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The Greeks and the Romans: translatio, translation, and parody in the Libro de buen amor.

And therefore willingly I take his word, though wittingly I do mistake it, translata proficit.

--John Florio

Entiende bien mis dichos e piensa la sentencia; non me contesca con tigo commo al doctor de Grecia con el rribaldo rromano e con su poca sabiencia, quando demando Roma a Grecia la ciencia.

(st. 46)

(Understand my words well, and ponder their meaning; so you will not do to me what the Roman rogue, in his ignorance, did to the Greek sage when Rome wanted Greece's knowledge).

--Arcipreste de Hita, Libro de buen amor (1)

There is perhaps no other episode in the fourteenth-century Libro de buen amor that captures quite as well how the book and its notoriously fragmentary author figure, Juan Ruiz the Archpriest of Hita, set themselves up as parodies of authority and translatio studii than the Disputacion que los griegos e los rromanos en uno ovieron (The Disputation between the Greeks and the Romans) (sts. 46-70). In the story, the Romans appeal to the Greeks to pass down their wisdom. The Greeks, doubting that the Romans deserve to be their intellectual heirs, decide to test the younger, less refined cultures mettle in a debate. However, because the two groups have no common language, they agree to hold the debate in sign language (there is no explanation in the Libro of how they managed to come to this agreement; fortunately, there must have been a simultaneous interpreter on hand ready to broker the deal). The Greeks elect their wisest sage, and the Romans find a rogue, whom they dress up as a professor of philosophy, to represent them in the debate. The Greek sage and the Roman rogue exchange four hand signs, and then incongruously translate these visible signs into vernacular speech for their countrymen. The humor in the tale resides in the divergent interpretations of the signs made by the sage and the Roman masquerading as a philosopher.

The close connection between the Disputacion and the Libros reigning obsession with hermeneutics, and Augustinian sign theory in particular, has received a great deal of critical attention. (2) And, in this light, scholars have proposed varied origins and by no means mutually exclusive intertexts for the episode, ranging from Accursius's Great Gloss, Augustine's De Doctrina Cristiana, medieval rhetorical and dialectical training, folktales, and the Iberian maqama tradition. (3) The Archpriest's reveling in ambiguity challenges traditional hermeneutics, forcing readers who wish to read by Augustinian rules into interpretive limbo. In a study of the Archpriest's exemplum in relation to other medieval versions of the story, Laurence De Looze sums up the moral of the episode thusly: "The potentiality that perfect understanding and complete misunderstanding might be interchangeable and undiscoverable threatens to destabilize the whole process of meaning. The very rightness of an interpretation might therefore indicate nothing more than its massive wrongness." (4) The Disputacions particular appeal and critical challenges reside in its dual nature as a funny tale and "a theoretical manifesto," where learned semiotics combine with a performance of "embodied (mis)communication," thus transporting Augustinian sign theory "deeper into the post-lapsarian linguistic agora than the Church Father would ever ... have liked to go," as Vincent Barletta observes in his study of performativity and pragmatics in the episode. (5)

Even though the protagonists of this exemplum are translators, and translation is necessarily and intimately related to sign theory, the Disputacion has yet be read as an exemplum about the nature of linguistic transformation and transfer. A rereading of the Disputacion from the perspective of translation history and theory, as I will argue, not only allows us to appreciate how the Archpriest translates sign theory into fiction, but also how the Libro fashions the role of the clerical narrator and poet as a transmitter of Latin auctoritas in the Castilian romance vernacular.

The Disputacion itself is the first of many exempla, fabliaux, and other stories romanced by the Archpriest, who drew upon Aesop, Ovid, Augustine, Latin comedies, goliardic poetry, liturgy, and just about anything else to hand that he could include in his sprawling compendium of narrative and lyric poetry. Its position and subject matter clearly indicate that the Disputacion was intended to serve as a kind of paratext or framing device for the Libro as a whole. Indeed, the Disputacion serves as a fictional mirror of the Libros prose prologue, in which the Archpriest urges his audience to understand his lessons correctly, but, at the same time, imagines three possible interpretations of his book and their consequences. (6) Those who bring little intellectual acumen but good will to the Libro will learn how to save their souls, as will talented exegetes of good faith, while those who interpret well but for their own ruin will learn to "usar de loco amor" (practice the art of carnal love). Since all humanity is prone to sin due to our weakness of will and memory, this morally dubious reading is, in fact, a likely outcome, the Archpriest warns (110). Beyond reading for salvation and reading for sinning, those who wish to become poets will find in the Libro a breviary of poetics, "lecion e muestra de metrificar e rrimar e de trobar" (instruction in and examples of making verses and rhyming and poetic invention)(110-11). To all, the Libro promises, "Intellectum tibi dabo" (I will give thee understanding) (110). (7) The precise content of the teaching on offer, however, is up to the individual interpreter, whom the Archpriest bids to pay close attention to his meanings and intention and not get caught up in the "son feo de las palabras" (foul sound of the words), because "las palabras sirven a la intencion e non la intencion a las palabras" (the words serve the intention, the intention does not serve the words) (110). In addition to its reflection of the first two possible interpretations outlined in the prologue, the Disputacion engages the third, presenting us with a fourteenth-century commentary upon the poetics of translatio.

