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Uses of the Bible in the «Poema de Fernán González»

Alan Deyermond

Any attempt to give an account of the Poema de Fernán González -whether on the level of plot, of literary structure, of folkloric or figural analysis, or of ideology depends on two assumptions: first, that the verse text in the unique extant manuscript (Escorial b.IV.21, copied in the fifteenth century) is incomplete, and second, that the Estoria de España fully and with relative fidelity supplies what is missing in the manuscript. Luckily, the evidence for both assumptions is very strong. This is not a case analogous to the phantasmagoric lost ending of the Auto de los reyes magos, or even to the hypothetical lost beginning of the Cantar de Mio Cid; neither is it analogous to the Mocedades de Rodrigo or Elena y María, where the ending is clearly lost but we lack the evidence that could tell us what that ending was. Unfortunately the evidence of the Estoria de España is ambiguous in one respect: how far beyond the end of the extant manuscript did the Poema continue? Did it end with the independence of Castile, as is believed by, among others, Alonso Zamora Vicente and Miguel Ángel Pérez Priego, or did it continue until Fernán González's death and burial, as María Eugenia Lacarra argues?1 Either would make a satisfying conclusion to the story, though the kind of poem we contemplated would differ significantly according to the hypothesis we accepted. It seems to me more likely that the Poema ended with the hero's death and burial, though it does not necessarily follow that all the intermediate episodes believed by Lacarra to have formed part of the text did in fact do so.

The abrupt ending of the extant text of the Poema is one of the most obvious difficulties that is presented to the reader2. The other is that what begins as a poem about the history of Spain, concentrating increasingly on Castile, becomes in stanza 173 a poem about Fernán González, whose birth had been mentioned only six stanzas earlier3. It is true that in the extant manuscript Fernán González is said at the outset to be the poem's subject («del conde de Castiella quiero fer una prosa» 1d), but it is easy to understand why a prosified quatrain at the beginning of the Sumario de crónicas hasta el año 1368, which is very similar to stanza 1 of the Poema de Fernán González but concludes «de los reyes e enperadores quiero fablar una breve cosa»4, should be taken by Lacarra (p. 14n) as a possible reading from a lost manuscript of the Poema. The poet's apparent uncertainty about the subject matter of his poem is, however, resolved when we realize that he has a figural vision of Spanish history: not only does the early history of Spain have a clear figural relationship to that of Israel in the Old Testament, while significant New Testament parallels are to be found in the poet's treatment of Fernán González, but the Count is presented as the culmination of Castile's history just as that of Israel culminates in Jesus as Messiah5.

The resolution of these two immediate and obvious hindrances to the reading of the poem leads, unfortunately, to two further and more intractable ones. If, as all modern scholars agree, Fernán González's career as hero of the Poema reaches a triumphant climax in the attainment of Castilian independence from León, a large section (stanzas 14-121) loses most of its point, since the story of the Visigothic kingdom, its overthrow by the Moors, and Pelayo's initiation of the Reconquest is -while clearly relevant to Fernán González's battles with the Moors- largely irrelevant to his outwitting of the King of León. The shift of emphasis from Moors to Leonese as the main threat to Castile is as disconcerting as the shift from Spanish history to an individual hero had seemed to be6. And a figural reading of the Poema, necessary to restore coherence to what had seemed a work with double focus, seems to clash with the frequent references to Fortune's wheel. These assume a cyclical, rather than a linear and providential, view of history; in C. A. Patrides's terms, the references to Fortune's wheel depict history as a phoenix, while a figural reading depicts it as a ladder7.

I shall return to these problems at the end of this article, since I believe that the only hope of resolving them lies in an analysis of the ways in which the poet uses the Bible. Any work by a medieval Christian would, of course, presuppose the Christian view of history and an awareness of the Bible, but these platitudes become useful critical knowledge only when there is active reference to that view and clear allusion to the Bible within the work. In the Poema de Fernán González, unlike, say, the Siete infantes de Lara, the Bible and Christian historiography are consistently active as subtexts.

The Poema opens with an invocation which refers explicitly to the Creation and the Incarnation: «En el nonbre del Padre que fizo toda cosa, / del que quiso nascer de la Virgen preciosa» (1ab). A more extensive series of explicit references to passages of the Old and New Testaments is to be found in stanzas 105-12, the prayer of the Christians suffering at the hands of the Muslim invaders. Both invocation and narrative prayer are found in a number of other medieval works, both in Spanish and in other languages, and it is not my intention to suggest that their use makes the Poema a uniquely biblical composition8. They do, however, tend to show that less explicit allusions to the Bible elsewhere in the text should not be dismissed as mere coincidence. The same is true of the poet's use of characteristically biblical vocabulary, which has been extensively documented by Olegario García de la Fuente9.

