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  • Ensayo sobre los orígenes del humanismo vernáculo by Martínez, H. Salvador et al
  • Joseph T. Snow
Martínez, H. Salvador. El humanismo medieval y Alfonso el Sabio. Ensayo sobre los orígenes del humanismo vernáculo. Madrid: Ediciones Polifemo, 2016. 692 pp. ISBN: 978–84-16335–19-0

At almost seven hundred pages, readers of this volume have before them a presentation, description in detail and defense of the vernacular humanism fostered by Alfonso X and his court in the thirteenth century. Scholars familiar with the Latin humanism of the twelfth century "renaissance" in France and the Latinate or Florentine humanism of the fifteenth century will discover a complete exposition of the roots of "el humanismo alfonsí" and its later continuations and practitioners into the sixteenth century. And complete it is: its 1,094 footnotes, 99 pages of bibliography and thirteen pages of an onomastic index are strong affirmation that H. Salvador Martínez –the author of a biography of Alfonso X (2003) and a volume on "convivencia" in the Spanish thirteenth century (2006)– is to be welcomed as an authoritative study of this little studied or recognized humanism born in the Peninsula.

In the introduction (11–41), Martínez points out that a certain nebulousness associated with mudéjar Spain and the co-existence of the three religions –Christian, Muslim and Jewish– discouraged many scholars of European humanisms from focusing on Spain. Alfonso X saw his role as king to be the educator of his subjects. He cultivated a benevolence to all (the Greek filantropia), combining it with paideia, or education and instruction in the fine arts, to provide his subjects with access to knowledge or saberes which was to center much of his humanism. Latin was no longer a "natural" language, as was the Castilian he worked diligently to make into the new language of culture. His idea was to "ejercer en romance todo ministerio de saber", as Martínez points out. Alfonso's dedication to translation of the knowledge that had been locked up in Greek, Latin, Persian and Arabic had the didactic purpose of bringing that knowledge to his people. His object was not limited to the classics or dependence on the trivium (as was typical of Latin humanism) but included a revalorization of all the seven liberal arts, an approach to Roman law as a basis for new legislation, the consideration of history as dependent of moral philosophy and an Aristotelian approach to the natural sciences. Alfonso's social sense of "per natura" served him well as an educational tool. Alfonsine humanism was enriched by the inclusion of ethics and the supernatural as essential elements. [End Page 329]

Vernacular humanism was inseparable from naturalist humanism and both were designed to reach out to one and all via the common language of Castilian. It was purposefully shaped to create a larger body of lettered citizens and was, of course, multicultural, multiracial and multireligious. What these briefer notes of the introduction aim at is showing that there is now a new opportunity to better understand Alfonso's vernacular humanism as a vibrant cultural movement.

Chapter 1 (43–86), "El humanismo medieval y sus manifestaciones en la Península Ibérica", gives a capsule history of pre-Alfonso humanism with its study of Greek and Latin classics for their aesthetic values (Alfonso would value more highly its moral teachings), its belief in the dignity of human nature and Man as its noblest creature, capable of understanding the laws governing the universe. With Christian humanism, God was also Man and friendship with God was keenly sought after. The Chartrian and Victorine schools of thought invested heavily in Boethius, Aristotle and Saint Thomas of Aquinus in developing their ideas of rational man. Jiménez de Rada, Lucas de Tuy, Juan Gil de Zamora and three of Alfonso's brothers were students at Chartres and brought that learning across the Pyrenees. The pan-Islamic nature of Arabic education had placed more emphasis on the quadrivium and this was adopted seriously by Alfonso. Pedro Alfonso, a Jew converted to Christianity, expounded a literary and scientific humanism that combined classical and oriental learning and this approach was also...


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