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Literature / Eurico the Presbyter

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Portuguese cover of the book

Eurico, the Presbyter (or Eurico, o Presbítero in its original language) is a Historical Fiction Chivalric Romance by Portuguese writer Alexander Herculano in 1844. Set during the dying days of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania, our protagonist Eurico is a heartbroken knight who has become a priest to alleviate the refusal to marry his beloved Hermengarda by her father. However, as the Umayyad conquest of the Iberian Penisula begins, he is thrust into action by taking a mysterious identity as the Black Knight to liberate his land and save Hermengarda.

The story depicts how Iberian penisula fell under Arabic control with the most significant events like the death of King Roderic in battle with the Arabs and the victory at Covadonga being based in real life, only observed or participated by Eurico. While the main protagonist is entirely fictional, most of the cast are historical figures associated with that particular period or slightly renamed or changed, such as Hermengarda who is based on Pelagius' sister whose name is lost to history and her historicity is questionable.

This novel contains the following tropes:

  • Anachronism Stew: In the Portuguese language at least, characters use the expression "Oxalá" ("God willing") which originates from the Arabic inshallah. The problem is that they use this before the Arab invasion even takes place.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The emirs, walis and sheikhs are a given, though many Visigothic nobles aren't really much better such as King Roderic and Count Julian of Celta. Even the non-villainous characters like Flavila are actually very snotty and prickish.
  • Artistic License – Religion: The Arabs refer to Eurico as "Iblis, the king of Gehenna", by comparing him to a demon in human form because of his badassery in combat. In Islamic tradition, Iblis isn't a demon in the same sense as Satan is in Christian tradition; he is neither a punisher nor does he rule over Hell, but is rather a tempter that leads people astray which makes this comparison very off. Meanwhile Gehenna is actually part of Jewish tradition.
  • Badass Preacher: The title protagonist was already a skilled knight before becoming a man of the cloth.
  • Battle Cry: The Arabs rally under "Allahu Ackbar", while the Christians rally under "Covadonga and Pelagius".
  • Been There, Shaped History: Eurico was observant and took part in the most significant events during the fall of Hispania such as the Battle of Guadalete, rescuing Pelagius' sister that was kidnapped into an harem and participating in the Battle of Covadonga, which established the Asturian state.
  • Black Knight: Eurico as the Dark Knight is an heroic example who is a terrifying killing machine in combat and absolutely feared by his opponents.
  • Big Good: After the fall of the Visigothic Kingdom, Pelagius becomes this trope for all Christians as the last remaining independent leader against the invaders.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Eurico rescues Hermengarda and she is returned to her brother's safety. However, all of the Hispania outside of Pelagius' newly formed Kingdom of Asturias has fallen under Arab control which pushes Eurico to continue his fight to liberate it. He is forced to leave his beloved behind and never see her again, while she goes mad with grief. Though Pelagius has established the Kingdom of Asturias which begins the process of Reconquista, it will take many centuries and none of them will live to see it completed.
  • Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: The Arabs employ warriors from Sudan as guardsmen.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Two Visigothic nobles Sisebuto and Ebas betray Roderic during the Battle of Guadalete just to get the Spanish throne, which end up resulting in his death.
  • Church Militant: Eurico is a priest/knight/freedom fighter that fights for Jesus and his country. This become complicated when he also has to fight for the love of his life too.
  • Damsel in Distress: Hermengarda in typical chivalric fashion.
  • Dashing Hispanic: Eurico is a Visigothic example, but he still counts as all the other tropes evidence it.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Because of his vow as a priest and his duty to the realm, Eurico is forced to leave his love interest behind.
  • The Dreaded: Some of the most superstitious Muslims come to see the Black Knight as the literal devil in human form.
  • End of an Age: The story takes place in the final days of the Visigothic Kingdom, which is shown to be failing, corrupt and completely vulnerable to outside invaders.
  • Experienced Protagonist: Eurico is revealed to be quite the badass in combat despite being introduced as a priest, due to having previously fought against the Franks.
