The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio

views updated

The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio

by Don Juan Manuel


A collection of short narratives set in Spain and the Mediterranean world in the late Middle Ages; written in 1335; published in Spanish (as El Conde Lucanor) in 1575, in English in 1868.


Featured here are two short stories that, like the rest of the tales in the collection, end with an instructive moral. In “What Happened to a Young Man Who Married a Strong and Wild Woman,” a young Muslim husband tames his too-independent wife: in “What Happened to a Lying Beguine,” a heretic woman attempts to destroy a happy marriage.

Events in History at the Time of the Novel

The Short Stories in Focus

For More Information

Born in Escalona in the province of Toledo in 1282, Juan Manuel lived through one of the most turbulent periods in the history of Castile, the largest of the medieval Spanish kingdoms. His father was the Infante (Prince) Manuel, youngest son of King Fernando III of Castile, and brother of King Alfonso X, which made Don Juan Manuel a member of the Castilian royal family. Engaging in conventional aristocratic activities, Juan Manuel became deeply involved in the wars and political intrigues of his times. Less conventionally, he was also a prolific writer. A man deeply concerned about his own status and rank, Don Juan Manuel wrote works that provide a vivid glimpse into the values held dear by the aristocratic culture of fourteenth-century Castile. He claimed to have written more than a dozen books and treatises, eight of which survive. Critics are divided about the exact dates and chronology of Don Juan Manuel’s works. His titles range from the dry Crónica abreviada (c. 1325, Brief Chronicle), to the chivalric Libro del cauallero et del escudero (c. 1326, Book of the Knight and the Squire), and Libro de la caça (c. 1326, Book of the Hunt). The Libro de los enxiemplos del conde Lucanor et de Patronio (Book of Examples of Count Lucanor and Patronio), better known as the Conde Lucanor, is generally considered his crowning achievement. Completed in 1335, it can best be described as a collection of exempla (brief moralizing stories), although in its longer versions the work also contains sections of proverbs and a religious treatise. Its stories are held together by a frame, a larger narrative into which the short tales are imbedded. In the frame, a counselor, Patronio, applies the morals of the stories to the count’s own life, by extension teaching other nobles how to behave in fourteenth-century Castile.

Events in History at the Time of the Novel

Illegitimate rule?

Ever since Alfonso X (reigned 1252-84), also known as “The Wise,” the political situation in Castile had been deteriorating. Alfonso may have been wise, and he was indisputably a great patron of literature and learning, but historians agree that he was not a good administrator. His policies eventually led his alienated second son, Sancho, to rebel against him. Sancho later became king Sancho IV, ruling from 1284 to 1295. He died young, however, leaving his nine-year-old son to rule as Fernando IV. Fernando, in turn, died in 1312, leaving his one-year-old son Alfonso XI to rule in the care of regents. By the time Alfonso XI came of age in 1325, the kingdom had passed through two lengthy periods of unrest. Tension and chaos reigned as powerful nobles jockeyed to be among the tutores, or regents, who ruled in the young king’s name. When the young king reached his majority, he faced the task of regaining royal prestige and power from the unruly nobles, including Juan Manuel himself.

Juan Manuel’s life was marked by violence from an early age. His father died in 1284, and his mother, Beatriz of Savoy, in 1290. By the age of 12 he had already nominally commanded a frontier skirmish in Murcia, although in reality he did not see battle himself, “for they did not dare place me in such great danger since I was so young” (Juan Manuel in Blecua, p. 10; trans. M. Hammer). Early on, he insinuated himself into the intrigues of the kingdom, and by 1319 he had been made one of the three regents who would share power in the waning years of the minority of Alfonso XI. After Alfonso came of age in 1325, he immediately showed a gift for political intrigue in his own right. Alfonso tried to neutralize Juan Manuel, first by becoming betrothed to the nobleman’s daughter Constanza, and then by holding the girl hostage once she was in his power. Reacting violently to this outrage, Juan Manuel spent much of the next decade in open rebellion against the king. He severed his ties with Castile, allied himself with Aragon, and even sought an alliance with the Muslim king of Granada.

