La Epoca Medieval

La Epoca Medieval (The Medieval Age)

The Medieval Age took place roughly between 4th century C.E. and the 14th century C.E. It started with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and ended in the Renacimiento or Renaissance. More specifically, in Spain, the Medieval period ended in 1492 with the first official grammar of Spanish, Cristobal Colón's (aka Christopher Columbus) voyages, and more.

Spanish literature only dates back to around 1000 C.E.

A Plural Society

Almost inconceivable by today's politics, Medieval Spain was home to three distinct religious cultures. Musulmanes, Judios, and Cristianos (Muslims, Jews, and Christians) all lived together in relative peace and all contributed their share of literary works. The majority of early literature from Spain was written in Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin. Many Arab writers and philosophers from the Middle Ages were actually Spanish-speaking Arabs.

It's all Gallego to me

Spain in Epoca Medieval was not united as one country, but divided into several smaller territories. There was not one  common language, either. Three major dialects evolved from the Latin that was commonly spoken and competed for dominance: Castellano was spoken in the North and Central regions of Spain. Gallego-portugués was spoken in the West, along the Atlantic. Catalán, the third, was spoken in the Northeast, from the Mediterranean to Valencia. All three dialects exist today, although Castellano became the modern Spanish.

Each of the dialects had its own literary development during the Edad Media. Castellano did not become the dominant language until the 15th century. Until then, Catalán and Gallego-Portugués also competed for literary expression.

Types of Literature in the Middle Ages

There were 3 main forms of composing and transmitting of literature in the Middle Ages:

Mesteres ("Minstrels") would compose epic narratives and performed them for the common citizens. Their works were often meant to inform as well as entertain. Mesteres composed works such as El Cantar de Mío Cid.

Sacerdotes ("Priests") took part in the Mester de clerecía ("Ministry of Clergy"). They composed moral stories that instructed men to be moral. Los Milagros de Nuestra Señora by Berceo in the 13th century and El libro de buen amor by Juan Ruiz in the 14th century are examples of this.

Trovadores ("Troubadours") entertained the courtesans of Medieval Spain. They wrote love poetry and did so mainly in gallego. Alfonso X chose gallego for his own personal lyrical expression.

The role of prose

Prose was mainly used to chronicle historic facts. Primera Crónica General is the most famous of these chronicles. It was done in the 2nd half of the 13th century.

Owing to the Arabs, themselves taking the tradition from the Hindus, prose was used for the apólogo ("moral story"). Hindu stories started being translated into castellano. The story of Calila e Dimma was translated in 1250C.E. Having then been translated into a romance language (castellano), the Hindu works were then disseminated throughout Europe.

Medieval literature is rather simple and straight-forward in structure and wording. On the other hand, there were no set rules of grammar or spelling, so reading the original works can be challenging. The Medieval frame of reference is different, also. If you go into a cathedral and see the vast array of imagery, all designed for the illiterate common man, you will understand that the symbols used in the literature of that time may have different meanings attached to them than they do today.

Spanish Vocabulary:

La Edad Media - The Middle Ages
La Epoca Medieval - The Medieval Age
Musulman - Muslim
Judio - Jew
Cristiano - Christian
Renacimiento - Renaissance
Mester - ministry
Juglar - minstrel
Mester de juglaría - Ministry of Minstrels
Mester de clerecía - Ministry of Clergy
Trovador - Troubadour
Apólogo - Moral Story