Family, Commerce, and the Sea: The Worlds of Women and Merchants

Family, Commerce, and the Sea: The Worlds of Women and Merchants

Family, Commerce, and the Sea: The Worlds of Women and Merchants

Family, Commerce, and the Sea: The Worlds of Women and Merchants

Excerpt

In his introduction to the fourth partida of his massive law code, Alfonso recalls that he had dealt in the first book with the “Spiritual Sword” or religious matters, in the second with the “Temporal Sword” or kingly governance, and in the third with justice that secures to every person “his rights through legal compulsion.” At this point the reader of the lively essays that comprise Alfonso’s legal masterwork expects the pace to slacken and lesser topics to occupy the relatively short concluding books. After all, the halfway mark has long been passed, over 870 of a total 1,484 pages in this translation. The cosmic topics of this world and the next, including the medieval king’s preeminent obligations of justice and defense, have already been amply addressed. And the remaining partidas will have to double up, combining two shorter partidas in each volume of the present edition, in order to balance the first three volumes in the set, each of which had constituted one full-bodied partida.

Alfonso informs us that we are badly mistaken. He has deliberately saved his most important topic for this fourth partida. He does not put its subject, matrimony, in competition with religion and governance, so much as make it the dynamic energy and mystical framework for all human experience. As such, marriage is also the purposeful centerpiece of the entire code of seven partidas, the keystone supporting its intricate architecture. In his study of this phenomenon . . .

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