ALEMAN, Mateo

(1547-c. 1615)
Mateo Aleman was one of the great novelists of the Spanish Golden Age, primarily known for his picaresque novel Guzman de Alfarache (1597) and for the biography San Antonio de Padua (1604). Aleman was the son of a doctor assigned to the royal prison at Seville. He graduated from the University of Maese Rodrigo in Seville in 1564 and reentered the university to study medicine, although his studies were discontinued after the death of his father. With the assistance of two loans, Aleman began a career in business. The terms of the loans stipulated repayment within one year; in addition, one loan included the requirement of marriage to Catalina de Espinosa, with whom he was involved. Neither loan was repaid within one year, and although Aleman avoided marriage with de Espinosa for a time, he was eventually forced to honor the agreement rather than subject himself to a prison term. Aleman did not live with his wife for long, but they remained business partners for thirty years.
Aleman returned to the University of Maese Rodrigo in 1580 to study law. It is believed that his studies were for the purpose of learning how to circumvent the law rather than practice it. Aleman did not complete the school term and was imprisoned for his debts. After his release from prison, Aleman attempted to emigrate to Mexico but was denied permission because he was unable to prove that he was not of Jewish descent. In 1583 Aleman took a temporary position as a judge. His primary duty was to collect debts owed by deceased court employees. Aleman was imprisoned again when it was learned that his means of recovering these funds from the employees' families were illegal and immoral. In 1593 Aleman was appointed judge for a second time and investi­gated the abhorrent working conditions to which slaves were subjected in the quicksilver mines.
Aleman's picaresque novel Guzman de Alfarache is a satirical and pessimistic commentary on Spanish life and society, filled with historical and literary al­lusions. Although the novel was completed in 1597, it was not actually in print for another year. San Antonio de Padua was written several years after Alemán narrowly escaped death when he was struck in the head by a burning cannon plug. Alemaán was not injured, but he is said to have invoked the name of St. Anthony at the time of the incident. He wrote the biography as a means of expressing his gratitude to the saint for his protection.
In 1608 Alemaán was permitted to emigrate to Mexico with his mistress and several of his children, where he received the protection and patronage of Arch­bishop García Guerra. Aleman's last known work, Suceso de F. Frai Garcia Gera (1613), was written as a tribute to the clergyman.
Bibliography
D. McGrady, Mateo Aleman, 1968.
Barbara Boyle

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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