Libro de buen amor, Juan Ruiz, Arcipreste de Hita
(selecciones en inglés; traducción de R. Willis, Princeton U. Press, 1972)
Here it tells how every man in the midst o f his cares
should be merry; and of the debate that the Greeks and
the Romans had with one another.
44. It is the saying of a wise man, and Cato said it, that
among the cares man has in his heart he should intersperse
pleasures and merry words, for much sadness brings much sin.
45. And since a person cannot laugh at sensible things, I
will insert a few jokes here; whenever you hear them pay at-
tention only to the way they are put into song and verse.
46. Understand my words correctly and ponder their
meaning; don't let it happen to you as it happened to the
wise man from Greece with the Roman hoodlum of very little
knowledge, when Rome petitioned Greece for learning.
47. Once upon a time the Romans had no laws, and they
went to ask for them from the Greeks who did have them; the
Greeks answered that the Romans did not deserve them, nor
would they be able to understand them because they had so
48. although, if the Romans did want laws in order to
conduct themselves by them, it was first of all necessary for
them to hold a debate with the wise men of Greece in order to
determine whether the Romans could understand laws and
deserved to have them: this was the gracious answer they gave
in order to get out of it.
49. The Romans answered that this suited them land they
would do it] gladly;, they, drew up a signed agreement for the
debate; but since they would not be able to understand the
language which they themselves did not speak, they asked to
debate by means of gestures and the sign-language used by
50. Both parties agreed on a specified day for the contest;
the Romans were in distress; they did not know what to do
because they were not educated ,and would not be able to
understand the Greek doctors nor their great wisdom.
51. While .they were. in this difficulty, a certain citizen
told diem to select a hoodlum, a Roman roughneck, and (tell
him that] , whatever gestures God might inspire him to make
with his hand, these he should make; and it was good advice
52. They approached a hoodlum, who was very big and
pugnacious; they.tdld him: "We have an appointment. with
the Greeks to debate by gestures; ask for anything you want
and vve will- give it to you: only spare us from this contest."
53. They put on him rich robes of great price, as though
he were a doctor of philosophy; he climbed up onto the
lecture seat and said boastfully: "Now let those Greeks come,
challenge and all."
54. A Greek stepped forth, a very polished doctor, selected
from among the Greeks and highly renowned among all; he
mounted the other high seat, with all the people assembled;
they began .their gestures, as had been agreed upon.
55 . The Greek rose, calmly, slowly, and held out one finger;
the one next to the thumb; then he sat down in his place. The
hoodlum :rose-) savage and in a bad temper;
56. he held out three fingers towards -the Greek, the thumb
and the two fingers next to it, like a trident, with the last two
fingers folded in; quickly he sat down, gazing at his robes.
57. The Greek stood up and held out his open palm, and
then he sat down, he with his fine mind; the hoodlum got up,
he with his vacuous fancies, and stuck out his clenched fist: he
wanted to get into a brawl.
58. The Greek sage said to all the Greeks: "The Romans
deserve laws, I will not deny them to them." All the people
arose in peace and with calm; Rome gained great honor
through a worthless tramp.
59. They asked the Greek what he had said to the Roman
by his gestures, and what he had answered him. He said: "I
said that there is one God; the Roman said He was One in
Three Persons, and made a sign to that effect.
60. Next I said that all was by the will of God; he answered
that God held everything in his yower, and he spoke truly.
When I saw that they understood and believed in the Trinity,
I understood that they deserved assurance of [receiving]
61. They asked the hoodlum what his notion was; he re-
plied: "He said that with his finger he would smash my eye; I
was mighty unhappy about this and I got mighty angry, and
I answered him with rage, with anger, and with fury,
62. that, right in front of everybody, I would smash his
eyes with my two fingers and his teeth,with my thumb; right
after that he told me to watch him because he would give me a
big slap on my ears [that would leave them] ringing.
63. I answered him that I would give him such a punch
that in all his life he would never get even for it. As soon as
he saw that he had the quarrel in bad shape, he quit making
threats in a spot where they thought nothing of him"
64. This is why the proverb/ of the shrewd old woman
says: "No word is bad if you don't take it badly." You will
see that my word is well said if it is well understood: under-
stand my book well and you will have a lovely lady.
65. Whatever joke you may hear, don't despise it; the
nature of the book must be understood by you as subtle, an
art [knowledge] of praising and vilifying, cryptic and grace-
ful; you won't find here just one of a thousand troubadours.
