Slander and the right to be an author in fifteenth-century Spain
By Ana M. Gómez-Bravo
Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2015)
Abstract: Versified slander, particularly that addressed to converted Jews or conversos, is best understood within a social exercise of rhetoric as ars bene dicendi that channels ethnic and religious tensions through the practice of maldecir. Slanderous discourse or maldecir is both a flexible and a dangerous tool in the hands of an author, who becomes aggrandized through the poet’s ethical responsibility to denounce social evils.
However, slander can destabilize authorship due to the required use of despicable language. The result is a complex interplay among slandered authors and their critics that shows the flexible uses of slander in the context of ethnic and social strife.
Introduction: Slander or maldecir functioned as common currency in well-publicized poetic exchanges that have been preserved in fifteenth-century cancioneros. The terms of the slander often dealt with the particular shortcomings of a rival poet and poem and inevitably involved social level, ethnic identity and writing abilities. As the following pages will attempt to show, because of its ethical and rhetorical implications, slander was a means for a poet to negotiate social status and display discursive abilities. Through slander, an author showed a penetrating eye capable of identifying and denouncing social evils such as those represented by the conversos. For these reasons, slander functioned as a way of knowing that justified forms of social control and of control over discourse.
Top Image: Gómez Manrique statue in Calabazanos, Spain. Photo by Zarateman / Wikimedia Commons