Five studies published in the past thirty years have, directly or indirectly, shed light on the Poema's use of the Bible, and it is to be hoped that a sixth study will soon appear. J. P. Keller's analysis of ternary structures overstates the case at times, but reveals beyond doubt the poet's consistent tendency to arrange his material in sets of three10. It is not easy to estimate how much of this is due to folklore patterns (quite possibly inherited from the lost Cantar de Fernán González), but some of the ternary structures have a clearly religious base. Samuel G. Armistead's brief but influential article about line 80c opened up the question of the poet's view of history, and it poses questions that still challenge all interpreters of the Poema11. The problem of figural patterns in the Poema, implicit in Armistead's article, is dealt with explicitly by David William Foster12. Foster's book has its faults, but the section on the Poema makes some telling points and opens the way to further investigation. María Eugenia Lacarra's historical and ideological analysis, already referred to, shows how secular and religious interests may have helped to shape the Poema, and gives an illuminating account of the poet's Neogothic ideology which, as we shall see, is closely allied to his use of the Bible. Colbert I. Nepaulsingh's pages on the Poema in his book on medieval Spanish literature stress its apocalyptic aspect (entirely compatible with a political objective), and reveal a number of hitherto unsuspected biblical allusions13. Finally, David Hook's unpublished paper on pagan elements in the Spanish epic shows clearly that some aspects of the Poema may with equal plausibility be attributed either to deep-rooted pre-Christian traditions or to biblical influence14.

Hook's paper draws renewed attention to the fact that the Poema, like any literary work, may have two or more simultaneously functional subtexts: biblical and folkloric patterns may coexist15. The present article's restriction to the biblical subtext does not imply a suggestion that it is the only one.

Old Testament allusions predominate in the first part of the Poema (stanzas 1-172, dealing with the history of Castile and before that of all Hispania), whereas allusions to the New Testament are more frequent once Fernán González has become the centre of interest, though we must not exaggerate the extent of the change16. There is a steadier, more consistent pattern in the first part, no doubt because it is easier for the poet to portray the Spaniards, and then specifically the Castilians, as God's chosen people than to present the military and political struggles of a secular ruler as being, in any consistent way, either an imitatio Christi or the antitype that the Old Testament types had imperfectly prefigured17.

The poet's prologue sets out a pattern of fall and restoration, of sorrow that gradually becomes joy in a triumphant climax to history's progress:

Contar vos he primero en cómmo la [tierra] perdieron
nuestros antecessores, en quál coyta visquieron:
commo omnes deserrados fuydos andodieron;
essa rabia llevaron que luego non morieron.

Muchas coytas passaron nuestros antecessores,
muchos malos espantos, muchos malos sabores,
sufrién frío e fanbre e muchos amargores;
estos vicios18 d'agora estonz heran dolores.

Entanto deste tienpo yr vos he yo contando
cómmo fueron la tierra perdiendo e cobrando;
fasta que todos fueron al conde don Fernando


The four essential elements in this passage are: (a) an ancestral calamity, as a result of which (b) the land is lost and (c) cold, hunger and other sufferings afflict the people until (d) a gradual recovery begins, culminating in the narrative present. The most obvious analogue is the Biblical narrative of the Fall, whose effects are to be undone only by the coming of the Messiah. The disobedience of Adam and Eve («nuestros antecessores» to Jews and Christians alike) leads to expulsion from Eden: «Et emisit eum Dominus Deus de paradiso voluptatis, ut operaretur terram de qua sumptus est. Eiecitque Adam» (Genesis 3.23-24)19. God warns the guilty couple that hardship and misery await them and their descendants:

Mulieri quoque dixit: Multiplicabo aerumnas tuas, et conceptus tuos: in dolore paries filios, et sub viri potestate eris, et ipse dominabitur tui. Adae vero dixit. Quia audisti vocem uxoris tuae, et comedisti de ligno, ex quo praeceperam tibi ne comederes, maledicta terra in opere tuo: in laboribus comedes ex ea cunctis diebus vitae tuae. Spinas et tribulos germinabit tibi, et comedes herbam terrae. In sudore vultus tui vesceris pane, donec revertaris in terram de qua sumptus es [...]


The transformation of this inherited burden of sorrow into joy becomes a recurrent theme of the Old Testament once the historical narrative and the long passages of law-giving are past: «quia in ipsis diebus se ulti sunt Iudaei de inimicis suis, et luctus atque tristitia in hilaritatem gaudiumque conversa sunt» (Esther 9.22). What may be seen in such passages as a foreshadowing becomes explicit prophecy of a final and irreversible transformation in «Gaudium et laetitiam obtinebunt, et fugiet dolor et gemitus» (Isaiah 35.10); «Converte, Domine, captivitatem nostram, sicut torrens in austro. Qui seminant in lacrymis, in exsultatione metent» (Psalm 125.4-5): and «Audite verbum Domini, gentes, et annuntiate in insulis quae procul sunt, et dicite: Qui dispersit Israel congregabit eum, et custodiet eum sicut pastor gregem suum [...] Tunc laetabitur virgo in choro, iuvenes et senes simul: et convertam luctum eorum in gaudium, et consolabor eos, et laetificabo a dolore suo» (Jeremiah 31.10 & 13). These prophecies are echoed in Jesus's promise: «Et vos igitur nunc quidem tristitiam habetis, iterum autem videbo vos, et gaudebit cor vestrum, et gaudium vestrum nemo tollet a vobis» (John 16.22). There is of course no verbal borrowing from the Bible in the passage of the Poema de Fernán González that I have quoted, but the biblical pattern is unmistakable. It might be objected that this is no more than the pattern of exile and return found in many epics that are unconnected with the Judeo-Christian tradition, but in those epics the hero who returns is generally the one who was himself exiled; the emphasis on exile and hardship as the result of an ancestral calamity, together with the explicit statement of Christian purpose in stanzas 1-2, put the Biblical filiation of stanzas 3-5 beyond doubt. The calamity is then located in the reign of Rodrigo:

Cómmo es muy luenga desde el tienpo antigo,
cómmo se dio la tierra al buen rey don Rodrigo
cómmol' ovo ganar el mortal enemigo;
de grand honor que hera tornol' pobre mendigo.


