From the front line of conflict opposing Christian Spain to Muslim Spain in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there arose a great body of anonymous ballads recounting the events, characters and cultural divides of the time. In this ballad, a moor made captive by the Christian side recounts the wonders of the moorish capital, the city of Granada, inspiring admiration, envy and desire on the part of the Christian king. I am supposing that the king, don Juan, who figures in this poem might be Juan II of Castile, who reigned in the first half of the fifteenth century
ROMANCE DE ABENÁMAR
-¡Abenámar, Abenámar, moro de la morería,
el día que tú naciste grandes señales había!
Estaba la mar en calma, la luna estaba crecida,
moro que en tal signo nace no debe decir mentira.
Allí respondiera el moro, bien oiréis lo que diría:
-Yo te lo diré, señor, aunque me cueste la vida,
porque soy hijo de un moro y una cristiana cautiva;
siendo yo niño y muchacho mi madre me lo decía
que mentira no dijese, que era grande villanía:
por tanto, pregunta, rey, que la verdad te diría.
-Yo te agradezco, Abenámar, aquesa tu cortesía.
¿Qué castillos son aquéllos? ¡Altos son y relucían!
-El Alhambra era, señor, y la otra la mezquita,
los otros los Alixares, labrados a maravilla.
El moro que los labraba cien doblas ganaba al día,
y el día que no los labra, otras tantas se perdía.
El otro es Generalife, huerta que par no tenía;
el otro Torres Bermejas, castillo de gran valía.
Allí habló el rey don Juan, bien oiréis lo que decía:
-Si tú quisieses, Granada, contigo me casaría;
daréte en arras y dote a Córdoba y a Sevilla.
-Casada soy, rey don Juan, casada soy, que no viuda;
el moro que a mí me tiene muy grande bien me quería.
The first stanza describes the favourable signs at the birth of the Moorish captive, Abenamar, foretelling that he would be someone exceptional, and that he is a moor who can be trusted, despite being on the wrong side, from the point of view of the Christians who originated this ballad. He was born at the time of a calm sea and a full moon.
And then in the second stanza, Abenamar reveals that he is the son of a Moor and a Christian captive, presumably held as a slave-girl, and that it was his mother who brought him up to tell the truth. This anecdote doubly reinforces the message of moral superiority for the Christian side, firstly reminding listeners that the Moors held Christian slaves and secondly asserting that, despite circumstances, the Christians maintained their commitment to faith and truth. Having established these credentials, the Christian king asks Abenamar about the castles they can see in the distance from their camp.
In the third stanza, Abenamar describes the wonders of the city of Granada, the Alhambra, the mosque, the Generalife and so on. You can visit these today and be reminded of the great Islamic civilization that was established in southern Spain for over 750 years, until they were finally defeated in 1492. The buildings and gardens of Granada are truly wonderful, even today. The king’s reply to Abenamar is interesting, he refers to the city of Granada as a woman and says he would marry her, and give as dowry the other great cities of the south, Cordoba and Sevilla, Marriage, is of course a metaphor for possession. The final two lines of the ballad go completely into the realm of metaphor, as they consist of the city of Granada replying to the king that she is already married to a great moor who loves her well. And of course, the Christian side knew that it would not be easy to conquer Granada, which turned out to be true as it was the last stronghold of Moorish Spain which fell to the Christians 40 or 50 years after the time of Juan II.
Ballads like this are a wonderful window on history and remind us of the great events of the past. Really interesting.
The Poetry Dude