What is happening contextually in Medieval Spain that Juan Ruiz felt like he needed to satirize the idea of buen amor in The Book of Good Love? It doesn't seem like the surrounding canonical works (El Cid, Los Milagros de Nuestra Señora, El Conde Lucanor, etc.) are really proponents of buen amor. Or was the Church at the time insisting upon buen amor?
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Spain during the 14th Century was a region undergoing dramatic transformations. As Christianity began to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula from Islamic domination, the struggle among followers of both religions to reconcile these transitions with their ethnicities and beliefs provided for an extraordinarily turbulent period. In addition, the problems of corruption and hypocrisy within the Catholic Church, problems that would eventually lead to the Reformation, presented those members of the clergy for whom principle was more important than material comfort with a serious dilemma. Fealty to the Church was increasingly running counter to fealty to the word of God. It was in this context that one such member of the clergy, known to history as Juan Ruiz, Archpriest of Hita, a noted poet, penned his epic work Libro de buen amor, or The Book of Good Love.
Very little is actually know about Juan Ruiz, and translations of The Book of Good Love vary considerably, leaving little consensus on the precise meaning of many phrases. What has been surmised, however, is that Juan Ruiz’s lengthy poem – replete with descriptions of sexual activity and advise on how seduce women – is intended to serve the same function as the contemporary practice of warning teenagers against potentially harmful activities in which one strongly suspects they will engage anyway (in other words, if you’re going to do it, do it right). As he writes in his book:
" . . . because it is human to sin, if some people want to indulge in the excesses of worldly love, which I do not advise, they will find various ways to do so described here."
The basis of The Book of Good Love is its author’s distinction between “good love” and “bad love” (“buen amor” and “loco amor”), with the former referring to a true spiritual love of God, and the latter to sexual promiscuousness. Again, the author appears to be following the practice of preaching against “sin” while providing advice on how to best practice that “sin”:
“I will give you understanding, and instruct you in the path that you should follow: my eyes shall be fixed upon you."
That Juan Ruiz would, it is believed, spend many years in prison for affronts to the archbishop of Toledo, Gil Albornoz, who would himself later fall from power in disgrace, may be further testament to the corruption and hypocrisy that was creating dissension among followers of the Church. In the late-18th Century, Matthew Lewis would publish an early example of Gothic literature regarding a much-admired Spanish monk named Ambrosio whose fall from grace resulted from his sexual proclivities. Lewis’ novel, The Monk, was a logical follow-up to The Book of Good Love. Christian clergy in 14th Century Europe were powerful political figures. Their personal sexual peccadilloes were not always inspirational to lower-level clergy for whom the fundamental tenets of religion did not allow for certain types of sin.
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