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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2542

Cantar de mio Cid (Song of the Cid) Anonymous

(Also known as Poema de mio Cid, Poema del Cid, and Poem of the Cid) Spanish epic poem.

The following entry contains recent criticism on Cantar de mio Cid. For additional information on the work, see CMLC, Vol. 4.

The anonymous Cantar de mio Cid is the great epic of medieval Spain. It is one of the oldest Spanish historical documents in existence, and the only Spanish cantar de geste (song of heroic deeds) to have survived almost completely intact. The 3,730-line poem chronicles the exploits of the Cid (from the Arabic sayyid, which means “master”), or Rodrigo (Ruy) Díaz de Vivar, a commander under King Alfonso VI of Castile, who wins back his King's favor by taking back southern Spain from its Islamic occupiers. Like many literary works of the Middle Ages, the Cid is based on an historical figure, but much of this story is fictionalized in order to offer an idealized portrait of the main character and emphasize his valor and loyalty. The poem interweaves irony, heroic drama, and realism to present colorful portraits of Moors, Jews, and Christians, providing modern readers with a unique glimpse into medieval Spain. Over the centuries, numerous editions and translations of the Cid have appeared, attesting to the work's popularity. The landmark 1908 version, published by Spanish medievalist Ramon Menendez-Pidal, renewed international critical interest in the epic. There is extensive scholarly commentary on the poem in both Spanish and English. Some of the most prominent issues discussed are the poem's uncertain authorship; the use of folk traditions in its composition; its themes of national and religious identity, family honor, and personal prowess; its treatment of the vassal-lord relationship; its use of concrete imagery and dramatic narrative techniques; its stress on economics and social life; its modern use of language; and its similarities to medieval romances. Critics have debated especially vigorously the question of whether the epic was written by an educated nobleman or is an orally composed work rooted in the folk traditions of Castilian Spain. There seems to be no easy resolution to this question, but critics concur that no matter who the author of the work is, the Cantar de mio Cid is one of Spain's national treasures, an historically important and artistically complex work of literature.

Textual History

Only one copy of the Cid manuscript exists—a parchment quarto from the mid-fourteenth century, signed by a Per Abbat (or Abad) and bearing the date 1207. Historians believe that this manuscript is a copy of the 1207 version, which may have been either the original or a copy of an even earlier manuscript, but most take 1207 as the poem's date of composition. The manuscript, long kept in the Convent of Santa Clara in Vivar, was copied many times. In 1779 Tomas Antonio Sanchez borrowed the original manuscript from the convent of Santa Clara to print the poem in his Coleccion de poesias castellanas anteriores al siglo XV, marking the first publication of the poem. Sanchez never returned the manuscript to the convent. It freely circulated among collectors and scholars until 1960, when it was purchased by the Spanish state and placed permanently in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. Many versions of the Cid have been published since the eighteenth century, the most influential one being Menendez-Pidal's 1908 edition. Robert Southey's Chronicle of the Cid, published in 1808—a somewhat hybrid work made up of the Cid, the Chronica del Famoso cavallero Cid Ruydiez Campeador, the Cronica de Espana, and various romances—introduced the work to the English-speaking world. Among the numerous modern English translations of the poem, those by W. S. Merwin and Colin Smith are especially esteemed.

Biographical Information

Critics are divided regarding the authorship of the epic. Menendez-Pidal assigned 1140 as the probable date of composition for the poem and suggested that the work was orally composed by a juglar, or minstrel, from the region of Medinaceli, soon after the death of the historical Cid and transcribed only later. Menendez-Pidal and other adherents of this “oralist” or “traditionalist” theory hold that there is no single author of the work, but that it is the result of an oral, folk tradition that weaves together stories developed over generations. “Individualist” or “positivist” scholars, on the other hand, point to the sophisticated language in the poem as well as to its references to legal codes and borrowings from the literatures of other cultures in order to argue that the Cid must have been the work of an educated man, perhaps a monk or a lawyer from around the town of Burgos. Some critics point to Per Abbat as the author, although most scholars believe he was only the copier and not the author of the original work.

Plot and Major Characters

The Cantar de mio Cid comprises 3,730 lines divided into seventy-four folios, each with approximately fifty lines of verse. Three folios are known to be missing: the poem's beginning and two later sections. The poem has traditionally been split into three narrative sections, or cantars: the Cantar del destierro (1. 1–1085), the Cantar de las bodas (1. 1086–2275), and the Cantar de Corpes (1. 2276 to the end). These divisions are based on an estimate of the amount of material that could be recited in one sitting.

When the epic opens, the Cid has been unjustly banished by King Alfonso, but the details of his crime and punishment remain sketchy because of the missing first folio. (Scholars have conjectured about the possible opening of the poem, and in some editions lines from the Cronica de Castilla have been used to begin the poem.) Returning after his exile to the town of Burgos, whose citizens are under the King's strict orders not to receive or aid him, the Cid nevertheless manages to gather a group of fighting men and to obtain, albeit by resorting to a trick, a sum of money from the Jewish moneylenders Rachel and Vidas. After leaving his wife, Dona Jimena, and his daughters, Elvira and Sol, at the monastery at Cardena, the Cid departs with his army for Moorish territory and soon recaptures the town of Castejon Alcocer, also imprisoning the Count of Barcelona on his way back. He sends a tribute of thirty horses to King Alfonso who, though he doesn't restore his favor to the Cid, lifts the prohibition against abetting him. With an even larger army, the Cid again goes to battle, capturing the Moslem Levant, the city of Valencia, and a valuable store of booty; as a token of his loyalty, he sends the King a gift of one hundred horses. His wife and daughters join him in Valencia and witness the defeat of the Moroccan King. Again, the Cid sends the King a present—two hundred horses—and this time succeeds in winning a royal pardon.

Once the Cid's honor, power, and wealth have been restored, the King suggests that Elvira and Sol marry the infantes (princes) of Carrion. Though the Cid appears reluctant because of the difference in their age and social rank, the weddings take place. Later, in an episode involving the escape of the Cid's pet lion, the infantes prove themselves cowards and are publicly disgraced. Secretly seeking revenge, they decide to return with their wives to Carrion. They spend the first night of their journey at the home of Avegalvon, the Cid's close friend; the infantes plot to murder their host that evening as part of their revenge, but are overheard and thwarted. After another day's travel, the princes and their wives stay overnight in the wood of Corpes, sending their retainers ahead. Finally exacting their revenge upon the Cid, they brutally beat their wives and leave them for dead the next morning. However, one of the Cid's knights finds and revives them, informing his lord of what has happened. Enraged by this turn of events, the Cid demands justice from the King, and a formal court proceeding is held at Toledo. Eventually the infantes are found guilty, forced to return their wives' dowries and gifts, and challenged to a duel. His honor cleared, the Cid receives a marriage offer for his daughters from the princes of Navarre and Aragon. The poem ends with his peaceful death in Valencia.

Major Themes

The dramatic narrative pace of the Cid is maintained by vivid, realistic descriptions, numerous climaxes, an unusually high proportion of direct speech, touches of humor, and considerable irony. Although it embodies mythical and folk patterns typical of many epics, the Cid is also remarkably free of stylistic excesses of similar medieval European epics, focusing instead on realistic characterization and plot development. Its realistic style is most striking in the poem's characterizations—especially that of the Cid himself. On the one hand a hero of mythic proportions, glorified in the many epithets applied to him throughout the poem, the Cid also remains an eminently human and fallible character. If his ultimate goals are the restoration of his honor, the recognition of his loyalty to the King, and the reconquest of Moor-occupied territory, his more immediate goals seem to be ensuring his financial security, elevating his family's social standing, providing for his two daughters, and keeping his army employed. There is a constant interplay in the work between idealistic and bourgeois and heroic and domestic elements.

As it takes place in Spain during the middle ages, the epic is concerned with questions of national and religious identity; the Cid fights as a Spaniard against the Moorish invaders and as a Christian against the Moors. Some have suggested that the Cid is a Christ-figure, and there are also echoes in the work from the Koran as well as from Jewish tradition. The other main themes of heroism, fidelity, honor, nobility, love, and support are interrelated in the text. The Cid is an exemplary hero whose loyalty, valor, and prowess in battle are eventually rewarded by the King. Even though he is exiled by Alfonso, the Cid continues to act as a vassal, sending the King spoils from the lands he has conquered. This theme of the vassal-lord relationship is also developed in the depiction of the Cid as a lord who treats his own vassals with respect and generosity. A related theme is that of largesse, and there are a number of important instances of gift-giving in the poem. The Cid's love for and loyalty to his daughters are also highlighted in the poem, but his loyalty to them takes second place to his loyalty to the King. Even when the King's wishes conflict with his own, the Cid defers, putting his family in danger in the process. While the Cid is the picture of loyalty and honor throughout the poem, the King himself is blind to those concepts, and there are suggestions that the Cid does not fully trust the King for this reason. The themes of nobility and honor are also explored in the characters of the infantes, noble-born princes who are shameful, dishonorable, cruel, and cowardly.

Many other themes in the Cid center around economic and social issues. The acquisition of wealth is a central theme, as the Cid continues to offer tributes to his lord even after his exile; the poem also treats related themes of gift-giving, avarice, and debt. Much attention is drawn to the domestic life of the Cid, and there are several emotional scenes where he shows his love for his wife and daughters. The scene following the Cid's exile is particularly moving, and it portrays how in the feudal hierarchical structure, life outside society has no meaning. Throughout the poem, the narrator also reinforces common knowledge, and in the court scenes in particular, offers instruction on legal questions. Several scholars have suggested that because of its emphasis on economics and its presentation of information about social and legal codes, one of the aims of the Cid was to instruct its unlearned audience in practical life lessons.

Critical Reception

Critical response to the Cid has varied over the centuries. Even before the poem was widely known, the legend of the Cid exerted a powerful influence on Spanish and European literature. The earliest scholarly commentary on the poem seems to have been by Padre Sarmiento, a Benedictine monk who studied a copy of the manuscript in Madrid and in 1750 wrote notes assessing its meter and language. Sanchez's 1779 edition followed soon afterward. Eighteenth-century Spanish critics viewed the poem an important part of Spanish history and folk culture, but viewed it as deficient in form and construction, and it was not considered a great work of literature. The poem's status grew in the nineteenth century, with the enthusiastic praise of Romantic writers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Johann Gottfried von Herder, August Wilhelm von Schlegel, and Southey, who called the poem's composer “the Homer of Spain.” The American author Washington Irving, too, worked on a book about the Cid, and the English critic Henry Hallam regarded it superior to any poem written before Dante.

Despite these positive assessments of the Cid, the poem was still viewed as a rather primitive literary production until 1908, when Menendez-Pidal methodically researched and wrote about its history, archaeology, geography, epic origins, and folk influences. However, Menendez-Pidal's stress on the background of the poem contributed to its being viewed more as an archaeological relic than a vital piece of literature. Also as a result of Menendez-Pidal's research, twentieth-century scholars grouped themselves into camps of traditionalists/oralists and individualists/positivists. Smith is the best known proponent of the individualist position, while Joseph Duggan, in a 1989 study of the poem, redefined the oralist position by asserting that in 1200, a juglar from around Medinaceli performed the poem in order to please Alfonso VIII and his partisans. This position has been rejected by neo-individualists such as Milija N. Pavlović, who argue that the presence of French culture in the epic suggests an author of far greater learning than the oralist theory would allow. The debate between the two schools regarding the poem's authorship continues, with some critics, such as Edward H. Friedman, advocating taking a middle ground by applying the concept of intertextuality to the poem to shed light on its composition without dwelling on questions of single or multiple authorship.

Other trends in Cid scholarship include analyzing the work's themes and narrative patterns, its characterization, its use of dramatic narrative techniques, the novelistic features of the work, and studies of its stylistic elements. The irregularity of line lengths and meter in the Cid has also been discussed extensively. While some have interpreted the irregularities as attesting to the author's lack of technical expertise, others see them as possibly based on music used in the poem's performance. Other scholars have argued that the epic employs assonance within and between lines, testifying to an even higher degree of craftsmanship. Late twentieth- and early twenty-first century critics have explored the work's social and didactic function, its stress on economics, its imparting of legal and practical information, its realism, its parallels with French epics, its treatment of the vassal-lord relationship, its military and domestic themes, and its blending of literature and history. While for centuries it was regarded as historically important but wanting artistically, the Cid is now accepted as a richly complex work of literature and one of the most accomplished epics of medieval Europe.

Porter Conerly (essay date 1984)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4312

SOURCE: Conerly, Porter. “Largesse of the Epic Hero as a Thematic Pattern in the Cantar de mio Cid.Kentucky Romance Quarterly 31, no. 3 (1984): 281-89.

[In the following essay, Conerly examines the motif of largesse in Cantar de mio Cid, which, he argues, is a principal thematic pattern in the lord-vassal relationship and the related question of honor in the poem.]

Recent criticism on the Cantar de Mio Cid has repeatedly demonstrated the complexity of the poem in its use of structural and stylistic patterns.1 These clearly defined patterns, which are unlikely to be the result of chance, are found in the use of epic epithets, associative and contrastive elements, and symbolism. Individually and collectively, these patterns contribute to the dramatic movement of the poem; an awareness of them, undoubtedly, will raise our esteem for the poet and his craft.

The patterns that can be gleaned from the CMC [Cantar de Mio Cid] are typically, as Alan Deyermond has pointed out, “of gradation and climax, of association and contrast.”2 Of these two types, Deyermond considers gradation and climax to be the most important thematically, for they consistently lead us back to the theme of the loss and acquisition of honor. Here, I would like to examine the motif of largesse, which, I believe, should be regarded as a principal pattern in the understanding of the lord-vassal relationship and, consequently, the honor question.

The examination of this pattern, however, requires a few preliminary remarks concerning the lord-vassal relationship in Mio Cid criticism. For Pedro Salinas, Alfonso, despite his human flaws, is as king the only one who can provide the absolute recognition of honor.3 Gustavo Correa recognized the role of honor in achieving what he called “artistic tension,” but he did not make the distinction between Alfonso the man and Alfonso the king.4 Edmund De Chasca sought to rectify this by suggesting that we view the individual or human side of Alfonso along with the “generic” one, as king. His principal objection to Correa's view is that, historically, in the mind of the poet, it is inconceivable that Rodrigo, the vassal, should ever rise above his lord, for the king's honor is immanent in his estate.5 Finally, Julio Rodríguez-Puértolas, in a recent article, offers a further consideration which is pertinent to any discussion of the lord-vassal relationship within the poem as a whole.6 The critical perspective of Puértolas is based, in part, on Lukács' ideas on the epic and the novel. These, when applied to the CMC, produce an image which makes it unique among the traditional epics. He notes three structural levels, all of which lead to a “falseamiento de la Historia—con su imprescindible mitificación como correlato—y una glorificación del héroe por un lado y de Castilla por el otro” (p. 147). The three levels are 1) political (the confrontation between Castilla and León; 2) social (the confrontation between the pueblo and the nobility); 3) individual (the confrontation between the hero and León, the nobility, and the king). The restoration of order, characteristic of the traditional epic, is quite different in the CMC. As Rodríguez-Puértolas says: “Se trata, en efecto, de un nuevo orden, en el que la alta nobleza ha perdido su viejo prestigio y su papel representativo; en el que el rey lo es otra vez gracias al Campeador” (pp. 158-9).

When we consider the degree to which the poet glorifies the hero, the obstacle of Alfonso's estate is somewhat diminished. Most critics, including De Chasca, have long recognized that in the poem there is no character that can even approach the Cid in his physical and moral greatness, for to do so would violate the spirit of the epic.7 In any case, the distinction made by De Chasca is fundamental, not only to an understanding of the lord-vassal relationship, but to a further appreciation of the poem's “artistic tension.”

The poet's use of the motif of largesse lies within the limits of the individual structural level. The point of departure and nadir is the unjust banishment of Rodrigo. His situation is lamented and epitomized in the voice of the people of Burgos: “¡Dios, qué buen vasallo, si oviesse buen se¯nor!”8 From here the poet skillfully leads us to a logical and poignant restoration of the Cid's honor by the selection and arrangement of motives within the framework of the lord-vassal relationship. The repetition of formulas and motives centering around the actions of the vassal and the reactions, implicit or explicit, of his lord—all suggest jointly the gradual but certain vindication and ascension of Rodrigo, and, no less important, the enlightenment of Alfonso, which restores his humanity to a level compatible with his station. Therein lies the art of the poet.

A review of the motif of gift-giving will reveal, once again, the deliberateness with which the poet leads us toward the reconciliation with Alfonso and the restoration of Rodrigo's honor. The pattern is visible at two harmonious points in the poem: Firstly, it precedes the pardon scene on the banks of the Tajo; secondly, it is recalled as Rodrigo takes leave of his lord for the last time. It is noteworthy that the pattern is not limited to an isolated section of the poem, but rather spans the entire poem and figures prominently toward the end of each of its two parts.

Rodrigo's conduct throughout the poem provides the reader, in many ways, with a sort of speculum principis. This is immediately evident in his choice of counselors: Minaya Álvar Fáñez, “el diestro braço,” and Martín Antolínez, “el burgalés conplido.” It is a striking contrast with the “malos mestureros” which surround Alfonso.9 This is of primary importance for any ruler as Pero López de Ayala, a man well versed in kingmanship, later observed in his Rimado del palacio.10 Rodrigo's largesse is equally exemplary. The value of this quality did not escape that fourteenth century traditionalist, Don Juan Manuel.11 Soon after the taking of Castejón, we witness the generosity of Rodrigo as well as the dedication and vow of Minaya, who first suggests the gift offering to Alfonso:

          “Mucho vos lo gradesco,                    Campeador contado;
“d'aquesta quinta                    que me avedes mandado
“pagar se ía d'ella                    Alfonso el castellano.
“Yo vos la suelto                    e avello quitado;
“a Dios lo prometo,                    a Aquel que está en alto,
“fata que yo me pague                    sobre mio buen cavallo
“lidiando con moros                    en el campo,
“que enpleye la lança                    e al espada meta mano
“e por el cobdo ayuso                    la sangre destellando
“ante Ruy Díaz                    el lidiador contado,
“non prendré de vós                    quanto vale un dinero malo.
“Pues que por mí ganaredes                    quesquier que sea d'algo,
“todo lo otro                    afélo en vuestra mano.”


Rodrigo does not decide to act on the advice of Minaya until laisse 40, which also coincides with the fulfillment of Minaya's vow:

“¡Oíd, Minaya,                    sodes mio diestro braço!
“D'aquesta rriqueza                    que el Criador nos á dado
“a vuestra guisa                    prended con vuestra mano.
“Enbiarvos quiero                    a Castiella con mandado
“d'esta batalla                    que avemos arrancada,
“al rrey Alfonso                    que me á airado
“quiérol' enbiar en don                    treínta cavallos,
“todos con siellas                    e muy bien enfrenados,
“señas espadas                    de los arzones colgadas.”
Dixo Minaya Álbar Fáñez:                    “Esto faré yo de grado.”


The gift-offering does not actually occur until laisse 47, but it has already been announced twice: in the advice of Minaya and in the decision of Rodrigo. The subsequent offerings which lead to the pardon receive similar treatment, for each time the gifts are sent at Rodrigo's behest. The poet focuses on the gift-giving three times; each time, however, the gift is greater: 30 horses, 100 horses, and then 200 horses.12 As the Cid's power increases, so do the outward signs of his largesse. These offerings, then, prepare the way for the king's pardon. Three times we witness the decision to present the gift, followed shortly by the offering itself. The first decision and offering stress the wrath of Alfonso toward his vassal:

“Enbiarvos quiero                    a Castiella con mandado
“d'esta batalla                    que avemos arrancada,
“al rrey Alfonso                    que me á airado


As Minaya presents the gifts he says:

“A vós, rrey ondrado,                    enbía esta presentaia;
“bésavos los pies                    e las manos amas
“quel' ayades merçed,                    sí el Criador vos vala.”


The king's reaction is analogous:

Dixo el rrey:                    “Mucho es mañana
“omne airado                    que de señor non ha graçia
“por acogello                    a cabo de tres semmanas”


The second and third decisions, however, with their subsequent gift-offerings stress rather the positive attitude of the estranged vassal:

“Si a vós ploguiere, Minaya                    e non vos caya en pesar,
“enbiarvos quiero a Castiella,                    dó avemos heredades,
“al rrey Alfonso                    mio señor natural;
“d'estas mis ganançias                    que avemos fechas acá
“darle quiero çiento cavallos                    e vós ídgelos levar.”


“Grandes son las ganançias                    quel'dio el Criador
“févos aquí las señas,                    verdad vos digo yo,
“çient cavallos                    gruessos e corredores,
“de siellas e de frenos                    todos guarnidos son,
“bésavos las manos                    que los prendades vós;
“rrazonas' por vuestro vassallo                    e a vós tiene por señor.”


Alfonso's reaction is equally positive:

Alçó la mano diestra,                    el rrey se sanctigó:
“De tan fieras ganançias                    commo á fechas el Campeador
“¡sí me vala Sant Esidro!                    plazme de coraçón
“e plázem' de las nuevas                    que faze el Campeador
“rreçibo estos cavallos                    quem' enbía de don.”


The third decision and gift-offering reveal the same correspondence between the embassy of Rodrigo and the reaction of Alfonso:

Mandó a Pero Vermúez                    que fuesse con Minaya.
Otro día mañana                    privado cavalgavan
e dozientos omnes                    lievan en su conpaña
con saludes del Çid                    que las manos le besava:
d'esta lid                    que ha arrancada
dozientos cavallos                    le enbiava en presentaia,


Here the poet changes to direct discourse, repeating the words of Rodrigo: “E servir lo he sienpre mientra que ovisse el alma” (1820).13 While these words are not repeated to Alfonso during the presentation of the gifts, the reaction of Alfonso, on one hand, acknowledges the lifelong fealty which Rodrigo has never failed to express through his actions. Yet it also indicates the increasing obligation of Alfonso to repay this vassal among vassals:

Dixo el rrey don Alfonso:                    “Reçíbolos de grado;
“gradéscolo a Mio Çid                    que tal don me ha enbiado
“aún vea el ora                    que de mí sea pagado.”


The largesse of Rodrigo has played a principal role in the reconciliation of lord and vassal. Just as the poet uses this pattern as a device to bring them together, so too in the laisse depicting the pardon does he use it to contrast lord and vassal, at the expense of the king. The poet's observation on the preparations for the audience with Alfonso on the banks of the Tajo remind us, once again, of the worth of Rodrigo. The catalogue of his wealth and his leading warriors precedes his departure from Valencia. The imagery of gifts and horses persists:

Salién de Valençia,                    aguijan e espolonavan,
tantos cavallos en diestro,                    gruessos e corredores,
Mio Çid se los gañara,                    que non ge los dieran en don;


As readers of the poem well know, the pardon constitutes a significant turning point since it is accompanied by the marriage offer of the Infantes de Carrión; it is a marriage that Alfonso encourages, for he may now contribute something to the growing honor of the Cid: “Seméiam' el casamiento ondrado e con grant pro” (2077). This juncture in the poem not only prepares the way for the afrenta de Corpes, but, as Roger Walker suggests, marks the point where Alfonso must prove himself as lord.14 The portrayal of Alfonso in the first part of the poem supports the verismo which has so often been attributed to the CMC.15 Yet the lasting image of an enlightened and just king lies exclusively within the poet's domain.

As the news of the afrenta de Corpes spreads, the poet continually reminds us of the renewed feudal bond and the king's responsibility which it implies (see verses 2905ff., 2938ff., 2948ff.). To this, he adds the grief that the afrenta has caused the good king (see verses 2825, 2907, 2959, 3031, 3041). That the king's honor is now identified with Rodrigo's brings lord and vassal even closer. Rodrigo then skillfully secures his rights in court by capitalizing on the new favor and moral responsibility of the king, in a case about which Alfonso himself says: “Sabémoslo todos nós” (3134).

With his demands guaranteed and his honor intact, the Cid prepares to take leave of his lord for the last time. The poet prepares for this by turning, once again, to Rodrigo's largesse and the motif of gift-giving. As we have seen, throughout the struggle to regain his honor the gifts were progressively more generous (30, 100, 200 horses), reflecting, at the same time, his growing worth. Rodrigo, now, makes the most generous offering of all—his own horse Babieca. To appreciate further this series of gifts and the final gesture, we should refer to C. M. Bowra's remarks on the place of the horse in epic poetry:

No animal invites so technical or so discriminating a knowledge or excites stronger affection and admiration. Heroic poets know about horses and study them with professional appreciation. In heroic societies the horse has more than one function. It is in the first place an article of wealth. A man is known by the quantity and quality of his horses and is naturally proud of them. If raiding is still an honourable pursuit, horses are among the first objects of loot. In the second place, the horse is invaluable in war—the hero's most trusted friend, which may often save him in dangerous situations and provide inestimable service in overcoming his enemies. … In the third place, a knowledge of horses is one of the most prized branches of knowledge. The man who really knows about them is respected as few others are, and, conversely, ignorance of them invites contempt.16

We first hear of Babieca when the Cid is already at the peak of his military career, following the conquest of Valencia. He makes ready to welcome his wife and daughters with a display of horsemanship. The horse is recently acquired and Rodrigo has not yet been able to assess its speed or its response to commands:

Mandó Mio Çid                    a los que ha en su casa
que guardassen el alcáçar                    e las otras torres altas
e todas las puertas                    e las exidas e las entradas
e aduxiéssenle a Bavieca,                    poco avié quel' ganara
aún non sabié Mio Çid,                    el que en buen ora çinxo espada,
si serié corredor                    o si abrié buena parada.


However, he soon demonstrates the horse's speed and, obviously, his own horsemanship:

Mio Çid salió sobr'él                    e armas de fuste tomava.
Por nombre el cavallo                    Bavieca cavalgava,
fizo una corrida,                    ésta fue tan estraña,
quando ovo corrido,                    todos se maravillavan,
d'és día se preçió Bavieca          en quant grant fue España.


Prior to the offering of Babieca to the king, there is a lacuna of some fifty verses in the manuscript. The Crónica de veinte reyes and the Primera crónica general both report a remarkable display of horsemanship, which, according to the Crónica de veinte reyes, was held at the king's request. The performance and the king's reaction to it are typical again of the technique of gradation and climax, for they enhance the offering of this final gift:

El rrey alçó la mano,                    la cara se sanctigó:
“¡Yo lo juro par Sant Esidro                    el de León
“que en todas nuestras tierras                    non ha tan buen varón!”
Mio Çid en el cavallo                    adelant se llegó,
fue besar la mano                    a Alfonso so señor:
“Mandástesme mover                    a Bavieca el corredor
“en moros ni en christianos                    otro tal non ha oy,
“yo vos le do en don,                    mandédesle tomar señor.”


Just as this, the greatest gift, contrasts dramatically with the numbers of chargers and palfreys given previously, it also is the one gift which Alfonso refuses to accept: “Essora dixo el rrey: ‘D’ esto non he sabor; / ‘si a vós le tolliés el cavallo no havrié tan buen señor’” (3516-17). While his refusal is, literally, in deference to Rodrigo's skill as a horseman, it is, nonetheless, an extremely suggestive verse which recalls that celebrated line, “¡Dios, qué buen vassallo, si oviesse buen señor!” (20). That verse has traditionally been regarded as the keynote of the poem. The medieval listener, with his more sensitive ear, would have readily associated the two lines, finding in Alfonso's refusal a tacit, yet personal, recognition of Rodrigo's superiority. The poet's subtlety can be better appreciated in light of Thomas Montgomery's suggestion: “If we can teach our ears to listen, we may discover unexpected rewards.”17 The poet then, just as quickly, ties the refusal to the interests of Castilla and the Reconquista. As Alfonso says:

“Mas atal cavallo cum ést                    pora tal commo vós
“pora arrancar moros del canpo                    e ser segudor,
“quien vos lo toller quisiere                    nol'vala el Criador,
“ca por vós e por el cavallo                    ondrados somos nós.”


The poet has accomplished what in reality was not possible. Menéndez Pidal surely recognized this when he wrote: “Pero Alfonso no tuvo la suficiente grandeza de alma para poder aprovechar a su invencible desterrado contra sus invencibles enemigos. ¡Dios qué buen señor si honrase al buen vasallo!18


  1. For a typology of these patterns and some tentative conclusions see A. D. Deyermond, “Structural and Stylistic Patterns in the Cantar de Mio Cid,” in Medieval Studies in Honor of Robert White Linker (Madrid: Castalia, 1973), pp. 55-71. The studies of Rita Hamilton and Edmund De Chasca are well known. Other examples are: P. A. Bly “Beards in the Poema de Mio Cid: Structural and Contextual Patterns,” FMLS [Forum for Modern Language Studies], 14 (1978), 16-24; Alan Deyermond and David Hook, “Doors and Cloaks: Two Image-Patterns in the Cantar de Mio Cid,MLN [Modern Language Notes], 94 (1979), 366-67; Patricia E. Grieve, “Shelter as an Image Pattern in the Cantar de Mio Cid,La corónica, 8 (Fall, 1979), 44-49.

