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How Medieval Gynocentrism in India shaped the European Tradition of Courtly Love - Part 4


Courtly Love and Women in Ancient India and the Arabic – Hebrew Narratives in Poetry and Art in Mozarabic Al Andalus in Spain and the Iberian Penisula!


4. The “Mozarabic Invasion” and the Royal Contribution of William the IX!


It has long been known that William IX maintained direct personal ties with the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon in northern Spain during much if not all of his long reign of forty years (1086-1126). This came about not as an innovation on his part but as the continuation of a policy begun by his ancestors, the Dukes of Aquitaine, early in the Xlth century. The Spanish interest and journeys of his grandfather, William the Great (William V, 993- 1030) in turn formed part of a growing French involvement in trans-Pyrenean affairs related to the breakup of the great Ummayad Califate of Cordova early in the same century and its replacement by a series of smaller and less stable states called the Taifa or party kingdoms. The weakness and vulnerability of these Muslim states tempted the expansionist tendencies of rising Christian kingdoms in Castile, Navarre, and Aragon. In the second half of the Xlth century, these latter began to launch campaigns of subjugation and conquest of their Muslim neighbors to the south in what gradually developed into the movement of the Reconquest. Through their acquisition of the Duchy of Gascony in the 1050s the Dukes of Aquitaine became the greatest territorial power on the northern side of the Pyrenees and began to participate in the Reconquest ever more regularly after that time.


In the course of that intervention, they also became enthusiastic promotors of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella just then emerging as one of the outstanding religious shrines in the West. The Dukes of Aquitaine doubtless profited from the pilgrim traffic in that all three major routes from the north led through their lands and it was in their interest to aid the kings of Castile and Navarre against Muslim attempts to disrupt movement to and from Santiago. In 1064 Aquitanian interest in Spanish affairs turned into active, full-scale military involvement when Duke Guy-Geoffroi, William IX’s father, played a key role in the Barbastro campaign, one of the earliest great victories of a Christian army over a Muslim king in the Reconquest. In this campaign, Guy-Geoffroi led an Aquitanian army as part of an offensive against the Muslim kingdom of Zaragoza. Dynastic alliances came to supplement military assistance a few years later when, sometime between 1069-73, Guy-Geoffroi negotiated a marriage between his daughter Agnes and Alfonso VI of Castile. Alfonso’s repudiation of Agnes of Poitou in 1077 ended the marriage ties between the houses of Aquitaine and Castile but just a few years later another Spanish monarch, this time, King Sancho-Ramirez of Aragon, arranged another nuptial alliance with the Dukes of Aquitaine.


In this case in 1086 the later King Pedro I (1094-1103) married another daughter of Duke Guy-Geoffroi, this one also named Agnes. Unlike her older sister, Agnes of Aragon bore her husband two sons, but both died young, and the widowed queen returned to France, with the result that the Aragonese like the Castilian connection was short-lived and lacked long-range consequences. Nonetheless, William IX would have grown up having royal Castilian and Aragonese cousins and brothers-in-law from their earliest childhood. Combined with the stories of his father’s Barbastro campaign before his birth, this must have meant that Spanish ties were an ever-present factor in his outlook. Following the example of his ancestors, William himself presumably traveled often to Spain both for the Santiago pilgrimage and visits to his brothers-in-law but only two such trips can be documented. The first took him to Aragon at the very beginning of his reign, sometime between 1087-89, and was cut short by the unexplained intervention of King Sancho-Ramirez.


Contemporary sources talk more about William’s other known Spanish expedition in 1120 when he played a leading role in the Aragonese defeat of the North African Almoravids at the battle of Cutanda on June 17, 1120. The Almoravids had first crossed to Spain in 1086 in answer to an appeal from southern Spanish Muslim states alarmed by the great victory of King Alfonso VI of Castile in conquering Toledo in 1085 18. At first allies to their co-religionaries, the Muslim rulers of the Taifa kingdoms, the Almoravids gradually turned into conquerors. An austere people, militaristic, uncultivated, and uncompromising in their dedication to their faith, they strongly disapproved of what they held to be the soft, decadent way of life of the Taifa kings, particularly condemning the latter’ s widespread practice of paying tribute to Christian kings and princes from the north. With their superior military force, they gradually absorbed the Taifa states in a relentless advance northward, taking the capital of the last surviving kingdom, Zaragoza, in 1 1 10. Their successes posed a serious threat both to the survival of the kingdom of Aragon and to the Christian Reconquest movement in general. In reaction, papal leadership called for an international crusade to save northeastern Spain and a council was convoked at Toulouse in 1118.


