Academic journal article Hispanic Review

THE LADY VANISHES: Translation, Gloss and the Personification of Wisdom in the Alfonsine Biblias Romanceadas

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

THE LADY VANISHES: Translation, Gloss and the Personification of Wisdom in the Alfonsine Biblias Romanceadas

Article excerpt

Di al saber mi ermano eres. (Proverbios VII; 7:4)

The feminine personification of Wisdom in biblical wisdom literature has long fascinated scholars. It seems to have given the translators associated with the Alfonsine scriptoria pause as well. The biblical "Books of Solomon," in particular Proverbs and the deutero-canonical Wisdom, provide some of the best known feminine personifications of wisdom in the Western literary tradition. "Lady Wisdom," as the trope is called by most modern biblical scholars and commentators working in English, plays an important role in the imperative tone and interpellative mode of the biblical sapiential corpus, where the specifically feminine personification is presented as the object of two-fold narratorial and readerly desire. "She" is both the goal of an intellectual and spiritual journey to enlightenment and the preferred object upon which male desire is directed. In the canonical and deutero-canonical texts, Wisdom (hokmah, sophia, sapientia) preaches, admonishes, protects, comforts, loves, and nourishes. In Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the inscribed male audience of Proverbs is encouraged to love Wisdom; and to choose her favors over those of the strange, adulterous, and foreign woman. In thirteenth-century Castilian translations, these allegorical passages in the biblical wisdom texts are the sites of marked variance. The choices made by the translators demonstrate that translating and glossing are often intertwined processes.

The variants to be considered here are found in the four extant manuscripts of the third part of the Alfonsine universal history, the General estoria [GE]; and in Ms. Escorial h6 -6 I6 -6 6 [Eo]. E6, also considered to be a product of Alfonso X's cultural enterprise, is a thirteenth-century biblia romanceada containing Castilian translations of both the Hebrew Bible and Christian Evangelical Texts. In both translations wisdom is personified as a male figure and the extended, canonical metaphor of "Lady" Wisdom has vanished. Margherita Morreale addresses these translations and their rendering of the Latin sapientia into Castilian from a historical linguistic perspective in a series of articles; the sapiential translations from the extant manuscripts of GE3 were translated by Pedro Sánchez-Prieto and Bautista Horcajada and published in 1994. Drawing upon their painstaking works of textual and philological criticism, I will argue that the romanceadores purposefully recreated the personification of wisdom in order to make grammatical and social gender consonant.1

In Proverbs, Wisdom personified first appears in verses 1-9, where she calls out in the streets to the young and foolish, offering her knowledge, love, and protection to those who choose to follow her. Her speeches are framed by those of a father speaking to his son about the benefits of embracing Wisdom, which include wealth and a long life. In Proverbs 7:1-5, the fathernarrator employs a nuptial metaphor that recalls the sister-bride of the Song of Songs to explain how to love Wisdom: "My child, keep my words and store up my commandments with you; / keep my commandments and live, keep my teachings as the apple of your eye; / bind them to your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart. / Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister,' and call insight your intimate friend, / that they may keep you from the loose woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words."2 This metaphor is amplified and intensified throughout Wisdom 8, where the narratorial Solomon describes his love and desire for Wisdom whom he seeks to take as a bride: "I loved her and sought her from my youth; I desired to take her for my bride and became enamored of her beauty."

The relationship between the wise fatherly narrator and his imagined audience of young men establishes a series of homosocial hermeneutic circles that circumscribe Wisdom's discourses. A great deal of the fatherly advice concerns women, and this concern extends through the sapiential books. …

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