  2. A. D. Deyermond, “Structural and Stylistic Patterns,” p. 55.

  3. Pedro Salinas, “El Cantar de Mio Cid (Poema de la honra),” in Ensayos de literatura hispánica, 3rd ed. (Madrid: Aguilar, 1967), pp. 27-44. In light of the Cid's military victories and growing honor, Salinas notes: “Falta aún el reconocimiento supremo. El rey es la cabeza de esa sociedad de la honra; él da y quita honor, él pone y depone honrados” (p. 35).

  4. Gustavo Correa, “El tema de la honra en el Poema de Mio Cid,HR [Hispanic Review], 20 (1952), 185-99.

  5. Edmund De Chasca, “The King-Vassal Relationship in El Poema de mio Cid,HR, 21 (1953), 183-92. In the following explanation De Chasca quotes from Correa's article: “The honor of the Cid never reaches nor can it ever reach ‘la misma altura de la de señor,’ not even when the second marriage of his daughters makes him the relative of the kings of Spain, because a king-emperor, like a star, dwells apart in awesome loneliness, as may be seen by the words which Correa himself quotes from don Juan Manuel's Libro de los estados” (p. 187).

    While Don Juan Manuel's Libro de los estados apparently lends itself to this discussion, the theoretical nature of the book should not be overlooked. Moreover, his hostile relations with Fernando IV and Alfonso XI can be considered to be at variance with his theoretical assessment of the estate of king and emperor. Don Juan Manuel never considered himself far removed from kings nor did he allow the stature of a king to threaten his personal honor. The justification of his break with Alfonso XI is reflected in the Libro de los estados: “Et don Johan dizía que fasta que oviese emienda del mal que reçibiera et fincase con onra que lo non faría [i.e., negotiate]; ca lo quel pasava con los suyos o que perdía, o quanto mal le benía, que todo era danno o pérdida mas non desonra, et que él se tenía por uno de los que eran para ser muertos mas non desonrados” (Libro de los estados, ed. R. B. Tate and I. R. Macpherson [Oxford, 1974], p. 132).

  6. Julio Rodríguez-Puértolas, “El Poema de Mio Cid: Nueva Épica y Nueva Propaganda,” in “Mio CidStudies ed. A. D. Deyermond (London: Tamesis, 1977), pp. 141-59.

  7. Edmund De Chasca, “The King-Vassal Relationship,” p. 186: “It is not fitting to the epic form, the typical effect of which is to awaken admiration for the hero, to set up a more admirable person as a model for the protagonist.”

  8. Poema de Mio Cid, ed. Ian Michael (Madrid: Castalia, 1976), line 20. All quotations are from this edition with the line numbers indicated in the text.

  9. The importance attached to good counselors, and the contrast between Rodrigo's counselors and those of Alfonso (and the poet is clearly conscious of both) are not without historical bases. Nor does it detract from the Cid's position that Minaya initiates the gift-offering. On the contrary, good counselors reflect the qualities of their lords. Two passages from the Historia Roderici (Menéndez Pidal, La España del Cid, Madrid, 1929) document and illustrate well Rodrigo's use of counsel. The first deals with Rodrigo's generous release of hostages and ransom following the capture of Berenguer Ramón II el Fratricida, the Count of Barcelona (the italics are mine): “Cum itaque Rodericus hec videret, habito apud se suo consilio, pietatis intuitu motus, non solum eos ad terram suam liberos abire permisit, uerum etiam omnem redemptionem eisdem dimisit” (p. 945). In the second passage Rodrigo promises, after some reluctance and counsel, to establish friendly relations with the count despite past hostilities: “Militum itaque nobilium suorum consilio demum adquievit, et cum eo [i.e., the count] pacem habiturum se omnino promisit” (p. 946).

    Alfonso's poor choice of counselors is one of many contrastive devices employed by the poet. Yet it is also part and parcel of the historical tradition of the Cid. This is patent in the following passage from the Crónica Particular del Cid (cited by Menéndez Pidal, La España del Cid, pp. 950-50, n.1). Don Ramón considered, with justification, this passage to fill a lacuna in the Historia Roderici. Its conspicuous absence from the extant MSS of the Historia Roderici as well as the Primera crónica general is doubtlessly due to the chagrin it would cause the crown (the italics are mine): “E en este tiempo el rey de Aragón acordó de se ver con el Cid e hauer su amistad. Capítulo CLXI. Después desto el rey don Alfonso sacó muy grand hueste y fué sobre Valencia. E embió dezir a los castillos de la comarca que le diessen por cinco años el pecho que dauan al Cid. E desque el Cid esto supo, embió dezir al rey que se marauillaua de su merced quererle deshonrrar, que fiaua en Dios que presto conoscería el mal consejo que le dauan los que cerca dél estauan.

  10. Among the advice to king and counselor we can cite strophes 614 and 700 (BAE [Biblioteca de Autores Españoles], v. 57, pp. 444-47):

    614. Otrosi en su consejo aya onbres onrrados,
                        Ançianos, caualleros e notables prelados,
                        Buenos omnes maduros, dotores e letrados,
                        Estén cabe su estrado, todos bien asentados.
    700. Por ende se avise qualquier que consejero
                        Fuere de algunt prinçipe, que sea verdadero,
                        Que non sea cruel, nin falso nin lisonjero,
                        E miénbrase sobre todo que Dios es justiçiero.
  11. “Et así los enperadores, et aun todos los grandes señores, la cosa del mundo por que más deve fazer es por guardar su onra. Et quando por esto les acaesçe de aver guerra, conviene que faga muchas cosas para se parar a ella: lo primero que punne de aver mucha gente et buena, et que faga quanto pudieren por que sean pagados dél” (Libro de los estados, pp. 132-33). Rodrigo's treatment of his men is visible a number of times in the CMC and forms part of the general theme of largesse. For example:

    Grant á el gozo Mio Çid                    con todos sos vassallos,
    dio a partir estos dineros                    e estos averes largos;
    en la su quinta al Çid                    caen çiento cavallos.
    ¡Dios, qué bien pagó                    a todos sus vassallos,
    a los peones                    e a los encavalgados!
    Bien lo aguisa                    el que en buen ora nasco,
    quantos él trae                    todos son pagados.


  12. At this point, we can benefit, once again, from Deyermond's observation that the “CMC depends to a large extent on patterns of gradation and climax, of association and contrast. Gradation is the most important thematically (for the main theme of the poem is the decline and restoration of the Cid's honour)” (“Structural and Stylistic Patterns,” p. 55).

  13. Michael's edition reads: “E servir lo he siempre” mientra que ovisse el alma. (An apparent erratum.)

  14. Roger Walker, “The Role of the King and the Poet's Intentions in the Poema de Mio Cid,” in Medieval Hispanic Studies Presented to Rita Hamilton (London: Tamesis, 1976), pp. 257-66.

  15. This is based largely on the Historia Roderici. See Geoffrey West, “King and Vassal in History and Poetry: A Contrast between the Historia Roderici and the Poema de Mio Cid,” in “Mio CidStudies, pp. 195-208.

  16. C. M. Bowra, Heroic Poetry (1952; rpt. London: Macmillan, 1964), p. 157.

  17. Thomas Montgomery, “The Poema de Mio Cid: Oral Art in Transition,” in “Mio CidStudies, p. 112.

  18. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Castilla, la tradición y el idioma, (Buenos Aires: Espasa-Calpe, 1945), p. 164.

Ruth H. Webber (essay date 1986)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9394

SOURCE: Webber, Ruth H. “The Cantar de mio Cid: Problems of Interpretation.” In Oral Tradition in Literature: Interpretation in Context, edited by John Miles Foley, pp. 65-88. Columbia, Ms.: University of Missouri Press, 1986.

[In the following essay, Webber considers whether the Cantar de mio Cid is part of the oral tradition or whether it was composed as a written text, surveying the main trends in scholarship on this and other related questions of composition and interpretation.]

What follows is an attempt to demonstrate what can happen to the interpretation of a work when there is a division of opinion among critics as to whether it is of oral traditional origin or composed in writing by a learned poet. The work in question is the Cantar de Mio Cid, Spain's only medieval epic that has come down to us in more or less complete form.

This is not meant to be a review of the traditionalist-individualist, or, if you will, neotraditionalist-neoindividualist, controversy that has centered around this epic poem, but rather an inquiry into the critical techniques applied and an assessment of their validity and of the premises on which they have been based in the most recent stages of this debate. In order to undertake such an inquiry, I have had to place myself in the uncomfortable position of taking issue with the conclusions of a number of capable and erudite scholars whose work I esteem. Because I am an unabashed traditionalist, my own bias has undoubtedly emerged despite my intention to present the problems as objectively as possible.

The great gaps in the history of the Spanish epic caused by a lamentable lack of extant texts have perforce given rise to hypothesis. The relation of these hypotheses to what we can ascertain about the few texts we do have is the subject of a considerable part of this essay. There is so much room for varying interpretations that disagreement manifests itself at every turn. The coincidence of the recent publication of Colin Smith's The Making of the “Poema de mio Cid,”1 which offers the most extreme statement to date concerning authorship and authorial intentionality in the poem, provides an appropriate focal point for much of this discussion. Colin Smith is a dedicated epic scholar whose every word merits close scrutiny and the evidence he amasses thorough consideration.

The Cantar de Mio Cid (CMC) tells first of the exile of the hero, the Cid, by King Alfonso VI, and his subsequent victories against the Moors culminating in the taking of Valencia, which brings about the king's pardon and the marriages of the Cid's daughters to the Infantes of Carrión. Then a family tragedy ensues. The Infantes, who have lost face by their cowardice, cruelly beat their wives by way of revenge and leave them for dead. After the rescue of the wives, the Cid, with the support of the king, successfully brings about the condemnation of the princes in court, after which they are gravely wounded in combat and the daughters are remarried to royal spouses.

The CMC is found in a mid-fourteenth-century manuscript that bears the date 1207. There has been prolonged discussion as to whether the date is that of the copy, that on which the text was committed to writing for the first time, or that of the composition of the work. Because of the curious spacing of the Roman numerals, which could indicate that a C had been removed, some theorize that the date should be 1307. Ramón Menéndez Pidal posited that the work was first put into writing around 1140.2 Against the persuasive array of arguments he assembled, there must be weighed considerable additional evidence, all of which inclines toward an early-thirteenth-century date for the single text we possess.3

For traditionalists, of whom Jules Horrent is a worthy spokesman, the date is an interesting but not significant archaeological fact, since our text was but one in a chain of successive versions.4 For individualists, however, it is critical, since for them it represents the date of composition. For Colin Smith, that composition was by the Per Abbat (Pedro Abad—Peter the Abbot) whose name appears in the explicit “Per Abbat le escriuio.” Smith argues, basing one hypothesis upon another, that since Pedro Abad was the first author of his kind and since he was trained as a lawyer, he would automatically have used the scripsit formula with which notaries customarily concluded their documents instead of the fecit, fiz, fizo, or compuso used to indicate authorship.5 Pursuant to this theory he searched for the name, which he deemed a patronymic, through countless archival documents. Among the many records of persons named Pedro Abad, he turned up one who in Carrión in 1223 presented at court, along with other documents, a forged diploma of 1075 in which ten out of the eighteen signatories were associated in some way with the Cid.6 Extraordinary as this fact is, there is still another that gives pause for thought. In the Libro de la montería, probably written at the behest of Alfonso XI (1312-1350), there appear topographical references to the “Cabeça de Per Abat” and the “Cabeça del Cid” in adjacent locations somewhere between Ávila and Toledo.7 Whether these are valid testimonials of authorship or merely reflect the popularity throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries of this version of the CMC to which the name of Pedro Abad was affixed cannot be determined.

Faced with the impasse of author versus copyist and original text versus one version out of many, the only recourse is to go back to the text itself. If the fourteenth-century manuscript is to be accepted as a reasonably faithful copy of the 1207 text, it has to be conceded at the same time that it contains a number of copyists' errors that indicate that it is several removes from the original. There are modifications in the language as well that are detrimental to the assonance, apparently resulting from the desire to update anachronisms, like muort › muert, which represent a pre-thirteenth-century linguistic stratum.8 In addition, the text gives evidence of more fundamental kinds of layering. We need only recall Menéndez Pidal's epoch-making study written when he was ninety, “Dos poetas en el Cantar de Mio Cid,” in which, based primarily on versification, he detected two different poetic traditions, one of which he assigned to a poet of Gormaz and the other to a poet of Medinaceli, or von Richthofen's scrutiny of the text that led him to declare that the middle section, the Cantar de bodas, was composed before the other two.9 Whether or not one accepts the interpretation of the evidence presented in support of either or both of these theories, they render untenable the proposition that the CMC as we have it emerged fresh from the pen of a professional poet in 1207.

This leads us in turn to a consideration of the difficulties that have arisen in the course of various kinds of analysis of the versification and the language of the poem.

In the earlier phases of Mio Cid studies, no aspect of the work was more rigorously debated than the nature of the Spanish epic two-hemistich verse of irregular length: whether it was a syllable-count line distorted by transcription, whether it was stress-timed, or whether it was simply irregular from the start. It is now generally conceded that the verses of the CMC are for the most part meant to be as they appear in the manuscript. Menéndez Pidal's target-count theory, by means of which he showed that the number of syllables in the hemistichs is, in order of frequency, 7, 8, 6, 9, and that in the verses, 14, 13, 15, has gained wide acceptance,10 although from time to time there appears a new adherent of the stress principle. Years ago Tomás Navarro Tomás demonstrated convincingly how the CMC could be intoned (or sung) on the basis of two beats per hemistich.11 Either the target-count or the stress principle is acceptable from the point of view of orally sung verse. In fact, they are two different ways of describing the same phenomenon, which seems not to have been perceived up to now.

Colin Smith is one who is convinced of the accentual base of the Mio Cid line.12 As a part of his contention that the poet composed his work in direct imitation of certain French epics, he credits Pedro Abad with having invented a new prosodic system that then became the model for all subsequent Spanish epic production. The use of assonance and laisse divisions was borrowed from French models, he believes, to form a system characterized by a variable number of stresses and by flexibility throughout, the result in many instances of converting French syntactical structures into Spanish.13 He weakens his argument, however, by insisting that Pedro Abad's system was experimental, hence somewhat defective.14 Logically it would then follow, since the other Spanish epic texts show the same form of versification, even the late Mocedades de Rodrigo, that they also are experimental and defective, or else they were also composed by Pedro Abad, which no one would care to argue.

It is quite conceivable that the French and Spanish epic verse had a common origin, whether derived from the Gothic tradition or from Latin popular verse, either one of which would have been stress-timed, and that the French evolved further into a syllable-count system with a fixed length of line, while the Spanish adhered more closely to its primitive roots and retained greater freedom throughout. Constant contacts along the medieval pilgrimage routes would have reinforced the similarities between the French and Spanish verse. There can be no disagreement with Colin Smith's characterization of Spanish epic versification, and his comments are much to the point concerning the apparent license in the Spanish laisse system with the practice, too frequent to be ignored, of intercalating in a series pairs of verses of a different assonance, which he accepts as a feature of the system.15 But to substitute for the concept of a Romance epic with regional variations the theory that the Spanish epic was invented by a single poet bent on translating the French system into Spanish distorts the whole process of medieval epic production and the chronology as well.

In recent years the acoustic qualities of the CMC have attracted the attention of several scholars. In 1972, Edmund de Chasca's study of internal rime in his El arte juglaresco en el Cantar de Mio Cid initiated a series of studies that took internal rime as a point of departure. Although de Chasca had always been a staunch advocate of Menéndez Pidal's neotraditionalism, this time he was more interested in extolling the aesthetic merits of internal rime, which is usually vowel rime only, than in assessing its role within the framework of oral song.16 He summed up his argument by saying (the translation is mine), “In our poem, internal rime seems to me to be always aesthetically satisfactory, whether instinctive … or by evident artistic purpose.”17 The very fact that he considered conscious artistic purpose to be a valid explanation reveals a disjunction between his announced position as an oralist and his working critical perspective.

According to de Chasca, 26.5 percent of the first hemistichs in the CMC show internal rime. This figure was subsequently modified and reduced (de Chasca was counting internal rime in alternate as well as contiguous verses) by Ian Michael to 17 percent, leaving the latter not at all convinced that internal rime was anything more than an accidental phenomenon.18 In a 1976 article Colin Smith stated his belief that the proportion of internal rime was too high to be the result of chance alone, claiming instead that it was one feature of an elaborate system of sound patterning.19 He developed his theory in a set of impressive analyses under the headings of rhythm, anticipation and repetition of stressed vowels, vowel sequences, leonine rime and assonance, alliteration, and the acoustic value of place names, all of which he considered to be the product of the creative artistry of an exceptionally gifted poet.

This study provoked a response from Kenneth Adams in which he also declared that the quantity of internal rime was significant.20 He analyzed leonine and internal assonance in terms of the frequency of certain vowel combinations in the language, reaching the conclusion that internal rime, in the CMC at least, suggests oral composition rather than deliberate artistic purpose. Adams continued with an appreciative analysis of several passages that are notable for their acoustic features and made an especially worthwhile contribution in his demonstration of how sound-linking is combined with other kinds of poetic devices.

Since both Smith and Adams demurred at trying to measure specific acoustic phenomena in the Mio Cid, I undertook to combine quantitative with qualitative analysis.21 Taking the first one hundred verses of the Cantar de bodas, the middle portion of the CMC, as the basis, I was able to identify and then tabulate seventeen phonic devices under the headings of end rime, second-hemistich acoustics, hemistich linking, first-hemistich acoustics, and consonantal alliteration, and to do the same for the one hundred verses of the Roncesvalles fragment, the only other Spanish epic text whose verses have survived in more or less their original state. The results from the analysis of the two texts are remarkably similar with one exception: the Roncesvalles poet preferred alliterative techniques to vowel harmonics for verse-linking purposes. The combined analyses reinforce Michael's and Adams's opinions that internal assonance has been accorded undue importance as an acoustic device. The analyses suggest that it would be more appropriate to view internal assonance as misplaced verse-end assonance. The singer, always mindful of the need to supply assonance at alternate break points, that is, at every other hemistich, lost track momentarily of which one was the verse break and assonated at the midverse caesura as well. This is borne out by the fact that internal assonance (or rime) sometimes occurs in runs of three, four, or five verses.22

If two different epic texts reveal the same kinds of acoustic enrichment and to almost the same degree, it is reasonable to conclude that extensive sound patterning is an essential feature of the Spanish epic tradition as well as of other epic traditions.23 However much the harmonics of the CMC please us, the poem is not unique in this respect. The text we have was indeed the product of a skilled and creative poet with a finely tuned musical ear; not one who had just developed a tentative new poetic system, but rather one versed in the age-old techniques of oral composition.

These studies have served to focus attention on the exceptionally euphonious qualities of the CMC and its elaborate sound system. For the individualist a technique that is so effective and at the same time so complex can only be accounted for by the genius of a single poet. But this is the hallmark of oral composition, which depends upon sound, making acoustic evidence among the most reliable for determining orality. The complexity beneath an appearance of simplicity of the CMC's sound system is the result of its having evolved intuitively by ear and then having been continually refined through performance.

It is unnecessary to reiterate here that epic formulas and epithets in particular have been the object of considerable scholarly attention in various epic traditions and have been shown to be the basic elements with which the oral poet composed his verses, the exact form of which at any given moment was linked to metrical needs. For Colin Smith the formulas of the CMC are a direct imitation of French epic style, and the epithets are the product of handling that was “thoughtful and sensitive and in no way automatic.”24 Other phrases like the recurrent epithet applied to the Cid, “el que en buen ora nasco” (he who was born in a good hour), for which there are no analogues in the French epic, were, in his opinion, original creations of the author.25 Smith is not alone in praising the appropriateness of the epithets in the CMC. Earlier Rita Hamilton, for example, had studied the epithets applied both to Martín Antolínez, the Cid's henchman, as well as to the Cid himself.26 She did not deny their utilitarian function but concluded that narrative reasons determined the choice of a specific epithet. The basis for the distinction in meaning, and therefore in use, between “el que en buen ora nasco” and “el que en buen ora çinxo espada” (he who girded on his sword in a good hour) according to Hamilton is that the latter alludes to the causes of tension between the Cid and the king, the Cid having been knighted by the king's brother Sancho before the latter was treacherously slain. The difficulty with this theory is that “el que en buen ora nasco” is the more frequently used of the two aforementioned full-hemistich formulas, since it can supply the Á, Í-O, and Ó assonances as well as Á-O with a change of the verb form to naçe, naçido, and naçio, respectively, while “el que en buen ora çinxo espada” can only serve in laisses assonating in Á-A.27 Therefore, in order to maintain that the sword-girding phrase was chosen because of its implicit historical allusion, one would first have to prove that a shift was made to the Á-A assonance in order to accommodate that particular epithet. This is not to say that there is no possibility of choice within the system. A third variant assonating in Ó, “el que Valençia gano” (he who won Valencia), appears several times in the second half of the poem as an alternate to “el que en buen ora naçio” after Valencia has fallen to the Cid, thus enabling the juglar to recall the hero's greatest achievement. There is no doubt that certain formulas were universal while others appear to have been the particular property of a given poet-singer, into which category many epithets fall.

De Chasca also succumbed upon occasion to the temptation of describing formulaic usage as a calculated poetic device attuned to its environment.28 He was gently chided for this by Stephen Gilman,29 and rightfully so, for Gilman was acknowledging thereby that he had been partner to the same fallacy several years before in his extended treatment of tense usage in the CMC.30

For most nontraditionalist critics as well as a few others like de Chasca and Gilman, the most disturbing problem is the apparently mechanistic nature of the oral poetic process. While de Chasca simply broke ranks with Milman Parry and Albert Lord in this regard, Gilman struggled to resolve the dilemma, saying, in reference to de Chasca: “It would have been more productive to begin by admitting the peculiarity of the Poema's insufficient formulaic frequency and irregular versification and to have gone on from there. But to where? … to the fundamental question of whether there is only one possible kind of oral composition for narrative poetry or whether … there may not be a plurality of species.”31 In another study published the same year on the language of the Spanish ballads, he came closer to a satisfactory solution when he stated that ballads are composed in “the grammar of another language poetically derived from the mother tongue.”32 He could and should have said the same for the epic. It is Colin Smith's reluctance to view Spanish epic language from this perspective that has made it impossible for him to extend the parameters and recognize that it is also true for French epic language, the grammar of which is more closely related to that of other epic traditions, the Spanish in particular, than it is to the vernacular of its own day. One manifestation of the resemblance between the poetic grammars of the French and Spanish epic is the use of many similar if not identical formulas, products of the same poetic need, along with other formulas that were undoubtedly borrowed back and forth, while still others did not cross linguistic frontiers, whatever the reasons may have been. To conceive that a poet setting out to write an epic poem should pick out here and there appropriate French epic formulas, either seen in writing or remembered from having heard them sung, translate them, and adapt them for use in a suitable prosodic as well as narrative environment so that they give the illusion of oral verse is to create a scenario that could never have existed.

The unwillingness of critics to recognize the subservience of poetic diction to metrical demands because it seems to imply a lack of artistic choice is also a question of perspective and of scale. Any language if analyzed far enough has a mechanistic base, as all language teachers know. Witness the paradigms we inflict on our students. The greater the complexity of the linguistic system and the more alternate subsystems there are, the less obvious this fact becomes. As we have seen, the choice between “el que en buen ora nasco” and “el que en buen ora çinxo espada” is mechanical, being determined by the prevailing assonance. But it is important to bear in mind that the choice is not made at that level. If the singer had begun his verse with the hero's name and the assonance is in Á-O, he could indeed conclude the verse with the first of the verbal phrases just mentioned, but he could also use a simpler epithet, a noun-adjective combination like “el Campeador contado” (the renowned champion). Or he could substitute another kind of verbal phrase denoting a reaction, like “fermoso sonrrisando” (smiling happily) or “de aquesto fue pagado” (he was satisfied with that); or an action to advance the story, such as “caualgo priuado” (he rode off quickly); or a short speech, like “esto fare yo de grado” (I will do this willingly); and so forth. In sum, the singer had innumerable options for his second hemistich, and his choice was determined both by how he wished to continue his story and by how it would sound.

In the question of the historicity of the CMC we have not progressed very far from the classic debate between Spitzer and Menéndez Pidal that took place some thirty-five years ago. The latter claimed that the Mio Cid was essentially a historical document and that further research would eventually reveal the veracity of every detail. Spitzer, on the other hand, insisted that the CMC dehistoricized or fictionalized a historical hero by placing him in a poetic frame that enhanced the legend.33 Menéndez Pidal believed that oral transmission preserved vestiges of historical details long since forgotten whose origin was in the events themselves; Spitzer argued that history was transmuted into a Christian crusade legend. Both were right.

Research has continued apace, and some individualists continue to seek out historical documentation to prove that the Cid poet had been a skilled archival scholar as well as a superb artist. Aside from a few aberrant cases like that of Ubieto Arteta, who hoped to establish that the CMC was the work of an Aragonese poet,34 there seems to have gradually emerged a consensus to the effect that historical facts quickly dissolved into a crucible of familiar names, places, and events in arbitrary relationships that created the illusion of historicity. For the traditionalist this is consistent with the process of folklorization also manifest in the evolution of the poem's narrative structure. For a latter-day individualist like Colin Smith, the Cid poet was a creative artist who felt no responsibility for recording the facts of history as he may have known them and felt free to adjust them for literary purposes.35 Yet at another point Smith asserted that the poet had informed himself about the basic facts of the Cid's life for his framework, perhaps from a written genealogy, and had made use as well of: the Historia Roderici, generally considered a factual account in Latin of the Cid's military exploits written contemporaneously with or shortly after they took place; the Cronicón de Cardeña (known only from a text of 1327), the annals of the monastery with which the Cid was associated in the poem; and possibly the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris, which contains the Poema de Almería, a Latin poem written between 1147 and 1157 that alludes to the Cid and Alvar Fáñez, the Cid's companion and counselor.36 The investigation of historical documents by the one who composed the Mio Cid and the free manipulation in terms of artistic purpose of the information thus acquired is a hypothesis not readily acceptable for a poet of around the year 1200. If these documents had been available to him and if he had made use of them, that fact would have been registered in some way.

As an adjunct to the question of historicity, there has arisen lately the matter of topicality, whether the text of the CMC in our possession contains allusions to the contemporary scene. Even Menéndez Pidal who, as we have seen, chose the date 1140 for the extant version did so thinking it might have been written down in honor of a politically critical royal espousal. One could question the appropriateness for an engagement celebration of a tale of treacherous sons-in-law, cruel beating of the brides, and dissolved marriages unless, of course, the version of the CMC in circulation at that time had ended with the marriages of the Cid's daughters to the Infantes.37 Once the idea of historical distortion in the CMC was acknowledged, the way was left open to consider the possibility of intentional manipulation of historical facts to reflect a later political situation.

