"Yo paresciera cobdicioso mercader": Aristocratic Economics in El Abencerraje


Set during the fifteenth-century Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the Moorish novel El Abencerraje articulates a meticulously stratified system of contractual exchanges in which the aristocracy's symbolic economy of honor functions in counterpoint to the warrior economy of kidnapping and ransom, the erotic economy of love, and the mercantile economy of the commercial class. These economic divisions transect both Christian and Muslim spaces, transcending ethnic and religious distinctions and reinforcing a shared aristocratic identity that supplants financial greed and violence along a military border. While this hierarchy of value exists in all three surviving iterations of El Abencerraje, it is particularly developed in the version of the text included in Antonio de Villegas's Inventario, a miscellany published in Medina del Campo in 1565. Medina del Campo was then the site of the most important merchant fair in Castile and the hub of financial activity in the Peninsula, at a time when increasingly globalized commercial and currency exchange markets provided unprecedented opportunities of enrichment to those merchants in a position to profitably exploit them. This economic context, therefore, may have been determinative of some of the distinctive aspects of the Inventario version of the text, which contrasts the financial disinterestedness of its noble Christian protagonist, Rodrigo de Narváez, with the figure of the greedy merchant. The Inventario variant of El Abencerraje is therefore less a plea for interfaith tolerance than a didactic instrument for inculcating aristocratic values within a socially mobile merchant class with pretensions to nobility.