Chapter 02: Ateneo



Although José Rizal, now eleven years old, had passed a good entrance examination in Manila in June, 1872, he nearly failed to matriculate in the Ateneo in July, because his mother's arrest had made him a month late, and because he looked so little, so slender, so young. He would not have been admitted at all but for the intercession of Dr. Manuel Burgos, a nephew of the recently executed Dr. José Burgos. When finally the boy was accepted, he went to mass and prayed fervently. (01) He had something to pray about and to study for! Tragedy had set purpose ablaze in his young soul -- purpose that would never die. He did not know how to help his home and country but he would find a way!

Following the rigid methodical habits which he had learned from his father and which were taught by his Jesuit teachers, he prepared a schedule so that he would not lose an hour: study and reading until four p.m.; four to five, exercise; five to six social and miscellaneous obligations. This careful husbanding of every minute began to show results almost at once.

He began at the bottom of the school, but within a month he was "Emperor of Rome". The Ateneo had divided the students into two "empires", Roman and Carthaginian, to fight for academic supremacy. It was this war that soon brought young Rizal triumph and prizes. At the end of the first quarter he received the grade "excellent".

When one of the teachers hurt his feelings he stopped trying for honors, so that at the end of the year he came out second in the school and had no prizes. Though he still had the grade "excellent", he felt like a failure, and doubtless the disappointment of his father in Calamba added to his remorse. He never did less than his best again. The second year he was first and had won nearly all the prizes and medals there were to be had.

The four years in the Ateneo were a continuous pageant of brilliant scholastic triumphs, which made José Rizal the pride of the Jesuits. Here is his record:

1872 Arithmetic . . . . . . . . . . . .Excellent
1872-3 Latin 1. . . . . . . . . . . . .  "
Spanish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   "
Greek . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   "

1873-4 Latin 2. . . . . . . . . . . . . Excellent
Spanish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  "
Greek . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  "
Geography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "

1874-5 Latin 3. . . . . . . . . . . . . Excellent
Spanish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "
Greek. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  "
General History . . . . . . . . . . .  "
Hist. of Spain and Phil. . . . . . .  "
Arithmetic and Algebra . . . . . .  "

1875-6 Rhetoric and Poetry . . . . Excellent
French . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  "
Geometry and Trigonometry . . . "

1876-7 Philosophy 1 . . . . . . . . . Excellent
Mineralogy and Chemistry . . . . . "
Philosophy 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  "
Physics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  "
Botany and Zoology. . . . . . . . .   "
Bachelor in Arts. . . . . . . . . . . .   "

He was as good as he was brilliant. The Jesuits called him "a child excellent in religious sentiments, customs and application, with progress worthy of his signal talent. (02)

"Because of all this and because of his good conduct throughout his stay at the Ateneo, he succeeded in being admitted to the Marian Congregation in which he gradually rose until he became Secretary.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus (Central Figure);

The Power of Science over Death (Left);

The Power of Death Over Life (Right)

"The pious youth carved a pretty image of Our Mother with no other instrument than a plain pen-knife, to the great delight of the professors of Rizal, one of whom asked him to carve also the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The artistic youth a little later gave his new work to the Father."

Alexander Dumas

Thanks to the schedule José was following, he had time for extra reading. The first foreign book he read, (03) The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, reminded him of the sufferings of his mother in prison and of his motherland. All over the Philippines were conditions worse than those which Dumas had described.

But the book which first began to answer his life question was [Dr. Feodor] Jagor's Travels in the Philippines.  For a sample chapter CLICK HERE.  [Cf: The Former Philippines Through Foreign Eyes by the same author]  Jagor was a German naturalist who had visited the Philippines fifteen years before and had made some very wise and even prophetic comments. His book severely criticized the Spanish regime: "Government monopolies. . . . insolent disregard and neglect. . . . were the chief reasons for the downfall of [Spain's] American possessions. The same causes threaten ruin to the Philippines. . . ."

We should not forget what Jagor also said about England, for it throws light upon some of Rizal's later acts: "England can and does open her possessions impartially to the world. The British colonies are united to the mother country by the bond of mutual advantage. . . . It is entirely different with Spain. . . ."

With astonishing accuracy Jagor foresaw the downfall of Spain and the coming of America: "The Americans are evidently destined to bring to full development the germs originated by the Spaniards. As conquerors of modern times they pursue their road to victory with the assistance of the pioneer's axe and plough, representing an age of peace and commercial prosperity. . . . A considerable portion of Spanish America already belongs to the United States and has since attained an importance which could not possibly have been anticipated under the Spanish government or during the anarchy which followed. . . ."