As the Archpriest's promise of poetic instruction would suggest, the Libro displays several forms of versification. Nevertheless, cuaderna via (the four fold way)--monorhyme alexandrine quatrains with each verse divided into two hemistichs--predominates throughout the work and is the meter used to tell the story of the Greeks and the Romans. The poet's choice of cuaderna via is not casual or arbitrary, because it is the preferred metrical form of the Archpriest's vernacular model, the mester de clerecia (the cleric's craft, or poetics of clerisy), a poetic mode that arose in the thirteenth century, as a heuristic for literate clerics to transmit authoritative traditions and narratives to the laity in the vernacular. (8) The thirteenth-century mester de clerecia poets reworked Latin texts in order to tell the stories of heroes from classical antiquity (Alexander the Great, Apolonius of Tyre), saints (Mary of Egypt, Oria, Domingo de Silos, the Virgin Mary), and to craft foundational fictions (Poema de Fernan Gonzalez). Moreover, the mester de clerecia was the prominent form of vernacular theology in the period. As such, use of cuaderna via immediately signaled preceptive entertainment, spiritual instruction, typology, and allegorical interpretation. In the fourteenth century, Juan Ruiz, among others, took advantage of the horizons of expectation that had coalesced around the mester and cuaderna via.

The mester de clerecia poets often reflect upon their roles as linguistic mediators between their audiences and the wisdom transmitted through their learned craft. (9) Due to the insufficiency of fallen language, however, the position of the poet as teacher produced a certain amount of anxiety regarding res and verba, as well as his own authority. (10) Gonzalo de Berceo, the quintessential mester poet, for example, instructed the audience of his Milagros de Nuestra Senora (Miracles of Our Lady) (ca. 1252) that his words contained hidden meanings: "Senores e amigos, lo que dicho avernos / palavra es oscura, esponerla queremos; / tolgamos la corteza, al meollo entremos, / prendamos lo de dentro, lo de fuera dessemos (st. 16). (Gentlemen and friends, what we have said has an obscured meaning and we wish to gloss it; let us take away the shell to get to the pith, let us take what is within and do away with what is without.) (11)

The Archpriests very use of cuaderna via thus underpins his summons to the Libros audiences to interpret correctly by looking beyond the poet's verba to find the res of buen amor. Juan Ruiz glosses this advice in a concatenation of ten metaphors depicting the relationship between signifiers and signifieds:
   Non tengades que es libro necio de devaneo,
   nin creades que es chufa algo que en el leo,
   ca, segund buen dinero yaze en vil correo,
   ansi en feo libro esta saber non feo.

   El axenuz de fuera mas negro es que caldera;
   es de dentro muy blanco, mas que la pena vera;
   blanca farina esta so negra cobertera;
   acucar dulce e blanco esta en vil cana vera.

   Sobre la espina esta la noble rrosa flor;
   en fea letra esta saber de grand dotor;
   commo so mala capa yaze buen bevedor,
   ansi so el mal tabardo esta el buen amor.
      (sts. 16-18)

(Do not think that this is a silly book, a shameful passtime, nor that anything I write is a lie, for, just as good coin lies in a worthless wallet, so is wisdom that is not foul found in a foul book. The fennel seed is black as a pot on the outside; inside it is are even whiter than ermine; white wheat is under a black cover; sweet and white sugar is found in a lowly cane. The rose, noble flower, lies above the thorn; the wisdom of a great sage is found in foul words; just as a good drinker wears a worn cape, so does good love lie beneath a dirty tabard.)

While the thirteenth-century Berceo leads his audience unambiguously from verba to res, the fourteenth-century Archpriest continually leaves readers hanging in the poetic space between words and their meanings, unsure whether the res is actually more valuable and morally upright than the verba.

The Disputacion follows directly upon The Archpriest's translation and gloss of Cato's couplet, "Interpone tuis interdum gaudia curis / Ut possis animo quemuis sufferre laborem": "que omne a sus coidados que tiene en coracon / entreponga plazeres e alegre la rrazon, / que la mucha tristeza mucho pecado pon" (one should temper a heart filled by cares with pleasures, and gladden the spirit, for great sadness leads to great sin) (st. 44bcd). Consequently, it would seem that the Archpriest delivers the story as a piece designed to provide consolation through humor. Nevertheless, it soon becomes clear that the Disputacion directly echoes the Archpriests instructions to look under his tabard and beyond "el son feo de las palabras" (the foul sound of the words).

The dialogue between the sage and the ruffian in the Disputacion is very brief. First, the Greek holds up his forefinger; the Roman responds by holding up his thumb, forefinger and middle finger. The Greek then extends his open palm to the Roman, who responds by shaking his fist. When he returns to his fellows with a verbal translation of the signed dialogue, the Greek concludes that the Romans do indeed have the mental and moral capacities necessary to merit the transmission of wisdom after the sage translates the meanings of the signs:
   Preguntaron al griego que fue lo que dixiera
   por senas el rromano, e que le rrespondiera.
   "Yo dixe que es un Dios: el rromano dixo que era
   uno e tres personas, e tal senal feziera."

   "Yo dixe que era todo a la su voluntad;
   rrespondio que en su poder tenie el mundo, e diz verdat.
   Desque vi que entendien e creyen la Trinidad,
   entendi que merescien de leyes certenidad."
      (sts. 59-60)

(They asked the Greek what the Roman had said in signs, and what he responded. I said there was one God and the Roman said that He was one in three, and made just that sign. He said: "I said that everything was according to His will, the Roman replied that the whole world was in His power; he spoke the truth. When I saw that they understood and believed in the Trinity, I understood that they deserved sure knowledge of our laws.")

The Roman, on the other hand, translated the Greek's signs as threats of physical violence that required responses in kind:
   Preguntaron al vellaco qual fuera su antojo.
   Diz: 'Dixo me que con su dedo me quebrantaria el ojo.
   Desto ove grand pesar, e tome grand enojo,
   e rrespondi le con sana, con ira e con cordojo

   "Que yo le quebrantaria ante todas las gentes
   con dos dedos los ojos, con el pulgar los dientes.
   Dixo me luego apos esto que le parase mientes,
   que me daria grand palmada en los oidos rretinentes.

