Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Libro De Buen Amor: Juan Ruiz's Psychosomatic Contexture of a Melancholic

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Libro De Buen Amor: Juan Ruiz's Psychosomatic Contexture of a Melancholic

Article excerpt

Over the past decades, Juan Ruiz's scholars have been paying increasingly more attention to the overarching importance that humoral theories play in the characterization and the psychosexual make-up of the eponymous character.1 Hippocratic humorism was widely known in the Western Middle Ages through the medical treatises such as Aristotle's Problem XXX (2011) and Galen's De temperamentis, all of whom Juan Ruiz mentions in his Libro de Buen Amor. When critics address humoral theories or astral epistemology, they do so by centring their attention on physiognomic discourses and on Juan Ruiz's avowed statement that he was born under the influence of the planet Venus, which makes him predisposed to sexual hedonism and to an inborn propensity towards erotic drives. The Archpriest clings to his alleged Venerean influence to rationalize his lustful conduct, but his assertion only masks his true disposition as a lovelorn lover born under the zodiacal sign of Saturn, prone to melancholic moods that turn him into an ineffective seducer. During the Middle Ages, those born under the 'cold and malefic' seventh planet, as Frederick de Armas points out, are hapless in amorous pursuits (1992: 154).

Despite the relevance of Juan Ruiz's humoral complexion, which affects his psychoaffective life, only a handful of critics have directly addressed aspects of the Archpriest's saturnine condition. Peter E. Dunn, who studies Trotaconventos' description of Juan Ruiz in light of physiognomic traditions extant in the Middle Ages (1974), was the first scholar to call attention to the phenomenology of the Archpriest's black-biled contexture. Expanding upon Elisha K. Kane's 1930 study, in which he proves that the Archpriest's physical description is not realistic but a typology from medieval rhetorical manuals, Dunn demonstrates that Doña Urraca portrays some characteristics of the atrabilious man affected by melancholia (1970: 88). Through the articulation of physiognomic discourses, Dunn points out that the physical traits of Juan Ruiz deploy an imagery of a saturnine personality. The reader could argue that the physiognomic descriptions and some of his despondent characteristics stem from Venus' advice to counterfeit his outer expressions: 'El amante debe fingir la melancolía' (GybbonMonypenny 1988: 45).

Tracing astrological phenomena that Juan Ruiz had likely read in Plato's Timaeus or Ptolemy's Tetrabilos, Luce López-Baralt (1985) notes that Juan Ruiz's physical descriptions do not resemble the characteristics of the Venereans. Neither his physiognomic features nor his psychological disposition corresponds with those born under the sign of Venus. She argues that Juan Ruiz had a vague idea of the astrological sciences, and the limited knowledge he exhibited came mostly from Islamic sources (cf. James T. Monroe 2011). Juan Ruiz confirms López-Baralt's assertions when he aligns himself with his astral sign:

Muchos nasçen en Venus, que lo más de su vida

es amar las mugeres, nunca se les olvida;

En este signo atal creo que yo nasçi:

sienpre puné en servir dueñas que conoscí. (Ruiz 2008: 152ab, 153ab)

Juan Ruiz believes himself to have been born 'en Venus' based on psychoaffective sensations and erotic drives, rather than on zodiacal knowledge. The hypos - tatization of the goddess re-presents Venus as a biological mother of those who are born under her influence. Venus (planet and goddess) moves from being an abstraction to becoming a reified womb capable of giving birth and guiding her children through the tortuous paths of the mundane erotology, an apposite metaphor given Venus' active role in counselling the poet on the Ovidian arts of seduction.

The tenth-century astrologer Haly Abenragel, whose work was rendered into the Castilian vernacular in 1254, associates Venereans with prurience and effeteness: 'Semeia a las mugieres e ama-las e ama iazer con ellas e ama comer e bever e folgar' (López-Baralt 1985: 55). …

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