‘Remembering Fernando. Multi-lingual inscriptions in medieval Iberia’

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Scholars of medieval Iberia have invariably understood multilingual inscriptions as signs of multiconfessional and multiethnic communities, ‘relic[s] of Judaeo-Spanish harmony’, the written deposits of a culture of convivencia (living together). Indeed it was in the 1962 edition of his seminal formulation of the concept of convivencia, La realidad histórica de España, that Américo Castro first drew the attention of modern scholars to the multilingual epitaphs of King Fernando III of Castile-León (d. 1252). Written in Latin, Castilian, Arabic and Hebrew, these epitaphs originally belonged to the tomb erected by Fernando's son, Alfonso X, in the mosque that served as Seville's cathedral following Fernando's capture of the city in 1248. In a recent assessment of convivencia in the visual arts, the epitaphs were described as

Alfonso's elegy to his conqueror father's plural kingdom, and to a Castilian universe in which the public presence of Jews and Muslims was a matter of course, peoples of the realm with their own monumental languages in which the king himself could inscribe their versions of the life of Ferdinand. No less, though, this was Alfonso's proclamation of his own imperial vision and ambitions, especially those that arose from the culture of translation his father's tomb immortalizes.
Although somewhat qualified, this beguiling account betrays notions of plurality that are as much indebted to the authors' experiences of the ‘melting pot’ cultures of Manhattan as to the historical reality, the ‘realidad histórica’, of medieval Iberia. In this chapter I question such pluralistic interpretations of multilingual texts: the careful juxtaposition of different scripts and languages was never neutral, I argue, but resulted from a complex process of multiple translation that produced a fiction of universal, sapiential kingship and multiconfessional consensus. On one level the epitaphs worked visually, especially for those – the great majority – who could not read them in their entirety (or chose not to), but saw them next to emblems of Seville's new Christian rulers and could probably at least recognise different scripts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationViewing Inscriptions in the Late Antique and Medieval World
EditorsA. Eastmond
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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