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|The Position of Magic in Selected Medieval Spanish Texts. Francis Robienne, Jr.|
|Michael Murphy’s Reader-Friendly Editions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: and Michael Murphy, with James Clawson, Companion to Medieval Literature.|
The Position of Magic in Selected Medieval Spanish Texts, a Review
Francis Robienne, Jr. The Position of Magic in Selected Medieval Spanish Texts.
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008. Copyright FrancisTobienne Jr. ISBN (10) I-84713-496-0. 113 pages, including References, with unnumbered front matter (an Acknowledgements page, a two-page preface, a helpful Abstract) plus one-page Author’s Biography at the end of the book.
John McLaughlin, PhD
English Department, East Stroudsburg University, Emeritus
( email@example.com )
This fascinating, clearly-organized scholarly text was written while the author was in graduate school as a Purdue Doctoral Fellow, pursuing his PhD in Medieval Studies, Literature. It bears graduate school earmarks, including a sometimes difficult post-modernist style and vocabulary – of which more later – but is also organized into three easy-to-follow Chapters. The first chapter is a discussion of the definition and place of medieval magic in its society, the second is on the study of magic in medieval Spanish universities, and the third a close textual reading of the “selected medieval Spanish texts” of the title, namely works produced either under or by Alfonso X, “el Sabio.” In the late 14th century.
As to any difficulty of style, the Preface demonstrates the issue, if it exists:
Further, the goal of this project is to define and represent the ambiguity of magic, and the tolerance of its expression in literature as its “definition” oscillated between religion and science; this medium exists within the literary exchange of Spanish Medieval Literature and its culture (the elements that aggregate into and express quasi-knowledge of a type of Spanish society. (Preface, unnumbered page).
If this sentence causes no problem for the reader, I withdraw the point, keeping in mind Norman Cantor’s warning to a class of Mellon Fellows some years ago that if they did not learn to write in this style and vocabulary they would not get published. For me, personally, there is no problem, simply a relatively knotted mind expressing itself here, with the necessary complexity of syntax and vocabulary.
Despite this rich style, the book is only 113 pages, and yet, in my opinion, covers its subject with clarity and sufficient depth to make its point; it even provides precise, at some points literal translation of the relevant Spanish and Latin documents he quotes at necessary places I his discussion.
Magic, black and white, malevolent and benign, was, as Dr Tobienne notes, somewhere between a religious belief system, in some sense rivaling the Roman Catholic Christianity that was then replacing the cultural tolerance of medieval Spain, where Catholics, Muslims and Jews lived, for the most part, in peaceful juxtaposition (one notes, of course, the brief but savage pogrom of 1391, as does the author). This tolerance made university study, in the translation centers of Salamanca and Toledo, especially, a feasible scholarly project, with consequent publication and discussion of this now-rejected field of learning. The text goes into brief, but certainly adequate discussion of these matters; for hose wishing a fuller, longer discussion, they may wish to consult Jennifer M. Corry’s Perception of Magic in Medieval Spanish Literature (Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 2005), which the author cites repeatedly and approvingly.
His careful, precise and thoughtful discussion of the court of Alfonso X is the meat of the book, and is recommended as a model for critical discussion of a medieval “Otherness” which is pleasant to see recognized so clearly. This small book will repay lengthy study, and would be of great value in any program of medieval studies that at the least touches on its twin subjects, magic and medieval Spain. I read it with pleasure, and believe my readers will do the same
John McLaughlin, PhD
July 7, 2010