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Mester de Juglaría was a genre of Spanish literature from the 12th-13th centuries, which was transmitted orally by travelling entertainers (juglares). It was later surpassed by the Mester de Clerecía, which was written by more educated authors on more "serious" topics with stricter metrical restrictions.

Neither of the two Wikipedia pages linked above cites any sources, and the Encyclopedia Britannica pages for mester de clerecía and mester de juglaría are similarly short and stubby.

It's interesting to me that there are specific terms for these genres of literature, and presumably these terms are used (even in English as well as Spanish) rather than speaking simply of the transition from oral entertainment to written literature.

When and how were these terms introduced, and when and how did they reach widespread usage? In any language: I'd be interested to know since when they've been widely used in Spanish as well as how they reached English as loanphrases. (I'm assuming they did reach widespread usage in discussions of the history of Spanish literature, to be worth Wikipedia and Britannica entries, but if they're marginal little-used phrases, that would also answer my question.)

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  • The terms are certainly in common use in Spain today. I encountered them in literature classes at school, for example. Nov 19, 2022 at 10:15
  • In England, these were troubadours or minstrels.
    – Lambie
    Mar 3 at 16:53

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As the question notes, the change from mester de juglaría to mester de clerecía marks a change from an oral tradition to a more formalised written genre. The terms are certainly well used in Spain - any secondary school course in literature will note the existence of these two genres. In fact some say that the terms are overused - Isabel Uria Maqua, for example, in Sobre la unidad del mester de clerecia del siglo XIII argues that originally the term mester de clerecía referred to a well-defined literary school, but over time any Spanish poetry from the 13th and 14th century tended to be pigeon-holed into this classification, rather blurring its meaning. In particular she noted twelve works from the early thirteenth century, The Book of Alexander, The Book of Apolonius, The Poem of Fernán Gonzalo, and nine long poems attributed to Gonzalo de Berceo, that are generally considered to have come from a single literary school given their extremely high degree of similarity in style (the pattern of syllables) and their chrononlogical proximity, all being dated to 1230 - 1250. Later works started to increasingly deviate from the strict format seen in these works:

After the peak of the 13th century... the new versification suffered the same alterations; that is, admission of synalephas and subsequent linked rhythm and expansion of the syllable, alternation of hemistiches of seven and eight syllables, increasing predominance of the seconds, etc.; alterations, in short, that, throughout the 14th century, substantially transformed the internal structure of the primitive Alexandrian , to finally disappear in the transition from the 14th century to the 15th century.

and eventually, in a gradual process, poetry ceased to have the form of a "mester de clerecia".

Deyermond also opposed this simple-minded classification, and called for a more modern viewpoint to be adopted:

Obviously, the old dichotomous formula, Mester de Clerecía / Mester de Juglaría, that divides medieval literature into two opposing and confronting groups, does not fit into the new points of view that have been developed regarding the landscape of medieval literary production. For this reason, a critical review of these concepts would be appropriate, either to discard them definitively as useless, or to establish their true scope with greater precision. In any case, the need to break with the old schemes is clear so that, once free from the coercion that they exercise, a new classification of our medieval literature can be begun that is more in accordance with the points of view that is held today in this regard.

(translation by CDS)

As far as I am aware though, we are still currently stuck with "the old dichotomous formula".

The term seems to have been introduced in the second stanza of the Libro de Alexandre, which set out the "manifesto" of the mester de clerecía:

Mester traigo fermoso, non es de joglaría
mester es sin pecado, ca es de clerezía
fablar curso rimado por la cuaderna vía
a sílabas cuntadas, ca es grant maestría.

Reading 13th century Spanish is like an English speaker reading Chaucer in the original, but this could be rendered as:

I bring a beautiful art, it is not minstrelcy (juglaría)
The art is pure, because it is from the clergy (clerecía)
To speak in rhyming verse, by means of the cuaderna vía
with counted syllables, that is the great mastery.

The "cuaderna vía" refers to verses of fourteen syllables (with a caesura after the seventh) in monorhyme tetrastrophs, characteristic of the mester de clerecía, and marking the difference between this school of poetry and the less restricted form used by the mester de juglaría. This work is dated to the first third of the 13th century, but its authorship is disputed (or, in fact, unknown). It has variously been ascribed to Juan Lorenzo de Astorga (sometimes thought to be merely a scribe), Alfonso X of Castile ("Alfonso the Wise"), and Gonzalo de Berceo - one of the major poets of the mester de clerecía.

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  • Great info, thank you! "originally the term mester de clerecía referred to a well-defined literary school, but over time any Spanish poetry from the 12th and 13th century tended to be pigeon-holed into this classification, rather blurring its meaning" - I'm interested in this part, would it be possible to give more information about when and how this broadening of terminology and blurring of meaning happened? Was it inspired by the Libro de Alexandre, and if so, why did that happen only so long after LdA's publication?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 12, 2023 at 12:05
  • I added some more details about the original literary school, and how the terminology broadened. Ar there any other details you would like? Mar 15 at 13:40
  • Looking over this answer again, I don't quite understand my own previous comment. You've claimed that the terminology came from the Libro de Alexandre, and I'm not sure why I claimed that something happened long after LdA's publication. Now it seems to me that this does satisfactorily answer my question.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 29 at 14:05

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