On Monday, April 22, 2019, Prof. Raúl Ariza-Barile delivered the paper “Chaucer y España: historia de una reescritura” at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. Raúl’s paper is part of a growing, valuable, and relatively recent scholarly trend investigating the Spanish influence and contexts in Chaucer’s work. Critics studying Spanish Chaucer have focused on the author’s well-known mission to Navarre and the subsequent literary response in the Monk’s Tale via the brief segment on King Pedro I. Raúl’s paper mentioned this important reference, but argues, in particular, that Chaucer’s (untold) Spanish history might have begun earlier, with the translation and dissemination of scientific texts in Toledo in the twelfth century.
After providing the audience with an historicized overview of the extant scholarship on Chaucer and/in Spain, Raúl suggested that astronomy should be a driving, central aspect when scholars try to reconstruct Chaucer’s Spanish puzzle. A number of Chaucer’s references to astronomy in The Canterbury Tales, for instance, reveal knowledge of texts translated or rewritten in Spain, such as the two versions of the Toledo tables which Chaucer calls “tables Tolletanes” (The Franklin’s Tale, V.1273). Of perhaps greatest
importance, however, is the textual history contained within A Treatise on the Astrolabe, which Chaucer could not have composed without the existence of treatises originating in Spain. Despite these possible links, Raúl’s talk reminded scholars to proceed cautiously: after all, unearthing the Spanish influence in Chaucer amounts, in many ways, to a work of literary archaeology, simply because Chaucer barely credits Spanish authors or translators in his work. (An exception is his mention of the Toledan astronomer Arzakel, “Arsechieles,” in his Astrolabe 2.45.2)
Raúl concluded his talk by saying that Spain must feature more prominently in Chaucer’s European puzzle, and although we do have excellent (and recent) scholarship that documents Chaucer’s stay in Spain (such as Marion Turner’s Chaucer: A European Life), the time has come for Spanish astronomy to emerge more prominently in this discussion.