   "Yo le rrespondi que le daria una tal punada
   que en tiempo de su vida nunca la vies vengada.
   Desque vio que la pelea tenie mal aparejada,
   dexo se de amenazar do non ge lo precian nada."
      (sts. 61-63)

(They asked the ruffian what his unlearned opinion was. He said: 'He said to me that he was going to gouge out my eye with his finger. I took great offense and got very angry, and I said to him,--with anger, with ire, and with fury--that I would gouge out both of his eyes with my two fingers and break his teeth with my thumb, right in front of everyone. Right after this he then said to me that he was of a mind to give me a great, ear-ringing slap. I responded that I would punch him so hard that in all his life he'd never be able to get even. When he saw that the fight would not end well, he stopped threatening where he had no place to be.)

Multiple acts of translation are at work in the Disputacion: the sage and the ruffian have both translated their thoughts into hand signs and both have silently interpreted the gestures in order to respond; once the exchange of gestures concludes, both the Greek and the Roman translate the four hand signs into verbal signs, each into his own vernacular language, presumably Latin and Greek; both believe that they have interpreted literally, but both have in fact glossed the signs of the other, moving in opposite metaphorical directions. Nevertheless, the form of cuaderna via and the sequence of signs set up a pattern of equivalence: repetitions of levanto se (he rose to his feet), assento se (he sat down), and mostro (he showed) in the stanzas preceding the two verbal translations underline the exact sign for sign exchange between the doctor and the vellaco as do the translations of the signs into words that each reports to his respective language group. For example:
   Levanto se el griego, sosegado, de vagar,
   e mostro solo un dedo, que esta cerca del pulgar;
   luego se assento en ese mismo lugar.
   Levanto se el rribado, bravo, de mal pagar.

   Mostro luego tres dedos contra el griego tendidos
   Assento se el necio, catando sus vestidos.
      (sts. 55-56ad)

(The Greek rose to his feet, calm and cool, and held out just one finger, the one next to the thumb; he promptly sat himself back down in the same place as before. The ribald rose to his feet, irate and displeased. He then held up three fingers, gesturing toward the Greek ... The idiot sat himself down, admiring his costume.)

In the Greek's and the Romans parallel performances, it appears to their respective audiences that two word-for-word, "faithful" translations and mutual understanding have been accomplished.

Cicero is generally credited with the first mention of word-for-word translation. In the De Optimo genere oratorum (The Best Kind of Orator), Cicero describes his strategy for translating the speeches of exemplary Greek orators into Latin as that of the orator, and not the interpreter, "And in so doing, I did not hold it necessary to render word for word, but I preserved the general style and force of the language. For I did not think I ought to count them out to the reader like coins, but to pay them by weight, as it were." (12) Formally, the exchange in signs recalls Cicero's description of word-for-word translation as a counting out of coins. The Greek emits one sign and receives one back from the Roman, which he judges to be of equal value: the one for the three of the Trinity, the will of God for the power of God. The repetitive phrasing of the Greek's interpretation accentuates the notion of one-for-one equivalence in the translations.

The Roman mirrors his interlocutor, but also pays the Greek back with interest: instead of poking out just one eye, he will poke out two and break the sage's teeth, in exchange for a slap, a punch. The Roman is in fact a translator who chooses the figure of amplificatio. Not only does he return more than "an eye for an eye" to the Greek, his translation of the debate is a full stanza longer than the credulous sage's. The Greek is attempting to imitate Cicero's interpreter and Horace's fidus interpretes, the faithful translator who, "verbo verbum curabit reddere" (seek to render word for word), (13) when he retranslates the signs into his vernacular. Significantly, the words that the Greek wishes to transmit are the Word, the transcendental signified. The Greek, with his signs of the Trinity and God's omnipotence, believes that he is translating "pure language," a universal and sacred truth "in which the meaning and the letter no longer dissociate." (14) Since he translates not words, but The Word, word-for-word is sense-for-sense. As if miming Augustinian sign theory, the Greek attempts to perform redeemed speech; after the Fall, only the Word retained the prelapsarian unity of verba and res, but the divine Verbum can be transmitted through the incarnate language of the human body. (15) Yet for all his presumed wisdom, the sage seems to have forgotten that human flesh is prone to sin and fallen language is likewise prone to misinterpretation. The Roman translates like an orator or a poet, having picked up on the "style and force" of his interlocutor, if not the message.

The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) resounds with nostalgia for prelapsarian linguistic unity and also for equivalent, pure, and reversible translation from one tongue to another. If the Fall (Genesis 3), a "central medieval myth about language" that explained the separation of res from verba, or spirit from letter, and the consequent need for hermeneutics, (16) Genesis 11 narrates a second, and rather more literal fall from grace, with the addition of linguistic confusion and the need for translation between tongues to the already confounding division between signifiers and signifieds. Both stories occupied central positions in Augustinian sign theory, in which human incarnate language, while ever incommensurate, is the primary tool at hand for the discovery of truth and the Word. Stories of fall and redemption also play central roles in the mester de clerecia. For example, the Libro de Alexandre recounts the story of Babel at the midpoint of the hubristic conqueror's biography: "Metio Dios entre ellos tamana confusion / que olvidaron todos el natural sermon; / fablavan sendas lenguas cad'una en su son, / non sabie un del otro quell dizie o que non" (st. 1508) (God placed such great confusion among them, that they all forgot their natural manner of speaking; they spoke in varied tongues, each one sounding different, they could not understand one another or what was said and what was not). (17) Here, the confusion of tongues contrasts with the Alexandre poet's own didactic fluency. His mester resolves linguistic discord by translating--transferring knowledge and romancing--the story of the Fall of language through pride for his lay audience.

In contrast to the confusion of Babel, the legend of the Septuagint exemplified the ideal of equivalent, pure, and reversible translation. For Augustine, the Septuagint represented a moment of divinely aided translation from Hebrew to Greek. The seventy-two translators, each working in isolation, produced the authoritative version of the Bible, achieving "such wondrous amazing, and obviously divine agreement ... they did not differ from one another in a single word, not even in the choice of a synonym with the same meaning. They did not even diverge in the order of the words." (18) Jerome, who was less impressed by the authority and accuracy of the translation, nonetheless said that "yet the divergence of language is atoned by the oneness of spirit." (19) The Greek sage anticipates and reads such oneness of spirit into the Roman's signs.

