From Founding Father to Pious Son: Filiation, Language, and Royal Inheritance in Alfonso X, the Learned
Lucio Fontana, "Concetto Spaziale", 1968, idropittura su tela, 73 x 92 cm., cat. gen. 68 B 16, © Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milano


Alfonso X el Sabio
translatio studii et imperii
Arabic astronomy
Cantigas de Santa María
San Fernando III

How to Cite

Szpiech, R. (2015). From Founding Father to Pious Son: Filiation, Language, and Royal Inheritance in Alfonso X, the Learned. Interfaces: A Journal of Medieval European Literatures, (1), 209–235.
Received 2015-06-23
Accepted 2015-06-23
Published 2015-07-05


The influence of King Alfonso X of Castile (reg. 1252–1284) has been so wide that modern historians have stressed Alfonso’s foundational role as a ‘father’ of many Castilian cultural institutions and areas of writing, including prose literature, science, the legal code, and vernacular historiography. This paper argues that the modern focus on Alfonso’s foundational, ‘fatherly’ role, while logical in the context of modern literary historiography, is at odds with Alfonso’s own medieval view of himself as a ‘son’ and heir, one who inherited rather than founded cultural institutions. It proposes that a reorientation of Alfonsine studies according to this medieval worldview, one focused less on Alfonso’s innovations and foundations and more on his continuty with and dependance on his forebears, will permit a clearer portrayal of Alfonso’s importance in medieval literary history. To this end, it explores Aflonso’s representation of himself as the ‘son’ of his father, King Fernando III, in the prologues to his scientific translations, in his encomium of his father known as the Setenario, and in song 292 of his Cantigas de Santa María. A reading of these examples is offered as a first step towards the study of filiation and ‘sonship’ in the vast Alfonsine historiographical and legal corpuses.

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