Lord Byron in Spain

This is one of a series of posts intended to fully decipher Lord Byron’s lengthy poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage — Canto I continues.

The story so far: Byron, after traveling to Portugal and criticizing its dirty, slavish inhabitants, moves on to Spain.

XXXV.

Oh, lovely Spain! renowned, romantic land!
Where is that standard which Pelagio bore,
When Cava’s traitor-sire first called the band
That dyed thy mountain-streams with Gothic gore?
Where are those bloody banners which of yore
Waved o’er thy sons, victorious to the gale,
And drove at last the spoilers to their shore?
Red gleamed the cross, and waned the crescent pale,
While Afric’s echoes thrilled with Moorish matrons’ wail.

Asturias refers to an independent Christian kingdom that existed between 718 and 910 A.D. (the map below is the modern principality, but the terrority is nearly the same as the medieval kingdom). Asturias was formed by Visigothic nobles and officials who had been displaced by the Muslim invasion of Spain. The Visigoths elected Pelagio (Pelayo) as the first Asturian king. Pelayo is a  legendary figure, serving as a leader and symbol of Christian resistance to the Moorish invaders.

Don Pelayo closeup

Don Pelayo closeup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“… the Moors did not find mountainous territory easy to conquer, and the lands along Spain’s northern coast never fully became part of Islamic Spain.” – wikipedia

Asturias_in_Spain.svg

Cava’s traitor-sire = Count Julian. In 711 A.D. Julian allowed the moors to enter Spain. This was done out of vengeance against Don Roderick, who had violated his daughter, Cava. (Roderick, also spelled Roderic, or in Spanish Rodrigo, was king of Visigothic Spain).

Okay, what’s all this about? Well:

According to an historian writing a century and a half after the events, Julian sent one of his daughters to Roderic’s court at Toledo for education and Roderic subsequently made her pregnant. When Julian learned of the affair he removed his daughter from Roderic’s court and, out of vengeance, betrayed Hispania to the Muslim invaders, thus making possible the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. Later ballads and chronicles inflated this tale, Muslims making her out as an innocent virgin who was ravished, Christians making her a seductress. In Spanish she came to be known as la Cava Rumía. But this might well only be a legend. Personal power politics were more likely at play… – from Wikipedia

“Cava Rumia” translates as “the wicked Christian woman.” Miguel de Cervantes refers to a place named after her in his novel, Don Quixote. This is an awful lot of background for one stanza. Moving on…

XXXVI.

Teems not each ditty with the glorious tale?
Ah! such, alas, the hero’s amplest fate!
When granite moulders and when records fail,
A peasant’s plaint prolongs his dubious date.
Pride! bend thine eye from heaven to thine estate,
See how the mighty shrink into a song!
Can volume, pillar, pile, preserve thee great?
Or must thou trust Tradition’s simple tongue,
When Flattery sleeps with thee, and History does thee wrong?

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