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  • The Musical Book:Judeo-Andalusi Hermeneutics in the Libro de buen amor
  • Michelle Hamilton

Since the middle of the last century, the fourteenth-century Libro de buen amor (LBA) has been at the center of several critical debates regarding the nature and extent of Western and Semitic (i.e., Arab or Hebrew) "influences" in Castilian society and culture. In these debates, the work and its author-Juan Ruiz, about whom we know next to nothing besides what is left to us in the folios of the LBA - is the emblematic representative of fourteenth-century Castile and Castilians.1 Claims about the extent to which Juan Ruiz was familiar with, or perhaps even participated in, non-Castilian-speaking linguistic communities, non-Christian confessional communities, and/or non-"Spanish" ethnic communities have often been conflated with more universalized claims regarding fourteenth-century identity - themselves often tinged with modern national biases.2 The LBA's prose prologue, opening [End Page 33] verses and the exemplum of the Greeks and Romans are the focus of most of the critical claims regarding hermeneutics and authorial intent, and yet, simultaneously offer the best examples of the work's ambiguity and of the author's often contradictory claims regarding its meaning(s).

One of the most perplexing aspects of this opening material occurs in copla 70, when the book itself assumes the first-person narration that up to that point is identified exclusively with the voice of the author:

De todos instrumentos yo, libro só pariente: bien o mal, qual puntares, tal te dirá çiertamente.

Qual tú dezir quisieres, ý faz punto, ý, ten te; si me puntar sopieres, siempre me avrás en miente.

(copla 70)3

The voice of the author-narrator, breaking with the authoritative frame constructed up to that point and addressing the audience directly, becomes that of the book itself, the "yo, libro", which then compares itself to an instrument. The book's meaning and lessons will depend on the knowledge of the reader as interpreter; that is, this book/instrument will emit different sounds when played skillfully than when puntado by someone ignorant. Juan Ruiz masterfully plays with the multiple meanings of puntar and instrumento so that instrumento can be read as a musical instrument and puntar as the act of plucking a stringed instrument such as a harp or vihuela. Alternatively, instrumento could refer to the medieval scribe's writing instrument and puntar to both scribe and reader's act of punctuating the text - given that scribes, in an effort not to waste valuable parchment or paper often left the task of punctuating to the individual reader. [End Page 34]

None of the modern editions of the LBA gives a concrete contemporary fourteenth-century analogue to the unique and enigmatic metaphor of the talking instrumental book. Furthermore, several critics have questioned whether the instruments to which the book compares itself are in fact musical ones. In this study I claim that Juan Ruiz's metaphor of the book as a musical instrument and the reader as a musician or intérprete in copla 70 is analgous and possibly intellectually indebted to poems included in medieval Franco-Iberian Hebrew manuscript copies of Maimonides's most influential work, the Guide of the Perplexed. These poems similarly compare the Guide to stringed instruments and its readers to the players of those instruments.

Copla 70 and its commentators

Copla 70, which is found in the LBA manuscripts G and S and the Portuguese fragments (P), has been the object of critical commentary in some of the twentieth century's most important studies of the LBA, including Américo Castro's España en su historia, María Rosa Lida de Malkiel's "Nuevas notas", and Leo Spitzer's "En torno al arte del Arcipreste de Hita", as well as the subject of no fewer than five articles since 1977 - a modern exegesis that speaks both to the difficulty of the stanza's language as well as to its importance in the interpretation of the LBA itself.

Castro (408-10), Louise O. Vasvári ("'De todos instrumentos'" 1770), Ottavio di Camillo (241-45), Ana María Álvarez Pellitero, and Luis Jenaro MacLennan ("Libro de buen amor 69...


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