Doctrina pueril: a window into the 13th century

Ramon Llull (ca. 1232-1316) is one of mediaeval Europe’s most unique and complex figures. Linked from an early age to the court of the King of Majorca, when he turned thirty his life underwent a radical change as a result of his concern for the salvation of non-Christians and his involvement in the reform of Christianity. Over the course of fifty years, he wrote more than 250 works in Latin, Catalan and Arabic. Of special note are those which he devoted to the Art, his system of discussion and knowledge in which, instead of resorting to the Holy Scriptures, he used logical rational arguments. Great thinkers in later periods, such as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Nicholas of Cusa, Giordano Bruno and G. W. Leibniz read and commented on his books.

Doctrina pueril (1274-1276) is not a work for great philosophers or one intended for theological debate, but rather a book conceived to provide basic yet broad training for laymen, in particular Christian laymen. This is why he wrote it in his own language, Catalan. The greater part of the contents of the book, which has been considered a little encyclopaedia, is connected with catechistic instruction. Christians were to be able to justify the basic articles of their faith in all situations and also to conduct themselves and to order their lives in accordance with these principles.

This book is not merely a catechism, however. It also contains a substantial body of succinct and easily understandable information on the other religions of the Mediterranean of its times, the main academic disciplines of the mediaeval university, the various social classes, and such special matters as the care and instruction of small children. It also deals with scientific aspects, like the four elements, generation and corruption, the history of humanity, the functioning of the human mind and body, and the opposition between destiny and fortune.

Ramón Llull [Lully] Line engraving, approx. 1235-1315. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

With this work, Ramon Llull sought to offer his readers an all-embracing education, an overview, even if on a small scale, of the world in which they lived. The mediaeval world. Therefore, for the reader of today, this book is an open window on the reality of the 13th century, an introduction to the Middle Ages by one of the most original authors and thinkers of the times. The version which we present here, the first to appear in the English language, has benefited from the broad experience and knowledge of Professor John Dagenais of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who also wrote the notes accompanying the text.

This is not the first work by Ramon Llull to have been produced in collaboration between Tamesis Books and Editorial Barcino. Two other works have been previously published: A Contemporary Life, which is the autobiography that Llull dictated shortly before his death, and the Romance of Evast and Blaquerna, in which Ramon Llull novelised his proposals for universal reform and included his most important mystical work, the Book of the Lover and the Beloved.

Other books published as a result of the endeavours of Tamesis and Barcino to disseminate, in the English language, the foremost works of Catalan literature include a bilingual anthology of the poet Ausiàs March; the exciting Catalan Expedition to the East, drawn from the Chronicle of Ramon Muntaner; a compilation of texts on education by the Franciscan scholar Francesc Eiximenis; the 14th-century cookery book known as The Book of Sent Soví; the philosophical narrative in verse entitled Book of Fortune and Prudence by Bernat Metge; a selection of passages from the only known mediaeval female author writing in Catalan, Isabel de Villena; the 16th-century Dialogues of Cristòfol Despuig, and the Romantic poem Mount Canigó by Jacint Verdaguer.

This is a selection of titles providing access in English to the Catalan literary tradition, which has often been silenced despite the quality and ambition evidenced by the works which have been published up to now.


This guest article was written by Barcino-Tamesis editor, Joan Santanach, who also wrote the introduction to John Dagenais’ translation of Doctrina pueril.

Ramon Llull (1232-1316) was a mystic, missionary, philosopher, and author of narrative and poetry. He is credited with writing the first major work of Catalan literature.

John Dagenais is a senior professor of Medieval literature and specialist in Hispano-Latin manuscript culture at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Doctrina Pueril is available in paperback February 2019,
9781855663091, £19.99.
Get 25% off your order with promo code BB685.

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