Spain Literature – The Origins (11th – 13th Century)

The fundamental fact, which characterizes in the century. XI the revival movement of Spanish culture and, in Christian Europe, makes it a means of spreading Muslim and Jewish science, is the decisive orientation of the politics of Alfonso VI (1072-1109) towards the Church of Rome. The propagation in Spain and the exceptional importance assumed there by the monastic orders of Cluny, and later of Cîteaux, are the consequence. Spanish politics begins to breathe in the universal atmosphere of the Church of Rome; he accepted the rite, abandoning the Mozarabic one; and, through ecclesiastical law which gives light to Visigothic law itself, it indirectly drinks from the sources of Justinian law. During the reign of Alfonso VII (1126-57), under the impulse of Archbishop Raimondo (1130-50) and thanks to Domenico Gondisalvi and Giovanni di Siviglia (Johannes Hispanensis), followed by other French, Italian (Gherardo di Cremona) and English translators, Toledo becomes the center of radiation of Arab science and philosophy . What previously took place in the schools of the Caliphate of Córdoba now takes place within a Christian atmosphere. The school of Toledan translators spreads, in its ecclesiastical Latin, not only the doctrines of Alfarabi, Avicenna, Ibn Gabirol, Algazali, Averroè, but also the Arabic commentaries that Platonized Aristotle and the texts of Aristotelian physics interpreted or commented on with neoplatonic spirits. The work of these translators, who are rather ingenious interpreters and compilers, conditions the development of philosophical speculation in Christian Europe. They put into circulation an Aristotelianism deeply tinged with Neoplatonism, such that it will soon arouse mistrust and criticism. While Spain was a mediator of knowledge for Europe, it received, as it were, from Europe the universal spirits of Reconquista ; that it was not only a revival of the national territory occupied by Muslims, but a revival and realization, within a new experience, of its Latin and Catholic tradition. With its work of repopulating the liberated territories, the Reconquest breaks the closed system of feudal orders, establishes municipalities and the Cortes, unifies the spirits and creates the spiritual bond of a common homeland. Alongside the Muslim and Jewish cultural tradition, French, Italian and Flemish influences come to place. Propagators were the monks of Cluny, to whom we owe the first theatrical production in the vernacular (El misterio de los Reyes Magos), the monks of Cîteaux, the Benedictines, the pilgrims of Santiago, the adventurers and merchants, the jesters and troubadours of France, the teachers from foreign universities, the Spanish students in France and Italy. The social life of the Christian kingdoms is amplified and intensified and, alongside the growing scientific, literary and artistic movement, the new regional languages ​​are developed and affirmed. In the century XII Spanish literature, as a reflection of the new civilization that has been slowly building itself, has its historically documented manifestations.

