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The so-called Celts, as far as we can tell, left settlements all over Europe, from Central Europe to the British Isles, and their legacy is clearest and best preserved in those areas where the Romans did not penetrate, and where vernacular literacy came early, such as Ireland, where literate monks were able to preserve local traditions and cults that had not been interrupted by Roman cult.

What we do have, however, is a significant and growing body of archeological and toponymic evidence of pre-Roman cultures, Roman ethnographic accounts by historians —such as they are— and a fairly well documented ethnography of modern Iberian traditions with strong analogues in the so-called Celtic rim that runs from Ireland to Scotland to Wales to Brittany to Northern Spain. Against this background we can read whatever medieval literary evidence remains. And this is where it gets interesting. Much of this evidence, as we are about to see, is syncretized and presented as part of Christian tradition.

Christian sources describe local supernatural beliefs and practices as demonic. As far back as the early fifth century, Augustine wrote of pagan gods as demons in his City of God Ferreiro This is logical: it would hardly do for villagers to continue to pay tribute to Lugh and Deva to keep them safe at sea once they had received instruction on the Trinity and the Saints. There was a new pantheon, and while the old gods might not disappear entirely, they would have to continue in service to or in opposition to the new gods.

Pagan beliefs and practices continued to coexist with Christianity throughout the middle ages, leaving their traces in literature and art. The first ballad is well-known and widely anthologized and taught. It is one of the few medieval Spanish ballads featuring a supernatural being who is not a saint or the ghost of a Christian. When he comes back, it is too late. The enchanted princess has been carried away. The ballad ends with the distraught knight bewailing his failure, and threatening to carry out himself the curse suggested by the princess: que le corten pies y manos — y lo arrastren por la villa may they cut off his hands and feet, and drag him through the town.

On the face of it, this is a strange supernatural tale. The narrative sparseness so characteristic of the ballad adds to this sense of strangeness. Several features of this story bear analysis and comparison to modern traditions documented by ethnographers that may shed some light on it for us. To begin with, the veneration of trees in pre-Christian Europe is well documented Filotas In Spain and other countries one finds ancient yew trees, tejos or texus , planted next to churches in a syncretistic gesture. Julio Caro Baroja writes that the Noche de San Juan is the time when these enchantments may be broken, and several communities in Spain enact this with rituals in which demonic or supernatural figures come out and proposition the young ladies or men of the village Caro Baroja This reenactment of the erotic encounter between fairy and human is not merely fanciful or carnivalesque.

There are a number of traditions that attribute supernatural origins to noble houses resulting from such unions. The legend of the house of Miranda in Asturias relates that the first Miranda married a fairy who would turn into a dragon one night a year. The family crest features five mermaids, from another version in which the progenitor married a siren instead of a fairy. These traditions are remnants of a time when fairies were gods, and descent from them explained why one family was more powerful than others: it was a narrative used to justify the social order.

According to some traditions, fairies manifest in oak groves. In the town of Constantina near Seville there is a sanctuary dedicated to the Virgen del Robledo, where the Virgin appeared to a local pastor in the early sixteenth century. Many of the supernatural traditions associated with St. The actress Eva Longoria drinks from the Covadonga fountain in April source: elcomercio.

Our second example is less cryptic and contains references to several documented beliefs and practices also related to St. In the ballad, the Virgin Mary comes down from heaven to bathe herself in the waters of a local spring. She encounters a maiden — doncellita — coming from the village, on her way to the spring to collect the flor del agua.

This refers to the first draught of water taken from a fountain on the morning of St. The maiden asks the Virgin if she will get married, and the Virgin assures her that she will, that she will have three sons who will grow to become kings, and that she will also have a daughter, and will die giving birth to her.

The substitution here of the Virgin for the traditional fairy is curious. In other sources, fairies associated with a water source come there to wash their hair or their clothes, and the traces they leave in the water are ostensibly what gives the water its curative or otherwise magical powers.

In many cases these fairies are replaced by Virgins, who are then venerated as la Virgen de la Fuensanta The Virgin of the Holy Spring. This is clearly a case of a pagan tradition given a fresh coat of Christian paint. Many of these traditions are still practiced in parts of rural Spain. For example, the practice of the enramada or garlanding of wells and especially springs around St. Asturias in particular has quite of bit of fairy toponomy, with many springs, grottoes, and caves named for fairies or xanas in Asturian.

Now, the big question is, what do these fairies mean for medieval audiences? This is where it gets more complicated. The question of meaning or belief is difficult to determine even when you can ask an informant, which, in the case of the middle ages, we cannot. Most of the medieval writing relative to the supernatural comes to us from priests who are condemning pagan beliefs as demonic.

