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The Spectral Arab: Rodrigo and the Fall of Spain


Ayer era rey de Espaa,
hoy no lo soy de una villa;
ayer villas y castillos,
hoy ninguno posea;
ayer tena criados,
hoy ninguno me serva;
hoy no tengo una almena
que pueda decir que es ma
--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 pastconstructions 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 histrica, para l, no es lo que sucedi; es lo que juzgamos que sucedi (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 peninsulas 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 bloodlinesbloodlines
traceable to Rodrigo and his count Julinare undone by the very narrative used to
establish them. Ironically the story of the last Gothic King Rodrigos 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 Rodrigos 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
Nights, suggest that the earliest chronicle accounts of Rodrigos demise are heavily
influenced by non-historical sources.2
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. Andr Miquel, Un conte des Mille et une nuits: Ajib et Gharib (traduction

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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 Julians 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 revindicacin del conde Julin,
by Juan Goytisolo who rereads this tale to question inherited Spanish Catholic
nationalism post-Franco.3

et perspectives danalyse). Nouvelle Bibliothque Scientifique. Paris: Flammarion, 1977.


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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 Draysons, not only in the works consideredDrayson focusing on
painting, coins and the Crnica Sarracina--but also in its theoretical orientation. Drayson
focuses on Julians 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 Rodrigos story functions to distance the
Muslim past/imperial narrative.

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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 Rodrigos North African vassal,
Julin. According to the first Arab chronicles, Count Julin sent his daughter to Rodrigos
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 Julins
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 Spains 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 Julins daughter, but his
wife. The ambiguous nature of Julins 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
protagonists are menRodrigo and Julin. 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. Rodrigos sexual conquest is always
already a narrative of imperial conquest. His violation of Julians innocent daughter/wife

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parallels the Muslim violation of the Peninsulaa 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 Spains Otherto Tariq
ibn Ziyad and the Muslims waiting on the far shores of the Straits of Gibraltarwhile
seemingly pushing them to the sidelinesmaking them silent witnesses to Rodrigos
destructive impulses, Julians daughters humiliation, and Count Julians 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
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 othernoble warrior and even attractive
beloved. Nineteenth and twentieth century Spanish intellectuals will return to this
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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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 talesex, lust, betrayal and revengeupon 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, Jos Mara Aznar
invoked the myth of Rodrigo in his attack on, among other things, the current Spanish
governments 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
qu). 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. Aznars manipulation of Rodrigo as part of the so-called War on Terror is 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 Lewiss/Samuel
Huntingtons Clash of Civilizations model and of the priority given to religion by
5

As I will discuss in a subsequent section (not included) Juan Goytisolos novel La


revindicacin del conde Julin 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 Julin.

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adherents of such a view.6 In contrast with the model of loss Aznar invokes, Cebrin
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 Rodrigos 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
civilizacin ha llevado a sugerir que ese es el motivo fundamental por el que el
progreso fue diferente a ambas orillas del Mediterrneo. Pero si lo fue, y cuando
lo ha sido, se debi fundamentalmente a las imposiciones del poder. Sin las
Cruzadas y la Inquisicin, sin la insidiosa Reconquista ibrica, podramos -quin
sabe?- haber asistido al florecimiento de una civilizacin mediterrnea, ecumnica
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
mantequilla y el aceite de oliva, en una sola idea de democracia. El poder
religioso, aliado con el trono, se encarg 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 persecucin y exilio por los poderes de esta tierra. Lo
nico que podemos decir ahora es que no tuvo que ser as, y que todava podra no
ser as. Ojal (ua xa Alah) que la Alianza de Civilizaciones, impulsada por
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 Aznars
successor, Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapateros 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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Rodrguez Zapatero y las Naciones Unidas, sirva al menos para reflexionar al
respecto, escapando a la tentacin, demasiado evidente, de convertirse en un
elemento ms de la propaganda poltica. (Cebran)
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
Cebrin 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 traditionthere 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. Espaa 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, Espaa as a nationstate characterized by a national language and identity and with roughly the same
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
7

The Chronicle of 754 describes in some detail the exploits of the Gothic army of
Saragossa.
8
In a classic example of what would later come to be known in the American and British
Academy as Cultural Studies, Amrico Castro explores the importance of the terms
Espaa and espaol as employed by twentieth century Spanish historians in Sobre el
nombre y el quin de los espaoles, 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).

