- Inscribing the Environment: Ecocritical Approaches to Medieval Spanish Literature by Connie Scarborough
Connie Scarborough’s study - volume thirteen in the Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture series, edited by Albrecht Classen and Marilyn Sandidge - is more than just the first major volume of ecocriticism applied to medieval Spanish literature (that I know of). It is a rally call for scholars of medieval Hispanic literatures to follow her lead; and as a germinal study, it serves not only as an invitation to fellow scholars to contribute to and/or to challenge her assertions about and interpretations of the canonical texts she has chosen to analyze, but it also serves as an invitation for others to apply an ecocritical approach to other canonical and non-canonical works of medieval Spain.
In the introduction to her study, Scarborough recognizes that focusing “ecocritically” on medieval literature might appear to have its limitations, since, she concedes, “medieval authors cannot be considered environmentalists with the same connotations that the term conveys today” (1). Such a focus, however, is not the point of her study, and she qualifies her concession by stating that despite this discrepancy, medieval authors “were keenly aware, often simply by default or necessity, of their natural surroundings” (1). Therefore, rather than an ecocritical approach in its application of modern attitudes toward and reflections of the environment to literature, Scarborough instead focuses on several aspects of the natural environment as found in the medieval works she analyzes, particularly their depictions of the environment, which emphasize particular natural phenomena that could likely reflect their authors’ familiarity with the environments they were describing, as well as the potential to represent nature allegorically, symbolically, and exegetically, a mode of writing that formed such a strong part of the medieval literary tradition. Such an approach, Scarborough asserts, will help us to “move beyond [perceiving the descriptions of the environment as used merely for the] utility for plot or character development and see their intrinsic value both for the authors and the audiences of the works” (6).
To achieve such a multi-level analysis, Scarborough divides her study into three specific areas of the environment: Nature Untamed, Nature Tamed, [End Page 148] and Nature Stylized; and in each she discusses canonical works primarily of the medieval Castilian literary tradition, with a more limited discussion of several of Alfonso X’s cantigas. In Part I, Nature Untamed, she focuses on the wild areas of the Iberian Peninsula as they appear in the Poema de Mio Cid (Chapter I), in three hagiographic works - the anonymous Vida de Santa María Egipcíaca, and Berceo’s Vidas of Santo Domingo de Silos and San Millán de la Cogolla (Chapter Two) - and on the sea in the Libro de Alexandre and several of Alfonso X’s Cantigas de Santa María (Chapter Three). In Part II, Nature Tamed, Scarborough deals with the garden(s) found in the Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (Chapter Four), and with the fields described in the Cantigas de Santa María, in Berceo’s Milagros de Nuestra Señora, in the Poema de Mio Cid, and in the Libro de Alexandre (Chapter Five). And lastly, in Nature Stylized, she deals with the treatment of the rhetorical topoi of the locus amoenus - as re-created by Berceo in his Milagros de Nuestra Señora (Chapter Six) and by the anonymous author of Razón de amor con los denuestos del agua y el vino (Chapter Seven) -and with the laus Hispaniae as found in the Poema de Fernán González and in Alfonso X’s Estoria de España (Chapter Eight).
Scarborough’s research for her book is comprehensive and solid, but her book’s strength rests primarily on her sound interpretations of the works she has chosen to discuss. Synthesizing the work of scholars who have studied the landscapes (e.g., gardens and wilderness) of medieval works, she demonstrates how in these canonical works of medieval Castilian and Galician literature the environment contributes to each...