112th: Simon Doubleday on "The Wise King"
Join us on Wednesday, March 2nd at 7pm for a discussion with Simon Doubleday on his book, The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance.
Synopsis: The life and times of a Spanish monarch who invigorated cultural life.
For more than 30 years, Alfonso X (1221-1284) reigned over a country beset by divisiveness, strife, and uncertainty. As Doubleday portrays him in this deeply researched history, Alfonso aspired to be a “teacher to his people,” ensuring “not only their political unity but also their happiness and well-being.” Kings, Alfonso believed, “resemble a mirror in which men view their own images.” Alfonso wrote texts that long survived him: songs, works on astronomy and astrology, and a legal and philosophical tract that influenced United States law into the 19th century. He aimed to institute reforms that would mark “a first step away from an older feudal order” to a rational, centralized government in which “the king and people had mutual obligations.” Central to Alfonso’s beliefs was the importance of happiness. He promoted games and sport, incorporated comedy in his religious songs, and delighted in dirty jokes. Laughter, he believed, was “good medicine.” Doubleday helpfully contextualizes Alfonso’s convictions and actions. He explores, for example, the place of humor in medieval culture; the meaning of friendship; attitudes about fatherhood; and assumptions about planetary and astral influence on human life. He asserts that Alfonso created a Castilian Renaissance centuries before the more famous Italian artistic flourishing, but he is also clear about the king’s shortcomings.
Simon R. Doubleday is Associate Professor of History at Hofstra University.