The words «el mortal enemigo» are to some extent ambiguous, but the ambiguity is one that enriches the meaning rather than weakening it by uncertainty. Their primary meaning is, as some editors note, «the Devil», but they may also refer to the Muslim invaders, who are associated with the Devil at a number of points in the poem20. Also, the mention of the Devil so soon after the reference to the disaster that befell «nuestros antecessores» tightens the connection with the third chapter of Genesis. The connection becomes still closer by veiled allusions to the story of Rodrigo's seduction of Count Julian's daughter. The main emphasis in the poet's account of the causes of the fall of Visigothic Spain is on dynastic dissension (this was of course the reason that historically led one faction to invite the Muslim army to cross the Straits)21, which is used by the Devil to inspire treason:

Fyjos de Vautyçanos [Wittiza] non devyeran nascer,
que essos començaron trayción a fazer,
volvyó lo el diablo e metyó ý su poder,
esto fue el escomienço de Espanna perder.


Nevertheless, the legend of la Cava was by this time very widely known, and despite the poet's praise for Rodrigo's qualities in stanza 35 there is a reference which must be (as Victorio says, p. 50) to the King's lust:

Fynó se Vautyçanos, reynó rey don Rodrigo;
avýan en él los moros un mortal enemigo,
era de los cristianos sonbra e grrand abrygo,
por culpa en que era non le era Dyos amigo.

Seven stanzas later there is a reference to the story of Count Julian as one that is well known («El conde don Yllán, byen avedes oýdo / cómmo ovo por las paryas a Marruecos trocido», 42ab), and even though the seduction of his daughter is not mentioned his anger («Fyzo le la grrand yra trayción volver», 43a) is sufficient reminder. These allusions to Rodrigo's sin thus reinforce the biblical pattern of the poet's account of the fall of Spain. A similar pattern, it may be worth recalling, is found at the beginning of the Libro del cavallero Zifar: the sin of Zifar's ancestor Tared led to the loss of the kingdom and to a curse on his descendants22.

Julian deceives Rodrigo into disarming Spain, quoting Scriptural precedent:

¿Las armas, qué las quieres? pues non as pelear.

Manda por tod el reyno las armas desatar,
dellas fagan açadas pora vynnas labrar,
e dellas fagan rejas pora panes senbrar,
cavallos e rocines todos fagan arar.

Todos labren por pan, peones e caveros,
syenbren cuestas e valles e todos los oteros,
enrryquesquan tus reynos de pan e de dineros,
ca non as contra quien poner otros fronteros.


This is an obvious quotation of one or both of two texts:

Et iudicabit gentes, et arguet populos multos; et conflabunt gladios suos in vomeres, et lanceas suas in faces. Non levabit gens contra gentem gladium, nec exercebuntur ultra ad praelium.

(Isaiah 2.4)                

Et iudicabit inter populos multos, et corripiet gentes fortes usque in longinquun; et concident gladios suos in vomeres, et hastas suas in ligones: non sumet gens adversus gentem gladium, et non discent ultra belligerare. Et sedebit vir subtus vitem suam et subtus ficum suam, et non erit qui deterreat [...]

(Micah 4.3-4)                

Micah is, of course, drawing directly on Isaiah, but adds the vision of the people enjoying the fruits of peace. This addition (which underlies, for example, part of Cranmer's prophecy at the end of King Henry VIII) may be recalled by stanza 52 of the Poema de Fernán González. Julian's treacherous exhortation becomes, in amplified form, the credulous Rodrigo's order to his subjects (62-67), and there is an ironic reversal by which anyone who, loyal to Spain's interests, refuses to disarm is threatened with a traitor's death (66d, 67d)23. How can the following of Scripture be so disastrous? The explanation is simple: Isaiah, and Micah after him, present the beating of swords into ploughshares as part of an apocalyptic vision, where earthly history comes to an end: «Et erit in novissimis diebus praeparatus mons domus Domini in vertice montium, et elevabitur super colles» (Isaiah 2.2; cf. Micah 4.1). Julian's treachery is thus, in the Poema's account, compounded by blasphemy: he brings about prematurely something that was reserved for the Apocalypse. While the Spaniards disarm, the Muslims prepare for war; it may be worth noting that another apocalyptic vision, that of Joel, includes an ironic reversal of the Isaiah passage:

Clamate hoc in gentibus, sanctificate bellum, suscitate robustos; accedant, ascendant omnes viri bellatores. Concidite aratra vestra in gladios, et ligones vestros in lanceas. Infirmus dicat: Quia fortis ego sum.

