Floral Games

Floral Games were any of a series historically-related poetry contests with floral prizes. In Occitan, their original language, and Catalan they are known as "Jocs florals" (modern Occitan: "Jòcs floraus"). In French they became the "Jeux floraux". The original contests did not have anything to do with the Roman Floralia ("Ludi Florensei") held in honour of Chloris.


The original floral games of the troubadours were held by the Consistori del Gay Saber in Toulouse, annually from 1324, traditionally on May 1. One contestant would receive the "violeta d'aur", golden violet, for the poem judged the best. The second prize was a silver wild rose, and the other prizes, awarded for particular poetic forms, were similarly floral. The first prize was rewarded on 3 May 1324 to Arnaut Vidal de Castelnou d'Ari for a "sirventes" in praise of the Virgin Mary. The contests were held intermittently until 1484, when the last prize was awarded to Arnaut Bernart de Tarascon. From this period of 160 years survive the record of around a hundred prizes. These contest were judged in accordance with the "Leys d'amor", a grammatical and literary treatise on Occitan poetry.

Initially the floral games were intended to keep alive the poetic language and style of the Occitan troubadours, but in time this agendum was lost. In 1471 the golden violet was awarded to Peire de Janilhac "n'ostan qu'el fos Frances, per so que dictec el lengatge de Tholosa": notwithstanding that he was French, because he composed in the language of Toulouse. [Paden, 183.] In 1554 the Constistori, now the Collège, awarded a silver eglantine rose to none other than Pierre de Ronsard, the greatest French poet of his generation, for his "Amours". During the Enlightenment, Fabre d'Églantine received his name from the dog rose the Collège bestowed on him. The Consistori, as the Académie des Jeux floraux, continues to function.


At Pentecost, 31 May 1338, a poetic contest was held at Lleida before Peter IV of Aragon, at which awards were given to those poems adjudged the best. [Boase, 6.] A panel of judges was designated in advance by the king. The winning poets received a "rosa d'or" (golden rose) and a piece of expensive golden satin called "diasprell". This contest was the first Catalan attempt to emulate the Toulousain games and it may have been part of a pattern of isolated events, though no other records have reached us.


Medieval era

At Valencia on 20 February 1393, John I of Aragon founded an annual festival ("la festa de la Gaya Sciència") to be celebrated in honour of the Virgin Mary on the day of Annunciation (15 May) or the following Sunday at Barcelona. [Riquer, 565.] The festival would included a vernacular poetry contest, modelled after those held in Toulouse, Paris, and other illustrious cities, [The poetic academy of Toulouse is well known, that of Paris is only mentioned here, and the other unspecified cities remain unidentified.] and the poems submitted would be judged by a panel of "literati".

The first recorded contest held by John's Consistori de Barcelona took place probably on 28 March 1395 with the king in attendance. This festival is called a "bella festa ... a honor de la dita gaya ciència", the prizes for which were provided by the municipal government of Barcelona.Riquer, 567.] There is no record of the names of the winners, the prizes, or their poems. With the death of John two months later and his conflict with the city, the floral games and their source of prize money came to an end.

On 1 May 1398, John's successor, Martin the Humane, agreed to subsidise the annual festival and to cover the cost of the golden and silver prizes for the winners, to be chosen by "mantenidors" (maintainers) named by the king. Under Martin a great "festa" was held in 1408 beneath the walls where the Mirador del rei Martí—a recent addition the royal palace complex—and the Palau del Lloctinent meet in Barcelona.Riquer, 571.] On 17 March 1413 Ferdinand of Antequera, who had succeeded Martin, confirmed that the floral games occurred on 1 May.

Modern era

At the height of romanticism in 1859, during the Catalan Renaixença, Antoni de Bofarull and Víctor Balaguer re-established the floral games ("jocs florals" or "Jocs de la Gaia Ciència") at Barcelona on the first Sunday in May with the theme of "Patria, Fides, Amor" (Country, Faith, Love), alluding to the three typical prizes: the "Englantina de oro" (golden eglantine) given for the greatest patriotic poem, the "Flor Natural" (natural flower, the prize of honour, an actual rose) for the greatest love poem, and the "Viola d'or i argent" (gold and silver violet) to the greatest religious poem. There were othe lesser prizes. One who won all three great prizes was given the honorific "Mestre en Gai Saber" ("Maestro en Gayo Saber", "Master of the Gay Science").

The intellectual and political classes swiftly patronised the Jocs Florals and their support lent renewed prestige to Catalan poetry. Several different positions soon became apparent with respect to the models to be used for the creation of a new Catalan literature. Marià Aguiló defended as worthy models all the various forms and authors. Antoni de Bofarull defended the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Barcelonan authors as the first models of Catalan poetry. Finally, there was a "third way" that sought a unique nineteenth-century Barcelonan poetry, but it had few defenders among the supporters of the Jocs Florals. In the end the Jocs attracted persons of a wide variety of idealogies: republicans, conservatives, the youth. Eventually, Frederic Soler and his followers would participate in a majority of contests. The Jocs Florals went a long way to re-asserting the Catalan language after centuries of decline with respect to Castilian.

"Mestres en Gai Saber"


In 1879 Jocs Florals were established at Valencia in imitation of those begun two decades earlier in Barcelona. The games were traditionally held by Lo Rat Penat in the Valencian language (a variant of Catalan, not Barcelonan). A total of seventeen prizes were awarded annually; the three top prizes were identical to those of the Barcelonan games. On top of the usual contests that included theatre and narrative as well as poetry, there were extraordinary contests held by institutions all throughout the Valencian Community.

The Jocs of Valencia witnessed thirty-five "Mestres d'en Gay Saber" and two female winners of the "Flor Natural" (top prize, an actual rose). Figures like Blasco Ibañez and Niceto Alcalá-Zamora have acted as maintainers, i.e. presidents and judges of the Jocs, and in 1914 and 1999 the maintainers were women. The "Regina" (queen) who sits in the "Cadira d'Or" (golden chair) is elected alternatingly from the three Valencian provinces (Alicante, Castellón, and Valencia) and from the "comarques". Today the Jocs take place in the Teatro Principal with the attendance of the highest dignitaries of the Valencian Community.


The Barcelonan games inspired an imitation, the Internaciaj Floraj Ludoj ("Juegos Florales Internacionales" or "Jocs Florals Internacionals"), in Esperanto in 1905. The games were the most prestigious Esperanto event in the era before the Second World War.


A national literary contest called the Juegos Florales was held in Santiago, Chile in 1914. On 22 December Gabriela Mistral, who took her pen name from Occitan poet Frédéric Mistral, won top prize for her "Sonetos de la Muerte". After winning the "Juegos" she infrequently used her given name of Lucila Godoy for her publications.


*Boase, Roger (1977). "The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love: A Critical Study of European Scholarship". Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0 87471 950 x.
*Paden, William D. (1995). "The Troubadours and the Albigensian Crusade: A Long View." "Romance Philology", 49:2 (Nov.), pp. 168–91.
*Prado, Joan Manuel (1989). "Història de la Literatura Catalana", Vol. I. Fascicles de l'Avui: Edicions 62. ISBN 84 8332 596 9.
*Riquer, Martí de (1964). "Història de la Literatura Catalana", vol. 1. Barcelona: Edicions Ariel.


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