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  • Fragments of Flowers:Flores de Filosofia in Early Modern Spain and the Scribal Revision of El Conde Lucanor
  • Jonathan Burgoyne

In the years since Daniel Devoto brought Flores de filosofía (= Flores) into critical contact with don Juan Manuel's El Conde Lucanor (= CL), citing it as a minor text, scholars have come to acknowledge that Flores is, in fact, one of the most important medieval Castilian expressions of didactic literature (Devoto 196). Recently, Fernando Gómez Redondo has argued that it is the key piece of wisdom literature that links together a long list of works (260), and a search through the "Novedades bibliográficas" of the online journal Memorabilia will discover a growing scholarly interest in Flores and Iberian wisdom literature in general. Among the scholars driving this important work is Marta Haro Cortés, whose book Los compendios de castigos del siglo XIII is one of the most comprehensive studies on the form to date.1 [End Page 5]

Even in the light of this new scholarship, the history of Flores and its affiliation with other works is an open area of research. I cannot, however, write that entire history here. In this essay I will broadly survey the manuscript landscape of Flores in order to map its transmission from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, while sketching profiles of its late medieval and early modern audiences. I will then concentrate on fragments of Flores as they were rewritten into two manuscripts from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

These fragments offer intriguing glimpses into the activities of professional compilers and scribes who played active roles in the production, transmission and interpretation of Flores, along with the other works arranged and bound together with it in their respective host anthologies. When studied as cultural artifacts, the two early modern, handmade books containing selections from Flores give witness to unique interpretations of its context and meaning. One, a fifteenth-century compilatio, is designed to serve the interests of an intellectually ambitious seigneurial audience, while the sixteenth-century fragment displays a scribal reading and revision of the CL that suggests a radically different, Counter-Reformational alignment. An examination of Flores' manuscript witnesses not only reveals a great deal about its material and literary history, but it also exposes a fascinating response to Juan Manuel's most famous work.

Without rehearsing in an introduction the thorny topic of genre, it is clear from the title and prologue, as well as from the textual transmission, that Flores is a collection of extracts presented as "the best parts", or flowers, of the sayings of ancient philosophers arranged into chapters (Rouse and Rouse, "Florilegia of Patristic Texts" 165):

Este libro es de Flores de Filosofía que fué escogido e tomado de los dichos de los sabios, e quien bien quisyere fazer á sy e á su fazienda estudie en esta poca e noble escriptura. E hordenar e conponer por sus capítulos ayuntáronse treynta e siete sabios, e desí acabólo Seneca que fué filósofo sabio de Cordoua, e fizo[lo] para que se aprouechasen dél los omes rricos e más menguados e los viejos e los mancebos.

(Knust 11)

Considering that the Latin flores was a common term for "selected extracts" from the twelfth century on, and that the author declares that the "dichos" [End Page 6] were culled from the philosophers, Flores is then, by definition, a "picking of flowers" or florilegium (Rouse, "Florilegia" 109).2 Through its transmission we will have occasion to observe other characteristics of the medieval florilegium in Flores.

Transmission and Audiences of Flores de filosofía

Although it is thought to have been originally composed in Castilian (Taylor 75), Flores is a piece of gnomic literature that shares much of its material with other Spanish collections of maxims from the Arabic tradition, such as Bocados de oro and the Libro de buenos proverbios.3Flores has been compared to the speculum principis genre, described as a florilegium of ethics, an ethico-political catechism, and a compilation of lessons or castigos designed primarily for princes and aristocrats charged with the duties of governance.4

Since its composition some time during the mid-thirteenth century, this...


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