(Joel 3.9-10)                

The Devil is shown in the Gospels (e. g. Matthew 4.6) quoting Scripture for his purpose; here his work is done by Julian, whose complicity with him is stressed: «vyo lo el diablo que tyende tales redes» (68b), and «el diablo antyguo en esto travajava» (70c)24.

The fall of Visigothic Spain to the Muslims, with the attendant and vividly-described sufferings of the Spaniards (89-97), is presented as the result not only of Count Julian's treachery and the Devil's machinations but of the sins of the Visigothic rulers, as we have already seen. The Spaniards, in the depths of their misery, recognize this:

Nós a Dios falesciendo á nos él falescido,
lo que otros ganaron emos todo perdido,
partyendo nós de Dios á se de nós partydo,
tod el byen de los godos por end es confundido.


This, the familiar Augustinian concept of the flagellum Dei -the heathen used by God to chastise an erring Christian people-, is also the familiar pattern of the book of Judges and other parts of the Old Testament, in which Israel turns away from God and is punished by being abandoned to her enemies. A typical passage -which I cite merely as one example among many, and not because I believe it to be a direct source of the Poema- reads: «Fecerunt autem filii Israel malum in conspectu Domini: qui tradidit illos in manu Madian septem annis» (Judges 6.1). There are some similarities between the Muslim conquest of Spain and the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem (II Kings 25), and, although the two narratives are not close enough to establish a direct link, Foster's reference to Spain's Babylonian captivity (p. 50) is not fanciful. The prayer of the distraught Spaniards (105-13), mentioned above, is concerned in all but its last stanza with God's miracles of deliverance in the Old and New Testaments. Three of the stanzas deal wholly or in part with miracles performed during the Babylonian captivity and narrated in the book of Daniel: «quitest a los jodíos del rey de Babilón» (107c), «Libreste a Susanna de los falsos varones, / saquest a Daniel de entre dos leones» (108ab), and:

Librest a los tres ninnos de los fuegos ardientes,
quando ý los metieron los pueblos descreyentes,
cantaron en el forno cantos muy convenientes,
otra vez los libreste de bocas de serpyentes.


Prayers recalling a series of miracles are, as is well known, common in medieval literature, but the Poema de Fernán González gives greater prominence to miracles of deliverance during the Babylonian captivity than does the average of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Spanish poems from which I have taken samples. Moreover, the Muslims are called «la gent descreýda» (102d) and «los pueblos descreýdos» (117c), while the Babylonians are «los pueblos descreyentes» (109b). We must, as A. C. Spearing reminds us, be careful not to assume that every repetition in medieval poetry is designed to establish a parallel25; and we must bear in mind that the lecherous Archpriest is, much later in the poem, called «el falso descreydo» (647c); yet the three references in 102-17 are so close together, and arranged so symmetrically, that it seems highly likely that the poet intends to make a point.

The biblical pattern continues in the first phase of the Reconquest, which immediately follows the description of the Spaniards' sufferings and their plea for deliverance:

oyó les Jesu Cristo a quien seién llamando.

Dyxo les por el ángel que Pelayo buscassen,
quel' alçassen por rey e que a él catassen,
en manparar la tierra todos le ayudassen,
ca él les daría ayuda por que la anparassen.

Buscaron a Pelayo commo les fue mandado,
fallaron lo en cueva fanbrryento e lazrado,
besáronle las manos e dieron le el rreygnado,
óvolo rescebyr pero non de su grrado.


This passage combines three narrative elements from the Old Testament. Time after time, when the apostate people of Israel repent their sins, God appoints a deliverer (for example, Judges 1.1-2, 2.16, 3.15), and on occasion the message is brought by an angel:

Venit autem angelus Domini, et sedit sub quercu, quae erat in Ephra, et pertinebat ad Ioas patrem familiae Ezri. Cumque Gedeon filius eius excuteret atque purgaret frumenta in torculari, ut fugeret Madian, apparuit ei angelus Domini et ait: Dominus tecum, virorum fortissime. Dixitque ei Gedeon: Obsecro, mi domine, si Dominus nobiscum est, cur apprehenderunt nos haec omnia? ubi sunt mirabilia eius, quae narraverunt patres nostri, atque dixerunt: De Aegypto eduxit nos Dominus? Nunc autem dereliquit nos Dominus et tradidit in manu Madian. Respexitque ad eum Dominus, et ait: Vade in hac fortitudine tua, et liberabis Israel de manu Madian: scito quod miserim te.

(Judges 6.11-14)                

Secondly, the deliverer is frequently of humble birth (this is also a folk-motif: see Deyermond and Chaplin, p. 43), and is pursuing a rustic occupation when the call comes, as in the passage just quoted or the story of David (I Samuel 16.19). Neither Pelayo nor Fernán González is of humble birth, but circumstances make them both appear to be: Pelayo is «fanbrryento e lazrado», and Fernán González is kidnapped by a poor charcoal-burner26 and brought up as his son (176). Thirdly, Pelayo taking refuge from the Muslims in a cave recalls the episode of David and his followers in the cave Adullam (I Samuel 22.1-2). (It should be noted in passing that the Poema's other Pelayo, the monk who prophesies Fernán González's victories, has his hermitage near a cave (226) and is named six stanzas later). Thus stanzas 114-16 and their echoes later in the poem bind King Pelayo, the monk Pelayo, and Count Fernán González together in a network of associations, a kind of secular prefiguration. Fernán González is shown as Pelayo's rightful heir both through narrative patterning and by divine approval mediated through the prophecies of the second Pelayo27.

