Masculine Beauty vs. Feminine Beauty in Medieval Iberia
By Francisco A. Marcos-Marín
Multicultural Iberia: Language, Literature, and Music, edited by Dru Dougherty, and Milton U. Azevedo
Introduction: In the past, the discussion on the characteristics of medieval Iberian Romance literature has tended to become a quarrel between the partisans of a European Middle Ages Spain and those who, when possible, have denied any allegedly European feature or template in favor of some other origin, be it Semitic, pre-Roman, “Mediterranean,” substratistic, adstratistic, or any combination of these. There are still many prejudices in this regard. Our better knowledge of the plurality of influences in European medieval culture ought to make us more careful and less prone to one-sided solutions. It is impossible to understand the rich variety of medieval European culture without accepting the common background of a multifaceted Christianity on the Romance side, as opposed to the diversity of Islam, which was not as monolithic as some scholars want us to see it. Fundamentalism, free thinking, and the fight for freedom are not peculiar to our times; they already existed in the medieval world, where their influence was exerted over a broad field.
While the general attitude has been to give tremendous importance to the canon as a compulsive and compulsory element in literary composition, modern analysts tend to look for deviations from the canon. They do this because of the choices among divergent canonical possibilities. In the case of medieval Iberia, it must not be forgotten that cultural weight was laid heavily on the Arabic side in craftsmanship, philosophy, and the sciences, so why not in literature? The linguistic difference does not constitute an obstacle because I am not trying to convert you to an Arabic thesis. My limited goal is to show how some elements, which modify the Latin canon followed in Romance literatures in France or Italy, can be totally explained by the crossing of canons on the West European peninsula.
As an example, I will be using portraits of men and women in literary works written between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, mostly, but not exclusively, in Castilian and Catalan. I will concentrate on beauty, without forgetting that ugliness is the other side of the coin.