19 julio, 2024

Juan de Mena: who he was, biography and works

Who was Juan de Mena?

Juan de Mena (1411-1456) was a renowned Spanish writer who stood out mainly for writing poems with cult content, almost always represented by a figure or image that referred to something specific, that is, an allegory. He Fortune’s Maze is his most famous work.

Mena’s poetry was loaded with a high moral content, and belonged specifically to the fifteenth century, the pre-Renaissance period of Spanish literature.

It is important to note that he was the first writer who proposed the creation of a literary language in poetry, totally isolated from the vulgarism of the time.

With the poetic and musical language of Juan de Mena in each of his works, expressiveness stood out as the main resource. It is considered the best reference for the development of poetry that emerged in Spanish literature.

Biography of Juan de Mena

Birth and early years

Juan de Mena was born in Córdoba in 1411. As with many writers from past centuries, not much information is known about his life. There are no sources that determine who his parents were; however it is believed that he lost his parents while still a child.

Some sources affirm that he was the grandson of Ruy Fernández de Peñalosa y Mena, who was Lord of Almenara, and that in turn Juan was the son of Pedrarias.

Mena’s father would have died when he was born. Mena had an older brother, who would later be known in the position of Twenty-four or Councilor.

It is also suspected that he was of Jewish convert origins, and that would justify the absence of documentation.

Related to the monarchy

He graduated from the University of Salamanca with the title of Master of Arts. He served as secretary of Latin letters with Juan II of Castile, and at the same time as ruler of the city of Córdoba.

He always remained linked to the monarchy. In 1445 he became the official chronicler of the Castilian kingdom, following the appointment made by the king himself. With the Marquis of Santillana, Íñigo López de Mendoza, he shared his affinity for literature and poetry.

Some historians affirm that it was the marquis who took charge of all the expenses at the time of his death, precisely because of the friendship that united them. All this even when Mena received a good payment from the royal coffers for his outstanding work.

Doubts about your marriage

Like almost all his life, there are no precise data on his marriage. Some authors agree that he married a young woman belonging to a well-known family in Córdoba, but whose name is unknown, and with whom he had no children.

On the other hand, there are those who affirm that he married Marina de Sotomayor for the second time. This is said with the lingering doubt as to whether she was really a wife or a lover. Whether or not she had children is a fact that is not recorded in the files that have to do with her life.

Opinions about Ore

The outstanding work of Mena, even in its beginnings, earned him the good opinion of several personalities of his time, who valued and admired his work.

The Spanish writer, humanist and historian Alfonso de Cartagena described him as follows: «You bring thinner meat from the great vigils after the book…», meaning that he was a tireless scholar.

For his part, the humanist and ambassador of the Catholic Monarchs, Juan de Lucena, said that he was obsessed with poetry, and that he himself told him that from so much delight he found in the trade, he even forgot to eat. Mena was absolutely passionate about writing and poetry.

Mena and her search for style

Initially, Juan de Mena did not have a metrical style specified, and therefore, his poetry did not have a harmonic rhythm. He tried first with the little variability that the dodecasyllabic verses gave.

Subsequently, he was finding the orientation of his works towards a literary style and a love theme in a determined way.


Mena was the writer who introduced a poetic and literary language to Castilian, leaving out the everyday vulgar and simple language that existed in his time.

Many renovations are owed to him, among which is the introduction of the hyperbaton – alteration of the syntactic order of the words in the sentence – in order to achieve metrics in the verses.

He also incorporated new words into the language of the time, such as Latin variables to give his writings more poetic meaning, displacing those of colloquial or popular language. Something characteristic of his work is the use of esdrújula words, which he considered gave the poem a better sound.

Mena’s death

Juan de Mena died in 1456, in Torrelaguna (Madrid). As is known, it was his great friend, the Marquis de Santillana, who was in charge of the burial expenses. A chapel was erected in the provincial church.

Works by Juan de Mena

Mena’s poetic and prose work is extensive, yet reference is made to perhaps nine manuscripts. Among them, due to its composition and global reach, the Fortune Mazealso know as The Three Hundred.

