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  • “Esta fabla compuesta, de Isopete sacada.” Estudios sobre la fábula en la literatura española del siglo XIV ed. by María Luzdivina Cuesta Torre
Cuesta Torre, María Luzdivina, editor. “Esta fabla compuesta, de Isopete sacada.” Estudios sobre la fábula en la literatura española del siglo XIV. Peter Lang, 2017. ISBN: 978-3-0343-2760-2.

This book consists of a brief introduction and six articles by leading scholars of Medieval Spanish literature and is but one facet of the research project FF12012-32265 (, funded by the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad in Spain. It is well organized and includes an exhaustive bibliography, author biographies, and summaries of the articles in Spanish, German, French, and English. María Luzdivina Cuesta Torre’s introduction contains a brief overview of the history of the fable, its many traditions (both Eastern and Western), with an explanation of how fables became included in Spanish vernacular literature, especially that of the fourteenth century.

The first article in this collection is by Cuesta Torre on the fables and prologue in the Libro del caballero Zifar, examined in their historical and political contexts. The fables of the “Ass and the Lapdog,” “The Wolf and the Ram,” “The Lark and the Hunter,” “The Wolf and the Leeches,” and the tale of “The Water, Wind and Truth” are analyzed in great detail, especially in the context of the lives of Gonzalo Pétrez (also known as Gonzalo García Gudiel), Ferrand Martínez, Gonzalo Díaz Palomeque, and Queen María de Molina. Cuesta Torre goes into the very complex history of early fourteenth-century Spain in the Diocese of Toledo at great length (this article comprises more than a third of the entire book) and it demonstrates how that history is included not only in the aforementioned stories, but also reflected in the actions of several of the main characters of the Zifar. She gives a convincing defense of the hypothesis that Jofré de Loyasa is the author of the Zifar and that the book’s publication date was between 1301 and 1307. [End Page 114]

Hugo Bizzarri focuses on the eleven fables and animal tales in El conde Lucanor, preceded by an overview of the anthropocentric role of the animal world in Juan Manuel’s other writings. The fables and tales analyzed are: “The Fox and the Crow,” “The Swallow and the Flax,” “The Fox and the Rooster,” “The Swallow and the Sparrow,” “The Enemy Horses and the Lion,” “The Weeping Man and the Partridges,” “The Crows and the Owls,” “The Ox (or Lion) and the Bull,” “The Industrious Ants,” and “The Fox that Played Dead.” After a brief summary of each story (some of which are from the European tradition, others from the Arabic), Bizzarri notes that their purpose is political, grounded in everyday behavior, which overshadows the more typical moral focus of fables. The eleventh fable, “The Falcon and the Eagle” is mentioned, but not analyzed.

Armando López Castro writes about the poetics of four of the twenty-five fables in the Libro de buen amor in his essay on lions in the Libro. Fables analyzed are “The Wolf, the Fox and the Sick Lion,” “The Lion and the Horse,” “The Lion who Killed Himself with Rage,” and “The Lion and the Mouse,” with a passing reference to the “Rooster and Sapphire.” In these lion fables López Castro sees three common threads: dialogue among the animal characters, the use of inversion and tension between opposites, and the act of the weaker animal being able to conquer the stronger one by means of wit and deceit. These elements help make these fictional tales more believable to Ruiz’s audience.

Bernard Darbord begins his essay with a fascinating analysis of how the names of animals can vary from language to language. He then focuses on two fables about bufos in the Libro de los gatos. Among other texts, he examines the fable of the “Galápago and the Bufo” in light of its Latin source, the Fabulae of Odo of Cheriton, and concludes that galápago can mean either a plow or a tortoise and that bufo refers to a toad. The next fable, “The Bufo and the Hare,” is analyzed in light of a number of texts. Darbord also explores the theme of presumptuous animals in the Bestiary to help shed some light on the ambiguous meaning of bufo in order to support the conclusion that, in this instance, it refers to an owl, an animal often viewed in a negative light in the Middle Ages. He provides ample examples from the texts analyzed to help prove his point.

