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Gonzalo de Berceo

Spanish poet, active between 1220 and 1242

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Gonzalo de Berceo, Spanish poet, active between 1220 and 1242. Born in the closing years of the twelfth century, he appears to be the earliest Castilian author known to us by name. He became a priest and passed the whole of his life in or near the monastery of San Milian de la Cogolla. His compositions extend to more than 13,000 verses (Alexandrines), arranged in monorhymed quatrains (cuaderna via), and, at least in so far as the truly authentic are concerned, are religious and hagiographical in their nature. They are made up of lives of Spanish saints: “La vida de Santo Domingo de Silos”, “La vida de San Millsn”, “La vida de Santa Oria”; of poems celebrating the Blessed Virgin: “Los Milagros de Nuestra Senora”, “Los Loores de Nuestra Senora”, “El duelo de la Virgen”; and of other pious and didactic works: “El sacrificio de la Misa”, “Los signos del juicio”, and perhaps some hymns. In all these compositions he manifests but little originality, abiding, wherever possible, by Latin sources that were doubtless in the monastic library. His manner and style, however, are decidedly interesting, because they evince his desire to appeal to all the lay reading public of Castile in his time. He writes, as he tells us, in the vernacular, so that he may be read by the common man; and he intentionally adopts the methods of the popular minstrel in order to reach more quickly the popular heart. In spite of his diffuseness, he can interest us today, and his quaint humor, heavy though it may be at times, has no little charm. If we are to believe the ascription contained in one of the two manuscripts of the old Spanish poem on Alexander the Great (“Libre de Alexandre”) we must credit him with that secular work also; but scholars are not too prone to regard the ascription as correct.

J. D. M. FORD


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