20.02.01 Estévez Sola, Chronica Hispana Saeculi XII, Pt. 3

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Lucy K. Pick

The Medieval Review 20.02.01

Sola, Juan A. Estévez, ed. Chronica Hispana saeculi XII: Pars III. Historia Silensis (CCCM 71B). Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols , 2018. pp. 265. ISBN: 978-2-503-57804-0 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Lucy Pick

The Historia Silense is at once both a fascinating and maddening text. Written at the beginning of the twelfth century, it is our main account for the history of the Leonese monarchy between 1037 and 1072, the reign of Fernando I and Sancha and its immediate aftermath. Its author draws on Sallust’s Jugurthine War and Conspiracy of Catiline for its rhetorical effects, and on both Einhard’sLife of Charlemagne and Thegan of Trier’s Deeds of Emperor Louis for its model of kingship. The author’s declared intent is to write the deeds of King Alfonso VI (1065-1109), the “orthodox emperor of Spain... sprung from the famous stock of the Goths” (cf. 139). His focus is on Hispania--or, better, Hispaniae, ‘the Spains’--and the legitimacy, orthodoxy, and lineage of the Leonese rulers with the right to rule them. Worthy of special note is the attention the text pays to maternal, as well as paternal, genealogy and the prominence of positive female figures in its pages.

On the other hand, as Richard Fletcher, author of a partial English translation, states baldly, “This is a deeply problematic text.” [1] The current editor admits that the editing of this text is llena de dificultades (115). The earliest manuscript (B, Madrid, Bib. Nacional MS 1181) of this twelfth-century text dates from the mid-fifteenth century, and the only other medieval manuscript (C, Madrid, BN 8592) is of similar late date, and is of only limited utility for clarifying a text that is corrupt and confusing in many places. Moreover, the text itself is a compilation, with large sections on the Christian rulers of the kingdoms of the Asturias and León between the eighth and eleventh centuries taken from the Chronicle of Alfonso III and the Chronicle of Sampiro.

But that’s not all. Most scholars, though not all, agree that what we have is an unfinished text; that its author either never finished his proposed biography of King Alfonso, perhaps bogged down by documenting the king’s royal predecessors, or if he did, it was lost at some early date, before the text was used in later medieval chronicles. If that were not enough, even the title of the history is unreliable. Though the origins of its author are still the subject of debate, all overwhelmingly agree now that the place of his religious profession (139) cannot be the monastery of Silos that gave the history its name.

Juan Estévez Sola’s study and edition of the Historia Silense comes as a welcome intervention and contribution amidst this confusion. We have now for the first time a critical edition that collates all the manuscript sources, including the long-neglected Cmanuscript, and provides a full apparatus of variants that accounts also for the emendations of earlier editions. Estévez Sola builds on the work of prior editors to correct the faulty readings of its manuscripts by referring both to its sources and to subsequent texts that drew on the Historia Silense, like the Cronica Naierensis and Lucas of Túy’s Chronicon mundi, which used manuscripts of theSilense that were earlier and presumably better than the ones extant now. These “expilatores” get their own apparatus, as do biblical citations and other sources of the text.

Readers who come to Estévez Sola’s edition from the 1959 edition by Pérez de Urbel and González will appreciate the vastly improved punctuation and paragraphing and more friendly orthography of the new version, which combine to make this at times challenging text much easier and more pleasant to read. Estévez Sola has rationalized and simplified the division and numbering of subsections within the text from Pérez de Urbel and González’s confusing order in a way that is clear and logical. Given, however, that we have sixty years of scholars citing the text from the earlier edition, it would have been helpful for Estévez Sola to provide its section numbers in brackets to assist the readers who will still need to cross-reference between the two editions.

All readers will appreciate the orientation provided by Estévez Sola’s thoughtful introduction, which is clearly a product of many years of reflection on this difficult text. He thoroughly reviews the debate over the origins of the Silense’s author, and rebuts Patrick Henriet’s strongest arguments in favour of locating the author’s origins at the monastery of Sahagún. [1] He then makes the most convincing case yet that the author was located at the royal monastery or San Isidoro in León, following Amancio Isla Frez’s suggestion that the author’s descriptor of his monastery in the manuscript as domus seminis should not be corrected to something else but rather refers to that monastery’s role as a burial site for the royal dead. [2] Although this edition is named the Historia Silense, Estévez Sola somewhat confusingly, especially for those new to the text, refers to it as the Pseudosilense throughout his introduction.

Estévez Sola distinguishes between sources used by the author to provide historical content, like the Chronicle of Alfonso III and Sampiro’s Chronicle, and those that inspire its rhetorical presentation. He asks, with respect to the latter, whether an intertextual reading of the latter can show how the author meant his words to be read. The answer he finds is that it depends. For example, when a passage from Sallust that describes the wanderings of Aeneas is used for Pelayo, who is described as fleeing Muslim conquest to rule in the Asturias, it is plausible that the author wanted to view Pelayo as a new Aeneas, seeking a new homeland for the conquered Goths. (93) But more often than not, Estévez Sola argues, such parallels are absent.

The new edition of the Historia Silense is a worthy contribution to the ongoing project of the Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis series to publish modern editions of the chronicles of León-Castilla. Estévez Sola is to be commended here, as for his earlier contributions to this project, for bringing us a legible and trustworthy text. It is to be hoped that it will encourage future scholar to delve deeper into the mysteries of the Historia Silense.



1. Simon Barton and Richard Fletcher (eds.), The World of El Cid (Manchester, 2000), 9-64, at p. 9.

2. Patrick Henriet, “L’Historia Silense, chronique écrite par un moine de Sahagún.” E-Spania 14 December 2012: http://e-spania.revues.org/21655.

3. Amancio Isla Frez, Memoria, culto, y monarquía hispánica entre los siglos X y XII (Jaen, 2006).

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