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Home » Language Resources » Spanish Literature » History of Spanish Literature » The Middle Ages

Medieval Literature in Spain

Spanish literature

With the fall of the Roman Empire, all of Western Europe was at the mercy of the barbarian hordes. The culture was facing serious decline and the little that remained was found in monasteries throughout Europe.

South of the Pyrenees, in the Iberian Peninsula, the scene was very different. The Arabs maintained a higher degree of culture than the Christian kingdoms. The Arabs had translated the works of Greek authors into their own language and used them to bring the Greek culture into Western Europe.

As far as literature was concerned, the first work to be recognized in Spain was the Cantar de Mio Cid (lit: The Song of my Lord), which is an epic poem about a hero from the Reconquista (Spanish Reconquest). For the critics this seemed strange because literary expressions and phrases of a people tended to stem from poetry. In following investigations they discovered some short poems written in Arabic called “moaxjas”. These poems contained some short verses in Mozarabic but with Arabic letters. These were called “jarchas”. They are the oldest literary phrases in the vernacular language that exist today.

The structure of a moaxaja is… AA bbbAA cccAA cccAA eee… AAA. AA are the verses that were written in the romance language.

Tanto amare, tanto amare, / habib, tanto amare:
¡Enfermaeron welyos nidios / e dolen tan male!

Josef al-Katib

Alongside these appeared “Las Canciones de Amigo” (The songs of a friend), which were “letrillas” (short poems similar to a limerick) that were sung by women to their lovers. At first they were written in Galician-Portuguese but were later written in Castilian in the middle of the 14th century. The other type of popular lyric was the “villancico” (carol). These were also love songs sung by women. These appear in literary documents which were transcribed and annotated by educated authors at the time. Up until this point the cultural protagonists had not shown much interest in what the public did, but the new authors focused on the beauty of these short poems.

Literature in the Mid Age

  1. La poesía épica: Cantar de Mío Cid
  2. Mester de Clerecía: Gonzalo de Berceo
  3. Juan Ruíz, Arcipreste de Hita
  4. Mester de Juglaría: los romances