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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 Spainthat 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
the twentieth centuries, those writing during Francisco Francos dictatorship, who sought
to revive Spanish nationalism under the conservative banner of the Catholicism of the
Catholic Monarchs. Rodrigos 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 Julins daughter and the entry into the
forbidden room provides a convenient answerthe noble Christian Rodrigo, like the
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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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 Cidto 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 onethe 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 taleone that, like Aznars
comment, conflates the Iberian past with contemporary European events. The Spanish
historian, Claudio Snchez Albornoz alludes to the Rodrigo myth in an unusual essay that
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 priestcontemplating the beauty of the
medieval walled Spanish town Avila at sunset. Snchez Albornoz notes that one friend is

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 ltimo godo.
11
On Claudio Snchez Albornoz and other important Spanish Arabists, as well as of the
vicisstiudes of Arabic Studies within nineteenth and twentieth-century Spain, see James
T. Monroes 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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missing--the historianwhose eyes would have discerned a sixth shade in the twilight
landscape:
Porque tambin 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 pretrito. Privilegio?
Servidumbre? . . . Ms servidumbre que privilegio y ms suplico que gozo. S,
porque en los das que vivimos, los ojos de un historiador, dotados de ese rayo
misterioso ultravioleta, al penetrar a travs 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, dbiles para asomarse al exterior a travs 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
das . . . No puedo remediarlo. Es una enfermedad de cura muy difcil.
Compadecedme y no os enojis con mis visiones. (14)
And what is it that Snchez Albornoz sees with this seemingly prophetic vision of the
past? The ghosts of among others, Roosevelt, Charlemagne and don Rodrigo:
Un da, mientras cruzaba en el velero el mar Atlntico, me visitaron juntas las
sombras del presidente Roosevelt y del primer emperador germano de occidente:
Carlosmagno. . . . Hoy he visto desfilar la corte del ltimo rey godo tras las

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siluetas de los hombres de la Tercera Repblica Francesa, en sus postrimeras.
Don Rodrigo tras Lebrun! S, don Rodrigo con sus condes, sus gardingos, sus
fideles y sus prceres, y Lebrun con sus ministros, los presidentes delas cmaras y
los jefes y miembros distinguidos de los partidos polticos del Senado y del
Congreso. La corona de Leovigildo y el gran collar de la Legin 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 Elseo parisino. Egilona, la reina, Florinda y las otras seoras de
la corte visigoda, y madame Lebrun, la presidenta, y las otras damas del Pars
oficial. Y con las sombras de Rodrigo y de sus gentes, en este atardecer otoal,
junto a los Andes, he visto desfilar el film trgico de la agona del reino
hispanogodo. (15-16)
Snchez 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 Rodrigos wife,
Egilona, and the victim of his sexual attack, Florinda, underscoring not only Rodrigos
nature as a rapist, but also as an adulterer. More surprising than Snchez Albornozs
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. Snchez Albornozs 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

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guerreros, recin convertidos a una fe novsima; a una fe que es a la par un dogna y una
doctrina poltica, una religin y una organizacin estatal; un pueblo que ama la lucha y la
rapia; un pueblo ebrio de entusiasmo y de pasin y que aspira al dominio del mundo
(17). Ironically for Snchez 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, Snchez Albornoz develops the clichd metaphor of the violation of the
motherland:
El embrujo de la tierra y de las mujeres espaolas conquista a los conquistadores.
Pero poco a poco Espaa es colonizada por sus nuevos seores . . . Hispania
pierde por siglos su personalidad, su idioma, su fe, su tradicin y su cultura y
entra a formar parte del imperio islamita, que va desde Lisboa hasta la India. Y,
por siglos tambin, abandona las rutas de los pueblos libres de Occidente, que
engendran en las sombras del medieoevo la Europa madre de la nuestra. (18)
The spell of Hispaniaits women and its landseduce 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 Snchez Albornoz, under the Muslims Iberia loses its
language, religion, tradition and culture.
In rhetoric worthy of Aznar and President George W. Bush, Snchez 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

