Bolívar's Delirium over Chimborazo, 1822
[extracted from pp. 238-240 of the Slatta and de Grummond biography of Bolívar.]
One October night at Loja, some 166 miles south of Riobamba, Bolívar had been inspecting patriot defenses, given that the Peruvian border lay just one hundred miles further south. After he finished his rounds, he went to bed and a feverish delirium engulfed him. When he awoke, Bolívar wrote "Mi Delirio sobre el Chimborazo" ("My Delirium over Chimborazo.") The earliest known copy of the writing is dated Loja, October 13, 1822. This translation comes from T. R. Ybarra, The Passionate Warrior, pages 252-54].
I came, wrapped in the mantle of the dawn, from where the mighty Orinoco pays its tribute to the god of the waters. I had visited the enchanted springs of the Amazon, and I wished to climb the watch-tower of the world. I sought the footsteps of La Condamine, of Humboldt. Boldly I followed them, nothing could hold me back.
I reached the glacial regions, where the air was so thin that I could scarcely breathe. Never before had human foot trodden the diamond crown placed by the Eternal Father on the lofty brow of the King of the Andes. "Wrapped in this mantle," I exclaimed, "which has served as my banner, I have traversed the infernal regions, crossed rivers and seas, climbed the shoulders of the Andes. Under the feet of Colombia, the Earth has flattened itself, and Time himself has been unable to check the march of Liberty. The goddess of war has been humbled by the light of dawn--wherefore, then, should I not be able to trample upon the white hairs of Chimborazo, giant of the earth; wherefore not; I will!"
Impelled by a spirit of violence hitherto unknown to me, that appeared to me divine, I left behind the footsteps of Humboldt and set out to climb beyond the eternal belt of cloud shrouding Chimborazo. As if driven forward by this unknown spirit within me, I reached the summit; and, as I touched with my head the pinnacle of the firmament and saw at my feet a yawing abyss, I fell in a swoon.
Feverish delirium engulfed my mind. I felt as if inflamed by strange, supernatural fire. The God of Colombia had taken possession of me.
Suddenly Time stood before me--in the shape of a venerable old man, bearing the weight of all the centuries, frowning, bent, bald, wrinkled, a scythe in the hand.
"I am the Father of the Centuries! I am the Guardian of fame and the secrets of life. My Mother was Eternity; the limits of My Empire are the Infinite. For me there is no tomb, because I am more powerful than Death. I gaze upon the Past, the Future, and through my hands goes the Present. Why think vain thoughts, you of the human race, whether you be young or old, sunk in obscurity or cast in heroic mold?
"Think you that this universe of yours is anything, that to fight your way to eminence on an atom of creation is to raise yourselves? Think you that the infinitesimal moments you call centuries can serve for measuring my secrets? Think you that holy truth has been vouchsafed to you? Think you in your madness that your actions have any value in my eyes? All about you is less than a dot in the presence of the Infinite, who is my brother!"
Filled with terror, I replied: "Surely, oh Time! the miserable mortal who has climbed this high must perish! All men have I surpassed in good fortune, for I have raised myself above all. The earth lies at my feet; I touch Eternity; beneath me I feel the throbbing of Hell; beside me I contemplate radiant planets, suns of infinite dimensions. I gaze upon the realms of space which enclose matter; I decipher, on your brow, the history of the past and the thoughts of Destiny."
"Man!" spake Time to me. "Observe! Learn! Preserve before your mind what you have seen, trace for your fellow men the picture of the physical universe, of the moral universe. Hide not the secrets which Heaven has revealed to you! Speak the Truth to mankind!"
The phantom disappeared. Speechless, stupefied, unconscious, I lay for a long time stretched out upon the enormous diamond which served me for a couch. Finally, the ringing voice of Colombia summoned me. I returned to life! Rising to my feet, I opened with my fingers my heavy eyelids, became a man once more, wrote down what I had heard and seen in my Delirium!"
The dream, the images, the audacity fit well with the mystical Bolívar's complex personality when awake. Why should he be different when delirious? He had conversed with Time! Why not? What mortal was his equal? Seemingly purified of his fears and doubts, he resumed the heavy burden of leading his people to freedom.