These and similar books powerfully stimulated the brilliant mind of the earnest young student. "The idea that seized upon Rizal and was always growing in his thoughts was that he ought to do something to help his people out of the prison house of ignorance and tyranny". Something -- but what? That was his problem. He did not know, but he would search the world for an answer!

Every vacation he went to Santa Cruz, Laguna, to visit his mother in prison. They always cried in one another's arms. The last visit, to tell the story in his own words, "I prophesied, like another Joseph, that I had dreamed she would be released in three months. It happened that the prediction came true." (04)

At the end of his second year his home-going was full of thanksgiving, not only because of his triumphs, but because his mother was home again. "In that memorable year of my mother's release," he wrote in his Boyhood Story, "my mother had not wanted me to return to Manila, saying that I already had sufficient education. Did she have a presentiment of what was going to happen to me? Can it be that a mother's heart gives her double vision?"

The following Christmas holidays, "when I walked into our house in Calamba, my mother did not recognize me. The sad cause was that she had already lost her sight. My sisters greeted me joyfully, and I could read their welcome in smiling faces. But my father, who seemed to be the most pleased of all, said least." Cataracts had been growing in his mother's eyes, and it was this fact that turned Rizal to the thought of studying medicine so as to restore his mother's eyesight, if this were humanly possible. This gave him one more reason for studying hard in the Ateneo.

José found his greatest pleasure in making the verses which his gifted mother had taught him to write. He did not, so far as we know, write any poetry during the two years of his mother's imprisonment; at least it was not the kind he would have dared to show the world. But after her release from imprisonment his singing soul poured out music on every theme that took his fancy. Indeed, this adolescent youth was caught up in an ecstasy of precocious genius.

Following the example of the Spanish poet Zorrilla [José Zorrilla y Moral], he wrote in honor of great discoveries:
"The Departure: Hymn to Magellan's Fleet" (1874)
"And He is Spanish! Elcano, the First to Circumnavigate the Globe".

A drawing from Rizal's Scrapbook,

"Columbus at Baracelona"

"Columbus and John II".
"The Heroism of Columbus" (1877)
In praise of famous conquerors he wrote:
"The Battle of Urbiztondo, Terror of Jolo" (1874)
"The Captivity and the Triumph: The Battle of Lucena and the Imprisonment of Boabdil" (1876)
"The Triumphant Entrance of the Catholic Kings into Granada" (1876)
"Abd-el-Azis and Mohammed" (1879)
"The Council of the Gods -- In Praise of Cervantes" (1880)

On Religion he wrote sonnets:
"To the Child Jesus".
"To the Virgin Mary".

In praise of Education he wrote poems on:
"The Close Relationship between Religion and Good Education" (1876).
"Through Education the Country Receives Light" (1876) [NOTE: See below].
"Reading, a Great Consolation in Severe Misfortune" (1877)

He had already decided that education was the hope of salvation for his country, and from this faith he did not swerve to the end of his life. When in later years he was surrounded by revolutionists in Europe and in the Philippines, he resolutely opposed the pathway of violence and clung to education not only in theory but by his example. He became not only the best educated Malay, but one of the most astonishingly versatile scholars of his day in any race. The following poem, written at the age of fifteen, is a clue to the inner motive of Rizal's intense life.

Is there a parallel in history from the pen of a boy so young? Dr. Pardo de Tavera writes: "We remain dumbfounded and cannot discover whence he took such ideas expressed with such sureness. What mysterious Power had given that brain such confidence in education?" (05)


The vital breath of prudent Education
Instills a virtue of enchanting power;
She lifts the motherland to highest station
And endless dazzling glories on her shower.
And as the zephyr's gentle exhalation
Revives the matrix of the fragrant flower,
So education multiplies her gifts of grace;
With prudent hand imparts them to the human race.

For her a mortal-man will gladly part
With all he has; will give his calm repose;
For her are born all science and all art,
That brows of men with laurel fair enclose.
As from the towering mountain's lofty heart
The purest current of the streamlet flows,
So education without stint or measure gives
Security and peace to lands in which she lives.

Where Education reigns on lofty seat
Youth blossoms forth with vigor and agility;
He error subjugates with solid feet,
And is exalted by conceptions of nobility.
She breaks the neck of vice and its deceit;
Black crime turns pale at Her hostility;
The barbarous nations She knows how to tame,
From savages creates heroic fame.

