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Lazarillo November 15, 2016

Posted by anagasto in history, poetry, Spain.
4 comments

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goya beggar with dog

At that time in central Spain there was that extreme poverty where a piece of bread is worth a day’s work, but there weren’t any jobs.

Because rain was erratic, agriculture was a gamble. There wasn’t any industry. There was a lot of cheating, stealing, begging and whoring. — The drawing is by Goya, and the map thumbnail below is from the IHT.


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leloir-lazarillo-and-blind-man

When Lazarillo was about 12 years old, he began to earn his keep as a blind beggar’s guide. There was no pay. The blind man told him so: “I can’t give you gold and silver, but I’ll teach you how to survive.”

So, the blind man did not give him almost any food. Lazarillo found ways to steal what he needed, and he stole from the blind man.

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The story is of the rough kind. He gets employed by a tricky friar to help perform miracles in the country churches. And then he is hired by a nobleman who is himself so poor that Lazarillo ends up sharing with him the bread he obtained by begging.

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Later he became more respectable, first as a water carrier in Toledo and finally also as an ingredient of some ménage à trois.

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To carry water in Toledo must have been a very hard job, because the city is built high up on a rock, and its streets are steep and narrow, as you can see on these photos. One is the Toledo panorama  by David Diliff.

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narrow street of toledo

The photo is from the travel photo web at http://jpkirk.net/spain.htm

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They went from town to town asking for food and money. Lazarillo was employed to help the blind beggar find his way. They lived in extreme poverty. One day, as they had received some grapes, the blind man said to the boy :

“You always take more than your share. That has to stop. This time you will take only two berries a time, and I´ll do the same: two by two, no more.”

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They sat down to eat. There was silence for a time while both were eating, and suddenly the blind man shouted : “You crook ! Scoundrel ! Damned thief! You are picking more than two at a time!”

How could he possibly have known?

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Lazarillo’s father had stolen some flour and gets whipped.

It’s the beginning of the novel. Lazarillo’s baby brother is black and does not know it, but  discovers that his father is black and gets scared and runs to his mother for protection:

lazarillo beginning

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Thief, Beggar, Priest:  in Toledo the clergy were just as poor as everybody else , but kept the decorum. Lazarillo mentions some peaches and cabbage used to bribe the Bishop. Everybody was hungry most of the time.

New English version free at http://tinyurl.com/2d8a73, — scroll down to “Antona” to get out of the translator’s introduction.

And at http://www.4olin.com/ lazarillo there is a parallel text in English/Spanish  as HTML or for download.

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Toledo, the former capital of Spain where Lazarillo became almost middle class, if a bit venal:

The photo is from travel photo web at http://jpkirk.net/spain.htm. Toledo is the most photogenic of cities.

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Lazarillo de Tormes was banned by the Spanish Crown and included in the Index of Forbidden Books of the Spanish Inquisition.

When El Lazarillo was published in 1554,  Cervantes was about 7 years old, but while Cervantes was looking for fame and money, the author of Lazarillo remained anonymous. And while Cervantes is  overinflated, the author of Lazarillo is all wit in small print. They would not have appreciated each other’s style, but both wrote about life in destitute central  Spain.

At the time Spain had set out to become  the strongest kingdom in Europe. It was the leading world power in the 16th century and first half of the 17th century. They received tons of gold and silver from America, and as a result food became expensive, the rural population became destitute, but the government could spend immense amounts of money on art and foreign wars.

The Spanish empire:

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