Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Luciana's Story: Text, Travel, and Interpretation in the Libro De Apolonio

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Luciana's Story: Text, Travel, and Interpretation in the Libro De Apolonio

Article excerpt

Narrow escapes from assassins, shipwrecks, and pirates made the Apollonius of Tyre legend one of the most popular narratives from late antiquity to early modernity. The characters of the thirteenth-century Spanish version of the tale could hardly have had more difficult voyages. While the characters of the Libro de Apolonio suffer many losses on the eastern Mediterranean, texts represented in the poem also experience calamities on their journeys, and I argue that the poem presents travel as a multivalent metaphor for textual interpretation. Much of the criticism on the work has focused on the identification of Apolonio with the mester de clerecía authors who produced this and other cuaderna via poems, but a close analysis of the interaction between text and travel reveals the significance of the little-studied character Luciana. An examination of Luciana's involvement with the written word, including her sea journey with her traveling-companion text, provides a more balanced view of writing, interpretation, and gender in the Libro de Apolonio.1

Travel is an important aspect of the Libro de Apolonio, and most of the criticism concentrates on the voyages and deeds of the beleaguered protagonist. The poem opens with King Apolonio of Tyre Tiro) failing in his attempt to win the hand of a princess, incurring the wrath of the evil king Antioco, and being forced to flee his homeland. The narrative arch of the rest of the poem follows Apolonio's journeys, which are often portrayed as pilgrimages. At the beginning of his travels, he takes refuge in Tarsus (Tarso), but then is asked to leave the city because of Antioco's threats against him. He again takes to the seas, suffers a shipwreck, and arrives naked and alone on the shore of Pentapolis (Pentapolin). Even though he is at this point a pauper, he wins the heart of the princess Luciana, marries her, and has a child. Through a series of mistakes and betrayals, he loses first Luciana and then their daughter Tarsiana, thinking that they are both dead. For many years Apolonio wanders as a literal pilgrim, but in the end is reunited with his family and restored to his throne, at which time he rewards his friends and punishes those who have done him evil during his travels in the eastern Mediterranean.

Within the framework of these journeys, written texts surface several times, but few critics have examined the role of these texts and their interpretation. The scholarship that does focus on issues of interpretation is primarily concerned with the classification of the poem (romance or hagiography, pagan or Christian), rather than on issues of textuality within the poem.2 Several critics have drawn attention to the similarities between the character of Apolonio and the thirteenth-century mester de clerecía authors.3 Although Apolonio is certainly connected to scholarly endeavors in the poem, he is not the only character to be so, but for all the criticism's focus on the eponymous hero as a "clérigo entendido," it is perhaps not surprising that scholars have comparatively downplayed the connections of other characters to learning. The poet portrays two female characters, Luciana and Tarsiana, as particularly knowledgeable, and while Tarsiana's talents have attracted some scholarly attention, little has been written specifically about those of Luciana.4 Nonetheless, I contend that Luciana is the most significant figure in the poem in terms of text, not only for her literal journey in the company of the written word, but also for her skillful uses of texts throughout the poem.

The first time that the poet portrays a textual exchange is in the context of Luciana's courtship. Apolonio has been at Architrastres's court in Pentapolis for some time when three suitors arrive to ask for Luciana's hand in marriage. Her father Architrastres puts the decision in her hands, and tells the princes, "escreuit sendas cartas, ca escreuir sabedes; / escreuit vuestros nombres, qué arras le daredes: / quai ella escoiere otorgado lo auredes" (209b-d). …

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