Emotional memory and medieval autobiography: King James I of Aragon (r. 1213–76)’s Llibre dels fets
By Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo
Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, Volume 10, Number 1, 2018
Abstract: This study examines the role that emotional memories – memories connected to or describing emotions – played in the recollection of events, while also becoming powerful rhetorical and didactic tools in the process of history-writing.
Emotional memories, which were shaped through both oral and written transmission, helped to situate images from the past within wider personal and historical frameworks. King James I of Aragon (r. 1213-76)’s Llibre dels fets, regarded as the first secular chronicle-autobiography attributed to a Christian King in medieval Western Europe, is a thought-provoking example of this. The differences between emotional values and emotional experiences emerge clearly in the narrative of James I’s life and military deeds, throwing light on a thirteenth-century belief that although emotional reactions belonged to the biological sphere, they originated from – and therefore could be managed by – culturally driven models of behaviour.
Following this line of thought, this study also scrutinizes anger and its management, as they were at the core of most medieval “emotional regimes” promoted by contemporary rulers. Preserving memory, including memories of emotions, was conceived as an ethical mission attributed to the King, as well as to those in charge of writing history. These ideas influenced both historiographical and autobiographical writings, and are therefore key to understand the rationale behind the structural, narrative and thematic choices of both authors and commissioners.
Emotions have been an important locus for subjectivity in Medieval Studies and the analysis of sources such as King James I of Aragon’s chivalrous autobiography through this lens will certainly open new and interdisciplinary lines of enquiry.