Juan Manuel was deeply concerned about protecting and enhancing his own power. This preoccupation shows up in his writings, in which he emphasizes his own status as a powerful noble and carefully separates himself and his aristocratic class from the rest of society. As far as Juan Manuel was concerned, none of the kings from Alfonso X through Alfonso XI were worthy of praise. Their unworthiness contrasted starkly with Juan Manuel’s feelings about himself.

His position as perpetual second fiddle rankled Juan Manuel deeply, and his bitterness shows in many of his works. In Libro de la armas (Book of Arms, written after 1337), for example, Juan Manuel glorifies his own family while simultaneously denigrating the ruling house. The work suggests it was Juan Manuel’s deeply held and not-too-secret belief that if things had gone right he himself would have been king. Juan Manuel claims that his father, the Infante Manuel, had been the favorite son of Fernando III, had ruled as de-facto king of Murcia, and had distinguished himself as the only one of his children that Fernando III saw fit to bless. To Juan Manuel, this made the Infante Manuel the moral, if not the actual, heir of Fernando III. In support of this last point, the book relates an interview that allegedly took place between the 12-year-old Juan Manuel and his cousin, the dying king Sancho IV, who had succeeded his father, Alfonso X, to the throne of Castile. Sancho confesses to the boy that he himself had never been blessed by his father, Alfonso X. In like manner, Alfonso X had never been blessed by his predecessor, Fernando III. Thus, in Juan Manuel’s Libro de las armas, Sancho IV all but confesses the illegitimacy of his entire line.


Ironically this politically turbulent time was one of medieval Spain’s richest in terms of cultural production. On the rise, literacy was no longer the exclusive province of clerics. From at least the twelfth century, shifts in reading patterns had been having an effect on lay spirituality and education in Europe. Cathedral schools gave way to universities and more books began to be produced to meet the needs of a larger public. New forms of book production, and the book itself, were taking shape. Meanwhile, a growing number of better-educated lay readers, better educated than ever before, had an impact on spiritual concerns. Lay people began to take a serious interest in their own salvation. Popular forms of heresy sprang up, many of them connected to literacy (described in the following section, “Preaching and exempla”). In hard numbers, the extent of lay literacy during this period—especially in Spain—is difficult to pinpoint. The word ‘literate’ itself does not always refer to the mere ability to read and write. During the Middle Ages, a literate person was one who could read and write Latin. Conversely, an illiterate person could not read Latin. “Calling a person unlettered, illiteratus, idiota, did not necessarily mean that he or she could not read or write but rather that he or she did not know Latin, the language which was always learned through reading and writing” (Ong, p. 7). However, by this time, Latin had become an artificial language that one learned at school and through books. The language of everyday speech—of business and of the court—was the vernacular, Castilian. Naturally literature began to be written in the vernacular too. Thus, people who were unable to read Latin could function on both the written and spoken levels in the vernacular.

As noted, Juan Manuel grew up during the reign of Sancho IV, whose court culture owed much to Sancho’s father, Alfonso X. The reign of Alfonso X had seen some very significant advances in Spanish literary culture.

Alfonso’s reign is rightly regarded as the beginning of a flourishing prose literature in Castilian: under the King’s patronage and active direction a vast corpus of historical, legal, scientific and other works was translated or adapted from Arabic or Latin into Castilian prose.

(Deyermond, p. 158)

Himself a poet, Alfonso had sponsored the production of an enormous collection of religious lyrics called the Cantigas de Santa Maria (Songs of Saint Mary, written in Galician, which for a time acted as the preferred language of poetry in Spain), and had hosted troubadour poets from around Europe. More significantly for the development of Spanish literature, Alfonso made Castilian the official language of his court, sponsoring the composition of vernacular chronicles, scientific treatises, and other literature.

However, the fact that higher numbers of people than before could now read and write does not mean that the total number of literate people was very large. Some estimates suggest that up to 80 percent of the population of Castile remained illiterate through the end of the seventeenth century (Lawrance, p. 87). Writing was a skill practiced by scribes, and even an author like Juan Manuel most likely did most of his writing by dictation. As a rule, people had their books read to them, instead of doing the reading themselves. There was, nevertheless a distinct number of people—mostly noble—who could read and write and who actively participated in the literate culture of Alfonso X, and later, of his son and successor Sancho IV.

