With this book Professor Green begins a multi-volume “interpretation of Spanish literary culture during five centuries on the basis of its dominant ideas” (p. vi). Here we have chivalry and love; Volume II will deal with Creation, cosmology, Nature, the nature and destiny of man, reason, free will, Fortune and Fate. In a third and possibly a fourth volume will appear the problems of the Spanish Renaissance and Baroque, geographical, intellectual and religious expansion, and so forth. In short it is a highly comprehensive and ambitious project, and if later volumes measure up to the first it will be an invaluable work.
There has been considerable interest among historians in “the Spanish mind” and particularly its differences from the mind of the rest of Europe. Where Américo Castro in his well-known The Structure of Spanish History approaches the problem by emphasizing uniquely Spanish elements, Green concentrates on ideas from other parts of Europe, particularly Italy, which became Spanish ideas. More particularly, in this volume we are introduced to the medieval balance between religious and secular values—the sic et non as Green calls it; and then beginning with the Libro de Buen Amor of Juan Ruiz, Archpriest of Hita, we follow through the fashions in amatory literature as they show up in Spanish, mainly Castilian, literature from the eleventh through the seventeenth century. The dominant elements were courtly love, notably as it was developed by Petrarch, and the Neoplatonism of the Italian Renaissance. They blended in Spain and dominated thought and literature through the Golden Age. A final chapter explains the reconciliation of this worldliness with the Spanish conscience. The author is convincing, presenting the major writers and many of the minor ones with generous selections from their works to prove his points. The reader comes away feeling that not only the literature but the Spaniard has been explained better than ever before—including Spaniards like Saint Teresa and Hernando Cortés who are not dealt with here. Like Castro’s book, this is a masterwork; based on some of the same evidence but written from different viewpoints the books are complementary if not always in agreement.
The very scope of the book should make it of interest to anyone curious about the period. If the approach is somewhat didactic, the author manages to convey a real feeling of the time and outlook— one is reminded of the effect of the very different books of A. L. Rowse on Elizabethan England. About the only complaint this reader can register is a too obvious awareness that it is a work in progress when this volume can certainly stand alone and without references to still unpublished chapters. This is bound to be a fundamental source of information and interpretation for a long time; we can be grateful that it is so pleasant to read.