Although Smith did not attach special significance to the date of 1207 for the composition of the poem beyond its being the date on the manuscript and generally acceptable on other accounts, he was tempted to search, without success, for important betrothals and marriages around this time.38 Additionally, he suggested as a reason for choosing as villains the princes of Carrión, who are documented as being in good grace in Alfonso VI's court during the critical period, a bitter mid-twelfth-century feud over possession of the abbey of San Pedro de Cardeña between the Spanish Benedictines and the Cluniacs, the counts of Carrión probably having been the supporters of the latter in their attempted takeover of Cardeña.39

The precise purpose of a recent book by María Eugenia Lacarra is to demonstrate that the CMC is a work of personal as well as political slander and propaganda.40 According to Lacarra, the poem was directed against the Castro family, related to and identified with the Leonese Beni-Gómez (the family of the villains of the CMC), who, in the last years of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, opposed the Laras, descendants of the Cid and supporters of the Castilian monarchy. Smith was not convinced by Lacarra's argument, declaring that the identification would have been too elusive for a contemporary audience.41 Additional opposition came from José Fradejas Lebrero in a recent essay accompanying an edition of the CMC put out by the city of Burgos as part of the celebration of the eleven-hundredth anniversary of the founding of that city.42 Although Fradejas also believes that the work was written for propagandistic purposes, he found the motivation to be less hermetic than did Lacarra. For him the epic was a response to a desperate need of the moment, that of inciting the Castilians to a vigorous renewal of the Reconquest after their disastrous defeat at Alarcos in 1195. Thus, the CMC proffers the model of the Cid's notable victories against the Moors one hundred years earlier and displays simultaneously the attractive rewards soldiers might expect from participating in such a crusade.43 Indeed, Castile and Navarre did join forces to definitely put to rout the forces of Islam in the battle of Navas de Tolosa in the year 1212. From the traditionalist point of view the writing down for the first time for such a purpose of a familiar oral epic long in circulation like the CMC is an acceptable theory. For Fradejas, however, the poem was composed at this juncture by a learned poet affecting popular style.44

In recent years there have been two persistent theories concerning the structural base of the CMC, one involving the relations between the king and his vassal concerning the question of honor, and the other involving the biographical pattern of the hero. The king-vassal structure, perhaps best elucidated by Peter Dunn and by Roger Walker, accords the king the pivotal role.45 In these terms the first half of the poem has to do with the loss and regaining of royal favor and the second with the successful testing of the king after his ill-fated decision to marry the Cid's daughters to the Infantes of Carrión. According to the biographical theory, the CMC is a two-part story that focuses on the hero. The first part is his exile and triumphant return; the second, the loss of his honor leading to its ultimate enhancement in a double victory, juridical and moral, over his villainous sons-in-law. Although the CMC chronicles only the latter part of the Cid's life, the triumphs of the aging hero, the degree to which the Cid's life came to be assimilated into the heroic canon can be best appreciated in the Mocedades de Rodrigo, a fourteenth-century epic about the youthful feats of the Cid.46 According to either theory, it is, in Proppian terms, a narrative of two moves. The heroic pattern has the advantage of allowing us to see the parts as two different plots. The first is the trajectory of the Cid himself, who goes from disfavor, exile, and poverty to wealth, fame, and pardon in that order. The second, the result of gemination, is the inverse of the former with the Infantes as protagonists who fall from pride, wealth, and esteem to public shame with concomitant loss of fortune and status, making the Cid's daughters the vicarious victims.47

In all attempts at structural analysis of the CMC, the concern has been to reconcile the dichotomy between the story of the Cid's conquests, with its origin in real-life events, and the story of the daughters' fateful marriages, a product of fiction. Since the discussions about the latter have bulked so large in Mio Cid criticism and have led to such widely differing interpretations, it is appropriate to review them here. The sadistic punishment and then abandonment in the wilds of the Cid's daughters by their cowardly husbands, the Infantes of Carrión, who sought to avenge in this way imagined insults by the Cid, have been attributed to various sources: to Lupercalian rites by Gifford; to virgin-martyr legends by Walsh, a theory recently supported by Nepaulsingh; while, according to Walker, it is a direct imitation of Florence de Rome, a French chanson d'aventure.48 Walker's theory has caused some dissension in the ranks of the individualists, since any claim of direct borrowing must be confirmed by textual chronology. A. D. Deyermond and David Hook assembled evidence to show that Florence de Rome was composed later than the 1200 date claimed by Walker.49 Smith defended Walker's assertion, saying that the Florence may well have been known in some earlier form now lost,50 employing the same argument he rejected when applied by the traditionalists to earlier stages of the epic for which no texts remain.

Chronology aside, medieval tales of battered women are numerous.51 The victims tend to fall into two categories: those who were punished by their husbands because of false accusations of adultery and those whom an evil brother-in-law sought to rape out of revenge. The afrenta episode of Mio Cid combines features of both in that the daughters are maltreated by their husbands who wish to avenge themselves on the Cid. Furthermore, these stories, which are all similar, are distinguishable from one another by one or more telling details. In Berte aus grans piés, it is a physical deformity, the size of the heroine's feet, while in Florence it is her chastity brooch and the fact she is hung by her hair. The resemblance with the CMC story is generic rather than specific, which suggests all these tales came out of a common store of thematic material in oral circulation throughout Romania and beyond. This is why the individualists who keep seeking textual parallels can only find them scattered widely throughout a number of texts.52

The same could be said about other parallels drawn between the French and the Spanish epic under the assumption that the direction of influence was across the Pyrenees from north to south, even though the counter direction can be documented as well. French epics cited as the source for Mio Cid borrowings include: Ogier for the scene of the Cid's departure from Bivar, Doon de la Roche for his arrival in Burgos, the Couronnement de Louis for Jimena's prayer, the Chanson de Roland for the appearance of the archangel, Berte aus grans piés for the Cid's family viewing Valencia from the castle heights as well as for the lion episode, the Roland for the courtroom scene, and so forth.53 Colin Smith does not believe that the Cid poet necessarily consulted French epic manuscripts, but rather that he “combined and recreated, taking hints and producing echoes, always his own man with his own story to tell. This suggests that he composed from the resources of a rich memory and of a poetic imagination in which French materials had been molded anew and recombined”—all of which would have amounted to a description of oral poetic processes had Smith not added as his final words: “before he ever set pen to parchment.”54

More of the same can be said for the other stories that have been assimilated into the Cid's adventures, for example, the ruse of the richly decorated chests filled with sand that the Cid pawned on the eve of his departure into exile for money to support himself and his men. Another version, as is well known, is found in the Disciplina clericalis of Pedro Alfonso,55 a contemporary of the Cid, in which the protagonist is a pilgrim returning from Mecca who has to deceive the man with whom he left his money for safekeeping in order to get it back. Despite the great popularity of Pedro Alfonso's Latin story collection and the fact that manuscripts are to be found in libraries all over Europe, given the discrepancies between the two versions, it is easier to believe that the Cid poet could have come to know it through oral sources than that he knew it from a manuscript of Pedro Alfonso's work, as Colin Smith theorizes.56

Latin as well as French sources play an important role in the individualists' arguments, one of the most controversial of which involves the description of battles and military tactics. In 1975 Colin Smith proposed that the Cid's taking of Castejón by luring the inhabitants out of town and of Alcocer by pretending to march away and then doubling back had their sources in Sallust and Frontinus respectively.57 Except for the epithets, there is probably no aspect of the traditional epic that has been more thoroughly examined by scholars than the theme of the battle, both as a total pattern and its individual phases, even broken down as far as the single lance or sword stroke.58 The universality of the theme with its many associated motifs found from Homer through present-day Serbo-Croatian songs is impressive.

It is obvious that medieval epic battles do not reflect the then current forms of warfare. The power of tradition as a force against change was greater than that of new techniques of fighting. Sallust's account of Marius's taking the town of Capsa in Numidia and Frontinus's of a military action of Crassius in the Slave War have much in common with the accounts of the CMC. However, the Belgian historian Louis Chalon, after scrutinizing the evidence put forth by Smith in favor of the Sallust source, concluded that the comparison was too imprecise and the contexts too different to be valid.59 More recently Fradejas cited Berceo's Vida de Santo Domingo de Silos (verses 732-39) and a passage from Judges 9:42-45 that recounts Abimelec's taking of Siquem as more likely sources than Sallust for the Castejón maneuver. Concerning the Alcocer battle, he recalled the similarity of Dozy's description of Ferdinand I's attack against Valencia in 1064 (based on Ben Bassám, a contemporary Arab chronicler), which reports the same tactic to entice the inhabitants to leave the city.60 In short, these same military ruses have been used and reused since time immemorial. The attempts to pinpoint a single textual source are unsatisfactory given the differences of detail and the obvious fact that they all represent variants of traditional battle patterns.

The foregoing areas of scholarly investigation in the CMC have all led to a similar dichotomy of opinion between those defending oral traditional origin and those favoring learned authorship. The single argument that Colin Smith has employed most to combat the theory of oral composition goes as follows (I quote from his concluding chapter): “Oralist critics who … rightly analyse the poem in terms of high art and sophistication should, I think, ponder an awesome logical impasse: can all of this complex composition really have been improvised by a chanting illiterate?”61

The bugaboo of illiteracy appears to be primarily the product of the Serbo-Croatian analogue. No one denies that in an illiterate society that is an enclave of a literate society the intrusion of literacy or even of secondary orality via radio and television is capable of inhibiting and then finally destroying oral art forms. Hence the sad fact that in the Hispanic world as in the South Slavic the sung ballad is gradually disappearing. This was not the case in the medieval world. Medieval Spanish society, no different from other medieval European societies, was illiterate, but illiteracy did not necessarily have adverse cultural implications because it did not exist alongside of or in competition with a literate society in the same way. Those who wanted to learn to read and write did so in Latin. Many cultured people did not feel that this was a necessity because they always had at hand someone to read and write for them. Just as Latin was not a spoken language except in the Church, the Romance tongues were not generally being written, except unknowingly by a few ill-trained notaries who thought they were writing Latin. Up to the end of the twelfth century in Spain there would have been no detrimental influences on oral traditional poetry comparable to those found in modern society; there would have been only other oral models. There was, in addition, nothing to prevent a minstrel from learning to read and write Latin, and doubtless some did since they came from all walks of life. The learning acquired thereby would probably have had no effect upon his linguistic prowess and poetic skills in the vernacular, although a certain amount of content could easily have seeped through. By the same token, reworkers of a text like the CMC once it was written down could conceivably have been able to make emendations in traditional style from their own oral memory without their literacy in Latin contaminating the results.

Let us suppose, nonetheless, that the poet/singer of our text was illiterate, hence without access to Latin schooling. What might he have been expected to know? In a fragmented society in which the individual's social mobility was severely restricted, the minstrels played a special role. They were professional entertainers who circulated freely and found eager audiences among all social classes, from the royal court down to the lowliest hamlet. Among them the singers of epic songs and of saints' lives formed a class apart and enjoyed more esteem than most of their cohorts,62 esteem that would have brought with it access to the more cultivated segments of society. Through the breadth of their experience and many and varied contacts with both their own countrymen and pilgrims from abroad, they would have acquired a store of knowledge far beyond that of the average person. But here Deyermond would object, saying: “It is very doubtful whether this [learned authorship] can be adequately disposed of by the theory of a juglar who picked up some ecclesiastical and legal knowledge from his audience, … since what is involved is not specific pieces of knowledge but habits of mind which could only be the result of long training.”63 Deyermond underscored the two areas in which the individualists find the strongest evidence in favor of a learned poet as author of the CMC, knowledge of the Bible and knowledge of the law. Both are problematic from the traditionalist point of view.

Even Fradejas, who is willing to give oral and written culture equal weight in the elaboration of the Mio Cid, nevertheless categorized the Bible solely as a learned source.64 Some progress has been made in dispelling this idea by making known the familiarity that all social classes had with the Bible from oral teaching; preaching in the vernacular; the “people's Bible,” that is, forms of pictorial representation like paintings on church walls, sculptured scenes, crèches, tableaux;65 and the incorporation of biblical accounts along with saints' lives into the mass of storytelling materials in oral circulation.

Concerning Jimena's prayer, in which the specific biblical content is dense, the fact that the poet simply combined in his own way a series of prayer formulas repeatedly used in the medieval epic tells us nothing about his biblical knowledge per se, nor does it carry any implications about related learned sources, as Colin Smith suggested.66 A more open view is shown by David Hook in his discussion of the lion episode, when he admitted that the similarities with Matthew 8:23-27 might well be unconscious or even fortuitous.67 In the matter of biblical phraseology in the CMC, Colin Smith's arguments are plausible.68 They bring to mind Walter Ong's statement about the overwhelming orality of the mindset in the Bible, which when read aloud at liturgical services, even though imperfectly understood, could have imposed its patterns upon a receptive ear.69 The whole problem of direct and indirect biblical influence calls for further exploration.

The question of medieval man's knowledge of the law is no more easily resolved. The great capacity and efficiency of memory in an oral culture are axiomatic. In medieval society, as in any society, a certain amount of specific legal knowledge was necessary for survival in a given milieu. At most social levels this information was imparted orally, and all would have had access to and familiarity with public legal procedures. The dispute has to do with whether the amount and kinds of legal expertise demonstrated by the Cid poet constitute a decisive proof of learned authorship.

Militating against the contention of the British Hispanists (and others as well) that the author of the CMC was a trained lawyer is what can be ascertained about the state of jurisprudence during the period the CMC is presumed to have been composed. In Spain the great medieval codes of law had not yet been compiled. Castile, where the old Visigothic code, the Forum judicum (Fuero juzgo), was never promulgated, virtually lived without laws until the thirteenth century, when very slowly they began to be written down.70 It was customary law that prevailed even where municipal charters (fueros) existed. Law was determined by usage and habit and preserved by oral transmission. It depended on personal testimony and the memory of the community as to what had been done in the past, thus being strictly local in character. The need for lawyers or for a legal profession in the modern sense had not yet arisen. The whole community participated in judicial procedures, which were public, and decisions were oral. As a matter of fact, the CMC itself gives testimony to the oral character of the legal process and to how legal knowledge was transmitted. Both the king and the Cid had in their retinue sabidores (verses 3005, 3070), and coñosçedores were designated for the Infantes' trial (verse 3137). These were men who knew the law and whose responsibility it was to distinguish right from wrong (verse 3138).

Lacarra's extensive and rigorous investigation of later codifications of the law under the assumption that they described usage already long in effect together with numerous royal documents revealed fundamental agreement with the CMC as to legal institutions, principles, and general procedures but continual discrepancies of detail, not only between the codes and our text but among the codes themselves as well. Although she was willing to conclude that the Cid poet's extensive knowledge of the law caused him to set up in juridical terms the narrative crises of his poem,71 it is not at all evident that this knowledge goes beyond what an alert minstrel would have routinely acquired during the course of his wanderings. It is even less clear how an educated poet could have gone about studying customary law in all of its manifestations should he have so desired.

A more productive perspective was offered by R. Howard Bloch. Bloch views both medieval vernacular literature and the customals as a reflection of a period of social transformation in which they played a part. A trial in a chanson de geste, for example, constituted “a ceremonial demonstration of the principles by which the community defined itself.”72 It was a mirror image of reality in which both reality and its fictive counterpart took the form of public performance. Bloch found chronicled in the epic the attempt by the king to suppress private wars of vengeance and replace trial by combat (judicium Dei) with judicial procedures, an important step in the long struggle by monarchy to curb the power of the nobility.

Within the frame of reference proposed by Bloch, the results of Lacarra's study of the CMC have a special pertinence. She brought out a fact that has not usually been recognized, that the Infantes of Carrión were brought to trial and found guilty, not of abandoning their wives, but of carrying out an act of private vengeance against the Cid.73 The triumph of public law over the right to take justice into one's own hands was a new concept that had only begun to manifest itself in late twelfth-century fueros. The outcome of the trial in the poem would then represent an early stage in the transition from private to public law, since, at the conclusion of the judicial proceedings, a trial by combat is called for and carried out. Such anomalies were not unusual, Bloch observed, during the prolonged process of change, later stages of which are reflected in the courtly romance. Lacarra also detected in the Mio Cid a condemnation of the institution of ira regia, the right of the king to execute summary justice on a noble, in this case the Cid himself, without the victim's being able to defend himself. No legal solution, however, is offered in the poem; only the implicit criticism of the injustice of the king's act based on slander. That this was another issue of moment is evidenced by decrees that came out of the Cortes of León in 1188 curtailing the arbitrary powers of the king in such instances.74

In a recent study of the Count of Barcelona episode in the CMC, Ivy Corfis followed Bloch's lead and, after consulting the same French customals, concluded that the count's hunger strike after his ignominious defeat by the Cid had legal implications.75 Although her evidence is very suggestive, it unfortunately cannot be taken as proof since the validity of customary law (usus terrae) is by definition restricted as to time and place.

Other passages cited as evidence of the more than fortuitous legal expertise of the Cid poet include the detailing by a little girl before the Cid's barred door in Burgos of the penalties to be imposed by the king should anyone render him assistance. Yet the interdiction and its violation are recurrent folklore motifs. A similar proclamation by the king in a late twelfth-century French epic, Floovant, forbidding the vassals to give his son silver, gold, arms, horses, or food under threat of losing their lands and possessions and having their arms and legs chopped off is an almost exact counterpart of the Mio Cid passage except for the substitution of limbs for eyes.76 Other counterparts can be found in the Spanish ballads.

Even in default of all of the foregoing, the whole argument in favor of a learned legal foundation is undercut by the failure to take into account a vital legal point that would have involved both civil and canon law: how the Cid's daughters were free to remarry while their husbands were still alive. Colin Smith passed over it quickly.77 Lacarra faced the dilemma but was unable to supply documentation resolving the conjugal tangle, leaving it to be deduced that abandonment was sufficient cause for the dissolution of a marriage.78 Once more it is demonstrated that what is represented in our text goes back to matters of custom and precedent.

As for the problem of the informed, responsible interpretation of the Cantar de Mio Cid, it is apparent that the most informed minds are unable to reconcile their differences and reach a consensus as to what that interpretation should be. We are grateful that the battle of the critics has stimulated some fine research in a number of specialized areas. At the same time, it has not infrequently confused the issues and changed investigative strategies to combative ones, causing objective scholarship to be temporarily lost in the jousting. The intensity of the debate has drawn attention away from equally challenging problems, among them that of defining the aesthetics of oral poetry, which I should like to see once more come to the forefront of scholarly discussion and investigation.


  1. Colin Smith, The Making of the “Poema de mio Cid” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

  2. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Cantar de Mio Cid (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1944), 1:22.

  3. For an excellent summary of the dating question from Menéndez Pidal on, see Derek W. Lomax, “The Date of the Poema de Mio Cid,” in “Mio Cid” Studies, ed. A. D. Deyermond (London: Tamesis, 1977), pp. 73-81.

  4. Jules Horrent, Historia y poesía en torno al “Cantar del Cid” (Barcelona: Ariel, 1973), pp. 310-11.

  5. Colin Smith, Estudios cidianos (Madrid: Planeta, 1977), pp. 17-19.

  6. Ibid., pp. 26-28.

  7. Smith, The Making, p. 69.

  8. Menéndez Pidal, Cantar, 1:28-33.

  9. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, “Dos poetas en el Cantar de Mio Cid” in En torno al Poema del Cid (Barcelona: E.D.H.A.S.A., 1963), pp. 140-44; Erich von Richthofen, Nuevos estudios épicos medievales (Madrid: Gredos, 1970), pp. 144-46.

  10. Menéndez Pidal, Cantar, 1:86-103.

  11. Tomás Navarro Tomás, Métrica española (New York: Las Americas, 1966), p. 35.

  12. The Making, pp. 113-14.

  13. Ibid., pp. 114-16.

  14. Ibid., pp. 106-7.

  15. Ibid., p. 109.

  16. Edmund de Chasca, El arte juglaresco en el “Cantar de Mio Cid,” 2d ed. (Madrid: Gredos, 1972), 219-36.

  17. Ibid., p. 224.

  18. Ian Michael, review of El arte juglaresco by de Chasca, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 45 (1968): 310-13.

  19. Colin Smith, “On Sound-Patterning in the Poema de mio Cid,Hispanic Review 44 (1976): 224-25.

  20. Kenneth Adams, “Further Aspects of Sound-Patterning in the Poema de mio Cid,Hispanic Review 48 (1980): 450.

  21. Ruth House Webber, “The Euphony of the Cantar de Mio Cid” in Florilegium Hispanicum: Medieval and Golden Age Studies Presented to Dorothy Clotelle Clarke (Madison, 1983), pp. 45-60.

  22. See de Chasca's statistics, El arte juglaresco, p. 221.

  23. See, for example, the study of Albert B. Lord, “The Role of Sound Patterns in Serbo-Croatian Epic,” in For Roman Jakobson (The Hague: Mouton, 1956), pp. 301-5.

  24. The Making, p. 194.

  25. Ibid., p. 195.

  26. Rita Hamilton, “Epic Epithets in the Poema de mio Cid,Revue de Littérature Comparée 36 (1962): 161-78.

  27. Ruth H. Webber, “Un aspecto estilístico del Cantar de Mio Cid,Anuario de Estudios Medievales 2 (1965): 491-92.

  28. El arte juglaresco, pp. 168-69.

  29. Stephen Gilman, “The Poetry of the Poema and the Music of the Cantar,Philological Quarterly 51 (1972): 6-7.

  30. Stephen Gilman, Tiempo y formas temporales en el “Poema del Cid” (Madrid: Gredos, 1961).

  31. Gilman, “The Poetry of the Poema,” p. 7.

  32. Stephen Gilman, “On Romancero as a Poetic Language,” in Homenaje a Casalduero: crítica y poesía (Madrid: Gredos, 1972), p. 153.

  33. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Prologue to Poema de Mio Cid (Madrid: Clásicos Castellanos, 1913), pp. 14-27; Leo Spitzer, “Sobre el carácter histórico del Cantar de mio Cid,Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica 2 (1948): 105-17. Menéndez Pidal answered Spitzer, modifying his stand somewhat, in “Poesía e historia en el Mio Cid,Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica 3 (1949): 113-29.

  34. Antonio Ubieto Arteta, “El Cantar de mio Cid” y algunos problemas históricos (Valencia, 1973), “Conclusiones,” pp. 87-92.

  35. The Making, p. 137.

  36. Ibid., pp. 140-49.

  37. Erich von Richthofen, Nuevos estudios, pp. 145-46. Von Richthofen proposed that the original Cantar was composed of the present Cantar de bodas minus the weddings.

  38. The Making, pp. 212-13.

  39. Ibid., pp. 175-76.

  40. María Eugenia Lacarra, “El Poema de Mio Cid”: realidad histórica e ideología (Madrid: Porrúa Turanzas, 1980).

  41. Colin Smith, review of “El Poema” by Lacarra, Modern Language Review 76 (1981): 716-19.

  42. José Fradejas Lebrero, “Intento de comprensión del Poema de Mio Cid,” in Poema de Mio Cid (Burgos: Ayuntamiento, 1982), 2:245-87.

  43. Ibid., pp. 248-57, 270-72.

  44. Ibid., p. 245.

  45. Peter N. Dunn, “Levels of Meaning in the Poema de mio Cid,Modern Language Notes 85 (1970): 109-19; Roger M. Walker, “The Role of the King and the Poet's Intentions in the Poema de mio Cid” in Medieval Hispanic Studies Presented to Rita Hamilton, ed. A. D. Deyermond (London: Tamesis, 1976), pp. 257-66.

  46. See Archer Taylor, “The Biographical Pattern in Traditional Narrative,” Journal of the Folklore Institute 1 (1964): 114-29.

  47. Dunn also called attention to the journey in reverse as “an infamous parody” (“Levels of Meaning,” pp. 112-13).

  48. Douglas J. Gifford, “European Folk-Tradition and the Afrenta de Corpes” in “Mio Cid” Studies, ed. A. D. Deyermond (London: Tamesis, 1977), pp. 49-62; John K. Walsh, “Religious Motifs in Early Spanish Epic,” Revista Hispánica Moderna 36 (1970-1971): 156-72; Colbert I. Nepaulsingh, “The Afrenta de Corpes and the Martyrological Tradition,” Hispanic Review 51 (1983): 205-21; Roger M. Walker, “A Possible Source for the Afrenta de Corpes,” in Medieval Hispanic Studies Presented to Rita Hamilton, ed. A. D. Deyermond (London: Tamesis, 1976), pp. 335-47.

  49. A. D. Deyermond and David Hook, “The Afrenta de Corpes and Other Stories,” La Corónica 10 (1981-1982): 12-37.

  50. The Making, p. 163.

  51. See Ruth H. Webber, review of two articles by Walker, Olifant 7 (1979-1980): 413-16.

  52. Smith, The Making, pp. 161-64.

  53. Colin Smith, “Further French Analogues and Sources for the Poema de mio Cid,La Corónica 6 (1977-1978): 14-21, and The Making, pp. 158-66.

  54. The Making, p. 157.

  55. Pedro Alfonso, Disciplina clericalis, ed. and trans. Angel González Palencia (Madrid: Editorial Maestre, 1948), no. 15, “Ejemplo de los diez cofres,” pp. 38-40 (Latin), 133-36 (Spanish).

  56. The Making, p. 155.

  57. Colin Smith, “Literary Sources of Two Episodes in the Poema de mio Cid,Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 52 (1975): 109-22, and Estudios cidianos, pp. 109-23.

  58. See Jean Rychner, La Chanson de geste: Essai sur l'art épique des jongleurs (Geneva, 1955), pp. 139-41.

  59. Louis Chalon, “Le poète du Cantar de mio Cid s'est-il inspiré de Salluste?” Le Moyen Âge, 4e serie, 33 (1978): 479-90.

  60. “Intento de comprensión,” pp. 282-84.

  61. The Making, p. 216.

  62. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Poesía juglaresca y orígenes de las literaturas románicas (Madrid, 1957), p. 38.

  63. A. D. Deyermond, “Tendencies in ‘Mio Cid’ Scholarship, 1943-1973,” in “Mio Cid” Studies, ed. A. D. Deyermond (London: Tamesis, 1977), p. 23.

  64. “Intento de comprensión,” p. 282.

  65. R. L. P. Milburn, “The ‘People's Bible’: Artists and Commentators,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible, ed. G. W. H. Lampe (Cambridge: The University Press, 1969), 2: chap. 7.

  66. The Making, pp. 160-61.

  67. David Hook, “Some Observations upon the Episode of the Cid's Lion,” Modern Language Review 71 (1976): 554-55.

  68. The Making, pp. 185, 199.

  69. Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (London and New York: Methuen, 1982), p. 75.

  70. Galo Sánchez, “Para la historia de la redacción del antiguo derecho territorial castellano,” Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español 6 (1929): 262.

  71. El “Poema,” p. 96.

  72. R. Howard Bloch, Medieval French Literature and Law (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), pp. 8, 3.

  73. El “Poema,” p. 99.

  74. Ibid., p. 98.

  75. Ivy A. Corfis, “The Count of Barcelona Episode and French Customary Law in the Poema de Mio Cid,La Corónica 12 (1984): 169-77.

  76. Floovant: chanson de geste, ed. F. Guessard and H. Michelant (Paris, 1859), verses 147-53.

  77. The Making, p. 79.

  78. El “Poema,” p. 57.

Principal Works

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Chronicle of the Cid (translated by Robert Southey) 1808

Poem of the Cid. 3 vols. (translated by Archer M. Huntington) 1907-08

The Lay of the Cid (translated by R. S. Rose and L. Bacon) 1919

Tale of the Warrior Lord (translated by Merriam Sherwood) 1930

Poems of the Cid (translated by Lesley B. Simpson) 1957

The Poem of the Cid (translated by W. S. Merwin) 1959

Poema de mio Cid (translated by Colin Smith) 1972

The Poem of the Cid (translated by Rita Hamilton and Janet Perry) 1975

Poem of My Cid (translated and edited by Peter Such and John Hodgkinson) 1987

Poem of the Cid (translated by Paul Blackburn, edited by George Economou) 1998

John S. Miletich (essay date spring 1987)

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SOURCE: Miletich, John S. “Folk Literature, Related Forms, and the Making of the Poema de mio Cid.La Corónica 15, no. 2 (spring 1987): 186-96.

[In the following excerpt, Miletich critiques Colin Smith's seminal study of the Cantar de mio Cid, pointing out that more attention needs to be paid to the folk traditions that may have influenced the poem.]

There is a great deal to applaud in Colin Smith's The Making of the Poema de Mio Cid1 (not the least of which is his vast erudition), particularly if one has argued for the written composition of the Poema de Mio Cid. However, that it was, as Smith states, “the first epic to be composed in Castilian … and that it did not depend on any precedents or existing tradition of epic verse in Castilian or other Peninsular language or dialect” makes his recent book, as he himself states, a bold book indeed (p. 1). It is not my intention within the scope of the present schematic study to set forth in detail all of my objections to Smith's proposals. I shall, however, attempt to outline some of the more crucial questions that, in my opinion, require closer scrutiny in Smith's elaboration of the statement quoted above, and I shall do so in the light of folk literature and forms related to it.

In his discussion of Hispano-Romance lyric poetry, Smith touches on the fundamental problem of the relation of folk lyric genres to learned lyric genres—“the mingling of courtly or learned and popular elements in lyric” (p. 21)—but does not, in my opinion, take this relation far enough. A closer investigation of the nature of this interdependence can shed further light on the degrees of dependence of various learned lyric genres on a folk lyric tradition with important implications for a similar dependence in the vernacular narrative tradition.

