mindGrazing

chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

Posts Tagged ‘Don Juan’

Yet More on the Don Juan Myth

Posted by Jason on December 21, 2008

In my previous posts on this topic, I’ve explored -very briefly- the possibility of Don Juan being a Spanish iteration of Zeus and his philandering exploits from Greek mythology and literature. 

https://mindgrazing.wordpress.com/2008/11/11/what-makes-don-juan-so-intriguing/

https://mindgrazing.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/more-pieces-to-the-don-juan-mystery/

I’ve done some researching and it seems that most of the Arab literati that came into Spain really had little use for Greek literature and mythology. John Walbridge, in his book Wisdom of the Mystic East, asserts that most of the translators that brought Greek knowledge to the Arabs were not interested in Greek literature per se. Most of the emphasis was placed on philosophy and scientific writings, rather than drama and mythology. According to Walbridge, “…the Greek gods appeared even to the best informed medieval Muslims as little more than names…”

So, apparently the Arabs brought only philosophy and science with them from the Greeks. Some scholars like Gustav Grunebaum say the Muslims were quite aware of Greek literature and literary forms, citing formal similarities between some stories in The Arabian Nights and some Greek novels. It’s probable that this knowledge was floating around in those days, but identifying a viable link could be difficult.

There is still the possibility that stories Zeus and his exploits were brought to Spain in the 6th to 8th centuries B.C. when the Greeks and Phoenicians had several trading posts and villages along the Spanish Mediterranean coast. Could this oral tradition have endured and evolved in some way through for almost 2000 years in the hearts of the common people until Tirso de Molina codified the legend of Don Juan in 1630? I don’t know. I’m not very smart in the ways oral history and folk history.

I also saw a bit that Greek literature really came into Europe in the early Renaissance through Italy, etc. If Don Juan is a Spanish corruption of some Zeus mythology, it might have come from Spanish contact in the Italian campaigns of the Spanish Habsburg rulers. More info later…

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More pieces to the Don Juan mystery…

Posted by Jason on December 7, 2008

So I’m reading Spain: the Root and the Flower by John A. Crow, and he mentions that Peter the Cruel (King of Castile from 1350-1369) prided himself in being a Don Juan. The next sentences follow:

The famous Don Juan de Mañara, upon whose grave appear these words: “Here lie the ashes of the greatest sinner who ever lived,” epitomized the attitude. Perhaps rooted in such histories the Don Juan legend became a part of medieval folklore. (109-110)

Could Crow have found the origin of the Don Juan myth? I checked out this supposedly famous Don Juan de Mañara, and it turns out that this man really lived in Sevilla, but his name was Don Miguel de Mañara. Apparently this guy was quite the drinker and quite the playboy until he had a religious conversion and became a pious, upstanding philanthropist. The only problem with this? Mañara was born in 1627, which was right about the time when Tirso de Molina’s play “El Burlador de Sevilla” was first published. Don’t think the myth could have come from this dude.

So my hypothesis of Don Juan being a Spanish distillation of Zeus’ and his womanizing exploits is not completely blown out of the water, yet. In Crow’s book, which doesn’t exactly ooze premium scholarship, I have been reading that the Greeks were in Spain starting around 600 B.C., and that their largest contributions to early Spanish culture were music and drama, including some musical instruments and song styles. This supports my theory since many of the tall tales of Zeus and his philandering were most certainly passed down via song and poetic odes, which have a tendency to morph throughout the ages. 

I don’t know which is more plausible: the folk tale of Don Juan is the remnant of Zeus myths from 600 B.C., passed down through ancient song; OR Don Juan is the dregs which captivated the Spanish populous from the classic literature and mythology brought to Spain from Muslim and Jewish scholars throughout 700 years of occupation. 

Regarding the second scenario, would the Muslims and Jews even have bothered with the Greek pantheon and its related stories, given that both cultures were so dominantly monotheistic? More searching to do…

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Bottom Line it For Me! – Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”

Posted by Jason on December 6, 2008

Mozart/da Ponte take on a classic Spanish story.

Unscrupulous guy seduces a bunch of girls. Dead father of one girl invites the seducer to dinner. Player and dead father shake hands. Dead father pulls seducer down to Hell.

More operas/books to come. Feel free to post suggestions in comment box…

Posted in Literature | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What makes Don Juan so intriguing?