According to, what was or could have been before then in the vernacular, and which is suspected for direct or indirect documents, can only be of interest as the development of a culture that was identified, he became aware of himself and tried to express himself in his own language. While Spanish, Muslim and Jewish philosophy give their greatest luminaries (Averroes and Maimonides), the vulgar Spanish literature unfolds openly in the variety of its literary genres and through a colorful linguistic differentiation. There are three common languages ​​that arise: Catalan, Castilian and Galician-Portuguese; and each is centered on a great political unity: Catalonia and Aragon, León and Castile, and the kingdom of Portugal. The geographical situation of these new formations, their varied social constitution and the predominant spirits that informed them, explain the divergent and converging regional modalities of the same common culture. In Catalonia, linked by dynastic interests to southern Mediterranean France,Catalonia: Literature). In Portugal, where the monarchy maintained links with Burgundy and Lorraine, the new literature in Galician is imprinted, on a background of popular lyrical motifs, on the aristocratic traditions of France (see Portugal: Literature). In Castile, whose political activity is decisively oriented towards the Reconquest, establishing itself in brilliant military operations in the center of the peninsula, the source literature turns to epic narratives. Within them the warrior spirit of a people revives which conquers its own individuality, dominating the conditions imposed by historical reality, and is essentially active and practical, with the concrete ideals of the family, of the country and of God. The first individual voice and collective of Castilian literature is the Cantar de mío Cid. The problem of the distant origins of the Castilian epic matters little, traced back to simple and abstract motifs that can be found in the Germanic epic or in Muslim epic narratives. Nor should we excessively deduce from the fact that influences from Chanson de Roland are noted in the Cantar de mío Cid. They only document the spread of literature in the language of Oïl beyond the Pyrenees, carried out along the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Galicia and through the work of the nobility of France who rushed to help Spain in its holy crusade. What matters is the adhesion of the poet’s soul to the spiritual ideals of his time; it is the historical concreteness of which his song matters; it is the predominance of daily reality over the fantastic dream and the urgency of this reality in the soul of those who work and fight. The Spanish epic clings to history, not in the particular empirical fact and much less in its positive documentary value, but by interpreting it in terms of an immanent justice that governs it. In this sense, as is Chanson de Roland, it is typically Christian, despite being medieval in the conception of a rigid and violent application of the law; and it is still universal, due to the art of dramatically grasping human feelings and elementary and instinctive passions. Thus is the Gesta de los Infantes de Lara, a singing certainly later than that of the Cid, where the paternal sentiment, painfully struck in the treacherously slaughtered children, finds its just revenge. This religiosity, realistic in its forms and historical in its passionate content which is that of the time, is the animating soul of the two poems. The others are grouped around them (Gesta de Sancho II ; Gesta del abad don Juan de Montemayor), which philological criticism has reconstituted in their schematic interweaving, deriving them from the chronicles where they had been resolved prosastically as documentary history. Of course they are more literature than life, they are more fantastic reworking of French or Provençal or Greek-Byzantine models than original creations other poems (Roncesvalles ; Vida de Santa María Egipcíaca ; Libro de Apolonio), which mark the transition from forms of art still too tied to the particularism of current historical life to higher forms of a less interested art. It is a progress in spirituality that removes literature from the individualistic ends of the noble classes, bringing it into the serene and clear atmosphere of the temperate virtues of social life, to naive feelings of devotion and to spirits of charity and love. Anonymity yields to the personality of the poet, who rises above the wandering jester (mester de juglaría) with his own content of experience and doctrine (mester de clerecía). This new art, technically more elaborate and whose meter is the monorima quatrain with double septenary lines, was inaugurated by Gonzalo de Berceo; who, in some lives of saints, in poems to the Virgin and in others of sacred subject, uses poetry as a means of moral propaganda. It is life felt in its otherworldly end, where God is infinitely more lovable than art; and art is loved in the line of a morality that comes in delightful and honest forms. The sentiment clings to the content, expands and ranges didactically in the various spheres of the individual’s practical activity; and thus meets the spiritual needs of a social life, which is ennobled in the ever wider and more complex political and territorial unity. In the poem El libro de Alexandre, the hero’s exploits are followed as a propagation of civilization in wonderland; and the soul of the poet, who naively relives classical and medieval memories, indulges in brilliant and picturesque imaginations, aiming at the present. More or less like in the Poema de Fernán González, where the history of Spain, in function of the progressive victories of the Reconquest, constitutes the personal and passionate element of the poet, still tied to the forms of the old juglaría. In this moment of Castilian literature, which accepted, assimilated and transformed the various artistic influences from neighboring countries, the work of Alfonso il Savio (1252-84) enters. If this king was very unfortunate in his great political aspirations and even more in his family affairs, the magnanimity of his soul is fully revealed in the field of cultural activity. The characters of medieval Spanish humanism are centered in him, marked by that Christian realism which relies on the universality of thought and with generous breadth opens up to all truths, refusing to sacrifice any spiritual and human value. Alfonso il Savio historicizes the abstract universality of science and philosophy, leads them back to the concrete life of his nation, and it gives them a homeland in that common language which, radiating from Toledo, was formed through social and political fusion and firm territorial and administrative bonds. At the instigation of the king, scientific knowledge from Muslim or Jewish sources (Of the saber de Astronomía ; Taulas Alfonsíes), the medieval legal tradition with elements of Justinian law (Las Partidas), the historical or legendary tradition in its classical, medieval and Arabic sources (Crónica general), the sacred books, Muslim and Christian, are Castilian and enter the circle living of the common culture. Castilian prose was born and replaced Latin in public acts; it adapts to the new historical life and becomes the expression of that essentially assimilating spirit that characterizes it. If in the Cantigas, lyric and narrative, King Alfonso uses the Galician language, it is because a literary tradition acts on him that had raised popular choral lyric to art motifs. But nevertheless he accepts, despite the poetic language of use, the Castilian forms of a popular narrative poetry, whose origins are rooted in the most distant Romance tradition, even if they emerge chronologically first in the Arab-Andalusian poetry of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Under Alfonso the Savio, Spain again becomes a mediator, in the vernacular, between Eastern culture and European culture. As already in the Latin of Pietro Alfonso (Disciplina clericalis) the stories coming from the Jewish and Muslim East had spread in Europe; so now, in Castilian prose, Calila and DimnaLibro de los engaños, which is SindibarBarlaam y Josafat), which will give reason in Spain and in the rest of Europe to new and original art elaborations. This effort to popularize culture, in its universal meaning, penetrated into historiography, which had abandoned the ecclesiastical Latin of Lucas de Túy and the elegant and sustained one of Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada (Historia Gothica ; Historia Arabum), is continued by the son of Alfonso the Savio. Under the impulse of Sancho IV (1284-96), La Gran Conquista de Ultramar is drawn up. Here, in the context of the Eastern crusades carried out up to then, history and legend, poetic fables and didactic details alternate within the adventurous atmosphere of a novel. In the fabric of the work alongside the enterprises of the great military orders (Templars and Hospitallers) are inserted, resolved in prose, fragments of poems relating to the crusades of Egypt, Tripoli and Tunis, rearrangements and adaptations of the ancient epic and French chivalric romance.

Spain Literature - The Origins (11th - 13th Century)