Pamela A. Patton

title.none: Robinson and Rouhi, eds., Under the Influence (Pamela A. Patton)

identifier.other: baj9928.0606.003 06.06.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Pamela A. Patton, Southern Methodist University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Robinson, Cynthia, and Leyla Rouhi, eds. Under the Influence: Questioning the Comparative in Medieval Castile. Series: The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World, vol. 22. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Pp. xiii, 332. $159.00 (hb). ISBN: 90-04-13999-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.06.03

Robinson, Cynthia, and Leyla Rouhi, eds. Under the Influence: Questioning the Comparative in Medieval Castile. Series: The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World, vol. 22. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Pp. xiii, 332. $159.00 (hb). ISBN: 90-04-13999-0.

Reviewed by:

Pamela A. Patton
Southern Methodist University

Under the Influence is an ambitious collection of essays explicitly designed, as the introduction states, to expand current approaches to Iberian studies by emphasizing the complexity and contradiction inherent in comparative analysis of the artifacts, here mainly art and literature, produced by Spain's various medieval cultures. The essays, contributed by an energetic cohort of art and literature historians, offer fresh and sometimes provocative readings of important monuments and texts from twelfth- to fifteenth-century Iberia. Many papers grapple thoughtfully with the limitations of past scholarship and its longstanding tendency to isolate the products of medieval culture into regional, religious, cultural, and national categories. This concern is particularly apt when it comes to the problem of Spain's famous convivencia (roughly, "coexistence") a concept which in past decades has tended to gel into an over-optimistic paradigm in which cultural exchange is largely harmonious, or at least efficiently trackable, among Iberia's various faith groups. The essays in this collection do much to revise that view.

The collection's introduction decisively foregrounds its goals. Its claims may strike some readers as rather self-conscious: while the limitations of past scholarship and the need for new approaches are indeed well worth noting, such concerns are not entirely new, having been raised and addressed over the past fifteen years by scholars in multiple disciplines--in art history, for example, by Jerrilyn Dodds--and one would like to have seen such efforts given their due. The introduction also includes a glossary, which, while effective in clarifying slippery terms such as "mudéjar" and "appropriation," also includes others, such as "questioning" and "under" (as in "...the influence"), that readers may find less than useful.

The essays themselves commence with a vigorous contribution by Leyla Rouhi, one of the collection's editors. "A Fifteenth-Century Salamancan's Pursuit of Islamic Studies" examines the dealings between the Salamancan Christian theologian Juan de Segovia and a Muslim theologian from Segovia, Yça Gidelli, whom in 1454 Juan asked for help in producing a trilingual edition of the Qur'an. Adroitly disentangling the motivations and circumstances surrounding the two scholars' dealings, Rouhi highlights the case's departure from the oppositional template commonly applied to such instances of Muslim-Christian discourse. In so clearly illustrating the ineffectuality of rigid conceptual models and the salience of the specific case study, this paper sets the stage well for the essays that follow.

The collection then divides into two main sections, or "clusters," which are linked by theme and, to some extent, by discipline. "Mandate from the Top: the Emperor's New Clothes" includes studies that address the intersection between the policies and ideology imposed by royal and religious authorities and the often contradictory activities and concerns of their subjects. Several papers either directly or indirectly engage the persona of the famous Castilian king Alfonso X (ruled 1252-1184), whose cultural legacy and ideals for so long have been entangled with modern notions of convivencia .

Heather Ecker's essay, "How to Administer a Conquered City in Andalusia," presents the Castilian colonization of Andalusian cities as an experimental and inventive process that had less to do with the rise of the parish system in northern Europe, as might be assumed, than with the desire to build upon a preexisting urban organization that centered around neighborhood mosques, now converted into churches. In highlighting the inappropriateness of northern European models in understanding this development, as well as the Castilian kings' limited success in repopulating their newly converted cities, Ecker's meticulously argued paper highlights and concretizes one important aspect of Iberian difference from a wider European "norm". Francisco Prado-Vilar's poetic essay, "The Gothic Anamorphic Gaze: Regarding the Worth of Others," makes a close, phenomenological reading of three miniatures in the illustrated manuscripts of the Cantigas de Santa María as a means of access into the perceptions and self-perceptions of Iberia's various social and religious groups. These perceptions, the author contends, were colored more by daily experience and interaction than by subscription to cultural stereotypes, and thus reflected and actively promoted a comparably nuanced Alfonsine attitude toward the Muslims of his realm. Prado-Vilar's sensitive readings craft a persuasive case for a close relationship between the manuscripts' imagery and the king's conversionary goals. Still, as in much of the literature on these lavish royal manuscripts, one lacks a clear sense of who, if anyone beyond the king's immediate circle, actually had access to their exceptional images, leaving open the question of their promotional function.

