2012 Crime Fiction Alphabet X is for Alfonso X of Castile

The Crime Fiction Alphabet arrives this week to letter “x”, and my X is for Alfonso X of Castile. Alfonso X (23 November 1221 – 4 April 1284), called the Wise (Spanish: el Sabio), was the King of Castile, León and Galicia from 30 May 1252 until his death.  (Information taken from Wikipedia).

You can read more about his relationship with literature HERE.

I would like to highlight the following points:

  1. His desire to bring Spain into the mainstream of high civilization led to a boom of cultural activity, including the production and translation of a great deal of literature.
  2. The literature produced during his reign was intended to aid him in achieving his goal by giving the common people of Spain access to great intellectual works. Therefore, all of the prose attributed to Alfonso X’s efforts was written in the language of the common people, Castilian (today known as Spanish), rather than Latin.
  3. The “Siete Partidas” was a legal code founded on Roman law and constructed by a group of legal experts chosen by Alfonso X. The “Siete Partidas” was so advanced that it still functions in modern society. It was used as a basis for creating the United States laws used today, for which reason the image of Alfonso X appears in the US House of Representatives.
  4. Many of the scientific works produced by Alfonso X were translated from earlier Arabic works. The works were translated into Castilian by a special panel of trilingual Jews. Four of the major scientific works produced under Alfonso’s direction were Tablas alfonsíes (Alfonsine Tables), Libros del saber de astronomía (Books of Wisdom of Astronomy), Libro de los juicios de las estrellas (Book of Judgments of Astrology), and Lapidario. The Tablas alfonsíes were translated and updated from work originally done by al-Zarqali. See also The Toledo School of Translators at Wikipedia.
  5. Alfonso X’s reign is known for its religious tolerance. His literature not only included translated works from Arabic cultures, but also included translations of non-Christian religious works. The Qur’an – the religious book of Islam – was translated into Castilian on orders from Alfonso. Also translated were the Talmud – the religious book of Judaism – and Cabala.
  6. In keeping with his desire to elevate the tastes of the Spanish common man, one of the literary works that Alfonso X had translated was La escalera de Muhammad (Muhammad’s Ladder). The fantastic descriptions of Heaven and Hell influenced Dante in writing his Inferno. On top of intellectual works, Alfonso X also oversaw the production of more everyday literature. Calila e Dimna is a collection of stories originally from Asia. This work had a huge popular impact in Spain and also influenced the entire development of European fiction. Alfonso also had Libro de ajedrez, dados, y tablas (The Book of Games) translated into Castilian from Arabic and added illustrations with the goal of perfecting the work.
  7. Last but not least, I’m convinced that a historical murder mystery book, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco set in the year 1327, would not have been possible without the contribution of Alfonso X of Castile. If you disagree, perhaps you have not read it; a must read, in my opinion.


The 2012 Crime Fiction Alphabet is a Community Meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. By Friday of each week participants try to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week. Click HERE to visit other suggestions from fellow participants.

6 thoughts on “2012 Crime Fiction Alphabet X is for Alfonso X of Castile”

  1. José Ignacio – Thank you for this really interesting post. I might have told you (or not) that I specialised in Spanish at university. I remember learning about Alfonso X, but it’s been too long. I appreciate the reminder and you’ve made a really interesting connection between his reign and modern crime fiction.

    1. I didn’t know that Margot, I knew you are fluent in Spanish but didn’t know that you specialised in Spanish at University. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Jose Ignacio: Thanks for a clever post on “X”. If more kings had been like Alfonso X the history of the world would have been better.

    1. Bill: Like all historical characters he has his good and bad points (lights and shadows is the Spanish expression), but your are probably right.

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