This was followed by major invasion south led by Alfonso I, king of Aragon, aiming at the Almoravid center of Zaragoza. The capture of that city in December 1118 was a victory of major significance for the Spanish and their French allies nineteen. Equally important was the defeat and annihilation of Almoravid counterattacking armies at Cutanda, south of Zaragoza, in 1120, a battle often seen by Spanish historians as one of the most decisive in this early phase of the Reconquest. Judging from the silence of contemporary accounts, William IX did not participate in the siege of Zaragoza in 1118, but Spanish and French sources picture him, along with King Alfonso of Aragon, as a leader, commanding six hundred Aquitanian knights of the victorious armies at Cutanda. This brief survey of his Spanish contacts makes clear that through dynastic ties and common interests William IX had close relations with the king of Aragon which led at least twice to military expeditions and perhaps more often to pilgrimages. But these were contacts with Christian Spain and do not at first glance clarify how he might have come to know Muslim Spain and its culture, learned Arabic, and become acquainted with Arabic poetry.


It was William of Aquitaine who was the first Troubadour to do such work was he who spend a significant time and Spain and molded this everything together. Whereas Jewish musicians were one of the main roots not only to spread Arab music but also the Jewish and especially the Muslim Arab gynocentric values associated with the troubadours, thus in historical terms, thus also based on the Jewish notion of music as being originated from the Leviim in the second temple in Jerusalem meaning that practicing music was also a profession that seemed to appear to be a characteristic of Jewish life in Christian Spain (as one of the services offered by Jewish vassals at the courts of their rulers) it is clear that William was also influenced via this channel. Thus, we want now to explore this connection of course in more detail. As the joggler lacked the same social status and were considered inferior to the troubadours themselves the question that arises and needs further research is whether those jogglers or at least many of them were not of Jewish origin themselves. Anyway, some names of Jewish instrumentalists active in Christian Spain while we are on the subject are recorded in historic annals. Alharizi (ca. 1220), for example, dedicated a poem to the Jewish Ud player Yshayah (yode’a nagen be-kinnor).


Furthermore, the famous illuminated miniatures in the manuscripts of the Cantigas de Santa Maria of King Alfonso X depict Jewish musicians. One of the earliest and well-documented cases of a Jewish trovador is Ha-Gorni, who was active in Provence and probably Aragon during the second half of the 13th century. In his eighteen extant Hebrew poems, he depicts his persona as a troubadour, stresses his proficiency as an instrumentalist, and recalls his ties with his contemporary non-Jewish colleagues. But Ha-Gorni was an exceptional case of a combination of Hebrew poet and troubadour. Most Jews who engaged in this profession in medieval Spain were mainly involved with the dominant non-Jewish culture. In other words, they were proficient in poetry in Roman languages and its musical performance rather than in composing Hebrew poems. Names of Jewish troubadours and minstrels (juglares or jongleurs which linguistically ties us to the juggler) appear in royal records. Jews were part of the musical chapel of King Sancho IV of Castille. Annals of the royal court for 1293–1294 mention a Jewish juglar and his wife next to Moorish and Christian juglares. “Barzalay judeum joculatorem” appeared before the court of Jaime II in Barcelona in 1315.159 Bonafas and his son Sento (Shemtov), Jewish juglares from Pamplona, received payments from Charles II (1349–1387).


Additionally, Romano gathered remarkable records about Jewish musicians who served in the court of the kings of Aragon in the second half of the 14th century. The Jewish musicians appear in the Aragonese sources with different denominations: mim, jouglar, tocador de viola, sonador de laut, minister, minister de corda, and ministers d’instruments de corda. All these Jewish musicians played string instruments. All except for two (Bonafas Gentili Jacob from Navarra and Natan de Molina from Castille) were from Aragon: Simuel Fichell, Bonafas Aven Mayor and Avraham el Mayor were from Saragossa, Jucef Axivil from Borja. Yohanan (no family name) served the bishop of Valencia; Sasson Salom, minister de Corda e sonador de laut served King Juan I and King Martn; Yohanan Semuel Yohanan Baruch served Queen Sibilla de Forti.


