The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance

The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance

by Simon R. Doubleday

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The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance by Simon R. Doubleday

An illuminating biography of Alfonso X, the 13th-century philosopher-king whose affinity for Islamic culture left an indelible mark on Western civilization

"If I had been present at the Creation," the thirteenth-century Spanish philosopher-king Alfonso X is said to have stated, "Many faults in the universe would have been avoided." Known as El Sabio, "the Wise," Alfonso was renowned by friends and enemies alike for his sparkling intellect and extraordinary cultural achievements. In The Wise King, celebrated historian Simon R. Doubleday traces the story of the king's life and times, leading us deep into his emotional world and showing how his intense admiration for Spain's rich Islamic culture paved the way for the European Renaissance.

In 1252, when Alfonso replaced his more militaristic father on the throne of Castile and León, the battle to reconquer Muslim territory on the Iberian Peninsula was raging fiercely. But even as he led his Christian soldiers onto the battlefield, Alfonso was seduced by the glories of Muslim Spain. His engagement with the Arabic-speaking culture of the South shaped his pursuit of astronomy, for which he was famed for centuries, and his profoundly humane vision of the world, which Dante, Petrarch, and later Italian humanists would inherit. A composer of lyric verses, and patron of works on board games, hunting, and the properties of stones, Alfonso is best known today for his Cantigas de Santa María (Songs of Holy Mary), which offer a remarkable window onto his world. His ongoing struggles as a king and as a man were distilled-in art, music, literature, and architecture-into something sublime that speaks to us powerfully across the centuries.

An intimate biography of the Spanish ruler in whom two cultures converged, The Wise King introduces readers to a Renaissance man before his time, whose creative energy in the face of personal turmoil and existential threats to his kingdom would transform the course of Western history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465066995
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 12/01/2015
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 795,279
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Simon R. Doubleday is Professor of History at Hofstra University, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, and author of The Lara Family: Crown and Nobility in Medieval Spain. He received his BA from Cambridge University and his PhD in Medieval History from Harvard, and is the recipient of awards for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement from Hofstra and for teaching from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Table of Contents

1. Players
2. Lovers
3. Stargazers
4. Hungers
5. Laughter
6. Friends
7. Father
8. Healers
9. Anger

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The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
jj1922 More than 1 year ago
Simon Doubleday's book explores a fascinating period through the lens of one of its most notable intellects. Alfonso X, ruler in thirteenth-century Spain was a complicated, brilliant man who, Doubleday argues, brings about cultural and legislative works that foreshadow the Renaissance. Alfonso's ambitions to the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, his difficulties quelling local rebellion, and his dealings with Muslim kings paint a vivid picture of medieval politics and intrigue while dispelling some of the most common myths about the Middle Ages. Doubleday uses Alfonso as a doorway into explaining medieval behavior and attitudes. Instead of a world that is stereotypically bleak and austere, the author reveals a world of close family and friendships, remarkable open-mindedness and scientific endeavor. Alfonso's quest for knowledge and beauty is a microcosm of the intellectual potential of the medieval period. The book does not veer into hagiography, and Doubleday is willing to unveil Alfonso's blemishes, such as his fruitless pursuit of papal favor and access to the Holy Roman Empire. But he also argues against some conventional interpretations of Alfonso's actions, like his supposed stoicism in the face of his son's deaths. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book, considering modern geopolitical movements, is the interaction between Christian and Muslim Spain. While the influence of Muslim medieval scientists and philosophers is well known, it may surprise readers to see how conventional relations between these rivals could be. The Crusades makes a modern reader think of a harsh dichotomy between sides, when the reality of alliances and trade create shades of gray. In a region that would become embroiled in the horrors of the Inquisition, the interactions of Muslims, Jews and Christians coexisting is very interesting. All in all, you will get more than a biography with this book. It will also give a fair portrait of an underrepresented period, and is a necessary read for anyone who wants to know more about the culture and politics of the Middle Ages.