Calila e Digna, El libro de


Calila e Digna, El libro de
(Calila y Dimna)
(1251)
   The Libro de Calila e Digna is the earliest example of Castilian Spanish prose fiction. It is an anonymous collection of moral beast-fables that was commissioned by ALFONSO X (called el Sabio or “the Wise”) in 1251, before he became king, based on the Arabic collection by Abdulla ibn al-Muqaffa, the Kalila wa-Dimna. The Arabic text was in turn a translation of a lost Persian collection by a certain Barzuya. Ultimately, the collection stems from the Sanskrit Panchatantra, a third-century Hindu compilation that had been made for an Indian king.
   Like most collections of animal fables, Libro de Calila e Digna is didactic in intent, satirizing human behavior through the tales of animals. The title of the book comes from the names of two jackals whose story forms the frame narrative for the collection. Digna is a power-hungry schemer who brings about his own downfall and ultimately his death after he causes the estrangement of the bull and the lion.Within this frame many other characters who are part of the main action temporarily take on the role of narrator and tell stories of their own. In addition, the whole story of Digna is placed within a larger frame of a conversation between a philosopher and a king, so that the structure of the narrative includes tales within tales, a popular Oriental and Middle Eastern technique that lies behind such collections as the THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS.
   The Libro de Calila e Digna stands at the head of the long tradition of Spanish prose fiction. It directly influenced the collection of 51 tales called El conde Lucanor (or the Libro de Patronio) by Alfonso X’s nephew, Juan MANUEL (1282–1348). It also influenced the episodic structure of later picaresque novels that culminate in Cervantes’s Don Quixote. The Libro de Calila e Digna was ultimately translated into Latin by Raymond de Bézier in 1313, a translation that made the text popular throughout Europe.
   Bibliography
   ■ Calila e Dimna. Edited with an introduction and notes by Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua y María Jesús Lacarra.Madrid: Editorial Castalia, 1984.
   ■ Parker, Margaret. Didactic Structure and Content of El Libro de Calila e Digna. Miami, Fla.: Ediciones Universal, 1978.
   ■ Picerno, Richard A., ed.Medieval Spanish Ejempla: A Study of Selected Tales fromCalila y Dimna,” “El libro de los engaños de las mujeresand theLibro de los exemplos por A.B.C.” Miami, Fla.: Ediciones Universal, 1988.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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