The Libro de Buen Amor (The Book of Good Love) – LBA
While living in Spain I became acquainted with a Spanish book from the year 1330, by an Archpriest named Juan Ruiz. The title of the book in Spanish is the Libro de Buen Amor, or the Book of Good Love. The basic premise is that God’s love is Good Love, and worldly love is crazy love. But there are many stories and fables, including the pursuit of the seduction of several women. After almost 700 years, the experts don’t agree on the author’s real purpose, or even what Good Love really meant to him. One expert even suggested to me that he thought the author basically wanted to have his cake and eat it too.
My favorite story from the Libro de Buen Amor is about a debate between a Greek scholar and a Roman ruffian, in sign language. Because most of you do not have access to this book, in English, I am providing below the English text of the complete story of the debate in sign language. The illustration I get from the story is that people tend to find and see what they expect, based on what they use as a standard of interpretation. And I think the author intended to show with this story that his writing’s purpose was ambiguous enough to be different things to different people.
For example, the Greek scholar holds up one finger to say there is one God. The Roman thug interprets this as a threat to poke out his eye. So the Roman thrusts out two fingers and a thumb to say he will poke out the Greek’s eyes and break his teeth with his thumb. But the Greek interprets the Roman’s threat as a statement that no, God was three persons in one. Since they believe in the trinity, we should give them our law, concludes the Greek.
Another story from the LBA that I believe is meant to show that the book is ambiguous and will mean different things to different people is the tale of King Alcàrez. When the king’s son was born, the king sought the advice of five astrologers. One said the son would be stoned to death, the next said he would be burned to death, the third said he would be cast down to his death from a high place, the fourth said the prince will be hanged, and the fifth said he will drown.
The king rejected them all, not only for the bad news, but the fact that each contradicted the other. He had them imprisoned separately. When the prince came of age, he went hunting on horseback. But a storm came and large hailstones began to fall, then a great bolt of fire struck him while he was on a bridge, a hole in the bridge was opened that he fell through, and he was caught and left hanging by his coat on a tree by the river, and drowned because he could not be rescued.
Not only had the king’s son died, but all five of the astrologers’ predictions had come true. The king released all five astrologers from prison and bestowed great gifts upon them. This story too is included below in English.
Dr. Elizabeth Drayson MacDonald, translator of The Book of Good Love, Juan Ruiz, has kindly given me permission to use her English translation here in my web site.