María Judith Feliciano's "Muslim Shrouds for Christian Kings? A Reassessment of Andalusi Textiles in Thirteenth-Century Castilian Life and Ritual" is among the collection's most lucid and satisfying essays. Against a scholarly tradition that tends to present the use of Andalusian textiles by Christian rulers and nobility as the conscious appropriation--whether symbolic or pragmatic--of a patently exotic commodity, Feliciano brings together inventories, historical accounts, and literary texts, along with the surviving textiles themselves, to show that Christian use of such luxury silks was in fact built upon an understanding of them as consummately familiar attributes of status, ceremony, and authority. As such, she contends, the textiles were rarely perceived as "Islamic", or even as "foreign", but constituted a normal element of Castilian material culture.

This section ends with two essays on literature, thematically linked by the fact that each deals, in its own way, with biography. Ana Echevarría's "Eschatology or Biography? Alfonso X, Muhammad's Ladder, and a Jewish Go-Between", examines the contribution of a Jewish author, Abraham of Toledo, to the Christian compilation of the Book of Muhammad's Ladder . Disputing the view that Abraham's work represents a direct translation from a lost Arabic text, Echevarría presents it instead as based on a carefully manipulated compilation of both Latin and Arabic sources, including the Qur'an, which were drawn upon as deemed appropriate to the work's polemical function. Gregory B. Kaplan's "Friend 'of' Foe: The Divided Loyalty of Álvar FÁñez in the Poema de mio Cid " takes on biography of a different sort, demonstrating how the life of the Cid's nephew and vassal, Álvar FÁñez, serves in both the Castilian Poema del Mio Cid and the Leonese Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris as an exemplar of the loyal vassal. Both papers share with Prado-Vilar's and Echevarría's work a sensitivity to how literary and visual discourses could be manipulated in service of an authoritative agenda.

The book's second major section, "Voices from the Bottom: Undressing for Good Love" centers around three works of literature (one illustrated) in which a less authoritatively filtered, and thus presumably more authentic, "convivencia" can be traced. They are linked to varying degrees by a repeated consideration of the aged female go-between (alcahueta or 'ajouz ) as a cultural topos. Louise VasvÁri's engaging paper initiates the cluster by exploring the proverbs of the Libro de Buen Amor as evidence of the powerful intersection of oral and written culture in this work. She argues that the use, perversion, and relexicalization of such proverbs provided structure as well as subversion in Juan Ruiz's tale of his amorous misadventures.

Collection co-editor Cynthia Robinson's "Going Between: The Hadith Bayad wa Riyad and the Contested Identity of the Ajouz in 13th-Century Iberia" scrutinizes the role of the go-between in a unique manuscript of the Arabic love story of Bayad and Riyad (Vat. Ar. Ris. 368). This essay not only makes a very real contribution in publishing and discussing this work's scantily studied illustrations, but also contributes an illuminating reconception of the Iberian go-between as an authentically multicultural character, one whose role persists, and takes on widely varying inflections, in Arabic, Latin, and vernacular works of art and literature.

Luis Girón-Negrón's essay, "How the Go-Between Cut Her Nose: Two Ibero-Medieval Translations of a Kalilah wa Dimnah Story", makes a painstaking three-way comparison of two thirteenth-century translations, in Castilian and Hebrew, of the tale of the go-between's nose with an eighth-century Arabic version earlier known in Al-Andalus. Setting his philological approach firmly within a cultural-historical frame, Girón-Negrón reveals not only the tight interconnections among Iberia's literary traditions in general, but also the clear contrast between the assiduous accuracy of the Castilian version and the more freely manipulated and expansive Hebrew translation of this particular tale. Such differences reveal, as the author sees it, "the transformative process whereby Arabic enabled Castilian literary prose to be born and Hebrew literature to attain a creative peak." (234)

A lively assessment of the go-between and her associates is made by Gregory Hutcheson in "Garoza's Gaze: Female Sexual Agency in the Libro de Buen Amor ". Seeking the source of the extraordinary freedom with which the female gaze is authorized and used both by the go-between Trotaconventos and the lady Garoza in the final episode of the Libro de Buen Amor , Hutcheson finds roots not in the medieval Ovidian tradition on which the work draws in other ways, but in classical Islamic literature, with its rich awareness of the erotic, rather than merely procreative, potential of the sexual act.

The collection concludes with a fascinating essay by Benjamin Liu. "The Mongol in the Text" considers the introduction of a new "other", the Mongol, into the world of late medieval Iberia. Liu shows how, both as a fabled cultural topos and in the form of actual, newly introduced "Tartar" slaves, Mongols provided a changeable slate upon which could be inscribed a host of Iberian Christian preoccupations. They could be seen as fearsome and cruel opponents, as potential allies against Muslims, as especially loyal slaves and servants, and perhaps above all as potential converts, perceptions that dovetailed well with the outward shift of Spain's concerns as the fall of Granada extended its potential reach well beyond its own borders.

Although this collection is not unique in its attempt to acknowledge and explore the inherent complexity of medieval Iberian culture, the general success with which its contributors undertake this task is impressive. Valuable too is many essays' rejection of traditional disciplinary boundaries to reveal points of intersection between works of art and literature, a strategy that works so well here that one rather regrets the lack of scholarship from yet other disciplines too. The individual essays will of course have their appeal for specialists in the art and literature of medieval Iberia, but the anthology as a whole will be of interest and use to students of medieval Iberian culture in any of its aspects.