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The Spectral Arab: Rodrigo and the Fall of Spain

                              “Ayer era rey de España,
                              hoy no lo soy de una villa;
                              ayer villas y castillos,
                              hoy ninguno poseía;
                              ayer tenía criados,
                              hoy ninguno me servía;
                              hoy no tengo una almena
                              que pueda decir que es mía”
                              --“Romance de don Rodrigo” Traditional Spanish ballad


       Pierre Menard, Jorge Luis Borges‟ fictional author of the Quijote tells us that the

truth of history is not what happened, but what we judge to have happened.1 Why is it

that many Spaniards of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries still need to see the over

seven hundred years of Muslim presence on the Iberian Peninsula as a period of

occupation? The facile answer is simply that modern Spain is part of and identifies with

Western Europe and defines itself as a political and geographical space that is not the

East, and most emphatically since 9/11 and 3/11 NOT Muslim. However, despite official

Latinate and later vernacular Romance historiographical attempts to establish the Goths

as progenitors of Spanish culture and identity, and the Moor, or Muslim Arab, as the

interloper and occupier whose presence on the Peninsula left only superficial physical

traces (such as architecture and irrigation canals) but no lasting impact on the Spanish

character, we find that a series of Iberian authors question such facile constructions, and

offer instead complex constructions of the Iberian past—constructions that encompass the

processes of assimilation, adaptation, conversion and miscegenation that worked together

to create a textured and often multi-layered sense of what it meant to be an Iberian.

1
 The narrator of Borges essay/story “Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote” tells the reader,
“La verdad histórica, para él, no es lo que sucedió; es lo que juzgamos que sucedió” (OC
57)
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       The present study will show that official discourses of Spanish history and

identity that work so hard to distance the Arab and the Muslim from the earliest days of

the conquest ironically privilege the peninsula‟s Arab Muslim past. Any retelling of the

foundational fall of Spain at the hands of the last Gothic king, Rodrigo, is also always a

retelling of the foundational moment of Muslim Spain or al-Andalus. However invested

certain Spanish intellectuals maybe in the myth of pure Gothic bloodlines—bloodlines

traceable to Rodrigo and his count Julián—are undone by the very narrative used to

establish them. Ironically the story of the last Gothic King Rodrigo‟s military defeat at

the hands of invading Muslim forces can only serve as a foundational myth/ a testimony

to Muslim al-Andalus. This narrative marks the cultural shift on the Peninsula from a

Germanic Latinate culture to an Arab Muslim one. The former lasted only some 300

years, while the later survived on the Peninsula for over 700.

       The Rodrigo fable, as treated in the majority of historical sources, tells of the final

days of Rodrigo‟s reign as king of the Visigoths. A series of signs fortell his tragic end:

his crown and sceptre fall from his head, and out of rash arrogance he breaks the locks on

a forbidden chamber in which the future fall of the Goths is rumored to be found.

Rodrigo finds painted on the walls scenes of dark skinned men slaughtering the

indigenous Goths and Hispano-Romans. These supernatural portents, which have

precedents in tales of the biblical King Solomon of the Arab genre of ajib wa gharib,

“wonders and astonishing adventures,” and even incorporated into versions of the 1001
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Nights, suggest that the earliest chronicle accounts of Rodrigo‟s demise are heavily

influenced by non-historical sources.2

       This paper is part of a larger work in which I look at how different Iberian authors

and historians have retold the fable (in the sense of short didactic fiction) of the last

Gothic king, Rodrigo and explore how faith or religious identity factors to a greater or

lesser extent as a pretext for the foundational myth of Spanish national identity. The

earliest works treating the Rodrigo tale, those of the Arab and Iberian Latinate historians

(the works examined in this paper), present us with differing accounts of Rodrigo and his

involvement with Julian‟s daughter, but religion is a relatively insignificant factor in

both. Later medieval Latin, Romance and Arab versions of the fable of Rodrigo in both

chronicles and narrative fiction which show an increased emphasis on the religious

affiliation of the Arab-Berbers and of the Christian Rodrigo are, I will argue, a response

to specific historical-cultural events of the 12th and 14th centuries. The Renaissance

versions of the Rodrigo tale, those of the 15th-century romancero (included in the

epigraph) and that of the 16th-century play by Lope de Vega (the greatest of Golden Age

Spanish playwrights) must be read over and against the Catholic Monarchs defeat of

Nasrid Granada and the morisco unprisings of the Alpujarras. The final chapter will deal

with the modern Spanish transformation of Rodrigo, La revindicación del conde Julián,




2
  This too is the case of perhaps the best known of medieval Arab historians, Ibn
Khaldun/ Ibn Battuta, whose own work also often incorporates material from the gharib
wa ajib genre. André Miquel, Un conte des Mille et une nuits: Ajib et Gharib (traduction
et perspectives d’analyse). Nouvelle Bibliothèque Scientifique. Paris: Flammarion, 1977.
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by Juan Goytisolo who rereads this tale to question inherited Spanish Catholic

nationalism post-Franco.3

The Rodrigo of fable is a fascinating character, driven by ambition and lust and overtaken

by remorse. No less fascinating is La Cava, the Malinche of Spain. La Cava, as she has

come to be known in Spanish legend, is the daughter of Rodrigo‟s North African vassal,

Julián. According to the first Arab chronicles, Count Julián sent his daughter to Rodrigo‟s

court in Toledo as was the custom for the sons and daughters of the highest nobility.

