Richard Zenith


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Princeton University Press
17 May 2022
ISBN: 9780691179407
384 pages

From the publisher

Edited and translated by Richard Zenith

A bilingual volume that reveals an intriguing world of courtly love and satire in medieval Portugal and Spain

The rich tradition of troubadour poetry in western Iberia had all but vanished from history until the discovery of several ancient cancioneiros, or songbooks, in the nineteenth century. These compendiums revealed close to 1,700 songs, or cantigas, composed by around 150 troubadours from Galicia, Portugal, and Castile in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. In Cantigas, award-winning translator Richard Zenith presents a delightful selection of 124 of these poems in English versions that preserve the musical quality of the originals, which are featured on facing pages. By turns romantic, spiritual, ironic, misogynist, and feminist, these lyrics paint a vibrant picture of their time and place, surprising us with attitudes and behaviors that are both alien and familiar.

The book includes the three major kinds of cantigas. While cantigas de amor (love poems in the voice of men) were largely inspired by the troubadour poetry of southern France, cantigas de amigo (love poems voiced by women) derived from a unique native oral tradition in which the narrator pines after her beloved, sings his praises, or mocks him. In turn, cantigas de escárnio are satiric, and sometimes outrageously obscene, lyrics whose targets include aristocrats, corrupt clergy, promiscuous women, and homosexuals.

Complete with an illuminating introduction on the history of the cantigas, their poetic characteristics, and the men who composed and performed them, this engaging volume is filled with exuberant and unexpected poems.