Daniel Levi de Barrios's Triumpho del govierno popular
ALTOUGH FIRST AND FOREMOST A POET, Daniel Levi de Barrios was also a
philosopher, theologist and historian; his main subject was the Portuguese-Jewish
community in Amsterdam, which he himself joined in 1662.
He was born Miguel de Barrios in Spain in 1635. His family were Marranos, which is reflected in his poetic works. He moved to Italy, where he began practising the Jewish faith openly and adopted the name Daniel Levi de Barrios. There he married, and the couple subsequently travelled to Tobago. Shortly after arriving, however, his wife died, and he returned to Europe. He would have been 26 then.
In 1662 he remarried in Amsterdam, and it was here that he penned his first work, Flor de Apolo. However, when, as was customary, he asked the Portuguese community's permission to have the work published, objections were raised. The poems were said to be too frivolous, and the poet's attribution of divinity to the heathen gods he portrayed was downright blasphemous. However, the work was not rejected completely, and he was advised to revise it. This he does not appear to have carried out to the community's satisfaction, for on 17 May 1663 the book was declared unsuitable for publication. It eventually appeared in 1665, in Brussels, where De Barrios served as a captain of cavalry in the Spanish army, a career which lasted until 1674. His second major work, Coro de las Musas, was also published in Brussels in 1672, as well as in Amsterdam.
Although he went on to write many more works after this period, no further new developments appeared in his work. He fell in with the movements which were then in vogue in Spanish literature; conceptism (using puns and playing on the various different meanings of words, or making witty comparisons, in order to startle the reader), and culteranism. The adherents of culteranism often used symbols in place of ordinary words, preferring unusual words, and delighting in displays of extensive knowledge of Greek mythology. Gongora was the leading light in this movement, and hence De Barrios admired him greatly and followed him.
In or around 1674 De Barrios's spiritual life reached a low point. The false messiah Sabbatai Sevi had prophesied that the Messianic Age would commence on Rosh Hashanah in 1674. De Barrios believed this implicitly, and it was a bitter blow when he realized that the kingdom had not come.
Financially speaking, too, he does not appear to have been in good shape. From 1676 until his death in 1701, he regularly received alms from the Portuguese community. Clearly he was now writing for a living: he dedicated his works to influential figures in order to earn fees from which to live. He generally wrote short works dedicated to particular individuals or institutions; sometimes these works were collected together, such as Triumpho del govierno popular y de la antiguë:dad holandesa, which appeared in 1683.
This rather rare work is devoted primarily to the history of the Portuguese-Jewish community in Amsterdam. Although it was written by a poet, the facts as he relates them are generally true, especially those that relate to the time when De Barrios himself was alive.
Not many copies are known to exist. The Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana has two of them. Meijer Roest was the first person to write about the work, based on two copies belonging to the library of Ets Haim. Cardozo de Béthancourt compares three of the Opuscula, the name often used to refer to the miscellany volumes. Besides one of the copies cited by Roest, he also includes two further copies from Ets Haim in a diagram in which he shows the sequence of the sections, the pagination and the contents of the copies. I have done the same for the seven copies which I have seen myself. Besides the copies mentioned above, these also include one more in the British Museum; there are a further two copies in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and two copies were lost in Germany during the Second World War.
Kenneth R. Scholberg, ed., La poesia religiose de Miguel de
Barrios [Columbus, Ohio c. 1961].
Wilhelmina C. Pieterse, Daniel Levi de Barrios als geschiedschrijver van de Portugees-Israelietische Gemeente te Amsterdam in zijn 'Triumpho del govierno popular' (Amsterdam 1968).