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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 latters loss of its North African
colonies as the real tragedy of the longue dure,
La prdida de Espaa produjo consecuencias trascendentes en la Historia. La
civilizacin antigua haba florecido en las orillas del mar Mediterrneo, que haba
servido de lazo de unin entre los pueblos ribereos. La cada de la monarqua
visigoda afianz el dominio musulmn en el norte de Africa y el viejo mar se
convirti en un foso que separ durante cientos de aos dos culturas, dos
regmenes, dos religiones, dos concepciones distintas de la vida. La cada de
Francia y de su imperio de Africa puede ocasionar fenmenos histricos parejos y
trocar el Atlntico, de Mediterrneo de los pueblos que han creado y desarrollado
la civilizacin occidental, en foso que separe dos mundos hostiles y rivales. (19)
Snchez Albornozs distinction between two regimes, two religions and two distinct
cultures anticipates by some twenty years Lewiss and Huntingtons Clash of
Civilizations and illustrates how the Muslim presence in Iberia had illicited among
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. Snchez Albornozs 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 Snchez Albornoz and Ramn Menndez Pidal, nonSpanish contemporary historians, however, are loath to include the story of Rodrigo in

15
their accounts of Muslim conquest. Mara 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
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
Menocals 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
12

Similarly Stanley Payne also leaves out Rodrigos supposed seduction of Julians
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
Witizas 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).

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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 Julians 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.
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 Gods 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,

17
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 Kennedys 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 Rodrigos
seduction of Julians daughter or his penetration of the room of secrets. The first Latin
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 Musas troops raiding in the north of the Peninsula, leaving
the south open to Tariq ibn Ziyad:
In Justinians 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
13

For the Arabic-Byzantine Chronicle of 741 see Csar E. Dubler, Sobre la crnica
arbigo-bizantina . .. Al-Andalus 11 (1949) 283-349.

18
to them and simultaneously devastating many cities. In the fifth year of Justinians
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
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 chroniclers 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 Spains place in the

19
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
Tolans opinion, much less laconic about the matter and includes descriptions of
Rodrigos evils and treacheries (80). As we see above, the Chronicle of 754 does not
include Rodrigos rape of Count Julians 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 Goths fall to the Arabs as one of historys 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
While Menocal classifies the tale of Roderigo and Julin as Christian mythology,
and Claudio Snchez 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 Rodrigos seduction and
impregnation of don Julians 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
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 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.

20
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 Rodrigos rape of Julians daughter:
Muri en esto el rey de Espaa, Gaitixa, dejando algunos hijos, entre ellos Obba y
Sisberto, que el pueblo no quiso aceptar; y alterado el pas, tuvieron bien elegir
y confiar el mando un infiel, llamado Rodrigo, hombre resuelto y animoso, que
no era de etirpe real, sino caudillo y caballero. Acostumbraban los grandes
seores de Espaa mandar sus hijos, varones y hembras, al palacio real de
Toledo, la sazn fortaleza prinicipal de Espaa y capital del reino, fin de que
estuviesen las rdenes del Monarca, quien slo ellos servian. All se educaban
hasta que, llegados la edad nubil, el Rey los casaba, proveyndoles para ello de
todo lo necesario. Cuando Rodrigo fu declarado rey, prendse de la hija de Julin
y la forz. Escribironle al padre lo ocurrido, y el infiel guard su rencor y
exclam: Por la religin del mesas, que ha de trastornar su reino y he de abrir
una fosa bajo sus pis. Mand en seguida su sumisin Mua, conferenci con
l, le entreg las ciudades puestas bajo su mando, en virtud de un pacto que
concert con ventajosas y seguras condiciones para s y sus compaeros. (19-20)
The Spanish Arabist who translated this chronicle in 1867, Emilio Lafuente y Alcntara
notes in a footnote that all the Arab writers, without exception, refer to this tradition of
Julians daughter in the same sober and simple way disproving what Faustino de Borbon

21
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). Lafuentes 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 Gothsbut simultaneously make the narrative a selfcontained circuita history of Christian Spain in which Muslims appear simply as the
tools by which Rodrigos 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 Spains 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.

22
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 Julians word: Tariq, who embodies Spains 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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