66. You will find many herons, you won't find a single
egg; not every new tailor, can do a good job of mending;
don't imagine that I am impelled to compose poems as a fool
does: what good love says, I will prove to you with good
67. The teat speaks to everyone in general; people of good
sense will discern its wisdom; as for frivolous young people,
let them refrain from folly: let him who is fortunate select the
68. The utterances of good love are veiled: strive to find
their true meanings; if you understand the meaning of what
is said or hit upon the sense, you will not speak ill of the book
which you now censure.
69. Where you think it is telling lies, it is speaking the
greatest truth; in the bright-colored stanzas is where great
ugliness lies; judge a statement to be complimentary or
derogatory, point by point [with hairsplitting reasoning ;
praise or condemn the stanzas for their points (musical notes).
70. I, this book, am akin to all instruments of music:
according as you point play music well or badly, so, most
assuredly, will I speak; in whatever way you choose to speak,
make a point [stop there and hold fast; if you know how to
point me [pluck my strings, you will always hold me in mind.
What happened to the Archpriest with
Ferrand Garcia, his messenger (Cross= Cruz: girl's name and
Christ's cross; Cruzada = crusades, etc. Tengan en cuenta que
se pierde buena parte de los juegos de palabras al traducirlo al inglés.)
115. My eyes will not behold the light,
for I have lost [my] Cross.
116. Crisscrossed Cross, baker girl,
I took her for my paramour;
I mistook a footpath for a highway,
as the Andalusian does.
117. Expecting that I would get her,
I told Ferrand Garcia
to deliver, my plea
and be persuasive and sweet-spoken.
118. He told me that this suited him;
he made himself intimate with Cross;
to me he gave husks to chew on,
he ate the tastiest bread.
119. He promised her at my request
some year-old wheat that I had;
and he himself presented her with a rabbit,
the false, deceitful traitor.
120. May God confound a messenger
so prompt and so speedy!
may God not prosper a rabbit-hound
that retrieves game that way!
121. Whenever I beheld the Cross, I always knelt down;
I crossed myself before her whenever I encountered her;
my comrade did his worshipping right alongside the Cross;
against crusade trouble I was not on guard.
122. About this greedy [or "goliard"] scholar, a swindling
comrade [see Introduction, p. lxix], I wrote this second
song; don't let it strike you as outlandish, for never before
nor since did I find in all Spain anyone who could in this way
make me a scarecrow for ridicule.
Here it tells of the answer that Sir Love gave to the Archpriest [423...]
425. Listen to temperate words, for you have uttered
offense: threats should not be mouthed by one who is in
hope of forgiveness; now that you have been heard fully,
listen to my argument: if you do as I instruct you, no woman
will say `No' to you.
426. If up to now you have won no favors from the ladies
and other girls that you say you have courted, blame it on
yourself, for you have missed out by your own fault, because
you didn't come to me, or see me, or try me out.
427. You attempted to be a teacher before you were a
pupil; you could not know my way without learning it from
me; listen to and read my instructions, and you will know
how to be successful: you will get your lady and will know
how to attract others, too.
428. Your love is not suited to every woman; don't try to
woo a lady who is not in harmony with you, for that is a vain
quest and comes from great folly: whoever clings to a fruitless
love will always be wretched.
429. If you will read Ovid, who was my disciple, in him
you will find statements that were taught to him by me, and
many useful ways for a lover: Pamphilus and Ovid were in-
structed by me.
430. If you want to have a lady to love or any other woman,
you must first learn a great many things in order to make her
willing to accept you in love: first of all learn how to select the
431. Look for a woman who is pretty and witty and full of
spirit, who is not very tall nor yet dwarfish; if possible, try
not to fall in love with a low-born woman, for that kind knows
nothing of love: she is like a straw scarecrow.
432. Look for a woman with a good figure and with a
small head; hair that is blonde but not from henna; whose
eyebrows are spaced apart, long and arched in a peak; who is
nice and plump in the buttocks: this is the figure of a lady;
433. whose eyes are large, prominent, colorful, shining;
and with long lashes that show good and clearly; with small,
delicate ears; mark well if she has a long throat: that is the
kind men want;
434. with a finely chiseled nose; and nice small teeth that
are even and good and white, a trifle separated; with red
gums, good sharp teeth; her lips red and nicely fine-drawn;
435. her mouth nice and small, just so, in a pleasing way;
her face white, hairless, bright, and smooth. Try to get hold
of some woman who can see her without her blouse on, who
will tell you about the form of her body: arrange this.
436. Be sure that the woman you send to carry messages is
a relative of yours who will be truly faithful to you; don't let
her be your loved one's servant; don't let the lady discover your
intentions because the messenger refuses to tell lies. It cannot
be that a woman who has married unhappily will fail to repent it.