For example, Smith recognizes that “Only in Galicia and in what became (after 1139) the kingdom of Portugal was a popular tradition of lyric and perhaps of dance taken up by literate poets and musicians … from the late twelfth into the fourteenth century. … Within [that school of poetry] strong native habits such as the distinctive parallelistic structures of the cantigas d'amigo can be recognised as prime features” (p. 20; emphasis mine). The characteristic parallelism of the cantigas d'amigo, which, I reiterate, Smith admits as prime, is held by Alan D. Deyermond to be “one of the clearest indications of the popular origin of the cantigas d'amigo.2 Furthermore, Francisco Rico, in his article on the mid-twelfth-century parallelistic song about Zorraquin Sancho, a folk song in his view (pp. 553-57), considers the double parallelistic strophe, the form in which he casts the song (p. 546), as the célula madre of cancioneiro poetry (p. 560);3 and, it should be noted, Smith himself suggests the possibility that such songs about the Cid may also have existed very early on, although he does not refer to them specifically as folk songs (pp. 63-64).

Although Smith does not elaborate further on what other “strong native habits … of the cantigas d'amigo can be recognised as prime features” in addition to parallelism, a cursory glance at the Galician-Portuguese examples in Deyermond's literary history of medieval Spain (pp. 15-20) reveals in these songs about women's love the atmosphere of a folk culture common to that of European folk lyric in general (e.g., Fran Kurelac's Croatian Jačke).4 In short, we have here a learned genre, but one that appears to draw heavily on the subject matter, social setting, stylistic features, and meter of what we can with some assurance surmise is an authentic lyric folk genre. We might designate such learned poetry as a “quasi-folk style” genre, very close to the style of folk lyric and extensively marked with its features, but at the same time different from it.

In Smith's discussion of the Razón de amor con los denuestos del agua y el vino, again in the context of the mingling of the popular and the culto traditions, he rightly stresses what he perceives as learned elements while at the same time recognizing “features … from the tradition of popular song” (p. 21). However, he does not go far enough in noting a fundamental difference in the use of the folk tradition in the Razón de amor when compared to the parallelistic cantigas d'amigo. In the Razón, we have basically a courtly framework into which elements of the folk tradition are embedded here and there so that the differences between the courtly overall structure and specific uses of the folk tradition within that organizing framework are pointed up (incidentally, I do not agree on a number of points with Margaret Van Antwerp's interesting analysis of the Razón de amor, but this is not the occasion for voicing my objections).5 We can, then, characterize the style of the Razón de amor con los denuestos del agua y el vino as a “sophisticated-learned style” which draws to some extent on a folk tradition.

In summary, if we posit as a left pole a folk lyric tradition and at the right pole a highly learned lyric tradition that is unmarked by folk elements, we can situate the parallelistic cantigas d'amigo close to the left pole and the Razón de amor con los denuestos del agua y el vino close to the right pole. In between the cantigas d'amigo and the Razón, we may further be able to identify an “elementary-learned style,” in which the folk elements are less pronounced than in the quasi-folk style poems but more so than in the sophisticated-learned style which draws to some degree on the folk tradition. At various points between the two poles, we may be able to identify other modalities that draw on the folk tradition to other degrees and that can be situated at other points between those already suggested. An attempt at a comprehensive classification along these lines may indeed be illuminating for a better understanding of the function of folk traditions in the composition of the early medieval vernacular lyric of the Peninsula.

The implications of the foregoing lyric scheme for formulating a similar model for the Peninsular versified narrative tradition in general are, of course, obvious, and I have dealt with this elsewhere.6 If the composition of early Peninsular lyric on the theme of love can reveal a relatively broad spectrum in its dependence on a folk tradition, can we not then expect degrees of reliance on a folk tradition dealing with heroic conflict, particularly in battle-scarred Castile, and all the more so, since a rich tradition of Hispanic folk balladry that has its roots in the Middle Ages reveals a vital interest in the Peninsula in the production of authentic folk narrative song?

Conclusions that I have reached from an extensive analysis of stylistic features in folk narrative traditions and related forms do indeed point to such a dependence on a folk tradition, and in the most intimate way: the Poema de Mio Cid is indeed a learned work, but of the quasi-folk style type, that is, close to the left pole, or just next to an authentic folk narrative tradition.7 At the extreme right pole, we could situate the highly erudite Renaissance epic of Camões or Ercilla, and not too far to the right of the Poema de Mio Cid, the Poema de Fernán González, as probably an elementary-learned style type, different from Mio Cid, but still closer to it than to the right pole. Thus some of the learned features which Smith notes in the Poema de Mio Cid are cast in the quasi-folk style and hence reflect more closely features of a folk narrative style rather than those of a much more erudite tradition situated at the other end of the spectrum.

For example, in his discussion of the Longinus sequence, Smith suggests that “Per Abad had before him as he composed, or had an extremely accurate memory of, no fewer than three French passages” so that he produced the extant Cid passage with la sangre appearing inelegantly in successive lines, as it indeed must, according to Smith, since the poet is following two sources which lead to such repetition. Smith believes that such repetition is a defect that “the poet would surely have remedied in a later version” (pp. 119-20). Aside from the question of sources, to which I shall allude further on, a quasi-folk style is characterized to a significant degree by precisely such closely occurring repetition of the same terms so that I would not expect the poet to change it in a later version. It is crucial to the literary tradition he is working in. Similarly, three of the seven examples which Smith cites as vernacular versions of Latin “ablative absolutes,” display the same general type of closely occurring repetition in their hemistichs (vv. 144, 147; 319, 320; and 1702, 1703). I cite but one example to illustrate the point: “la missa les cantava” (1702b)—“la missa dicha” (1703a). Finally, in a discussion of whether Latin chronicles or the Bible inspired the phraseology of “bien la çerca mio Çid, que non i avia hart, / viedales exir e viedales entrar” (1204-05), we note again the repetitive style of quasi-folk narrative in the reiteration of viedales. The foregoing remarks on closely occurring repetition are not intended to suggest that such style cannot to some degree occur in highly learned literature which does not rely on a folk tradition at all, but only that it is a significant feature of an authentic folk-narrative style which is displayed to a relatively high degree in quasi-folk style poems such as the Poema de Mio Cid.

If the quasi-folk style as a genre can be used to explain such repetitive features as the foregoing, it is also helpful in understanding why the minor narrative lapses mentioned by Smith also occur (pp. 208-09). For example, Smith states that “Alvar Fáñez reports that the Cid has won ‘çinco lides campales’ in the Levante, but the poet has narrated only two.” Such lapses are typical of folk epic and quasi-folk style poems as C. M. Bowra has pointed out,8 so that an audience accustomed to such lapses in the folk tradition would not be jarred by similar shortcomings in a tradition that is so closely related to it.

Smith makes some further interesting observations that seem to show an awareness of the link between folk narrative genres and forms closely related to them. In his discussion of verismo in the Poema de Mio Cid, he states that development of the plot and character motivation in the poem surpasses by far the techniques of the twelfth-century epic poets of France. He adds that the medieval French poets “often seem to be writing for the equivalent of not over-bright modern teen-agers, readily contented with accounts of Superman presented in strip-cartoon form, perhaps with dashes of James Bond here and there (indeed, the comparison might be worth making)” (p. 215). The comparison is indeed apt since it is precisely such literature—on Superman and James Bond—that can also be designated as close to a folk tradition under the more general category called in Serbo-Croatian pučka književnost understood in the specific sense of a broad category of literature which draws on both folk and learned literature and involves a traditional orientation of both readers and composers.9 It is not fortuitous that Patricia A. Krafčik, a scholar of Russian literature, calls attention to the important device known as negative analogy or epic antithesis in Russian folk poetry, noting that it occurs in the folk literature of other peoples as well.10 She alludes specifically to its counterpart in Superman literature, which is surely familiar to us as “It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superman” (p. 20).

On the matter of the poet's use of sources in the Poema de Mio Cid, I would certainly not discount some of Smith's examples from Old French and Latin, although considerable caution is required here as David Hook alone, and Deyermond and Hook together, have convincingly demonstrated.11 I wonder to what extent such motifs as the battle cry, call to action without delay, and cleaving from helm to waist may have sprung from the common historical realities of battle in Spain and France, and the real practices associated with such battle (pp. 191-93). For example, Smith's suggestion that the Cid's praise of his horse, “en moros ni en christianos otro tal non ha oy” (3514), may perhaps echo two lines in the Prise de Cordres (“.I. des mellors que l'an poïst trover / N'en paienime n'en la crestiënté” [561-62], in which a chevalier is compared [p. 194]) needs to be reconsidered in light of a closer parallel in an authentic folk epic song of the nineteenth century, Milija's famous Banović Strahinja, to which I shall return in a different context.12 The Serbo-Croatian instance is “Ima doga konja od megdana, / Što ga danas u Srbina nema, / U Srbina, niti u Turčina” (ll. 634-36), which translated reads: “He had his white war horse, / The like of which does not exist among the Serbs today, / Not among the Serbs nor among the Turks.”13 We cannot rule out the possibility that such motifs may have sprung up from the similar conditions of heroic combat within different cultural contexts. I add that it is not by chance that a quasi-folk-style text such as the Poema de Mio Cid should reflect so closely a motif found in an authentic folk epic song.

Smith's explanations of the origin of the meter of the Poema de Mio Cid appear to me to be the most controversial portion of his book. He suggests that the poet invented it (p. 104) and that “His decision rested upon a deliberate reinterpretation of French structures, perceived accentually not syllabically; and this was reinforced or perhaps preconditioned by much that he observed in the various forms of twelfth-century Latin verse” (p. 128). However, I am not persuaded by Smith's arguments that the invention of a stress-based system with as much syllabic fluctuation in lines as Mio Cid shows could have been derived from Old French isosyllabic meters or twelfth-century (or even earlier) Latin verse; from what I have observed in the latter case, such Latin verse may indeed have distinctive stress patterning, but also has more syllabic regularity than the meter of Mio Cid.14 Where then may we expect to find a comparable meter, whose primary principle, that is, governing metrical principle, is stress, but which also shows approximately the same type of greater syllabic fluctuation as Mio Cid? To make the case even more convincing, did such a metrical form exist for extensive narrative which was presented orally, whose subject matter was heroic, and which was either part of a folk tradition itself or was closely linked with such a folk tradition (in the latter case, a quasi-folk-style poem)? The answer, of course, is affirmative, and the meter is that of the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, a quasi-folk-style poem, in my view, and the Russian folk epic genre known as the bylina.15 It seems to me that Mio Cid's stress pattern and degree of syllabic fluctuation should be compared with such features in Beowulf and the bylina so that we might solidly affirm that the meter of the Spanish epic is indeed a stress-based meter, similar to that of other heroic poetry which is either folk or closely folk-related. If, indeed, we could show an unmistakably close relationship in stress pattern and degree of syllabic fluctuation between the Spanish epic meter and one or both of the others, we might then be able to speculate with greater assurance on possible Germanic, and more specifically, Visigothic origins.

To make a case for a genetic connection with Old Germanic prosody, however, we need to reexamine the thorny question of Visigothic origins, a question that has, in my opinion, been given rather short shrift. Robert A. Hall, Jr., states about the transitional period in question: “A period of bilingualism did prevail, while the Visigoths were giving up their Germanic speech for Ibero-Romance; it probably lasted for at least two centuries, though we do not know how long it persisted after the Moorish invasions. Scholars are now inclined to admit that multilingual speech communities can maintain a fading language much longer than was formerly thought possible, so it is not inconceivable that Visigothic-Romance bilingualism should have continued in some regions well into the 8th or even the 9th century.”16 It is difficult, of course, to prove just how long Visigothic may have survived in the Peninsula, but it is certainly unsafe to argue that Hall's dates are unreasonable. A linguist, Patricia E. Mason, cites William Reinhart's hypothesis as follows: “Esta comarca [Castilla la Vieja] fue probablemente la única en que existió un biling[ü]ismo hasta aproximadamente el fin del siglo VII [o] principio del VIII, pues es de suponer que allí pudo mantenerse la lengua gótica más tiempo que en el resto de la Península.”17 On the other hand, we are told elsewhere by a historian that it is doubtful that the Visigoths spoke their native tongue after the fifth century (Wright, p. 184, on Roger Collins). Mason, in her summary of the question, appears cautious and admits the possibility of limited use of their language beyond A.D. 600: “It is generally agreed that by the seventh century the Visigoths had largely abandoned their native speech in favor of Latin” (p. 270; emphasis mine). Arguments in support of Hall's even later date for the survival of Visigothic in some areas of the Peninsula can be found in the analogous evidence for the continued existence of the Gothic language of the Crimean Peninsula of the Black Sea. In a detailed analysis of the evidence for Crimean Gothic since the arrival of the Goths in that area in the third century A.D., MacDonald Stearns, Jr., points to hard linguistic evidence for the existence of Crimean Gothic as late as the mid-sixteenth century in the letter of the Flemish nobleman Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq, and to a reliable account that attests to its continued survival through the end of the eighteenth century (ca. 1780), at the close of which it passed out of existence.18 The foregoing remarks do not imply, of course, that we should posit some fifteen hundred years of spoken Visigothic in Spain, nor return to a blanket acceptance of Ramón Menéndez Pidal's proposals (Los godos y la epopeya española: “Chansons de geste” y baladas nórdicas [Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1956]), but rather that we should reconsider the question of stress-based meter and Visigothic origins in the light of comparative metrics and the comparative linguistic data of known multilingual speech groups.19 The foregoing remarks become even more significant when we consider the likely folk character of the earliest Old Germanic verse20 and hence at least the possibility that the stress meter may have survived in more traditional, isolated pockets not only in Visigothic, but in the inherited language as well, when the latter definitively replaced Visigothic. The Visigoths, who kept themselves apart as a military aristocracy, preferred to live in the country rather than in the cities, and concerned themselves principally with war, were indeed likely candidates for safeguarding a heroic folk ethos and its oral poetic tradition and for eventually transmitting them to others who also became engaged for centuries afterward in heroic warfare against the Moors, cultivating similar poetic traditions as they did so.21

Smith dismisses the plausibility of the continuity of the stress system from Gothic verse on the grounds that “metrical systems surely die with languages, and there was no Gothic in Hispania after about A.D. 600, no written texts of Gothic being known to have survived for imitation by later poets” (p. 114). Aside from not taking into account the implications of Hall's statement cited above on a later date for the survival of Visigothic, which, in light of my foregoing observations, take on greater import, Smith does not consider the possibility that not written, but rather oral Gothic “texts” may indeed have existed in the form of heroic folk narrative. That no poetic form close to it in style survived as it has in the Anglo-Saxon tradition (Beowulf, for example) is not at all surprising since it was Latin only that the Visigoths used for official purposes rather than the vernacular, according to Robert K. Spaulding, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxons, who used both the vernacular as well as Latin.22 Stearns adds further support to the notion of a Visigothic spoken, rather than written, culture in noting that Crimean Gothic may never have been written down by its own speakers, but that Greek instead may have been used for writing by Crimean Goths (p. 37, and n. 3).

Smith raises another crucial question which I shall address only briefly since I have dealt with it in detail elsewhere (“Oral Aesthetics”). In reaction to oralist critics who recognize the artistic excellence of the Poema de Mio Cid, Smith asks: “can all this complex composition really have been improvised by a chanting illiterate?” (p. 216; emphasis his). My answer is simply that it can, and I cite from my recently published article “that it is not safe to argue for written composition of a particular work on the basis of a highly organized aesthetic structure since such outstanding songs as Banović Strahinja can reflect similar organization so that it seems that differences between the two types need to be identified at another level … the central interest of the South Slavic song is reflected throughout its structure by the same general kinds of patterning as occur in PMC [Poema de Mio Cid] and … the poem is as rich in its psychological portrayal and as universal in its human dimension as any classic work of art can be within the bounds of its literary tradition” (p. 192). It follows from this that not only subject matter, meter, stylistic features, but an overall aesthetic structure of a heroic folk narrative song may have contributed to the ultimate production of a quasi-folk-style poem such as Mio Cid.

Smith adds that although he too recognizes the artistic merits of the Poema de Mio Cid, he cannot claim that it is a work of “infinite subtlety and complexity” (p. 216). If we view the poem as a quasi-folk-style work as I have argued in this study, we have no other alternative but to view its aesthetics within the less sophisticated limits of its literary tradition, which is close to the left pole, that of folk art, and not in the other direction, that of the highly wrought style of the erudite tradition of Renaissance epic. From this perspective, we can certainly accommodate the legitimate objection of Samuel G. Armistead with regard to the theory of ballad fragmentation: how can folk ballads emerge from a tradition of thoroughly learned epic?23 They simply cannot. However, if we view the Spanish epic as a quasi-folk form, then it is indeed natural that at least some ballads should spring from that tradition and be folklorized in the oral tradition.

In conclusion, it appears only normal that the Hispanic tradition, so rich in both lyric and narrative folk forms in its early literary periods, should, like its sister culture in this respect, the South Slavic tradition, reveal a broad spectrum of literary phenomena, a good number of which are linked to the folk tradition and not the least of which is the Poema de Mio Cid.


  1. (Cambridge: University Press, 1983).

  2. A Literary History of Spain: The Middle Ages (London: Ernest Benn; New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971), p. 16.

  3. “Çorraquin Sancho, Roldán y Oliveros: un cantar paralelistico castellano del siglo XII,” in Homenaje a la memoria de don Antonio Rodriguez-Moñino 1910-1970 (Madrid: Castalia, 1975), pp. 537-64. For other examples of parallelistic structure in folk and closely folk-related poetry of Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, see: Eugenio Asensio, Poética y realidad en el cancionero peninsular de la Edad Media, 2d enlarged ed. (Madrid: Gredos, 1970), pp. 78-86; Kenneth Jackson, “Incremental Repetition in the Early Welsh Englyn,Speculum, 16 (1941), 304-21, at pp. 305, 311, and 312-13 (Welsh, Galician-Portuguese, Armenian, and Chinese); C. M. Bowra, Primitive Song (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962), pp. 81-82 (ancient Egyptian); Manuel Alvar, musical notations Maria Teresa Rubiato, Cantos de boda judeo-españoles (Madrid: Instituto Arias Montano, 1971), pp. 65-94 (somewhat revised version of “El paralelismo en los cantos de boda judeo-españoles,” Anuario de Letras, 4 [1964], 109-59); and my “Kurelčeve Jačke i njihove veze s tradicijom domovine” [“Kurelac's Jačke and Their Connection with the Homeland Tradition”], Naučni Sastanak Slavista u Vukove Dane (Belgrade) (forthcoming) (Serbo-Croatian).

  4. Coll. and ed., Jačke ili narodne pěsme prostoga i neprostoga puka hrvatskoga po župah šoprunskoj, mošonjskoj i želěznoj na Ugrih (Zagreb: Dragutin Albrecht, 1871); I have discussed the implications of some of the woman's voice lyric songs of that collection, both folk and closely folk-related, for the study of the Mozarabic kharjas in my paper “La lírica medieval y el folklore,” which was read at the ninth congress of the Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas, held in Berlin in August, 1986.

  5. Razón de amor and the Popular Tradition,” Romance Philology, 32 (1978-79), 1-17.

  6. “Oral Literature and ‘Pučka Književnost’: Toward a Generic Description of Medieval Spanish and Other Narrative Traditions,” in Folklore and Oral Communication—Folklore und mündliche Kommunikation, ed. Maja Bošković-Stulli (Zagreb: Zavod za Istraživanje Folklora, 1981), pp. 155-66 [special issue of Narodna Umjetnost]; in Serbo-Croatian, “Usmena književnost i ‘pučka književnost’: Prema generičkom prikazu srednjovjekovne španjolske i ostalih narativnih tradicija,” Narodna Umjetnost, 19 (1982), 171-83.

  7. For references to my work exploring this aspect, see my “Repetition and Aesthetic Function in the Poema de mio Cid and South-Slavic Oral and Literary Epic,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 58 (1981), 189-96, at p. 194, n. 2.

  8. Heroic Poetry (London: Macmillan, 1952), Chap. 8.

  9. This is Maja Bošković-Stulli's notion of pučka književnost. For my broader use of this concept, see my “Oral Literature,” pp. 162-63, where her work is also cited.

  10. “The Russian Negative Simile: An Expression of Folkloric Fantasy,” Slavic and East European Journal, 20 (1976), 18-26. For its use in the Romancero, see my “The Mermaid and Related Motifs in the Romancero: The Slavic Analogy and Fertility Myths,” Romance Philology, 39 (1985-86), 151-69.

  11. For references to Hook's studies, see Smith, p. 48; Deyermond and Hook, “The Afrenta de Corpes and Other Stories,” La Corónica, 10 (1981-82), 12-37.

  12. I cite the Old French verses from Prise de Cordres et de Sebille: Chanson de geste du XIIe siècle, ed. Ovide Densusianu (Paris: Société des Anciens Textes Français, 1896). Edward A. Heinemann has pointed out to me two other similar instances occurring in Old French epic, but here again the subject of comparison is not an animal but a character, the princess Orable: “Il n'a si bele en la crestïenté / N'en paienie qu'en i sache trover” (254-55) and “Il n'a si bele en tote paienie” (277), both from the AB version of the Prise d'Orange, cited from Les Rédactions en vers de la “Prise d'Orange,” ed. Claude Régnier (Paris: Klincksieck, 1966), pp. 93-176. For one study among several in which Heinemann deals with echoes in the chansons de geste, see his “Mémoire, répétition, système esthétique dans la chanson de geste,” in Jeux de mémoire: Aspects de la mnémotechnie médiévale, ed. Bruno Roy and Paul Zumthor (Montréal: Presses de l'Université de Montréal; Paris: Vrin, 1985), pp. 23-33.

  13. The original is cited from Srpske narodne pjesme, coll. and ed. Vuk Stef[anović] Karadžić, 2d State ed., II (Belgrade: Štamparija Kraljevine Srbije, 1895), No. 43; the translation is from my “Oral Aesthetics and Written Aesthetics: The South Slavic Case and the Poema de Mio Cid,” in Hispanic Studies in Honor of Alan D. Deyermond: A North American Tribute, ed. John S. Miletich (Madison: Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies, 1986), pp. 183-204, at p. 200, 11. 634-36.

  14. For a discussion of degrees of syllabic fluctuation in PMC, see Alan D. Deyermond, “Tendencies in Mio Cid Scholarship, 1943-1973,” in “Mio Cid” Studies, ed. Alan D. Deyermond (London: Tamesis, 1977), pp. 13-47, at pp. 28-29. An examination of the following attests to the greater syllabic regularity in the Latin texts: F. J. E. Raby, A History of Christian-Latin Poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages, 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1953; rpt. 1966), pp. 44-71 and 125-31; same, A History of Secular Latin Poetry in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon, 1934), I, 98-99, 142, 148-53; II, 236-47; Josef Szövérffy, Weltliche Dichtungen des lateinischen Mittelalters: Ein Handbuch, I. Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende der Karolingerzeit (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1970), pp. 299-325 and 666-70; Carmen Campidoctoris in Ramón Menéndez Pidal, La España del Cid, 7th ed. (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1969), II, 882-86; Poema de Almería in H. Salvador Martínez, El “Poema de Almería” y la épica románica (Madrid: Gredos, 1975), pp. 22ff.; and Roger Wright, Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France (Liverpool: Francis Cairns, 1982), passim; note that Wright's rendering of Latin verse in a vernacular spoken form does not show the greater syllabic fluctuation we find in PMC (pp. 180 and 182). In contrast to the foregoing, the psalms, of course, show greater syllabic fluctuation, but, on the other hand, also generally display a notably longer verse line than PMC. Thus it seems that a solution to the problem of metrical origin needs to be sought elsewhere.

  15. For discussion of the meter of Beowulf and the bylina, see, respectively, John Miles Foley, “Tradition-Dependent and -Independent Features in Oral Literature: A Comparative View of the Formula,” in Oral Traditional Literature: A Festschrift for Albert Bates Lord, ed. John Miles Foley (Columbus, OH: Slavica, 1981), pp. 262-81, at pp. 268-70; and Patricia Arant, “Formulaic Style and the Russian Bylina,Indiana Slavic Studies, 4 (1967), 7-51, at pp. 15 and 30-31.

  16. “Old Spanish Stress-Timed Verse and Germanic Superstratum,” Romance Philology, 19 (1965-66), 227-34, at p. 232.

  17. Mason, “Social Implications of Borrowing: The Visigothic Element in Hispano-Romance,” Word, 30 (1979), 257-72, at p. 269.

  18. Crimean Gothic: Analysis and Etymology of the Corpus (Saratoga, CA: Anma Libri, 1978), pp. 37 and 18-20. Patrick Stiles indicates that the difficulties surrounding the transmission of Busbecq's data result in an imprecise knowledge of our only traces of Crimean Gothic, a fact noted by Stearns as well, as Stiles points out (“A Textual Note on Busbecq's ‘Crimean Gothic’ Cantilena,Neophilologus, 68 [1984], 637-39, at p. 637). For the date of the Goths' arrival in the Crimea, see Alexander Alexandrovich Vasiliev, The Goths in the Crimea (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1936), p. 3.

  19. In addition to the well-known example of Judeo-Spanish, note also the survival of my mother tongue, the spoken language of the Croats of Gradišće or Burgenland (in the broad sense), residing today on both sides of the Austrian-Hungarian border, who emigrated to that area in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries from what is today Yugoslavia and who have essentially preserved their language in some areas of that region in spite of the pressures of German and Hungarian.

  20. Jess B. Bessinger, Jr., “Old Germanic Prosody,” Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 1974 enlarged ed., pp. 587-88, at p. 587.

  21. Piergiuseppe Scardigli, accepting the survival of an epic tradition of Gothic origin in Spain, considers its continuity as an extraordinary phenomenon (Die Goten: Sprache und Kultur, trans. Benedikt Vollmann [Florence, 1964; trans. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1973], pp. 202-03, and 241, n. 12. For the rural nature of Visigothic society, see Mason, pp. 269, 270, and 272.

  22. Spaulding, How Spanish Grew (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1943; rpt. 1962), p. 48.

  23. “Epic and Ballad: A Traditionalist Perspective,” Olifant, 8 (1980-81), 376-88, at p. 385.

Further Reading

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Bailey, Matthew. “The Present Tense in Ennius and the Cantar de mio Cid.Romance Notes 26, no. 3 (spring 1986): 279-85.

Discusses the use of tense in the poetry of Quintus Ennius, noting a similar use of the present tense for verbs of state and past tense for verbs of action in Cantar de mio Cid.

———. The Poema del Cid and the Poema de Fernán Gozález: The Transformation of an Epic Tradition. Madison, Wis.: The Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies, 1993, 144 p.

Describes aspects of the peculiar forms of expression in the Cantar de mio Cid, focusing on the way the poem differs from the Poema de Fernan Gonzalez.

Burke, James F. Structures from the Trivium in the Cantar de Mio Cid. Toronto, Can.: University of Toronto Press, 1991, 219 p.

Explores the ideas of revelation and awakening and the manner in which the actions and behavior of the hero in the Cantar de mio Cid can be taken as exemplary.

Duggan, Joseph J. The Cantar de mio Cid: Poetic Creation in its Economic and Social Contexts. New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1989, 178 p.

Study of the economic and social aspects of the Cantar de mio Cid.

England, John. “‘Comed, Condé’: The Cid's Use of Parody.” Medium Ævum 63, no. 1 (1994): 101-03.

Explores the use of word play in the last section of the first cantar and suggests that the episode is a parody of an incident found in the Gran Cronica de Alfonso XI.

Gornall, John. “Two More Cases of Double Narration in the Cantar de mio Cid.La corónica 25, no. 1 (fall 1996): 85-92.

Points out two previously unnoticed instances of the use of double narration—the later recounting of details of the poem using variations—in the Cantar de mio Cid.

Graf, E. C. “Appellative, Cultural, and Geopolitical Liminality in the Poema de mio Çid.Hispanofila 132 (May 2001): 1-12.

Discusses the significance of the confluence of three place names in three episodes of the Cantar de mio Cid.

Harney, Michael. Kinship and Polity in the Poema de mio Cid. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1993, 274 p.

Exploration of the topics of kinship and political sensibility and their bearing on the motives of the characters and the plot of the Cantar de mio Cid.

Montgomery, Thomas. “Marking Voices and Places in the Poema del Cid.La Corónica 19, no. 1 (fall 1990): 49-61.

Study of verb use in the Cantar de mio Cid.

Pavlović, Milija N., and Roger M. Walker. “A Reappraisal of the Closing Scenes of the Poema de Mio Cid. I: The Rieptos.Medium Ævum 58, no. 1 (1989): 1-12.

First of a two-part essay arguing that the closing scenes of the Cantar de mio Cid form a logical and aesthetically satisfying culmination to the poem.

———. “A Reappraisal of the Closing Scenes of the Poema de Mio Cid. II: The Duels.” Medium Ævum 58, no. 1 (1989): 189-205.

Second part to the essay described above.

———. “War Horses and Their Epithets in the Poema de Mio Cid and French Epic: Some Observations and Tentative Conclusions.” Neophilologus 75, no. 1 (January 1991): 76-85.

