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The "Libro de buen amor": The Art of Love (or Seduction)!

The thread that holds the rambling and digressive Libro de buen amor together is love, specifically the question of “good love” (“buen amor”) and “mad love” (“loco amor”). “Buen amor, ” we are told in the prose preface, is love of God which the soul yearns for (p. 7), “loco amor” is the worldly sin of lust, which the soul rejects (p. 8). But, the Archpriest concludes, “Since it is human to sin, if any wish to pursue mad love –which I do not advise- here they’ll find some ways to do it” (p.10). The Book ostensibly becomes, then, a kind of manual on the art of seduction, although generously sprinkled at the same time with devout songs and moralising fables.

In composing a manual on the art of seduction, Juan Ruiz, was doing nothing new. Perhaps the best

known guide is Ovid’s Ars amatoria, composed about 1 BC, and enormously popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. Closer to the Archpriest’s day (mid 14th century) were the equally popular 12th-century anonymous Pamphilus de amore (which was a loose and much shorter adaptation of the Ars amatoria), and the 13th century De vetula (About the Old Woman). Each of these contains advice on the art of love or seduction (Ovid also has advice for women, in Book III), and the last two contain loose plots in which the lovers enlist the aid of bawds, whose role in governed by their mercenary needs.

Beginning in the 12th century, the idea of courtly love established itself in Provence and was codified (around 1185) by Andreas Capellanus. Distinguishing between the various attitudes towards love is difficult and is not the intention here. However, as a sweeping generalisation, we might say that the world of courtly love is aristocratic, and the object of the lover’s desire is married to another man. Love, thus, is secret shared only by a confidant, but not a bawd. The lover worships his lady, and after an appropriate passage of time, she might grant him a small gift (a waistband, a lock of hair). Most importantly, love ennobled the lover and was a source of excellence, esteem and virtue. In other words, courtly love was, basically, serious stuff.

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