And as the spring doth sustenance bestow
On all the plants, on bushes in the mead,
Its placid plenty goes to overflow
And endlessly with lavish love to feed
The banks by which it wanders, gliding slow,
Supplying beauteous nature's every need;
So he who prudent Education doth procure
The towering heights of honor will secure.

From out his lips the water, crystal pure,
Of perfect virtue shall not cease to go.
With careful doctrines of his faith made sure,
The powers of evil he will overthrow,
Like foaming waves that never long endure,
But perish on the shore at every blow;
And from his good example other men shall learn
Their upward steps toward the heavenly paths to turn.

Within the breast of wretched humankind
She lights the living flame of goodness bright;
The hands of fiercest criminal doth bind;
And in those breasts will surely pour delight
Which seek her mystic benefits to find,
Those souls She sets aflame with love of right.
It is a noble fully-rounded Education
That gives to life its surest consolation.

And as the mighty rock aloft may tower
Above the center of the stormy deep
In scorn of storm, or fierce Sou'wester's power,
Or fury of the waves that raging seep,
Until, their first mad hatred spent, they cower,
And, tired at last, subside and fall asleep, --
So he that takes wise Education by the hand,
Invincible shall guide the reigns of motherland.

On sapphires shall his service be engraved,
A thousand honors to him by his land be granted:
For in their bosoms will his noble sons have saved
Luxuriant flowers his virtue had transplanted:
And by the love of goodness ever laved,
The lords and governors will see implanted
To endless days, the Christian Education,
Within their noble, faith-enrapture nation.

And as in early morning we behold
The ruby sun pour forth resplendent rays;
And lovely dawn her scarlet and her gold,
Her brilliant colors all about her sprays;
So skillful noble Teaching doth unfold
To living minds the joy of virtuous ways.
She offers our dear motherland the light
That leads us to immortal glory's height.


     La sabia educación, vital aliento,
Infunde una virtud encantadora;
Ella eleva la patria al alto asiento
De la Gloria immortal, deslumbradora,
Y cual de fresca al soplo lento
Reverdece el matiz de flor odora;
Asi la educación, con sabia mano,
Bienhechora engrandece al ser humano.

     Por ella sacrifica su existencia
El mortal y el plácido reposo;
Por ella nacer vénse el arte y ciencia
Que ciñen al humano lauro hermoso:
Y cual del alto monte en la eminecia
Brota el puro raudal de arollaa undoso;
Así la educación da sin mesura
Á la patria do mora paz segura.

     Do sabia educación, trono levanta
Lozana juventud robusta crece,
Que subyuga el error con firme planta
Y con nobles ideas se engrandece:
Del vicio la cerviz, ella quebranta;
Negro crimen ante ella palidece:
Ella domeña bábaras naciones,
Y de salvajes hace campeones.

     Y cual el manantial, que alimentando
La plantas, los arbustos de la vega,
Do plácido caudal va derramando,
Y con bondoso afán constante riega
Las riberas do váse deslizando,
Y á la bella natura nada niega;
Tal el que sabia educación procura:
Del honor se levanta hasta la altura.

     De sus labios las aguas cristalínas
De célica virtud sin cesar brotan,
Y de ese fe las provides doctrinas
Del mal las fuerzas débiles agotan,
Que se estrellan cual vias blanquecinas
Que las playas inmóviles azotan:
Y aprenden con su ejemplo los mortales
Á trepar por la sendas celestiales.

     En el pecho de míseros humanos
Ella enciende del bien la viva llama;
Al fiero criminal ata las manos,
Y el Consuelo en los pechos fiel derrama
Que buscan sus benéficos arcanos,
Y en el amor del bien su pecho inflama:
Y es la educación noble y cumplida
El bálsamo seguro de la vida.

     Y cual peñón que elévase altanero
En medio de las ondas borrascosas
Al bramar de huracán y Noto fiero,
Desprecia su furor y olas furiosas,
Que fatigadas del horror primero
Le retiran en calma temerosas:
Tal el que sabia eduación dirige
Las riendas de la patria invico rige.

     En zafiros entállense sus hechos;
Tribútele la patria mil honores;
Pues de sus hijos en los nobles pechos
Trasplantó la virtud lozanas flores;
Y en el amor del bien siempre deshechos
Verán los gobernantes y señores
Al noble pueblo que con fiel ventura
Cristiana educación siempre procura.