Romano concludes that Jewish juglares and minstrels, local and visiting ones, served most of the kings of Aragon and their families. We cannot know if there were differences between the repertories or techniques of Jewish and non-Jewish musicians. Blasco expanded Romano’s findings by locating other Jewish juglares and sonadores from the city of Saragossa.163 terms juglar, ministril, and sonador were used interchangeably in 14th and 15th century Saragossa. Jewish minstrels and string players in the courts of Aragon took advantage of their privileged position to obtain benefits, favors, and even posts in the Jewish community. Some artists moved to other kingdoms due to the animosity of their neighbors. Others combined their art with mundane trades such as clothes merchants. So, the evidence already gathered strongly points to the direction we pointed out above, yet as I have said more research is needed to 100% define the joggler as Jews.


Now having this historical background in mind, one should remember that at the height of the Andalusi Arabic and Hebrew poetic upheaval, a young nobleman in what is now Southern France began to compose vernacular verses of courtly love. At the end of the 11th century, this would be not only accepted but also warmly embraced in Córdoba or Seville, both as a social as well as in the art itself as poets there had been composing vernacular zajals for centuries. Yet, across the Pyrenees where such cross-cultural pollination still has not presented itself, it encapsulated a revolutionary break in poetic practice. Anyway, as we said, it is William IX of Aquitaine, the “first troubadour,” who is credited with writing these first verses of courtly poetry in the Roman vernaculars. Thus, the question which arose earlier and has generated volume after volume of scholarly dispute and lots of controversy as to whether and to what extent the two phenomena might be related has been answered. They simply cannot be separated. The so-called “thèse arabe” asserts that Andalusi poetic practice crossed the Pyrenees with William VIII of Aquitaine in the form of a troop of Andalusi qiyan —technically singer-slaves but in practice closer to indentured professors of music. However, as we have seen above it was not only the technical aspect of the music of the mountains but also the cultural, religious, and gynocentric legacy of the East.


Anyway, William, the father of the first troubadour had crossed the Pyrenees with the assistance of Sancho Ramírez of Aragon in the Siege of Barbastro (Huesca), then held by al-Muzaffar of Zaragoza. As part of the spoils of this successful campaign, he brought back with him to Aquitaine a troop of Andalusi qiyan, who then introduced Aquitainian musicians, singers, and audiences to the courtly strophic song in the form of muwashshahat and zajals (Nykl 1946, 371–411; Boase 1977, b–75; Menocal 1987, (–33; Robinson 2001, 295–299). As the story goes, young William IX, having been reared on such musical and poetic heritage, simply followed the lessons of his father’s qiyan in composing the first verses of troubadour poetry, thus converting himself into the Muqaddam of Cabra or Dunash ibn Labrat of the north. The poetic movement begun (according to tradition) by William IX soon spread southward into the Peninsula, where poets working in Provençal, Catalan, or Galician- Portuguese performed at the courts of Christian Iberian Monarchs. Even by the thirteenth century, Alfonso X “The Learned” was patron to many poets who performed troubadouresque poetry in Provençal and Galician-Portuguese. These Roman languages, as we have noted, still held pride of place in poetic practice, while Castilian was as yet not used for profane courtly poetry (though by the time of Alfonso X it was already a well-established language of prosaic learning and religious narrative poetry).


Modern literary history makes very little of this important poetic practice at the court of Alfonso X, and the courtly poetry performed in Provençal and Galician-Portuguese receives very little attention in literary histories of the period, particularly in those studies geared toward more general or student audiences (Valbuena Prat 1937; Alborg 1966; M. Alvar 1980; Deyermond 1980), with some exceptions (Filgueira Valverde 1949, 599-603; Deyermond 1971, 10-11). This is to be expected, because the interstitial, the poetic practice that crosses the linguistic and national boundaries constructed in modernity, is often minimized, or altogether omitted in the story of what poetry used to be. After all, if literary history is an “act of forgetting” (Gies 2001, 3), something must be forgotten. This can be true even in the case of a single author, such as the iconic King Alfonso X, who himself composed a great deal of verse. His canonical songs of devotion to the Virgin Mary, the Cantigas de Santa Maria, despite being written in Galician-Portuguese (due to their royal authorship) achieved canonical status. The same Alfonso is also the author of a corpus of scurrilous invective poetry in Galician-Portuguese, the so-called Cantigas d’escarnho e maldizer, that have almost completely evaded the gaze of the literary historiographer (Snow 1990). This is most likely due to the off-color nature more than to the language in which they were written, but the fact that the Cantigas de Santa Maria pass muster while the Cantigas d’escarnho does not tell us much about how modern literary historiography distorts the data to produce neater, more linguistically and culturally homogeneous narratives that serve national and regional agendas.