Examines the nomenclature and epithets applied to warhorses in the Cantar de mio Cid in order to investigate the indebtedness of the poem to French epic.

Powell, Brian. “The Opening Lines of the Poema de mio Cid and the Cronica de Castilla.The Modern Language Review 83, no. 2 (April 1988): 342-50.

Considers the status of the lines from the Cronica de Castilla used as the opening for the Cantar de mio Cid.

Webber, Ruth House. “The Euphony of the Cantar de Mio Cid.” In Florilegium Hispanicum: Medieval and Golden Age Studies Presented to Dorothy Clotelle Clarke, edited by John S. Geary, pp. 45-56. Madison, Wis.: The Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies, 1983.

Analyzes acoustic phenomena in the Cantar de mio Cid.

Additional coverage of Cantar de mio Cid is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, Vol. 4; Epics for Students, Vol. 1; European Writers (Charles Scribner's Sons, an imprint of Gale), Vol. 1.

Beverly West-Burdette (essay date fall 1987)

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SOURCE: West-Burdette, Beverly. “Gesture, Concrete Imagery, and Spatial Configuration in the Cantar de mio Cid.La Corónica 16, no. 1 (fall 1987): 55-66.

[In the following essay, West-Burdette argues that the poet of the Cantar de mio Cid relies on sensual imagery, concrete references, and dramatic narrative techniques to impart abstract concepts and symbolic meanings to his uneducated medieval audience.]

Throughout the history of Cidian scholarship, a great deal of attention has been given to the debated issue of the Cantar/Poema as a work of oral art versus a work of literary art. Within this larger issue are the polemic problems of authorship, manner of composition, intended audience and purpose, to impart historical knowledge and inspire patriotism or to provide entertainment through dramatization, novelization, and fictionalization. Whether conceived from the mouth of a skilled singer of tales or the pen of an inspired poet, perhaps both, we as modern readers are moved by the primitive artistry and subtle poetic beauty of the CMC [Cantar de Mio Cid]. To appreciate the words as they flow to us from the printed page, we must imagine the profound effect of the performance upon the affective sensibility of the unlettered medieval audience, for whom the only means of entertainment was the audio-visual experience, appealing to the senses through narrative, dialogue, gesture and melody, evoking emotion through the visualization of actors, objects and scenes.

The poet of the CMC was a master in appealing to the senses. He composed the words of the song in such a way that upon reaching the ear of the audience they might carry the most vividly charged plastic significance, at once binding performer and audience at the level of physical dramatization and transporting both into a further realm of abstract visualization. This, I propose, was accomplished through specifically chosen phraseology with a propensity to induce gesture on the part of the performer, the use of concrete referentials,1 and manipulation of abstract visual focus through spatial patterning.

The use of concrete referentials, often including phraseology to support gesture in presentation, is inherent to oral tradition in which the song or tale must be related in the most vivid language possible. As Colin Smith and Samuel Morris have expressed in their article “On ‘physical’ Phrases in Old Spanish Epic and Other Texts,” language becomes abstract only as culture advances. Old Spanish texts exhibit speech habits from a primitive stage in language, which the poets use in a remarkably expressive and poetic way, enhancing and exploiting mime (177). “The more concrete we can make our referentials,” say Smith and Morris, “the more tangible and visible or visualizable, the more effective will our communication be” (134). The most basic and universal referentials are parts of the body which are handy for gesture, to point, reject, emphasize and show emotion in the absence of scenery, stage properties and other actors. Thus the poet of the Cantar does not merely say “llorar,” in many cases, but “llorar de los ojos,” and not merely “dezir, fablar,” or “sonrissar,” but “dezir, fablar,” or “sonrissar” “de la boca.”2

These repeated formulaic phrases serve several purposes. As Milman Parry and Albert Lord have amply demonstrated in their research on contemporary Yugloslavian oral epic, the formulas serve the poet as a mnemonic device for composing spontaneously in rhyme and meter.3 In addition to the technical usage of formulaic phrases as an aid to the performer, they also provide the repetition of familiar expressions to an audience that relies solely on aural reception. And finally, the use and repetition of such concrete referentials as “ojos” and “boca” suggest and enhance the gesture of the juglar of the Cantar as he raised his hand to his face to emphasise the sorrow of the eyes, the importance of the speech to follow, or the gladness of the smile, involving the audience emotionally in the dramatization.

As modern readers, we may feel that these affective expressions seem redundant and ornamental, though we sense that somehow they are charged with primitive poetic beauty. The formulaic, affective phrases are precisely what the chroniclers omitted, as Thomas Montgomery points out in “Oral Art in Transition,” and therefore constitute one manner in which the poetic, lyrical Cantar is separated from the dry and factual narration of the chroniclers who interject all manner of causal, objective information, information which is often left to the subjective imagination of the audience in the performance of the Cantar. “The poetic line,” says Montgomery, “dwell on the emotional experience, not to achieve some sort of artistic effect, but because that is what the passage is about: an experience is being re-created and relived in the recitation” (97). The poet's involvement and subjectivity, he proceeds to observe, make the performance an experience, not a relating of past events in chronological order (108).

James R. Chatham, in “Gestures, Facial Expressions and Signals in the Poema de Mio Cid,” attempts to “point out these phenomena and the artistic effects of visual reinforcement achieved through the use of unspoken communication in the text of the Poema de Mio Cid (456-57). Chatham concentrates his effort on cataloguing the many gestures expressed in the poem, with by far greatest attention given to gestures of a ritualistic nature. To summarize briefly his observations, he lists the occurrences of” (1) hand—kissing to establish lord—vassal relationships, and to express loyalty, consent, gratitude and requests; (2) embracing, crying, and kissing upon leave—taking and greeting; (3) kneeling to express loyalty, humility and obedience; (4) rising to one's feet as a gesture of respect, or to voice complaints, insults, or objections in court; (5) crossing oneself as a religious gesture, a blessing, or as an expression of astonishment or pleasure; (6) raising the hand and grasping the beard as an expression of thanksgiving or as a gesture to accompany an oath; (7) pulling the beard as an insult; and (8) handshake as an agreement or pledge. Chatham then briefly lists a number of spontaneous gestures, facial expressions, and signs or signals (the use of standards and insignia to establish identity and command the troops). He concludes: “The visual details of meaningful body language are especially significant in the case of the hero, for they reveal him to be humble but tough, respectful and respected, loyal and self-confident, swearing but religious, generous, tender and emotional—in short, an idealized but down-to-earth, flesh-and-blood man” (471). His monumental task of cataloguing gestures and facial expressions, while serving a great purpose for reference, unfortunately leaves little time and space for analysis of the artistic effects of this unspoken communication.

Smith and Morris, likewise, provide an invaluable list of the occurrence and symbolic meaning of the numerous “physical” phrases which appear in the Cid and other Old Spanish texts, phrases denoting posture and gesture almost certainly accompanied by mime in the performance. They feel that the physical phrases, such as “llorar de los ojos” and “desir de la boca” are a type of “stage direction” built into the script to support dramatization (178). I suggest that beyond the physical phraseology and gestures employed, the poet guides his audience to a deeper level of abstract visualisation by the manipulation of spatial focus and dimension, somewhat akin to the technique of cinematography. The opening laisse of the Cantar serves as a good example of this technique:4

De los sos ojos tan fuertemientre llorando,
tornava la cabeça i estávalos catando.

(1- 2)5

The poet has employed two formulaic expressions, “crying from his eyes, he turned his head,”6 accompanied, we presume, by a somber tone of voice, a slow deliberate gesture of the hand to the eye with a downward motion to indicate the flow of tears, followed by a slight turning gesture of the head. The poet has used the “stage directions” indicated by Smith and Morris, and has involved the audience in an experience of emotion by focussing on the sorrowful eyes—his eyes as actor, the Cid's eyes as character—and the nostalgic gesture of looking back. He has first provided the effect before relating the cause. The final word of the second verse, “catando,” is a cue to invite the audience to experience the cause of this profound emotion. Now, as through the lens of a camera focussed on the eyes of the exiled Cid, the audience experiences the panorama of the scene viewed through his eyes, beginning with the word “vio” and followed by a carefully ordered sequence of concrete referentials:

Vio puertas abiertas e uços sin cañados,
alcándaras vázias sin pielles e sin mantos
e sin falcones e sin adtores mudados.


—empty dwellings, open doors with locks removed. Focussing in through the open doors we see empty pegs where once perched the magnificent hunting hawks and falcons and hung the rich cloaks and furs of the Cid's household, symbols of the warmth, comfort and vitality of life.7 Through the imagery of the open doors and empty pegs devoid of hunting birds and garments, a scene of desolation is created. The audience has experienced the scene evoked in verses 3-5 through the visualization produced by specific referentials ordered by the poet in such a way as to produce a panoramic view (indicated by the plural of open “doors”) and focus in through a particular door to imagine the pegs on the wall. Beyond the empty pegs the poet has invited the audience to experience the Cid's nostalgic flashback, to visualize the scene as it once was, bustling with life and comfort. The Cid's turned head indicates that all this is being left behind. The audience not only visualizes the scene, but, knowing full well the account of his unjust exile, the loss and abandonment of the particular objects used in the imagery of the poet carried an extremely high-charged meaning to medieval man. Their loss was the symbol of the loss of all security, especially since, as Thomas Hart points out in “Hierarchical Patterns in the CMC,” medieval man's place in society, and the correct relationship with his lord, was a “mirror of the proper relationship between man and God” (164). The relationship is broken, and the Cid's world has been violently thrown into chaotic disarray.

The poet then turns the audience's eyes back upon the Cid, upon himself as actor, as he sighs, “sospiró,” a gesture of resignation. We may imagine that the juglar, who certainly took his cues from verbal as well as substantive, physical referentials, enacted a somber rising and falling motion of the chest and shoulders. Here the first words of the Cid are spoken, bitter words of resignation to his unjust fate of exile: “Esto me an buolto mios enemigos malos.” (9).

These two artistic techniques appear again and again throughout the poem. To recapitulate, the poet uses concrete substantive referentials such as familiar objects which carry heavy symbolic meaning to his audience's affective sensibility, as well as verbal referentials, the action of which lends itself to mime, often including formulaic “physical” phrases to reinforce dramatization. Second, the poet has a very special sense of spatial awareness. He focusses in and pans out on specific images, a technique which goes beyond dramatic stage presentation by appealing to the audience's capacity for abstract visualization, approaching techniques of the novel and cinematography.

As the Cid rides into Burgos with his sixty mounted followers, we are presented with a panoramic view of empty streets lined with houses, the faces of city-folk peering from the windows, not daring to venture out to greet the Cid under penalty of the royal edict:

exien lo veer mugieres e varones,
burgeses e burgesas, por las finiestras sone,
plorando de los ojos, tanto avien el dolore.
De las sus bocas todos dizían una razóne:
“Dios, qué buen vassallo, si oviesse buen señore!”


The passage is charged with familiar formulaic phrases: “mugieres e varones,” “burgeses e burgesas,” (doublets in the form of concrete images that produce the abstract sense of “everyone”), “plorando de los ojos,” “de las sus bocas dizían” (physical phrases to evoke gestures of the singer and to focus in on the eyes and mouths of the sorrowful faces at the windows). The audience and juglar are united with the citizens of Burgos in their attitude of loyalty and solidarity toward the hero, when with one voice they proclaim “Dios, qué buen vassallo, si oviesse buen señore!” Peter Dunn, in “Levels of Meaning in the PMC,” explains the performance as an experience of cultural identity. According to Dunn—whose views closely coincide with Montgomery's, cited above—the purpose of the poem, rather than a lesson in history, is a celebration of the hero in which poet and audience are participants: “The audience's responses—sorrow, joy, exultation—are not effects to be striven for. They are not merely presumed at every step (for the juglar is as much the beneficiary and recorder of these sentiments as he is their promoter, so close is the bond of feeling), but they are represented within the poem. The audience in the niña, the Archangel, the people of Burgos, the Cid's followers, and finally, and gloriously, the king Alfonso himself. Poet and audience are part of a circle of feeling which is completed by the poem” (111).

After presenting the panoramic scene of the Cid and his sixty knights riding through the empty streets of Burgos, the poet focusses in on the Cid alone as he rides his horse up to the door of his accustomed lodging place and finds it closed and locked:

Aguijó mio Cid, a la puerta se llegaua,
sacó el pie del estribera, una ferídal dava;
non se abre la puerta, ca bien era çerrada.


From his lofty position mounted on his horse, all eyes focus on his foot as he removes it from the stirrup and kicks the door. Psychologically this is the Cid's lowest moment. From this point on, when the Cid kicks the symbol of his rejection, his fortune can only ascend. At this moment in the poem, a nine-year-old girl appears before his eyes, “a ojo se parava” (40)—another formulaic phrase employing the often used physical referential “eye.”8 The poet might have used the abstract verb “aparecer,” yet he chose the concrete phrase “a ojo pararse,” since to stand before one's eyes is immediately more visualizable than simply to appear. The very small girl on the ground gazing with awe and fear at the towering mounted figure produces a spatial configuration which enhances the power of the Cid as she entreats him with the “sword-girded” epithet: “Ya Campeador, en buena çinxiestes espada” (41). The reference to this particular epithet at this point reinforces the small child's fear of the consequences for the people of Burgos should they take in this powerful sword-girded warrior:

“Si non, perderiemos los averes e las casas,
e aun demás los ojos de las caras.”


Here is another series of concrete referentials depicting a very physical and real punishment promised by King Alfonso to those who might disobey his orders concerning the Cid's exile.

Thus far, we have examined the use of gesture, specific imagery, and spatial focus to determine the artistic impact of the poem as a performance-experience in the opening laisse (1-9) of the CMC and the first scene, the Cid's rejection at Burgos. Since it is impossible to analyze each scene of the poem without producing a lengthy paper, we shall examine several additional scenes which seem to produce a highly charged emotional response, or which seem most significant to the “celebration” of the heroic figure of the Cid, noting how gesture, imagery, spatial configuration and focus determine the Cid's characterization.

Of the many moments of tenderness that the Cid exhibits throughout the poem, the one which touches us most deeply is his separation from his family at Cardeña as he prepares to depart from Castile into exile. In this domestic scene, the Cid is spatially above wife and children, an imposing paternal figure of power and warmth. Jimena kneels before him, cries and kisses his hand:

Ant el Campeador doña Ximena fincó los inojos admos.
Llorava de los ojos, quísol besar las manos.


She addresses him with the epithet “barba tan complida” (268), later echoed in line 274 “la barba vellida.” The attention to the Cid's beard focusses on his face as the symbol of masculinity and virility upon which the fragile wife Jimena and the two young daughters depend. As he reaches down to embrace his daughters, the sequential ordering of the movement and its physical imagery create a powerfully visual and tender moment:

Enclinó las manos la barba vellida,
a las sues fijas en braço las prendía,
llególas al coraçon, ca mucho las quería.
Llora de los ojos, tan fuerte mientre sospira:


The Cid's hands lovingly reach downward, “enclinó las manos,” a gesture of invitation to the protective embrace of his arms “en braço las prendía.” With an upward, lifting movement he presses his daughters to his heart, “llególas al coraçon,” then tears flow from his eyes, “llora de los ojos,” followed by a heart-felt sigh. The actions can readily be mimed by the singer, and the emotion they inspire is universal.

Again and again the Cid may be seen towering above the other characters in a hierarchical sense—as the paternal figure of the domestic scene, so also as a powerful figure of military might on the battlefield. In the aftermath of the battle against Fáriz and Galve at Alcocer, the Cid rides triumphantly over the battlefield, strewn with the bodies of the defeated Moors:

Tantos moros yazen muertos que pocos bivos a dexados …
Andava mio Cid sobre so buen cavallo,
la cofia fronzida. Dios, cómmo es bien barbado!
almófar a cuestas, la espada en la mano.

(785, 788-90)

The poet first focusses on the prostrate bodies of the enemy, then immediately sweeps our attention upward to the mounted figure of the Cid, focussing more closely on his head, triumphantly bared of chain-mail armor and covered only with a layer of soft linen material. With exaltation the poet proclaims the hero's victory through reference to his magnificent beard, the symbol of his power, honor and virility. Again, the spatial manipulation from panoramic view to the figure of the Cid and focus on his head and beard, with the carefully chosen concrete referentials of battle attire, lyrically capture the audience in an expression of the joy of victory.

In another moment of lyrical joy, the Cid physically climbs to the highest tower of the palace at Valencia, taking his wife and daughters to celebrate with him the victory of his greatest conquest:

Adeliñó mio Cid con ellas al alcáçer,
allá las subie en el más alto logar.
Ojos vellidos catan a todas partes.


After focussing in on the soft, feminine eyes of Jimena, Elvira and Sol, the audience experiences from this great height the panoramic view of the Cid's newly acquired land—the city, ocean, and expansive orchards on all sides—now seen through the astonished female eyes:

miran Valencia, cómmo yaze la çibdad
e del otra parte a ojo han el mar,
miran la huerta, espessa es e grand,
e todas las otras cosas que eran de solaz


Just as we have noted the hierarchical structure of the Cid's dominating paternal, conjugal and military position reflected in the spatial patterning in the poem, Paul Olsen, in “Symbolic Hierarchy of the Lion Episode of the CMC,” also finds significance in the spatial manipulation of the characters in a hierarchy of worth and honor. At the opening of the “Cantar de Corpes,” the Cid is sleeping peacefully on an escaño when a lion in the palace suddenly breaks its bonds and throws the court into panic:

En grant miedo se vieron por medio de la cort;
enbraçan los mantos los del Campeador,
e çercan el escaño, e fincan sobre so señor.
Fernant Gonçalvez, ifant de Carrión,
non vido allí dos alçasse, nin cámara abierta nin torre;
metiós sol escaño, tanto ovo el pavor.

(2283- 87)

“What I would suggest,” comments Olson, “is that Ferrán Gonçalvez, in taking refuge beneath the Cid's chair, has in the most literal and spatial sense symbolized his own inferiority to Roy Díaz, not merely in this one instance but within the whole hierarchy of merit, and therefore symbolized also the lower position in the hierarchy of honor which he ought by right to hold” (502).

In this episode, not only is the Cid's superior position in honor and worth over the socially higher ranked infantes established, but also his quasi-mythical power of dominance over the wild beast. In vivid and concrete language the poet describes the actions of the Cid, who has just awoken:

Mio Cid fincó el cobdo, en pie se levantó,
el manto trae al cuello, e adeliñó porá león,
el león quando lo vío, assí envergonçó,
ante mio Cid la cabeça premió e el rostro fincó.
Mio Cid don Rodrigo al cuello lo tomó,
e liévalo adestrando, en la red le metió.


Again a series of actions depicted by the concrete imagery of body parts makes the scene immediately visualizable and realistic. Lying on the bench, the awakened Cid first props himself up on his elbow before rising to his feet. He then majestically walks straight toward the lion, his cape draped from his neck—a significant act of valor when compared with his vassals' precautions of wrapping their capes about their arms in preparation to ward off the wild beast. As the humbled lion lowers his head and face, the Cid simply grasps him by the neck and, as though leading a domestic war horse, returns him to his place of captivity.

Despite the fact that the only physical descriptions of the Cid throughout the Cantar are various references to his long, flowing beard and his attire on certain occasions (battlefield, court scene, etc.), each witness of the performance or reader of the Cantar has formed a vivid visual image of the majestic figure of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. We are given license to that subjectivity through the poet's focus on specific objects and relevant action, from panoramic view to focus on minute detail. It is the hand that grasps the beard upon declaring a solemn oath, the foot kicking the closed door, the crying eyes and backward glance, the triumphant head bared of armor in celebration of victory, the arms outstretched to receive the faithful Minaya or to clasp small daughters to the heart, the sword-wielding arms, dripping blood from the elbow, as well as the desolate streets of Burgos, torches lighting the dark of night in joyful reception, the breaking of dawn, masses of troops swarming over hill and valley, it is a multitude of carefully manipulated images flowing through the poetic language of the CMC which fascinate its modern readers and the medieval men who sat in captivation as witnesses and participants in the celebration of this timeless hero.


  1. I use the term “referentials” to signify things referred to by words, “references.”

  2. “Decir de la boca” appears four times in the CMC:

    De las sus bocas todos dizían una razóne


    ca dixera mio Cid de la su boca atanto


    diziendo de la boca: “non veré Carrión!”


    Al partir de la lid por tu boca lo dirás


    “Fablar de la boca” appears once:

    De la su boca conpeçó de fablar


    “Sonrissar de la boca” appears twice:

    Sonrrisándose de la boca, hívalo braçar


    Sorrisós de la boca Albar Fáñez Minaya


    See Franklin M. Waltman's Concordance to the PMC for the number of occurrences of any word in the CMC, with a full line context for each reference; see also Edmund de Chasca's El Arte juglaresco en el CMC, Apéndice III “Registro de fórmulas verbales en el CMC” for formulaic phrases listed by category.

  3. The basic premises of their research are summarized in Albert Lord's The Singer of Tales. Edmund De Chasca, in El arte juglaresco, comments that Parry and Lord's shortcoming in their detailed analysis of the poet's use of repeated themes, motifs and formulaic phrases was their failure to take into account the “internal necessity” of poetic creation, that is, the artistic purpose of the poetic elements (40). Many scholars, excited by Parry and Lord's revelation of the poetic technique of spontaneous composition, have become involved in computerized enumeration of the formulaic percentage of various works in the oral tradition. These studies are certainly useful as reference works and may influence to some extent, though not definitively, our perception of the particular work as an oral or literary composition, but, and in this I agree with De Chasca, we must look beyond the rote usage of these repetitions as a poet's tool to discover the poetic and artistic purpose, the “internal necessity.”

  4. For various analyses of the poetic elements and imagery of the opening laisse (1-9) of the CMC, see the articles by Casalduero, Deyermond and Hook, Hook, Nelson and Pardo, listed in “Works Cited.”

  5. Quotes from the CMC are from the Menéndez Pidal critical edition.

  6. “Llorar de los ojos” occurs eight times in the CMC: 1, 265, 277, 370, 374, 1600, 2023, and 2863. “Tornar la cabeça” occurs three times: 2, 377, 1078, and “tornar la cara,” a formulaic variation, likewise occurs three times: 215, 594, 3659.

  7. Jan Nelson, in “Initial Imagery in the PMC,” gives a very well—documented explanation of the pieles e mantos as being not furs and cloaks of the household, but the padding of the pegs for perching of the hunting fowl (382-385). David Hook, however, in “The opening laisse of the PMC,” convincingly refutes this interpretation.

  8. The phrase “a ojo pararse” appears only once in the CMC. It is formulaic, however, in the sense that haber a ojo, ‘to have before one's eyes,’ occurs five times, as in “Quando llegó Avengalvón, dont a ojo lo ha” (1517).

Works Cited

Casalduero, Joaquín. “El Cid echado de tierra.” Estudios de literatura española. 2nd ed. Madrid: Gredos, 1967, 27-54.

Chatham, James R. “Gestures, Facial Expressions, and Signals in the Poema del Cid.REH [Revista de Estudios Historicos], 6 (1972), 455-71.

De Chasca, Edmund. El arte juglaresco en el “Cantar de Mio Cid.” 2nd ed. Madrid: Gredos, 1972.

Deyermond, Alan, and David Hook. “Doors and Cloaks: Two Image Patterns in the CMC.MLN [Modern Language Notes], 94 (1979), 366-77.

Dunn, Peter N. “Levels of Meaning in the PMC.MLN, 85 (1970), 109-19.

Hart, Thomas. “Hierarchical Patterns in the CMC.RR [Romanic Review], 53(1962), 161-73.

———Hook, David. “The opening Laisse of the PMC.RLC [Revue de Litterature Comparee], 53 (1979), 490-501.

Lord, Albert. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964.

Menéndez Pidal, Ramón, ed. Poema de Mio Cid. Clásicos Castellanos, 24. Madrid: Espasa—Calpe, 1975.

Montgomery, Thomas. “The PMC: Oral Art in Transition.” Mio Cid Studies, ed. Alan Deyermond. London: Tamesis, 1977, 91-112.

Nelson, Jan. “Initial Imagery in the PMC.Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 74 (1973), 382-86.

Olson, Paul R. “Symbolic Hierarchy in the Lion Episode of the CMC.MLN, 77 (1962), 499-511.

Pardo, Aristóbolo. “Los versos 1-9 del PMC: no comenzaba ahí el Poema?” Thesaurus, 27 (1972), 261-92.

Smith, C. C., and J. Morris. “On ‘Physical’ Phrases in Old Spanish Epic and Other Texts.” Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society Proceedings, 12, no. 5 (1967), 129-90.

Waltman, Franklin M. Concordance to “PMC.” Pennsylvania State University Press, 1972.

Joseph J. Duggan (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: Duggan, Joseph J. “Conclusion.” In The Cantar de mio Cid: Poetic Creation in Its Economic and Social Contexts, pp. 143-48. New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

[In the following excerpt, Duggan asserts that the Cantar de mio Cid was orally composed by a juglar of little formal education, pointing to the poem's emphasis on economic exchange and focus on the marriages of the hero's daughters as indications that the scribe adapted his work to the social interests of his audience.]

The “best hypothesis” to which this analysis of the Cantar de mio Cid leads is as follows. In the year 1199 or, more likely, 1200, a juglar of the Transierra, active in the valley of the Jalón, familiar with the area circumscribed by San Esteban, Calatayud, Guadalajara, and Medinaceli, and intent on pleasing Alfonso VIII of Castile and his partisans, performed the poem at Ariza or Huerta de Ariza, in the circle of Martín of Finojosa.

The juglar's motives as they can be reconstructed according to this hypothesis were, like those of most poets, complex: they included the wish to entertain, of course, but also the desire to flatter high-ranking members of the audience by evoking the exploits of their ancestors and the misdeeds of their enemy's ancestors. This evocation would have emphasized the solidarity of the Lara clan with the Castilian monarchy by displaying how the renowned Rodrigo Díaz—their kinsman through marriage as well as Alfonso VIII's direct ancestor—had regaled his king with extravagant gifts, and how his legitimacy, called into question by a popular tradition, had been confirmed in a judgment of God.

The jongleur also wanted to present fictional situations that reflected social issues of his day, involving both the political relationships of the Castilian monarchy with the other Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula and the depiction of economic incentives that would contribute toward reviving interest in the Reconquest after the disastrous experience of the Battle of Alarcos. One of the causes of this defeat was the desertion of trans-Pyrenean contingents who believed that their participation in the battle against the Moors would not bring appropriate rewards.

The poet quite likely composed in the hope of receiving recompense for his labors in the form of gifts that would be inspired not merely by the immediate performance, with its representation of the Cid's generosity, but by the interest shared by certain members of his audience that his version be propagated to attract participants in the campaign that Alfonso VIII knew he had to undertake some day soon against the Almohads. As far as the larger audience is concerned, the poet was presenting a series of characters as exemplars of the kind of conduct that was needed in those social and military circumstances.

The portrait of the poet that emerges is of a person belonging to one of the lowest levels of society—a juglar with little or no formal education, and probably no direct contact with French culture, but whose creative gifts in composing traditional epic rendered him useful to the nobility.

That a juglar should sing such a song is, unlike the hypothesis that the poet conducted archival research, perfectly in keeping with what we know about the mental structures and poetic practices of the period. Sung history was the province of jongleurs: Lambert of Watrelos recounts in the annals of Cambrai for the year 1108 the tale of a family in which ten brothers were killed in battle: “Unde apud nostrates de illis adhuc elegi versus per cantilenam mimorum recitantur” (cited in Heers 1974: 26). The poems about the Cid's exploits referred to in the Poema de Almería were most likely the same type of cantilena. Lambert of Ardre's story of the jongleur who refused to sing about Arnold of Guines in his cantilena because he was not receiving proper compensation is an example of the practice of popular singers appropriating historical events for their own ends.

The argument that the Cantar de mio Cid is of too high a quality to have been orally composed is without foundation. Both written and oral works can be ordered theoretically in an array ranging from those that best exemplify subtlety, tightness of structure and motivation, or whatever qualities of beauty one is inclined to devise, to those that worst represent those qualities. Even granting for the sake of argument that the spectrum of written works would be situated higher on such a scale than the oral, it would be wrong to assume that the worst work composed in writing would inevitably rank higher than the best of the orally composed. For that reason alone it is obvious that neither the presence nor the absence of aesthetic value is sufficient by itself to decide the issue of whether a given poem was composed orally or in writing. In fact in this regard considerations of aesthetic quality are beside the point, although the type of aesthetic effect that one finds in a poem is relevant because it may reveal stylistic procedures typical either of authors schooled in literacy or of the unlettered.