The glimpses of pre-Christian beliefs and practices that we catch in lay sources such as ballads and other bits of narrative are seen darkly through a blurry lens. Other artistic evidence such as the fantastic creatures and animals decorating Romanesque and Gothic churches do not come with explanations as do Biblical and Hagiographic art. In the case of modern practices, we can ask the informants, but often they consider such things to be local traditions that have no place in Catholicism and therefore no spiritual or metaphysical meaning apart from their value as markers of local community and culture.

Perhaps we can never know what these traditions meant to their practitioners. We can, however, read the literary record against the ethnographic and other evidence we have in order to gain a deeper understanding of the transformation of pre-Christian traditions in the context of medieval Christianity on the Peninsula. Thanks to Matthew Bailey for organizing and to Isidro Rivera for presiding.

This is another entry in a series of posts on the survey course in premodern Hispanic literature:. Spanish majors at the University of Oregon are required to take three of four available courses on Hispanic Culture through literature, covering the 12th through 21st centuries.

Those of us in the Spanish sector of the department who are specialists in premodernity Leah Middlebrook , Amanda Powell and me , are responsible for the survey course covering the 12th through 16th centuries, or roughly speaking from the death of Judah Halevi to the publication of Don Quijote in We have some 40 contact hours to bring everyone up to speed on the Iberian cultural production of half a milennium blows smoke off fingertip and puts hand back in imaginary holster.

Spanish Majors of the Past photo: University of Oregon. Time was when literary history drew some water. Many students majoring in Spanish are not primarily intersted in literary studies. As a result, a course does not sell on the promise of introducing you to the most important literary works written on the Iberian Peninsula from the twelfth or thirteenth through, say, seventeenth centuries. You will probably do better by appealing to another way in to Hispanic cultural studies, whatever it may be.

This year, I am trying out something new: I am going to try to teach premodern Hispanic literary texts as a series of debates focusing on issues of social importance. Students will learn about Hispanic history and culture by debating issues raised in texts written during the 12thth centuries that give voice to the issues of the day: religion, sex, economics, politics. Every week for ten weeks, my students will stage a debate based on their readings of primary and secondary texts, and will publicly argue pro and contra in Spanish.

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My thinking was to a provide students with some preparation in public speaking and critical thinking with the purpose of developing skills necessary for argumentative writing, and b promote critical reading and reasoning skills essential for participatory democracy, so that students will have the intellectual preparation to be full participants in the civic life.

The course is structured as a series of debates. The introduction to polemic and debate centers on an episode in the 14th-century Libro de buen amor Book of Good Love narrating a debate between the Greeks and the Romans that the Greeks stage in order to determine if the Romans are worthy of bearing the Greek intellectual legacy. From there.

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Representation of a sitting of the Roman senate: Cicero attacks Catiline, from a 19th-century fresco in Palazzo Madama, Rome, house of the Italian Senate. There are two classes per week. The first day of class will be an introduction to the texts and contexts in which we will learn some background and read the primary and secondary sources texts.

In preparation for the second day, students will prepare both sides of a question: is the Cid a Crusader? Is the Virgin Mary a God?

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Is the creation story literal or metaphoric? Is poverty a choice or a destiny? Students in teams will debate these and other questions, providing evidence from the primary and secondary readings. In so doing, my aim is that the students will gain a familiarity with and insight into the premodern Hispanic world, and develop rhetorical skills in Spanish that transfer to other languages that will empower them as participants in public discourse.

I have no idea if this is going to be a successful approach. But I promise to let you know what happens! In a previous post I wrote about the influence of Jewish exegesis in the development of fictionality , that is, those aspects of prose fiction that serve to enhance the as-if function of fiction and make possible the suspension of disbelief required of audiences of fiction. In the past post I discussed examples drawn from the Castilian translation of the Song of Songs included in the General estoria of Alfonso X r.

Here I will examine a few examples drawn from the Abraham cycle of the General Estoria of Alfonso X in which Jewish exegesis appears to shape the Castilian vernacularization of the Vulgate text, paving the way for later Castilian writers in their vernacularization of exempla and other Latin texts, and ultimately, for the development of a more capacious Castilian literary register used to describe fictional worlds. This approach puts the author Moses in same category as Herodotus, Livy, and Josephus:. And I also had them put in it all the best stories from the Bible, of the great things that happened throughout the world from when it began up until our own times.

Alfonso X , 1: 8. No, wait…. The truth claims made by the General estoria , as a work of historiography, are more similar to those of the modern novel than they are to those of modern history. Medieval historiography does not aspire to an empirical referentiality.

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It does not intend to recreate or represent historical events in the same way we have come to expect of modern historiography. Because medieval historiography and biblical narrative both made similar types of truth claims, their combination in a text such as the General estoria is not problematic as it would be today.

You can see the sources at number three on your handout. The dames would comply with her suggestion, but Hagar would use the opportunity to disparage Sarah. She makes the impression of a righteous, pious woman, but she is not, for if she were, how could her childlessness be explained, after so many years of marriage, while I became pregnant at once?

Ginzburg BNF f.