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  • Ramón Menéndez Pidal: The Practice and Politics of Philology in Twentieth-Century Spain by Steven Hess
  • Omar Velázquez-Mendoza
Hess, Steven. Ramón Menéndez Pidal: The Practice and Politics of Philology in Twentieth-Century Spain. Newark: Juan de la Cuesta, 2014. 385 pp. ISBN: 978-1-58871-252-3

Hess’ Ramón Menéndez Pidal: The Practice and Politics of Philology in Twentieth-Century Spain (hereafter Practice and Politics) captures the many facets of the scholarly trajectory of one of Hispanism’s most influential figures: Ramón Menéndez Pidal. By relating political moves in Spain’s academic spheres to larger political phenomena, this book situates Menéndez Pidal’s scholarship within the context of a changing political environment, from the Spanish-American war to the Franco regime. From Hess’ latest research on Don Ramón an interesting (and previously unknown) fact emerges: from 1940-1944 the Tribunal de Responsabilidades Políticas excluded the aging scholar from all Spanish institutions except the Royal Academy.

This thought-provoking and well-organized monograph provides a comprehensive biography of Don Ramón (Chapter 1), as well as a detailed synopsis of the many contributions made by the maestro’s scholarship to the fields of Romance linguistics (Chapter 2) and medieval literature (Chapter 3). His particular, Castilian-centered way of interpreting Spanish history during his productive career is also addressed (Chapter 4), as well as his role in the Generation of 1898 (Chapter 5) and his founding of the so-called “Madrid School” of philology (Chapter 6). The private correspondence between Don Ramón and his disciples and other towering scholars of ninetieth- and twentieth-century philology (Lapesa, Corominas, Armistead, etc.) allows us to get up close and personal with the Madrid School and its direct and indirect ramifications in Europe, the United States, and Latin America. These documents were made public, in part, due to the generosity of the Fundación Menéndez Pidal, but also thanks to Hess’ own archival research. The intimate look at Don Ramón and his scholarly circle that this monograph provides is complemented by a close examination of many fragments of several of his speeches, his public lectures, and, to some degree, their reception as well. Cited fragments receive a close English translation, making this book highly accessible to the non-specialized reader. [End Page 139]

The contributions of Menéndez Pidal to Hispanic linguistics and to medieval literature and culture cannot be overlooked, as Hispanic studies since the Generation of 1898, even to this day, have set out either to prove or to disprove many of the scholar’s theories and assertions. Amongst these one can cite the existence (in linguistic terms, above all) of the latent state (estado latente) of a given phenomenon before it can surface in the written norm, authorship issues surrounding the Cantar de mio Cid, the origins of the romancero as an offspring of medieval epic, the preponderance of the Castilian dialect in the formation of the Spanish language, etc. Hess’ evaluation of Menéndez Pidal’s assertions are fair insofar as he stresses that, even if the maestro’s conclusions are, for the most part, valid (the latent sate of Mozarabic lyric in the medieval Iberian tradition before the jarchas were discovered, to name but one example), he correctly notes that not every conclusion at which Don Ramón arrived should be taken as undisputable dogma. Some of the examples of Menéndez Pidal’s debatable proposals cited by Hess are: equating the Spanish language, both historically and linguistically, with the Castilian dialect; his “corrections” to the manuscript of the Cantar de mio Cid; the alleged abundance of epic poetry during the High Middle Ages; the nature of Spanish epic as a reliable mirror of historical events; and a Hispano-Celtic etymon attributed to the word Madrid, which neither Malkiel nor Corominas endorsed; among others. Surprisingly, however, the most debatable of all of Menéndez Pidal’s debatable postulates, the issue of the triglossic coexistence of Latin, Castilian Romance, and Leonese Vulgar Latin during the High Middle Ages, is not mentioned in the chapter devoted to Romance Linguistics of this work.

Hess’ Practice and...


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