Juan Manuel: El Conde Lucanor: A Collection of Mediaeval Spanish Stories
This is an important collection of fifty-one medieval stories, presented here bilingually, with Spanish and English on facing pages. The stories are of varying quality. The pattern for each story has Count Lucanor asking his trusted counselor Patronio about a tough situation or decision that he is facing. Patronio typically says how difficult it may be to give good advice in this situation, and then brings up an anecdote or exemplum to give his advice. There is a set of notes on each story at the end of the book, particularly on its sources, strengths, and difficulties. Two of the stories that are not fables seem to me particularly strong: #42 is a great story of treachery destroying a solid marriage. It has traces of Iago and Dimna in it. A Beguine undermines a marriage to please the devil. And #50 is another good, though long, story. Saladin wants to have sex with the wife of a knight, whom he has sent off to get access to her. She agrees on condition that he answer her this question: What is the best quality that a man can possess? After searching high and low, including the papal court and the royal court in France, Saladin gets his answer from a wise old knight: Shame. When he comes back to the lady, she pleads with him to act on what he has learned. His love for her changes from carnal to more spiritual. The collection includes several fables. #2 = MSA. #5=FC. In #6, a swallow talks with other birds about seeing flax seed sown. #7, Dona Truhana, is MM, but with a jar of honey and laughter, with her hand striking her forehead as the cause for the jar tumbling. #12 is a new Fox and Cock. After unsuccessful pleading and bullying, the fox attacks the tree, gnawing and banging it with his tail. The cock panics and flies to another tree. The fox understands, repeats, and gets the same result. Soon enough the cock runs out of energy going from tree to tree and the fox eats him. In #13, the man who cries while he kills the partridges he has caught is not to be trusted, pace the stupid partridge who takes his tears as a sign of hope or consolation. #19 is Kalila & Dimna’s Owls and Crows, while #22 is Kalila & Dimna’s Lion and Bull. #29 is also in Ruiz’ Libro de Buen Amor: a fox lies in the street pretending to be dead to escape eventually after a too-long spree in the henhouse. He suffers a number of indignities without budging, like the loss of fur, claw, and tooth. When he hears someone preparing to cut out his heart, he makes his successful attempt to escape. #32 is The Emperor Has No Clothes.
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