Spain Literature – 14th Century

The culminating period of medieval literature now declines together with the spirit and momentum of the Reconquest. Military campaigns against Muslim power are resolved in episodes. The unifying principle of the monarchy collides with the disintegrating tendencies of the nobility, and the various social classes are fighting each other. A new company is in the making. The chivalrous sentiment, freeing itself from the constraints imposed by reality, proceeds towards abstract and ideal affirmations. El caballero Cifar, the oldest novel of chivalry, by an unknown author, is a mixture of chivalrous and didactic elements, where an episodic subject is varied, without constructive unity, on the distant schemes of the Byzantine novel. The type of the adventurous and dreamy knight arises, next to whom stands the lazy and cunning squire, mischievous and loyal. But it is pure literature that is made by embroidering on other literature. The background of such imaginative digressions, which have no historical foundation, nor were they believed to be historical at all, must be sought in the diffusion and late degeneration of the French chivalric novel. Spain makes it its own and is re-elaborating it, bringing to it new didactic elements drawn from the widespread material of Aesopian fables and oriental tales. This fictional chivalry, Cantar de Rodrigo or Mocedades de Rodrigo).

According to, abstract individualism, which in the Poema de Alfonso Onceno, whose verse is that of popular narrative poetry, is more than manifest, marking the transition from the spirit of Cantares de gesta to that of romances historical or frontier. Within this new atmosphere, the Castilian literature of the century. XIV continues that of the previous century, but gradually frees itself from that universality that was sought almost exclusively in the scientific, moral and religious content. It is a process of refinement and affirmation of the personality; a greater artistic elaboration, accompanied by a certain effort of intellectual construction; a more careful observation of reality outside the usual fantastic modules. While the “mester de clerecía” exhausts itself (Vida de San Ildefonso ; Proverbios en rima del sabio Salomón) or tries to renew itself in the best of aljamiadi texts (Poema de Yu ç uf), anonymous work of an Aragonese morisco, here is the first and strong personality of a poet in the Libro de buen amor by Juan Ruiz, archpriest of Hita. It is a complex poem, with no other constructive line than that of representing episodically, through a personal poetic experience, the multifaceted manifestations of love as a natural and instinctive force, which continually worries and deludes itself in search of its own good. The inspiration, in its theoretical foundation, is perfectly Augustinian and is part of the tradition of the Christian Middle Ages; and Juan Ruiz rightly refers to it in the prologue to his work with serious intentions. But the poet’s spirituality is more than anything else time, with great variety, to outline types and figures, attitudes and thoughts, tricks and deceptions that fall within instinctive love and are outside the immanent rationality in love. We are, more or less, at the content of the Decameron ; but art, less incisive and profound, is often influenced by the various love literature of the Middle Ages, Latin and novel, by learned and popular lyric and narrative forms; and it is sometimes refracted through a deliberate and abstract didacticism, drawn from Christian, Arab and Jewish sources, common to contemporary Spanish culture. Alongside this outstanding personality of a poet, Castilian literature presents, with another inspiration and another tone, but always within the framework of an art that is still didactic, those of Juan Manuel and Pero López de Ayala. The art of the former, in arranging within an abstract frame (Libro del Conde Lucanor de Patronio) a series of fables, apologists, tales and parables, drawn from the classical and oriental tradition, from the universal literature of the people or from the particular history of Castile, is that of a wise irony, which captures life in its internal contradictions, in its irrational impulses and in its practical wisdom. One feels the living experience of a cultured prince, who in the teachings of Patronio resolves, in concreteness of representation, the content of the moral teachings set out in the Libro de castigos, in Las maneras de amor, in the Libro de los estados and in the Tratado. sobre las armas. It is an external and formal softening of court life, contemplated as an inspiration for artistic motifs. With other intentions and with a different temperament as a writer Per López de Ayala, rigid and proud soul, takes up the same subject and brings you spirits of bitterness and disgust. His Rimado de Palacio is affected by that pedagogical, realistic and positive prosaism, which unconsciously enslaves art for extrinsic purposes and makes it, in a certain sense, a historical document. Hence the greater importance that its Crónicas have, where history becomes drama; and within it, with acuteness and penetration, the Ayala outlines vigorous personalities like that of King Peter I and psychologically motivates the main events of an era.

But outside these three writers, literature unfolds monotonously, gradually exhausting the old forms. These are schematized in the content, close in narrow experiences and lose contact with objective reality. The poem becomes a collection of sentences and moral maxims in the Consejos y documentos of Rabbi Sem Tob. The story goes close empirically to particular facts with Fernán Sánchez de Valladolid and Juan Fernández de Heredia; which in the Gran Crónica de España prunes and impoverishes the Crónica general by Alfonso il Savio. Narrative prose loses all impetus and fantastic vigor; either he sticks to the encyclopedia of scientific knowledge (Libro del Caballero and del Escudero), or reflects contemporary social classes and conditions as in a mirror (Libro de los Estados), or he gives in to a didactic, fragmentary and restricted particularism (Casteos and documentos ; Libro de Montería by Alfonso XI). And yet an increasingly accentuated interest in history, as an affirmation of the human personality within a providential order, determines a choice of classical and medieval texts. Pero López de Ayala, accustomed to contemplating men and things through a moral and religious atmosphere, retranslated Livio from the French text by Pierre Bercheur; popularizes the Crónica troyana by Guido delle Colonne, and perhaps Valerio Massimo; begins the adaptations of the Caída de Príncipes that is the De casibus virorum illustrium by Boccaccio. Fernández de Heredia turns Plutarch, Orosio and a short French from Marco Polo’s book into Aragonese. The new Spanish humanism, which is oriented towards the classical, Greek and Roman world, is already beginning to assert itself together with the knowledge of the Italian literary movement. In that period of dynastic upheavals, sad political events and social disintegration, which characterized with Henry II (1369-79) the advent to the throne of the house of the Trastamara, literature seems to free itself from the constraints of history and close itself in the old reasons of Provencal and French lyric. The psychological simplicity of concrete life is lost, and poetry, brought back to the artifice of form, does nothing but rework a few and monotonous themes. The customs of a chivalrous environment are artistically relived with a formally dignified feeling of life. The poetic language, far from the popular tone, loses its concreteness and acquires musicality, containing itself in a short circle of conceptual formulas, which are emptied of feeling and tend towards the conventional phrase. All this while the culture is intellectually refined and poetry tries to substantiate itself with doctrinal elements. This is the opera gathered in Cancionero who compiled (c. 1445) Juan Alfonso of Baena, a late admirer of court poets, from Henry II to the early reign of John II (1406-54). This poem documents in its major representative, Alonso Alvarez de Villasandino, the exhaustion of the Galician-Portuguese tradition in a melodious and singing, conceptual and sonorous lyricism. Alongside, and in contrast to innovations, stands Francisco Imperial, whose Dantianism is more of a trace than of recreation: inelegant inlay of whole hendecasyllables removed from the Divine Comedy, and use of allegory. The art of Dante and Petrarch, which arrived in the peninsula through commercial relations, is deformed and refracted in that abstract allegorism that continues the old medieval tradition established by Theodolfo, and which is the affirmation of a hidden thought outside the concrete form..

Spain Literature - 14th Century