According to the legend, Rodrigo was unable to resist his impulses and slept with Julián‟s

daughter. In the earlier accounts she is the innocent victim of his brutal rape, while in

others, particularly those after the Alfonsine accounts of the thirteenth-century she is the

evil seductress bent on seducing Rodrigo. While La Cava is given a more active role in

the later accounts of the fable, this agency is not a positive reflection on the role of

women, but rather a more developed discourse of misogyny by which the blame and

responsibility for the loss of Spain‟s Christian past is deflected from Rodrigo to the

woman he desired. However, as Pedro Chalmeta points out, there is no documentary

proof that Julian had a daughter, much less that she was seduced by Roderigo (113-114).

In some versions of the fable the woman Rodrigo seduces is not Julián‟s daughter, but his

wife. The ambiguous nature of Julián‟s daughter/wife and of her very role in this iconic

story of loss and vengeance shows us that we are dealing with a tale in which the true

3
  Elizabeth Drayson has a forthcoming book on the topic of Rodrigo, The King and the
Whore, King Roderick and La Cava (November, 2007). My study of this legend differs
significantly from Drayson‟s, not only in the works considered—Drayson focusing on
painting, coins and the Crónica Sarracina--but also in its theoretical orientation. Drayson
focuses on Julian‟s daughter and uses twentieth-century historians accounts of the
Rodrigo legend to bolster her thesis, while my own questions these studies‟ constructions
of the Spanish past, examining especially how Rodrigo‟s story functions to distance the
Muslim past/imperial narrative.
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protagonists are men—Rodrigo and Julián. La Cava figures primarily as and object upon

or through which these Visigothic (Spanish?) men enact their desires, which are

essentially self referential. Tariq, Musa, and the other Muslims threatening Visigothic

rule, never however, disappear from these variants. Rodrigo‟s sexual conquest is always

already a narrative of imperial conquest. His violation of Julian‟s innocent daughter/wife

parallels the Muslim violation of the Peninsula—a violation so horrible that the tellers of

the tale seem loath to even mention it.

       The current study seeks not to find what is “true” about the Rodrigo legend, but

precisely to find out how variants of this tale have been mobilized and adapted by

different Iberians and Hispanists with very different agendas as a specifically Iberian

fable, arguably, THE iconic Iberian fable for religious identity and conflict. Part of an

analysis of how this tale has been employed by different authors in very different forms

entails an exploration of how the tale simultaneously gestures to Spain‟s Other—to Tariq

ibn Ziyad and the Muslims waiting on the far shores of the Straits of Gibraltar—while

seemingly pushing them to the sidelines—making them silent witnesses to Rodrigo‟s

destructive impulses, Julian‟s daughter‟s humiliation, and Count Julian‟s revenge.4

Although essential in this drama, the Muslim invaders, Tariq and Musa, are relegated to

minor roles as the fall of Spain becomes a personal tragedy. While such a narrative may

make historians and some scholars uneasy for its seeming mutability and unreliableness,

for a literary critic this fable and the ways in which it is mobilized by different authors for

different audiences across time is a fascinating example of how a narrative can serve as a




4
 Tariq ibn Ziyad was the commander of North African Muslim troops who arrived to the
Peninsula in 711 in the service of the Ummayad emir Musa.
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foil for the shifting signifiers of national identity across languages, religions and ethnic

boundaries.

       This myth of seduction and lust is redeployed by medieval and Renaissance

authors as the tragedy of Christian Spain, while in medieval Arab histories and fictions

Rodrigo embodies the worthy Christian other—noble warrior and even attractive

beloved. Nineteenth and twentieth century Spanish intellectuals will return to this

emblematic tale (as I explore briefly in this paper) as they continue to grapple with

Spanish identity, the relationship of Spain to Western Europe and with the Spanish past.

