The Bookmark

Jesús R. Velasco , «The Bookmark», en 7PartidasDigital. Edición crítica digital de las «Siete Partidas».

A rectangular piece of parchment, now stuck to the inner part of a Partidas manuscript’s binding (Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, Vitrina 4-6see) was, in the past, an independent bookmark. It was used in the late fourteenth century, or perhaps the early fifteenth century, by an avid reader of the magnificent manuscript, which was prepared in the fourteenth century for an unknown owner but repurposed in the second half of the fifteenth century (likely after 1457) for the use of Alvaro de Zúñiga, Justicia Mayor of the kingdom. He may have paid for the book one gold maravedí and five silver ounces1. It is, indeed, an expensive book. After Zúñiga’s death in 1488, the codex became the property of the Catholic Monarchs, who preserved it in a black case made out of velour and embroidered with precious stones. The now inactive bookmark contains the following reference:

2 pã
tº. 13. Ley 2 ij
sta grda dl rey

According to the system we use in this project, the bookmark refers to Partidas 2.13.2. The reader identified the passage as falling into the category of the “sacred task of protecting the king” (la santa guarda del rey). The same reader left many marks throughout the Second Partida, interested, as he was, in monarchical politics and the meaning of a jurisdiction centralized on the person of the king2. This reference points directly to a part of the legislation where the lawgiver used extensively Aristotle’s treatises on the soul and on aesthetics. Some of the questions under consideration in those Aristotelian references reveal the use of texts from the commentators of those Aristotelian books. The commentators were those normally published under the label of “Aristoteles Latinus,” that is, Persian, Andalusi and otherwise Muslim and Jewish thinkers from the Mediterranean basin, from the tenth to the early thirteenth century, the very same commentators that were read, taught, debated, and sometimes forbidden and their theses condemned as heretic ones, in the middle of the university and intellectual debates in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Europe.

Maybe the Partidas provides to us the possibility to gain a different sort of access to those debates. The Partidas are a secular code of legislation—note that I am not saying that they are a body or a corpus of legislation like other legal productions: unlike those, the Partidasare a code. In their book, Ruedi Imbach and Catherine König-Pralong decided to undertake an inquest into the relationship between clerical and secular philosophers in the Middle Ages (especially during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries), and determine whether the appropriation of philosophy by secular writers and intellectuals constitutes a specific challenge. Their book, Le défi laïque, not only defends the necessity to understand this specific challenge but also demonstrates how the displacement toward a secular philosophy and secular philosophers also transforms both the contents and the importance of philosophy considered as critical thought3.

As a secular code, the Partidas constitute a double challenge. On the one hand, they indicate a certain way of appropriation of philosophical corpora, methods, and ideas with the purpose of building the system of legislation. They do it in the vernacular and by exploring a secular jurisdictional system, even in clerical and ecclesiastic matters—the Partidas, we shall remember, also include canon law at different levels of their composition. On the other hand, the Partidas define a secular legal program and a profoundly secular definition of people, that is, the legal subjects. The codification including philosophical knowledge at different levels has this body of secular and vernacular legal subjects as its proper audience, or better yet, as its proper body of clients.

The use of Aristotelian aesthetics is not the only philosophical body inscribed in the Partidas as law. There are others. We will devote a full chapter to another one, the ethics of friendship, and how this ethics and its politics become a legislative program in the Fourth Partida. The Partidas, indeed, abound in Aristotelian references, including sections of the Politics and its commentators, the arts and philosophy of Rhetoric (in which the legislator also refers to Ciceronian rhetoric) and, of course, the pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum Secretorum4. The latter plays a double role in the legislation, on the one hand, as practical philosophy and practical politics, and on the other hand, as a resource for storytelling (a resource that the codification of the Partidas also enjoys as one of its main building materials).

There are other important levels that still need to be studied. While this books will deal in particular with the questions of the ethics and politics of friendship and the politics of the soul that derive from the use of the corpus of Aristotelian aesthetics, there are other philosophical lines of inquiry that I won’t explore here: questions that have not been favored by traditional research in medieval philosophy, like the theories of contracts, the uses of oaths, the theories of matter, the philosophical consequences of property, problems of optic, and so on, that are also embedded in the Siete Partidas. Other scholars have delved into some of those issues in a more general way, with no specific interest in the Partidas, but with a clear interest in the legal discipline—authors like Alain Boureau, Irène Roser-Catach, Sylvain PironDamien Boquet & Piroska Nagy, Elsa Marmusztejn, Marta Madero, among others.

To read further:

Velasco, Jesús R. (2017.07.31), «The Bookmark», en 7PartidasDigital. Edición crítica digital de las «Siete Partidas», [04/08/17]




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