Although the Disputation is staged as a test and a precondition for the definitive translatio studii, the Greek does not wait for the outcome to begin his transfer of "the Law" and "the Word." According to his own translation, the Greek signed a pillar of his doctrine at the beginning of the debate: "es un Dios ... uno e tres personas ... era todo a la su voluntad ... en su poder tenie el mundo" (there is one God ... one in three persons ... everything was according to His will ... whole world was in His power). For the purposes of this orthodox translatio, the Greek, in a parodie imitation of the Incarnation, translates the Word into the flesh, turning his body into the material sign that cloaks his transcendent signified. The Roman is incapable of reversing the process and reads the Greeks letters as flesh rather than spirit. Funnily enough, however, the Roman interpretation unites res and verba: to him, the Greek's hand sign signifies nothing other than his hand and cannot point to a veiled meaning. Of course, there is also some irony in the depiction of the Greeks as Christians able to interpret according to the Augustinian rule of faith, by which obscure and ambiguous signs are to be studied until they reveal a "connection with the realm of love." (20) As Denis Hire points out, the story Christianizes Roman (and Greek) law, in the typological fashion that the Jews were considered to be the custodians of sacred texts and the law, even if they did not know how to interpret it correctly and read according to the letter instead of the spirit. (21) In this paradigm, the true meaning of the Greek law, which in turn became the Roman law, was not understood by the Romans, who would, in due course, pass it along to the Christian monarchies and sages of Europe, who, with the advantages of hindsight, redemption, and revelation, could indeed understand it as the Law, backed by theology, the Word. The mester de clerecia poets positioned themselves, followed by their lay audiences, at the fortunate and redeemed end of that chain of translatio.

Just as the dual meanings of translatio as linguistic transfer and as the reworking of received knowledge overlapped in ancient and medieval grammar and rhetoric, (22) instrumental translation and the transfer of knowledge are intertwined in the Archpriests story parodying the poetic art of clerisy and, I would argue, in the mester de clerecia more generally. Olivier Biaggini maintains, however, that translatio must be disassociated from linguistic translation in order to understand the mester de clerecias adaptation of Latin sources for vernacular audiences. (23) The separation, in his view, serves to draw attention to the mester poets' creation of oral and written authority in their romance vernacular, without dwelling upon the sorts of questions that occupy the comparison of translated texts to their sources. Nevertheless, translation and translatio meet in the poetic activity of vernacular appropriation and exercitatio (translation as invention and artistic composition). (24) Indeed, the intersection of translation and translatio studii constitutes the inventive raw material for the Disputacion.

Alonso de Madrigal, a fifteenth-century cleric who may well have figured among the Libros historical readers, provides a late-medieval taxonomy of translational activities within which the mester poets would be situated as the revisionary authors he calls glosadores:

"Dos son las maneras de trasladar: una es de palabra a palabra, et llamase interpretacion; otra es poniendo la sentencia sin seguir las palabras, la qual se faze comunamente por mas luengas palabras, et esta se llama exposicion o comento o glosa.... En la segunda se fazen muchas adiciones et mudamientos, por lo qual non es obra del autor, mas del glosador."

[There are two manners of translating: one is word for word, and is called interpretation; the other is rendering the meaning without following the words, which is generally achieved with longer sentences, and this is called exposition or comment, or gloss ... In the second manner, many additions and changes are made, therefore it is not the work of the Auctor, but rather of the glossator.] (25)

The glosador is dependent upon his source, the autor, for meaning and material, but he emerges as the author in his own right of a new work in dialogue with authority. Likewise, Bonaventure's thirteenth-century categories of authorship, which include the scriptor, the compilator, the commentator, and finally, the auctor, implicitly references translation: the auctor unlike the others, who copy, organize, and comment, "writes both his own materials and those of others, but [presents] his own as the principal materials, and the materials of others annexed for the purpose of confirming his own, and as such must be called the author." In this taxonomy, the thirteenth-century mester poets blend the activities of commentador and the auctor. The mester poets are engaging in what Rita Copeland terms "secondary translation," translations that define themselves as "independent productive acts" rather than as supplements to or glosses of master texts, but which also and necessarily build upon exegesis. (26)

The mester poets frequently invoke their Latin sources, appealing to past authority while they exert their own vernacular auctoritas. (27) Juan Ruiz also appeals to his authorizing sources, both sacred (the Bible, God, the Virgin Mary) and secular (Cato, Ovid, Aristotle), but these authorities are placed on a level plane in the Libro with other, less lofty ones. The Disputacion, for example, concludes with a wily old womans maxim: "Por esto dize la pastrana de la vieja ardida: 'Non ha mala palabra si non es a mal tenida'" (And that's why the moral of the canny old wives' tale is 'There no such thing as a bad word, if it's not taken in the wrong way) (st. 64ab). (28) Above and beyond the translation activities depicted in the exemplum, the Archpriest, who parodies as he glosses, displays his own work of translation, gloss, and poetic invention.

