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23.08.08 Giles/Hidalgo (eds.), A New Companion to the Libro de Buen Amor

23.08.08 Giles/Hidalgo (eds.), A New Companion to the Libro de Buen Amor

One of the great works of the European medieval period, invariably ignored outside of Hispanist studies, El Libro de Buen Amor (LBA) deserves the kind of careful studies that the editors, Ryan D. Giles and José Manuel Hidalgo have brought together. The ten essays divided into two sections, the first titled “Cross-Cultural Contexts” and the second, “Theoretical and Cross-Disciplinary Approaches” foreground the medieval Iberian peninsula’s multiculturalism and its impact on the unique achievement of Juan Ruiz, about whom, as the editors point out, we know virtually nothing. The aim of the collection “builds on” and “updates” the Louise Haywood and Louise Vasvari edited volume A Companion to the Libro de Buen Amor (2003), “to explore emergent approaches to conducting research on the poem, and in doing so mobilize a set of up-to-date avenues of inquiry for current and future scholars” (4-5).

Carlos Heusch, “A Poet in the Court of King Alfonso: The Libro de Buen Amor in Its Courtly Context” initiates the collection with a contrast between Ramón Menéndez Pidal’s minstrelsy appellation to the poem (1957) and María Rosa Lida de Malkiel’s correct reminder of its didacticism (1959, 1977). Both approaches imply an assumption about audiences, and Heusch argues that the “jongleur” audience was not necessarily the street. Instead, he posits a courtly audience, in which Juan Ruiz counters “foreign models” of courtly love to “develop a genuinely Castilian art of love” (40).

In chapter 2, “Reading the Libro de Buen Amor Multiconfessionally,” Gregory S. Hutcheson, takes up the presence of “judías e moras” in the poem, arguing that “orthodoxy and multiculturalism are not opposed in the Libro” (56). Continuing the multi-sectarian theme, Michelle M. Hamilton, in “Carnal, Carnival and Purim in the Libro de Buen Amor,” provocatively concludes that in the poem, “Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula...survives because of its non-Christian neighbors” (74). Veronica Menaldi’s “Enchanting Go-Betweens” examines the multi-ethnic origins of cultural knowledge (Arabic, Islamic, Hebrew and Judaic) present in the LBA. In “Figuring the Lamb and the Ram,” Eric Ekman seems to push the allegory of the “lamb of God” as far as it can go, making a medieval joke, that is Pitas Payas’s painting of a lamb on his wife’s belly, a Christo-mimetic signifier.

Part Two begins with the editor Ryan Giles’s essay “Theoretical and Cross-disciplinary Approaches,” which applies “spatial theories” to the LBA to argue that “space creates meaning” through “movement and mediation” (119). In a bold essay, Simone Pinet’s “For Love of Money” argues that “Money as a metaphor” and “language as mediator” “is a rhetorical strategy that “pulls the LBA out of the hermeneutics of salvation” (137). Continuing the cross-disciplinary theme, Nora C. Benedict’s “Isorhythmic Motets in the Libro de Buen Amor” considers the ignored topic of the role of music in the poem. In a related essay, Denise K. Filios’s “Sermon, Story, Song,” examines the “part preacher, part story-teller, part juglar or minstrel” (153) voice of the first person ambiguous narrator, “I.” Michael R. Solomon’s concluding essay, “Remediating the Libro de Buen Amor,” a study of “medievalism” provides a fascinating and original look at “adaptations, performances, illustrations and reenactments” (171) including the 1970s film versions, line-drawings in editions and translations, spectacles, medieval food events, etc., inspired by the LBA.

Besides an index, the book includes an excellent and up-to-date list of manuscripts, facsimiles, modern editions, and translations and a compendious bibliography. Maintaining thematic cohesion in collected volumes can be burdensome but these editors have managed this difficulty well and have certainly achieved their goal, which was to move out into new avenues for scholarly exploration of Juan Ruiz’s ambiguous, multi-faceted, and enduring masterpiece.