The constant issues of the Rodrigo tale—sex, lust, betrayal and revenge—upon which the

imperial destiny of Islam and the religious (de facto national) identity of Spain hinge

continue to be flash points not only for contemporary Spanish fiction writers, but even for

Spanish politicians.5

       In November of 2006, the ex-president of the E.U. and of Spain, José María

Aznar invoked the myth of Rodrigo in his attack on, among other things, the current

Spanish government‟s more moderated diplomatic approach to the Middle East and the

creation of the Alianza de Civilizaciones. He claimed that the current government should

know better, since Spain was the first Western nation to be attacked by Islam when the

Visigothic King Rodrigo was defeated by the Muslims in 711 (“Aznar se pregunta por

qué”). The headline in the popular Spanish newspaper El Mundo was, “Aznar Wonders

Why the Arabs Have Not Asked Forgiveness for Having Occupied Spain for Over 800

Years.” Aznar‟s manipulation of Rodrigo as part of the so-called “War on Terror” is

5
  As I will discuss in a subsequent section (not included) Juan Goytisolo‟s novel La
revindicación del conde Julián is a fictional critique of the way in which Spanish society,
particularly under Francisco Franco, has dealt with its own cultural past. The protagonist,
a Spanish exile living in North Africa, takes on the identity of don Julián.
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based on several centuries worth of historical interpretation, and Aznar is but the most

recent of Spanish ideologues to invoke Rodrigo and his myth to justify a particular

Westernized version of Spanish nationalism. In the press conference Aznar openly

attacked the Alianza de la Civilizaciones which, just a few days before in a summit in

Madrid had summarized its mission, part of which included a questioning of Bernard

Lewis‟s/Samuel Huntington‟s Clash of Civilizations model and of the priority given to

religion by adherents of such a view.6 In contrast with the model of loss Aznar invokes,

Cebrián outlines for the Alianza the possibility of a Mediterranean culture of differing

religions. He posits that such a culture was lost because of the “insidious Reconquista”

unleashed by Rodrigo‟s fall and by an Iberian political structure that allied Church and

Crown and set about eliminating religious pluralism.

       La idea de que son las religiones las que limitan y definen el entorno de la

       civilización ha llevado a sugerir que ese es el motivo fundamental por el que el

       progreso fue diferente a ambas orillas del Mediterráneo. Pero si lo fue, y cuando

       lo ha sido, se debió fundamentalmente a las imposiciones del poder. Sin las

       Cruzadas y la Inquisición, sin la insidiosa Reconquista ibérica, podríamos -¿quién

       sabe?- haber asistido al florecimiento de una civilización mediterránea, ecuménica

       y no sincretista, en la que convivieran diversos legados de la cultura grecolatina,

       lo mismo que conviven hoy las dos Europas, la de la cerveza y el vino, la de la

6
 Bernard Lewis uses the expression Clash of Civilization first in “The Roots of Muslim
Rage,” in Atlantic Monthly 1990, and Samuel Huntington popularized it in 1993 in “The
Clash of Civilizations” Foreign Affairs 1993. The Alianza de las Civilizaciones is
Aznar‟s successor, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero‟s proposal of cooperative alliance
between the West and Arab nations constructed with the goal of fighting terror and was
presented to the U.N. in September of 2004. Interestingly, this model that stresses
dialogue between Western nations and the Arab world (see their web site:
http://www.unaoc.org/) has received very little media attention in the U.S..
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       mantequilla y el aceite de oliva, en una sola idea de democracia. El poder

       religioso, aliado con el trono, se encargó sin embargo de eliminar el pluralismo,

       tanto en el seno del islam como en el de la cristiandad. Los liberales de unas y

       otras religiones sufrieron persecución y exilio por los poderes de esta tierra. Lo

       único que podemos decir ahora es que no tuvo que ser así, y que todavía podría no

       ser así. Ojalá (ua xa Alah) que la Alianza de Civilizaciones, impulsada por

       Rodríguez Zapatero y las Naciones Unidas, sirva al menos para reflexionar al

       respecto, escapando a la tentación, demasiado evidente, de convertirse en un

       elemento más de la propaganda política. (Cebrían)

This exploration of the ways in which the Rodrigo tale has been transformed into the

emblematic clash of civilizations invoked by Aznar, and renounced so eloquently by

Cebrián on behalf of the Alianza de Civilizaciones leads us to question how Rodrigo

come to represent the threat of the Arab and of Islam in the Spanish tradition—there were

after all many other Visigothic nobles at the time who died fighting the incoming

Muslims.7

       As we explore the different versions of the Rodrigo legend, we must keep in mind

the inexact nature and use of several terms. “España” is often used in translations of both

the Latin and Arabic chronicles for the Latin name of its Iberian colony, Hispania. And

while twentieth and twenty-first-century Spanish intellectuals have strategically deployed

the terms to justify a particular nationalist reading of the Iberian past, España as a nation-

state characterized by a national language and identity and with roughly the same




7
 The Chronicle of 754 describes in some detail the exploits of the Gothic army of
Saragossa.
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geographic borders as it has today takes shape only in the fourteenth century. 8 From the

mid-eighth century to the thirteenth century most of the Iberian Peninsula was under

Muslim rule (first under the Umayyads in Cordoba, then subdivided into a series of

nation-states known as the Taifa Kingdoms, and finally as part of the Almoravid and

Almohad dynasties of North Africa from the late eleventh to the thirteenth centuries), and

was known in Arabic as al-Andalus, or the region of the Vandals. The term “Reconquest”

is a nineteenth century term used by nineteenth and twentieth-century Hispanists and

Spanish historians to construct a narrative of medieval Spanish history that portrays the

interaction between medieval Iberian Christians and Muslims as a “contest between Islam

and Christianity for mastery of the Iberian Peninsula” that lasted from the eighth to the

fifteenth century.9 These nineteenth and twentieth-century scholars employed the term as

part of a wider construction of Spanish history, according to which, “the Spanish nation

was born in the Visigothic era, [and] its soul was forged through the epic struggle to

reclaim Hispania for Christianity” (Ray 1).