437. Make sure, as best you can, that your go-between is
well-spoken, subtle, and familiar with her job; that she knows
how to tell beautiful lies and stay on the trail, for the pot boils
hardest when the lid is on.
438. If you have no such relative, choose one of those old
women who prowl around the churches and are familiar with
every alley, who wear lumpy rosaries around their necks and
know a number of sayings, and with what are called Moses'
Tears bewitch the hearer's ears.
439. These old pea-hens are great experts; they roam
everywhere, through public squares and enclosed lands; they
raise up their rosary beads to God and bewail their hardships:
O how much wickedness these old gadabouts know!
440. Take one of those old crones who pretend to be herb-
healers; they go from house to house proclaiming themselves
as midwives; with powders and cosmetics and with vials of
eye makeup they cast their spells on girls, and blind them
441. And seek out your messenger from among those black
she-devils whom friars, nuns, and pious women consort with
so much; they are great ones for walking and really earn the
price of their shoes; these convent-trotters arrange many deals.
442. Where these women resort there is always much
merriment; few women can be displeased with them; so that
they won't lie to you, you must learn how to flatter them, for
they practice such magic that they can easily blind one.
443. Of all those old women, this one is the best; beg her
not to lie to you, di pla good lov towards her, _for a good
broker is able to sell plenty o poor cattle, arid lots of poor
of es can be covered by a good cloak.
444. If she tells you that your chosen lady does not have
long limbs, nor thin arms, ask her next if she has small breasts;
and if she says `Yes,' inquire about her whole figure, so that
you can be more sure.
445. If your messenger tells you that your beloved's
underarms are just a little damp, and that she has small legs
and long flanks, is nice and wide in the hips, with small,
arched feet, this is the kind of woman that is not found in
446. In bed really wild, around the house very sensible,
don't lose track of such a woman, but keep her constantly in
mind. What I am counselling you is in agreement with Ovid;
and she is the kind that a good procuress looks for.
447. There are three things that I dare not reveal to you
now, they are hidden defects, very rude to mention; there are
very few women who can avoid them; if I were to mention
them, the women would burst out laughing.
448. Take great care that your lady is not hairy or bearded;
may Hell rid us of such a half-devil as that! If her hand is
small, her voice delicate and high, you should, if you possibly
can, try to change her from her prudent ways.
449. After all is said and done, ask or your go-UCLWGCII a
question: whether she is a merry woman; whether she turns
on the tide of love; whether she has cold saddle-cloths;
whether she goes hunting for everything she scents; if she
says `Yes' to a man, join yourself to that woman.
450. Such a one is to be served, such a one is to be loved;
she is very much more delightful to woo than the others; if
you should manage to get to know such a one and want to have
her for yours, make a great effort to serve her in word and deed.
451. [Give her some] of your pretty jewels whenever you
can; when you do not care to, or have nothing to give, promise
and offer freely, even though you may give nothing to her;
she will soon put her trust in you and will do what you want.
452. Serve her and do not get angry; when you perform
service, her love will increase; in a good man service never
dies or perishes; though love may be slow in coming, it is never
wasted: good love does not fail; steadfast toil overcomes all
things. [Repeated as st. 611]
453. Thank her warmly for anything she may do for you;
praise it above the value that it really has; don't haggle over
what she may ask you for, and don't contend against things
she may say to you.
454. Keep constantly wooing the lady that you love well-
don't be timid with her-whenever you have the time; don't
let bashfulness hinder you when you are with her; don't be
slow when you can see a good opportunity.
455. When a woman sees a timid sluggard she quickly
"utters: `Shoo! I'll take the dart in my own hand!' Don't be
laggardly with a woman and don't wrap yourself all up in
your cloak; show your dashing ways by wearing the scantiest
456. In great reluctance are to be found fear and cowardice,
slow wits and coarseness; by his sloth many a man has lost my
companionship; through sloth a woman of great worth can
How the Archpriest went to make a trial of the mountains, and what happened to him with the mountain girl [serrana]
950. To prove all things the apostle commands us; I went to
make a trial of the mountains, and I went on a fool's errand; I
quickly lost my mule, I could not find any food: he who seeks
bread [that is] better than wheat bread is out of his mind.
951. It was the month of March, the Day of St. Emerterius
[March 3]; by the pass of Lozoya I took my way; I could find
no shelter from the snow and hail: he who seeks for something
he has not lost deserves to lose what he already possesses.
952. At the top of this pass I found myself in a great to-do,
I encountered a cow-girl by a thicket; I asked her who she
was, she answered: "The backwoods girl, I'm the rugged
country girl who ties men up.