Juan Manuel, who grew up during Sancho’s reign, would have been influenced by the court’s culture. The years following the reign of Alfonso X used to be viewed as a time of cultural stagnation in Castile. At second glance, however, the court of Sancho IV was not a cultural wasteland. A great many literary works that may have influenced Don Juan Manuel were produced during the reigns of Sancho IV and then his son, Fernando IV, including the Lucidario (Lucidaire), a scientific and theological treatise framed by a dialogue between a scholar and his student, and the Libro del cauallero Zifar (Book of the Knight Zifar), an early chivalric romance that included many exempla and philosophical maxims.

Preaching and exempla

The new lay literacy that began to burgeon in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries coincided with new forms of heresy—a disturbing trend. Addressing it was high on the agenda of the Fourth Lateran Council. Convened by Pope Innocent III in 1215, this council was primarily concerned with reforming the Church and finding a way to win the Holy Land back from the Muslims. The presumed connection between lay literacy and heresy has long been a topic of critical debate. The same forces that contributed to the rise of vernacular literature also led to people’s wishing to read and interpret holy writ for themselves. This, in turn, coincided with unorthodox ideas—such as the various Apostolic Poverty movements, which insisted that true Christians, like Christ’s apostles, must live in poverty. Seen as destabilizing, these movements were viewed with suspicion. Among the well-known heresies singled out by the council was the Cathari faith, a dualist religion that espoused competing good and evil principles and was popular in southern France.

The policies promulgated by the Fourth Lateran Council, partly in response to the realities of new lay spirituality and heresy, contributed to the revival of an old form of didactic literature— the exemplum. The council increased the emphasis on lay spiritual development, advancing, for example, the policy that all Christians must confess and attend mass at least once a year. To make sure the laity would receive proper instruction for their religious activities, bishops were told to authorize others to preach at the parish level. The church also authorized the formation of new religious orders to combat virulent forms of heresy. Members of the new Dominican order—known too as the Order of Preachers—became the frontline soldiers in the war against heresy. As this new emphasis on pastoral care and preaching took hold, it quickly became obvious that the best way to teach the untutored the intricate rules and doctrines connected to their salvation or damnation was to tell them stories. Into popular vogue came the exemplum, a brief story or narrative designed to illustrate a moral point. There is no single all-encompassing definition for exemplum in the Middle Ages. The term refers to stories, maxims, proverbs, or the modern concept of “example.” Conventionally the term is used to describe short, didactic narratives, usually meant to be included in sermons by preachers.

Exempla had been used for centuries prior to the Middle Ages. Gregory the Great (5407-604) extolled them as the perfect way to teach gospel truths to illiterate people. Long before Gregory, however, the Romans and the Greeks had used exempla. Jesus himself taught in parables, a form of exemplum. Now, with the advent of the preaching orders, examples took on a new importance. Preachers culled their tales from a vast body of anecdotes, fables, myths, legends, and tales of saints’ lives, as well as stories imported from the east. Thousands of these little stories were collected and copied into manuals, then diffused all over Europe.

Many of the tales were priestly adaptations of popular legends, making them an intriguing meld of clerical and popular culture. “The stories told as exempla often transmitted oral and folkloric memories, helping to bridge the intellectual gap between the leaders of the church and its humblest members,” one critic writes (Taylor, p. 67). Exempla dealt with all aspects of life, from the mundane to the supernatural. They demonstrated God’s ready willingness to reward virtue or punish sin; they also vividly showed the active role the Devil tried to take in influencing human affairs. One exemplum that appears in several Dominican collections shows how the Devil—frustrated at his inability to break up a virtuous marriage—enlists the aid of a deceitful old woman who succeeds where the Devil had failed. In its early forms this story illustrated the danger presented by lying tongues; but by the time Juan Manuel adapted it for The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio, it had become a warning against religious hypocrisy and heresy, specifically against the perceived hypocrisy of the Beguines, members of a lay order for women. Preachers used such stories to spice up dull sermons, keep their congregations interested, and wake up those who dozed off. Above all, the exemplum served to make the message comprehensible to the lay audience.

Reconquest and convivencia

Other significant changes that would impact the development of prose narrative were also going on at this time. In about the twelfth century, Western Europe had begun tentatively reaching out to the rest of the world. Through crusades and trade, Western Europe was finding points of contact with the East. Among other things, eastern story collections found their way into Europe by way of these points of contact. One important nexus for this cross-cultural pollination was Spain itself.

