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The Eve of Spain: Myths of Origin in the History of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Conflict.

The Eve of Spain: Myths of Origin in the History of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Conflict. By Patricia E. Grieve. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. xii + 312 pp. $60.00 cloth.

Patricia E. Grieve titles her close and careful analysis of the historiography of a pure, and purely Spanish, Spain with a pun. The Eve of Spain refers to the dawn of Spain as a nation, and to the fall of Spain because of a woman's treachery. Calling her work a "book about stories" (12), Grieve charts the course of the dominant narratives in Spanish history. These narratives depict a pristine time of Visigothic control of the Iberian Peninsula, before a "fall" to Muslim invaders, and a "redemption" by Christian heroes. The author describes the ways these legends of Spain's fall and redemption change and develop, and she explains why they have continuing power in the historical imaginary of Spain.

Grieve's book fits well within other contemporary examinations of Spanish history by scholars such as Americo Castro and David Nirenberg, who are challenging Neo-Gothicist accounts of Spain's national identity. According to Grieve, "Neo-Gothicism is a myth of national origins and identity that defines a Spaniard as a Christian whose roots extend back to the eighth century" (14). Neo-Gothicists traced a linear Christian history of Spain that was scarcely influenced by the Jews or Muslims with whom Christians coexisted for centuries until they were forcibly expelled from the peninsula. A new cohort of historians, however, questions this myth by pointing out the cultural hybridity that characterized Spain for hundreds of years, and that continues today.

The Eve of Spain is divided into three main sections, or "acts," as Grieve calls them. The first act, titled "Fall and Redemption," addresses the period between 711 and 1492, which follows the history and the legend from the peninsula's surrender to the Muslims at Toledo to the conquest of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold. "Promise and Fulfillment," the second act, covers the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, during the full flowering of Spain as a nation-state that conceived itself as revisioning and restoring the purity of its eighth-century origins. The final act, "Imagining Spain," examines the period of historiography from the Enlightenment to the present, noting significant figures who attempted to question the Neo-Gothic myth.

Central to Grieve's analysis is the story of King Rodrigo and the loss of Toledo in 711 to Muslims from North Africa and the subsequent Christian reconquest of territory by a Gothic nobleman named Pelayo from Asturias and a small band of followers sometime between 718 and 722. This bare outline does justice neither to the manifold retellings of this tale, which the book relates, nor to the role played by Florinda La Cava, the young woman supposedly responsible, if indirectly, for Spain's fall. The initial myth lacked a female villain, and later Muslim accounts depicted Florinda as prey to Rodrigo's lust: a victim of rape whose father, Count Julian, sought to rescue with the help of Muslims. But as the story is retold in Spanish narratives and cronicas, Florinda becomes known as La Cava--a name suggesting the Hebrew word for Eve (Chava)--a scheming woman who leads Rodrigo astray.

By the sixteenth century, the danger of La Cava is linked to the wider menace of women and women's bodies in general, according to Grieve. The Jewish temptress and the Muslim seductress, along with the unchaste Christian wife, are pitfalls for the righteous Christian. While poems and tales appear to be about sex and lust, they really represent land and conquest, since both Spain's popular ballads and its historiographical tradition reflect "the general trend to cast historical events in gendered language" (130). This eroticization of history accompanied the persecution of women that was occurring throughout Europe after the Reformation. The book also details the persecution of Jews and Muslims--and conversos (Jewish converts) and Moriscos (Muslim converts)--as part of Spanish concern with purity of blood and national identity. The narratives make clear that women, Jews, and Muslims were the unassimilable "other" throughout Spanish history.

The modern period witnessed the interpretation of Spain's past as an Orientalist fantasy, with English writers focusing on heroism and romance, but also on persecution and inquisition. For example, Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel, The Vision of Roderick, that presents the story of a tragic king and a shrewd Florinda. Like historians throughout Europe in the nineteenth century, Spanish scholars examined their own national history, searching for the essence of Spain. Grieve observes that the loss of Spain's colonies abroad in 1898 led to extensive soul-searching, and brought about a body of nationalist literature that claimed that Spain was Catholic from its very beginnings.

These myths of origin reverberate in the Spanish mind in the present. Grieve begins the book by noting that former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar blamed the 2004 attack in Madrid on those who "sought revenge for the Christian Reconquest of Muslim Spain" (9). She ends the book with another anecdote: an exhibit on the "Myths of Nations," sponsored in 1998 by the German Historical Museum. Among the four nineteenth-century paintings submitted by Spain were two related to Spain's founding myth. Grieve concludes, "we care about the earlier centuries because people today still experience the sentiments, beliefs, and consequences of actions taken long ago" (243).

The Eve of Spain, intended for both general readers and specialists, lives up to this goal. An extensive index and bibliography of primary and secondary sources, as well as endnotes, will appeal to scholars. The illustrations--drawn from a number of historical and literary sources--and an engaging writing style will interest lay readers. Patricia Grieve makes it clear why history matters, noting that while medieval and early modern societies do not mirror today's complex world, they "nonetheless are seedlings of, and bear some relationship to, today's globalized world and geopolitical issues" (17).

doi: 10.1017/S0009640710000739

Rebecca Moore

San Diego State University
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Author:Moore, Rebecca
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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