For scholars, who are themselves among the more advanced members of their societies in the arts of literacy, to hold that the creative ways of the educated are aesthetically superior is highly suspect (see Armistead 1986: 56). Stephen Jay Gould (1981) has shown how in the last two centuries various schemes for ranking the two sexes and the races of man according to single quantifiable indices (craniometry, I.Q. testing, and the like) were devised so as to produce results in which the investigator's group, the white male, emerged on top—in the face of data that support different conclusions entirely. Gould concludes not that the purveyors of such rankings acted in bad faith—although a few certainly did—but that scientific methods, far from attaining the objectivity to which they pretend, are the work of fallible personalities not all that much more inclined to objectivity than their nonscientific contemporaries. How much more fragile, then, are historical conclusions based on judgments of aesthetic superiority which just about everyone admits to be subjective in the first place?

Furthermore judgments of aesthetic quality are notoriously time- and culture-bound. What will appear to one age or national tradition as a timeless criterion of beauty stands a good chance of being considered a defect at some other time or in some other place. While no judgment is completely immune from the effect of differences in mentality, matters of aesthetic quality are perhaps the most difficult of all to control. In the final analysis, aesthetic superiority depends to a greater extent on the personality and background of the person who judges than on objectifiable factors.

The historical record abounds with examples of Western intellectuals preferring the simple pleasure, the “unstructured” narrative, the unsophisticated tone of oral tales (among them ballads) to the products of their own lettered contemporaries. Not that they were necessarily thereby engaging in correct or incorrect conduct (in fact “correct” and “incorrect” have no meaning in this context): but their example points up the futility of assuming that what impresses the investigator as aesthetically superior poetry was necessarily produced in writing.

Finally, the Iliad and the Odyssey, cornerstones of so much that European and American readers admire in literature, were orally composed. This is a conclusion based on Milman Parry's analysis of the relationship in the Homeric corpus between meter and sense and his observation that its diction must result from a long oral tradition, as well as on the very strong probability that writing was not used for literary purposes in the period to which the Homeric poems can be dated. One can plausibly hold that high aesthetic quality necessarily reveals creation in writing only if one is willing to maintain that the epic in question is superior to its Homeric rivals.

That the Cantar de mio Cid was composed orally does not in the least diminish the artistic achievements of the poet whose work has come down to us, as has been shown by Edmund de Chasca's analyses of its compositional merits (1972, 1976), carried out on the assumption that the poem is an oral composition.1 Ruth Webber has remarked recently that the acoustic patterning perceived in the poem is “the result of its having evolved intuitively by ear and then having been continually refined through performance” (1986a: 72). None of the poem's stylistic or compositional features, in fact, argues for the hypothesis that they were the product of a poet who composed according to rules accessible only to the educated or who had learned his craft by reading the auctores. Poetic merit was not, nor has it ever been, the exclusive domain of those who were schooled in the elements of writing or who had access to poetic theory as preserved in the arts of rhetoric.

The poem survived in a text that the juglar dictated, that eventually resulted in a copy made by either Abbot Pedro of Huerta or Abbot Pedro of Ovila in May of 1207, according to my hypothesis, and that has been handed down, perhaps after passing through intermediary copies, in the fourteenth-century manuscript. The inconsistencies of its versification can be ascribed mainly to the process by which it was recorded. Many medieval literary works were dictated to scribes, and most of these were taken down first on wax tablets that could be erased and reused. From the tablets texts were copied onto parchment, a more expensive medium. In taking down the poet's words the scribe would be hard put to keep pace with the rhythm of sung performance, which made it natural that the poet should be asked to speak his text rather than sing it. This deprived the poet of his normal cadence and resulted in a highly irregular text.

Two aspects of the Cantar de mio Cid stand out when one compares it with other epics in the Western tradition: the stress on economic exchange and the fact that so much of the narrative centers on the marriages of the hero's daughters.

Does not the representation of an acquisitive hero result in a poem of rather narrow scope in the context of the epic genre? Marcel Mauss, whose model of a gift economy provides the theoretical base for much of the analysis contained in this book, observes that the exchange of gifts constitutes one of the bases of social life (1954: 2). In focusing on the processes by which wealth is amassed and distributed, the poet is describing in an ideal state many of the functions that are the basis of the Castilian civilization to which he belongs and of which he is a partisan. With our retrospective view, we perceive the Reconquest as a continuum, a victorious flow of Christian hegemony from the north toward the south interrupted occasionally by the ebb of momentary defeat. But without that comprehensive vision, the poet no doubt entertained the possibility that a very real alternative to his own Christian, Castilian civilization could come to dominate Spain, namely the civilization of the Almohads which had recently asserted its presence so forcefully that some Castilians must have been led to doubt that their own cause would prevail. For him the Cid's exercise of power is superior not just because the hero was in the right, but because he exercised it effectively, with measure and good judgment. The Cid's gifts to Alfonso buy him peace and impose an obligation on the king to return the favors, both immediately in the form of what Alvar Fáñez requests and later in the form of the marriage alliance that the king arranges with the Infantes de Carrión. The contemporary audience's expectation that gifts would be reciprocated—a fundamental assumption in societies such as this—was reinforced by this portrayal.

Gift-giving is not merely an economic function but a moral one, and the Cid is presented as a man who heals through his gifts the wounds inflicted on society by the unjust accusations of malos mestureros. Portrayed as a giver rather than a receiver of gifts, he takes on a moral superiority that depends for its effect not upon the principles of Christian conduct but rather upon a system of social custom, termed by Mauss “total prestation” (1954: 6-8). He acts not as an individual but as the head of a clan, whose members, including Alfonso VIII of Castile and the Laras of Molina, constitute the most important segment of the poet's audience and participate in the prestige deriving from the hero's superiority. His enemies—and their descendants—on the other hand, demonstrate their subservience by accepting gifts that they subsequently refuse to return until the legal proceedings force them to.

In its portrayal of the process of acquiring and distributing goods, then, the Cantar de mio Cid is by no means narrow; in fact, it demonstrates in more specific ways than other Western European epics the reciprocal obligations that hold society together.

The Cid's daughters' two sets of marriages are imbedded in this framework. They serve a predominantly economic purpose in that they allow the exchange of the hero's wealth first for an ephemeral prestige based solely upon the values of inherited rank, then for a lasting one that joins his lineage with the royal families of Navarre and Aragon.

As Claude Lévi-Strauss has observed, in societies characterized by gift economies the woman given in marriage is “the supreme gift among those that can be obtained in the form of reciprocal gifts” (1969: 65). The gift-giving through which the hero manifests his wealth and power in the first and second cantares leads directly to the king's intervention in favor of the most extravagant gift-giving, the bestowal of his daughters on the Infantes de Carrión carried out by Alfonso VI's own hand. Alfonso VIII also ventured to give one of the most cherished of the gifts at his disposal, his daughter Berenguela, to a powerful prince, Alfonso IX of Leon, in a gesture similarly fraught with dangers to his honor.

The marriages allow the poetic Cid to test the value of the reputation he has acquired during his campaigns against well-established inherited values. In the period in which the poem was composed, Alfonso VIII and the Laras of Molina belonged to an extended kin group whose interests coincided not merely on the political but also on the social level. Both the king and the Laras had an interest in maintaining the honor of their renowned ancestor Rodrigo Díaz of Vivar, which was a kind of moral capital inherited from him that they shared in common.

The invention of a lineage as a political strategy was by no means unheard of in the Middle Ages. A noteworthy example is found in the case of the kin group of Bertulf, provost of the collegial church of St. Donatian of Bruges. Several of Bertulf's nephews conspired together to murder Count Charles the Good of Bruges in 1127 and have one of their own number replace him, because the count, in retaliation for acts of private warfare committed within his jurisdiction, had destroyed a house belonging to a member of the clan. One by one Bertulf's kin, even those who had not taken part in the conspiracy, were killed by Count Charles's avengers. The notary Galbert of Bruges, writing about these events, places Bertulf's kin in a lineage that he calls the “Erembalds.” He claims they were descended from a certain low-ranking knight named Boldran, a castellan of Bruges who had killed his lord by throwing him into a river after committing adultery with the lord's wife, in conjunction with whom he took over the castellany. This fictitious evil lineage was designed to justify the collective punishment of Bertulf's kinsmen, some of whom were executed by being thrown from a tower (Barthélemy 1988: 93-6). The invention of a lineage is, of course, the motivation behind the constitution of the French epic cycle of Doon de Mayence, who was purported to be the ancestor not only of Ganelon but of many of the other notable traitors whose deeds are recounted in the genre. The Cid poet does not invent lineages, but he ascribes fictional deeds to their members, and his work was inspired by the same mental structure that motivated Galbert of Bruges's revisionist history: the inheritance of social merit and blame from one's ancestors.

The Cantar de mio Cid was an appropriation of the Cid's fame adapted to the interests of the society in which the juglar lived. This view entails a model of the poem's functions in society and its relationship to the historical period it purports to represent. The poet was not an historian, but rather one who took a few historical details—that probably reached him through the tradition of songs about the Cid—and wove out of them a fictional song whose purpose was to encourage certain types of conduct. The poem is not, as Menéndez Pidal interpreted it, a faithful account of eleventh-century history marked by a few exaggerations and distortions, but rather fiction in which a very few eleventh-century details happen to be preserved.


  1. In a similar context Samuel Armistead, in his critique of D. G. Pattison's From Legend to Chronicle (Armistead 1986-7: 342-3), laments “the recurrent individualist misconception that, if the poem attests to ‘artistry’—if it is inventive, if it is, in fine, an artistic success—then, of course, it cannot possibly be popular or oral or traditional.”

Works Cited

Armistead, Samuel G. 1960. “Para el texto de la Refundición de las Mocedades de Rodrigo.Anuario de Estudios Medievales, 3: 529-40.

———. 1986-87. “From Epic to Chronicle: An Individualist Appraisal.” Romance Philology, 40: 338-59.

———. Forthcoming. “Dos tradiciones épicas sobre el nacimiento del Cid.” Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica.

Barthélemy, Dominique. 1988. “Kinship.” In A History of Private Life, ed. Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby, 2: Revelations of the Medieval World, ed. Georges Duby, 85-155. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

De Chasca, Edmund. 1968. Registro de formulas verbales en el Cantar de mio Cid. University of Iowa.

———. 1970. “Toward a Redefinition of Epic Formula in the Light of the Cantar de mio Cid.Hispanic Review, 38: 251-63.

———. 1972. El arte juglaresco en el Cantar de mio Cid. 2nd edn. Madrid: Gredos.

———. 1976. The Poem of the Cid. Twayne's World Authors Series, 378. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1981. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Heers, Jacques. 1974. Le Clan familial au moyen âge. Etude sur les structures politiques et sociales des milieux urbains. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1969. Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté. The Hague: Mouton.

Mauss, Marcel. 1954. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. Trans. Ian Cunnison. Introduction by E. E. Evans-Pritchard. Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press.

Parry, Milman. 1971. The Making of Homeric Verse. The Collected Papers of Milman Parry, ed. Adam Parry. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Webber, Ruth House. 1986a. “The Cantar de mio Cid: Problems of Interpretation.” In Oral Tradition in Literature: Interpretation in Context, ed. John Miles Foley, 65-88. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

———. 1986b. “Hispanic Oral Literature: Accomplishments and Perspectives.” Oral Tradition, 1: 344-80.

Edward H. Friedman (essay date fall 1989-90)

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SOURCE: Friedman, Edward H. “The Writerly Edge: A Question of Structure in the Poema de mio Cid.La Corónica 18, no. 2 (fall 1989-90): 11-20.

[In the following essay, Friedman suggests that applying the concept of intertextuality to the Cantar de mio Cid can shed light on the poem's composition and use of interwoven traditions, offering a different approach to the lingering debate regarding the work's authorship.]

The Poema de Mio Cid causes certain obvious problems for literary analysis. The more that is known about the conditions under which a work was produced, the greater the foundation for critical scrutiny. In this case, the identity of the author, the date and form of composition, and sources are open issues. Research on the Poema continues to be influenced by opposing visions of the medieval epic associated with the theories of Ramón Menéndez Pidal in Spain and Joseph Bédier in France. As summarized by Charles B. Faulhaber, Menéndez Pidal held that the romance epic “descended from earlier Germanic epic and, like it, was composed orally by a juglar, who had probably learned his craft through a long apprenticeship, as a means of commemorating near-contemporary events. Such ‘cantos noticieros’ were also transmitted by word-of-mouth and could, as a result, be easily modified by succeeding juglares in order to respond to changing artistic sensibilities and public taste … The longer the interval between event and written fixing of the text, the greater the discrepancy between the event and the juglar's narration of it” (83-84). For Bédier, on the other hand, “each poem is the work of one man, and we have it in the form in which it was composed except insofar as it may have been corrupted by scribal transmission” (85). The distinction between popular and learned origins remains at the heart of investigation into the Poema. Few major scholars, even those who focus on “oral art in transition” or on stylistic features of the poem, can resist classification into one school or the other. In recent years, the synthesis of Menéndez Pidal with oral formulaic theory and computer technology offers what may be termed “scientific” justification for neotraditionalism. At the same time, a group of scholars in Great Britain has found new grounds to support individualism. Colin Smith's The Making of the «Poema de Mio Cid», a key study in this regard, argues that the poem was “composed [by Per Abad] in or shortly before 1207, was the first epic to be composed in Castilian; that it was in consequence an innovatory and experimental work, in ways apparent in the surviving text; and that it did not depend on any precedents or existing tradition of epic verse in Castilian or other Peninsular language or dialect” (1).1

It is not only the survival of the initial conflict but the intensity of the controversy which may strike one who examines the critical corpus. Some of the most brilliant and dedicated scholars in the discipline are diametrically opposed in their view of the Poema, and their treatment of the “enemy camp” ranges from respect for differences, or polite restraint, to the trivialization of guiding premises at odds with their own.2 The neotraditionalists find ways to accommodate so-called learned influences within the culture text, while the neo-individualists insist that the degree of sophistication of the Poema cannot be “explained away.” Oralist theories may serve either side. Joseph J. Duggan, for example, argues that “the Cid, with 31.7 per cent formulas, is solidly within the range of oral poetry” (268), while Margaret Chaplin reaches the conclusion that “at some stage an oral tradition such as that described by Parry and Lord … played a part in the formation of the poem, either at an initial or an intermediate stage, but the epics as we have them today are learned” (18).

The crude meter, imperfect rhyme, and parataxis of the Poema suggest oral composition (Rivers 17), but these factors need to be reconciled with what Edmund de Chasca calls “la innegable unidad orgánica” of the poem (308). One might say, recognizing the oversimplification, that neotraditionalists tend to concentrate on process, while neo-individualists accentuate the product. The first group, of course, does not deny the existence of a written manuscript, but wishes to emphasize the contextual, performative, “traditional” features implicit in the poem, that is, its ties with a popular and predominantly oral culture. The second group prefers to consider the poem as an inscription (as opposed to transcription) of this oralism into a different mode of communication, an oral “past” transformed into a written “present.” The concept of intertextuality, introduced by Julia Kristeva, may offer a means by which to clarify certain issues in the debate between the critical schools. Intertextuality does not work with influences or sources per se, but with “the transposition of one or more systems of signs into another, accompanied by a new articulation of the enunciative and denotative position” (Kristeva 15). Every text implies the presence of other texts, which do not have to be written texts and which may include cultural and social codes. Vincent B. Leitch defines the term as follows: “The text is not an autonomous or unified object, but a set of relations with other texts. Its system of language, its grammar, its lexicon, drag along numerous bits and pieces—traces—of history so that the text resembles a Cultural Salvation Army Outlet with unaccountable collections of incompatible ideas, beliefs, and sources. The genealogy of the text is necessarily an incomplete network of conscious and unconscious borrowed fragments” (59).

The construct of the intertext makes it possible to identify oral features in a written work and to distinguish between stages—or strata—in its development. One may seek “traces” of oral composition and transmission in the written version of a text, and may attempt to determine the priority of one system over another. While the historical record and a sense of chronology form part of the intertext, the text proper remains at the center, as manifestation and container of these “layered” units of significance. What may be lacking here for some scholars is a quest for origins and a strong interest in originality, but to compensate there is a synthesis, of sorts, of process and product. The critic looks to the product, not beyond it, for markers of the creative process, for an internal continuum. In the case of the Poema de Mio Cid, this would provide a common starting point and frame of reference for some questions of composition and interwoven traditions, and it would lessen the burden of proof for authorship and specific sources. Intertextuality is perhaps more concerned with actualization than with accountability, more concerned with what is in a text than with the “history” of this presence. This general approach in all likelihood will not be particularly meaningful to those who view the Poema primarily as an historical object; it may satisfy those who view the work primarily as an art object or who refuse to differentiate between the two. Because the method does not aim to exhaust the possibilities, there is an understanding and a tolerance of diversity of opinion. The testing of hypotheses may not yield definitive results, but that is less important than the description of a given text's reference to other texts, be they literary, linguistic, ideological, or social. In the comprehensive structure, extratextual elements may be viewed as functions of the interrelated sign systems; they may be inscribed into the text. The benefits of intertextuality notwithstanding, one must recall the bottom line of the controversy: was the poem composed orally or in writing, by a “singer of tales” or on the other hand by a clerk?

In an essay on oral-formulaic rhetoric, Alan Renoir makes the assumption that “there can be such a thing as written oral-formulaic poetry … [and] that written literature can be orally composed” (237). In broad terms, neo-individualists depend on the first premise, neotraditionalists on the second. I believe that the thesis that a written text can employ devices associated with oral formulas is far more feasible, and defensible, than its converse. Popular enthusiasm, community spirit, mnemonic skills, performance conventions, continuity, and other factors cannot fully explain the art of the Poema de Mio Cid. The poem is grounded in oral tradition, and it attempts to re-create an oral/aural situation, the interaction between a minstrel and his public. Those who argue that the Cid manuscript is a refurbishing (refundición) cannot ignore the mark of the artist on the document. Despite an obvious reliance on other materials—on the intertext—the author of this version of the poem grafts his own vision onto the earlier forms. The sustained written performance has an “undeniable organic unity,” a complex and beautifully orchestrated set of relations. The narrative projects a carefully controlled balance, a sense of moderation—mesura—to match this quality in its protagonist.

A number of critics, inspired by the work of Dámaso Alonso, Pedro Salinas, and others, have studied the Poema from stylistic perspectives. More often than not, these critics attempt to maintain an air of neutrality with respect to authorship and composition. One will find statements such as “When I refer to ‘the poet,’ I do so without prejudice” (Dunn 111) or “I do not think that the argument proposed in this paper is incompatible with the view, held by many scholars, that the Cantar belongs to the vast body of oral heroic poetry whose characteristics have been brilliantly outlined by Albert B. Lord in The Singer of Tales; nor conversely, do I think my argument depends upon acceptance of the view that the Cantar is really a text of this kind” (Hart 35). Even Colin Smith, in an article on “Tone of Voice in the Poema de Mio Cid,” notes that “in one point at least all students of the Poema and of comparable epics in Spain and in France can unite: in whatever way these poems were composed at whatever date, they were intended to be presented viva voce by a performer to a listening audience” (3). Nonetheless, I would submit that the text of the Poema displays a consciousness of its written nature and of a potential reading public. An oral performance would include only part of the text. The unity of the work, together with its narrative and poetic control, gives it a force and a subtlety evident only in the complete text. In Semiotics of Poetry, Michael Riffaterre distinguishes between a first reading, which he calls “heuristic,” and additional “retroactive” or “hermeneutic” readings, in which the reader “decodes” the text, makes connections which are impossible to recognize during the first stage (4-6). Oral performance, including repetition of fragments of the text, is analogous to heuristic reading, while stylistic analysis corresponds to the hermeneutic stage, based on a consideration of the text in its totality and on multiple readings. It would be a mistake, I think, to minimize the efforts of “the poet” or the structure of the text as a unit.

Among the salient features of this comprehensive structure are (1) a series of graded movements, (2) interdependence of plot events, (3) sustained patterns of imagery, and (4) foreshadowing strategies. On a more abstract level, it would be possible to include the metalinguistic implications of the text, in essence a consideration of the medium as message. In the first category, one could underscore the Cid's gifts to King Alfonso, the battles (with the only “exaggerated” battle, against King Yucef, significantly placed after the arrival of Doña Jimena and the daughters in Valencia), the marriages, and the judicial process. The Cid's regaining of his honor, as a vassal of the king and as a soldier of Christ, and King Alfonso's path toward becoming a “buen señor” are reciprocal actions. The Cid must prove himself worthy of the king's trust—must understand that while he is lord of Valencia, he remains a vassal of Alfonso and a servant of God—and the king, in turn, must acknowledge the Cid's loyalty. The bravery and allegiance of the Cid are in themselves insufficient to effect a change; his status depends upon the king's response to the gestures of good faith.3

Several critics have focused on the consistency of poetic imagery to describe the structure of the work. For example, Alan Deyermond and David Hook see the recurrence of doors and clothing in key episodes as signs of the “unity of inspiration and … the structural and stylistic coherence” of the Poema (375). When Thomas R. Hart discusses the use of foreshadowing in the poem, he does so from the perspective of oral performance: “One way the poet insures our continuing interest in what will happen to his characters is [through] … foreshadowing—a device perhaps more essential to a poet whose story is told to a group of listeners than to a novelist who writes for a solitary, and hence presumably attentive, reader” (25). There are, however, aspects of the text which function not only at this deictic level, but which indicate a subtle treatment of causality. A particular paradigm (and counterpart of the numerous omens of the poem) is the introduction of details which later prove significant: the king's presence in Carrión when Alvar Fáñez seeks him bearing gifts, the winning of the swords (Colada and Tizón), and the Cid's friendship with the Moslem leader, Abengalbón, to cite but a few examples. The broad strokes, or basic themes, of the work are complemented, it would seem, by a regard for internal logic and a confidence in the attentiveness of the destined audience. The techniques by which elements are “inscribed” into the poem point to a consciousness of the whole and to structural constants delineated, or made clearer, through “retroactive” readings.

The case of Abengalbón illustrates the care with which the poet prepares his audience. In the second cantar, when Alvar Fáñez escorts Doña Jimena and the daughters from Cardeña to Valencia, the Cid sends an entourage to meet them. He instructs his men to pass by Molina, whose governor is Abengalbón. The Cid asks for an accompaniment of one hundred horsemen; Abengalbón brings double that number. After his intervention in laisses 83 and 84, Abengalbón is not mentioned in the text until laisse 126, in the third cantar. The Cid orders Félez Muñoz to proceed to Molina and ask Abengalbón to receive his daughters and sons-in-law. Again accompanied by two hundred horsemen, the governor greets and serves the party. The Infantes plot to abandon their wives and to kill Abengalbón. A Moslem who understands Spanish overhears the discussion and reports to the governor that the Infantes plan to murder him. Abengalbón's fidelity to the Cid prevents him from taking revenge. He departs (laisse 128), thus unwittingly leaving the women to confront their fate. He reappears in the poem in laisse 132, when the Cid's men are returning to Valencia with Doña Elvira and Doña Sol. Once again, he treats the group with great courtesy and respect. The poet accentuates the governor's loyalty to the Cid through the repetition of events (the summoning of two hundred horsemen, for example), themes (the worthy lord and noble vassal, for example), and language (variation of the verb placer, for example). The friendship which exists between the two men is established at an early point in the second cantar, yet its true value is not apparent until the Corpes episode. There is calculated irony in the reporting of the message to Abengalbón. The Moslem conveys only that the Infantes are plotting the murder. He fails to inform his master that they intend to leave their wives, even though this fact is mentioned in the conversation he overhears. The omission allows the drama to continue. By pardoning the Infantes, the governor gives them the opportunity to execute their plan. In the realm of poetic justice, Abengalbón cannot be the agent of revenge. The dishonor must take place so that the Cid may vindicate himself (and allow the king to do the same).

No matter how significant the “original” story fragments and modes of transmission may be in the creation of epic narrative, the final (written) product displays an artistry and a calculated symmetry which may be viewed as separate from oral composition and recitation. Any consideration of transcription would have to consider differences brought about by the writing process, and, in the case of the Poema de Mio Cid, the product suggests far more than the recording of oral performance(s). Eugene Vance notes that the culture of the Christian Middle Ages was “obsessed with the problem and dangers of textuality” (403). For Vance, the conclusion of the Song of Roland portends unending violence rather than forgiveness or consolation (398), and this leads him to argue that “the Roland is less a tragedy in language than a tragedy of language itself, the loss of force in the heroes of this poem being a way of dramatizing a more pervasive loss of signification in the world … The seemingly permanent semantic universe of formulaic discourse is disrupted by discontinuities that are those of time itself, which an ethics of memory cannot finally remedy” (399). In a metalinguistic study of the Poema, Malcolm K. Read sees a general favoring of action over speech: “The fact that in the [poem] both verbal and gestural languages sometimes mask thought or present it obliquely does not indicate a radical scepticism towards the communicative act. However, it does suggest that, in the last resort, the characters do not place too much trust in words, as opposed to deeds. While the fighting man understands the need to keep one's word and to defend one's name, and indeed to respect the language of law, he cannot finally take seriously such a passive activity as speech” (14-15). While I do not agree fully with Read's assessment—I would argue that the poem reconciles speech and action, that honor is due a man whose deeds are as good as his word and that the “new” epic hero (and warrior) is one who accepts the word as law—I do agree that the text may be judged as a statement on language as well as on life. One may see in the Poema a tendency to “punctuate” word with action, to show the consequences of misplaced faith in the word, and to associate justice with physical restraint and with a correct “reading” of signs.4 This is a moment of transition in a number of realms, one of which is space allotted for the written word.

If one were to accept this “modest proposal” that the Poema de Mio Cid may be read (not must be or even should be read) as if it were intended for a reading public, I believe that it would be possible to explore—without apology or qualification—the comprehensive structure of the work. Intertextuality offers a means by which to bring oralism, history, other texts and codes into the study. And, of course, in this regard a part of the poet's achievement would be his ability to bring dramatic and performative elements into the written work. If this paper has taken a side in the controversy—if its author has tried to demonstrate a “writerly edge”—it is with the utmost respect for the (fittingly) vocal advocates of the juglares.


  1. Faulhaber, Deyermond, Webber, Gerli, and Miletich, among others, survey trends in scholarship on the epic.

  2. See, for example, the following passages, two from each “school”:

    (1) “The Cantar is the only remaining comprehensive expression of the secular culture of its time; Menéndez Pidal recognized its importance in this sense … It seems odd, therefore, for a modern theorist to regard Spain as an exception, to consider the Cantar's Spanish roots as ‘unnecessary,’ and to imagine it as the artificial, idiosyncratic creation of a clever xenophile and propagandist. The poem, at once majestic and naive, is not like anything French or anything learned. The distinction between learned and popular epic is fundamental, and the modern observer cannot afford to forget that difference because of contacts between clerical and folk literature … [E]laborate arguments for authorship by a learned lawyer have very little fact to support them”

    (Montgomery 13).

    (2) “It simply will not do to eliminate chronistic evidence and then say that all known epic texts are of clerical origin and show learned elements in the copies that have come down to us. Of course they do! The very act of copying an epic poem presupposes a profound learned intervention and a profound distortion of the epic's natural mode of existence as a traditional, oral form. Few traditionalists would deny that clerics may have played a part, perhaps an important part, in the transmission of the epic at certain stages of its existence. But what such learned, clerical intervention has to do with the origins and the essential nature of the epic poems in the multi-secular trajectory of the traditional existence remains to be demonstrated”

    (Armistead 323-24).

    (3) “I accuse the traditionalists of blinkered neglect of much in Latin, in French, in learned texts, in ecclesiastical culture, in motivations monastic and local and genealogical; in short, of many features which recent critics and researchers have, for Spain, now begun to explore”

    (Smith, “Epics and Chronicles” 427).

    (4) “[W]e have to face the very strong evidence of learned authorship … It is very doubtful whether this can be adequately disposed of by the theory of a juglar who picked up some ecclesiastical and legal knowledge from his audiences … or orally-transmitted codes of law, since what is often involved is not specific pieces of knowledge, but habits of mind which could only be the result of long training … [T]he only possible solution seems to be authorship by a clerk (priest or lawyer) who became a juglar, as few are known to have done”

    (Deyermond 23).

  3. Sloman makes a similar point about the interrelated plots of La vida es sueño. The stages of Segismundo's transformation are dependent upon Rosaura, just as her honor is dependent upon his conversion from an instinctive to a rational being.

  4. Read views the situation from a different perspective:

    “The characters of the PMC belong to a singularly masculine world in which discursive language, in essence a feminine excellence, is radically undervalued. To linger too long in language is a sign of a lack of manly virtue”


Works Cited

Armistead, Samuel G. “The Mocedades de Rodrigo and Neo-Individualist Theory.” Hispanic Review 46 (1978): 313-27.