Spain had always been in a somewhat different position than the rest of Europe in relation to eastern cultures. The Muslim invasion of Spain in 711 had placed Spanish Christians in very close—and often uncomfortable—contact with Muslims. The Muslim city of Cordoba in southern Spain was the largest, most important and most advanced city in Europe during the ninth and tenth centuries—a potent symbol of wealth and learning. Jewish culture also had an influence. Jewish intellectuals, in fact, occupied important positions in both Christian and Muslim society. This close contact among Muslim, Jewish, and Christian peoples is often referred to as convivencia, literally, “living together.” The term convivencia implies peaceful, friendly coexistence, in contrast to the other term used to describe Christian/Muslim relations at this time: Reconquest. Neither term is entirely accurate. The co-existence implied by convivencia was not necessarily peaceful, but the traditional belief that Christian Spain engaged in an 800-year ideological crusade to win their land back from the Muslims is also erroneous. Christians did claim significant chunks of Muslim land over the years, but the wars were not always ideologically motivated—at least not at first. Over time, the Reconquest began to take on the trappings of a Crusade, but Christian warlords did not hesitate to ally themselves with Muslims against Christian enemies, if circumstances demanded it. As already mentioned, Juan Manuel himself attempted an alliance with the Muslim king of Granada during his estrangement from the Castilian king Alfonso XI.

Although both Reconquest and convivencia are inaccurate, both terms are useful in describing the political realities of medieval Spain. Behind these terms stands the fact that Christian, Muslim, and Jewish cultures co-existed in close proximity, and this close contact could not help but provide for a great deal of mutual influence. Muslim and Jewish cultural trends affected the development of Castilian lyric poetry and storytelling. A great many stories of eastern extraction found their way into Europe and were written down, first in Latin and then in the vernacular. Among these was the Disciplina Clericalis (Scholar’s Guide), a collection of stories written by Pedro Alfonso shortly after 1100. Pedro was an Aragonese Jew who converted to Christianity in 1106. His book, which combined exempla and maxims, was hugely popular—more than 60 manuscripts are still extant. Like other books showing an eastern influence, Pedro Alfonso’s stories are imbedded in a variety of “frames” where an older man—a teacher or father—counsels a younger man, who is his student or son. Later, during the reign of Alfonso X, other eastern story collections, such as Calila e Dimna (Kalilah and Dimnah, translated c. 1251), and the Libro de los engahos de las mujeres (Book of the Wiles of Women, also known as Sendebar, translated c. 1253) made their way into the Castilian vernacular. Alfonso X also sponsored a school of translators in Toledo, the conduit through which many works of eastern science and medicine found their way from Arabic and Hebrew into Latin and then the vernacular languages of Europe.

The Short Stories in Focus

Plot summary

The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio is a collection of exempla and proverbs, wrapped in a frame that presents it to the reader as a cohesive unit. In each of the 50-odd examples that make up Part One of The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio, Patronio counsels his patron, the count, first narrating a story and then applying that story to the count’s situation by interpreting it with a maxim or moral. This is followed by an injunction, or a direct invitation to the count to incorporate the message into his own life. Finally, Don Juan Manuel finishes off each chapter by summing up the moral in a brief rhyming couplet.

One of the better-known stories bears a passing resemblance to William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1594), although it was written more than two centuries before the Shakespearean play. In “What Happened to a Young Man Who Married a Strong and 111-Tempered Woman,” a young Muslim man marries the worst woman in town, against the advice of everyone including the woman’s own father. His friends and family literally fear for his life if he goes through with his wedding plans. On their wedding night, as the young couple sits alone at dinner together, he turns to a pet dog nearby and demands that it fetch him some water. The dog, obviously, does not comply, whereupon the husband takes out his sword and cuts it to pieces. Next he turns to a cat, and the same thing happens. Finally he asks his horse, and when the animal does not comply he shrieks “What, Sir Horse, do you think that because you are the only horse I have that I will spare you if you do not do as I say?” (Juan Manuel, The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio, p. 139). He ends up killing the horse, then turns to his frightened wife and politely asks her to get him some water. She complies. The strong and ill-tempered woman has been broken. When it becomes apparent that the young man has succeeded in taming the girl, his father-in-law attempts to cow his own wife in a similar way, by killing a rooster. She laughs scornfully and tells him she knows him too well for that to work on her: “Well now, Mr. So-and-So, you are a little late. It wouldn’t matter to me now if you killed even a hundred horses. You should have begun sooner, for now we know each other” (Count Lucanor, p. 140). Patronio applies the moral—which is that men must establish control at the outset of marriage, before it is too late—to more than just marriage relations. “I advise you in all your dealing with others, always to let them know what you expect of them,” he tells the count (Count Lucanor, p. 141). It is easier to be tough and consistent from the very beginning than try to rectify laxity by growing tough later.