953. I'm in charge of the toll, and I collect the toll fees;
if a person pays me willingly I don't bother him; if he refuses
to pay I strip him clean instantly: pay me; if not, you'll see
how a stubble patch gets threshed."
954. She blocked my path, since it was hemmed in, a
narrow trail-muleteers had made it; seeing myself in distress,
stiff with cold, ill-treated: "My dear," I said, "a dog prepares "
fallow ground [i.e. does farm labor] against his will.
955. Let me through, my dear and I will give you some
mountain-girl jewelry; if you please, tell me what kinds are
worn hereabouts, for as the saying goes; `he who asks will not
go wrong.' And for God's sake give me shelter, for the cold is
956. The backwoods girl answered me: "Beggars can't be
choosers; promise [to give me something and don't get me
annoyed: you needn't fear, provided you give me something,
that the snow will get you very wet. I advise you to agree
before I strip you of your clothes."
957. As an old woman says, while pulling her yarn between
her lips: "Sister, the one who can't help it must let himself
die though against his will"; so I with the -great cold, in terror
and discomfort, promised her a medallion and a brooch and a
rabbit skin pouch.
958. She threw me over her shoulder for giving a nice
answer, and it didn't hurt my feelings that she was carrying
me on her back: it spared me from going on foot over the
brooks and the slopes. Out of what happened there, I com-
posed the verses written below.
959. One morning when I was crossing over
the pass of Malangosto,
a mountain girl ambushed me
just as my face was cresting the rise:
"Hard-luck man," she said, "where are you from?
What are you looking for, or what are you after
along this narrow pass?"
960. I answered her question:
"I'm heading for Sotosalvos"
She said: "The Devil stalks behind you,
tempting you to speak such wild words,
because through these parts
that I keep watch over
men don't pass in safety."
961. She stood before me in the path,
that leprous-looking, low-down, gg l thing:
"By my faith, Squire," she said,
"I will stand still here
till you promise me something;
no matter how hard you attack,
you won't get down the path."
962. I said to her: "For God's sake, cow-girl,
don't delay my journey;
step aside and make way for me,
since I didn't bring anything for you."
She said: "Turn around,
go back by Somosierra,
for you won't get through here."
963. That devilish yokel girl
-St. Julian confound her!-
threw her shepherd's crook at me
and whirled her sling at me,
aiming the stone-pouch;
"By the true Father,
today you'll pay me the tax!"
964. It was snowing and hailing.
The peasant girl then said to me,
she even threatened me:
"Pay me, or else you'll see real sport."
I said to her: "For God's sake, my pretty on~
I'll tell you one thing:
I'd rather be by the fire."
965. She said: "I'll take you to my hous4
I'll show you the path;
I'll build you a fire with hot coals;
I'll give you some bread and wine;
please [see st. 15 t IcI promise me somethir
and I'll consider you a gentleman:
this has been a good morning for you!"
966. Frightened and stiff with cold,
I promised her a gown
and offered her, to go with the dress,
a brooch and a medallion.
She said: "Right now, my friend,
come here, follow along with me,
and have no fear of the cold frost."
967. She took me firmly by the hand,
threw me around her neck
like a light shepherd's bag,
and carried me downhill:
"Hard-luck man, don't be scared,
for I'll give you something to eat,
the way we do in these hills"
968. She quickly got me
into her hut, all cozy;
gave me a fire of oak logs,
plenty of rabbit meat from the forest,
good roast partridges,
poorly kneaded bread,
and good kid meat;
969. a big measure of wine,
lots of cow's butter,
plenty of cheese for toasting,
milk, cream, and a trout.
Quickly she said: "Hard-luck man,
let's eat some of this hard bread
and afterwards we'll do some wrestling."
970. After I had been there a while,
I started to thaw out;
while I was warming up,
I smiled to myself;
the shepherd girl saw me
and said: "Well, chum,
now I think I'm beginning to understand."
971. The frisky cow-girl
said: "Let's wrestle a bit;
get up from there fast,
and get out of those clothes."
She grabbed me by the wrist;
I had to do what she wanted.
Believe me, I made a good bargain!
How Convent-trotter advised the Archpriest to take
some nun as a sweetheart, and what happened to him
1332. She said to me: "My friend, listen to me a little:
Make some nun as a sweetheart, trust my advice; she won't get
married right away, nor display herself in public; you will
have a love affair of extraordinary duration.
1333. I worked for nuns once and stayed there a good
ten years; they keep their lovers in comfort and free from
embarrassments. Who could name all their fine dishes and their
very generous presents, their endless sweet confections, rich
and so rare?
