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Ramon Llull

(Nou diccionari 62 de la literatura catalana)

Ramon Llull, Palma, Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain), 1232-1316 was a philosopher, theologian, novelist and poet

Ramon Llull is to Catalan literature what Shakespeare is to English, Dante to Italian, and Goethe to German literature. Llull placed his prose at the service of a great ideal - the peaceful conversion of people to Christianity through highly elaborate, distinct, beautiful, and irrefutable philosophical ideas. His genius is so great -he could write equally well in Latin, Catalan or Arabic- that even today his huge opus (of more than extant 265 titles) attracts the attention of countless literary specialists, philosophers, and theologians around the world.

He was born into a family possibly of noble Catalan stock. His father arrived in Mallorca with the troops of Catalan king James the Conqueror. Llull was born in the island during the period immediately after the conquest, and during his youth he was attached to the royal house. We know relatively little about his years as a courtier - he got married, had two children, and led the life that befitted his station. But at the age of thirty-one he was shaken by an experience that prompted a radical turn to his life - his so-called "conversion" that took place after five apparitions of Christ on the cross.

According to the testimony he offers in his Vida coetània (Contemporary Life), an autobiography dictated by Llull to some Carthusian monks in Paris not long before he died, after this experience a new life started for the convert, who would renounce his family, his social position, and all riches, in order to devote himself fully to the service of God. He did not enter any religious order, but rather conceived of the dedication of his life to God in terms of frenetic activity that can be summarised in three objectives: to preach to the infidels to the point of risking martyrdom; to write a book to refute the errors of these infidels (stating it would have to be "the best book in the world"); and to set up monastery schools where Arabic, together with other oriental languages, would be taught for the instruction of missionaries. In a word, Llull's overwhelming obsession right up to the final moments of his life would be the conversion of Muslims, Jews and other infidels (especially the Tartars) to the Christian faith.

Yet, he lacked proper training for the task he had set himself. In 1265 he embarked on a period of self-education, including the study of Arabic, in the island of Mallorca. The period would end nine years later, in 1274, with the writing of the first great monument of Catalan literature: the huge Llibre de contemplació en Déu (Book of the Contemplation of God - 1273-1274). It was that same year that Llull, in the seclusion of a small hermitage in the Mallorcan mountain of Randa, had the experience of a divine revelation -subsequently known as the "Randa illumination"- in accordance with which he conceived of a system of universal scope to find the truth, a system that would infallibly lead to the conversion of infidels: this is the famous Art lul?liana (Llullian Art), which was to be materialised in the writing of his Art abreujada de trobar veritat (Abbreviated Art of Finding the Truth - 1274). As a result of this he came to be known as "Doctor Illuminatus". From this date onwards, Ramon Llull's life work revolves around his efforts to make his Art known. They include the use of literature as a vehicle for the dissemination of his ideals of reforming Christianity and of conversion of infidels, and he presented his ideas to popes and princes in order to summon the support of the powerful.

Llull was so convinced of his mission that he would travel to North Africa (specifically visiting Bejaia and Tunis) on a number of occasions in order to debate with Muslim theologians. We know that at the end of the year 1315 he was on one of these missionary trips, in Tunis; by around March of the following year, at the age of 83 or 84, he had died. It is unclear whether he died in Tunis itself, in Mallorca or during the return journey from Africa to his homeland: tradition has it that he was stoned to death, thereby becoming a martyr of the faith. Continue reading...

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