     Y cual de rubio sol en la mañana
Vierten oro los rayos esplendentes,
Y cual la bella aurora de ora y grana
Esparce sus colores refulgentes;
Tal la noble instrucción ofrece ufana
De virtud el placer á nuestra cara patria ilustre
Inmortal esplendor ofrece y lustre.

It was in 1876 also that he wrote his "Memorial to My Village" which we have printed in Chapter 1. When we recall his drawing, painting, and sculpturing, and the fact that he excelled all other students in scholarship, it is clear why his professors looked upon him as a genius, and his fellow students regarded him with something awe. He wrote, "A Farewell Dialogue of the Students" just before he graduated from the Ateneo. On March 23, 1877, not yet sixteen years old, he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts with highest honors.

He never ceased to love the Ateneo. Five years after his graduation he wrote a lovely tribute to the Very Reverend Pablo Ramon, Rector of the Ateneo, on the occasion of that good Father's birthday.


Sweet is the breeze which at the break of day,
Waving the calyx of the fragrant flowers,
Scatters gentle odors everywhere
Across the field.

Sweet and mellow is the placid murmur
Of the gentle brook with silver foam
Dissolving merrily between the golden sands
And splashing pearls.

Sweet are the songs of melodious birds;
Soft the aroma of the festive flowers;
And fragrances at silver dawn
Are soft and sweet.

But thy name, Father idolized,
A purer sweetness in our breasts instills,
Of light extending from th' eternal splendor
Its gentlest rays.

Most loving hand of God, a father
And example thou, whose sincere love,
Despite the bitter path of life,
Still guides us tenderly.

Aye! What might happen with the youthful energy
Which burns so merrily within our breasts
But for the guidance of thy pious hand;
Thy love, thy zeal!

We, thy children, Father, -- thou our guide
To habitations of eternal bliss.
No fear can agitate the mind
With such a pilot.

May the Apostle whose great name thou bearest,
In whose footsteps thou doest walk so valiantly,
Grant to thee his grace divine o'erflowing, --
Power divine!


     Dulce es la brisa que al romper el alba
Meciendo el cáliz de olorosas flores
Suaves olores por doquiera esparce
     Por la campiña;

     Dulce es y suave el plácido murmullo
Del manso arroyo que espumosa plata
Ledo desata entre arenillas de oro
     Y blanco aljófar;

     Dulces los trinos de canoras aves,
Suave el aroma de las gayas flores
Y los olores de la blanca aurora
     Suaves y dulces:

     Pero tu numbre¡ Padre idolatrado!
Dulzor más puro en nuestro pecho infunde,
De luz difunde de esplendor eterno
     Más suaves rayos.

     De Dios la mano cariñosa un Padre
En tí nos muestra, cuyo amor sincero
Por el sendero amargo de la vida
     Nos guía amane.

     ¡Ay! ¿qué sera del juvenile esfuerzo
Que bullicioso en nuestro pecho arde
Sin que le guarde tu piadosa mano,
     Tu amor, tu celo?

     Somos tus hijos, Padre; tú nos guías
A las moradas de eternal ventura;
No la pavura turbará la mente
     Con tal piloto.

     El grande Apostol cuyo nombre llevas,
Cuyas pisadas sigues alentado
¡Dete colmado del favor divino
     Sacro tesoro!

Segunda Katigbak

Rizal's delightful account of "What happened between April and December, 1877", throws so much light upon his boyish heart that it ought not be omitted. It is an account of his first love at sixteen, that painful experience which comes to nearly all adolescents. He writes the story three years later -- the youth of nineteen laughing at himself at sixteen: (06)

"One Thursday my friend M. (Mariano), who was the brother of Miss K., came to invite me to go to Concordia College to visit our sisters. We met his sister in the sala (parlor). She greeted us and asked whether I wanted her to call my sister Olimpia. I said yes, and she went lightly, but with a grace I had not seen in anybody else. A little later, when they came, we formed a small circle.

"She asked me which flowers I liked best. I told her I liked all kinds, but white and black ones most; she told me she liked white ones and roses, and then she became pensive.

"Have you a sweetheart?" she asked me after a short pause.

"'No', I answered, 'I never had one because I guess none of the girls ever paid any attention to me.'

"'How are you fooled! Do you want me to get you one?' asked the Lady.

"'Thank you Miss', I said, 'but I do not wish to trouble you.'

"It happened that I had just heard that she was to be married in December, so I asked:

"'Are you going to your town in December?'

"'No', she answered dryly.