  • Freudian Excuse: Count Julian's reason for serving as The Quisling to the Arabs; his daughter was raped and killed by Roderic. He doesn't even believe in Islam (much to his allies' outrage) and all he cares about is getting revenge.
  • Founder of the Kingdom: Pelagius goes on to establish the Kingdom of Asturias, the predecessor of modern Spain and Portugal.
  • The Horde: The Umayyad Caliphate descends upon Hispania conquering everything on their path.
  • A House Divided: Hispania was far from a functioning and stable realm with several petty kings bickering with each other. It's only under Pelagius that things get a little better since the bad ones are out of the way.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Eurico becomes a priest to mitigate the pain of being refused the hand of his beloved in marriage. He is certainly one by the end of the story.
  • The Heavy: The emir Abdulaziz serves as a more direct personal threat to Eurico, even though he admits he recognizes the authority of only two men: his own father and military superior Musa and the caliph himself (though not named in the story, that would be Al-Walid).
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of the cast except for the main protagonist, who is entirely fictional.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The historical Opas is said to have fought on the Visigothic side in Guadalete and was executed alongside all other Christian nobles by the Arabs. In the book, he betrays his fellow Christians during the battle in order to get the throne for his nephews and is slain by Eurico for his treachery.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Hermengarda rebukes Abdulaziz's offer to become his favorite wife since she still loves Eurico, but rather than being offended or outraged, he is even more attracted by her strong will.
  • Karma Houdini: Downplayed. Abdulaziz ibn Musa loses Hermengada, but still survives to the end of the story. However, those familiar with history find out that his historical counterpart died later on as result of court intrigue note .
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Despite having a dreaded reputation as the Black Knight, Eurico is actually a more straightforward example of this trope since he fights for his faith, his country and the woman he loves.
  • The Low Middle Ages: The book takes place during this period and it's shown that Visigothic Spain wasn't that much better before the Arabs arrived.
  • The Quisling: One of the key reasons why Hispania fell other than being in disarray were individual Visigothic nobles that helped the Arabs conquer their fellow countrymen out of pure self-interest or grudges with the old regime and not because they converted to Islam, which is why the Arabs disdain them as "infidels".
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Visigoths were completely unprepared for an invading force with a completely different culture and religion coming from the south since they spent a long time warring the Franks from the north, who were former barbarians that adopted the same costumes as they had.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Hermengada's father Favila refuses to allow his daughter to marry a lowly knight.
  • Rebel Leader: Pelagius becomes one after the fall of Guadalete, since he is the last independent Christian leader resisting against Arab rule in the region.
  • Royal Harem: Abdulaziz keeps one and forces Hermengarda into it, being so taken by her beauty that promises that she will be his most favored wife and envied by his other women.
  • Sinister Minister: Ebas and Sisebuto's uncle is a bishop that also betrayed the Visigoths to the Arabs.
  • Soiled City on a Hill: Hispania just before the Arab invasion was unambiguously portrayed as a morally decayed realm governed by extremely corrupt rulers like Roderic. It's because of their state they are completely unprepared when Tariq crosses the strait of Gibraltar and some Christians themselves believe the invasion is God punishing them for their inequity.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Eurico and Hermengarda. They are deeply in love with each other, but her father refuses to allow them to marry because of his status as a lowly knight. After rescuing her from Abdulaziz's harem, they still can't be together because of his vows as a priest and his duty to liberate Hispania from the Arab occupation.
  • Villainous Crush: Abdulaziz for Hermengarda. Though he is initially taken by her looks, he decides to marry her after finding out she is Pelagius' sister since that would mean his domain would be submissive to him through their union.
  • Warrior Poet: Eurico is just as capable of reciting and composing poems and hymns as he is to smash his enemies' skulls.
  • Warrior Monk: The main protagonist, again.