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The Laughter of the Saints

The Laughter of the Saints: Parodies of Holiness in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 240
  • Book Info
    The Laughter of the Saints
    Book Description:

    TheLaughter of the Saintsexamines this rich carnivalesque tradition of parodied holy men and women and traces their influence to the anti-heroes and picaresque roots of early modern novels such as Don Quixote.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9754-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: Saints and Anti-Saints
    (pp. 3-14)

    At the close of the fourteenth century, Pero López de Ayala retired as Chancellor of Castile and dedicated the last years of his life to reading and glossing Gregory the Great’s commentary on the struggle and triumph of Job.¹ Like St Gregory, López de Ayala saw Job as a model of christian perseverance in the face of great tribulation. God had allowed His servant to be stripped of all possessions and afflicted with boils, running sores, and worms. Mocked by his wife and reproached by friends, Job cursed the day he was born. He never lost faith, however, and was...

  6. 1 Christ and His Cross
    (pp. 15-32)

    In the second half of the tenth century, Adso of Montier-en-Der wrote a letter to the Frankish queen concerning the life of the Antichrist. Adso was known as a hagiographer and so quite naturally employed this genre in his biography of Christ’s double.¹ The resulting portrait of the Antichrist became enormously popular during the succeeding centuries, and survives in nearly two hundred manuscripts, some of which also contain theLives of the Church Fathers– for during the Middle ages the Antichrist was considered ‘the great anti-saint who parodies Christ’ (Emmerson, ‘Antichrist’ 190). As mentioned earlier, this parody resulted in a...

  7. 2 Holy Men in the Wilderness
    (pp. 33-51)

    One of the first hagiographical texts written in Castilian is Gonzalo de Berceo’s early thirteenth-centuryVida de San Millán de la Cogolla(Life of St Emilianus the Cowled). Before becoming a monk, Emilianus imitates Christ’s temptation in the desert by spending forty years in the wilderness of Rioja, where he lives in a cave full of snakes and is constantly tormented by the Devil. When his location is discovered, the hermit takes refuge higher in the mountains, further mortifying his body and pleading with God to free him: ‘el buen siervo de christo, tales penas levando, /por las montañas yermas...

  8. 3 Virgins and Harlots
    (pp. 52-72)

    The Golden Legenddescribes how a young St Agnes was on her way home from school one day when the son of a Roman prefect took one look at her and fell helplessly in love (voragine no. 24). When he proposed marriage, the virgin turned him down at once, having already promised herself to christ. Devastated by this rejection, the prefect’s son fell into a deep and maddening despair that the doctors diagnosed as lovesickness. His father, worried about the boy’s health, tried to convince Agnes to change her mind, but again she flatly refused to marry. The prefect became...

  9. 4 Picaresque Saints
    (pp. 73-92)

    The title of this chapter may seem odd as the phrase ‘picaresque saint’ was coined by R.W.B. Lewis in his study of anti-heroes in the twentieth-century American novel who embody a contradiction between real and ideal worlds.¹ Later, in a collection of essays calledChaucer’s Saints, the medievalist Ann Haskell cites Lewis: ‘this book might easily have been calledThe Picaresque Saint, if the title had not been pre-empted’ (1). These critics, by using the same critical term in such radically different historical and cultural contexts, demonstrate the Janus-like quality of the picaresque as a narrative mode that can on...

  10. 5 Rivalries and Reconciliations
    (pp. 93-113)

    In his study of the art of the novel, Milan Kundera has observed that, after the publication ofDon Quijote de la Mancha, ‘each work is an answer to preceding ones’ (Art19). Miguel de Cervantes set this precedent by famously creating an anti-hero who confuses fiction with reality, as well as secondary characters who try to reconfigure and live out their lives in accordance with the books they have read.¹ His masterpiece not only responds to and novelizes the stagnant tradition of romance, but also reacts to the still emerging form of anti-romance that has come to be called...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. Conclusion: Sanctity and Humanity
    (pp. 114-118)

    In 1538, Pedro Ciruelo published hisReprovación de las supersticiones y hechizerías(Reproval of Superstitions and Sorcery), not long after being chosen as the tutor of Felipe II, the eight-year-old son of the emperor, Carlos V.¹ This book was reprinted several times during the Counter-Reformation, as were similar vernacular treatises written by Spanish clergymen. Ciruelo, in his warning against unauthorized spiritual practices, advises against reading too much into hagiography, or reading one-self into the miraculous lives of the saints:

    A lo que allegan de las historias de los sanctos apóstoles y de otros algunos santos: que hablaron con los demonios...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 119-156)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 157-184)
  15. Index
    (pp. 185-197)