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  • The Poetics of Peace:Erotic Reconciliation in the Cantigas d'amigo
  • Rip Cohen

To speak about the poetics of the cantigas d'amigo is to confront a swamp of conceptual confusion.1 It would be best to clear up some sources of this confusion before proceeding to the pragmatics of amorous reconciliation, whose elucidation is my principal aim here.

First, the question of lyric. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, lyric was a category of form and meant strophic song (Halporn, Ostwald and Rosenmeyer 16, 79-81); it had nothing to do with theme. No ancient poet or theorist would have thought the "lyric I" a necessary component of lyric poetry. The introspective and emoting I, which may stem from Renaissance [End Page 95] misreadings of non-lyric ancient poetry (e.g., Roman elegy), was enshrined by the Romantics and has held sway in critical theory ever since. But the Galician-Portuguese cantigas are lyric in the strict formal sense, since they are strophic songs (Cohen, "Cantar Igual"), so it would be misguided to consider emotion or introspection a distinguishing component of their lyric-ness — or even a necessary one: the cantigas d'escarnho e maldizer are formally no less lyric than the other two secular genres (cantigas d'amigo and cantigas d'amor), yet emotional introspection is hardly one of their distinctive features.2

There has also been confusion regarding an alleged opposition between dramatic and narrative. Dramatic is a direct mode of mimesis: "Come!"; narrative, an indirect mode: "She told him to come" (Aristotle, Poetica 1450a). Since nearly all cantigas d'amigo use direct and indirect mimesis, they are lyric in form and dramatic/narrative in mode — with the narrated past usually subordinate to the present drama.

In brief, the cantigas d'amigo are an erotic-poetic genre characterized by a tendency toward simple strophic forms and rhyme systems, almost always with refrain (Cohen, "In the Beginning"); a rhetoric of repetition with variation (Lang lxxx, lxxxvii); strictly regulated combinatory possibilities of speaker and addressee within a world of mainly feminine discourse, and a generous set of actions (Cohen and Parkinson 26-27, 37-39). Of these features, form and rhetoric have been given more attention than pragmatics. And of the pragmatic components —personae, situation and action/emotion— action has been most neglected. This is not surprising: it is relatively easy to analyze form and rhetoric (in the limited sense of figures of speech), identify personae, sketch the scene and say if the girl is happy or sad. But what are the kinds of action? Where do we look for an action? By which criteria do we identify one? How do we distinguish one kind of action from another?

Can theory provide an answer? The reigning theoretical approach to this genre is Giuseppe Tavani's notion of campi semici, first presented in 1980 [End Page 96] ("La poesia lirica"), most recently in 2002 (Trovadores e jograis 190-231). This theory is accepted by Mercedes Brea and Pilar Lorenzo Gradin (59-94), who timidly add a mish-mash of "modalities" (an undefined term) (60, 215-67) to Tavani's fields. Tavani's campi semici for the cantiga d'amigo are: love's harmony, unrequited love, the mother's prohibition (that the girl not see the boy) and other obstacles, praise, and landscape (204-05). He sees a cantiga d'amigo as a concoction of varying amounts of thematic ingredients (204-31).3 Although he sometimes describes the action of individual songs, no place is granted to action in his conception of the genre.4 Aristotle, who thought action the object of all kinds of mimesis, would not have approved (Poetica 1447a -1448a).

Tavani's theory has dominated a field not rife with daring reassessments.5 But no superhuman valor is required for a different approach. Henry R. Lang, working from scratch, did better in 1894: he describes the action of individual cantigas d'amigo with a precision rarely equaled (lxvi-lxxiv). Reading the headnotes in monographic editions and descriptions of songs in the Dicionário da literatura medieval galega e portuguesa (Lanciani and Tavani), one seldom finds accuracy. And accurate descriptions of action in individual songs only provide...


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