Skip to main content

The Refracted Muse

Literature and Optics in Early Modern Spain

Translated by Vincent Barletta

The Refracted Muse

Literature and Optics in Early Modern Spain

Translated by Vincent Barletta
Galileo never set foot on the Iberian Peninsula, yet, as Enrique García Santo-Tomás unfolds in The Refracted Muse, the news of his work with telescopes brought him to surprising prominence—not just among Spaniards working in the developing science of optometry but among creative writers as well.
While Spain is often thought to have taken little notice of the Scientific Revolution, García Santo-Tomás tells a different story, one that reveals Golden Age Spanish literature to be in close dialogue with the New Science. Drawing on the work of writers such as Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca, and Quevedo, he helps us trace the influence of science and discovery on the rapidly developing and highly playful genre of the novel. Indeed, García Santo-Tomás makes a strong case that the rise of the novel cannot be fully understood without taking into account its relationship to the scientific discoveries of the period.

320 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017

History: History of Ideas, History of Technology

History of Science

Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages

Physical Sciences: History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences


"One of those rare books that contribute to redefining a field . . . . The sheer erudition might in fact be overwhelming were it not for García Santo-Tomás’s engaging style and adept articulation of arguments that sustain one’s interest. . . . We are very fortunate to have this book, now exquisitely rendered in both the original Spanish and—owing to Vincent Barletta’s superb translation—in English . . . . If Enrique García Santo-Tomás hadn’t written it, I don’t know of anyone so knowledgeable and insightful about both seventeenth-century science and literature capable of doing so: we would have been left pretty much in the dark."

Modern Philology

"This fascinating book rewrites the history of astronomy and optics in early modern Spain. . . . a ground-breaking study that shows that Spain did not turn away from science, but that it considered, discussed, and utilized some of the Italian experiments in the many literary genres of the period, and particularly in the novel. Lucid and learned, it is bound to fascinate those interested in early modern science and in the relations between science and literature, while providing new approaches to Spanish texts. Curious readers that turn their occhiali to this volume will be rewarded with new vistas and insights as the author unveils startling discoveries and shows the intimate relation between inventions and genres."

Hispanic Review

"Insightful and interesting. . . . This book offers an important overview of the ways in which scientific ideas and instruments were debated and represented in seventeenth-century Spain and how they were used to understand the social world—maybe announcing in some ways ideas that would become central to the Enlightenment. I benefited immensely from this book’s analysis of seventeenth-century Spanish authors, their works, and their ideas about eyeglasses and science."

Bulletin of the Comediantes

"The Reflected Muse presents a refreshing perspective on the interaction between Baroque Spanish literature and the scientific developments of the seventeenth century, displaying both erudition and insight."


"A richly detailed study of admirable erudition that explores the material and discursive production brought about by the Scientific Revolution in early modern Spain. . . . Santo-Tomás has produced a splendidly learned and rigorous study of an area that was in much need of exploration, a most valuable contribution to the legacy of scientific knowledge in Baroque Spain."

Bulletin of Spanish Studies

“The greatest merit of The Refracted Muse is that by conceiving of the realms of scientific and cultural production as existing in a ‘shared universe’ it can explore how discipline-specific language accrues new meaning as it moves into new modes of artistic expression and audiences. This approach allows García Santo-Tomás to consider a significant number of examples—novels, essays, poems, and theater—through which to explore the reception and adoption of the telescope in Baroque Spain. There is no book in English on this subject—let alone one that surveys as effectively as this book does the telescope’s influence in both scientific and literary production of the Spanish Golden Age.”

María M. Portuondo, Johns Hopkins University

“An immensely erudite and suggestive book, The Refracted Muse is not only a major contribution to the development of Spanish literature but also to the intersection between literature, astronomy, and optics. This new revised and translated version surpasses even the original. The translation is crisp, nuanced, and accurate, exhibiting the original as if it were through a lens that captures, clarifies, and amplifies its most important insights.”

Frederick de Armas, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

I. Writing on the firmament
1. Observations
II. Galileo and his Spanish contemporaries
2. Foundations
3. Assimilations
4. Inscriptions
III. The science of satire
5. Situations
6. Explorations
IV. The refracted muse
7. Interventions
8. Reverberations
Works cited

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press