In a second domestic tale, “What Happened to a Lying Beguine,” (translated as “What Happened to a Woman of Sham Piety”), a Beguine woman makes a pact with the Devil to infiltrate and ruin a happy marriage. Beguines were lay religious women who took certain vows, but were allowed to keep their own property and live in their own homes rather than a convent. By Juan Manuel’s time they had become suspected of heresy and the author often uses the word “beguina” as a synonym for hypocrite. Using flattery and deceit, the Beguine convinces the married couple that she is an old servant of the wife’s family. Once inside the household, she gains the confidence of the wife and uses that confidence to sow doubt. The Beguine tells the wife that the husband is being unfaithful to her:

I am terribly grieved for I have heard that your husband is much more interested in another woman than in you. I beg you to be nice to him and please him so much that he will not like the other woman as much as he does you, for more harm can come to you through this than from anything else.

(Count Lucanor, p. 154)

Distressed, the wife wonders how to get her husband back. Meanwhile, the Beguine tells the husband that the wife suspects he is having an affair. This saddens him and immediately the relationship feels the strain. As things deteriorate from bad to worse, the Beguine finally tells the wife that to get her husband back the Beguine will have to make a magic potion containing one of her husband’s hairs. She convinces the wife to lull her husband to sleep on her lap and then cut a hair from his throat. Meanwhile she tells the husband that his jealous wife plans to kill him in his sleep. That night the husband pretends to fall asleep on his wife’s lap and silently waits while his wife takes out her knife. As soon as he feels the blade on his neck, he grabs it from his wife and cuts her throat. This violent act leads to a spiral of retribution that first involves relatives and then the entire village in an orgy of death. When her role in the calamity is discovered, the Beguine herself is “put … to death in a cruel manner” (Count Lucanor, p. 156). The moral that Patronio relates to Lucanor is to beware of lying, religious hypocrites, who are evil and deceitful. Then so that the count might know these hypocrites, Patronio repeats the biblical injunction: By their fruits ye shall know them. Beyond such tales, two of the surviving medieval and renaissance manuscripts that contain The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio include three sections of proverbs and a treatise on various aspects of religious belief, including baptism and the Eucharist.

Reading the frame

“Framed narratives” are stories within stories that feature a character inside a text who narrates a story to another character inside that text. The frame filters the inner story to readers through a fictional storyteller and audience. In the most sophisticated framed stories, the frame itself is a story, with its own plot; the telling of the inner narratives enhances and advances the plot of the frame. Perhaps the best example of this is The Thousand and One Nights, where the life of Scheherazade hangs in the balance, each story she tells winning her another night’s reprieve from death. She tells stories as a way to save her life; they become her act of salvation.


The proverbs in The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio are presented in the same frame as the tales. Patronio is still advising the count, but instead of telling a story to illustrate a lesson, he just delivers the moral, leaving the onus of interpretation on the reader. For example:

  • “It is more profitable for a man to go about naked than clothed with evil works”
  • “Reason is what makes a man a man. Thus, man is because of reason. The more reason a man has, the more man he is…”
  • “A man should not speak loosely in front of another until he knows how his knowledge compares with that of the other”

(Count Lucanor, pp. 280, 291, 297; trans. M. Hammer)

