Monday, July 26, 2010

The Legend of Don Roderick

King of Hispania Don Roderick achieved fame, despite ruling only for a year or two, primarily for being the last king of the Goths.  His demise, credited by Arabic sources (per Bernard Bachrach) as occurring on July 26, 711, came at the hands of the muslim Tariq ibn Zayad.  Zayad had been sent to Iberia initially to survey territory by Musa ibn Nasayr, who was based in Saudi Arabia.  Zayad ended up conquering much of the Iberian Peninsula, with an army of Arabs and Berbers.

Roderick's fate seems to have hinged on an indiscretion committed with a court-woman named Florinda, who was the daughter of Count Julian of Ceuta.  Julian was based in North Africa, and had successfully withstood the Umayyad conquest of North Africa at Tangiers.  But when he learned that his daughter had been impregnated by Roderick, so the story goes, he turned to Musa ibn Nasayr, offering his assistance in conquering Iberia.  Roderick's death occurred during, or as a result of, the Battle of Guadalete.

Don Roderick's brief reign, and the historical circumstances surrounding this reign, inspired several works of poetry and fiction.  Notable writers on the topic include Southey, Landor, Irving, and of course, Scott.  Scott wrote his poem "The Vision of Don Roderick" about the event.  A segment of the poem is below, with the full poem available at:


"And if Florinda's shrieks alarmed the air,
If she invoked her absent sire in vain,
And on her knees implored that I would spare,
Yet, reverend Priest, thy sentence rash refrain!
All is not as it seems--the female train
Know by their bearing to disguise their mood:"
But Conscience here, as if in high disdain,
Sent to the Monarch's cheek the burning blood -
He stayed his speech abrupt--and up the Prelate stood.


"O hardened offspring of an iron race!
What of thy crimes, Don Roderick, shall I say?
What alms, or prayers, or penance can efface
Murder's dark spot, wash treason's stain away!
For the foul ravisher how shall I pray,
Who, scarce repentant, makes his crime his boast?
How hope Almighty vengeance shall delay,
Unless, in mercy to yon Christian host,
He spare the shepherd, lest the guiltless sheep be lost?"


Then kindled the dark tyrant in his mood,
And to his brow returned its dauntless gloom;
"And welcome then," he cried, "be blood for blood,
For treason treachery, for dishonour doom!
Yet will I know whence come they, or by whom.
Show, for thou canst--give forth the fated key,
And guide me, Priest, to that mysterious room,
Where, if aught true in old tradition be,
His nation's future fates a Spanish King shall see."

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