On Spain and literature – I

Annoyed at the infamous TV series Toledo I tried to find some consolation in the epic film El Cid, “a romanticized story of the life of the Christian Castilian knight Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, called ‘El Cid’, who in the 11th century fought the North African Almoravides and ultimately contributed to the unification of Spain.” But even that movie released in 1961 starts with a politically-correct scene. El Cid, interpreted by Charlton Heston, spares the live of a Moorish king in the hope that the Moor will behave in the future after an anti-Christian raid (and in fact he behaves like a gentleman in the rest of the film). Then in the royal palace El Cid has a private conversation with the woman he loved, acted by Sophia Loren, and makes a speech about his pacifist intentions when he is accused of treason for having spared the life of the Muslim king.

Well, well… What about forgetting old and new movies altogether and focus instead in the Spanish literature of the Middle Ages? What will we find there? Big surprise: the historical “Cid” found some work fighting for the Muslim rulers of Taifa of Zaragoza! This happened after his falling out of favor of Alfonso VI, king of León and Castile, who in 1081 ordered Rodrigo Díaz’s exile.

But what else can the literature of the age say about the ethno-nationalist mores, values, moral grammar and zeitgeist of medieval Spain? Let’s take a look…

retrato de soledad anaya

This is a photograph of Soledad Anaya Solórzano (1895-1978), who graduated in Spanish letters at Guadalajara in Mexico. From 1920 to 1923 she served as Director of Primary and Higher Education in the Mexican government. She also taught Spanish literature, a field that she mostly loved, and was the Principal of the Secundaria Héroes de la Libertad until her death (the Middle School in Mexico City where I studied). Of course, when Miss Anaya taught me she was in her late seventies and looked a little older than in the photo, but she still was in command of her intellectual capacities. Anaya never married and was the single author of Literatura Española (1941), a textbook of more than thirty editions that we used in her classroom and I will use below and in the coming entries on the subject of Spain. I must say that in the first chapters of Anaya’s textbook, first published during the Second World War, she unabashedly uses the word “arios” (Aryan) when referring to the first conquerors of the Iberian Peninsula.

However, about the first ancient text that Anaya analyzes, the 8th century legend of King Rodrigo and the Loss of Spain (pages 28-31), the jew-wise reader is shocked to see that no accusation is made of Jews inviting any Muslim into the peninsula. The old legend tells instead that Florinda, a Visigothic maid (a purely Aryan young woman) was seduced by King Rodrigo, another Iberian white, in Rodrigo’s castle. As revenge the Count Julián, Florinda’s father, “opened Spain to Muslim expansion” Anaya wrote: an expansion that had been previously contained by the Count himself. The Moors then invaded the peninsula “and easily destroyed the Visigothic power that already was much debilitated.” Anaya adds that “it is not known what happened to King Rodrigo, who caused so much harm” and that the “historical happenings related to this legend occurred in 711 A.D.” Note that King Rodrigo, not Count Julián (or the Moors, or a purported Jew who opened the gates) is blamed. Presumably, the accent of the legend rested on the sense of honor among the Iberians of those remote times.

Later, on pages 40-47 of the textbook I used in my middle teens, Anaya mentions the case of the legend of The Seven Infants of Lara, which recounts other Iberian whites using other Moors to take revenge about other cases of Aryan offences! This very famous medieval tale has Gonzalo Gustios, the crying father of the seven decapitated white boys in Córdova, marrying Aixa, the daughter of Almanzor (Almanzor, who had imprisoned Gonzalo Gustios, was one of the most powerful characters in the Caliphate). Mudarra González, the mongrel son of the Christian Gonzalo Gustios and the Muslim Aixa, is The One destined to avenge the father. The victim of course is not Almanzor, the Moor that ordered the decapitation of the boys on behalf of the valiant knight Ruy Vásquez. The victim is Ruy Vásquez himself that the mongrel dispatches at the end of the story.

Once more, for the medieval Spaniard race did not seem to be the central issue at all: but a knightly sense of honor, especially during in-group vendettas.

In the next chapter Anaya approaches the ancient texts about El Cid. His life inspired the most important epic poem of Spanish literature: the Cantar de mio Cid. Now that I reread her book after forty years of reading it for the first time I was shocked to see Anaya’s sentence that El Cid was “the terror of Moors and Christians” (my emphasis). When I finished the chapter I was surprised to learn that El Cid’s fame was not entirely based on the feat of expelling some Moors from the peninsula, but mainly on the chivalrous character of this historical (and legendary) figure of the Reconquista.

This, and similar cases I’ll be recounting in these brief series about the classics of Spanish literature, moves me to expand the category of this blog previously known as “White suicide” as the “Aryan problem.”