VIII. SPANISH LITERATURE

In letters the Italian ascendancy had to wait while Spain exchanged influences with medieval France. It was probably from Moslem and Christian Spain that the troubadours of Provence had taken their poetic forms and conceits; nevertheless John I of Aragon sent an embassy to Charles VI of France (1388), asking for troubadours from Toulouse to come to Barcelona and organize there a branch of their fraternity, the Gay Saber or Joyful Wisdom. It was done. At Barcelona and Tortosa poetic contests were held in Provençal fashion, and the composition and recitation of verses became a passion among the literate minority in Aragon and Castile. Lyrics of love or faith or war were sung by wandering juglares to a simple accompaniment of strings.

In the next generation John II of Castile supported Italian models of poetry. Through Naples and Sicily, where Spaniards ruled, and through the University of Bologna, where Spanish youths like the Borgias studied, Italian moods and meters of verse swept into the Peninsula, and Dante and Petrarch found eager emulators in the Castilian tongue. Periodically the lyrics of the Spanish poets were collected in cancioneros, books of ballads chivalric in sentiment, Petrarchan in style. The Marqués de Santillana—statesman, scholar, patron, poet—imported the sonnet form from Italy, and compiled so soon a history of Spanish literature. Juan de Mena candidly imitated Dante in an epic poem, The Labyrinth, which did almost as much to establish Castilian as a literary language as The Divine Comedy had done for the Tuscan speech. Meanwhile Don Juan Manuel anticipated Boccaccio by writing dramatic tales, from one of which Shakespeare drew the quite incredible legend of Petruchio’s taming of a shrew.

Romance continued to entrance all classes of readers. Amadis da Gaula was translated into Spanish (c. 1500) by García Ordóñez, who assured his readers that he had vastly improved upon the Portuguese original; and as this is lost we cannot gainsay him. Amadis, illegitimate son of an imaginary British princess, is exposed by her mother on the sea. He is rescued by a Scottish knight, and becomes a page to the queen of Scotland. Lisuarte, King of England, leaves his ten-year-old daughter Oriana at the Scottish court while he suppresses a usurper in his realm. The queen assigns the twelve-year-old Amadis as a page to Oriana, saying, “This is a child who shall serve you.“

And she answered that it pleased her. And the child kept this word in his heart, in such wise that it never afterwards left it... and he was never, in all the days of his life, wearied with serving her. And this their love lasted as long as they lasted; but Amadis, who knew not at all how she loved him, held himself to be very bold in that he had placed his thoughts on her, considering both her greatness and her beauty, and never so much as dared to speak a word concerning it. And she too, though she loved him in her heart, took heed that she should not speak with him more than with another; but her eyes took great solace in showing to her heart what thing in the world she most loved.59

It is a comfort to know that their love was triumphantly consummated, after tribulations as numerous before marriage in fiction as after it in life. There are many moments of tenderness, and some of nobility, in the long story; and Cervantes, vowing to destroy all such romances, spared this one as the best.

Romance provided one source of the drama, which slowly evolved out of the mystery and morality plays, the popular farces, and the court masques. The oldest date in the history of the Spanish drama is 1492, when the dramatic dialogues of Juan del Encina were put upon the stage. Fernando de Rojas, a Converso, took a further step toward drama in La Celestina (1499), a story told throughout in dialogue, and divided into twenty-two acts; it was too long to be staged, but its vivid characterizations and sprightly dialogue prepared for the classic comedies of Spain.

Scholarship was both hampered and fostered by the Church. While the Inquisition policed thought, leading ecclesiastics did much for learning and education. Italians like Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, coming to Spain in 1487, brought the news of the humanist movement, and Spaniards educated in Italy returned with the enthusiastic infection. At the Queen’s request Peter Martyr opened at her court, as Alcuin had done for Charlemagne seven centuries before, a school of classical languages and literatures; Princess Juana studied Latin dutifully on the way to insanity. Peter himself wrote the first history of the discoveries in America, under the title De rebus oceanis et novo orbe (1504 f.); the last two words shared with Vespucci’s earlier (1502?) use of the term to name the “New World.”

Cardinal Ximenes, whose faith was as firm and sharp as steel, joined actively in the classical movement. In 1499 he founded the College of San Ildefonso, and in 1508 the University of Alcalá. There, in 1502, nine linguists under his supervision began one of the major achievements of Renaissance scholarship, the Biblia Polyglotta Compluti, or Complutensian Polyglot Bible,* the first complete edition of the Christian Scriptures in the original languages. To the Masoretic Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New the editors added, in parallel or subjoined columns, the Septuagint Greek translation, the Latin “Vulgate” version by Jerome, and a Syraic paraphrase of the Pentateuch. Leo X opened up for Ximenes’ staff the manuscripts of the Vatican Library; and three baptized Jews contributed their Hebraic learning. The work of editing was completed in 1517, but the six volumes were not printed till 1522. Ximenes, anticipating death, urged on his savants. “Lose no time in the prosecution of our glorious task, lest, in the casualties of life, you lose your patron, or I have to lament the loss of those whose services are of greater price in my eyes than the wealth and honors of the world.”60 A few months before he died the final volume was presented to him with the compliments of his friends. Of all the acts of his administration, he told them, there was none better entitled than this to their congratulations. He projected an edition of Aristotle on the same scale, with a new Latin translation, but the brevity of his long life defeated him.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!