Yet much of Old Testament history is concerned with a great ruler who is briefly succeeded by an unworthy son (for instance, Gideon succeeded by Abimelech, Judges 9), and this pattern too is found in the Poema:

Fynó el rey Pelayo, don Cristo lo perdón,
reygnó su fijo Vavilla que fue muy mal varón,
quiso Dios que mandasse poco en la región,
ca vysquió rey un anno e más poca sazón.


Murió est rey Alfonso, sennor aventurado
-sea en paraýso tan buen rey heredado-,
reygnó su fijo Fabya que fue malo provado,
quiso Dios que vysquiesse poco en el reygnado.


Despite such temporary setbacks -swiftly remedied by God's providence working itself out in history- the general tendency is upwards, as the kingdom of Asturias-León drives the Muslims back and Castile is formed in three stages:

D'un alcaldía pobre fyzieron la condado,
tornaron la después cabeça de reynado.


The poet's location of the by now traditional Praise of Spain is very interesting29. It occupies stanzas 144-57, being inserted into the historical narrative of the late eighth century. This is unusual: the usual place for such a passage is in a prologue or in combination with a lament for the fall of Visigothic Spain to the Muslim invaders. There is, however, an anticipation of the passage immediately after the poet narrates Rodrigo's accession to the Visigothic throne:

Era estonce Espanna toda d'una creencia,
al Fyjo de la Virgen fazían obediencia,
pesava al diablo con tanta reverencia,
non avýa entre ellos envydia nin entencia.

Estavan las yglesias todas byen ordenadas,
de olio e de cera estavan abastadas30,
los diezmos e premiencias leal míente eran dadas,
e eran todas las gentes en la fe arraygadas.

Vesquían de su lazeryo todos los labradores,
las grrandes potestades non eran rovadores,
guardavan byen sus pueblos com leales sennores,
vesquían de sus derechos los grrancies e menores.

Eslava la fazienda toda en ygual estado [...]

(37- 40a)                

José Antonio Maravall comments on this account of Visigothic Spain as a political and religious golden age31. Its separation from the Praise of Spain in stanzas 144-57 is at first sight surprising, but, while it may be a simple oversight by the poet, I believe that it is a part of his figural plan. The combination of social harmony, piety and natural abundance (the ecclesiastical context of 38b does not invalidate the importance attached to these products of the Spanish countryside) recalls the Garden of Eden. It is true that «Vesquían de su lazeryo» (39a) suggests imperfection more proper to postlapsarian humanity, but the overall impression given by this passage is of a lost paradise, especially when it is followed by:

avýa con este byen grrand pesar el pecado,
revolvyó atal cosa el mal aventurado,
que el gozo que avýa en llanto fue tornado.


Then comes the reference to the «fyjos de Vautyçanos» and to Count Julian (41-42; the relevance of their treason to the theme of fall and restoration is discussed above, pp. 51-53). What, then, of the later Praise of Spain? This gives most emphasis to natural abundance (145-51), but it goes on to mention piety and God's special favour (152-54) and social harmony (155). The implication is that Pelayo and his successors have recreated the earthly paradise that had been lost by ancestral sin, and that Old Castile is both the foundation («el cimiento») and the triumphant culmination of this process (156-57). Far from being a defect in the Poema's structure, therefore, the unusual division of the Praise of Spain reinforces the biblical pattern of loss and restoration.

References to that pattern are not confined to the first part of the Poema. Soon after the introduction of Fernán González, they occur in the hero's speech:

Quando entendió que era de Castyella sennor,
alçó a Dios las manos, rogó al Cryador:
«Sennor, tú me ayuda -que só muy pecador-,
que yo saque a Castyella del antygo dolor»


«Antygo dolor», taken in isolation, is not an obvious allusion to a disaster typologically linked to the Fall and the expulsion from Eden, but of course, the words do not occur in isolation. Given the way in which the overthrow of Visigothic Spain was treated in the first part of the Poema, these two words are enough to trigger recollections of an ancestral disaster and its Biblical counterpart. Speaking to his men some time later, Fernán González refers explicitly to the Devil's role in that disaster, and rewrites history so that Old Castile, not Pelayo in the Asturian mountains, becomes the saving remnant:

Assy guisó la cosa el mortal enemigo,
quando perdió la tierra el buen rey don Rodrygo,
non quedó en Espanna quien valiesse un fygo,
sy non Castyella Vieja un logar muy antygo.


The great majority of the biblical elements in the second, or Fernán González, part of the Poema are concerned not with the pattern established in the first part but with resemblances -some vague and questionable, others clear- between the hero and the earthly life of Jesus. These resemblances belong to an extension of Pauline and patristic typology which has, as far as I know, no accepted technical term, but which I have elsewhere called postfiguration: events in the life of an individual Christian, or in the history of the Church or of a Christian nation, are presented as imperfect reflections of events in the life of Christ32. An early example in the poet's account of Fernán González's deeds comes in the monk Pelayo's prophecy: «Antes de tercer día serás en grrand cuydado» (239a). This is part of the pervasive threefold structuring analysed, and to some extent exaggerated, by J. P. Keller, and by itself it would not establish a postfigurative link. A more striking case is in the description of the battle of La Era Degollada, against the Navarrese:

El conde fue del golpe fyera miente llagado,
ca tenía grrand lançada por el diestrro costado;
llamava 'Castellanos', mas ningún fue ý viado,
de todos sus caveros era desanparado.


