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The Battle of Flesh and Lent in the “Libro del Arcipreste”: Gastro-genital rites of reversal

ByLouise O. Vasvari

In this study I propose to examine the “Batalla de Carnal y Cuaresma” in the Libro del Arçipreste, as an example of carnival litteralisé, or a clerical textualization of popular carnival plays which flourished in medieval Europe as part of popular feasts preceding Lent. 1 Because Carnival is a kind of collective psychodrama or “happening,” which often ignored distinctions between actors and spectators, it is not surprising that many were improvised or written in haste, and that few were considered worthy of written conservation. It is by definition an ephemeral form which can only be studied through what the great historian of mentalities Marc Bloch called retrospective anthropology. The study of medieval Carnival offers us clues to the origins of secular drama as well as precious documentation on medieval popular life and mentality, with its roots in mytho-poetic consciousness. 2