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History of Spanish literature

First written text in Spanish

First written text in Spanish literature

The oldest books in Castilian known to man were written at the beginning of the 11th century, although they cannot be considered as literature because they are simply annotated explanations of Latin texts used to help in understanding. They are known under the names of Glosas Silenses and Glosas Emilianenses after the places where they were found, the monasteries of Santo Domingo de Silos and San Millán de la Cogolla respectively.

However the actual place that real literary text emerged was in popular lyric. These “cancioncillas” are short songs that passed by word and mouth and were maintained by the oral tradition. So how did they reach us?

The first people to use these songs were the authors of poems from Moorish Spain. In some of the more high-brow poems, which are called “moaxahas” in Arabic, the authors included a few short choruses in Mozarabic, which are known as “jarchas”. The theme of the jarchas was almost always love, and despite the fact that they were texts in a Romance language (Mozarabic stems from Latin), they were written with Arabic letters, and so went unnoticed for a long time. It should also be pointed out that during the era of the Califato de Córdoba (the Islamic ruler of the Iberian Peninsula 929-1031AD) Al-Andalus (the Arabic name given to parts of the Peninsula that were governed by the Moors) was one of the most important Western cultural centers, where there remained a great part of the culture that the Arabs had conserved.

In Córdoba both the Christian and Eastern Muslim cultures were mixed. Every year there were public poetry competitions. The winners were showered with all types of gifts, but the most important prize was the interest that the poet evoked among the rulers of the Caliph city. They were then contracted to write up official documents or love letters, and so, protected by the leaders, they could live their life free from poverty and dedicate themselves to their poetry. In these periods of splendor in Córdoba the three religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism were mixed together. This created a combined culture of wealth.

The second route was through the songs that started being written in the Baroque period. The authors of these folk songs began to focus on the popular lyrical tradition and wrote poems to be sung in the halls of the palaces. The most important of these is the “Cancionero de Palacio” (lit: Palace Folk Song) which was written between the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century in the court of the Catholic Kings. These mixed popular short poems with others created by the cultured authors; one that became particularly popular was the courtesan poetry that came from the provinces.