A lance-wound in the side, temporary abandonment by dismayed followers, and unexpected victory evoke the last part of the Passion followed by the Resurrection33. The resemblance is clear, but is it deliberate and relevant? The likelihood is strengthened when the hero tells his followers of his vision of the dead monk Pelayo before the battle of Hacinas against the Muslims:

Esta es la razón que la voz me dezía:
«Conde Fernán González, lieva dend, ve tu výa,
tod el poder de Áfryca e de Andaluzía,
vencer lo has en canpo deste tercero día».


and warns them that anyone who surrenders to the Muslims «con Judas en infyerno yaga quando moriere» (444d; cf. 445d; see Foster, p. 59, and Valladares Reguero, p. 131)34. Fernán González tells his men that the devil who has taken the form of a fiery serpent has no power to harm them because Christ broke his power in the Harrowing of Hell (477). When the hero is tricked by the Navarrese Queen Teresa of León into going to Navarre under safe conduct, the King of Navarre promises to bring only five men with him, but:

el rey y los navarros aquel pleyto falsaron,
en lugar de los seys más de treynta llevaron.


When in the next stanza Fernán González exclaims «yo mesmo só vendido» (585d), the association of this act of treachery with Judas and the thirty pieces of silver is likely to have suggested itself to at least some members of the poet's contemporary public. All of this, I recognize, is speculative and tenuous, but what follows is unmistakable.

King García of Navarre besieges the church in which Fernán González has taken refuge, and, in violation of sanctuary («non la quiso dexar maguer era sagrada», 590b), he presents a choice between prison and death (591cd). The Count surrenders under safe conduct, and God's displeasure is shown by two supernatural happenings35:

Oyeron una voz commo voz de pavón,
partió se el altar de somo a fondón.


The «voz de pavón» (which echoes Fernán González's great cry when he knows he has been betrayed: «El conde dio grrand voz com sy fues a tronido», 586a) has been shown by Néstor A. Lugones to derive from Libro de Alexandre 1727; Lugones draws attention to the connotations that both works inherit from the bestiary's account of the peacock36. In the context in which the Poema de Fernán González places it, however, the loud cry takes on different and more emotive connotations:

Et circa horam nonam clamavit Iesus voce magna, dicens; Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? hoc est: Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me? [...] Iesus autem iterum damans voce magna, emisit spiritum. Et ecce velum templi scissum est in duas partes a summo usque deorsum: et terra mota est, et petrae scissae sunt [...]

(Matthew 27.46 & 50-51; cf. Mark 15.34 & 37-38)                

There can be no question here of accidental resemblance, or even of unconscious reminiscence: the same phenomena, in the same order, in the Gospels and the Poema, and the verbal detail («de somo a fondón», «a summo usque deorsum») mark this as a deliberate allusion37. If any doubt remained, it would be dispelled by the threefold echo of Christ's words from the Cross:

dixo: «Sennor del mundo ¿por qué me as fallido?»


«e por esto me tengo de ti desanparado»


«nunca fiz por que fuesse de ty desanparado»


This is not the first time that Fernán González has reproached God for abandoning him: a similar, though less emphatic, reproach was uttered in 545-46, and Foster describes that as «a frank accommodation of Christ's lament on the cross» (p. 55); in that case, the resemblance may be unintended, but in 594-96 it must be deliberate38. We have, then, a series of clear allusions to the Passion: betrayal for money (metaphorical in the Poema -it is significant that the poet chooses this metaphor), two loud cries, the altar split from top to bottom, the bitter complaint of abandonment by God. The sequence is not exactly the same in Gospels and Poema: notably, the first cry is separated in the Poema from the words of complaint; but this is far outweighed by the close verbal similarities. In the light of these allusions, more distant resemblances may seem to form part of a pattern: «El sol era ya baxo» (591a) may be a distant reminiscence of «tenebrae factae sunt super universam terram» (Matthew 27.45; cf. Mark 15.33 and Luke 23.44-45); the distress of the Castilians at hearing the news and their ritual gestures of mourning («rascadas muchas fruentes, rota mucha mexylla», 600c) recalls «Et omnis turba eorum, qui simul aderant ad spectaculum istud, et videbant quae fiebant, percutientes pectora sua revertebantur» (Luke 23.48); and the close imprisonment in Castroviejo:

Tornemos en el conde dol' avemos dexado,
era en Castro Vyejo en la cárcel echado,
de gentes de Navarra era byen aguardado,
nunca fue omne nado en presyón más coytado.