While less complexly layered, The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio also narrates its stories through a frame, in this case that of a nobleman who seeks guidance from his trusted advisor. Juan Manuel tells each story through the frame of a nobleman seeking counsel from his trusted advisor. Some critics have suggested that this frame is merely a device to legitimize the stories, which are, at heart, merely entertaining. Many of the stories certainly do seem frivolous, and the morals attached to them do not appear very weighty. But despite their entertainment value, the ethical component to the stories cannot be dismissed. Juan Manuel himself, in his prologue to The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio, said his reason for writing the book was to help men “accomplish in this world such deeds as would be advantageous to their honor, their possessions, and their stations, and so that they would adhere to the career in which they could save their souls” (Count Lucanor, p. 39). He wanted to help aristocrats like himself improve their rank, property, or reputation by knowing whom to trust, how to marry and, perhaps most importantly, how to profit from good advice. To make this advice more palatable, he wrote it in the form of stories, like doctors who tend to a person’s ailing liver by mixing into their medicine “sugar or honey or something sweet” that the person swallows “because of the pleasure the liver gets from sweet things” (Count Lucanor, p. 41). The stories are the sweet sugar that makes the hard medicine of exemplary doctrine easier to endure. Even entertaining stories in the Middle Ages pointed toward an ethical choice by the reader. Active, attentive readers needed to be constantly on the lookout for behaviors that they could either praise or blame. In each story discussed above, the frame has Patronio interpret the tale for his patron’s benefit, then tell him how to act. Each tale ends with the narrator stating that the count considered the advice good, followed it and profited from it. When readers see that Lucanor acts on Patronio’s advice, they recognize that they are being given a model for how they should act as well. “The Conde and Patronio are there to add to the ex-emplum material a series of exemplary applications” (Dagenais, p. 75). The purpose of the frame, then, is to unite the readers—most likely aristocrats, like Don Juan Manuel—with the count so that they will also apply the exemplum in their separate lives.

The fifteenth-century manuscripts of The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio reveal where readers a century after Don Juan Manuel underlined or otherwise highlighted what were to them the important passages. More often than not, these highlighted passages contain the moral to the story—the ethical information that the reader understands to be the point of the whole exercise. Two sixteenth-century manuscripts, in fact, leave out the narrative entirely and only give a recap of the morals that Juan Manuel had written in verse at the end of each story.

Sources and literary context

As a framed collection, The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio bears a marked similarity to the framed collections that originated in the East and gradually took root in Western Europe, such as Kalilah and Dimnah, which probably originated in India as early as 300 b.c.e. and gradually moved west before being translated from Arabic into Castilian. Beyond the similar frame structures, many of the stories in The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio have parallels in these eastern books. “What Happened to a Young Man Who Married a Strong and Wild Woman,” is one of several Count Lucanor tales set in a Muslim context, strongly suggesting an Eastern origin. While there are no direct sources for the story, critics suggest that it likely came from Persia. One critic has also found a parallel in an early French fabliau, “De la Dame qui fut corriegee” (Ayerbe-Chaux, pp. 154-157). In both the Persian and the French versions a husband tames his wife on their wedding night by killing one or more animals.

Other stories, like “What Happened to a Lying Beguine,” appear to originate in the Dominican exempla collections, although these earlier versions of the story do not identify the woman as a Beguine. Juan Manuel had a close relationship with the Dominicans—even founding a monastery at Penafiel—and the order’s active interest in suppressing heresy could very well have influenced Juan Manuel’s own hostility toward non-orthodox groups, including the Beguines. In fact, alternate versions of The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio describe the antagonist as an evil old woman or a pilgrim rather than a Beguine. Ultimately it does not matter which term is the “correct” one. Since all three terms denote members of suspect, marginal groups, the essence of the story does not change. It makes sense, however, for Juan Manuel to have intentionally used “Beguine,” since he had close ties with the Dominicans, and his thinking was heavily influenced by the order.

In general, The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio appears to draw its inspiration from this vast pool of eastern and western exemplary literature available in the Middle Ages. While very few stories in the book can be matched up with direct sources, there are striking parallels not only to other earlier or contemporary story collections but also to Dominican preacher’s manuals, such as the exempla of Etienne de Bourbon. Critics have pointed out that by its very nature as a framed collection, The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio reflects the influence of a vast tradition of framed tales that extended from Asia to Western Europe. The collection was written more than a decade before the Decameron (1349-53) and a half century before the Canterbury Tales (1478). “Indeed, the Conde Lucanor, the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales constitute the trilogy of fourteenth-century framed narratives which all explicitly reflect back on a vast tradition, their own histories” (Menocal, p. 478). In other words, they are stories about the act of telling stories, designed specifically to draw the reader or listener in and make them a part of a continuing chain of transmission and interpretation.