The Archpriest, writing in parodie imitation of his mester predecessors, on the other hand, pairs his poetic dexterity with ambiguity. In this shift from clarity to confusion, the Disputacion between the Greeks and the Romans in the Libro also presages modern concepts of loss and violence in translation, which contrast directly with the ideal virtues of equivalence. Lawrence Venuti characterizes "the violence of translation," as "the forcible replacement of the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text with a text that will be intelligible to the target-language culture," which, in so doing, imposes the target-culture's "positions of intelligibility, its canons and taboos, its codes and ideologies." (29) Arguably, violence is embedded in the notion of translatio studii, which, paired with its tropological twin, translatio imperii, is a figure of conquest and usurpation. When the Romans appeal to the Greeks to pass down their laws and their wisdom, they are seeking vertical translation, that is, the translation of a superior culture "down" to a receiving audience in need of cultivation and into a language of lesser refinement. However, vertical translation is stimulated by the rising hegemony of the receiving culture, in need of legitimization through its appropriation of auctoritas. Target and source languages and cultures always exist in relationships of unequal power and cultural capital, and translation history is in many ways a history of colonizing appropriations. A key element of the violence of translation, as Venuti argues, is the removal of culturally specific texts from their contexts, or domestication. (30)

The concept of domestication in translation, I would say, is apt for considering the project of translatio studii: when the past is translated into the present, appropriated anachronism becomes a form of domestication. And, this double verticality, where authority is vested in the past, but both the power to appropriate and the need for legitimization are products of the target culture's present, is clearly present in the mester de clerecia. In the hands of the Archpriest, the "right" reading of the Greeks remains intact because the Libros intended readership will recognize it as such. However, as poet and translator, the Archpriest simultaneously deflates the cultural authority of the ancients, who, it seems, are no match for the Roman usurpers of the Law. His mester is a bid for horizontality between tradition and innovation, possible because of the growing authority of the vernacular in the fourteenth century and due to his appeal to a lettered and hermeneutically savvy audience. (31)

The Greeks conclude that the Romans do indeed have the mental capacities necessary to merit the transmission of wisdom after the sage translates, domesticating the Roman signs for his compatriots when he renders them as comprehensible affirmations of the Trinity. The Roman likewise domesticates when he translates the Greek's signs as threats of physical violence that require responses in kind. Two opposed models of translation clash even as they appear to agree in "The Greeks and the Romans." The Greek represents the ideals of patristic translation, which is "directed almost entirely at meaning and signification outside the claims of either source or target language." The Roman, on the other hand, follows the model of translation in Roman rhetoric, where "translation serves the target text and target language in a project of displacement and appropriation which foregrounds cultural difference through linguistic difference." (32) Cloaked in the garb of wisdom, the rromano is a gesticulating figure of translation, integument, and the possible mismatch of signifiers and signifieds. The rromanos domesticating translation reveals the violence of cultural transfer; translating in the contact zone becomes a contact sport. Nevertheless, both linguistic middlemen presume that they are faithful translators who have met on the solid ground of shared meaning. Not only do they have faith in their own abilities of understanding, they have faith in the equivalence, reversibility, and in the transparency of signs. This is a scene where translatio turns into translation, where the fidus interpretes translates word for word, but creates his own sense of the signs.

The many parallelisms suggesting equivalence that structure this exchange of misinterpreted signs ironically underscore the violence of translation as well as its paradoxically disguised yet highly visible nature. Paul Ricoeur remarks that that equivalence does not make translation possible; rather, translation and cultural exchange create equivalence. (33) The exchange in signs shows one way in which equivalence, or the appearance of and belief in equivalence, can be created from dissimilarity through acts of translation. Thanks to the metaphorical reading of hand signs, followed by the linguistic transfer of sign language into Greek and Latin, translatio goes forward. Both translations, the Greek theological, and the Roman pugilistic, are "relevant" translations, to borrow Derrida's term. Not only are they "qualitatively equivalent," counting out sign for sign, like coins, they are the best and most useful translations in the two target languages, Greek and "Roman," presumably Latin. The transfer of knowledge and power necessary for the medieval poets to recognize themselves as the inheritors of ancient authority has occurred.

The Disputacion, thus, stages some of the most hotly debated questions in translation history. In the first place, the fable lays bare the ambiguities and instabilities of translation of the sacred, and by extension, all translation of auctoritas. Both debaters believe that linguistic equivalence is possible through word-for-word interpretation, the mode of Scriptural translation prescribed by St. Jerome in his letter to Pammachius. (34) Both the Greeks and the Romans, it would seem, have faith in the power of linguistic translation to facilitate translatio studii. Yet both create new meanings as they gloss, and, at least according to the Roman, translatio is a violent process of misprision. Further, the exemplum demonstrates how translations domesticate their sources; both Greek and Roman literally bring "the text" to their respective audiences. Translatio studii is, as Copeland observes, the medieval equivalent of Ricoeur's concept of hermeneutical appropriation "the struggle against cultural distance and historical alienation actualises the meaning of the text for the present reader." (35) In addition to a meditation upon the ambiguity of signs, the exemplum is a parodie allegory of the grand project of translatio studii in the poetic tradition that Juan Ruiz imitates, the mester de clerecia. Translatio studii--defined as "the adaptation of received knowledge to a purpose," (36) and the "keeping alive the knowledge of the past in the service of the present," (37)--is a process of domesticating and anachronistic translation, and, as the exemplum insinuates, it is a process that may not be entirely trustworthy.

Juan Ruiz, the extraordinary translator of tradition, appeals, tongue firmly in cheek, to the very auctores (Cato and the like) he transmits like a Roman rogue, filling the gaps between equivalence with "a language that is full of life" (38) and perfect in its intentional misinterpretations. The Disputacion is not only important in the Libros plays upon ambiguity, but also for understanding how the Archpriest's translatio depends upon the poet as a potentially faithless translator, who undermines while he privileges authority. Despite their reverence--tinged with high irony in Juan Ruiz's case--for auctoritas, for thirteenth- and fourteenth-century poets, relevant translation is anachronistic and inventive. It is translatio. In order to redeem the pre-Christian past, for their present concerns, the poets must translate beyond the letter, as linguistic middlemen on anachronistic and domesticating missions, then, standing upon the shifting sands between message and medium, they are part Greek sage and part ribald Roman. Thus, the exemplum problematizes the position of the wise translator between target culture and the auctoritas of his sources. In the Archpriest's poetic world, both the rromano and the Greek provide models for the clerkly poet, and the exemplum is not only a cautionary tale about the ambiguity of signs, but also a manifesto about exercitatio. The Archpriest is a cultural mediator who has assumed the task of making his sources meaningful and relevant to his audiences. His project, like that of the mester de clerecia writ large, is to "substitute vernacular writing for Latinitas," (39) and the Archpriest celebrates the vernacular poetic license he has inherited from his thirteenth-century romancing predecessors.