This distortion is even more extreme in the case of non-Romance languages. Literary histories of the court of Alfonso X make almost no mention of the Hebrew poets working in the service of the Learned King, the most notable of which was Todros Abulafia, who wrote several poems in which he writes of Alfonso’s literary patronage and life at his court (Procter 1951, 130–132; Roth 1985, 440; O’Callaghan 1993, 144–146; Salvador Martínez 2003, 446 n 44). Seen from the angle of Hebrew literary History, Abulafia is an outlier for his experimentation with troudabouresque styles, and as a consequence has received less critical attention than other Hebrew poets of his era who hewed more closely to the Andalusi models favored by Sephardic poets. These models mixed freely in Abulafia’s verse with Biblical, troubadouresque, and other themes, motifs, and techniques of his innovation, in a massive corpus totaling over 1200 compositions (Schirmann 1956, 2: 416; Targarona Borrás 1985; Doron 1989, 42; Brann 1991, 149; Cole 2007, 257). If one accepts the “thèse arabe” or Andalusi genesis of troubadour poetry in terms of art, which was one of at least four or five major roots of legacies that influenced the troubadours and that in fact as we have seen must be broadened to the “Mosarabic (Jewish Arab) Thesis” this mixture of Andalusi and troubadouresque verse performed at the court of a Castilian king is nothing less than a poetic family reunion. In Abualafia’s verse, the Andalusi muwashshah that gave rise to the Provençal cansó is reunited in Hebrew back in the Iberian Peninsula, where interstitially was the norm and was responsible for any number of important innovations. Al-Andalus was home to unparalleled poetic traditions in both Arabic and Hebrew, celebrated to this day as important classical legacies in the histories of both languages. Provençal gave us the troubadours, Galician-Portuguese gave us Alfonso’s great collection of Marian verse, but all that Castilian could manage in the thirteenth century when the Sicilian poets were inventing the sonnet that would catapult Petrarch to immortality, was Marian, and hagiographic verse for priests and the faithful, but nothing sang at court (Antonelli 1989; Pötters 1998; Weiss 2006). Castile-León during this period was home to a great deal of poetic innovation by poets working in the interstices of national linguistic traditions, who for purposes of the History of Spanish Literature were not Spanish, even though they might have lived their entire lives in Castile-León.


Similarly, poets writing in the interstices between Hispano-Roman language and Semitic languages, or even simply Semitic alphabets have been glossed over in the history of the Peninsula’s literature (and when we say this, we often mean the history of Castile-León). A quick perusal of almost any literary history of Spain, Portugal, or Catalonia written in the twentieth century reveals little to no mention of the Hebrew, Arabic, or Hispano-Roman other than the national tradition in question. Even Hebrew poetry written in the full flower of Roman vernacularism does not cut, with very few exceptions (de Riquer 1997; Cabo Aseguinolaza et al. 2010; Barletta et al. 2013). Though the Histories of Hebrew literature tend to minimize the contributions of poets who wrote after the flowering of Romance vernacularization in the thirteenth century, Hebrew poets in Castile and Aragon were active well into the fifteenth century. Their work (as demonstrated in the Andalusi period by the Hebrew muwashshahat with Romance kharjat) was in constant dialogue with the Romance literature of the Peninsula, a dialogue likewise minimized by critics of medieval Hebrew literature, who have tended to focus on what they perceive as the hermetically “Jewish” aspects of the Hebrew literature of the period. Just as the Hebrew poet Todros Abulafia experimented with troubadouresque motifs and techniques, including the cansó (love song) and tensó (invective) forms, other poets working in Hebrew likewise participated in the poetic practice of the day, in ways that would not seem extraordinary among poets working in Romance languages (Sáenz-Badillos 1996b).


