Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Crónica De Flores Y Blancaflor: Romance, Conversion, and Internal Orientalism

Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Crónica De Flores Y Blancaflor: Romance, Conversion, and Internal Orientalism

Article excerpt

A Mediterranean Fiction

The story of Floire et Blancheflor circulated widely in medieval western Europe. It is one of a group of "orientalizing" medieval romances, based on Byzantine models, that deal with the confrontation of Western Latin Christendom and the Muslim East. These narratives, including Floire et Blancheflor, Aucassin et Nicolette, and later Tirant lo Blanc play out the anxieties of Western elites over the political fate of the Mediterranean in fijictional stories.1 The Castilian version, Flores y Blancaflor (fourteenth century), is repurposed as a foundational narrative meant to link the Castilian monarchy to the Carolingian legacy and to fijictionalize the dream of a fully Christian peninsula. A tale that on the northern side of the Pyrenees is an allegory for Christian imperialism becomes in Spain a more problematic fantasy of Christian political and spiritual hegemony. In this essay I will demonstrate how Crónica de Flores y Blancaflor is an internal-orientalizing tale of boy meets girl meant to legitimize the regime of Sancho IV while providing a fijictional happy ending to a thorny political and religious problem.

The story of Flores and Blancaflor (Floire et Blancheflor in French) is thought to be of Eastern origin, perhaps Byzantine, Persian, or Arabic. Western authors begin to mention it in the late twelfth century. The earliest fragment is an early thirteenth-century French manuscript, and complete versions begin to appear in French manuscripts in the late thirteenth century.2 In the Iberian Peninsula, troubadours mention it starting in the late twelfth century, Juan Ruiz references it in his Libro de buen amor in the middle of the fourteenth century, and the version we discuss here is thought to have been composed in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, surviving in a late fourteenth-century manuscript of the Estoria de España, begun by Alfonso X "The Learned" and completed by his son Sancho IV. It is most likely that the compiler of the manuscript in which Flores y Blancaflor appears was not at court. Diego Catalán believes him to have been a monk writing outside of the court, and as such more whimsical in his representation of the past than his counterparts at the court of Castile-León (Catalán "Estoria," 354).

The present version is interpolated into an account of the history of the kings of Asturias and their struggles with the Umayyad Caliphate in Cordova. This episode in Iberian history was very important for the chroniclers of the Castilian kings Alfonso X and Sancho IV because it demonstrates political continuity with the Asturian kings, who are credited with the fijirst signifijicant Christian military incursions against the Umayyad Caliphate. In this way the Castilian kings connect the earliest campaigns of the Asturian kings against Umayyad Cordova with their contemporary struggles with Nasrid Granada. This sort of propagandistic historiography is not peculiar to the Estoria de España. What is most noteworthy about it is the way in which the compiler places the entirely fijictional Flores y Blancaflor in the service of royal history, specifijically in order to underscore the image of the Castilian kings both as military and spiritual conquerors of al-Andalus, and as legitimate heirs to the legacy of Charlemagne, whose campaigns in al-Andalus took place when Flores y Blancafor is set.

A Political Fiction

In Flores y Blancaflor, a French countess in the third trimester of her pregnancy is on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela when Muslim raiders from al-Andalus attack her entourage. She is taken captive and brought to the court of King Fines, the Muslim king of Almería. It so happens that Fines's wife is also pregnant; she and the countess give birth on the same day, and so the two children, the Muslim boy, Flores, and the Christian girl, Blancaflor, are both nursed by the countess and raised together at court.3 Eventually they fall in love. In order to separate the two, King Fines sends Flores away to Seville, then sells Blancaflor into slavery and fakes her death. …

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