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Brocato (2018 Congress)

Linde M. Brocato
(University of Memphis)

“ ‘The Most Dangerous Game’:
The Libro de los juegos, the Royal Library, and Aristocratic (Non-)Leisure”

Abstract of Response
To be presented at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2018)

Session on
“Alfonso X’s Libro de los juegos: Big Results from Small Data”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Linde M. Brocato
2018 Congress Program

[Published on 7 February 2018]

As noted in the Call for Papers, the Libro de los juegos compiled by Alfonso X of Castile (1221–1284) “is a book that lends itself to interdisciplinary conversation, and to conversations that trace its contents and its effects over time, as part of a particular corpus and part of a concrete library.” It is in fact the late 13th-century starting place in a series of books dedicated to aristocratic leisure by members of the Castilian royal house of Burgundy, and is followed by the Libro de la caça de las aves (circa 1320) by his nephew, Juan Manuel (1282–1348). In his turn, Alfonso XI (1311–1350), great-grandson of Alfonso X, at the very least completed the Libro de la montería in the first half of the 14th century, by adding Book 3 to sections possibly begun by Alfonso X himself, who, Juan Manuel recounts, composed a treatise “del benar,” precisely the hunting of larger game that Alfonso XI maps in his contribution.

In this paper, I will trace the history of the texts and the manuscripts, to show the powerful intellectual presence of the royal library containing Alfonso X’s works, and then those of his successors. I will then analyze how Alfonso X’s Libro de los juegos provided a model not just for discussions of aristocratic leisure, but, as shown in work by Sonja Musser (2007) and Linde M. Brocato (2014), for deeply encoded political communication. Finally, I will suggest that the two roughly contemporary texts of Juan Manuel, implacable enemy of his king, and Alfonso XI are war by other means, a tacit dimension of the hostilities between the two elites — hence my invocation of Richard Connell’s 1924 short story, “The Most Dangerous Game”.