César García de Lucas, in an article containing two illustrations of tortoises and one of a snail from post-fourteenth-century books, traces the various words (and their meanings) used to refer to tortoises and snails (both slow-moving [End Page 115] creatures) in a number of texts from antiquity through the Middle Ages. He points out that the association of tortoises with slowness started with Zenon. Furthermore, he zeroes in on the Latin word testudo, which refers to the “tortoise” in Antiquity and the Middle Ages but which, starting with Albertus Magnus, was translated as “snail.” In the Libro de los gatos, in a passage about animals in general, testudo also appears as “snail” when compared with Odo’s Fabulae. Furthermore, as García de Lucas points out, there is another word used in Odo’s book, tortuca, used to signify the tortoise, which in the Libro de los gatos is translated as galápago in the fable of “The Eagle and the Tortoise.” Thus, the ancient meaning of testudo as “tortoise” changed in the Middle Ages to “snail,” and a different word, tortuca, took on the meaning of “tortoise” or galápago. This supports Darbord’s contention in the previous article that the galápago could also signify a tortoise in the other fable from the Libro de los gatos that he has analyzed.

José María Balcells provides us with a general overview of Francesc Eiximenis’s sixteen fables in the Terç del Crestià, the Dotzè del Crestià, and the Llibre des dones. He then compares two of them with those of El conde Lucanor, the Libro de buen amor, and the Libro de los gatos. First, he analyzes the fable of “The Fox and the Crow” in El conde Lucanor, the Libro de buen amor, and the Terç del Crestià. He notes that Eiximenis’s fable adds an original passage at the end where the fox chides the crow for believing his false flattery and calls him ugly, diabolical, and evil. Through the way in which the fox flatters the crow, Balcells finds that the Eiximenis fable is closer to that of Juan Ruiz. In other words, Juan Ruiz and Eiximenis used the same source, whereas Juan Manuel used another for his fable. The second fable studied is the fable of “The Wolf and the Crane” in the Libro de buen amor, the Libro de los gatos, and in Lo Crestià. He explains that the ending of the fable varies according to its source. In both the Libro de buen amor and the Libro de los gatos the fable ends in a conventional way, with the wolf telling the crane that his reward for saving his life is not being eaten, an act for which he should be grateful. But in Eiximenis’s version, which follows a different tradition, the wolf actually does devour the crane just after he saves him. At the end of his fable, Eiximenis adds a dialogue between the fox and the wolf where the fox approves of the wolf ’s actions, stating that they are appropriate since the crane knew about the diabolical nature of the wolf and should not have risked it. Balcells notes that, in the Libro de buen amor, the fable illustrates the deadly sin of avarice (with the wolf), while the [End Page 116] crane is guilty of the deadly sin of greed. In the Libro de los gatos, the fable is used to illustrate the way in which the powerful rule. But Eiximenis’s fable has a very different ending, which stresses the diabolical nature of the wolf. Balcells concludes that in both of his fables Eiximenis (a Franciscan monk) uses a fox to convey a second, very strict moral message which is not found in the fables of his contemporaries.

Overall, this book is an excellent collection of essays about fables found in works by fourteenth-century authors in Spain and is of special interest to scholars of the Libro del caballero Zifar, El conde Lucanor, the Libro de buen amor, the Libro de los gatos, and works written by Eiximenis. The book is scholarly, with ample footnotes and detailed analyses, both historical and linguistic. There are just a few errors that do not detract from its overall high quality (such as “[d]el tutor” (24), “un(a) águila” (67), “Juan [Ruiz] (Manuel)” (166), and others). There could possibly have been more consistency among the papers. Sometimes, as in the article on the Libro de buen amor, while a whole fable is quoted, it is really only referred to and not analyzed in detail. At times, Latin and Catalan quotations are translated into Spanish, but other times they are not. The inclusion of more fable texts with translations of Latin and Catalan quotations into Spanish would have made this book more readily accessible to scholars in general, rather than just to those who are already familiar with the works analyzed and conversant in the various languages involved. Nevertheless, the book is a valuable addition to scholarship on fourteenth-century Spanish literature and is a seminal work for further studies on fables from fourteenth-century Spain.

Readers might also be interested in a related volume, La fábula en la prosa del Siglo XIV: Libro del caballero Zifar, Conde Lucanor, Libro de los gatos: antología comentada, edited by Bizzarri, Cuesta Torre, et al. (U de Murcia, 2017), which contains further analysis of some of the other fourteenth-century fables by these authors. [End Page 117]

Mary-Anne Vetterling
Regis College

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