Spain Literature From the 11th to 15th Century

by | July 4, 2022


According to NEXTICLE, Latin writers born in Spain (whether pagan or Christian), such as Seneca, Lucano, Marziala, Quintilian, Prudentius and Orosio, were and are defined as Spanish by Iberian nationalist historians but, apart from the place of birth, we do not see what is truly Hispanic in these Latin writers. On the other hand, the case of Isidore of Seville – the greatest and almost the only cultural peak of Visigothic Spain – was different, who lived between the century. VI and VII, in whose works, and especially in the historical ones, a certain awareness of Hispanity seems to emerge, as in the vast philological encyclopedia Etymologiarum libri XX where the intention is to underline the Hispanic peculiarities in the context of the global Latin-Christian culture. 1st century VIII-XI are characterized by long and confused struggles and by a troubled cultural gestation. What legacy the Germans (Visigoths and Swabians) left in the knowledge of the Ibero-Romans is difficult to ascertain. According to R. Menéndez Pidal, Germanic would be the origins of the future Castilian epic and the “Rodrigo cycle”, for example, was born even in the century. VIII, that is, immediately after the disappearance of the last Visigothic king in the battle of Guadalete. However, it seems certain that in the Romance language the Germanic elements were scarce and if there were forms of popular poetry it is not sure that they were always of Germanic origin. It is known that the Muslim invaders generally respected the religion, language and customs of their Christian (called Mozarabic) and Jewish subjects. But soon a rich and splendid Muslim culture emerged which greatly influenced the thought and art of Europe. The names of Ibn Rushd (the Averroes of the scholastics and of Dante), Ibn Hazm, Ibn Masarra, Ibn al-‘Arabī etc. and of the Jews Maimonides, Ibn Gěbīrōl (the Avicebron of the scholastics), Jehuda Halevi, poet and philosopher, attest to the breadth and freedom of this extraordinary intellectual flowering. As for poetry, the typically “mestizo” songbook by Ibn Quzmān from Cordoba (ca. demonstrated by the discovery of bilingual lyrics – in Arabic, but with “leave” in Iberian proto-Romance – dating back to the 10th century. XI, that is, prior to the oldest European vulgar lyrics so far known. As for the narrative, it is enough to recall the Disciplina clericalis by Pero Alfonso (a Jew from Huesca baptized in 1106), collection of 33 apologues taken from Arabic, Persian and Indian sources, and thus transmitted to the later European narrative. Therefore, even scholars who do not fully accept the radical thesis of A. Castro (according to which one cannot speak of Spain and Spanish culture until after the Islamization of the peninsula and as a direct consequence of it) must admit the immense importance of the centuries of symbiosis and Arab-Jewish-Christian cultural exchanges, which lasted at least until the conquest of Black Andalusia by the Castilian king Ferdinand III (mid-13th century), and accept Menéndez Pidal’s definition of Spain as eslabón (link) between Islam and medieval Christianity. Moreover, the thousands of words and idiotisms of Semitic origin still existing in the Ibero-Romance languages ​​are also direct confirmation. No less decisive, however, are the European contributions and examples. Latin, as a written language and of the official culture of the Church and of the chancelleries, did not cease to be used in the small Christian kingdoms that arose from the first century of the Arab invasion on the Cantabrian mountain range and along the Pyrenees. The contacts between these kingdoms and “Frankish” Europe, which began in the Carolingian era with the creation of the Hispanic March (8th-9th centuries), intensified especially after the collapse of the Caliphate of Córdoba (1031), the birth of the kingdom of Castile and the conquest of Toledo by Alfonso VI (1085);


The crisis only worsened in the century. XV, true autumn of the Middle Ages, due to the weakness of the Trastámara dynasty (always very sensitive, moreover, to the cultural needs and friend of humanists and poets especially at the time of King John II, 1419-54) and the growing violence of civil discord, which provoked the authoritarian reaction of Isabella the Catholic at the end of the century. Humanistic studies flourished, on Italian examples – translations of classical texts, philological and aesthetic investigations (from the Arte de Trovar, by Enrique de Villena, to the first Castilian Grammar, 1492, by Antonio de Nebrija), historical literature, satirical poetry up to peaks of extreme crudeness (Coplas del Provincial), religious studies dictated by a clear desire for spiritual renewal and the lyric of refined “courteous” elegance. Among the many minor poets (present above all in anthological collections, such as the Cancionero de Baena, 1445, that of Lope de Stuñiga, 1460, and others up to the late Cancionero general, 1511, by Hernando del Castillo) emerge cultured poets, good connoisseurs of Italian poetry, such as the Marquis of Santillana (1398-1458), the aforementioned humanist Enrique de Villena (1384-1434), Jorge Manrique (1440-1479), aristocrat, soldier, author of one of the most beautiful lyrics of the entire Spanish literature (Coplas por la muerte de su padre, Stanze per la morte del padre), and Juan de Mena (1411-1456), educated in Italy and author of allegorical-moral poems (El laberinto de fortuna) valid above all for the novelty of poetic language. Notable prose texts, including the satirical Corbacho (Corbaccio) by Alfonso Martínez de Toledo, archpriest of Talavera (1398-ca.1482), and the beautiful Chronicles of Hernando del Pulgar (ca.1430-ca.1493) complete the panorama of the early Hispanic Renaissance, rich in vital enzymes. The later age of Catholic kings, accentuating the religious revival – with verse and prose texts by Íñigo de Mendoza (ca. 1425-1507), Ambrosio Montesino (ca. 1448-ca. 1512), Hernando de Talavera (1428-1507) and several others -, impressed on Castilian humanism a messianic spirit of triumphalist nationalism, with disturbing inquisitorial and anti-Semitic tips. However, not everything was official and conformist in it. Far freer and more artistic genres also developed there, such as theater – with humanistic roots, between the learned Salamanca and the small court of the Dukes of Alba, in Alba de Tormes, thanks to the poet and musician Juan del Encina (ca. -1529) – and the fictional narrative, of spirits and structures much more modern than the anecdotal medieval tale. Diego de San Pedro, with the famous Cárcel de Amor(1492) and Juan de Flores with Grimalte y Gradissa (ca. 1495) are the creators of the psychological-sentimental novel (on Italian roots: Boccaccio’s Fiammetta, ES Piccolomini etc.); while the chivalrous and adventurous novel, with clear French, Portuguese and Catalan precedents (Tirant lo Blanch, “the best book in the world” according to Miguel de Cervantes), has a prodigious relaunch in Castilian, thanks to one of the most read, admired and imitated of the century: the Amadigi di Gaula (1508).

Spain Literature From the 11th to 15th Century