Library of Congress Celebrates 400th Anniversary of “Royal Commentaries” by El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega


“The Royal Commentaries of the Inca,” by El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, considered by historians to be the earliest and most important literary work of the Americas, was published 400 years ago, in 1609. The book is a keenly observant account of the Inca Empire, its conquest by Spain and the first years of colonial rule in the Americas.

The Library of Congress and the Embassy of Peru will celebrate its 400th anniversary with a presentation by scholars at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19, in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the Library’s James Madison Building, 100 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington D.C. The event is free and open to the public; tickets and reservations are not needed.

The program—organized by Marie Arana, a distinguished visiting scholar at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center—includes opening remarks by Peruvian Ambassador Luis Valdivieso, followed by presentations by Raquel Chang-Rodriguez and Max Hernandez. Chang-Rodriguez, a distinguished professor of Hispanic literature and culture at the City University of New York, will discuss El Inca Garcilaso’s impact on Latin American literature. Hernandez, one of Peru’s leading intellectuals and social commentators, will discuss mestizo (mixed-race) identity. A question-and-answer session moderated by Georgette Dorn, chief of the Library’s Hispanic Division, will follow.

El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the author of “The Royal Commentaries of the Inca” (or “Los Comentarios Reales de los Incas”), was born in Cuzco, Peru, in 1539. He was the son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman. “Royal Commentaries” was published in Lisbon in 1609. In 1688, an English translation was published in London. (The Library of Congress holds the first Spanish edition of 1609 and the first English-language translation of 1688.)

The book garnered considerable attention in Europe when it was first published and went on to be read for many generations as a masterpiece of American literature. Nevertheless, King Carlos III banned it from publication in Spain’s colonies during the rebellious 1780s, because of its “incendiary” content. “Royal Commentaries” was not distributed in the Americas again until 1918, although contraband copies continued to be circulated. There is no doubt that this extraordinary work of history, produced by South America’s first mixed-race writer, marked the dawn of a new culture in the hemisphere.

The presentation is sponsored by both the John W. Kluge Center and the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress, along with the Embassy of Peru.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, with nearly 142 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. As the world’s largest repository of knowledge and creativity, the Library is a symbol of democracy and the principles on which this nation was founded.