Chaplin, Margaret. “Oral-Formulaic Style in the Epic: A Progress Report.” In Medieval Hispanic Studies Presented to Rita Hamilton, ed. A. D. Deyermond. London: Tamesis, 1976. 11-20.

De Chasca, Edmund. El arte juglaresco en el “Cantar de Mio Cid.” Madrid: Gredos, 1967.

Deyermond, A. D. “Tendencies in ‘Mio Cid’ Scholarship, 1943-1973.” In “Mio Cid” Studies, ed. A. D. Deyermond. London: Tamesis, 1977. 13-47.

———, and David Hook. “Doors and Cloaks: Two Image-Patterns in the Cantar de Mio Cid.MLN 94 (1979): 366-77.

Duggan, Joseph J. “Formulaic Diction in the Cantar de Mio Cid and in the Old French Epic.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 10 (1974): 260-69.

Dunn, Peter N. “Levels of Meaning in the Poema de Mio Cid.MLN 85 (1970): 109-19.

Faulhaber, Charles B. “Neo-traditionalism, Formulism, Individualism, and Recent Studies on the Spanish Epic.” Romance Philology 30.1 (1976): 83-101.

Gerli, E. Michael. “Individualism and the Castilian Epic: A Survey, Synthesis, and Biliography.” Olifant 9.3-4 (1982): 129-50.

Hart, Thomas R. “The Rhetoric of (Epic) Fiction: Narrative Technique in the Cantar de Mio Cid.Philological Quarterly 51.1 (1972): 23-35.

Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language. Ed. Leon S. Roudiez. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Leitch, Vincent B. Deconstructive Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Miletich, John S. “Hispanic and South Slavic Traditional Narrative Poetry and Related Forms: A Survey of Comparative Studies (1824-1977).” In Oral Traditional Literature: A Festschrift for Albert Bates Lord, ed. John Miles Foley. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers, 1980. 375-89.

Montgomery, Thomas. “Mythopoeia and Myopia: Colin Smith's The Making of the «Poema de Mio Cid».Journal of Hispanic Philology 8 (1983): 7-16.

Anon., Poema de Mio Cid. Ed. Ian Michael. 2nd ed. Madrid: Castalia, 1978.

Read, Malcolm K. The Birth and Death of Languages: Spanish Literature and Linguistics, 1300-1700. Potomac, Maryland: Studia Humanitatis, 1983.

Renoir, Alain. “Oral-Formulaic Rhetoric: An Approach to Image and Message in Medieval Poetry.” In Medieval Texts and Contemporary Readers. Ed. Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Shichtman. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1987.

Riffaterre, Michael. Semiotics of Poetry. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Rivers, Elias L. Quixotic Scriptures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

Sloman, A. E. “The Structure of Calderón's La vida es sueño.Modern Language Review 48 (1953): 293-300. Reprinted in Critical Essays on the Theatre of Calderón, ed. Bruce W. Wardropper (New York: New York University Press, 1965).

Smith, Colin. “Epics and Chronicles: A Reply to Armistead.” Hispanic Review 51 (1983): 409-28.

———. The Making of the «Poema de Mio Cid». Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

———. “Tone of Voice in the Poema de Mio Cid.Journal of Hispanic Philology 9 (1984): 3-19.

Vance, Eugene. “Roland and the Poetics of Memory.” In Textual Strategies, ed. Josué V. Harari. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979. 374-403.

Webber, Ruth H. “The Cantar de Mio Cid: Problems of Interpretation.” In Oral Tradition in Literature: Interpretation in Context, ed. John Miles Foley. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986. 65-88.

Thomas Montgomery (essay date July 1991)

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SOURCE: Montgomery, Thomas. “Interaction of Factors in Tense Choice in the Poema del Cid.Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 68, no. 3 (July 1991): 355-69.

[In the following essay, Montgomery examines the controlled, almost modern, manner in which the poet shifts tenses in the Cantar de mio Cid.]

Rhyme, rhythm, syllable-count, vocalic echoes, specific conventions of phraseology, and preference or distaste for certain forms, endings, and word-combinations—and besides these primarily acoustic effects, aspect, affirmation/negation, number, context, markedness, time-reference, deixis, dialogics, preference for variety, and poetic privilege—all these dimensions and elements and undoubtedly others, in complex interaction, affect the choice of present, imperfect, and preterite tenses in the narrative portions of the Poema del Cid. These distinctive conditioning and modifying factors of the narrative voice, combined with analogous peculiarities in the use of other deictic elements such as demonstratives, contrast with the determiners of the direct discourse reported in the poem, in which the characters or actants (Benveniste's term), envisioned as speaking at a given moment in time, observe rules for the use of the three tenses which differ little from those of other medieval texts, and are familiar in today's language. The time-frame governing the performance or oral presentation of the poem, evidently, is contrasted with those of the actants. The habit of shifting from one tense to another is a positive poetic value, a phenomenon of controlled freedom which, like the variable line-length, is managed skilfully and to great advantage by a poet following a well-developed tradition. This paper will be an elaboration of the foregoing statements. It will necessarily treat the various factors in summary fashion, sometimes offering new observations and sometimes only reorganizing material from earlier work, while aiming to bring out the complementarity of the diverse tendencies. It is taken as axiomatic that the tenses, like any linguistic trait, function by means of a structure that must be apprehended on its own terms and through systematic observation, and that intuitions regarding usage only have value within such a methodological context.

Study of the verb system of the poem was long dominated by efforts to formulate generalized rules which would cover both French and Spanish epic, and was hampered by failure to note the rather obvious contrast between direct discourse and narrative in both national traditions. Attempts to treat the epic present tense as a ‘historical present’ also led usually to frustration, although this device is by no means absent from the poem. Again, the concept of the ‘vivid imperfect’ (Lerch 1922), while not irrelevant to the work, is too confining to represent the reality of its system. Further damaging prejudices were the assumptions that the language of the Poema was crude and immature, unable to convey the nuances of cultivated literature, or else too decadently chaotic or capricious to reflect the subtleties of an imagined ideal pan-Romance system. It was Manfred Sandmann who brought out the essential fact that both French and Spanish epic used two systems—not, of course, the same in the two languages—one for narrative and another for reported dialogue;1 Foulet had noted a third such contrast in Aucassin et Nicolette.2 Sandmann did not at first exploit his finding with great effectiveness. He thought of tense variation as a reaction against an insistent repetition presumed to characterize primitive poetry (266), speaking of a ‘confusion’ of tenses—an expression he continued to use later3—as a ‘problem’ of stylistics, not of grammar, but at the same time trying to find rules for the use of the compound perfect tenses that could be stated in terms of modern distinctions (269-78). Later, in a much more successful study centred on the Roland,4 he touched on the atemporality of the present tense (396), and acutely identified a ‘perpendicular’ symbolic meaning supplying associative links not explicit in the paratactic epic style, tolerant of the ‘confusion’ of tenses and contrasting with the ‘horizontal’, connected, logical discursive style of most extended texts (394-95). His two dimensions, the symbolic and the connected, paralleled remarkably the paradigmatic and syntagmatic modes of Roman Jakobson, later elaborated by Roland Barthes and others. Sandmann's concepts, apparently developed independently, still promise to yield valuable insights into the semiotics of medieval Romance epic. His last statement on the subject5 ends with an excellent summary of basic principles.

The idea of a confusion of tenses, however, does no justice to the linguistic or artistic integrity of the Poema del Cid, and is contradicted by the presence of two contrasting systems, both of which can be described, although, especially in narrative, the outcome of interaction among factors is not wholly predictable. It is productive to view the poet's sense of what was right in terms of the contrast between the two modes. Operating like others before him with, and within, a conventionalized speech-form, he used the deictic devices of the language, elements such as tense, person, demonstratives, and time expressions, whose meaning depends on the place and time of the utterance or performance, to bring out the distinction between his voice and those of the poem's doers or actants, who spoke as individuals locked into a particular time and place by the narrative framework. The narrator, identified with the author, speaks as an authority, as one who controls actions which he presents as fact. This stance is artificial and conventional in that the audience also exercises control. The story is familiar to all, and if the minstrel gets many purported facts wrong or expresses himself badly, he loses his audience's respect and attention. Authority is thus shared, and the tale is retold as something shared.

A rough analogy—and only an analogy, not offered as an approximation to the poem's narrative mode—may be drawn with today's conventional manner of summarizing plots in the present tense, in which information is shared about a tale but the speaker and hearer do not enter into the action as in a true retelling. The underlying assumptions are themselves in the present tense: the story exists, it goes like this: ‘Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, el Cid, es enviado por su rey Alfonso a cobrar las parias que los moros de Andalucía pagaban [a momentary change to historical focus] a Castilla … Tiene un encuentro … le prende … Cuando el Cid vuelve …’6 Further on, when the Cid is quoted, preterites are required: ‘El rey fue quien casó mis hijas’ (12). The reason for adducing this parallel is not to claim similarity of the summarizing convention to that of the epic, but rather to point out that neither implies a revision of the values of the tenses. It is the speaker's viewpoint that undergoes readjustment. The use of the timeless present tense solidifies the ‘I-you’ relationship of speaker and listener, increasing the distance from the third person, the actant of the story; the author becomes another distanced third person, distinct from the speaker. The latter recounts the narrative and refers to its authoring as an observer, not a participator. In the Poema, the presenter and the author are taken to be the same person, but the story, as part of common memory, has an existence apart from the particular performance at hand, through which it is re-experienced. So, with complexity and subtlety, the poem alternates the dialogic and narrative modes. In the latter, a shift to the present tense is customary when the verb is stative or imperfective in meaning, bringing together the minstrel, the audience, and the characters of the poem as members of a larger group, whereas the actants of the poem function within a more clearly temporal scheme. They make their statements at a particular past moment, adhering to the usual non-epic values of the verb tenses. The minstrel prepares for their statements by shifting into their perspective. So the verbum dicendi of the poem takes a course opposite to that found in many texts, moving to the preterite, with fabló in 26 instances but none of fabla, dixo 93 times but diz(e) 6, of which only one (782) announces a speech. Other verbs leading into speeches show the same preference: levantó(s') and se levantó 14 times with no instance of levanta(s') or se levanta (but for an additional factor, the role of the enclitic pronoun, see below). Laisse 56, lines 960-84, is typical. It consists mainly of an exchange of messages between the Cid and the Count of Barcelona. Except for a segment on troop movements (968-74), all verbs are either preterite forms framing the speeches, or forms of imperfective verbs in the present tense, as in the first line, ‘El conde es muy follón ¦ e dixo una vanidat’. The strong tendency to use imperfective verbs in the present tense7 may have antecedents in Latin narrative poetry,8 and may have opened the way for the many seemingly anomalous shifts of tense that are a distinctive mark of the poem.

The poem's peculiar narrative system has had major implications for critics, although unexamined or tacit assumptions have often produced self-contradiction and circularity of argument, and have served to confirm conclusions that appear as polar opposites. One view seems to be that the poet was freed by the conventions of the epic medium from the usual strictures of tense use, and could evolve his own personal habits of expression and individual style—or, in an extreme version of this position, could create a poetic vehicle at the command of his unique creative genius.9 In the other interpretation, the poet worked within linguistic patterns that had been handed down to him, strictly limited and guided by a tradition that was acceptable and understandable to an audience who knew the respective linguistic codes, recognizing the structure of oppositions that had been specialized for purposes of epic communication. The first opinion, compatible with the individualist concept of epic origins, sees the creative act as a function of the parole: the critic's sensibility responds to that of the poet, bridging centuries of linguistic and cultural change. The second, traditionalist view gives primacy to the langue as a virtual equivalent of the culture, particularly the popular culture. The critic's task is to develop his sensibility by learning the remote langue through every available means. Both views, if they have been accurately set forth here, are for better or worse Romantically-tinged. Paradoxically, the opposed positions, which have led scholars into frustrating polemics, are partial and mutually dependent, and their oppositions are not really clear-cut. The list of factors that begins this study includes some that would be emphasized by each camp. Poetic privilege and rhyme work together to determine some tense-choice strictures necessarily provided by the system in a process involving both parole and langue. Another factor, aspect, is a grammatical category of which the speaker would have little conscious understanding or awareness, and over which he would exercise only limited control; yet poetic privilege (licence, convention) is surely an element of many of those decisions that are partially determined by aspectual distinctions. In studying each case, the important thing is to appreciate the given quantities first, in their complex interaction. Without them the role of individual taste and artistic successes must remain an unknown quantity.

The most ambitious study of the tenses of the Cid to benefit from Sandmann's observation, that of Gilman,10 is vulnerable largely because of its lack of clarity on the points just brought out. It begins with a solid base of data, and a thoughtful reading of earlier scholarship, mostly on the French epic. It shows the designation ‘historical present’ to be often inapplicable where the poem uses the present tense. It develops the theme of the aspectual character of narrative tense distinctions, documenting the related fact (exaggerated by his method of counting [see p. 58n], but nonetheless correct) that the preterite tense most often goes with singular subjects while the present is preferred with the plural. At this point in his discussion, a long way from solving the many apparent anomalies of the poem's verb system, and perhaps because the linguistic data lead him to no such solution, Gilman turns away from the langue to pursue a number of subjective impressions regarding the poet's style. Indulging in a bit of sophistry, he claims that ‘el elemento de veras singular—no numéricamente, sino por el valor dado a singularidad—es el héroe’ (65); but this non-grammatical element somehow invades the grammar so that the named heroic subject requires the preterite. Gilman thus allows himself to argue both with and without grammar. He recalls that Valle-Inclán once remarked that Homer ‘escribe de rodillas’, combines this thought with his data on the predominance of the singular preterite, and elevates the product to a principle of a ‘celebratory preterite’ applied to the Cid's actions.11 In so doing, he neglects the fact that actions of other single characters, such as the Moor Abengalbón, are also recounted in the preterite. His conclusion implies, perhaps unintentionally, that the use of the preterite—the poem's commonest tense in narrative—was the one requiring elucidation. The present tense, the deviant one by non-epic standards, thus appears by default as normal and is left unexplained—perhaps under the influence of Hatcher (1941), who regarded the present tense as normal in the Roland, where it predominates, and the perfect or passé simple as distinctive or marked. (Generally in narrative the past tense is expected, hence unmarked, and the present tense is most likely to require an explanation. In the Poema, both tenses have to be accounted for. The preterite, besides being associated with the single subject, often inaugurates a series of actions or indicates a change in the narrative thread, functioning as the marked tense both temporally and aspectually, the one that carries the most specific information.) When Gilman reaches the imperfect tense, intermediate in both aspect and markedness between present and preterite, his treatment is impressionistic, endowing the tense with several mutually contradictory values, one of them not really distinguishable from that attributed to the preterite. In sum, he offers keen observations on specific instances of use, but not the coherent set of concepts that his first organization of data seems to promise.

A recent series of studies by Fleischman12 have considered tense-switching in Old French in the light of various linguists' work in discourse analysis of informal spoken narrative in today's European languages. She builds up a strong theoretical basis, with valuable observations on the effect of the social context of tale-telling on tense selection, on the present tense as a foregrounding device, and on tense variation as a concomitant of paratactic structuring. Fleischman's conclusions, however, are subjective and limited, using a single passage (in two articles) from Aucassin et Nicolette to show use of the present tense in a sequence of rapid actions (mounting, riding, striking) as an evaluative or foregrounding device (reminiscent of Gilman's celebratory preterite), and overlooking or under-valuing morphological and aspectual peculiarities of the verbs. More seriously, she neglects a fundamental trait of the composition, namely the playful, parodic nature of its ideas, structure, and symbolism. These are so pervasive, and the narrative tense-choices so unsystematic, that the reader must suspect that the mock-epic passage under study is designed to make fun of several habits of epic language, including in particular its use of tenses. Still, Fleischman does incidentally bring out a denominator common to both French and Spanish epic. In the Chanson de Roland, the aorist or passé simple is aspectually neutral, the imperfect is little used, and the present takes on perfective force in narrative.13 In the Poema the dimensions are also more aspectual than temporal, but the preterite is strictly perfective and the present is the most strongly imperfective of the three narrative tenses. Thus, while Old French tense use may with some profit be considered in terms of modern expressive strategies,14 the Spanish epic system contrasts with all others, including the prose and clerecía poetry of its own century. Consideration of these scholars' work only reinforces the conviction that tense selection is a many-faceted phenomenon, unique to each language and even to different subgenres, and that a way toward understanding it is to be found through careful study of its diverse aspects in their interrelation, not through abstract (Gilman) or modern (Fleischman) analogues. The following summary account of various factors and of their mutual dependency leaves room for much more finely-detailed elaboration. It will begin with the more concrete and specific points.


Oliver Myers has proved in a rigorous, definitive statistical study that verb forms in -ó, -ava, and -ado are particularly common in laisses whose assonance they match, while other verb forms are proportionately less frequent in those laisses.15 The figures are clear enough to remove any doubt as to the correctness of the naive observer's impression that the assonance does sometimes influence the choice of tense.16 Variation of morphemes to suit the requirements of assonance is a habit not confined to the tenses. Many examples are to be found in derivational morphology: thus honor and pavor occupy the rhyming position while ondra and miedo occur elsewhere.17 A touch of poetic licence permits a third-person quería (279)18 in an í-a laisse, though that form is elsewhere reserved for the first person (except with enclitic pronouns). The interaction of rhyme and content has wider resonances that can affect tense-assonance relations. Most laisses dealing with women are in í-a and repeatedly use assonating words appropriate to the poem's concept of the feminine, including Sancta María, missas, fijas, día(s), rricas, vida; other laisses presenting women are in á-a.19 Again, throughout the poem, Martín Antolínez is usually associated with the á-a assonance, whereas Pero Bermúdez and Muño Gustioz, whether their names assonate or not, appear mainly in laisses in -ó.20 In the final duels, laisses 150, 151 and 152, which use an above-normal number of verbs in line-final position, the same correspondences of personage and assonance are maintained, producing an increased number of imperfects in laisse 151, in which Martín Antolínez does battle, and of preterites in 150 and 152, each devoted in part to one of the other heroes. Theme and tense then become interrelated, in a manner more easily described than in many instances where a number of factors interact.

In identifying the compensatory reduction in the number of verbs in other tenses when a particular tense is favoured by the assonance, Myers points to a kind of regularity in the poem that has been taken too much for granted by philologists. Within the rather minor variations brought about by the rhyme, the relative proportions of verbs in each tense remain roughly consistent throughout the poem, despite considerable variation in subject-matter. This significant consistency is paralleled in the poem by that of other variables, such as the well-sustained proportion of narrative to direct discourse, and the nearly constant average line length, with deviations above and below the norm diminishing in orderly numerical progression;21 the parallel even extends, to a degree, to the distribution of assonances (although here a drift toward ó and toward longer laisses accompanies thematic changes). These consistencies, all somewhat interrelated, indicate a well-developed sense of style. That tense patterning was not controlled by a universal or unchanging epic convention is shown, however, by a glance at the other extant epic texts. The Roncesvalles fragment, in the rather small number of narrative lines it contains, shows deviations from the tense use of prose and cuaderna vía poetry only in rhyming position and by poetic licence, as in ‘oit lo que dirade, ¦ diz …’22 The Mocedades bears numerous traces of the conventions known in the Cid, enough to confirm their authenticity, but in a system that has drawn much closer to that of non-epic texts. A degree of individual input is implied by these contrasts, and the Mocedades also affords a strong clue to the motivation for the variations of the Cid: in its frequent use of the preterite, along with other regularities imposed by the poetic form, the later poem is monotonous.

Parallelism of many kinds23 and repetition, ‘la première forme qui se soit offerte à l'homme’,24 are essentials of poetic composition. In any poem, tension must develop between those elements and a flight from the monotony that simple repetition and unadorned parallelism would induce. Barthes remarked that the antidote to monotony is logic.25 This seems to imply that the methods and devices of prose and of the intellect enter into the equation; Jakobson would have looked, rather, for intricacies of variation at all levels of discourse, from the unit of sound to the most extensive and abstract structuring of thought, to establish the poetic qualities of a text. In matters of logic and the intellect, the Cid holds to a modest, accessible level, consonant with a direct, transparent form. With rare exceptions, each hemistich and each line is an integral unit of meaning, with most lines paired to form larger units.26 The melodic vehicle undoubtedly brought out the final stress of each hemistich, reinforced by the assonance. With all the forces favouring uniformity, opportunities allowed by the language to vary verb forms (perhaps originating, as suggested before, in aspectual differentiation) must have been welcome. Menéndez Pidal (Cantar I, 356) and Lapesa27 have both expressed the view that the desire for variety affected the choice of tenses in the poem. This desire, as well as the need to control it, appear as essential, fundamental elements of composition: a principle of controlled variability so powerful that its effects resemble those of a statistically random distribution around a norm.28 The two variables, tense choice and assonance, remain in balance under the control of the broader principle.

The other major controlling variable, line length, can have a direct bearing on tense choice, and can produce a number of prosodic ramifications that also affect preferences for certain verb forms. The pressure is toward seven syllables in the first segment of each line and eight in the second. Primary stresses within the hemistich vary around a norm of two. Although Navarro29 claims two as a constant, a range of one to four (without considering aberrant hemistichs) seems to exist: for example, one in ‘A Saragoça’ (905, 914) and probably in ‘De los sos oios’ (1), and four in ‘¡Nuestras oraçiones váyante delante!’ (853), ‘averes monedados non tenemos nós’ (3236). In a related distribution, the stresses are separated by a number of atonic syllables usually amounting to one, two, or three, but with allowance for a wider range: apparently none between the first two words of ‘Allí piensan de aguiiar’ (10, also 1423, 2428, but with a third primary stress in each such half-line), and four in ‘tiénengelo delant’ (1050), ‘Atorgárongelo los fieles’ (3645), and perhaps in 192, 273 and 1069. The poem usually finds ways to avoid constructions like the last, such as inversions and tense changes. The prosodic variations may have been overridden by the melodic line, but even so they would serve to mitigate the insistently regular phrasing imposed by the hemistich, phrasing evidently bothersome to the chroniclers, who usually were careful to obliterate it as they de-poeticized the text.

Acceptance of the variability principle carries with it the recognition that scholarly attempts to impose some kind of regularity on the metre of the poem, on the assumption that deviations are defects, stem from failure to appreciate positive poetic values. As an example of how the principle operates, one may again consider laisse 56, lines 960-84. In only one line are the two hemistichs unequivocally (that is, allowing for uncertainties regarding hiatus and synalepha) equal, with seven syllables each, but even this equality is modulated by the oxytonic ending of the first half-line: ‘Del conde don Remont ¦ venídol' es mensaie’ (975). There is no instance where consecutive lines unequivocally contain the same syllable-count in both hemistichs.

Such constant variation over a small number of alternatives is statistically unlikely, requiring more attention on the part of the poet than would occasional repetitions, as of a 7+8 line following another such line, in this laisse containing 28 hemistichs of 7 syllables and 24 of 8, of a total of 81 hemistichs.30 The positive, deliberate nature of variability and its aesthetic motivation are demonstrable in another way as well. In his analysis of the poem's metrics (Cantar I, 95), Menéndez Pidal found only one sequence of more than two lines composed of heptasyllabic hemistichs, and even here with rearrangement of stress in the third line: ‘los moros yazen muertos, ¦ de bivos pocos veo; / los moros e las moras ¦ vender no los podremos, / que los descabeçemos, ¦ nada non ganaremos, / coiámoslos de dentro …’ (618-21). A reading of these lines along with the other nine pairs of 7+7 lines found by Menéndez Pidal quickly strikes the ear as unpleasantly and atypically hammerlike. Syllabic regularity is no desideratum. Variation is a necessity in this poetry.

The controlled variability of line length, with its progressively stronger resistance to syllabic counts as they diverge more widely from the nuclear number 7+8, affects tense choice most notably in the plural of the verb (only the third person being used in narrative), where the preterite form has one more syllable than the present. Laredo31 found that four-syllable verb forms occur in longer-than-average first hemistichs. The pressure toward the nuclear syllabic count favours the present in the plural only, producing asymmetrical distributions, for example reçibe 2, reçibio 7, but reçiben 7, reçibieron 0. The poem's only common four-syllable verb, adeliñar, with 11 cases of adeliñó, likewise fails to appear in the preterite plural. In the great majority of verbs, the singular preterite is much more common than the plural.32 The syllabic factor is one of several that account for the uneven distribution of forms; Gilman's ‘celebratory preterite’, understood as an aspectual phenomenon (see below), is another.

Syllabic count also plays a part in the behaviour of specific verbs. A case in point, among a number that could probably be discovered, is the use of va and iva as auxiliaries with the gerund and the infinitive, where the time-reference of the two forms is not really distinguishable.33 Here the shorter form occurs in longer hemistichs. This seemingly odd result makes sense when examples are considered. In the successive lines ‘El Çid a doña Ximena ¦ ívala abraçar, / doña Ximena al Çid ¦ la manol' va besar’ (368-69), both second hemistichs probably have seven syllables, but the shorter verb form allows for the inclusion of a noun object, as happens in three other instances of va + infinitive, but none of iva. Since va leaves more room (or better, more time) for informative words, and can easily go unstressed, it occurs with the infinitive in hemistichs averaging 7.3 syllables, against 6.4 for iva, or 14 per cent more. With the gerund the figures are 7.2 and 6.6, a difference of 9 per cent.

Tense variation occupies a place among other rhetorical and prosodic devices related to the distribution of stresses in the line. In passages where time-reference appears constant, as in the itineraries of the first Cantar, tenses nevertheless alternate, for example in these hemistichs with ir in lines 400-03: ‘ívala traspassar’, ‘el Duero va passar’, ‘Mio Çid iva posar’, ‘vánsele acogiendo’. Also illustrating the aesthetic value of variation, with temporal considerations largely irrelevant, are the verbs of movement in lines 542-53: ‘vanse’, ‘pueden andar’, ‘troçen’, ‘ivan’, ‘passando van’, ‘passaron’, ‘entraron’, ‘pueden andar’, ‘iva albergar’, ‘moviós’, ‘passó’, ‘va’, ‘passó’, ‘iva posar’. These are, of course, typical of the poem, and are singled out here only because the subjects and temporal/aspectual references remain consistent.

Acoustic considerations predominate over others, as well, in most of the asymmetrical distributions of tense forms of specific verbs, of which a few examples should suffice here. Several verbs are actually treated as defective. Traer is without imperfect or preterite forms, or any based on a perfect root such as trox—. Coger, aduzir and creçer lack imperfect forms, as do most verbs in -eçer, including pareçer, gradeçer and remaneçer, although a first-person mereçía occurs in direct discourse (190). Only once does a preterite of estar appear: estido (3629); sovo is available as an occasional substitute. The semantic or aspectual category of a verb may restrict its use, as in these three semantically comparable items: mete is absent (in narrative), but metió occurs 25 times, toma 0, tomó 12, prende 1, priso 15. The sole instance of prende is in a passage of many vocalic, consonantal, and accentual echoes, to which it contributes: ‘Bien puebla el otero, ¦ firme prende las posadas …’ (557). In comparable manner, the single instance of manda in narrative produces a desirable vowel sequence, rhythm, and syllabic count: ‘De fuera los manda echar’ (679) (compare ‘pregón mandó echar’ [1187]); mandó has 37 narrative occurrences. Again, phrasal patterning is marked in the distribution of va and iva. For instance, iva begins a hemistich 9 times with the infinitive but never with the gerund; iva never follows a gerund while va does so in 9 instances, for example ‘pesando va a los de Monçón’ (940). The absence of the type ‘pesando iva’, ‘comiendo iva’ will not surprise readers of the poem, who sense the rightness of the present tense quite independently of its time reference in this phrasing where the inversion, together with lively emphasis, prosodic aptness, and the absence of any connotation of motion, all work against the choice of iva. But what appear as strict patterns in the singular are only tendencies in the distribution of plural forms van and ivan.

The apocopated enclitic pronoun plays a role in the selection of verb tenses, forming combinations in accordance with acoustic as well as syntactic considerations. Ir again provides examples: iva accepts the pronoun as in ‘íval' dar el cavallo’ (752), ‘ívas' cabadelant’ (862), whereas val', vas' are not formed, though ‘valo abraçar’ (920) is acceptable, and a semantically empty ya provides an alternative: ‘yas' va pora las vistas’ (2012). The pronoun is avoided with other present-tense forms as well: levantós' occurs 7 times, levantas' 0, (e)spidiós' 6, (e)spides' 0, saliól' 6, sálel' 0, with varying pronouns, giving ‘saliól(os) a rreçebir’ (407, 1478, 2649, 2882), ‘salio(s')le’ (1786, 2282), and, in contrast, ‘(a) rreçebirlo(s) sale(n)’ (2015, 2886). These are not exceptional examples; they show tense use to be interwoven with a number of prosodic and phraseological variables which are manipulated to achieve vividness of expression. The factors seen in this and the preceding paragraph are among those operating in the itineraries cited previously.

