Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Macías, The Lover

Statue of the 14th-century troubadour, Macías "The Lover," in Galicia
Reading literature aloud and listening to it recited offers such a vastly different experience with a story than does reading in silence. I cannot fathom why reading or reciting creative works aloud has faded almost entirely away from mainstream popular culture, especially since books are more portable and accessible than ever thanks to new reading technology.

In yesterday's post, I encouraged you to read aloud from Tolkien's stories. I read several of the poems from the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings out loud, to the bewilderment of my sole audience member: my elderly dog. But oral recitation used to be one of the most important methods of narrative transmission. Mediterranean courts of the medieval period, for example, prized highly troubadours gifted with the ability to write and perform poetic works. 

A far cry from Tolkien - the 14th-century poetry of Macías The Lover
One such troubadour, Macías "The Lover" from Galicia, was not only a gifted courtier poet, but he also posthumously became a character in poems, stories and plays all over the Iberian peninsula. His life became his greatest work of art; the legends that sprang up after his death were recited and performed more often than the poems he wrote. The mythologizing of this particular troubadour assured him eternal life in the creative circles in which he had worked, and in literary history in general.

Some verses inspired by Macías' legend in a poem by Juan Rodríguez de Padrón, 15th-century poet

The legend of his life is a tragic story of love and self-punishment. The story goes that Macías, hopelessly in love with a lady of the court, focused all of his verses on extolling her qualities, putting his all of his poetic talent in the service of her beauty and virtue. After a time, however, this lady was wed to another man. Macías had pledged to only love and serve this lady for his entire life, and he honored this pledge. 

One day, as Macías lingered near a bridge, the now-married lady appeared on her horse. She wished to cross the bridge, but Macías asked her to dismount and speak with him for only a moment. Acquiescing to his request, the lady dismounted and listened as Macías reaffirmed his love for her and his pledge to serve her forever, even though it had to be from a distance. The lady was stunned by his words and, getting back on her horse, fled across the bridge. 

Neither Macías nor the lady had been aware that nearby, hiding in some bushes, was the lady's husband. As soon as the lady had departed, the husband leaped onto the bridge and ran Macías through with his lance. As he lay in the middle of the bridge dying, Macías' last words were said to have been yet another pledge to the lady, this time vowing to serve her from the far-off reaches of death. 
Some verses from a poem by Macías - the poem starts out "Cruel and determined love"... 

The real events of Macías' life have been so conflated with this legend that it is difficult to distinguish truth from fiction. Although that hardly matters, as the legend of his life is what became immortal and the inspiration for much subsequent literary production. I am interested in Macías' legend because it ended up playing an enormously influential role in the "sentimental romance" tradition, popular in 15th-century Iberia. The genre enjoyed huge reader success, reaching its apogee in 1492 with the publication of Diego de San Pedro's work, The Prison of Love. 

The novela sentimental follows a narrative arch that is almost identical to the Macías legend. One young person falls desperately in love with another young person; for some reason they are not permitted to be together; both suffer physical and emotional trauma because of the intensity of their love (or the lack thereof); one or both lovers die a horribly tragic death, which is merely an anticipation of the eternal condemnation their restless soul will doubtless experience in its afterlife. 

What interests me most about this genre is the way in which love and pain interact necessarily as part of the plot and character development. Here we have a genre of storytelling that reduces love to a rhetorical plot device, while pain takes center-stage and is explored on psychological, poetic, and social planes. It seems to me, then, that love was not the cause of suffering but rather an excuse to suffer. 

I will be doing a series of posts on the interaction of pain and love in the coming weeks. This theme is, in fact, the central idea of one of the term papers I will be writing over the course of the next month. Check back often to see who is bitterly weeping tears of blood for a distant object of desire! 

Who are your favorite doomed lovers? Why do you think there is a necessary connection between pleasure and pain in tales of love? 

Until next time - keep rustling! 

{Note: all photos in this post except the first one were taken by me of a book called Macías el Enamorado y Juan Rodríguez del Padrón by Carlos Martinez-Barbeito, 1951 edition.}

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