1334 They give their lovers many sweet confections time
and again: candied citron, quince jelly and sweet nut-paste;
other sweets in larger quantities, made of cheap carrots, they
send to each other daily, taking turns;
1335. confection of cumin seed from Alexandria, with
good gum-tragacanth candy, abbot's candied citron, with fine
ginger, rose-flavored honey, cumin syrup, dianthus syrup?
goes ahead of it; and the new-fashioned rose confection which
I should have mentioned previously; ,
1336. tiny candies and sugar-almond paste,.with aromatic
stomatichon, and clove candy, with electuary of powdered
pearls, very fine sandalwood paste, with satyrion trifolium
paste which is , a valued and splendid gift for courtship.
1337. You should know that every kind of sugar is poured
out by the handfuls there: powdered, lump, and rock-sugar,
and quantities of the rose-flavored kind, sugar for confections
and violet-flavored sugar, and of many other kinds that I have
1338. Montpelier, Alexandria, and famed Valencia do not
have so many sweets nor so many spices; then who considers
herself best offers the finest ones; they all put their efforts into
refinements of love.
1339. 1 will tell you something more of what I learned
there: since they have Toro wine, they don't drink the com-
mon stuff; after I left there I was deprived of this luxury. A
man who doesn't make love to a nun is not worth a penny.
1340. Apart from all these fine things, they have very nice
ways; they are very discreet, generous, pleasing; their kitchen
maids know more and are fetter for worldly love than ladies
who have trappings on their saddles.
1341. Like painted statues, of great beauty, gentlewomen
most bountiful and generous by nature, much given to speaking
loving words, their love is everlasting; they are thoughtful,
accomplished, and have every sort of courtesy.
1342. Every pleasure in the world and every nice love-
word, most sweet enjoyment and affectionate fondling: all this
is to be found in nuns, more than anywhere else; try it this
time and make up your mind now to be at peace."
1343. 1 told her: "Convent-trotter, listen to me a little;
how can I get in where I don't know the entrance?" She
said: "I can walk the road in a very short time; if a person
can make a big basket, he can make a little one."
... sigue un largo debate con Trotaconventos; cada una se defiende,
propone echando mano a una serie de fábulas..., pero creo que basta con esto...
How the Archpriest says we should understand this book of his.
1626. Because the Holy Virgin, as I have said, is the
beginning and the endo fo all good, so I do believe, I composed
four songs for her, and thereupon I shall put an end to my
book, but I shall not close it.
1627. It has a good trait: wherever it may be read, if
some man hears it who has an ugly wife, or if a woman hears it
whose husband is of no account, each will immediately feel the
desire to serve God.
1628: Each will want to attend Masses and make Arings,
will desire to give to the poor holy bread and rations, to give
plentiful alms and say prayers: service is done to God by this,
you can plainly see this, ladies and gentlemen.
1629. Whoever hears it, if he knows how to compose poetry,
may add more to it and emend whatever he wishes to; let it
pass from hand to hand to anyone who may request it; as
ladies catch a ball, let him catch it who can.
1630. Since it is on good love, lend it gladly; don't deny it
its name and don't give it censure; don't give it for pay,
either by sale or by rental, for good love that is purchased has
no delight or grace.
1631. I have made you a book that is small in terms of text,
but the exegesis, I believe, is not brief, rather it is a good big
piece of writing; for in respect to each tale something else is to
be understood, apart from what is said in the pretty wording.
1632. It is a very big doctrinal book about a great deal of
holiness, but it is a small breviary of fun and jokes; so I am
making an end and closing my cupboard: may it be for you a
brief jest, a delight, and a sweet confection.
1633. Ladies and gentlemen, I have done you service with
my scanty learning; to give pleasure to you all, I have addressed
you in jocular minstrel fashion; I beg a reward of you: that in
the name of God, on a pilgrimage, you say a Lord's Prayer for
me and a Hail Mary.
1634. [MS T] In the year of the Era of Caesar Augustus,
one thousand, three hundred and sixty-eight [A.D. 13301, this
book was finished, for many evils and wrongs that many men and
women do to others with their deceits, and to display to simple
people exemplary tales and ingenious verses. [End of MS T]
1634. [MS S] In the year of the Era of Caesar Augustus,
one thousand, three hundred and eighty-one [A.D. 1343 1, the
poem was composed, for many evils and wrongs that many men
and women do to other women with their deceits, and to
display to simple people exemplary tales and ingenious verses.
[This stanza has been lost from MS G. MS S continues and
MS G resumes at st. 1648. See Introduction, pp. xxxviii-A.]