       Since the fourteenth century the tale of Rodrigo has served Spaniards as a

placeholder for Old Christian Spain—that which had been lost and which therefore

justified recuperation, the forcible reconquest of Muslim lands. Without this Christian

Gothic past, embodied in the figure of Rodrigo, there was little justification for not only

for the dogmatic Catholicism of Ferdinand and Isabel, but more pertinently for critics of

8
  In a classic example of what would later come to be known in the American and British
Academy as Cultural Studies, Américo Castro explores the importance of the terms
España and español as employed by twentieth century Spanish historians in Sobre el
nombre y el quién de los españoles, 17-41, concluding that historians who characterize
the Muslims as invaders or occupiers are like those who try to skin an onion hoping to
find the bulb inside (36).
9
  Jonathan Ray further explores the term Reconquest as part of a Spanish historiographic
discourse used in creating a specific (religious) sense of Spanish identity (1-2).
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the twentieth centuries, those writing during Francisco Franco‟s dictatorship, who sought

to revive Spanish nationalism under the conservative banner of the Catholicism of the

Catholic Monarchs. Rodrigo‟s defeat, however, at the hands of Muslims proves a

perennial difficulty for the Spanish historian and for the myth of Christian Spain, for if

“Spain,” the Iberian Peninsula was fated to be Christian, why did God allow the Muslims

such an easy conquest? The seduction of Julián‟s daughter and the entry into the

forbidden room provides a convenient answer—the noble Christian Rodrigo, like the

greatest of epic heroes, fell prey to the sin of hubris and to his own lust. Rodrigo, like

Christian Spain, is fallen and succumbs to its desires. It will take yet another iconic

figure—the Cid—to recuperate the Spanish Christian past and to reestablish the

legitimacy of Christianity on the Iberian Peninsula.10 The reading I am doing of these two

Spanish mythic figures is clearly a Christian one—the fallen man done in by his own

desire, and the redemptor, the messiah who offers new life to the Spanish people. I do not

think that such a reading is coincidental among Renaissance and modern Spanish

historians, writing as they were in a Spain that had for at least four hundred years

identified Spanish imperial agenda and identity with Catholicism.



       Before looking at the first Latin and Arab chronicles to include the events of 711,

i want to address a historical-fictional account of the Rodrigo tale—one that, like Aznar‟s

comment, conflates the Iberian past with contemporary European events. The Spanish

historian, Claudio Sánchez Albornoz alludes to the Rodrigo myth in an unusual essay that



10
   Instead of positing the Cid as the redeemer, Lope de Vega portrays Pelayo, supposed
first leader of the Christian Reconquest as the Christ-like figure who would save the
fallen nation. See Susan Niehoff McCrary, El Último godo.
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mixes the Spanish past with political events in France while simultaneously making a

meta commentary on history itself.11 He presents the fictional encounter of several

friends—a worker, a poet, a geologist, a painter, and a priest—contemplating the beauty

of the medieval walled Spanish town Avila at sunset. Sánchez Albornoz notes that one

friend is missing--the historian—whose eyes would have discerned a sixth shade in the

twilight landscape:

       Porque también los historiadores tienen ojos para ver en el hoy. ¡Ojos de

       historiador! . . . En ocasiones una fuerza incoercible les permite o, por mejor

       decir, les impele a traspasar con sus rayos visuales el cuerpo opaco de la

       actualidad de un instante cualquiera de su tiempo y les muestra, tras el paisaje

       vivo de una hora del hoy, la silueta borrosa de otra hora pretérito. ¿Privilegio?

       ¿Servidumbre? . . . Más servidumbre que privilegio y más suplico que gozo. Sí,

       porque en los días que vivimos, los ojos de un historiador, dotados de ese rayo

       misterioso ultravioleta, al penetrar a través de las sombras espesas tiempos

       cruciales, no descubren luminosas perspectivas en panoramas de la historia. Y

       hablo por experiencia personal. No me enorgullece ni me complace haber recibido

       de la historia esa virtud como un don irrenunciable y torturante. Con frecuencia

       mis ojos, débiles para asomarse al exterior a través de los cristales de mis gafas,

       penetran la opacidad de un personaje o de un paisaje humano de estos tiempos, y

       de repente descubren a lo lejos la silueta de un hombre o de un panorama de otros



11
  On Claudio Sánchez Albornoz and other important Spanish Arabists, as well as of the
vicisstiudes of Arabic Studies within nineteenth and twentieth-century Spain, see James
T. Monroe‟s 1970 study, Islam and the Arabs in Spanish Scholarship. Monroe points out
the cycles of acceptance and denial that characterizes Spanish academic attitudes toward
their own Arabic/Muslim past.
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       días . . . No puedo remediarlo. Es una enfermedad de cura muy difícil.

