Zorro, Joan (fl. ca. 1250–1300). Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature

Known as “Foxy John,” this humble jogral (i.e.,
JONGLEUR) was doubtlessly Portuguese, judging
from his apparent familiarity with Lisbon and with
the Tagus River. One of the earlier Lisbon
trovadores or courtly singers, Zorro may have been
active during the reign of Alfonso III (1248–79) or,
more likely his son and successor King DINIS
(1279–1325), a well-known patron of the arts and
himself a poet.
Of Zorro’s 11 extant compositions, 10 are
CANTIGAS DE AMIGO (lyrics in which a woman
speaks of her lover or “friend”), all of which manifest
the popular, folk origins of that genre: They
tend to be simple and lyrical, utilizing a parallel
structure with a refrain, and sometimes using archaic
diction. Seven of these poems are marinhas,
or sea-poems, set on the estuary of the Tagus
known as the rio forte, where the shipyards of Lisbon
are located. Typical of these poems is “Jus’ a lo
mar e o rio” (Down to the sea and the river), which
Down to the sea and the river
I shall go, for I am in love,
to where the king is building his ship;
my beloved, I shall go with you.
(Jensen 1992, 28.3, ll. 1–4)
The fourth line here is the refrain. In another
poem, Per ribeira do rio (Along the bank of the
river), the speaker sees her lover leaving and rejoices
because she knows he wants to take her with
I saw the boat rowing
On it my beloved is leaving,
And the river-bank fills me with joy.
On it my friend is leaving,
He wants to take me with him,
And the river-bank fills me with joy.
(Jensen 1992, 28.5, ll. 10–15)
Here the parallelism is apparent as the second line
of the first stanza is paralleled in the first line of the
second stanza—a pattern that runs through the
poem, where the third line is always the refrain.
One of Zorro’s poems is a dance song, or bailada,
beginning “Bailemos agora, por Deus, ai velidas” (Let
us dance now, for the sake of God, oh beautiful
girls) (Jensen 1992, 28.8), in which the speaker invites
her friends to dance beneath the hazel trees
with her. The lyric was famous enough that Airas
NÚÑEZ wrote his own version, Bailemos nós ja todas
tres, ai amigas (Let us dance now all three of us, oh
friends) (Jensen 1992, 6.4), a poem generally conceded
to be inferior to Zorro’s. The relationship of
these two poems, however, suggests the respect with
which Zorro was regarded by other poets.
Bell, Aubrey F.G. “The Eleven Songs of Joan Zorro,”
MLR 15 (1920): 58–64.
Flores, Angel, ed. An Anthology of Medieval Lyrics.
New York:Modern Library, 1962.
Jensen, Frede, ed. and trans. Medieval Galician-
Portuguese Poetry: An Anthology. Garland Library
of Medieval Literature, 87. New York: Garland,