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Live-Blogging Kalamazoo: Thursday 10:00 Networks of Knowledge in Late Medieval Iberia

Thursday, May 10, 2018 - 08:10

NOTE: I'm sorry about the formatting. I'm having some sort of weird interaction with the website display which isn't giving me any control over fonts or formatting. I'll fix it later, but for now, it's a wall-o-text. UPDATE: OK, evidently I have to handcode everything in source code.

Yes, it's that time of year again! When thousands of international medievalists throw me a birthday party in Kalamazoo! As usual, I'll be blogging the (somewhat eclectic assortment of) sessions I attend, as well as listing my book purchases. I may be handicapped by some peculiar things that have happened to my website interface, probably relating to the arcane WMU wifi system and I don't have my font controls. If things look wonky, I'll edit them later. I picked this session in large part because of the second paper on magical manuscripts. (Alpennia research, don't you know.) It does point out one hazard of having broad interests, because the papers often assume a highly specialized audience who not only have close familiarity with the literary and historic texts being discussed, but with the historic languages of the sources.

Sponsor: Ibero-Medieval Association of North America (IMANA)

The Cancionero de obras de burla and Its Valencian Public (Frank A. Dominguez, Univ. of North Carolina–Chapel Hill)

The first presenter is video-conferencing in as he couldn’t attend in person. We’re discussing a hot best-seller of the 15-16th century in Spain (which it seems everyone else is familiar with, as we aren’t given a summary of the nature of the text). It’s a collection of poetry. There is a discussion of the dating of the contents and their possible relation to the relevant reigns in which they were written, in particular relating to Queen Isabella. We are now discussing various networks of family influence intersecting secular politics and the Spanish church at the time. There is a summary of an allegorical poem of over 60 stanzas about a court case regarding a naked woman and a cloak that evidently was considered supremely filthy at the time, and which references prominent political events. (The general context here is shifts in contents of the collection of poems across various reprintings that reflect new material relating to events of the time.) So how do the nature of the poems relate to the work’s startling popularity in Valencia? We move on to issues around the Inquisition, the expulsion and forced conversion of Spanish Jews, and resistance to that conversion including a major secret synagogue. Some of the poems relate to these events, but I’m not quite following the nature and orientation of the poems. Now there is a poem about north African pirates and Spanish anxieties about being captured by (Muslim) pirates. A brief discussion of various minor themes in the poems, generally about various enjoyments/sins but also including localized references relevant to Valencia.

Unprinted: Spiritual and Magic Manuscript Cultures (Heather Bamford, George Washington Univ.)

16-17th c Spanish magical manuscripts found new outlets and uses. This included private networks of distribution, and included the use of manuscripts in talismanic ways as objects, as well as for their contents. Meaning came not only through the words themselves, but through behavioral interactions and rituals. This includes collection practices and marginalia--more traditional interactions--but magical mss also provoked less “rational” uses, such as literal consumption (eating). The acquisition of autograph texts of holy writers are treated as relics with magical powers. Beliefs that actually reading the text on an amulet “uses up” the magic in it. Relates to the use of protective inscriptions on buildings where familiarity with the contents is not necessary for effectiveness. Effectiveness comes from belief of the user, not the inherent virtue of the text. Magical texts were produced in manuscript, not printing, now only due to control by the Inquisition over publishing, but also because of the inherent power of the act of writing. Discussion of the contents of some personal magical manuscripts. Much is focused on healing and on interpersonal relationships, as well as protection against various dangers. Such collections often contain a mix of unrelated contents in several languages, not all of which would have been accessible to the writer. Among Moriscos, Koranic inscriptions often featured among other contents. Example: a spell against a storm that includes a careful pronunciation guide to nonsense words that must be repeated. Spells often involve detailed instructions for actions and behaviors that must be performed along with the linguistic elements. Talismanic texts must be used in physical form, e.g., placed with a deceased person in the grave.

Relegitimizing Trotaconventos (Gregory S. Hutcheson, Univ. of Louisville)

Discussion of the “alcahueta”, a women who acted not simply as a procuress but as a go-between, who appears in courtly love literature (ca. 13-14th century), specifically the Libro del Buen Amor, and derives from an Arabic term found in “adab” literature. This relates to the character referenced in the paper title (Trotaconventos) which, as often happens, the audience is assumed to be completely familiar with. The Arabic term (qawwad) means variously “pimp, procurer, broker, guide, conductor, guard.” It always carries some sort of negative sense in the Arabic-speaking world. But when it first appears in Spanish in the 13th century, it’s clear that this negative sense has carried over. An example is given from 1250 of an alcahueta who provides her house as the location for a tryst, with no need to explain the word or provide context. In a list of “low-life” persons who can’t legally testify, the alcahueta is included among thieves, cross-dressers, hermaphrodites, etc. Additional legal texts supply different angles on how the term was understood and introduces the masculine “alcahuete”, giving five categories of men who fall in this category. (The five categories are presented in Spanish, assuming that the audience will, of course, all be fluent.) The activities that make a man an alcahuete were different from what made a woman an alcahueta but still focused on the exploitation of women sexually. Despite this male version, the texts discussing the female alcahueta was far more widely disseminated in the law codes. (The Siete Partidas.) These legal texts map out the criminalization of the occupation/identity in the 14-15th century. I think we’re now talking about La Celestina (a text by Fermando de Rojas about a bawd that gets mentioned in some of my LHMP material due to homoerotic interactions). I’m not sure what text the figure of Trotaconventos comes from (I think the Libro del Buen Amor) but evidently she is taking part in activities that skirt the edges of the definition of the alcahueta. The speaker suggests that modern academics are the ones identifying Trotaconventus as an alcahueta and thereby “accusing” her of a crime that the original text does not. She acts as a go-between, a mediator, a messenger, a problem-solver, but is not named as an alcahueta.

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