Fortune Maze

It is considered his masterpiece, made up of 297 couplets. It is said that it is a poem dedicated to King John II; is inspired by the paradise of Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy. It refers especially to the history and political life of the monarch’s reign.

The content or plot goes as follows: the author himself is taken violently to the chariot of the goddess of war Bellona, ​​which was driven by dragons, and taken to the palace of Fortuna, which is an allegory of the goddess roman Lucky.

Later, the world is shown to him in the past, present and future by means of a machine that has three large wheels. Each of these wheels presents places related to mythology where different events take place.

His admiration for Álvaro de Luna

In addition, in this work Mena shows how much admiration he feels for Count Álvaro de Luna, and he dedicates a few words of recognition to him, considered by far the most extensive dedicated to a person.

The author considered that he possessed all the qualities to face the political situations of the time.

The man of the three hundred

Finally, to Fortune’s Labyrinth He was also known by the name of the three hundred by the number of couplets it contained. Although at first there were 297, later Juan II asked him to make them as long as the days of the year, so the author added about 24 more.

fragment of Fortune’s Labyrinth

«E tears her face with cruel nails,

she shows her breasts with little measure;

kissing his son his cold mouth,

curse the hands of whoever killed him,

I cursed the war to be started,

seeks with anger cruel complaints,

denies to herself repazo of those

and just as dead while walking she stops”.

the coronation either the fifties

It is considered the first poetic work of this author, it was completed in 1438. It was subtitled «Calamicleos», which is something like what is described in its introduction: a contract of misery and glory.

the coronation It is made up of fifty couplets, and one real couplet. This produced that in the development of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the same readers called it The Fifty of Juan de Mena.

fragment of the coronation

«Their virginal bulges

of these maidens nine,

they were well tied

like rose flowers

mixed with white snow.

Couplets Against Mortal Sins

This work dates from the last years of Mena’s life, in relation to those described above it doubles the number of stanzas. It is also known as Debate of Reason Against the Will.

It is written in a more relaxed language, less pompous. In this work, Mena does not use Latin. It is a work that is considered unfinished by many fifteenth-century writers, since they assured that the author’s time of death came without finishing what he had begun.

Homer Romanced

It was a prose work, written by Mena in 1442. It is a return to the iliad. The author also dedicates it to King John II, and during the fifteenth century it achieved great success for its content, because it became a kind of substantial summary of the original work.

Treatise on the title of the duke

Written in 1445, it is a short work with the aim of praising the Spanish nobleman Juan de Guzmán after receiving the title of Duke of Medina Sidonia from Juan II. Its content is formal and chivalrous.

Memory of some ancient lineages

It is perhaps the last known prose work by Juan de Mena, and is dated 1448. It deals with monarchical genealogy and the emblems that represented King Juan II. They are writings of which there are not many references.

It is considered that these memories were a request that Don Álvaro made to Mena, after having learned of the praises that he professed in the Labyrinth.

Award to the Book of the Virtuous and Clear Women by Álvaro de Luna

This introduction to the book of the Count of Castilla was written in 1446. In this writing, Juan de Mena highlighted de Luna for her attitude in defense of women who had been offended in numerous publications.

The development of Mena’s prose is framed in the praise of women, their characteristics and performance in society. She was totally opposed to those who were against the female gender, and were despotic.

Treaty of Love

It is a small treatise that does not specify if it was really written by Mena. What is clear is the subject that is exposed in it. It has a high content of literary resources.


Juan de Mena (2018). (Spain): Wikipedia. Retrieved from: wikipedia.org
Juan de Mena (2018). (N/a): Biographies and Lives. Recovered from: biografiasyvidas.com
Juan de Mena (Sf). (N/a): Writers. Retrieved from: escritores.org
Juan de Mena (Sf). (N/a): Mcn Biographies. Recovered from: mcnbiografias.com
The Life of Juan de Mena (2005-2018). (A/N): Persecute. Retrieved from: persee.fr

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