the "possessed" subject, he read from Bocaccio's famous bawdy work the Decameron. Upon hearing the Latin lines, the "possessed" individual settled down and declared himself to be free of demonic influence.



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