James Holly Hanford (essay date 1913)
SOURCE: "The Medieval Debate between Wine and Water," in PMLA, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, 1913, pp. 315-67.
[In the following excerpt, Hanford discusses the Razón de amor in the context of the Medieval European tradition of the conflictus, or debate poetry, noting the origins and main characteristics of the genre.]
Among the mediæval debates which have enjoyed the widest currency and have retained their hold on popular interest for the longest time is the contention between Wine and Water. Poems on this subject are extant in most of the languages of mediæval Europe; and the tradition has persisted with surprising vitality through more than seven centuries down to the present day. The bickerings of these two ancient foes may still be heard on the lips of the peasantry of Germany, France, and Spain, and a fragment of the same dispute was sung not long since as a nursery rhyme in Devon.
The history of this typical example of the conflictus, that species of disputation in which the contestants are not individuals but personifications or types, possesses considerable interest, first as a record of popular taste, secondly because of its bearing on the distribution of such material in the middle ages and on the relation between the literary and popular treatments of the same theme.
The literary debate of Wine and Water found its way early into Spanish literature. It appears in a thirteenth-century Castilian poem, probably of Provençal origin, in which the debate proper is curiously combined with an amatory dialogue in the style of the pastourelle. Originally the two parts of the "romance" must have existed as separate poems. In combining them the copyist or translator appears to have telescoped the two similar introductions. As it stands the narrative runs as follows: The poet, taking an April walk in an olive orchard, sees in the branches of one of the trees a vase full of clear cool wine. It was placed there, we are told, by the lady of the garden for her lover, and whoever drinks of it shall never fall sick. Coming nearer, the poet discovers another vase, full of cold water. He is about to drink, but desists for fear of enchantment. So much apparently constituted the opening of the original debate. It is sufficiently characteristic. At this point the poet lies down by a lovely fountain not previously mentioned, sees a beautiful woman, his own beloved, coming through the orchard, and holds conversation with her. We hear no more of the vases until the close of the love poem, when the author reverts to them. As he is about to sleep, a white dove flies toward the fountain, but, seeing him there, turns and enters the vase of water instead. As the bird flies out again in fright, the water is upset into the wine. In this astonishing manner the author makes his transition to the dispute between the two drinks.
There is little to distinguish the course of the argument which follows, from that of the debates which we have been considering. The tone of the dispute is colloquial; the contestants indulge in personalities and epithets much in the manner of the "flyting." The precious pair are visualized with a good deal of humor. The following passage may be quoted:
Ell agua iaze muerta rridiendo
De lo qu'el vino esta diziendo.
Don vino, si vos de Dios salut,
Que vos me fagades agora una vertud:
Fartad bien un villano,
No lo prenda ninguno de la mano,
Et si, antes d'una passada, no cayere en el
Dios sodes de tod en todo;
E si esto fazedes,
Otorgo que vençuda m'avedes.
En una blanca paret
.V. kandelas ponet,
E si el beudo non dixiere que son .c.,
De quanto digo de todo miento....
(The entire section is 1586 words.)