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Monday, February 11, 2013

Bullfighting through History

Cantiga de Santa Maria 144, panel 3 (Late thirteenth century)
Bullfighting -- that quintessential, controversial, Spanish pastime -- has a long history. Most researchers agree that present-day bullfighting is just the latest (and last?) incarnation of the kind of events as infamous as the gladiator games of ancient Rome. During the Middle Ages, the former Romans in Spain developed more and more complex bull baiting games, as evidenced in the pictures in the Cantigas de Santa Maria. The first panel shows a very fine specimen of a bull enclosed in a plaza while spectators become participants by taunting the bull safely from upper stories of the plaza's buildings. We already see lances and darts, which presage banderillas and picos, and one man in the balcony even waves his cape to capture the bull's attention.

Cantiga de Santa Maria 144, panel 4
In the second picture, a man has unwittingly wandered into the plaza and is chased by the bull. The spectators do what they can to help the man escape.

These pictures inspired a scene in the early parts of my novel Seven Noble Knights. The bloodshed and gore were a great opportunity for me to begin developing those images before any humans come to harm. I shared an excerpt for the last Six Sentence Sunday.

In  the eighteenth century, bullfighting took on all the rituals and trappings it has today. The modern traje de luces is a super-bedazzled, sporty version of eighteenth-century nobles' clothing. In the twentieth century, bullfighting became a huge industry, especially after Ernest Hemingway appropriated it as the pinnacle of manliness. I came upon Papa Hemingway's innovative writing just after the obsession with Spain dropped into my head, and I adored his depictions of the agony and the ecstasy of the golden age of bullfighting. I can still highly recommend Death in the Afternoon. For a no-nonsense guide to the mechanics of a modern bullfight, look here.

My own take on modern bullfighting will appear this Wednesday. In the meantime, perhaps you'd like to see my homages to Hemingway and that most risky of arts: Alternativa   El Novillero