Like so many parodies, the Disputacion reflects a love for the butt of its jokes. The mester de clerecia, after all, gave the Archpriest a standard for his own auctoritas. Indeed, then, translation is perilous yet crucial in this pivotal exemplum, which kicks off the Libro, and which ends with the transfer of Greece's cultural patrimony into the hands (and the vernacular) of the uncouth Romans, who believe that they have wrested wisdom from their antagonists by threatening physical harm. Translations, like typology and allegory, are the sine qua non of translatio, but they are, the Archpriest warns us, fallible. Yet the lack of fidelity, as the Archpriest well knew, is the stuff of poetry. When the word becomes flesh, is translated back into the word by the Greek but into more flesh by the Roman, the Disputacion stages linguistic mediation, making the acts of translation and interpretation visible and palpable. The transfer of knowledge and power depends upon the translation of tongues, or, as the Disputacion would have it, upon the mistranslation of hands. Faithful linguistic transfer is considered a precondition for translatio studii and translatio imperii from ancients to moderns, and so the Romans must prove that they understand the import of the knowledge that the Greeks will be handing down for posterity. The exemplum is one of the Archpriests own many and deft domesticating translations, one that tells a story of how translation can fail spectacularly while still appearing faithful and thus achieve the translatio studii upon which the authority of Christian Latinity is based. And, the Archpriests romancing of the tale, prefaced by the warning "non me contesca con tigo commo al doctor de Grecia," reveals yet more layers of linguistic and interpretive mediation. (40)

The title of this essay is my own anachronistic appropriation of a motto coined by John Florio in the preface to his English translation of Montaigne's Essays. Florio's paratext is an encomium and defense of translation, in which he takes the Latin proverb translata proficit arbos (A tree grows well when transplanted) and, as he says, "wittingly" mistakes it, conveying only translata proficit (what is translated advances, makes progress, or is beneficial). (41) Florio's willful misappropriation and gloss of Latin wisdom, composed in order to applaud and move forward with his own translation, though far removed in time from the Libro de buen amor, recalls, to my mind, at least, the "Disputacion que los griegos y los rromanos en uno ovieron." The exemplum, like Florio's prologue, is a justification of wrong but relevant translation, a celebration and a send-up of the benefits of poetic appropriation of past authority, designed to prime audiences to move forward through the Libro and to authorize the Archpriest.

Georgetown University


(1) Arcipreste de Hita, Libro de buen amor, ed. G. B. Gybbon-Moneypenny (Madrid: Castalia, 1998). Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

(2) Marina Brownlee, for example, argues that the Disputacion, along with one of the following exempla concerning the vagaries of astrology (st. 123-65), is a "parable of interpretation." The Status of the Reading Subject in the "Libro de buen amor" (U. of North Carolina Press, 1985), 74-87. John Dagenais, The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture: Glossing the "Libro De Buen Amor" (Princeton U. Press, 1994), 37, remarks that the exemplum typifies "that invisible merging of text and gloss, which [is] a key to unlocking the medieval reading strategies hidden in the Libro" E. Michael Gerli analyzes the Archpriest's usage of Augustinian sign theory in "The Greeks, the Romans, and the Ambiguity of Signs: De doctrina Christiana, the Fall, and the Hermeneutics of the Libro de buen amor," Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 79 (2002): 411-28. See also Edmund Reiss, "Ambiguous Signs and Authorial Deceptions in Fourteenth-Century Fictions," in Sign, Sentence, Discourse: Language in Medieval Thought and Literature, ed. Julian Wasserman and Lois Roney (Syracuse U. Press, 1989), 113-37; and Catherine Brown, Contrary Things: Exegesis, Dialectic, and the Poetics of Didacticism (Stanford U. Press, 1998), esp. chap. 5, "Between One Thing and The Other: The Libro de buen amor" 116-44.

(3) Felix Lecoy, Recherches sur le 'Libro de buen amor' (Paris: Droz, 1938; 2nd ed., ed. Alan Deyermond, Farnborough: Gregg International, 1974), 164-66, traced the episode back to the thirteenth-century Placide et Timeo and Accursiuss Great Gloss (ca.1230). Dagenais, The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture, 37, also relates the episode to Accursius. Gerli, "The Greeks, the Romans, and the Ambiguity of Signs," 413-14, argues that the direct source for the exemplum is De doctrina Christiana, book 2, chap. 24, which compares the Greek letter X to the Latin, and the respective meanings of the words beta and lege in the two languages. On the exemplum and rhetorical instruction, see Olga Tudorica Impey, "Los topoi y comentarios literarios en el Libro de buen amor," Nueva revista de filologia hispanica 25 (1976): 278-302. Olivier Biaggini, "Figures du sage et du savoir paiens dans le Libro de buen amor" e-Spania 15 (2013): 15-16, suggests that Juan Ruiz was also drawing upon miniatures of gesticulating orators in fourteenth-century university texts. Such images taught which hand gestures functioned best as rhetorical tools. On Arabic intertexts see, Luis F. Bernabe Pons, "El signo islamico de la profesion de fe: la Disputa entre griegos y romanos en el Libro de Buen Amor," in Morada de la palabra. Homenaje a Luce y Mercedes Lopez-Baralt (U. de Puerto Rico Press, 2002), 219-41. On the Libro and the maqama tradition, see David Wacks, Framing Iberia: Maqamat and Frametale Narratives in Medieval Spain (Leiden: Brill, 2007), chap. 5. Denis Flue, "Le doigt du sage et le poing du fou," in Le geste et les gestes au Moyen Age (Aix-en-Provence: CUERMA, 1998), 273-92, notes that many folk tales contain debates in signs between authority figures and unlikely debaters. The Stith Thompson Motif-Index of Folk-Literature; A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends (Indiana U. Press 1955-85) lists several similar tale types from across Europe and Asia, including: H607. H607. Discussion by symbols, H607.1. H607.1. Discussion between priest and Jew carried on by symbols, and H607.2.1. H607.2.1. Learned professor from one university examines by signs a professor at another university (actually shoemaker or miller or the like).

