Most of the characters of Terra Nostra are historical in the sense that they have analogues either in the history of Hispanic civilization or in the fictional characters of Hispanic literature. In many cases, the fictional narrative alters the factual relationships of the historical and literary personages. Felipe the Fair and his wife, Joanna, the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II and Isabella I, are portrayed in the novel as the parents of Philip II, though they were in fact the parents of Charles V, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who was the father of Philip II. Although Philip II did try to marry Queen Elizabeth I of England after the death of his second wife, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth refused. In the novel, Isabel has spent her childhood in the Spanish court and, married to Felipe, exemplifies the lascivious alternative to Felipe’s frustrated attempts at enforcing an absolute asceticism in the world contained in the Escorial.
Celestina is the female procuress from the Renaissance play by Fernándo de Rojas, and the Chronicler who is engaged in writing the history of a gentleman of La Mancha is Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615; English translation, 1612-1620). The mysterious bastard pilgrim who washes up on the beach reflects the protagonist of Luis de Góngora y Argote’s Soledades (1613; The Solitudes), and the scribe Guzmán is reminiscent of the main...
Pollo Phoibee (POH-loh FOY-bee), in Spanish Polo Febo (POH-loh FEH-boh), a young man in Paris in 1999 who works as a sidewalk hawker carrying a sandwich board. He is inquisitive, adventurous, and handsome, with shoulder-length blond hair and only one hand. He is proclaimed in the novel as the seeker of ultimate truth and is perhaps the possessor of some mysterious knowledge. He is transformed into one of the three bastard sons of Felipe the Fair and becomes the lover of Joanna Regina, the widow of Felipe. At times, he seems to be one of the narrators of the novel. At the end of the novel, he performs an ecstatic act of love with Celestina, through which the two become one hermaphroditic being who gives birth to the new creature, the New World of the twenty-first century.
Celestina (seh-lehs-TEE-nah), a female pimp, a twentieth century transformation of the female procuress of the same name from the Spanish Renaissance work Comedia de Calisto y Melibea (1949; the play of Calisto and Melibea), by Fernando de Rojas. Young and beautiful, she has firm skin like a china teacup, and her lips are tattooed with violet, yellow, and green snakes. Dressed as a male page, she accompanies Pollo Phoibee on his search through history for eternal truth. At times, she seems to be a narrator of the novel as she tells her story, which forms a large part of the narrative. She is also transformed into a bride, raped by Felipe the Fair on her wedding night, who gives birth to one of his three bastard sons, the Pilgrim. She and Pollo Phoibee, in an act of sexual union on the last night of 1999, become transformed into a hermaphroditic creature who produces the new creature, the New World of the twenty-first century.
Felipe (feh-LEE-peh), also called El Señor, Philip II (1527-1598), the king of Spain from 1556 to 1598. He is portrayed in the novel as the son of Felipe the Fair and the Mad Lady, Joanna Regina, though historically he was their grandson and the son of Charles I, king of Spain from 1516 to 1559, and, as Charles V, was emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 to 1559. Educated from birth to be a strong monarch, Felipe is a tyrant intent on creating a perfect building, the royal palace and monastery, the Escorial, with the desire to contain, in one place, all time and space and to preserve an ascetic way of life, shutting out all lasciviousness and evil. He marries Elizabeth I of England (though historically Philip II pursued Elizabeth unsuccessfully after the death of his wife, Elizabeth’s sister Mary Tudor). When one of the bastard sons of Felipe the Fair returns from an encounter with the Aztecs in the New World, Felipe refuses to admit the possibility of an unknown world beyond the oceans. Felipe orders his scribe, Guzmán, to transcribe his words exactly to create a definitive text of all experience, a document that will...