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ArribaAbajo Daniel Eisenberg. Romances of Chivalry in the Spanish Golden Age

Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta-Hispanic Monographs, 1982, xviii + 182 pp.

Sydney P. Cravens

Texas Tech University

The «mainstream» romances of chivalry studied here by Dan Eisenberg are those long, imaginary prose biographies of knights errant which the Spaniards of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries called «libros de caballerías» and which included Montalvo's edition of Amadís de Gaula and the books written in Castilian subsequent to it, the same books known to Cervantes and dealt with in the Quijote. The Amadís and the Quijote themselves receive ample treatment in Eisenberg's study, especially with regard to their relationship to the great corpus of romances of chivalry published in the years between them. These are the books to which he directs his attention most of all. And although he states that «the romances of chivalry are not treated exhaustively in this book» (xiii), he certainly does manage in it to rectify many long-held misconceptions about them and to provide plenty of sound bibliographical, historical and critical information about them that has long been needed, for few have gone over even a small part of the ground that Eisenberg has covered in this field.

Romances of Chivalry in the Spanish Golden Age follows Eisenberg's admirable critical edition of one of the best and most popular of those books in their time, Diego Ortúñez de Calahorra's Espejo de príncipes y cavalleros, in volumes 193-98 of the Clásicos Castellanos series (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1975) and his Castilian Romances of Chivalry in the Sixteenth Century: A Bibliography (London: Grant & Cutler, 1979), an indispensable guide, as the work being reviewed here is sure to be. Eisenberg first wrote several portions of this book as independent essays, and four of these are articles which previously appeared in well-known journals. But all the chapters are arranged in a logical, cohesive sequence. The book is introduced by a «Proemio» written in Spanish by Martín de Riquer.

Eisenberg cautions against taking the ambiguous remarks about the romances of chivalry in Don Quijote as a valid basis for our knowledge of them. He shows just how hazardous it is to take the statements of such a fun-loving character as Don Quijote's priest friend to be representative of Cervantes' true opinions, either as endorsements or as condemnations. Eisenberg's review of the scholarship on the romances of chivalry shows that most critics since Cervantes' time have done just that, perpetuating judgments, mostly negative, which have rarely been confirmed or rejected by first-hand reading of the works in question. Eisenberg has, of course, read or closely examined a great majority of them, and he is careful to accept and repeat only the most reliable assertions of other scholars. When his extensive research has been unable to solve a particular problem, he says so. Ideas for various sorts of future studies of the romances of chivalry appear everywhere, especially in the brief chapter on research opportunities. Top priority is given to the need for good critical editions of more of those books.

Amadís de Gaula has been fortunate enough to be edited and studied closely   —192→   down through the centuries. For his part, Eisenberg discusses the Amadís's roots in Arthurian material, its role as a model, direct or indirect, for all the sixteenth-century romances of chivalry and some of its features which are atypical of the genre. He compares the work of Montalvo to Feliciano de Silva's popular Amadís de Grecia and finds that Montalvo was much more conservative in narrative and descriptive techniques and in invention of characters and adventures. Silva's works, he believes, could be attractive to many twentieth-century readers. Amadís de Grecia is one of at least ten books from which Eisenberg takes examples of episodes, characters and plot formulae to construct a composite summary, with commentary, of a typical romance of chivalry for the scholar who may choose not to read one of those books in its entirety.

Eisenberg's investigations into the history of the publication of the romances of chivalry in the sixteenth century reveal why there were fertile and fallow periods for them and why some were popular and had many editions, others only one or two. He gives convincing reasons to believe that the demand for those books came from the nobility and the wealthy middle class, people with the leisure and money to read such long and expensive works. He rejects the notion, popularized by Juan Palomeque the innkeeper in Don Quijote, that it was common practice for the romances of chivalry to be read by or to peasants or other lower class folk.

Eisenberg explores at length a point of view common to practically all the romances of chivalry. It is the pretense that the book is a true history, very old, written in a language other than Spanish, found under extraordinary circumstances and then translated into Spanish by the one who thus disguises his identity as the author. Eisenberg offers new insights into Cervantes' parody of this pretense in Don Quijote and clarifies many of the passages which mention romances of chivalry or features of them. One of these is the priest's apparently contradictory comments on Tirant lo Blanch. Eisenberg gives his own plausible explanation of this so-called and often studied «pasaje más oscuro del Quijote».

The information and interpretation presented in this book should receive only minor quibbles from the few scholars who happen to know well one or more of the romances of chivalry. Eisenberg's scholarship is thorough and reliable. It is well documented in abundant footnotes. He has made the way considerably easier for others who may begin studies in that area. A few misprints have slipped through the proofreading process, as have two slight grammatical errors at the end of the chapter written in Spanish. One of the footnotes is incomplete (p. 109, n. 38). But these slips in no way diminish the informational and critical value of the book. The reader is even given some attractive extras in the decorated capital letters from the original press of Juan de la Cuesta which initiate each chapter and in four illustrations from Cirongilio de Tracia. This is a book which may be read with interest and consulted with profit. Dan Eisenberg's work is our best source of knowledge about the Spanish romances of chivalry.