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Spanish Traditions in a Changing Paradigm

  • Francisco De Goya (by )
  • The Sun Also Rises (by )
  • Pongo and the Bull (by )
  • The Sacred books and early literature of... (by )
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The tradition of bullfighting, performed in Spain, Portugal, regions in Southern France, and some Latin American nations (including Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela) is one of the most divisive sports in the world. Supporters describe it as culturally and historically significant, and revere the grace and fearlessness of the torero (or bullfighter). Those in opposition, however, find that contests are inhumane and dangerous, as the bulls suffer long, torturous deaths. 

While several forms of bullfighting exist, Spanish-style bullfighting is the most well known. Francisco Romero, a Spanish matador who revolutionized the contests in the early 18th century, is believed to be the first layman to kill a bull after the fight. Previously, only mounted nobility were afforded the right. Stylistically, Romero was a pioneer: he donned the traditional suit of lights, or traje de luces, reserved for noble toreros and  he was  the first bullfighter to fasten the bright red cape to his muleta . Romero was the first bullfighter to kill on foot. Not only he sire modern day bullfighting, he also taught a dynasty of prestigious bullfighters. His grandson, Pedro Romero (1754 - 1839), remains Spain’s most famous bullfighter, allegedly fighting and killing over 5,500 bulls throughout his career without sustaining any serious injuries. 
Despite its increasing number of detractors, including Spanish-born protestors, art, film, and literature continue to document the spectacle of the challenge. In Charles Horne’s translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, found in his work The Sacred Books of Early Literature of the East, legend claims that “Gilgamesh, like a huntsman, thrusts his sword between nape and horns,” killing the bull that was to be the cause of his death. Francisco de Goya, a Spanish artist from the late 18th and early 19th centuries (and an amateur torero), brought life to bullfights in the etchings he titled “La Tauromaquia.” Famed art historian Richard Muther describes and catalogues Goya’s life and art in his biography Francisco De Goya. American writer Ernest Hemingway romanticized bullfighting in novels, essays, and short stories. In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway famously depicts bullfighting as a poetic, masculine sport that arrests spectator attention. 

While bullfighting is still permitted in certain parts of Spain, the viewership and public acclaim it once enjoyed has dwindled. Spanish state-run television discontinued live broadcasts between 2007 and 2012, and bans have been placed in places like Catalonia, where bullfighting once thrived. The tradition, revered for the tenacity, style, and grace exhibited by decorated toreros, is now seen as, at the very least, a questionable practice endangering and taking the lives of its voluntary and involuntary participants. 

By Logan Williams

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