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THE CULTURAL AUTHORITY OF "BUEN SESO (NATURAL)" IN THE LIBRO DEL CABALLERO ZIFAR John C. Parrack University of Central Arkansas More dian in other periods of Spanish literature, medieval works are too frequendy compartmentalized within discursive categories such as the novela sentimental, libro de caballerías, mester dejuglaría and mester de clerecía. This development is predicated on our construction ofthese discrete discursive traditions as well as the limited number of extant texts. For many critics, the passage from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern period implicitly centers on the deconstruction of these compartments, what Erwin Panofsky refers to as, "the barriers that had kept diings in order -but also apart- during the Middle Ages" (128). While there is no question that the Libro del Caballero Zifar is a chivalric romance, to name one of these discursive categories, this observation by itself fails to position the work in its historical context as one of the first works of Castilian prose fiction. By rehistoricizing the Zifar and deconstructing these discursive assignments, it becomes possible to see how the text functioned as a speculum principum, or book of kingly advice, that was both practical and theoretical (E. Michael Gerii 92-93). As Fernando Gómez Redondo has observed, at the time ofits redaction in the early fourteenth century, this didacticism was inexorably connected to thevery real political conflicts surrounding the legitimacy ofKing Sancho and the political, historiographical and literary efforts of his modier, Maria de Molina, to promote her cause (105-23). It is in the context ofdie motinista enterprise that the Zifar emerges, forging cultural connections with other texts produced by the letrados in Maria de Molina's employ as well as diachronic ones with Alfonso the Learned's Siete partidas and previous literary texts. This study La corónica 35.1 (Fall, 2006): 277-91 278John ParrackLa coránica 35.1, 2006 examines how the moral and intellectual principle of "buen seso natural" developed and howit anchors the text's didacticism and serves to legitimate the text's use of prose as a literary form.1 This use of "buen seso natural" as a device to construct cultural legitimacy or authority in the Zifar continues in subsequent Medieval Spanish literature although its cultural currency appears to have waned by die fifteenth century.2 Central to the emergence ofliterary prose fiction in Castilla, as in the rest ofMedieval Europe, was the advent ofhistoriographical texts written in prose. Frequently, the use of vernacular, historical prose served the political exigencies of an aristocracy that needed to avert political crises or to promote its feudal interests. The most obvious example is Alfonso who initiated a historical and legal program designed, as Gerald L. Burns suggests, "to reshape society, to bring Castilla itself into the mainstream of high civilization and to set afoot a process thatwould produce a united, educated, artistic, and religious people" (5-6). The chivalric romance shares many of these goals and constitutes what Michael Harney calls a "status-affirming narrative form" (81-82). Vital to this construction ofnational culture and history were notjust historical projects such as the Crónica general de España but also the appropriation of existing cultural motifs. One such motifcenters on the term "buen seso (natural)" as it evolves from the Poema de Mio Cid and the Libro de Alexandre to Alfonso's Siete partidas and, ultimately, die Libro del Caballero Zifar where it emerges as the text's central didactic principle.3 By emphasizing this cultural and ideological topos, we seek to bodi position the work in the context of 1 According to the BibliotecaVirtual Miguel de Cervantes concordance, "buen seso" appears twenty eight times in the Zifar. On fourteen ofthese occasions, it appears as "buen seso natural". The breakdown is as follows: "buen seso" "buen seso natural" "Prólogo"7 6 "El Caballero de Dios"1 0 5 "Castigos del Rey de Mentón"8 2 "Los hechos de Roboán"3 1 - In the followingpassage from the Castigos del rey deMentándose Manuel Lucía Mejías notes that "con seso" was interpreted as "consejo" in both the Paris manuscript and Sevilla edition ( 15 1 ), an indication that the term may...


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