One of the debates about the thirteenth-century Castilian version of the Apollonius of Tyre legend, the Libro de Apolonio, seems to be subsiding out of sheer frustration. While scholars are in general agreement that this is one of the most Christianized versions of the legend, there is no consensus about whether the Christian elements are merely a thin veneer imposed on a pagan tale or if the anonymous Castilian poet is carrying out a more complex Christian project in his reworking of the narrative. T. E. Pickford, for example, has catalogued the counterpoint of pagan and Christian elements in the legend broadly, and Marina Scordilis Brownlee contends that although this tension still exists in the Castilian version of the tale, the conflation is successful for communicating a Christian ethos. Mary Jane Kelley in “Mixed Messages”, on the other hand, argues that the original text’s pagan elements undermine any attempt at Christianization. Several hypotheses have been put forward that address discrete Christian aspects of the text, including those by Patricia E. Grieve and Ronald Surtz (“The Spanish Libro de Apolonio [End Page 93] and Medieval Hagiography”), but none pull together the various tenuous religious elements into a unifying discourse.1 I propose reading the Libro de Apolonio as an allegory for participation in the Church’s sacraments as a means of turning from mundane to holy knowledge, a reading that unifies the seemingly disparate references to Christianity in the text in a way that is also congruent with the historical and theological movements of the period.
The scholarly preoccupations and structured verse form of the thirteenth-century mester de clerecía, the poetry to which the anonymous Libro de Apolonio belongs, grew out of the milieu of increased study at cathedral schools and newly formed universities. Brian Dutton led the way in making the connection between the mester de clerecía and the studium generale of Palencia (see especially 93); thanks to additional evidence provided by Jesús Menéndez Peláez, most scholarship now accepts that the authors of this corpus were connected to that nascent university. Critics have noted evidence of scholarly preoccupations in the corpus and have particularly called attention to the connections between the collective scholarly identity of mester de clerecía authors and the clerical qualities of the kingly protagonist, Apolonio himself. Manual Alvar, for instance, catalogues Apolonio’s clerical traits (“Apolonio, clérigo entendido”), but the contention that Apolonio possesses clerical attributes is nearly ubiquitous.
The rise to prominence of a scholarly authorial class and the reflections of educated clerical identities within their texts grew naturally out of a thirteenth-century movement to educate the clergy. This trend was promulgated in the Fourth Lateran Council, which was convened in 1215, within decades of the composition of the Libro de Apolonio. Several of the canons of the Council itself deal with the education of the clergy, and the eleventh canon specifically renewed an ordinance from a few decades earlier that stressed the free education of clergy at cathedral schools. The education of the clerical class was bound to have an effect on the literature that it produced; Derek W. Lomax analyzes some of those influences broadly, noting that the Libro de Apolonio is one of the works influenced by the [End Page 94] twelfth-century renaissance of learning (299–300). The Lateran reforms in their educational aspect certainly influenced clerical verse, but that is only part of the story.
The education of the clergy was not seen as a goal in and of itself, but rather as a way of clarifying and disseminating Church doctrine to the laity. Doctrinal issues related to the sacraments were of particular concern at the time, and the Fourth Lateran Council specifically addresses three of them. The first canon deals with the Eucharist and ratifies the doctrine of transubstantiation; the twenty-first canon mandates yearly confession; and canons 50–52 address the sacrament of marriage. Delivering this sacramental doctrine to the laity as well as to unlearned clerics remained an issue in the Iberian Peninsula for decades after the Council. Lomax offers as an example that
in 1258 bishop Andrés of Valencia ordered the parish...