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Home » Language Resources » Spanish Literature » History of Spanish Literature » The Middle Ages » The Epic Poem: Cantar de Mío Cid

History of Spanish literature

Medieval Literature: El Cantar de Mio Cid

Epic Poetry- “El Cantar de Mio Cid” (The Song of My Lord)

This is the oldest preserved Spanish epic poem. This poem is based on a medieval warrior who fought during the reign of Alfonso VI (King of Castile from 1072-1109). Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar “El Cid” (1043-1099) was a Spanish mercenary who sometimes fought on the Christian side and other times on the Muslim side during the Reconquista (Spanish Reconquest). He managed to conquer the Kingdom of Valencia while it was in the hands of the Arabs. He earned a reputation as a true warrior in battle, which in turn led to his nickname al-Sidi, or El Cid (Sir, in the medieval sense).

The poem itself talks about the journey that el Cid undertakes while banished for making the king, Alfonso, swear that he had nothing to do with the murder of his brother, Sancho II of Castille (Zamora, 1072). The Royal Court met in the Santa Gadea Church in Burgos, and it is there that the king swore his innocence. After swearing on the bible the King exiled el Cid to roam the Castilian plains. It is here where the “Cantar del destierro” (Song of Exile) begins.

De los sos ojos | tan fuerte mientre lorando
tornava la cabeça | y estava los catando.
Vio puertas abiertas | e uços sin cañados,
alcandaras vazias | sin pielles e sin mantos

e sin falcones e sin adtores mudados.
Sospiro mio Çid | ca mucho avie grandes cuidados.
Fablo mio Çid | bien e tan mesurado:
«¡Grado a ti, señor, | padre que estas en alto!
¡Esto me an buelto | mios enemigos malos!

Tears streamed from his eyes
As he turned his head and stood looking at them.
He saw doors left open and gates unlocked,
empty pegs without fur tunics or cloacks,

Perches without falcons or moulted hawks.
The Cid sighed, for he was weighed down with heavy cares
Then he said, with dignity and restraint:
"I give Thee thanks, O God, our Father in Heaven.
My wicked enemies have contrived this plot against me."

The song is divided into three parts:

  1. Cantar del Destierro (Song of Exile) that relates the story from the exile of Cid until the conquest of Valencia.
  2. Cantar de las Bodas (Song of the Weddings) that recounts the weddings of his daughters with the princes of Carrion.
  3. La Afrenta de Corpes (The Offense of Corpes) that recounts the humiliation of his daughters at the hands of their husbands, and Cid´s subsequent revenge.

Problems of authorship:

The “Song of my Cid” is signed by Per Abbat, but this is from the remaining manuscript only. It is believed that the song was composed by two poets: one from the area around Gormaz and the other from Medinaceli. According to Menéndez Pidal the first part of the poem and its general structure are attributed to a poet from San Esteban of Gormaz, while the latter part was written by the poet from Medinaceli. Despite this, as often happens with oral tradition, the song went under many changes before reaching its final version, which is the one we have today written by Abbot Peter in the 12th century ("in the era of mill e CC XLV years").

Other theories suggest that there is just one author: One who was an expert in law and who had studied in somewhere in France. This would explain the French influence found in the poem as well as the ability to give artistic form and context to a historical personality and events from an earlier time.

Internal structure:

The Song of my Cid is characterized by its anisosilabismo (anisosyllabism in English). This is when the verses of a poem do not have a fixed syllabic pattern or meter. The poem is also divided into two hemistiches (half a poetic verse) whose meters also vary. Normally the verses follow the same syllabic pattern found in Spanish phrasing.

The verses are grouped stanzas called tiradas (which is an indefinite series of verses), of which, in this poem, the number varies from three to one hundred.

The theme of honor constantly reappears throughout the poem. In the poem we witness the loss of honor on two occasions (when el Cid is exiled and the loss of honor of the infantes from Carrion). We also see successive examples of el Cid fighting for his honor culminating with the conquest of Valencia and the wedding of his daughters with the heirs of Aragón and Navarra, thus righting a wrong. This is the crowning moment of the book and one could not aspire to anything more.

Realism in the poem:

The character of Cid Campeador is a historical truth and the works Historia Roderici (History of Rodrigo) and Carmen Campidoctoris (Song of the Campeador) attest to this. But the author el Cid created a fictional tale full of realism. The authentic narrative style avoids magical and legendary references to center exclusively on creating a work that is the most real and believable possible.

In addition to this poem and the two works mentioned above, there exists a whole genre of romance-form poetry dedicated to el Cid that helps us reconstruct and understand this hero’s story.