Academic journal article Hispanic Review

The Apple That Fell from Aristotle's Hand: Fruits of Love and Death in the Libro De Buen Amor

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

The Apple That Fell from Aristotle's Hand: Fruits of Love and Death in the Libro De Buen Amor

Article excerpt

Juan Ruiz, the Archpriest of Hita, in a well-known passage from the fourteenth-century Libro de buen amor, compares his frustrated love life to sitting in the shade of a pear tree and being forbidden to taste its fruit.1 As Marina Brownlee has shown, his metaphor seems to allude to a pivotal scene from St. Augustine's Confessiones. In this spiritual autobiography, the narrator's early life as sinner is inaugurated by an Edenic theft of pears, and later, while sitting beneath the branches of a fig tree, he famously hears a voice commanding him to pick up the scriptures and read: "tolle, lege" (2.4, 8.?).2 At long last, Augustine is definitively converted by the words of Paul's epistle: "make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence" (Douay-Rheims Bible, Rom. 13.13).3 The Archpriest's tree, however, never fully ripens into the redemptive Logos, as its shade continues to signify a desire for the low-hanging fruits of carnal love or what he describes as softening pears, "a toda pera dura grand tienpo la madura" (i6od).4 Instead of reflecting on a moment of religious conversion, the Spanish poet goes on to synesthetically compare the smell of overripe apples to the mellifluous sound of love's words - and, by extension, the voice of the Libro itself:

El amor sienpre fabla mentiroso ... Io que semeja non es, oya bien tu oreja ... si las mançanas sienpre oviesen tal sabor / de dentro, quai de fuera dan vista e color, / non avrié de las plantas fructa de tal valor; / más ante pudren que otra, pero dan buen olor. / Bien atal es el amor, que da palabra llena: toda cosa que dize paresçe mucho buena, (sts. i6id, i62d, 163, 164a)

In the pages that follow, I will consider how the Archpriest's image of fragrant, rotting apples relates to the Liber de pomo sive De morte Aristotelis ('Book of the Apple or Death of Aristotle,' c. 1260), as well as exegetical and mythographic connotations of this and other fruits in the poem.

The Liber de pomo begins with a prologue describing how Manfred of Sicily was comforted by this treatise during a life-threatening illness. It purportedly contains the last words of Aristotle, who breathes in the fragrance of an apple as a means of keeping himself alive long enough to discourse on the subject of divine providence, the danger of the carnal appetites, and the immortality of the soul. Manfred's Latin text was translated from a Hebrew version that Abraham Ben Samuel Hasdai completed in Barcelona during the 1230s, the Sefer ha-Tappuah ('Book of the Apple'). This translation, in turn, was adapted from an Arabic dialogue that had been in circulation for centuries under the title Kitab al-Tuffahah, and appears to have been inspired by Greek commentaries on Plato's Phaedo.5 Hasdai made substantial changes, introducing references to the Torah and adhering to a Maimonidean, moralized reading of Aristotle. He recasts the Stagirite as a monotheist who denies the eternity of the material world and follows the "way of truth," rejecting the false view that "as long as its body exists, the soul too exists," and warning repeatedly against indulging in bestial, "venereal pleasure" (Rousseau 58, 53) .6 Because medieval readers often accepted De porno as an accurate account of Aristotle's final thoughts, the dialogue was widely disseminated and survives in well over a hundred manuscripts, a majority of which date from the fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries. Extant Iberian examples from these periods include a number of Latin copies and a Catalan translation that was discovered under the Castilian rubric, "De Io que Aristóteles habló a la ora de su muerte" (Heusch 142) 7

Authentic works by Aristotle that are frequently found in the same medieval manuscripts as De pomo have been identified as sources for two allusions in the Libro.8 Near the beginning of the poem, the Archpriest draws on material from De anima or possibly the Liber de animalibus, when he observes that all animals strive to nourish themselves and reproduce; and a later reference from Etnica nicomachea or De memoria et reminiscentia is used to justify his persistent search for a mate, just after he evokes the smell of apples: "commo dize Aristótiles . …

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