Letters From Phillip II|
Rafael Vargas-Hidalgo LL.M. 75 S.J.D. 78
An extraordinary passion for deciphering the lessons of history drew Chilean-born Rafael Vargas-Hidalgo LL.M. '75 S.J.D. '78 to Italy after law school. Unable to find a job-"not even as a waiter"-under Pinochet's rule in Chile, he signed on in 1979 as legal adviser to a UN agency in Rome, where he seized every spare moment to toil "like a medieval monk" in the city's historical archives.
Now an expert on the 16th century and Philip II of Spain-his most recentbook, out this year, reassesses the Battle of Lepanto (1571) utilizing unpublished missives from Philip II, Don John of Austria, and their spies, among others-Vargas-Hidalgo is still breathing life into a project that presented itself to him eight years ago. In 1990, deep in the archives of the Palazzo Doria Pamphilij, where a primitive and useless "catalog" is housed in shoeboxes, he uncovered eight books, bound with ribbon that disintegrated when untied. Inside lay correspondence between the king of Spain and two key admirals, Italian princes Andrea and Gian Andrea Doria, which had remained hidden for hundreds of years.
Vargas-Hidalgo has made up for lost time by transcribing and commenting on every one of the thousand or so letters he found, financing the endeavor with his work as an independent legal consultant. When published, the letters will release into the historical ether a flood of new information about Philip II, whose death four hundred years ago is being commemorated this year. "Historical documents can be as tedious and instructive to study as law books," says the lawyer-cum-historian. "But the effort can also earn a 20th-century man a rich perspective on the development of civilizations and an understanding of the roots of many contemporary conflicts."