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  • The Archpriest of Talavera: Dealing with the Vices of Wicked Women and the Complexions of Men by Alonso Martínez de Toledo
  • Steven D. Kirby
Martínez de Toledo, Alonso [sic]. The Archpriest of Talavera: Dealing with the Vices of Wicked Women and the Complexions of Men. Trans. and ed. Eric W. Naylor and Jerry R. Rank. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 432. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2013. x + 230 pp. ISBN: 978-0-86698-480-5

This book is the very welcome satisfaction of an important need long felt in the areas of medieval studies, comparative literature studies, and the history of ideas–that of a complete, sound translation of the late-medieval Spanish classic known both as the Arcipreste de Talavera and, inappropriately, as El Corbacho.

It has been a very long wait indeed, more than half a century, since the only contender until now has been the partial version attempted in 1959 by Lesley Byrd Simpson, issued in paperback by the University of California Press and titled, somewhat dubiously, Little Sermons on Sin. Accompanied by a scant eight-page Introduction (1-8), merely twelve notes (198-99), and only five bibliographical references (200), this otherwise partially useful early effort suffered from the problematic but ultimately fatal flaw of the omission of the entire Part IV of the work, allegedly for Simpson’s perceived lack of its interest to the modern reader as “a long and insufferably dull treatise on astrology” and for his debatable claim that this last section “is not part of [the author’s] original plan” (8), even though Simpson apparently forgets that the author’s Prologue explicitly states that the work is in four parts (11-12).

The new translation here under review remedies that problem by including the full text of the work and following the best-available critical text in existence (Ciceri), albeit with occasional new corrections drawn from the translators’ long experience in working with this classic, both in manuscript and from older editions. This new version begins with an informative, up-to-date “Introduction” (1-23), the “Text” with 475 very helpful notes (25-224), and a well-selected “Bibliography” with a total of 99 items, the latest reference being to a publication from 2011 (225-30).

A preliminary comparison of the two translations is possible by computing [End Page 111] the total number of words in the first three parts of the work which the two versions have in common: the 1959 version has 185 pages with a maximum of 316 words per page for a total of 58,460 words; the 2013 version has 143 pages with a maximum number of 657 words per page for a total of 93,951 words. This is indeed an instructive difference. Of course allowance must be made for the fact that most pages in the 2013 rendering contain footnotes, many of them very lengthy and extensive. Naylor/Rank also tend to use multiple words to render some of those in Ciceri’s base text. For example (italics mine): “mas verdaderamente perjuros” (Ciceri 77) becomes “but out-and-out lies” (44); “pero sy estando en la cama tal escalentamiento te viniere” (Ciceri 92) becomes “And so if while you’re in bed you get all hot and bothered” (54). While the type font in the Naylor/Rank translation is a bit smaller than that in Simpson, this fact does not fully compensate for their expanded wording. We must also remember that Simpson translates solely the Contreras MS while Naylor/Rank base their version on the reconstructed text by Ciceri which incorporates passages from early printed texts omitted for unknown reasons in the MS. But even factoring in these differences, the reader is left with the impression that the earlier translator might have condensed or abbreviated somewhat his rendering (as he did by excluding Part IV) in the interest of simplicity (see examples below). Otherwise, it is difficult to account for the fact that the 2013 Naylor/Rank version of the text seems considerably longer than the 1959 Simpson translation. It would appear that a passage-for-passage comparison is required to clarify the matter...


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