       Compadecedme y no os enojéis con mis visiones. (14)

And what is it that Sánchez Albornoz sees with this seemingly prophetic vision of the

past? The ghosts of among others, Roosevelt, Charlemagne and don Rodrigo:

       Un día, mientras cruzaba en el velero el mar Atlántico, me visitaron juntas las

       sombras del presidente Roosevelt y del primer emperador germano de occidente:

       Carlosmagno. . . . Hoy he visto desfilar la corte del último rey godo tras las

       siluetas de los hombres de la Tercera República Francesa, en sus postrimerías.

       ¡Don Rodrigo tras Lebrun! Sí, don Rodrigo con sus condes, sus gardingos, sus

       fideles y sus próceres, y Lebrun con sus ministros, los presidentes delas cámaras y

       los jefes y miembros distinguidos de los partidos políticos del Senado y del

       Congreso. La corona de Leovigildo y el gran collar de la Legión de Honor.

       Cascos, lorigas y sandalias y botines, sombreros de copa y pecheras de frac. El

       Tajo y el Sena. Sol radiante y tenue luz. . . . El arzobispo Sinderedo y el cardenal

       Vardier. . . . El palacio encantado de Toledo, cerrado por docenas de candados, y

       la negra verja del Elíseo parisino. Egilona, la reina, Florinda y las otras señoras de

       la corte visigoda, y madame Lebrun, la presidenta, y las otras damas del París

       oficial. Y con las sombras de Rodrigo y de sus gentes, en este atardecer otoñal,

       junto a los Andes, he visto desfilar el “film” trágico de la agonía del reino

       hispanogodo. (15-16)

Sánchez Albornoz continues the revery, comparing the politically divisive situation of

France in the 1930s to that of eighth-century Visigothic Iberia, both characterized by

“intrigas, zacadillas, odios” (16). He evokes the locked chamber and both Rodrigo‟s wife,
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Egilona, and the victim of his sexual attack, Florinda, underscoring not only Rodrigo‟s

nature as a rapist, but also as an adulterer. More surprising than Sánchez Albornoz‟s

comparison of the sins of the pre-War French to the last Visigoths, is his treatment, or

better his almost total silence with respect to the Muslims. Sánchez Albornoz‟s implicit

comparison of the Muslims to the Nazis, although unspoken, lurks just below the surface.

The Muslims (like the unnamed Nazis) were the threatening militarized invaders just on

the other side of the border, “al otro lado de la frontera del Estrecho, avanza un pueblo de

guerreros, recién convertidos a una fe novísima; a una fe que es a la par un dogna y una

doctrina política, una religión y una organización estatal; un pueblo que ama la lucha y la

rapiña; un pueblo ebrio de entusiasmo y de pasión y que aspira al dominio del mundo”

(17). Ironically for Sánchez Albornoz it is these people who love to rape and pillage, and

not Rodrigo, whose legendary rape brought Iberia into Muslim hands. Muslims, like

Nazis, are zealous, bloodthirsty invaders bent on taking over the world.

       After drawing parallels between Rodrigo and Lebrun and Visigothic Iberia and

pre-war France, Sánchez Albornoz develops the clichéd metaphor of the violation of the

motherland:

       El embrujo de la tierra y de las mujeres españolas conquista a los conquistadores.

       Pero poco a poco España es colonizada por sus nuevos señores . . . Hispania

       pierde por siglos su personalidad, su idioma, su fe, su tradición y su cultura y

       entra a formar parte del imperio islamita, que va desde Lisboa hasta la India. Y,

       por siglos también, abandona las rutas de los pueblos libres de Occidente, que

       engendran en las sombras del medieoevo la Europa madre de la nuestra. (18)
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The spell of Hispania—its women and its land—seduce the invading Muslims, but

eventually the latter succeed in colonizing the Peninsula. Iberia as part of the Islamic

Empire that stretches from Lisbon in the west to India in the east is an apparent cultural

wasteland, for according to Sánchez Albornoz, under the Muslims Iberia loses its

language, religion, tradition and culture.