"'They tell me that in your town they are going to have a big celebration, in which you are to take a leading part, and which cannot continue without your help.'

"'No', she said laughing, 'My parents want me to retire, but I do not want to, for I want to stay in this college five more years.'

"We went on drinking the sweetest narcotic of love, through our conversation. Her looks were glorious in their sweetness and expressiveness; her voice was melodious and I thought an enchantment accompanied every movement. Languor penetrated my heart, and I had feelings I had never known before. . . .

"She disappeared and returned with two white (artificial!) roses, one of which she gave to her brother and the other to me; she herself put it in the ribbon of my hat. I gave her a picture I had drawn of her, and she was delighted. She told me that my sister had made the rose she gave me; and, though I knew it was not so, I pretended to believe it. I went home and took care of that rose as a symbol of our 'artificial' love.

"The Thursday following that Sunday my aunts went with me. We were seated in a circle, she beside me. My sister whispered I do not know what feminine secret to my aunts, and we two were left alone. I took advantage of the occasion by asking her who had made those roses. Blushing she told me the truth. I thanked her and promised to keep them as long as I lived and added:

"'Do you realize how sad it is going to be for me to lose you, after having known you?"

"'Suppose I do not marry!" she replied and two tears appeared in her eyes, making her look divine.

". . . But I told my heart not to love her for she was already engaged . . . I resolved to be quiet . . . and not become subject to her yoke, nor to tell her of my love.

"Once we did not go to see her because her brother was sick. The next day on the steps we met.

"'Have you been ill?' she asked me.

"'Yes', I replied, 'but today I am well, thank you.'

"'Oh', she answered, 'last night I was praying for you; I was afraid something had happened to you.'.

"'Thank you', said I, 'I should like to be sick always, if that is the way to be remembered by you; why even death would be welcome if it did that.'

"'How!' she said, 'do you want to be dead?'"

December brought vacation time and José went home the day before his new first love. He rode his horse to the roadside where he knew she would pass. . . "Suddenly I heard a noise, and turning my head I saw calesas (carriages) and horses enveloped in a cloud of dust. My heart beat violently and I probably turned pale. . . .

"The second coach was occupied by K., her sister, and other girls from Concordia. She saluted me smiling and waving her handkerchief. I only tipped my hat and said nothing. Ah, that is what has always happened to me in the saddest moments of my life. (07) My tongue, usually talkative, goes dumb when my heart is breaking with emotion. The coach passed like a swift shadow and left me no other trace than a dreadful vacuum in the world of my affections. On a horse behind the third calesa rode my friend. He stopped and asked me to come to the town. I was about to follow, and mounted my horse quickly. But in critical moments in my life I have always worked against my will. I kicked my horse and took another road, exclaiming 'So that is ended'. Ah, how much truth, how much instinct there was in those words: the brief hours of my first love had ended; I returned to my town confused and like an intoxicated man. I knew she was the woman who satisfied perfectly the aspirations of my heart, and I told myself that she was lost."

Rizal's first love was Señorita Segunda Katigbak. That December she married Don Manuel Luz, and became the mother of Arsenio Luz, who, at the writing of this book, occupies a prominent place in Philippine business and social circles.

Leonor Valenzuela

[NOTE: It might be mentioned that there were two other young women that caught the attention of Rizal. One is a mysterious young maiden of Calamba Rizal only referred to as "Miss L." The romance did not last long as his heart still yearned for Segunda and there was apparently some animosity between Rizal's family and hers. In his Sophomore year at the University of Santo Thomas he also caught the eye of Leonor Valenzuela of Pagsanjan, Laguna. Some of his "love notes" were written in a homemade invisible ink (it could be deciphered under the heat of a candle or lamp). His courtship did not lead, however, to a proposal of marriage. His heart turned to another Leonor who dominated his thoughts for most of the rest of his life. More will be said about this romance in the following chapters. -- RLY]

(01) Austin Craig: Rizal's Own Story of His Life. Manila: National Book Store, 1920, p. 36.
(02) El Doctor Rizal y su Obra, p. 6.
(03) Austin Craig, Rizal's Life and Minor Writings. Manila: Oriental Commercial Co., 1927, p. 57
(04) Craig, op. cit., translation, p. 42.
(05) Dia Filipino, Vol. 7, Dec. 1917.
(06) Dia Filipino, 1918 -- "El Primer Amor de Rizal", also June, 1930.
(07) A boy of nineteen is writing.

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The Life and of Dr. José Rizal
Dr. Robert L. Yoder