Form Follows Contexts. Dialogues as Form of Intercultural Transfer of Knowledge in the Iberian World

El coloquio de los perros. From Miguel de Cervantes de Saavedra, Novelas Ejemplares (Madrid: Sancha, 1783). (Public domain, wikimedia commons).




Helge Wendt

In the late 15th, all along the 16th and in the early 17th centuries we find writings in many different fields of knowledge, whose titles contain the terms “Dialogue” or “Colloquies”. Numerous dialogues are found in the Christian context of post-Reconquista Spain and in the American contexts of mission.


In the other fields of knowledge transmission, we find the Colloquies of Simple Drugs by Garcia da Orta, written in mid-16th-century’s Portuguese Goa. With a more literary fictional character, but nevertheless involved in philosophical and theological debates, Miguel de Cervantes used the form of dialogue in his Don Quijote, but furthermore in one of his Novelas ejemplares, called The Dialogue of Dogs. The Archbishop of Palermo and temporarily General-Captain of then Spanish Sicly, Diego de Haedo published in 1612 a Geography of Algiers, in which he included three dialogues originally written by Cervantes’ friend and fellow sufferer while imprisoned in this newly conquered Arab town, Antonio Sosa. More in depth the Italian Renaissance tradition of dialogues has been studied that reaches from Petrarch to the the Dialogo di Galileo Galilei sopra i due Massimi Sistemi del Mondo Tolemaico e Copernicano, published in 1630.


Concentrating more on the field of mission, dialogues and colloquies are precious sources for studying CONVIVENCIA and investigating the history of knowledge. Dialogues depict arguably interreligious conversations, quarrels, or situations of education. They discuss very often uncertain knowledge – this is knowledge that could not be proven in the forms that were accepted in their times. The literary form of a dialogue made this process of incorporation of knowledge traceable for the readers and enabled authors to depict this “uncertain knowledge” by keeping a certain distance. These reasons for choosing the dialogic literary form show processes of inclusion of new subjects, accompanied by the selection of packages of knowledge judged to be useful, dangerous, or acceptable.