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  • Ritual Mourning and National Nostalgia in the Crónica sarracina
  • Henry Berlin

Muerto es el que todo su cuydado es dolerse de los muertos.

—Enrique de Villena, Tratado de la consolación

Since the time it was written, the questionable historicity and generic ambiguity of Pedro de Corral's Crónica del Rey don Rodrigo (ca. 1430), or Crónica sarracina, have provoked wildly different readings.1 While some authors considered it a reliable historical source, Fernán Pérez de Guzmán referred to it as a "trufa o mentira paladina" and to its author as a "liviano e presuntuoso onbre" (60). The problem of historicity also framed early-twentieth-century philological debate, but focus soon shifted from condemnations of Corral's overactive imagination to the exploration of his historiographical intentions. In particular, critics analyzed Corral's treatment of what Ramón Menéndez Pidal referred to as "el antiguo tema de la fuerte sangre de los godos" (Floresta xcvii).2 Corral was embellishing and thus breathing new life into the myth of [End Page 107] continuity between the last Visigothic king and Don Pelayo, a myth that began in tenth-century Asturias and gained steam in the historiographical work of Lucas de Tuy and Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada (Cacho Blecua 44).3 Working in this vein, critics such as Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua and Aurora Lauzardo began to study the literary invention underlying the historiographic project. At the same time, another avenue of research was opened up, as critics, sometimes the same ones, began studying not the divisions the Crónica provoked, but those it embodied. In particular, work continues to be done on the text's interweaving of history, hagiography, epic, and chivalric fiction (see, for example, Drayson, "Penance or Pornography?" 194). The Crónica's generic complexity makes its presence known even in studies of which genre is not the explicit object.4

A number of scholars have noted in passing the Crónica's sense of nostalgia, tragedy, or loss. In his account of the Visigothic empire in Spain, Corral projects the unity he desires for the present into a distant past – a clear case of national nostalgia in a period in which the project of the Reconquest has been interrupted by civil wars between the nobility and a distracted king, Juan II.5 Corral seeks to compress historical distance through a series of structural tactics in the narrative, such as the framing of Pelayo's life with Rodrigo's. Menéndez Pidal argued that by tying together the deeds of Rodrigo and Pelayo, Corral "dió a su novela valor nacional y grandeza trágica" (Floresta xciii). The work's historiographical compression seeks to stir up a more unified national feeling, but it also raises the problem of Rodrigo's guilt in the fall of Spain to the Moors. How, in other words, can the perceived unity of the Visigothic past be reappropriated without the present's falling victim to the taint of Rodrigo's sins? In this context, scholarly attention has constantly returned to the scenes of Rodrigo's sin and redemption, but this focus has, in turn, led to a broad disregard for the chivalric action that makes up the bulk of [End Page 108] the narrative. However, an analysis of the work's almost unending battles and jousts reveals the centrality of the theme of mourning –in both its ritualistic and affective manifestations– for Corral's literary-national project; it is also an axis around which the Crónica's different genres revolve. Mourning is an integral structural element of Corral's battle narrations, coming up again and again, almost compulsively, in innumerable plantos throughout the text. At the same time, it explains the early emphasis on Rodrigo's siege of Córdoba and the anachronistic placement of Rodrigo's penitence and burial only after the narration of Pelayo's early triumphs. In composing his Crónica, Corral sought, through a ritualistic narrative of mourning, to explore grief as a social rather than personal phenomenon with the potential either to divide or to unite the populace. At the same time, by exploiting the communal elements surrounding penitence and burial during his...


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