(4) Laurence De Looze, "To Understand Perfectly Is to Misunderstand Completely: 'The Debate in Signs' in France, Iceland, Italy and Spain," Comparative Literature 50.2 (1998): 141-42.

(5) Vincent Barletta, "The Greeks and the Romans: Language and the Pragmatics of Performance in the Libro de buen amor," Hispanic Review (Summer 2012): 351, 360. On the Libro as a performance text, see also Denise Filios, "Performance Matters in the Libro de buen amor," eHumanista 18 (2011): 171-85.

(6) There are three extant manuscripts of the Libro de buen amor, two dating from the fourteenth century, MSS G (RAE 19; BETA manid 2125) and T (BNE VITR/6/1; BETA manid 1469), and one from the fifteenth, MS S (Salamanca 2663; BETA manid 2127), as well as various fragments and citations of the Libro dating from the fifteenth century on that attest to the continued survival and circulation of the Archpriest's verses. The Disputacion appears in MSS G and S, while the prologue is found only in the fifteenth-century MS S. The prologue has served as an essential paratext for modern readings of the Libro, especially those studies devoted to tracing the Latin scholastic and particularly the Augustinian underpinnings of the Libros intentions and uses of ambiguity. Pierre Ullman, "Juan Ruiz's Prologue," MLN82.2 (1967): 149-70, a forerunner in such Augustinian readings, while delineating the prologues elaborations upon voluntarism, remarked, however, that the prologue should not be read as an integral part of the work, because it is a later appendage to the archetypal, authorial Libro. Dagenais, The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture, 121, on the other hand, reading each manuscript as a separate scripta of the Libro, considers the prologue and other singular features of MS S "learned interventions," which serve to structure the Libro, and so guide readers' understanding. These interpretive interventions, which include explanatory and organizational rubrics as well as the prologue, became a constituent part of the book, and therefore integral to some historical readers' experiences of the Libro.

(7) The prologue is structured in the manner of an academic sermon that takes Psalm 31:8, Intellectum tibi dabo et instruam te in via hac gradieris; firmabo super te occulos meos, as its theme. Nevertheless, like so much of the Libro, the prologue does not fit easily into a single generic location. On the Archpriest's use of the sermon genre and its conventions, see James Burke, "The Libro de buen amor and The Medieval Meditative Sermon Tradition," La coranica 9.2 (1981): 122-27, and Eric Naylor, "El Intellectum tibi dabo del prologo del Libro de buen amor," Letras 40-41 (1999): 19-26. On the prologue and the the accessus tradition, see Alastair Minnis, Magister Amoris: The "Roman de la Rose" and Vernacular Hermeneutics (Oxford U. Press, 2001), 64-71.

(8) The term mester de clerecia derives from the thirteenth-century Libro de Alexandre, which announces in its second stanza: "Mester traigo fermoso, non es de joglaria, / mester es sin pecado, ca es de clerezia / fablar curso rimado por la quaderna via / a silabas contadas, ca es grant maestria" (I bring you a beautiful poem, not minstrelsy, it is artistry without sin, because it is clerisy; speaking a rhymed course in the fourfold way, counting out syllables is great artistry). The Libro de Alexandre and other thirteenth-century verse narratives of the mester follow the strict cuaderna via syllable counts of alexandrine verses of heptasyllabic hemistichs. The Libro de buen amor follows an accentual meter rather than one of the exact syllable counts boasted by the anonymous Alexandre poet. Martin Duffel, "Metre and Rhythm in the Libro de buen amor',' in A Companion to the Libro de buen amor, ed. Louise M. Haywood and Louise O. Vasvari (Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Tamesis, 2004), 71-82. Here and elsewhere, I follow Julian Weiss's argument in The 'Mester de Clerecia': Intellectuals and Ideologies in Thirteenth-Century Castile (Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Tamesis, 2006) that the mester de clerecia extends beyond cuaderna via metrical form, even though the association between the mester and the four-fold way is clear in the works of Gonzalo de Berceo and the anonymous Alexandre and Libro de Apolonio poets. On the development of cuaderna via, see Francisco Rico, "La clerecia del mester" Hispanic Review 53.1 (1985): 1-23, and "La clerecia del mester (continued)," Hispanic Review 53.2 (1985): 127-50. For a review of the state of mester de clerecia studies, see Clara Pascual Argente, "Nueva maestria": Recontextualizing Castilian Clerical Poetry Within and Beyond the Mester," Romance Quarterly 62.3 (2015): 182-92. On the Libros relation to other mester de clerecia works, see John K. Walsh, "Juan Ruiz and the mester de clerezia. Lost context and lost parody in the Libro de buen amor," Romance Philology, 33 (1979): 62-86.

(9) Weiss discusses the "in-betweenness" of the thirteenth-century mester poets as cultural agents whose verses reveal continual negotiations between the conflicting interests of the social realities that surrounded these clerical writers and the absolute values of Christian teaching. The 'Mester de Clerecia: Intellectuals and Ideologies in Thirteenth-Century Castile, esp. chap. 5, "The Cleric, in Between," and 226-30. See also Jesus Rodriguez Velasco, "Mediacion y agencia: el trabajo de clerecia," Hispanic Review 75.4 (2007): 425.