bears more than a passing resemblance to: «Illi autem abeuntes, munierunt sepulchrum, signantes lapidem, cum custodibus» (Matthew 27.66)39. Taken in isolation, none of these three parallels could reasonably be presented as evidence for a biblical subtext to this part of the Poema. Even the three together do not advance the argument very far. But in the context of the much closer parallels discussed above, these more distant ones take on a very different aspect. They are not necessarily conscious parallels, and the third -the reminiscence of the guarding of the Sepulchre in stanza 605- may be a case of what Albert B. Lord has labelled «thematic attraction»40. (It is true that Lord refers to «the subconscious forces of attraction that are operative in oral tradition», but such a process is not confined to oral tradition). It may be significant that when Princess Sancha frees the hero from prison (rather mysteriously: we are told only that «luego sacó la duenna al conde don Fernando», 636b) and the couple reach Castile, a resurrection image is used to describe the joy of the Castilians at their recovery of their lost leader:

Todos e ella con ellos con grrand gozo lloravan,
tenién que eran muertos e que resucitavan,
al Rey de los cielos bendezían e laudavan,
el llanto que fazían en grrand gozo tornavan.


One other passage requires comment. After Fernán González's imprisonment the Castilians do not know what to do without a leader, until Nuño Laínez advises them in what is described as a mysterious speech;

Los unos queryén uno, los otrros queryén ál,
commo omnes syn cabdiello avenién se muy mal;
fabló Nunno Laýnez de seso natural,
buen cavallero d'armas e de sennor leal.

Començó su razón muy fuerte e oscura:
«Fagamos nos sennor de una pyedrra dura,
semejable al conde, dessa mesma fechura,
sobre aquella pyedra fagamos todos jura.

Assý commo al conde las manos le besemos,
pongamos la en carro, ante nós la llevemos,
por amor del buen conde por sennor la ternemos,
pleito e omenaje todos a ella faremos».


David Hook (see n. 14) draws attention to Mediterranean and Germanic pagan rituals that closely resemble this substitution of a roughly-carved stone image, carried on a waggon, for the missing leader. He is undoubtedly right to conclude that the resemblance is too close to be dismissed as mere coincidence, but I wonder whether this may be an example of pagan and biblical subtexts combining to form a puzzling episode of the Poema. The biblical element that I have in mind is not the Old Testament making of a graven image (see Valladares Reguero, pp. 134-35), since there is no suggestion that the Castilians' action provokes divine wrath -on the contrary, their predicament is, as we have seen, joyfully resolved by Fernán González's return with Sancha. The operative parallel is from the New Testament:

Et ego dico tibi, quia tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam, et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam. Et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum.

(Matthew 16.18-19)                

Jesus says that He will leave as His representative on earth a strong stone («Sy el conde es fuerte, fuerte sennor llevamos», says Nuño Laínez, 658a)41.

I shall not attempt to trace biblical elements in the part of the Poema that is preserved in the Estoria de España's prosification, because of the uncertainties involved in such a procedure, and also because the biblical dependence of the Poema, from the beginning of its historical introduction to near the end of the extant verse text, has already been sufficiently demonstrated42. The nature of that dependence changes, as we have seen: the predominantly Old Testament subtext of the historical introduction establishes the Spaniards, and then specifically the Castilians, as the antitype of the Israelites: a people chosen by God to fulfil His purpose, and canying out that mission despite disastrous lapses, whereas the largely New Testament subtext of the greater part of the Poema cannot without impiety show Fernán González as another Christ. The chief purpose of the New Testament allusions is to fix in the mind of the reader or hearer the impression that those who betray or oppress Fernán González and Castile are to be associated with the betrayers and persecutors of Christ.

I must now return to the two problems left unresolved at the beginning of this article: the shift of emphasis from Moors to Leonese, and the incompatibility of a figural view of history with the frequent references to Fortune's wheel.

Lacarra argues (pp. 13-14) that the lost part of the Poema included a further invasion of Castile by the Moors, but even if her view is correct it does not go very far towards resolving the first difficulty, since only a final and climactic battle against the Moors would satisfactorily link the end of the Poema to its beginning, and there is no suggestion that the Poema ended in this way. A more promising approach is to see the change from military struggle against Moors and Navarrese to political struggle against León in the light of Biblical history. Just as the narrowing focus from Hispania to Castile and then to Fernán González as the triumphant culmination of Spanish history reflects the development of Biblical history from all mankind to Israel and then to the single figure of the Messiah, so the change from a people's battles against the enemy to the betrayal of an individual and his imprisonment (first in Navarre and then in León), leading to his liberation and the triumphant establishment of a new political order, reflects the Biblical pattern. Moors, Navarrese and Leonese share their hostility to Castile and to Fernán González personally, his straggles against these three adversaries are interwoven in the narrative, and the final political defeat of León sets the seal on the military defeats of the Moors and Navarrese. Lacarra shows that the poet condemns the Moors and the Navarrese with a vigour that is not directed against León, and she argues that this reflects the Alfonsine political ideology of the 1270s (pp. 25-30). However, the loss of the last part of the Poema impedes a definitive judgment of the poet's attitude to León, and against the anti-Navarrese feeling emphasized by Lacarra we must set the fact that Princess Sancha, bride and rescuer of the hero, is Navarrese. The case for seeing the three antagonists of Castile and of Fernán González as in some sense one is strengthened by the links that the poet establishes between them. Queen Teresa of León does not merely plan Fernán González's capture in Navarre; she is herself Navarrese. And the hero's envoy to King Sancho of Navarre accuses him of collaboration with the heathen and of enmity to Christendom:

Por fer mal a Castyella e destruyr castellanos,
feziste te amigo de los pueblos paganos,
feziste guerra mala a los pueblos cristianos,
porque non querién ellos meter se en las tus manos.


