THE ARCHPRIEST OF HITA AND HIS "LIBRO DE BUEN AMOR"

Juan Ruiz, Archpriest of Hita, was a clergyman who is reputed to have studied in Toledo. He was imprisoned for a long time by order of Gil de Albornoz, Archbishop of Toledo. His only work, the Libro de Buen Amor ("The book of good love"), is autobiographical. The book is entered in three codices and registered under the tradition of Mester de Clerecía; it appears to be written in the form of a personal collection of lyrical poems on different subjects, with no apparent connection between them. This connection is, in fact, achieved by the figure of the author, and expressed in the manner of a false autobiography, which is thought to have been inspired by Arab-Jewish literary models, such as El collar de la paloma ("Ring of the Dove") and El libro de las delicias ("The book of delights").

The fundamental plot revolves around the romantic adventures of the author-protagonist, interlaced with extremely heterogeneous elements: a collection of exiemplos (fables and other stories, for the most part similar to those of Aesop), a paraphrase of Ovid's Ars Amandi; a paraphrased, narrative imitation of the 12th-century Latin comedy Pamphilus in the episode that recounts the amorous adventures of don Melón and doña Endrina, assisted by the go-between Trotaconventos. This is the main theme of the book. In addition, it contains two allegorical parodies: the battle between don Carnal and doña Cuaresma (Carnality and Lust against Purity and Abstinence), ending in the defeat of the former, and, finally, the arrival of spring and the triumphant ushering in of love.

The Archpriest writes in an excessively passionate style, both in respect of the worldly elements of the text and the religious and moral aspects. He expresses a cheerful outlook on life, is a great lover of pleasure, but at the same time, his anger with selfishness or death shows through.

To a certain extent, El libro de Buen Amor is a work about Shrovetide, inspired by the mocking spirit of carnival; his words urge us to enjoy life to the full, and transgress all that is considered pompous and solemn.

The diversity of the book in terms of the subject-matter, style and meter (the musicality of the Four Alexandrine stanzas alternates with other stanzas of "arte menor") is sufficient reason to classify the Archpriest as a clergyman and minstrel. He was a contemporary of Bocaccio and Chaucer and his work gives us a broad insight into what the society of his time was like.

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