chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

Posts Tagged ‘myth’

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. 



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…


Posted in Literature, Spain | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »