RUIZ, JUAN (c. 1283–c. 1350), Spanish poet, was born probably at Alcalá de Henares, and became arch-priest of Hita. Though he draws his physical portrait in the Libro de buen amor, he gives no exact biographical details. It may be inferred from his writings that he was not an exemplary priest, and one of the manuscript copies of his poems states that he was imprisoned by order of Gil Albornoz, archbishop of Toledo. It is not known whether he was sentenced for his irregularities of conduct, or on account of his satirical reflections on his ecclesiastical superiors. Nor is it possible to fix the precise date of his imprisonment. Albornoz nominally occupied the see of Toledo from 1337 to 1368, but he fell into disgrace in 1351 and fled to Avignon. A consideration of these circumstances points to the probable conclusion that Ruiz was in prison from 1337 to 1350, but this is conjecture. What seems established is that he finished the Libro de buen amor in 1343 while in gaol, and that he was no longer arch-priest of Hita in January 1351; it is assumed that he died shortly before the latter date.
Ruiz is by far the most eminent poet of medieval Spain. His natural gifts were supplemented by his varied culture; he clearly had a considerable knowledge of colloquial (and perhaps of literary) Arabic; his classical reading was apparently not extensive, but he knew by heart the Disticha of Dionysius Cato, and admits his indebtedness to Ovid and to the De Amore ascribed to Pamphilus; his references to Blanchefleur, to Tristan and to Yseult, indicate an acquaintance with French literature, and he utilizes the fabliaux with remarkable deftness; lastly, he adapts fables and apologues from Aesop, from Pedro Alfonso's Disciplina clericalis, and from medieval bestiaries. All these heterogeneous materials are fused in the substance of his versified autobiography, into which he intercalates devout songs, parodies of epic or forensic formulae, and lyrical digressions on every aspect of life. Ruiz, in fact, offers a complete picture of picaresque society in Spain during the first half of the 14th century, and his impartial irony lends a deeper tone to his rich colouring. He knows the weaknesses of both clergy and laity, and he dwells with equal complacency on the amorous adventures of great ladies, on the perverse intrigues arranged by demure nuns behind their convent walls, and on the simpler instinctive animalism of country lasses and Moorish dancing-girls. In addition to the faculty of genial observation Ruiz has the gift of creating characters and presenting types of human nature: from his Don Furón is derived the hungry gentleman in Lazarillo de Tormes, in Don Melón and Doña Endrina he anticipates Calisto and Melibea in the Celestina, and Celestina herself is developed from Ruiz’ Trotaconventos. Moreover, Ruiz was justly proud of his metrical innovations. The Libro de buen amor is mainly written in the cuaderna via modelled on the French alexandrine, but he imparts to the measure a variety and rapidity previously unknown in Spanish, and he experiments by introducing internal rhymes or by shortening the fourth line into an octosyllabic verse; or he boldly recasts the form of the stanza, extending it to six or seven lines with alternate verses of eight and five syllables. But his technical skill never sinks to triviality. All his writing bears the stamp of a unique personality, and, if he never attempts a sublime flight, he conveys with contagious force his enthusiasm for life under any conditions—in town, country, vagabondage or gaol.
His influence is visible in El Corbacho, the work of another jovial goliard, Alphonso Martinez de Toledo, arch-priest of Talavera, who wrote more than half a century before the Libro de buen amor was imitated by the author of the Celestina. Ruiz is mentioned with respect by Santillana, and that his reputation extended beyond Spain is proved by the surviving fragments of a Portuguese version of the Libro de buen amor. By some strange accident he was neglected, and apparently forgotten, till 1790, when an expurgated edition of his poems was published by Tomás Antonio Sanchez; from that date his fame has steadily increased, and by the unanimous verdict of all competent judges he is now ranked as the greatest Spanish poet of his century.
An accurate edition of his works was published by M. Jean Ducamin at Toulouse in 1901, and he is the subject of Sr. D. Julio Puyol y Alonso’s critical study, El Arcipreste de Hita (Madrid, 1906).