Library Dissertation Showcase

Observing the Eye of God: the Islamic role in Alfonso X’s Discourse on Kingship (1221-1284CE)

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2016

This dissertation examines the reign of the Castilian king Alfonso X (1221-1284CE) and how the medieval Islamic philosophical tradition contributed towards forming the king’s fundamental principles on kingship. Known often as “el sabio” (the wise), very few monarchs rivalled Alfonso’s dedication toward scientific learning and the Liberal Arts. He is well-known to have personally contributed to the production of his vast scientific corpus. It is less known that, as a student of Aristotelian science, the only available works of Aristotle were commentaries by Arabic philosophers. Instead of receiving Aristotelian science, Alfonso received Arabic interpretations of Aristotelian science, one which catered Aristotelianism with Islamic theology. This study analyses how elements of Arabic Aristotelianism contributed to forming Alfonso’s fundamental principles on kingship by focussing on three key Alfonsine texts: his legal code, Las Siete Partidas, his treatises on games, the Libro de los Juegos, and his collection of Marian miracle poems, the Cantigas de Santa María.

Chapter one introduces Alfonso’s reign in relation to the historiographical context of medieval kingship, with a methodological analysis on this dissertation’s structure. Chapter two introduces the principles of the twelfth-thirteenth-century intellectual movement Scholasticism, and how it was influenced by the Islamic philosophical tradition. I argue the Siete Partidas is structured according to the Scholastic premise that the nature of the universe can be communicated through symbolism. This was motivated by the desire to know God through the study of His creation, while avoiding the need to use human senses, of having to reference space to convey theological understanding. Each law is structured according to contemporary numerology, aligning the law’s authority with a metaphysical value. Chapter three argues the Libro de los Juegos promotes scientific understanding of God through symbolism. Alfonso invents new games that were intended to be microcosmic simulations of the macrocosm, communicating esoteric theological truths in an exoteric format. Chapter four argues that the Cantigas de Santa María similarly sought to convey theological/scientific understanding, but through the power of emotion: Alfonso created conditions which made the audience feel they were being touched by divine love.

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