Skip to main content

The multilingual nature of Llull's works

That Llull was a superb writer in Catalan, and was one of the principle figures to give shape to the literary language, nobody who reads his great novels, Blaquerna or Felix, could doubt. Nor should it be forgotten that he was indeed one of the first Europeans to use a vernacular to write works on theology, philoso­phy, and logic. But we can now see how instrumental was his choice of lan­guage: he used Catalan to reach a lay audience who could understand it, but he or his later followers also had his works translated into Occitan, French, Italian, and Castilian if that could spread his message. When it was a question of reaching a more learned audience, Latin was, of course, the choice. But there was no necessary restriction of one language to one type of work, or even to any single work. Giving, as an example, the apropximate number of complete medieval manuscripts or which had once been complete of some of his best known “Catalan” works, the figures are given below (in parentheses the number of manuscripts which were originally fragmentary):

  Catalan Occitan French Italian Castillian Latin
Blaquerna 1(1)14(1)   
Fèlix 7 141 
Order of chivalry 2 8   
Doctrina pueril 5(6)2(2)1  3
Book of Gentile 4 1 111


Even more remarkable, perhaps, than this weight in the direction of translations in the cases of Blaquerna, the Book of the Order of Chivalry, and the Book of the Gentile, is the fact that the oldest surviving testimonies, for instance, to Blaquerna, are one Occitan and two French manuscripts; to the Doctrina pueril, the Occitan manuscript; and to the Book of the Gentile,two of the Latin manuscripts. The carliest testimony to Llull's best‑known work, the Book of the Lover and the Belovedis a Latin manuscript he himself sent to the Doge of Venice.

In such a situation, it has become clear that this multilingual tradition, when it exísts, has to be taken into consideration for a critical edition; it can be disregarded only at the risk of overlooking essential pieces of evidence.

Source: Anthony Bonner, “Recent Scholarship on Ramon Llull”, Romance Philology 54 (2001), pp. 379-380.

Most of the work written by Llull has been preserved in Latin; a smaller, though in no way negligible part, has a double version in Catalan and Latin; finally, an even smaller part is written exclusively in Catalan. The figures are quite illustrative: out of approximately 265 works he wrote, 57 have been preserved in Catalan, and from these, 20 are only in Catalan and the other 37 have a double Catalan-Latin version. So far, none of the works has been found in its Arabic version.

Regardless of this remaining evidence, Llull declared in many books his desire to produce another version of the same work; furthermore, in many cases there is a clear wish to obtain triple versions, in Catalan, Latin and Arabic. Doubtlessly, this is a unique situation in the Middle Ages: there are indeed similar cases, but this was the only one in which: 1) the phenomenon implied such a large number of texts; 2) there was such a great diversity of contents, genres and registers; 3) such different languages were involved, and 4) the author himself was the translator or the direct driving force behind the translations.

Source: A. Soler, “Editing texts with a multilingual tradition: the case of Ramon Llull”, Variants 5 (2006), pp. 53-72.