Juan Ruiz was a famous Castilian poet of medieval times who is also known as
Amongst the many poems against his name is, perhaps, his most famous composition, a ribald piece called
which translates as
A manuscript extract from it is illustrated above. It is widely believed that this piece of work was completed in 1343 and many literary historians have compared it to Chaucer’s
in style and content.
Understandably, details of his date and place of birth are not certain but it is believed that he came into the world sometime during the year 1283. It is likely that he studied to become a priest in Toledo. If, indeed, he did practice as a holy man it seems incongruous that he would have written a book such as the one mentioned above. Also in doubt is the idea that he was imprisoned for the last thirteen years of his life. This comes from interpretations of his own writing although it has been suggested that this part of
could have been added after his death, perhaps for dramatic effect.
It is possible that his imprisonment, if it indeed happened, was ordered by the Archbishop of Toledo, a man called Gil Albornoz. The Archbishop could well have been offended by Ruiz’s conduct and ribald writing, not to mention the satirising of the church hierarchy in his poetry. It should be noted though that the name Juan Ruiz was a very popular name during that period of Castilian history so, for this reason, it is actually difficult to establish any facts about his life at all. It cannot even be proved beyond any doubt that one man was responsible for all of the work attributed to “Juan Ruiz”. It could have been the work of a number of Castilian clergymen of that period.
However, for the purposes of this short article, we have to assume that he was only one man and that the stories told in his masterpiece Libro can be taken as semi-autobiographical. It is an epic poem of over 1700 stanzas which is divided up into 12 separate love stories. Both carnal love and the love of God are discussed in great detail and it also touches on spiritual love in places. What made it so controversial though are the frequent references to men seeking to seduce women wherever they can. Ruiz uses a great deal of satire to highlight the Spanish medieval way of life. He uses characters who could be described as lower class to illustrate his stories, and perhaps make them even more alluring to the casual reader.
Ruiz wrote other pieces of course and here is a translation of one of his poems called
You could say, reading between the lines, that this is on a similar theme to the Libro:
Some accounts of his life suggest that he was a victim of the Spanish Inquisition which tried him and imprisoned him simply for falling in love with a noblewoman, an act that could not be tolerated then. He may have been incarcerated right up until his death but the general view is that he was released some years before.
Juan Ruiz died sometime during the year 1350 which would have made him 67 years old.