(10) Weiss, 'The Mester de Clervicia, 73-82. On the Fall as an organizing hermeneutical principle in the Libro, see Emily C. Francomano, '"Saber bien e mal': The Fall and the Fruits of Reading the Libro de buen amor," La coranica 26.2 (1998): 211-26.

(11) Gonzalo de Berceo, Milagros de Nuestra Senora, ed. Fernando Banos Vallejo (Barcelona: Critica, 1997).

(12) Cicero, On Invention. The Best Kind of Orator. Topics, Trans. H. M. Hubbell, Loeb Classical Library 386 (Harvard U. Press, 1949), 365.

(13) Cicero, Satires, Epistles, The Art of Poetry, trans. H. Ruston Fairclough, Loeb Classical Library 194 (Harvard U. Press, 1929), 460-61.

(14) Jacques Derrida, "Des tours de Babel," in Acts of Religion, ed. Gil Anidjar (New York: Routledge, 2002). 127. "Des tours de Babel" is Derrida's gloss of Walter Benjamin's "The Task of the Translator."

(15) Augustine describes humanity's descent from unity into discord and linguistic confusion in De doctrina, book 2, chap. 2-5. In this reading of Augustinian sign theory, I follow Marcia Colish, The Mirror of Language: A Study in the Medieval Theory of Knowledge, rev. ed. (U. of Nebraska Press, 1983); Eric Jager, The Tempter's Voice: Language and the Fall in Medieval Literature (Cornell U. Press, 1993); and James K. A. Smith, Speech and Theology: Language and the Logic of Incarnation (London: Routledge, 2002), 114-50. I am grateful to Marie Roche for bringing the last title in this list to my attention.

(16) Jager, The Tempter's Voice, 9.

(17) Libro de Alexandre, ed. Jesus Canas, 4th ed. (Madrid: Catedra, 2003).

(18) The City of God, in The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century (Pt. 1, vol. 7), trans. William Babcock (Hyde Park, NY: New City, 2013), 326.

(19) "To Pammachius, on the best method of translation," trans. W. H. Fremantle, in St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, second ser. vol. 6, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, repr., originally pub. 1886-1890 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 115.

(20) St. Augustine, On Christian Teaching, trans. R. P. H. Green (Oxford U. Press, 1997), 80.

(21) Hue, "Le doigt du sage et le poing du fou," 287-88.

(22) Rita Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages: Academic Traditions and Vernacular Texts (Cambridge U. Press, 1991), 10 and 17.

(23) Oliver Biaggini, "La 'translatio' dans le 'mester de clerecia': quelques aspects," Cahiers de linguistique hispanique medievale 28 (2005): 69-92.

(24) Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages, 107.

(25) Alonso de Madrigal, Comento de Eusebio in En la teoria y en la practica de la traduccion: La experiencia de los traductores castellanos a la luz de sus textos (siglos XVI-XV), ed. Maria Isabel Hernandez Gonzalez (Salamanca: SEMYR, 1998), 72.

(26) Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages, 177.

(27) As Biaggini notes, the poets frequently and formulaically preface their interpretations with phrases like "como diz la leyenda" (as the legend says), or "como diz el dictado" (as the text says), "La 'translatio,'" 4.

(28) In Leo Spitzer's reading of the exemplum, this proverb revealed the sincere didacticism of the Libro. The Greek and the Roman, as two misinterpreters, "simbolizan la verdad trascendente a toda aplicacion moral practica ... de que Dios, que ha dado (palabras y) gestos para que se entiendan unos a otros, lleva a cabo por encima de los designios de los hombres y, por decirlo asi, de sus equivocaciones." "En torno al arte del Archipreste de Hita," in Linguistica e historia literaria (Madrid: Credos 1955), 124.

(29) Lawrence Venuti, "Translation as a Social Practice: Or, the Violence of Translation," Translation Perspectives 9 (1996): 196.

(30) Venuti's formulation is based upon Friedrich Schleiermacher: "the translator either (1) disturbs the writer as little as possible and moves the reader in his direction, or (2) disturbs the reader as little as possible and moves the writer in his direction." Schleiermacher, "On the Different Methods of Translating" trans. Douglas Robinson, in Western Translation Theory from Herodotus to Nietzsche, ed. Douglas Robinson, 2nd ed. (Manchester, UK: St. Jerome, 2002), 229.

(31) Jeremy Lawrence, "The Audience of the Libro de buen amor," Comparative Literature 36.3 (1984): 220-37.

(32) Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages, 43.

(33) Paul Ricoeur, On Translation, trans. Eileen Brennan (London: Routledge, 2006), 35.

(34) St. Jerome, "Even the order of the words is a mystery," 6.

(35) Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages, 61; Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, trans. John B. Thompson (Cambridge U. Press, 1981), 185.

(36) Douglas Kelly, "Translatio studii: Translation, Adaptation, and Allegory in Medieval French Literature," Philological Quarterly 57 (1978): 287.

(37) Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, "Literary Translation and Its Social Conditioning in the Middle Ages: Four Spanish Romance Texts of the 13th Century," trans. Helga Bennet, Yale French Studies 51 (1974): 207.

(38) "The reasons for the gap between perfect language and a language that is full of life are exactly the same as the causes of misinterpretation." Ricoeur, On Translation, 25.

(39) Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics and Translation in the Middle Ages.

(40) The line suggests that the relationship between the Greek and the Roman is analogous to that between the Archpriest and his readers. Manuscript G gives a variant reading, placing the reader in the Greeks shoes: "non acaesca con tigo commo al dotor de Grecia" (let it not happen with you, like it did to the Greek sage) (st. 46b n.).

(41) John Florio, "To the Courteous Reader," in Robinson, Western Translation Theory, 133-35.
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Author:Francomano, Emily C.
Publication:Philological Quarterly
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Date:Jun 22, 2016
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