If the essay is considered in a broad sense as a writing that seeks to transmit the process of thought and critical reflection, its origins can be traced back to ancient Greece in those texts that seek to defend concrete ideas, such as the Dialogues of Plato or in works of Aristotle.
However, it will be until the dawn of modernity, in the sixteenth century, when this expository and argumentative genre acquires its name and the definition of its characteristics thanks to the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who under the title of Essais, published in 1580 a compilation of his writings.
Precisely in one of those essays, entitled, “De los libros“, Montaigne defines the personal nature of the essay by stating that:
“What I write is purely an essay of my faculties natural … These fantasies are included in these essays, and with them I do not try to explain things, but only to let me know myself…”
Thus, as a possibility to test the “faculties” of the author, from the very beginning the term essay means “to test” or “put into practice” the ideas of the author.
Shortly after, the English philosopher Francis Bacon published his book The essay. Religious meditations The place for dissuasion and persuasion, with which the term “essay” begins to be extended to designate the type of argumentative and reflexive writings.
In Spanish, the term “essay” appears late until the nineteenth century, but in the sixteenth century there is an essay style in the book The contempt of the court and praise of the village published by Antonio de Guevara, published in 1539, where The author reflects on national problems and speculates about the essence and identity of culture.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the essay develops in a special way in the American countries that are beginning to fight for their independence, because this genre becomes the ideal channel to express their reflections and arguments in favor of pro–independence causes.
Among the first American essayists are the Mexican José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, Simón Bolívar and later, José Martí.
Already in the twentieth century, faced with the need to explain the complex Latin American reality as a group of nations that question their own identity and future, the writers of the region cultivate profusely the essay and highlight the names of José Enrique Rodó, José Vasconcelos, José Carlos Mariátegui, Alfonso Reyes and Jorge Luis Borges until Octavio Paz, who receives the Nobel Prize in 1990.