       In rhetoric worthy of Aznar and President George W. Bush, Sánchez Albornoz

informs us that at the moment of the conquest, Muslim Iberia is cut off from the free

nations of the West that are in the very process of giving birth to Europe, “mother of our

culture.” He then returns to the present comparing the fall of Spain to the Muslims in 711

to the fall of France to the Nazis, focusing on the latter‟s loss of its North African

colonies as the real tragedy of the longue durée,

       La pérdida de España produjo consecuencias trascendentes en la Historia. La

       civilización antigua había florecido en las orillas del mar Mediterráneo, que había

       servido de lazo de unión entre los pueblos ribereños. La caída de la monarquía

       visigoda afianzó el dominio musulmán en el norte de Africa y el viejo mar se

       convirtió en un foso que separó durante cientos de años dos culturas, dos

       regímenes, dos religiones, dos concepciones distintas de la vida. La caída de

       Francia y de su imperio de Africa puede ocasionar fenómenos históricos parejos y

       trocar el Atlántico, de Mediterráneo de los pueblos que han creado y desarrollado

       la civilización occidental, en foso que separe dos mundos hostiles y rivales. (19)

Sánchez Albornoz‟s distinction between two regimes, two religions and two distinct

cultures anticipates by some twenty years Lewis‟s and Huntington‟s Clash of

Civilizations and illustrates how the Muslim presence in Iberia had illicited among
                                                                                           15


conservative Christian Spanish intellectuals such a reactionary approach to the Muslim

world long before the events of 9/11 led to similar theorizing among Anglo-American

critics. Sánchez Albornoz‟s comments on Fench colonial involvement in North Africa

also helps to expose the strong colonialist, Eurocentric bias behind the Clash of

Civilizations model that has gained such currency in contemporary policy.

       While (and perhaps because) the story of Rodrigo figures prominently in the

works of Spanish historians such as Sánchez Albornoz and Ramón Menéndez Pidal, non-

Spanish contemporary historians, however, are loath to include the story of Rodrigo in

their accounts of Muslim conquest. María Menocal discounts the fable of Rodrigo as

merely “Christian mythology” of the events surrounding the Muslim arrival in Iberia in

711, deigning to mention the tale of Rodrigo at all, although alluding to the lessons we

learn from it:

       Like the Romans long before and the Germanic tribes more recently, the Muslims

       were seduced by the fat and nearly round peninsula that hangs at the western end

       of the Mediterranean. Hispania was ripe for the picking, since the Visigoths

       kingdom that the newly minted Muslims from North Africa coveted, and then

       rather easily overran and settled, was all the things one might expect from

       hundreds of years of civil discontinuity: politically unstable, religiously and

       ethnically fragmented, culturally debilitated. Even the Christian mythology

       surrounding the events of 711, stories elaborated many centuries later to tell how
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       old Christian Spain had been lost to the Muslims, hinged on the utter political

       disarray, moral corruption, and decadence of the last Visigothic kings. (26)12

Menocal, who in this study frames medieval Iberia as a multi-faith utopia governed by

convivencia, chooses to mark the Rodrigo legend, which she refuses to even name, as

Christian mythology. Elaborating on the Rodrigo story would in fact, complicate

Menocal‟s thesis for it is the iconic story of Muslim-Christian conflict, as well as the

foundational myth for modern constructions of Spanish identity, and The Ornament of the

World seeks to reframe Spanish history as inclusive of Muslim, and to a lesser degree,

Jewish traditions, with an emphasis on these religious groups relatively peaceful

coexistence. Although seeking to escape the trap of modern Christian national models of

Spanish history, Menocal, by privilaging the religious (Iberians are Muslims, Jews or

Christians in her account) over the other many ethnic, linguistic or social differences in

medieval Iberia, still remains confined by nineteenth and twentieth-century

discourses/models of Spanish history and empire. Rodrigo is still Christian and the story

of his seduction of Julian‟s daughter and of the fall of Spain is still, for Menocal,

Christian mythology. The story of Rodrigo, however, as we will see in this study, is not

merely Christian mythology, for it is also found in the earliest Arab chronicles, and in the

Arab fiction of medieval Iberia.




12
  Similarly Stanley Payne also leaves out Rodrigo‟s supposed seduction of Julian‟s
daughter as well as his experiences in the locked chamber, offering instead an alternative
account that frames Muslim involvement in terms of Visigothic civil war: “Supports of
Witiza‟s clan refused to accept the election of a rival candidate, Roderic, in 710, and
sought assistance from the newly established Muslim overlords of North Africa. The
Visigothic dissidents obviously failed to appreciate the dynamism and integrative
potential of the Islamic culture that had swept out of Arabia only a few generations
earlier” (15).
                                                                                              17


   The British historian Hugh Kennedy does not use religion to frame the tale, but

instead invokes the scientific skepticism of the historian to distance the material from the

historical record. He explains why this tale should be approached with “caution” by

modern historians:

       It is important to attempt to assess the reliability of this material. Clearly these

       Arab histories are biased in the sense that they are in favour of Muslim victories

       and claimed that these were the result of God‟s support, but this sort of open

       partisanship does not present a real problem to the modern historian. There are,

       however, a variety of other ways in which the material needs to be treated with

       caution. There is material which is clearly legendary or folkloric, like the story of

       the locked chamber in Toledo which King Roderick was rash enough to open,

       only to find that the interior was covered by paintings of Arab warriors, and,

       probably, the story of Count Julian and the rape of his daughter by King Roderick.

