Suggestions to professors and students interested in using Luis de Góngora's La fábula de Polifemo y Galatea as a learning tool for language, literature, classical culture, art history, and more

Each of the sixty-three stanzas of the Fábula on these pages are graphic files of the calligraphic version of Dr. Eric W. Vogt , accompanied by a window with the text in regular type, and a sound file (.WAV), all organized and presented in the beautiful format before you by Dr. Fred Jehle.

We hope that you will enjoy using these pages in class, or as out of class assignments for reading, writing, and listening exercises. As is well known, this poem is one of the most difficult for students of language, even for some advanced students. It is equally well known that poetry teaches the rhythms and sounds of a language better than any other medium. Just as importantly, students tend to learn and study what is pleasantly presented and we have endeavored to make the study of this poem, the language in which it is written and the cultural allusions it contains more accessible and digestible than often is the case with the daunting tomes of erudition that have been our sources.

We feel it is our duty as educators to demystify the study of literature and make it a truly enriching voyage of discovery, and the internet has made this more possible perhaps than in times past, but only if used judiciously. We have provided links to information, museums, related fields, and other such information as traditionally has been placed in footnotes, end notes and bibliographies. This is a technique that places "difficult" material in the background where it remains accessible to those interested but where it cannot intimidate the neophyte.

Here are a few ways the files can be used to improve speaking (pronunciation, including intonation), critical reading skills, listening and writing (spelling, punctuation, accent marks, and word division):

First, it is a good idea to download any sound files in advance of any planned classroom activity. Each takes about 6 minutes. Pages accessed via links ought to be printed out to make it easy to tell students what they contain or to incorporate them into lecture notes. A list of URLs can be prepared so they can access them at their leisure. Students can and should be encouraged to download any files needed for assignments.

Grammar exercises: poetry to prose

Góngora's use of rhetorical devices (bold metaphors, similes, etc.) and his classical allusions make the Fábula a difficult poem, even for most native speakers. Even more striking is the syntactic complexity of the stanzas, due to the frequency of hyperbaton (alteration of conventional word order). Yet, each of the 63 stanzas can be prosified without adding or subtracting a single word, thus making it a gold mine for grammatical jigsaw puzzles. The student can be assigned to prosify a stanza (see stanza 1 sample, below), and confidently proceed, knowing that the order in which the words appear is not the conventional word order and that there is at least one solution to the prosification exercise, thus making the work at once challenging while the student has the comfort of knowing that there is room for some flexibility in the prose rendition.

For more advanced students, this prosification exercise can be made more challenging: With the students working in teams or as individual competitors, the stanzas can be presented impromptu, with each team or individual student racing to prosify their stanza in a form acceptable to the teacher. The prose renditions of the eight line stanzas would have to be presented in written form, of course, in order to be judged.

Listening and reading exercise to build pronunciation

Students may wish to read silently while playing the sound files, at their own pace and on their own time, out of class. This exercise can be made most effective if the teacher teaches students how to divide words into syllables and elide vowels properly (the phonological rules governing synaloepha - hiatus and synæresis - diæresis). There is a wonderful guide to the rules of scansion at the homepage of  The Association for Hispanic Classical Theatre, under tools for those teaching the comedia. At the same site, one may find a list of the major rhetorical devices of which there are abundant examples in Góngora's Fábula.

As the student listens over and over to the same stanza and begins to visualize the words while listening, the ability to reproduce the sounds in an imitative way will develop. This ability can transfer to other written texts, making reading aloud easier and more native sounding. Ultimately, the confidence and the patterns of good pronunciation will transfer to the student's expression of his or her own thoughts. Stanzas or groups of stanzas can be assigned to students and whole portions of the poem recited without aid of notes or reading, making an impressive display of students' work. This can be augmented by brief presentations of their own. These could involve presenting the prosified stanza aloud, then reading it the way Góngora wrote it. It could admit drama, costuming or scholarly explanations of the characters found in a given stanza. The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature is one of the best sources of information on nymphs, gods and demigods, as is Bullfinch's Mythology.

Competitive games can include looking up allusions to mythological characters or even difficult words and being the first to report on them - in Spanish, of course, regardless of the source consulted.

Listening comprehension

Students of all levels can be challenged by different levels of complexity of this activity, made all the more effective if the students know the story of Polyphemus (the Cyclops) and Galatea of Ovid's Metamorphoses Book XIII - the last).

The teacher, or a student with exceptional speaking ability, can read words, phrases, lines or stanzas and another student has to put the scene in his or her own words, summarizing or describing the scene. Students can then be invited or coaxed into embellishing their own descriptions, making for lively classroom interaction.

For the beginner level, a prosified version of a stanza can be read and students required to respond to true/false questions or multiple choice exercises.

All users should be aware of the suggestiveness of the language of stanzas 25, 33 and others related to them, if they are not already, so that they are taught judiciously with younger students, or skipped all together. It would not be difficult to come up with a "G" rated explanation of what Acis and Galatea are engaged in (e.g., "embracing" instead of what the "classical" reading clearly relates). As with all classical mythology, it is easy to find a child's version of the story of Polyphemus and then select only those stanzas that are acceptable for the audience being taught.

Writing exercises

Just as with reading comprehension, writing exercises can be quite varied, and their focus can vary in complexity and length, being adapted for students from high school age to seniors in college or even graduate students engaged in course work involving interdisciplinary studies of art history, classical mythology, rhetoric, language and language teaching, phonology, grammar (a course in historical grammar, to cite one example, would include references to large number of cultismos introduced into the language by this poem particularly, and Góngora in general, as well as by those poets and dramatists who followed his style).

One type of exercise is the written summary, just as would be done with listening comprehension, only based on more than one stanza, in order to provide enough material. The goal is to cause the student to see the poem (converting its words to "mental video") and then describe what they have "seen". The descriptions can be as complex as their talents and the time allotted for this activity allow.

Dictation exercises

Students can do these on their own, or the teacher can play a stanza, stopping the recording after a line, even replaying it once or twice, as needed. This more passive activity enhances the processing of input, training the ear, reinforcing the relationship between spoken and written language.

Sample prosification of Stanza 1 of La fábula de Polifemo y Galatea, with explanatory notes:

Prosification (note that no words were added or omitted from the original text):

Ahora que de luz doras tu Niebla, oh excelso conde, escucha ya (si los muros de Huelva no te ven peinar el viento, fatigar la selva), al son de la zampoña mía estas rimas sonoras que la - aunque bucólica - sí, culta - Talía me dictó en las purpúreas horas que es rosas la alba y rosicler el día.


This is the first of the three stanzas that comprise the invocation, or exordium. The classical poetical convention of invoking the muse is inverted in that the patron is addressed, and not the muse (it being assumed that the muse has already done her job by inspiring the poem - a more logical view, even if untraditional). The reader is also introduced into the pastoral setting by the mention of the Pan pipes (zampoña), and the reminder that the muse of comedy, Thalia, although a shepherdess, is "cultured".

In this stanza, Góngora's patron, the Count of Niebla, was fond of hunting in his estate at Huelva, hence the references to "fatiguing the forest" and "combing the wind" (a visual perhaps inspired by the wind blowing through his horse's mane as it runs). The poet urges him to set aside his hunting and listen to the verses that the pastoral muse has "dictated" to him in the rose-hued, early morning hours.

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