Some, like Shem Tov ben Isaac Ardutiel of Carrión (Castile, 14th c., known as Santob de Carrión in Spanish), wrote verse in both Hebrew and Castilian and carried on an internal dialogue between both languages which, for the modern literary critic, is crucial to fully understand Ardutiel’s work (Ardutiel 1947; Shepard 1978; Ardutiel 1980; Zemke 1997; Alba Cecilia 2008; Wacks 2012). Others, like Vidal Benvenist (Zaragoza, 14th-15th c.), adapted popular themes and motifs in learned Hebrew compositions. Benvenist’s Tale of Efer and Dinah is a rhyming prose narrative glossing on the canción de malmaridada, in which a young girl laments her loveless marriage to an older man. Benvenist reworks this topos into a morality tale ostensibly sung —or perhaps produced on stage— for the Purim festival of the Jewish communities of Zaragoza (Benvenist 2003; Wacks 2013). In other cases, Hebrew poets borrowed the melodies themselves of popular lyrics for their compositions in Hebrew, as they did in the Andalusi period for the Hebrew and Arabic muwashshah. We have manuscripts of Hebrew poetry both devotional and secular from the fifteenth century that specify, at the end of each composition, the first line of the Castilian popular lyric that lends its melody to the poem (Seroussi and Havassy 2009).


In Catalonia, we have a collection of bilingual Catalan-Hebrew Jewish wedding songs in which the bulk of each verse is in Catalan, with rhyming words in Hebrew. These Cants de noces demonstrate a literary diglossia that (as the muwashshahat and other genres of lyric poetry practiced on the Peninsula crossed both language and register, in this case, colloquial Catalan with Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew (Riera I Sans 1974; Argenter 2001). It is not surprising that Jewish or Muslim Iberians sang the songs of their day in their native languages; nor is it surprising that they would produce poems in which elements of their colloquial and confessional languages intertwine. We should remember that at no point in their history did Iberian Jews speak Hebrew as a native language, and that by the fifteenth century there were significant populations of Iberian Muslims whose primary language was Castilian or Aragonese (Harvey 1990, 7; Boswell 1977, 382; López-Morillas 2000, T–57). However, literary histories that focus on the poetic production of a single dialect of Hispano-Romance or a single Semitic language of the Peninsula tend to obviate these interstitial voices. Just as the Jewish Iberian who wrote in Hebrew, and the Muslim poets who wrote in Arabic have been marginalized in national literary histories, the poetry of the Iberian Muslims who wrote in Castilian or Aragonese, but in the Arabic alphabet has likewise suffered in literary history.


The aljamiado poetry of the Morisco authors of the fifteenth through early seventeenth centuries gives us an example of Islamic Spanish literature that, like the poetry by Iberia’s Jews, demonstrates familiarity and facility with the poetics of the dominant culture while putting these in the service of Islamic religion in a specific ethnocultural milieu (Harvey 1974; Vázquez 2007; López Baralt 2009, 24-25). While the majority of aljamiado texts are in prose, there is a corpus of aljamiado poetry that bears striking resemblance to the mester de clerecía genre of hagiographic and Marian verse that flourished in Castilian in the thirteenth century (Barletta 2005, 151-55). Later aljamiado poets, writing at or after the time of the Moriscos’ expulsion from the Peninsula, write sonnets and other popular forms in imitation of the most renowned Christian authors of the day. Similarly, the Jews expelled from the Peninsula in 1492 continued to practice poetic forms both popular and learned that they brought with them from Spain well into Modernity and throughout the Mediterranean and the New World. A tour of the “afterlife” of medieval Castilian poetic forms as practiced by Sephardic Jews would take you around the Mediterranean and across the centuries. In the seventeenth century, you might attend a prayer service of the Muslim-Jewish donmeh sect of the false messiah Shabbetai Tzvi in Constantinople, where they would sing the ballad of “La Linda Melosina” as a kabbalistic hymn for welcoming the Sabbath on Friday night (Perets 2006). One hundred years later we join a Purim celebration in Izmir where we hear the story of Queen Esther sung in coplas de Purim (Hassán 2010; Romero 2011). In another hundred years, while out walking in Salonika we hear a Mother Salonika singing a medieval romance (ballad) to her child at bedtime (Díaz Mas 1992, 123). Finally, in current-day Jerusalem, we enjoy a drink in a café while a young singer fronting a jazz band performs a program including traditional songs such as Los bilbilicos and her original compositions, likewise sung in a dialect of medieval Castilian mixed with loanwords from Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and French (Cohen 2011). Other poetic forms forged in the interstices of medieval Iberian poetic practice continue to bear fruit in the present day. In the Arab world, popular singers perform muwashshahat and zajals. Classical Andalusi orchestras in North Africa, France, and Israel perform settings for compositions by Andalusi poets. Many of the popular Iberian poetic forms that were born at the interstices escaped literary history and were free to live their own lives outside of books and without being linked to the modern national project.

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