       These stories, with their obvious predictive and entertaining functions, are

       unlikely to mislead historians. The use of topoi and conventional phrases,

       expressions and characteristics borrowed from eastern Islamic sources may also

       give a false impression of detailed accuracy. (8)

Menocal and Kennedy‟s uneasiness with the Rodrigo tale belie an anxiety over

representations of Islam and Christianity with which this tale has come to be associated in

the millennium (plus) since it was first recorded.



       The first Latin accounts of the events of 711, in fact, do not include Rodrigo‟s

seduction of Julian‟s daughter or his penetration of the room of secrets. The first Latin
                                                                                             18


source on the Arab conquest is the Arabic-Byzantine Chronicle of 741, and is followed

some three years later by the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 which is, according to Kenneth

Baxter Wolf, “far more Iberian in focus” (26).13 In the latter Rodrigo is a rebel and a

fraud who takes his forces to fight Musa‟s troops raiding in the north of the Peninsula,

leaving the south open to Tariq ibn Ziyad:

       In Justinian‟s time, in the era 749 (711), in his fourth year as emperor and the

       ninety-second of the Arabs, with Walid retaining the sceptre of the kingdom for

       the fifth year, Roderic rebelliously seized the kingdom of the Goths at the

       instigation of the senate. He ruled for only one year. Mustering his forces, he

       directed armies against the Arabs and the Moors sent by Musa, that is against

       Tariq ibn Ziyad and the others, who had long been raiding the province consigned

       to them and simultaneously devastating many cities. In the fifth year of

       Justinian‟s rule, the ninety-third of the Arabs, and the sixth of Walid, in the era

       750 (712), Roderic headed for the Transductine mountains to fight them and in

       that battle the entire army of the Goths, which had come with him frauduently and

       in rivalry out of ambition for the kingship, fled and he was killed. Thus Roderic

       wretchedly lost not only his rule but his homeland, his rivals also being killed, as

       Walid was completing his sixth year of rule. (131-132)

Rodrigo is an usurper and illegitimate ruler, but in this chronicle he is not a rapist, nor is

the depiction of the loss of the Peninsula framed as a religious confrontation.

       As Kenneth Baxter Wolf points out, this early Latin chronicler uses both Arabic

and Latin sources to weave together an account that focuses less on the religious

13
  For the Arabic-Byzantine Chronicle of 741 see César E. Dubler, “Sobre la crónica
arábigo-bizantina . .. “ Al-Andalus 11 (1949) 283-349.
                                                                                            19


affiliation of its subjects, than on their individual merits. The chronicler uses religiously

neutral terms to refer to Muslims, and “there are no instances in which he drew religious

lines when describing Christian-Muslim military encounters” (36-37). “Rather than decry

the Muslim governors of Spain en masse as usurpers of the Visigothic kingdom, he

judged them individually according to their effectiveness at promoting peace and justice

on the peninsula” (33). This chronicler praises good Muslim rulers, just as he criticizes

bad Gothic ones. “In short, the chronicler‟s depiction of individual Muslim rulers is much

like his depiction of their Gothic predecessors. There is no evidence that he took into

account religious affiliation when he was evaluating them” (35).

       John Tolan, in his groundbreaking study of medieval European perceptions of and

interactions with Muslims, Saracen, claims that neither the Chronicle of 741 or that of

745 “makes the slightest attempt to explain” the Muslim conquest of Spain‟s place “in the

march of Christian history” (80). The Chronicle of 741 “gives no reason to think that the

Muslim conquest of Spain was of special importance,” while the Chronicle of 745 is, in

Tolan‟s opinion, “much less laconic about the matter” and includes descriptions of

Rodrigo‟s evils and treacheries (80). As we see above, the Chronicle of 754 does not

include Rodrigo‟s rape of Count Julian‟s daughter, but rather depicts Rodrigo as “one of

a few bad apples among the Goths” (Tolan 81). Despite the fact that the chronicler of 754

considers the “Goth‟s fall to the Arabs” as “one of history‟s great disasters,” “the causes

of for the catastrophe seem not to be divine disfavor but rather the evil machinations of

the Arab invaders” and the bad actions of a few Goths (81).14



14
  The Chronicle of 754 waxes poetic about the tragedy of 711 (as quoted at length in
both Tolan), “Who can relate such perils? Who can enumerate such grievous disasters?
Even if every limb were transformed into a tongue, it would be beyond human capability
                                                                                            20


       While Menocal classifies the tale of Roderigo and Julián as Christian mythology,

and Claudio Sánchez Albornoz, among others, mobilizes the tale as part of a distinctly

Spanish Christian past, as we have seen the tale is absent from the first Christian Latin

accounts. However, the tale is found in the earliest of Arab chronicles of the events of

711. The Egyptian historian Ibn Abd al-Hakem includes Rodrigo‟s seduction and

impregnation of don Julian‟s daughter as the catalyst for the conquest:

       The governor of the straits between this district and Andalus was a foreigner

       called Ilyan, Lord of Septa. He was also the governor of a town called Alchadra,

       situated on the same side of the straits of Andalus as Tangiers. Ilyan was a subject

       of Roderic, the Lord of Andalus [i.e. king of Spain], who used to reside in Toledo.