Posted by Jason on November 11, 2008

Ever since the early 17th century, this womanizer has captivated our hearts, our hatred, and our sympathies. The earliest iteration was most likely a combination of two folk myths, one about a tireless and shameless seducer, and another about dinner with a stone likeness who pulls the young sinner into hell. Tirso de Molina first combined these in a 1630’s drama and the basic story is as follows:

Don Juan is an impudent scoundrel who takes pride his ability to seduce any woman he wants, without repercussion and without penitence. Then he mocks the statue of his latest victim’s dead father and the father’s ghost invites Don Juan to dinner. With pomp and puffed out chest, Don Juan goes to dinner with the statue/ghost and the ghost asks for a handshake, naturally…When Don Juan goes to shake, the ghost drags the libertine down into hell without even the courtesy of killing him or allowing him last rites.

So this quirky little drama is what has captured the imagination of the western world for nearly 400 years? Apparently so: according to the Don Juan wiki page (the most reliable source EVER!) there have been over 85 works of prose, theatre, and music written about Don Juan since Tirso first penned the original drama. 

In some works, Don Juan is condemned to hell with no redemption, following the original story. Others show Don Juan’s conversion to good by a pure-hearted female who risks her salvation to save her true love. The 20th century brought a more experimental attitude toward the world’s most famous player. Don Juan has been impotent yet immortal, or even the helpless victim caught in the middle of two women warring for his affection.

These stories of the fearless, immoral seducer have something for everyone. We men wish we had even half the game of this guy. Our wives and girlfriends, too, wish that we men had any game. Other ladies wish they could be swept off their feet like Don Juan’s victims. Yet others would love to save a poor, lost man’s soul-if you prefer the more Romantic/optimistic story of Zorrilla. If you like the more fundamentalist approach of Tirso and Mozart (really da Ponte: Mozart just wrote the music for Don Giovanni), then the hard-nosed damnation of Don Juan gives all of us justification that all the bad guys really DO get what they deserve in the end.

The complexity of the overall myth, due to the sheer number of different versions, makes it difficult to pin down what exactly the allure of Don Juan is. Through all the works I’ve read, which is by no means an exhaustive list, there is a common thread that unites them: Don Juan has some power over the female psyche/heart/sensuality. Some works, especially the twentieth century ones, forego the statue and the hellish handshake, but they retain our hero’s power over the fairer sex. Is Don Juan then, some sort of post-Renaissance super anti-hero with unexplainable mental/sensual powers? How does Don Juan do what he does, and why is he the standard by which all who come after are measured?

I’ve been interested in the Don Juan myth/archetype for some time, and actually started some research into this and read several Spanish works from varyious time periods. I thought this would be my senior year honors project, to come up with some idea about the myth. It turns out all I accomplished was a nice Spanish literature review with no interesting ideas. Now, I’ve finally come to a realization that may or may not hold water, but it is an idea.

Who is the only notable womanizer/seducer before Don Juan? To find the answer, we must look back to the dawn of time, according to the Greeks anyway. Everybody smooth operator since the 1630’s has been compared to Don Juan, but there was only one we know of that came before: Zeus. Mythology pegs the god as the great seducer, having countless consorts with both mortals and deities. Being the king of the pantheon, Zeus rarely suffered any consequences for his actions and those were minor at worst. The arrogance, the carefree attitude, and the relentless thirst for females that make up Zeus’ reputation all are apparent in the Don Juan of Tirso de Molina. The only difference is that the playboy smashes headlong into the freshly post-Dantean Catholicism of Golden Age Spain. He is not Zeus, and cannot save himself from the hands of an angry God.

What is the line of succession from the Mount Olympus to the decadence of Habsburg Spain in the 17th century? Well, it’s not quite clear and I haven’t fleshed it out or really researched it sufficiently yet, but I see a strong connection between the scholarly Arab and Jewish influences on Spain until the end of the 15th century, and the Renaissance obsession with Greco-Roman themes. One must not forget that the only true European center of learning throughout the Middle Ages was Cordoba, and all of the middle-eastern scholarship -once it was finally rediscovered- was funneled into Europe through Spain. Now does it seem so far of a stretch that stories of Zeus and his exploits would eventually seep into the Spanish consciousness through which the “folk” myth of Don Juan came together with the Stone Guest under Tirso’s pen? I think not.

So my grand idea is that Don Juan is somehow the result of the Spanish popular incorporation of Zeus stories that had been permeating the Iberian Peninsula via Jewish and Muslim scholarship throughout the Middle Ages. Maybe if I ever further my academic studies in Spanish, I’ll actually get off my mental butt and research some support for this hypothesis.

Any thoughts?

**Addendum: see my follow up post here: 

https://mindgrazing.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/more-pieces-to-the-don-juan-mystery/

Posted in Literature, Musings | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »