I did not say that

James I, King of Aragon, Mallorca and Valencia playing the harp. Miniature by Domingo
Crespí in the late fourteenth century Llibre de privilegis of Alzira
(erroneously known as Aureum opes)

When browsing repertories of popular narrative clichés on political power, one can discover that a certain kind of joke has been recently revived in Eastern Europe, which was fashionable in the Middle Ages, but whose ingenious mechanism must be just as old as speech itself.

This is a Romanian version:
Bucharest, October 1944. A man, very upset, goes to the police station to file a complaint:
– Two Swiss soldiers have entered my house, they have stolen everything they found, and have raped my wife and my daughter.
– Man, what kind of Swiss soldiers? There is not a single Swiss soldier in all Romania.
– I say, Swiss soldiers. I know what I am talking about.
– Come on, think again… They were surely Russians.
– You said it, sir, not me!
(Banc, C. and Alan Dundes, First Prize: Fifteen Years! An Annonatetd Collection of Romanian Political Jokes, London – Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1986)
And a Czech version:
Pepik comes running down the street to a policeman and tells him very upset:
– A Swiss soldier has stolen my Russian watch!
The policeman politely corrects him:
– It was surely a Russian soldier who has stolen your Swiss watch.
– Well, officer, you said it, not me!
(Köhler-Zülch, «Der politische Wilz und seine erzählforscherischen Implikationen», in Medien popularer Kultur, Frankfurt – New York: Campus Verlag, 1995)
Entrace of the king on horseback in the city of Valencia, conquered from the Moors.
Fresco in the castle of Alcañiz

Both jokes repeat a narrative scheme of oral tradition (“you said it, not me”), to which Theodor Zachariae already in 1915 dedicated a separate study: “Ihr sagt es, nicht ich!”, Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 25, 402-408. It is characteristic both in the jokes and in the orally transmitted popular stories that their figures are almost always anonymous, and their temporal and spacial conditions unspecific. But there are exceptions. Certain times and certain characters produce their own series of anecdotes that are then modulated and developed by word of mouth. And great historical personages can also assume stories that originally were coined on anonymous people.

The above mentioned versions of the story were adapted to the Soviet occupation, but Zachariae also found a variant with Shah Abbas I of Persia (1557-1629) as a protagonist. Shah Abbas, a great patron, the modernizer and revitalizer of Persia and a vanquisher of the Uzbek, Ottoman and Portuguese army, was always remembered with much affection in these stories. Another, more modern version is applied to Frederick II of Prussia, the Great (Berlin 1712 – Potsdam 1786), equally beloved and appreciated by his subjects, who became a popular figure of such stories. Even the much admired King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1440-1490), an early patron of humanism and culture, responsible for an authentic Hungarian Renaissance and founder of a magnificent library, became a main figure of several popular stories, including the one with the scheme “you said it, not me”.

A probable portrait of James I. Miniature of the Vidal mayor, a compilation of the Law of
Aragon (Fuero de Aragón), redacted by the bishop of Huesca, Vidal de Canellas
between 1247-1252. The miniature is from the Spanish version of c. 1300.

The above mentioned stories all elaborate and color the scheme in a slightly different manner. To avoid repeating them, here we only tell the one applied to the most beloved king of Mallorca, James I the Conqueror (1208-1276), king of Aragon, Mallorca and Valencia, Count of Barcelona and Urgell, Lord of Montpellier, and father of eight male children from his second wife Violante of Hungary, daughter of King Andreas II of the Árpád dynasty.

James I presiding over the courts held in Tortosa in 1225 (Llibre Verd of Barcelona)

This miniature from the Llibre de franqueses i privilegis del Regne de Mallorca seems to
represent the Coronation of the Virgin, but in fact it is James I who takes over the
codex from a prelate. Below we see a monk working in his scriptorium,
probably the author of the codex. Archivo del Reino de Mallorca.
Within a few weeks, the Universidad de las Islas Baleares
and the editor Olañeta will publish a modern edition
of the book alongside a collection of studies,
prepared also with our participation.

James I with his advisers, including a bishop. Miniature of the manuscript of the Usatges
de Barcelona
, 15th c. Archivo del Concejo de Lérida

The king with Brother Miquel Fabra who, during the siege of the Moorish Medina Mayurqa
(today Palma), together with another preacher, Brother Berenguer de Castellbisbal,
future bishop of Gerona (whom the king would later have the tongue cut for
revealing a secret confession) harangued and blessed the troops

Oath of loyalty of the vassals to James I. Miniature of the del Llibre verd of Barcelona, 15th c.

This story is included in the collections of Joan Amades (1950) and Francesc Gascón (1999), as well as in vol. 23 of the Rondalles mallorquines d’en Jordi des Recó (1936-72) by Antoni Mª Alcover. This latter, entitled “The king’s horse”, is what we reproduce here, even if it does not explicitly include the name of James I, unlike the other two:
There was a king who had a horse that he loved so much. The horse fell ill, and the king called the surgeon to tell whether the disease could be cured. The surgeon examined it thoroughly, and told that there is no cure for it. The king was grieved very much, and he ordered his servants to take the horse to the seashore [which in Palma is just some hundred meters from the king’s castle], and do their utmost to heal it. And he warned them that whoever would bring him the news of the death of the horse, would be immediately hang up. After two days the horse died, and while the servants were deliberating on how to let the king know about it, a fool passed by who was capable of everything. They asked him:
– Do you want to carry some news to the king?
The fool answered:
– And what do you give me in change?
The servants promised him a thousand golden pounds, and told him what it was all about. The fool agreed. He went to the king and told him:
– You remember the horse you have sent to the shore so it could be cured there? Well, it does not eat.
– How is that possible? – the king asked.
– Yes, and it does not even drink.
– What do you say…
– It does not even piss.
– This cannot be true…
– It does not shit, and does not breath.
– Then it is dead. – the king said.
– Well, you said it, not me – replied the fool.
So he turned back and went to the servants who gave him a thousand pounds.
And the king remained there outsmarted.
The bloody Battle of El Puig, during the conquest of Valencia. Behind the king who pierces
with his spear the armor and breast of a Moor, there is Saint George fighting
and killing another Muslim with the sword.

Differences between the arms and tactics of the Moors and Christians. Altarpiece of St. George, Jérica, work of the circle of Marçal de Sax, c. 1420

Whowever wants to know more about this Mallorcan story and many other popular traditions associated with the figure of King James I the Conqueror, is advised to read the recent volume edited by Carme Oriol and Emili Samper, El rei Jaume I en l’imaginari popular i en la literatura, Tarragona: Universitat Rovira i Virgili – Universitat de les Illes Balears, 2010.

Crest of the house of Barcelona, formerly attributed to King Martin I the Humane, preserved in
the armory of the Royal Palace of Madrid. Now it is rather attributed to James I. This 15th-
century work of art comes from Mallorca where, as Antoni Furió writes, “it was used
on the occasion of the Feast of the Banner in memory of the conquest of the city.
In 1831 it was claimed by the Spanish monarchy and since then it has been
in Madrid. Despite of the continuous requests to be returned to the island,
so far only a quite poor copy was sent in 1994 which is set out on
exposition on the said feast on December 31.” (El rey
conquistador. Jaime I: entre la historia y la
, Castellón, Universidad
Jaime I, 2007, p. 124)

9 comentarios:

Araz dijo...

Beautiful images, wonderful post, Studiolum. First thing it reminded me was a dialogue from Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita" or maybe it is from the Gospel:
Pontius Pilate: so you are the King of the Jews? Jesus Christ (peace upon him): you said it (Пилат: Ты Царь Иудейский? Иешуа: ты сказал).