       Tarik put himself in communication with Ilyan, and treated him kindly, until they

       made peace with each other. Ilyan had sent one of his daughters to Roderic, the

       Lord of Andalus, for her improvement and education; but she became pregnant by

       him. Ilyan having heard of this, said, I see for him no other punishment or

       recompense, than that I should bring the Arabs against him. He sent to Tarik,

       saying, I will bring thee to Andalus . . . (18-22)

       The anonymous eleventh-century Arab chronicle, the Akhbar Majmua also

recounts Rodrigo‟s rape of Julian‟s daughter:

       Murió en esto el rey de España, Gaitixa, dejando algunos hijos, entre ellos Obba y

       Sisberto, que el pueblo no quiso aceptar; y alterado el país, tuvieron á bien elegir

       y confiar el mando á un infiel, llamado Rodrigo, hombre resuelto y animoso, que

       no era de etirpe real, sino caudillo y caballero. Acostumbraban los grandes


to express the ruin of Spain and its many and great evils . . .” (133). The chronicler goes
on to compare the fall of Iberia to that of Troy, Jerusalem and Rome.
                                                                                            21


        señores de España á mandar sus hijos, varones y hembras, al palacio real de

        Toledo, á la sazón fortaleza prinicipal de España y capital del reino, á fin de que

        estuviesen á las órdenes del Monarca, á quien sólo ellos servian. Allí se educaban

        hasta que, llegados á la edad nubil, el Rey los casaba, proveyéndoles para ello de

        todo lo necesario. Cuando Rodrigo fué declarado rey, prendóse de la hija de

        Julián y la forzó. Escribiéronle al padre lo ocurrido, y el infiel guardó su rencor y

        exclamó: “Por la religión del mesías, que ha de trastornar su reino y he de abrir

        una fosa bajo sus piés.” Mandó en seguida su sumisión á Muça, conferenció con

        él, le entregó las ciudades puestas bajo su mando, en virtud de un pacto que

        concertó con ventajosas y seguras condiciones para sí y sus compañeros. (19-20)

The Spanish Arabist who translated this chronicle in 1867, Emilio Lafuente y Alcántara

notes in a footnote that “all the Arab writers, without exception, refer to this tradition of

Julian‟s daughter in the same sober and simple way” disproving what Faustino de Borbon

claims in his letters, namely that no Arab writer mentions this episode, adding that this

shows “how few Arab writers this imposter had actually seen” (19 n2). Lafuente‟s note

gives us a glimpse of how the Rodrigo tale not only was being deployed by historians of

the late nineteenth century, but also indicates that it was still being mobilized in

arguments about the archive (who can and did access it) and about epistemological and

historical truth.

        At the heart of this struggle for origins is the nature of empire. Representations of

Rodrigo as slave to his own desire and as catalyst of the fall of Spain place the blame of

the fall on the shoulders of the Goths—but simultaneously make the narrative a self-

contained circuit—a history of Christian Spain in which Muslims appear simply as the
                                                                                              22


tools by which Rodrigo‟s sin is punished. The narrow focus, confined as it is to a reading

of the Rodrigo Fable as that of the fate of Christian Iberia, is not typical of the first Latin

chronicles we have examined, which instead position Rodrigo and the events of 711 in

the grand historical context of the rise of Islam and its expansion both East and West.

While the Chronicle of 754 does clearly perceive the fall of the Peninsula to the Muslims

as a disaster of epic proportions for Iberia (and Christendom?), such a sentiment is absent

in the Arab chronicles.

        The story of Rodrigo and Count Julian has proven to be a catalyst or sounding

board for opinions regarding Spain‟s national past and for representations of the historical

role of Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula. The amazing diversity we find within the

historical and fictional accounts of the events of 711 from the eighth century to the

present reveal that issues of empire and, after the thirteenth century, especially the role of

religion have been at the heart of representation in this iconic fable of Spanish identity.

Rodrigo is often portrayed as the tragic, noble Christian king who loses Spain for the

“love” of a woman, but we also often find him as the evil usurper of the Visigothic

throne. Whatever his exact crime, Rodrigo continues to loom large in Spanish letters and

cultures and serves as a constant reminder not only of the sin of lust, but more

importantly, of the constant menace of the (Spanish) Other, Tariq, the Muslim Berber

who waited just across the Straits for Julian‟s word: Tariq, who embodies Spain‟s own

Muslim past. What is at stake, then, in the various tellings of the Rodrigo legend is the

fate of Spain.
                                                                                      23




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