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Epic Poems: Romanceros. Didactic Books, Romances of Chivalry

COMMENCEMENTS OF SPANISH LITERATURE.—Known Spanish literature does not go back beyond the twelfth century. Like that of the French it began with a chanson de geste, and if France has Roland, Spain has the Cid. The Poem of the Cid, or The Song of the Cid, dates from the commencement of the thirteenth century; in rude but expressive language it narrates the ripe years and old age of the famous captain.

ALPHONSO X; JOHN MANUEL.—At the close of this century, Alphonso X, King of Castile, surnamed the Sage or the Wise, versed in all the knowledge of his time, produced, no doubt with collaborators, the universal chronicle, history mingled with legends, of all peoples on the earth, and the Seven Parts, a philosophical, moral, and legal encyclopaedia. His nephew, Don John Manuel, regent of Castile during the minority of Alphonso XI, a very pure and erudite writer, collated the code of the kingdom in his Book of the Child, and the code of chivalry in his Book of the Knight and Squire, with a series of apologues in the volume known under the title of The Count Lucanor.

THE ROMANCERO.—Of the same period and going back to the commencement of the thirteenth century, if not earlier, is what is called the Romancero. The Romancero is the collection of all the national romances, which are more or less short but are never long epic poems. All the romances relating to a hero form the Romancero of that personage, and all the Romanceros are called the Spanish Romancero. It is in the Romancero of Rodriguez that we find the youth of Cid as known to us, or approximately, for it is purified and spiritualised by ageing and, for example, Chimanes curses Rodriguez but also asks for him in marriage: “Oh, king ... each day that shines, I see him that slew my father parading on horseback and loosing his falcon to my dovecot and with the blood of my doves has he stained my skirts and he has sent me word he will cut the hem of my robe.... He who slew my father, give him to me for equal; for he who did me so much harm I am convinced will do me some good.” And the king said: “I have always heard said and now see that the feminine sex is most extraordinary. Until now hath she asked of me justice against him and now she doth ask him of me in marriage. I will do it with a good will. I shall send him a letter, etc....”

THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY.—The fifteenth century in Spain, as everywhere else, was destitute of great works. In poetry it was the era of lovesongs and of the influence of Italian literature, which only later was decidedly happy. In prose may be found many chronicles extremely valuable to the historian, and some moral works such as the Dialogue of the Happy Life of Lucena and, finally, the famous Amadis des Gaules, an ancient chivalric romance of unknown origin, brought to publicity in that century by Montalvo.

PORTUGUESE LITERATURE.—Portuguese literature, which is highly interesting though evolved in too restricted a circle, is, above all, epic and lyrical. The Portuguese lyrics almost exclusively dealt with love; the epic poets celebrated a certain number of salient achievements in national history. It is only in the sixteenth century that a genuine expansion of Portuguese literature can be noted.