Composition and reception

In his prologue to Part 2 of The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio, Don Juan Manuel notes that he had written the exempla and morals of the first part to appeal to an uneducated audience (i.e., one that did not know Latin). However, one of his readers apparently thought they were a little too easy to understand. Juan Manuel’s good friend Don Jaime de Jerica apparently preferred literature that was subtle, obscure, and a little challenging. This gave the author an excuse to write the less-easy-to-understand material that follows in the last four parts of the book. We do not know exactly how Jaime de Jerica read the book. Juan Manuel may have sent him a copy, which Don Jaime then read, or he may have listened as someone else read the book aloud to him. Paul Zumthor insists that almost all medieval literature would have been received this last way: “Every medieval literary’ text, whatever its mode of composition and transmission, was designed to be communicated aloud to the individuals who constituted its audience” (Zumthor, p. 67).

However it occurred, The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio did circulate, as Juan Manuel fully expected it would. In his prologue, Juan Manuel mentions that he has prepared a master copy of his works and deposited it at the Dominican convent that he had established in Penafiel. He did this, he says, because he knows that when books are copied by hand, mistakes inevitably creep into the secondary copy. Therefore, if any readers take issue with what they have read, he asks that they consult first with his master copy before laying the blame on him. Juan Manuel was well aware of the realities of manuscript culture.

Mistakes and alterations certainly did creep in. The work survives today in five primary manuscripts, four from the fifteenth century, and one from the sixteenth century. Every manuscript of The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio is—to a greater or lesser degree—different from every other. In addition to the five primary manuscripts remaining today, there were a handful of manuscripts that we know about that have since disappeared. The monastery of Guadalupe had a copy, as did Queen Isabel the Catholic. In addition, the sixteenth-century editor of the Count Lucanor had three copies from which he worked. This sixteenth-century edition, in turn, influenced other writers during the Spanish renaissance, most notably the dramatists Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderon de la Barca (see Fuente Ovejuna and Life Is a Dream , also in WLAIT 5: Spanish and Portuguese Literatures and Their Times). Both of these dramatists would write plays based on episodes from Juan Manuel’s book.

—Michael Hammer

For More Information

Ayerbe-Chaux, Reinaldo. “El Conde Lucanor.” In Materia tradicional y originalidad creadora. Madrid: Porrua, 1975.

Blecua, Jose Manuel. “Introduction.” In El Conde Lucanor. Madrid: Castalia, 1969.

Cacho Blecua, Juan Manuel, and Maria Jesus Lacarra. “Introduction.” Calila e Dimna. Madrid: Castalia, 1984.

Dagenais, John. The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture: Glossing the “Libro de BuenAmor.” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Deyermond, Alan. “The Libro de los enganos: Its Social and Literary Context.” In The Spirit oj the Court. Ed. Glyn S. Burgess and Robert Taylor. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1985.

Juan Manuel, Don. The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio: A Translation of Don Juan Manuel’s El Conde Lucanor. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1977.

_____. El Conde Lucanor. Ed. Jose Manuel Blecua. Madrid: Castalia, 1969.

Lawrance, J. N. H. “The Spread of Lay Literacy in Late Medieval Castile.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 62 (1985): 79-94.

Menocal, Maria Rosa. “Life Itself: Storytelling as the Tradition of Openness in the Conde Lucanor.” In Oral Tradition and Hispanic Literature: Essays in Honor of Samuel G. Armistead. New York: Garland, 1995.

Ong, Walter J. “Orality, Literacy, and Medieval Textualization.” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 16 (1984-85): 1-12.

Ríos, Mazcarelle, Manuel. Diccionario de los Reyes de España. Vol. 1. Madrid: Alderabán, 1998.

Sturcken, H. Tracy. Don Juan Manuel. New York: Twayne, 1974.

Taylor, Larissa. Soldiers of Christ: Preaching in Late Medieval and Reformation Eranee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Zumthor, Paul. “The Text and the Voice.” New Literary History 16 (1984-85): 67-92.

About this article

The Book of Count Lucanor and Patronio

Updated About content Print Article