As Claude Allaigre points out, the accusation is made more explicit in the Estoria de España, when the King (here García, not Sancho) is said to assemble «muy grandes huestes de los suyos et de agenos, gascones et moros»43. One other factor helps to link the beginning and end of the poem: we have seen (p. 56, above) that the last stanza of the historical introduction describes Castile's growth from «alcaldía pobre» to «condado» and then, looking to the future, «cabeça de reynado» (172cd). The kingdom of which Castile is to be the head -already was the head, when the poem was composed in the second half of the thirteenth century- is the most important in the Peninsula, with claims to hegemony. Thus Fernán González's political defeat of León is a major step towards the restoration of the paradisal Hispania overthrown by the Moors because of the sins of its rulers and people. The Biblical pattern thus links not only the history of Castile with the deeds of Fernán González, but also the Moors of the eighth century with the Leonese king who tries to frustrate Fernán González's divinely-ordained mission.

As to the second difficulty, the references to Fortune's wheel are insistent:

era de mala guisa la rueda trastornada,
la cautyva d'Espanna era mal quebrantada


Sennor, ya tienpo era, sy fuesse tu mesura,
que mudasses la rueda que anda a la ventura [...]


Contesce esso mismo con la gent renegada,
heredan nuestra tierra e tienen la forçada;
mas mudar s'á la rueda que era trastornada,
serán ellos vencidos, la fe de Cristo onrrada.

Non es dicho fortuna ser syenpre en un estado,
uno ser syenpre ryco e otrro ser menguado;
camia estas dos cosas la fortuna pryado,
al pobre faze ryco e al ryco menguado.


There is a general difficulty for a Christian writer in using the image of Fortune's wheel -whether as random operation or as inevitability- for anything more than the pattern of an individual's physical life, or, by analogy, the rise and fall of an empire. Once the question of merit, of sin and punishment, is allowed to enter the picture, the image breaks down, as Juan de Mena soon discovered. Yet, as Howard R. Patch's study amply demonstrates, the temptation to use the image is very strong44. Does its use by the Fernán González poet clash irretrievably with his figural view of history? At first sight it would appear so. It is not merely that his references to the wheel imply a cyclical concept of history. Such a concept, as Armistead shows, explains the otherwise baffling mention of «los duennos primeros» (80c) -a previous Moorish conquest. And that mention does not stand alone: «¡Mal grrado a los moros que la solían tener (59d) says the same thing, and when we are told that Almanzor «coydó a Espanna syn falla conqueryr» (388b) it seems that the wheel is to turn again. Yet this time things will be different, for Fernán González's Castile, unlike Rodrigo's Hispania, stands firm against the Moorish onslaught. The hero's reference to the wheel in stanzas 438-39, already quoted, occurs in a long speech to his men before the battle of Hacinas. He goes on to tell them that the wheel must now, for good or ill, stop:

Amigos, lo que digo bien entender devedes,
sy fuéremos vencidos, ¿qué consejo prendredes?
Morredes commo malos, la tierra perderedes,
sy esta vez caedes non vos levantaredes.


The cycle of fall and recovery is, as we have seen, fundamental to the historical books of the Old Testament, though it occurs within the context of the linear working-out of God's purpose for His people. With the Incarnation, that cycle ends, In Northrop Frye's words:

If we follow the narrative of the Bible as a sequence of events in human life, it becomes a series of ups and downs in which God's people periodically fall into bondage and are then rescued by a leader, while the great heathen empires rise and fall in the opposite rhythm. At a certain point this perspective goes into reverse, and what we see is something more like an epic or romantic hero descending to a lower world to rescue what is at the same time a single bride and a large host of men and women. In this perspective the sequence of captivities and redemptions disappears and is replaced by a unique act of descent and return45.

Fernán González will break out of the cyclical pattern, making Castile secure from the perils of transience. This was made clear by the poet at the outset:

En tanto deste tienpo yr vos he yo contando
cómmo fueron la tierra perdiendo e cobrando;
fasta que todos fueron al conde don Fernando.


The figural view of history depends, of course, on the perception of partial repetitions, but in each case the repetition is at a higher level (or, in the case of postfiguration, at a lower one). As Patrides observes, the «concern with types had the threefold purpose of confirming that historical events are non-recurring and irreversible, that they imply a design according to which the created order advances onward, and that they are meaningful only in so far as they are seen to relate to the advent of the Messiah» (p. 7). The Poema de Fernán González relates the sins and travails of Spain to those of Israel, and then shows how its hero, by courage, endurance, resourcefulness and divine favour, moves history to a new level. He is not a Christ figure, but as Christ is to sacred history, so Fernán González is to the secular history of Spain. The message fits the mood of the poet's times, whether he was writing at the end of Fernando III's triumphant reign or during Alfonso X's long struggle to attain his imperial ambition46.