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Llull, Ramon, The Book of the Order of Chivalry, ed. Noel Fallows (Barton)

  • 18 Jun 2016 8:10 AM
    Message # 4083225
    Simon Doubleday (Administrator)

    Reviewed by Simon Barton, University of Exeter

    Among the prolific literary output of the scholar, evangelist, and missionary, Ramon Llull, his Llibre de l’Orde de Cavalleria (The Book of the Order of Chivalry), composed in Catalan between the years 1274 and 1276, does not exactly dazzle the reader with its literary style or the depth of its philosophical insights. Yet, of all Llull’s numerous works, it was perhaps the one that enjoyed the widest audience and was the mostly extensively disseminated across Europe. Llull wrote the treatise at his newly-founded monastery of Miramar in Majorca in the wake of a recent crusading failure, which had seen James I of Aragon reach the south of France and then turn for home after a storm hit his fleet in 1269, and in which Louis IX of France succumbed to the effects of illness in Tunis the following year. It was in the wake of that military setback that Llull sought to re-energise and reform the warrior class by encouraging the knights to meditate on their duties, virtues and, not least, their failings. In the course of his treatise, Llull addressed the origins of chivalry, the duties of knights and squires, the ceremony and ritual of knighthood, the symbolic significance of a knight’s armour and weaponry, the good conduct that was expected of a knight, and the honour that was due to him. The work was thus designed partly as an instruction manual for the knights themselves, but also as a teaching tool, which clergymen who wished to connect with the military elite and school them in good behaviour might usefully exploit. As Noel Fallows observes, ‘Llull’s vision, which he pursued to the end of his life, was for one single, cohesive Order of Chivalry with its own hierarchy and code of conduct’ (p. 3). Sometimes praising, at others chiding, Llull was ever keen to remind his readers that the spiritual and temporal duties of the knight were indissoluble. Religious devotion, as well as martial prowess, education and common sense, were all essential attributes of the knight if he was to fulfil his duties with honour and success.

    Noel Fallows’ new translation of the treatise is commendably clear and accurate in equal measure. It is buttressed by a relatively short but useful introduction, which contextualises Llull’s work, discusses his views on the knightly elite, highlights the style and rhetoric that he deployed, and considers the sources upon which he drew. Eleven full-page colour illustrations are a welcome addition to the text proper. What is missing is any discussion of the extent to which Llull’s work differed in style, intention and substance from other contemporary and near-contemporary chivalric treatises, such as the anonymous Ordene de chevalerie (c.1220), and the Livre de chevalerie (c.1350-1355) composed by the French knight Geoffroi de Charny. A brief overview of modern scholarly debates surrounding the chivalric phenomenon would also have been useful. Nonetheless, this attractive volume is both important and timely. Given that the only previous English translation available to students was the deeply flawed one published by William Caxton in the late fifteenth century, Fallows' accessible and stylish rendering of Llull's classic work is to be warmly welcomed.

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