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Romance of Evast and Blaquerna

The protagonist of the Romance of Evast and Blaquerna, a novel written in Montpellier in 1283, is a hero without blemish who possesses the gift of always successfully making the best decisions in life from a Lullian perspective. He leaves his parents, Evast and Aloma, and the proposal of marriage from Natana, at the age of eighteen, in pursuit of the spiritual perfection of the hermitage. He arrives there, however, at the end of a lengthy tour in the course of which he plays the parts of traveller, monk, abbot, bishop and Sovereign Pontiff. Blaquerna’s constant striving towards excellence connects him to the knights from the great fictional narratives of the 13th century: Llull made no secret of it, from the moment that his hero, in Chapter 50, rescues an abducted maiden after defeating, by means of dialectic, the man-at-arms who had taken her away. When the appreciative girl offers herself to him in the middle of the wood (a scene worthy of the ‘Prose Lancelot’), Blaquerna finds arguments capable of defeating the temptations of the flesh.

The account of Blaquerna’s life provides a literary canvas upon which Llull depicts a complete representation of the society of his time, divided into estates as it was. Thus the first book deals with married people: the matrimonial estate, symbolised by the hero’s parents. The couple live in perfect conjugal harmony and in a condition of economic well-being until their son reaches the age of majority. From this time on, the couple give up their wealth, found a hospital for the poor, impose a regime of marital continence upon themselves and devote their lives to providing a good example, in keeping with the spiritual concerns of the laity in the 13th century.

The second book was deals with the religious estate. It begins by presenting the life of Natana, the protagonist’s female counterpart. After overcoming the opposition of her family, Natana takes her vows in a monastery, of which she ends up being a model abbess, and in which she regulates the nun’s lives in line with precepts taken from the Art of Ramon Llull. In the meantime, Blaquerna has begun to seek inner perfection during a complicated series of wanderings which lead him to discover the need to submit himself to obeying a rule of life. As a monk, Blaquerna stands out on account of his fondness for study and for devotions to Mary.

The third and fourth books present two hierarchised forms of social power exercised by the clergy. Llull gathers together there very varied observations, filled with historical information of great value, which enable the reader to follow the reforms introduced by Blaquerna in the administration of the diocese to which he is elected bishop, and of the entirety of the Christian faithful whom he ends by governing when he becomes pope. Blaquerna, for instance, orders the canons and cardinals to perform new offices, offices designed to revitalise spiritual life and to propagate the Christian faith. The success achieved by these new tasks means that Blaquerna can finally retire to a life of contemplation and become a master among hermits.

The fifth book in the novel contains two parts: a collection of moral and philosophical maxims, the Book of the Lover and the Beloved, and a short treatise concerning techniques for elevating the soul, the ‘Art of Contemplation’.