Olivia R. Constable

title.none: Parsons, trans. and Burns ed., Las Siete Partidas, Vol. 1-5 (Olivia R. Constable)

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.021 04.01.21

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Olivia R. Constable, University of Notre Dame,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Parsons, Samuel, trans. and Robert Burns, S.J., ed. Las Siete Partidas, Vol. 1-5. The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Pp. --. 135.00. ISBN: 0-812-21737-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.21

Parsons, Samuel, trans. and Robert Burns, S.J., ed. Las Siete Partidas, Vol. 1-5. The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Pp. --. 135.00. ISBN: 0-812-21737-3.

Reviewed by:

Olivia R. Constable
University of Notre Dame

This new edition and reissued translation of the Siete Partidas of Alfonso X of Castile is an indispensable contribution to the medieval Iberian field, and a valuable addition to medieval studies generally. Not only does it make the translated text available again, after many years of relative obscurity, but the new introductions to each section, general introductory materials, and up-to-date bibliographies make this edition a major improvement over the original version. The Siete Partidas is a fascinating and highly readable text (despite the somewhat legalistic language of the English translation), and will be of interest to scholars, teachers, and students, as well as the general reader. The text repays not only extended reading and research, but also reveals treasures to any reader who simply opens the book at random. On almost any page, one finds a wealth of engrossing data concerning daily life, practice, and belief in thirteenth-century Castile. The level of detail is compelling, and provides a wide-ranging view of medieval life and thought that goes far beyond mere prescriptive edicts.

This law code stands as one of the most famous and enduring products of the court of Alfonso X (1221-1284). It is a huge compendium of civil law modeled on Justinian's Corpus Iuris Civilis, but it draws much of its material from earlier codes and customary law in Castile. Unlike many other thirteenth-century expressions of the revival of Roman law, Alfonso's massive compilation was written in the vernacular, a factor that may have contributed to its ongoing utility over the centuries. The Siete Partidas remains the basis for much legal thinking in Spain and Latin America today, and continues to have significant influence on law in the United States, especially in Texas and California. The ongoing relevance of the text to modern law led to its translation into English by Samuel Parsons Scott in 1931, for use as a legal reference source, but over time the book became difficult to find. For those who did track it down, usually in the stacks of a law library, its nearly fifteen hundred closely-bound and brittle pages made it a challenge to use. Robert I. Burns and the University of Pennsylvania Press deserve a round of applause for bringing this text back to light, and presenting it in an attractive, accessible, and convenient form.

The new edition is published in five volumes, as opposed to the original hefty single tome. Each volume covers a range of subjects according to the sections (partidas) that they contain. Volume I, The Medieval Church: The World of Clerics and Laymen, contains the first partida (entitled Law in General, Canon Law), as well as a general introduction by Father Burns, an essay by Joseph O'Callaghan setting this law code in the context of earlier and contemporary Castilian law and discussing its production at Alfonso's court, and an updated bibliography on the Siete Partidas by Jerry Craddock. These bibliographical notes concentrate on works published since 1980 and thus pick up where Craddock's earlier bibliography of Alfonso's legislative works (published in 1986) left off. This survey testifies to the outpouring of recent scholarship on Alfonso X, making it all the more surprising that there is still no critical edition of the Siete Partidas in Castilian, and that Parson's translation has received so little attention. The other volumes in the new edition are: Volume II, Medieval Government: The World of Kings and Warriors (Partida II); Volume III, The Medieval World of Law: Lawyers and their Work (Partida III); Volume IV, Family, Commerce, and the Sea: The Worlds of Women and Merchants (Partidas IV and V); Volume V, Underworlds: The Dead, the Criminal, and the Marginalized (Partidas VI and VII).

Each Partida is divided into Titles, which are themselves subdivided into Laws. Each law has its own heading, identifying its subject and making the text easy to browse. Thus, for example, Title VII of the Seventh Partida (pp. 1337-38) has the heading "Concerning Deceit," and begins with "Law I: What deceit is and how many kinds there are;" "Law II: A party who reveals secrets of the king is guilty of deceit, and concerning other reasons for which men become liable for this offense;" "Law III: Concerning the deceit practiced by a wife when she presents the child of another person to her husband as his own;" "Law IV: Concerning deceit which men commit by forging documents or seals," and so forth. These sections are not simply legislation on what ought or ought not to happen in Alfonso's kingdom, but instead they can provide extended meditations on the subject at hand. Topics are carefully discussed and explained, often with examples and precedents. To complement the text of each partida, readers of the new edition will find further information on its general subject matter in the individual introductions provided by Robert Burns, together with bibliographies for further reading on the particular topics covered in that section. The text also has footnotes by the translator, although these--in the words of Burns--"are an embarrassment, but mercifully they are few" (xiii). The original index (made with the lawyer rather than historian in mind) also seems somewhat cursory, and would have benefited from a new edition. The magnitude of this task may explain why it was not done.