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, in fact. This is in the Gospel of John, 18:37:

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

However, in the original Greek text it is not unambiguous whether he told it in in the sense of “you said it, not me”, or rather “you say it, but I, however, was born and came” etc. (The “in fact” of the above translation from the New International Version does not figure in the Greek.)

But there is another verse where Jesus clearly said it as illustrated in the above post:

Mt 26:24-25: But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born. Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said so.”

Languagehat dijo...

And thus we see that Bulgakov, like the Beatles, is more popular than Jesus.

Studiolum dijo...

What a pity there was no Muslim Bulgakov so people over here would know at least some verses from the Quran…

Araz dijo...

Ah, I believe Beatles are beyond any comparison... But seriously, it was not about Bulgakov vs. Jesus, it was about Master and Margarita et Gospel. The story of Jesus takes place in both of them. We had a family tradition of reading books (loudly) together, so M&M was the book we read the story of Jesus from, maybe even before Quran or Gospel.

As for Muslim Bulgakov, I think Pushkin is not bad at all: Imitations of Quran I mentioned previously Tolstoy publishing a booklet with Muhammed's sayings "not included in Quran". Also I was surprised to find out recently that Edgar Poe wrote several poems on Quranic themes. So, "who has ears to hear, may hear". It mus be from the Bible, isn't it?

What an interesting nuance with the Greek text. It reminded me another story. This is from the same Chapter:
Mat 26:23 He answered and said, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me.
Mat 26:24 "The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born."
Mat 26:25 Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, "Rabbi, is it I?" He said to him, "You have said it."

I would draw your attention to the previous point. I believe there were several poetic turns in our literature including folklore, which later I found to be of Quranic origin or originated from Hadithes. This must be true for many Evangelical/Biblical stories, isn't it?

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, in fact, there is some quite good literature on how Jesus used elements of popular folklore and how, eventually, gave them an unusual twist and thereby a deeper meaning. I find His parables even more insightful against this background.

Yes, the story from Matthew was the same I also referred to. There what Jesus says to Judas follows unambiguously the “you said it, not me” scheme.

As to the great Muslim Bulgakovs, in their age it was still possible to compose such paraphrases popularizing the Quran, but just try to write nowadays an “Imitations of Quran” or any sayings of Muhammed “not included in Quran”… At most a “Gabrieliad”.

Araz dijo...

Yes, of course, the story with Judas it is, sorry for repetition.

Ah, so there is a different, opposite side. In fact, I was wondering about popular folklore taking its roots from revelations.

We had The Amusing Bible by Leo Taxil (who's name rhymes with "пасквиль") in Russian at home. Strangely it had quite opposite effect on us, serving as a source of religious stories... marks of soviet times.

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, sorry, I misunderstood you, thinking too much of the popular elements included into the holy writings, like the “you said it” formula into the Gospel. For the reverse, of course, there have been plenty of examples in the course of the past two thousand years.

Yes, Taxil was an obligatory reading in Hungary as well. However, it was so exaggerated that nobody took it seriously. And then it fell into oblivion. Interestingly, it is Umberto Eco who vigorously resuscitates him in his new novel, the Cemetery of Prague which has not yet been published but I already received the manuscript for translation.

Effe dijo...

Eco dunque colpirà ancora i poveri magiari (in Italia è in cima alle classifiche di vendita, ma è sempre così quando esce un libro di Eco, indipendetemente dalla qualità del contenuto)
la palabra da digitare per inserire questo commento è - giuro - "coidablo", che potrebbe essere anagrammata (aggiungendo una "i") come "diabol[i]co".
Vedi che basta parlare del Bene perché accorra nello stesso luogo anche il Male, un po' come nel Vangelo secondo Gesù di Saramago? Che poi l'anagramma non sia perfetto, mi pare proprio un segno, una firma riconoscibile dell'Imperfetto per eccellenza (il diavolo fa le pentole ma non i coperchi).