A final factor linking the sound system with tense preference is the notable reluctance to take advantage of the rhyming possibilities of the -aron ending. In 30 laisses in a-o totalling 675 lines, only 11 -aron rhymes occur, 6 of them in laisse 111, whose topic is the wedding at the end of the second Cantar.34 A reading of the Mocedades, where the a-o assonance predominates heavily and the -aron rhyme is somewhat more frequent than in the Cid, provides a clue as before. Its effect is distinctly monotonous—more so than that of the much-used -ado(s), which permits a slight formal variation for the plural and a variety of grammatical subjects, and is far less distinctive phonetically than the peculiar -aron, with unstressed -on unknown to the language except in this tense. No comparable resistance to the singular -ó ending is encountered, although this easy rhyme is seldom over-used. So again, the ‘celebratory preterite’ must make room for another concomitant factor. The present tenses, the only ones stressing the verb stem, allow for much more phonetic variety of accented syllables than any other tense.

Here concludes the outline of acoustic factors, although a great many more examples could be adduced to bring out their complex interdependence, and their part in other effects will come up under subsequent headings. Through its sound patterns, the poem matches form to message with a directness rarely found in extensive literary pieces. So everyday speech is elevated and made memorable. Tense variation is one of a number of interdependent linguistic and stylistic traits that together form a unique voice, one that reaches out powerfully to the hearer. The poem avoids the monotony of simple statement and repetition not by the means of fine literature, such as complex interlocking grammatical constructions and plays of abstraction, to be apprehended and appreciated by the reader through silent reflection. Rather, it adopts certain conventions, such as tense variation, that do not interfere with its directness, and yet are marks of a peculiar poetic idiom.


This property and attribute of the verb have been treated elsewhere35 and can be discussed summarily here. Verbs whose lexical meaning is stative or imperfective, including auxiliaries, tend strongly to the present tense; notable examples are ser, aver, tener, poder, querer, and additionally verbs of indefinite motion ir, venir, and the often vicarious verb fazer. The figures for their occurrence contrast with the general predominance of the preterite (38.7 per cent of all verbs, as opposed to 32.1 per cent in the present):36puede 14, podie 0, pudo 6; pueden 18, podien 1, pudieron 2. Es 155, era 38, sedi(e) 8, fue 47, sovo 1; son 187 (76 times in assonance), eran 17, se(d)ien 5, fueron 5, sovieron 1. Tiene 16, tenie 5, tovo 3; tienen 12, tenien 3, tovieron 4. Quier(e) 20, querie 10, quiso 9; quieren 10, querien 3, quisieron 2.

Lexical aspect was presumably not a conscious category for the poet, although he was somehow aware of a contrast between the language and perspective of the poem's actants, where the category was not indicated, and his own, in which states or surrounding conditions were less often projected into the past than actions were. Negated verbs, even if perfective, had an especially strong affinity with the present. The relation of this subtle categorization with the dialogic conditioning described earlier, while surely intimate, remains unclear. A few examples will show how stative verbs in the present seem to clash with preterites sharing their time reference. As usual, concomitant prosodic factors are present in nearly all cases: ‘espidiós' de todos ¦ los que sos amigos son’ (3531, cf. 3535, 3557), ‘Ya (lo) vieron que es a fer’ (2995, 3241), ‘Amos salieron apart, ¦ veramientre son hermanos’ (2538), ‘mandó Mio Çid ¦ a los que ha en su casa / que guardassen …’ (1570-71), ‘salieron de la eglesia, ¦ ya quieren cavalgar’ (367), ‘bien salieron den çiento ¦ que non pareçen mal’ (1507). These are somewhat extreme cases of the very common pattern in which an action that advances the narrative is followed by an elaborating, sometimes subordinate clause, with a change from perfective to stative, hence preterite to present tense, not the imperfect as in non-epic language. In coordinate clauses, the shift may perform an organizing function comparable to that of hypotaxis in other texts, as Fleischman maintains for Old French.37


Certain verbal or situational contexts predictably bring the poet into the time frame or temporal perspective of the performance, with restoration of the non-epic tense system. One such situation develops in textual self-commentary: ‘Aquís' conpieça la gesta’ (1085, where aquí refers to a time and place in the story and in the act of narration, not a place on a page, as may too easily be assumed). The effect of these introductory words continues to be felt in the lines following, which contain an exceptionally high number of present-perfect forms. Again, the tense of ‘mala cueta es, señores, ¦ aver mingua de pan’ (1178) is determined by the timeless nature of the statement and the direct address to those present. A different viewpoint is obligatory in epithets, ‘el que en buen ora nasco’, ‘el que Valençia gañó’, which evoke a past moment external to the thread of narration.38 The use of the preterite to introduce direct discourse has already been noted.

A use of the imperfect tense which may be termed ‘sequential’, and is not confined to the Cid, is dealt with impressionistically by Gilman (110). He compares it to a favourite stylistic device of Flaubert, but a closer approximation, more within the realm of grammar, is found in the Vulgate and in Old Spanish translations from it. When two perfective actions occur in sequence, the imperfect tense is used for the second, apparently to avoid implying aspectual or temporal concomitance, thus: ‘Et confestim vidit, et sequebatur eum in via’39 (Mk. 10:52), ‘E luego uio, e siguiel por la carrera’,40 or where the Vulgate uses two present participles and an imperfect, ‘implens spongiam aceto, circumponensque calamo, potem dabat ei’ (Mk. 15:36), ‘finchio una spongia con uinagre e pusola en una canna, e daual a beuer’; also Mk. 5:42, 9:3, Lk. 4:39, 22:54, 24:30, etc. Modern Spanish Bibles often use periphrastic verbal constructions to render this Latin imperfect. In the Cid, the sequential imperfect usually occurs in rhyme: ‘El fizo aquesto, ¦ la madre lo doblava’ (2602; six examples in lines 51-57); not in rhyme: ‘Entraron en Medina, ¦ sirvíalos Minaya’ (1534), ‘fablava doña Sol’ (2724, 2796). An indication that this use opened the way to poetic variations may be seen in ‘Allí se tollió el capiello … e soltava la barba ¦ e sacóla del cordón’ (3492-94), where rhythm, vowel echoes, desire for variation, and the presence of the enclitic pronoun in ‘sacóla’ (cf. ‘saliol” above) combine to produce an unusual series. It is generally true, of course, that the unexpected imperfects are used where non-epic usage would favour the preterite, and unexpected present-tense forms are most often found where the imperfect would seem more normal.

Both the sequential imperfect and the imperfective sense of the present are compatible with a notable asymmetry in the distribution of tenses in the line. Of the 498 verbs beginning lines in the poem, 330 or 66 per cent are preterites, compared to 39 per cent for the whole poem as calculated by Gilman (23). The preterite, as a dynamic tense, is used to launch actions or signal changes, while the present and imperfect are more circumstantial in their reference, and more context-bound. Gilman's ‘celebratory preterite’ finds some justification in this patterning, though reservations remain as to what extent the poet intentionally brought out the purposeful act by recounting it in the preterite.


Lapesa41 has shown how the poet uses demonstratives to strengthen the impression that the poem is shared with the group in performance, and has likened the resulting sense of immediacy to that produced by tense variation (39). The expressions ‘aquel Muño Gustioz (Pero Bermúdez, Félez Muñoz)’ serve as reminders of previous references to these personages. Occasionally, too, a ‘simulated anaphora’ such as ‘aquel rrey Yuçef’ (1621) functions to ‘dar por consabido lo que se cita por primera vez y crear así una intimidad entre el juglar y el público’. Mutual reinforcement of demonstrative and tense achieves an especially vivid sense of presence, for example, in ‘¡Diós, qué bueno es el gozo ¦ por aquesta mañana!’ (600); similarly, with the variation that the reader learns to expect, ‘Grand es el gozo ¦ que va por és logar’ (1146, also 1211). Este is often used, not anaphorically, but to build a sense of solidarity and identification between audience and epic figures, and so is especially common with collective terms such as yentes, cavalleros, virtos, mesnadas, ganançias, ganados, which in some cases have not been mentioned before (for example 234, 2018, ‘estas fuerças’ [757]; essos christianos). In contrary fashion, este may designate an alien entity: ‘estos iffantes amos’ (2537), ‘d'esto que ellos fablaron ¦ nós parte non ayamos’ (2539, used cataphorically, i.e., to announce a following speech).

Their extremely frequent use in this and other Romance poems had led some philologists to conclude that the demonstratives had become equivalent to articles, an opinion convincingly opposed by Lapesa. The inclination to pair este with the present tense and aquel with the preterite is not strong (cf. 1621, 2927); rather, the habit of variation applies to shifters in general, interweaving the remote with the immediate. The two systems complement each other in more complex ways as well; thus, at times esto and esso allow for coordinated rather than subordinated structuring: esto in 225, 3446, esso in ‘Mas lo que él quisiere ¦ esso queramos nós’ (1953, also 2371), and so facilitate tense shifts.

The contrasting tense systems marking the narrative voice and those of the actants have a counterpart in these speakers' differing use of the demonstratives. The most frequent narrative use is anaphoric, where este and aquel recall a noun previously cited, thereby acquiring a temporal tinge, whereas in the speech of the characters these words more often have spatial reference. The demonstratives, like the tenses, open up the poetic text, reaching out to the listener, in marked contrast with their function in a bookish composition like the Poema de Fernán González, whose frequent anaphoric uses of este have internal reference, helping the text turn in upon itself in didactic self-sufficiency and excluding the listener's experiential participation: ‘Venieron estos godos de partes d'oriente. / Cristo los enbio, esto sin fallimiente, / del linaje de Gog vino aquesta gente’.42

Among other spatial deictics, aquí is common in speech but rare in narrative, where it usually takes on a vivid temporal force: ‘aquí entraron en fabla’ (1372), while í, allí and allá belong almost exclusively to the narrator: ‘Allí les tuellen los mantos’ (2720); the subtle distinctions between aquí and allí in these uses are evidence of the complex relationship linking the moment and conditions of performance with the temporal and aspectual fabric of the recounted tale. As in the two examples just given, the combined spatial and temporal content of the two adverbs is ambiguous enough that the verb tense may seem to contradict it. The more properly temporal agora, with one exception (827), is used only by actants, while essora and the rare estonçes occur only in the narrator's language, with an affinity for the preterite, though other criteria for tense choice still hold: ‘Essora responden’ (3209, also 983, 2052, 2735). Ya is flexible, favouring the narrator and the present tense. Other expressions with deictic effect are those appealing for listener attention, such as afé, evad, sabet, sepades, odredes, yo vos diré, ya vedes, veríedes, common enough to affect the tenor of the narrative, and in some cases governed by rules of use or tendencies analogous to those that apply to certain narrative verb forms. These evocations of the second person, in harmony with the other deictic elements, contribute to the sustained, dynamic sense of identification among the three grammatical persons: the author-performer, the spectator, and the actants.


In broad perspective, the factors influencing tense choice in the Poema form two inclusive categories, based either on acoustic effects or on narrative stance. Interaction of these phenomena is mediated by a principle of controlled variation arising from tension between the repetitive, parallelistic quality of poetry and the inclination to avoid excessive sameness, as well as the ability of aspectual contrasts to aid in organizing the sense of the text. In all this structure of motivations, interaction between the given poetic idiom and the initiatives of the individual poet is demonstrable. In the partly aspectual system of narrative verbs, a temporal ambiguity related to the interplay of the here-and-now of oral presentation and the then-and-there of the poem's action, permits manipulation of verb forms for acoustic purposes; but this cause-and-effect relationship immediately becomes blurred, so that the process may be reversed and sound patterns chosen that modify the narrative perspective. In such an ecology of interdependences, it is misleading to isolate a single factor in a particular instance of tense choice, although the observer can usually point to a principal motivation. Apparently anomalous examples can with few exceptions be elucidated on the basis of factors delineated in this study, but in the process, surface effects come to the fore more readily than primary causes. Two comparable and rather odd examples may serve to make the point: ‘quando sabien esto, ¦ pesóles de coraçón’ (2821), ‘Quando lo sopo ¦ Mio Çid el de Bivar / quel' creçe conpaña ¦ por que más valdrá’ (295-96). Applying ‘answers’ from the preceding pages: sabien not sopieron for syllable-count, pesóles not pésales because of the enclitic pronoun, creçe because creçie is not used in the poem, or perhaps anticipating rhyming valdrá. But these simplistic explanations are only a beginning to a longer process. Sabien may have been trisyllabic,43 and in any event is in a hemistich with plenty of room for an additional syllable. It is therefore more accurate to recall the general resistance to the preterite and to repeating the same tense in a line, assuming that pesóles with its enclitic is a fairly definitive first choice. Again, the absence of creçie is a result rather than a cause, and a search for a reason behind it would probably lead to further questions. Systematic, thorough investigation of many points like this can undoubtedly be productive. Even if it shows the most specific and initially most satisfying answers to be also the most trivial, it should lead in the direction of solutions to underlying problems.

The contrasting rules of direct discourse and narrative have a curious kind of inverse counterpart in modern French, in which the aorist or passé simple is commonly said to be exclusive to the written language. For Benveniste (238-45, 248-50), the determining factor is not the act or fact of writing but the nature of historical narrative. There is no ‘I’ or ‘you’ in a historical account, only the third person, which is a non-person. The events seem to narrate themselves independently of the narrator. ‘Le temps fondamental est l'aoriste, qui est le temps de l'événement hors de la personne d'un narrateur’ (241). The only other tenses permitted in historical writing are the imperfect, the pluperfect, and the conditional. Direct discourse, on the other hand, admits all tenses except the one that eliminates the speaker, the aorist. While this scheme may be open to qualification, it provides a vantage-point from which to view the language of the Poema, which slips continually into the discourse mode, that of ‘I and you’, accordingly ‘here and now’, reinforced by the deictic elements other than tense, and just as frequently moves back into the narrative mode to propel the story along. Benveniste has said of historical writing, ‘Personne ne parle ici’. In the same spirit we can say of the Poema, ‘everyone speaks here’. The text takes the form (somewhat factitiously, to be sure) of a dialogue in which shared knowledge is repeated, shared experiences and feelings are relived, ‘there and then’ are also ‘here and now’, true and authentic,44 within the situational context constituted by the poem. These relations of contiguity in time and space fall within Roman Jakobson's broad conception of metonymy, which he saw as accounting for all linguistic and mental relationships not based on similarity, i.e. not metaphorical. He repeatedly illustrated in his explications of the ‘grammar of poetry’ how ‘As a rule, in imageless poems it is the “figure of grammar” which dominates and which supplants the tropes’.45 The Poema falls somewhat outside his categories, since in addition to using grammar as a poetic device, it fuses a grammatical convention with a metonymic perception of events, and at the same time turns that convention to great advantage toward the achievement of desired phonetic effects. By these highly unusual means it develops a singular poetic voice.


  1. Manfred Sandmann, ‘Narrative Tenses of the Past in the Cantar de Mio Cid’ in Studies in Romance Philology and French Literature Presented to John Orr (Manchester: Manchester U.P., 1953), 258-81.

  2. Lucien Foulet, ‘La disparition du prétérit’, Romania, XLVI (1920), 271-313.

  3. Manfred Sandmann, review of Friederike Stefenelli-Fürst, Die Tempora der Vergangenheit der Chanson de Geste (Diss. Wien, 1964): Wiener Romanistische Arbeiten, dir. C.-Th. Gossen, V (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1966), in Romance Philology, XXI (1968), 570-74.

  4. Manfred Sandmann, ‘Syntaxe verbale et style épique’, in Atti del VIII Congresso Internazionale di Studi Romanzi, 2 vols. (Firenze: Sansoni, 1959), II, 378-402.

  5. Art. cit.

  6. Poema de Mio Cid, ed. R. Menéndez Pidal, 8a ed. (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1958), 9.

  7. Thomas Montgomery, ‘Narrative Tense Preference in the Cantar de Mio Cid’, Romance Philology, XXI (1968), 253-74.

  8. Matthew Bailey, ‘The Present Tense in Ennius and the Cantar de Mio Cid’, Romance Notes, XXVI (1986), 279-85.

  9. I hope this is a fair and accurate representation of the opinion in question, although linguistically it is naive to the point of absurdity.

  10. Steven Gilman, Tiempo y formas temporales en el ‘Poema del Cid’ (Madrid: Gredos, 1961).

  11. He restates his opinion in ‘The Poetry of the “Poema” and the Music of the “Cantar”’, Philological Quarterly, LI (1972), 1-11.

  12. Suzanne Fleischman, ‘Discourse Functions of Tense-Aspect Oppositions in Narrative: Toward a Theory of Grounding’, Linguistics, XXIII (1985), 851-82; ‘Evaluation in Narrative: The Present Tense in Medieval “Performed Stories”’, Yale French Studies, LXX (1986), 199-251.

  13. An example: ‘Un faldestoet out suz l'umbre d'un pin; / Envolupet fut d'un palie alexandrin: / La fut li reis qui tute Espaigne tint’, La Chanson de Roland, ed. Joseph Bédier (Paris: L'Édition d'Art H. Piazza, 1960), lines 407-09. But the system is complex, with many imperfective verbs in the present tense.

  14. As also by Michel H. A. Blanc, ‘Time and Tense in Old French Narrative’, Archivum Linguisticum, XVI (1964), 96-124.

  15. Oliver T. Myers, ‘Assonance and Tense in the Poema del Cid’, PMLA, LXXXI (1966), 493-98.

  16. Confirmed by Fleischman, ‘Evaluation’, 210.

  17. Thomas Montgomery, ‘Assonance, Word, and Thought in the Poema del Cid’, Journal of Hispanic Philology, XI (1986), 5-22.

  18. Poema de Mio Cid, ed. Ian Michael, 2nd ed. (Madrid: Castalia, 1980).

  19. Especially laisses 16, 41, 51, 109, 129. The women's names do not form the í-a assonance.

  20. Bermúdez (Vermuez, in ó) and Gustioz rhyme occasionally. Antolínez, of course, does not. Minaya makes surprisingly few rhymes, and only in a brief stretch of the poem: once in laisse 44, four times in laisse 47, five times in laisse 49. When used internally, the name, unlike the others, does not favour a particular assonance.

  21. Cantar de Mio Cid, ed. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, 3a ed., 3 vols. (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1953-57), I, 90-91.

  22. Ramón Menéndez Pidal et al. (eds.), Crestomatía del español medieval, 3 vols. (Madrid: Gredos, 1965), I, 109-11.

  23. Roman Jakobson and Krystyna Pomorska, Dialogues (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983), 134.

  24. Roland Barthes, ‘Introduction à l'analyse structurale des récits’, Communications, VIII (1966), 1-27, at p. 26.

  25. Ibid.

  26. E. Kullmann, ‘Die dichterische und sprachliche Gestalt des Cantar de Mio Cid’, Romanische Forschungen, XLV (1931), 1-65, at 45-57; Colin Smith, ‘Realidad y retórica: el binomio en el estilo épico’ in Estudios cidianos (Madrid: Cupsa, 1977), 161-217; Edmund de Chasca, El arte juglaresco en el ‘Cantar de Mio Cid’ (Madrid: Gredos, 1967), 194-201; but this point requires further study.

  27. Gilman, Tiempo, 16n.

  28. Strikingly evident in the diagrammatic presentation of Menéndez Pidal, Cantar, I, 90-91.

  29. Tomás Navarro, Métrica española: Reseña histórica y descriptiva (Syracuse: Syracuse U.P., 1956), 35.

  30. Some lines are counted more than once, for example as having either seven or eight syllables, where synalepha is possible. Menéndez Pidal's method of disregarding doubtful hemistichs would allow 22 of 50 to be counted, giving little sense of the texture of the passage, although yielding comparable proportions.

  31. Federico Laredo, ‘La influencia de las formas verbales tetrasilábicas en la métrica del Cantar de Mio Cid’, Bulletin Hispanique, LXX (1968), 426-30; also Thomas Montgomery, ‘Narrative Tense Preference’, p. 264.

  32. Gilman, Tiempo, 56.

  33. Complete figures are not to be found in Franklin M. Waltman, Concordance to the ‘Poema de Mio Cid’ (University Park: Pennsylvania State U.P., 1972); but see ‘Poema del Cid’ in Verse and Prose, ed. Victor R. B. Oelschläger (New Orleans: Newcomb College-Tulane University, 1948).

  34. The -ieron inflection is not used to make the rare (11 lines) é-o assonance; the poem's third person plural preterites total 237, with 505 present and 164 imperfect forms: Gilman, Tiempo, 23.

  35. Montgomery, ‘Narrative Tense Preference’.

  36. Gilman, Tiempo, 23.

  37. Fleischman, ‘Evaluation’, 209, ‘Discourse Functions’, 857, 868. In the first two passages, tense-switching is said to be an oral device used to compensate for the limitations of parataxis. Here, as elsewhere in her work, twentieth-century usage seems to be taken as a standard against which to evaluate old texts.

  38. Emile Benveniste, Problèmes de linguistique générale (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), 241.

  39. Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Clementinam, eds. Alberto Colunga and Laurentio Turrado, iterata ed. (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1951).

  40. El Nuevo Testamento según el Ms. Escurialense I-I-6, eds. Thomas Montgomery and Spurgeon W. Baldwin, Añejos del Boletín de la Real Academia Española, XXII (Madrid: Real Academia, 1970).

  41. Rafael Lapesa, ‘Del demostrativo al artículo’, NRFH [Nueva Revista de Filologia España], XV (1961), 23-44.

  42. Reliquias de la poesía épica española, ed. Diego Catalán, 2a ed. (Madrid: Gredos, 1980), 41, lines 15abc.

  43. The stress pattern sabién is clearly present in the Libro de buen amor, but the case is not clear in earlier texts, and Menéndez Pidal included such forms among those of undetermined syllabic count in the Poema del Cid. On this one point I depart from the Michael edition, placing no graphic accent on -ie(n). See Yakov Malkiel, ‘Toward a Reconstruction of the Old Spanish Imperfect in -ía / -ié’, HR [Hispanic Review], XXVII (1959), 435-81.

  44. Compare Elizabeth Block, ‘Narrative Judgment and Audience Response in Homer and Virgil’, Arethusa, XIX (1986), 155-67.

  45. Jakobson and Pomorska, 93.

Milija N. Pavlović (essay date October 1991)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11862

SOURCE: Pavlović, Milija N. “Oralist Vision and Neo-Traditionalist Revision: A Review Article.” Modern Language Review 86, no. 4 (October 1991): 867-84.

[In the following essay, Pavlović debates the position taken by Joseph Duggan in his book-length study of the Cantar de mio Cid, which holds that the poem is an orally composed work dictated to a scribe around 1200.]

The generally opposed and apparently irreconcilable views of the ‘neo-traditionalist’ and ‘(neo-)individualist’ schools that permeate much of the medieval epic's literary criticism have, over the last two decades or so, been especially polarized in the case of the Cantar de mio Cid (henceforth CMC).1, 2 Undoubtedly, the traditionalist camp's arguments are nowadays expressed most forcibly through oralist theory and methodology (despite the fact that oralist theories may serve either side, as Friedman rightly points out (p. 12)). On the other hand, many of those from within the individualist group, which believes the bulk of the corpus of extant epic to have been written by cultured individuals—a view which must perforce imply some degree of learned (and, more specifically in a medieval context, clerical and/or legal) influence—have increasingly come to the conclusion that the CMC must have been composed by a person trained in law. Joseph Duggan's recent book on the CMC is the work of a distinguished and committed oralist and, therefore, one is tempted (unfairly perhaps) to use it as a possible yardstick for the current relative stance between the two broad groups referred to above. Before doing so, it is essential, of course, to consider the book on its own, a task that lends itself to a neat and logical treatment owing to the well-defined and largely self-contained material of each chapter, but, at the same time, one that constitutes a tall order for any reviewer on account of the sheer breadth and scope encompassed within the book.

Professor Duggan divides his work into nine chapters, the first of which (‘Historical and Theoretical Framework’) sets out the main premises and methodology he is to follow and anticipates some of his major conclusions. This chapter is, to some extent, a reflection of the book's strengths and weaknesses and thus it will be useful to discuss it in some detail. In brief, Duggan's view of the CMC is that it represents an orally-composed text dictated to a scribe around 1200, in which the significance of economic and social elements has not been brought out fully by previous critics. He identifies two candidates for the scribe in question, drawing upon historical and geographical arguments, points to ‘the monarchy and the nobles of highest rank for the motivations that lie behind its composition’ (p. 15), and is led by an ‘apparently anomalous passage in the rieptos scene … to a hypothesis concerning the historical milieu in which the poet, on the basis of traditional material, shaped the representation of his hero’ (p. 3).

What are the salient features of Professor Duggan's approach to his analysis of the CMC? First, of course, one need hardly mention that, in keeping with his earlier work, his is an openly oralist modus operandi. Though applied to advantage when studying the formulaic richness of the poem, such an approach often leads to some surprising statements as, for example: ‘Is it more likely … that an epic poem was composed orally or in writing in a period in which only a tiny proportion of the population was able to read and an even smaller fraction was able to write?’ (p. 149, n. 1); and, in another non sequitur: ‘From what we know of the state of twelfth-century society, an assumption of orality should take precedence over the historical accident that one of the Castilian epics known to have existed in the period has come down to us in writing’ (p. 149, n. 1). If these are the arguments adduced against the written nature of the CMC, the oralists' case is, then, a weak one. Typically subjective value-judgement views, put forward without any tangible evidence, also betray Duggan's apparent need to defend the aesthetics of songs of the unlettered which he does not consider to be inferior (in structure or sophistication) to those written by learned authors. Thus he concludes, on the basis of the extant manuscript of the CMC (to which few, neo-traditionalists included,3 would deny at least some learned influence) that ‘it is entirely possible that the Cantar de mio Cid, the only Castilian epic to survive substantially intact, owes its existence today partly to a perceived aesthetic superiority over its epic congeners’ and that ‘if we could compare the poem to other integral cantares de gesta in their poetic form, it would rank toward the high end on a scale of quality’ (p. 149, n. 3). Otherwise, the neo-traditionalist notion of lost epics is taken for granted (for example, ‘the accidents of history having eliminated the quasi totality of medieval Castilian epic’ (p. 2), and ‘this conclusion does not exclude the possibility that other versions existed before the one to which Per Abbat had access’ (p. 13)). What is refreshing in Duggan's approach is his study of the extant CMC on its own merits (whatever his views on the way it was recorded for posterity), avoiding questions of its relationship to chronicles and hypothetical lost texts, in sharp contrast to neo-traditionalist thinking:4 ‘Mentions of the Cantar de mio Cid without further qualification refer to the extant manuscript rather than to lost versions [sic], prosifications, or the corpus of surviving versions as a whole’ (p. 149, n. 2).

If neo-traditionalism were to be equated to the acceptance in toto of Ramón Menéndez Pidal's monumental life-work, then Duggan's credentials as a neo-traditionalist would be very tenuous indeed. In fact, he questions don Ramón's ‘particular interpretations’ on the one hand and his failure to see ‘certain features’ of the CMC on the other.5 These features, according to Duggan, are the ‘egregious distortion of history’ (and nowadays few would deny this); the poem's ‘preoccupation with economic detail’ (p. 2) (for which Menéndez Pidal, in Duggan's view, was ill-prepared on account of the historical school in which he had been trained), and the ‘slur upon the hero's birth’ (p. 3), which Duggan (but I suspect not many others) sees implied in lines 3379-80.

Nevertheless, the major departures from Pidalian orthodoxy refer to the dating of both the composition of the CMC and its copying down by Per Abad. Whereas Menéndez Pidal estimated the former date at c. 1140 and the latter one at 1307, Duggan compresses this intervening period to c. 1200 (composition) and 1207 (written version). Such a dating, of course, shakes the very foundations of much of Menéndez Pidal's classic work and, significantly, is essentially the one now widely adopted by the individualist school. Interestingly, a 1200 dating is the very cornerstone of Duggan's exposition in Chapters 5, 6, and 7, and hence he takes special care to justify it. His review of the evidence in favour of this post-Pidalian date of composition, though not exhaustive, is certainly sufficient and thus convincing to an unbiased reader. Accepting a number of criticisms addressed at Menéndez Pidal's dating by Antonio Ubieto Arteta (and others), and adding some very sensible observations of his own (for example, an explanation for the absence in the CMC of maravedí gold coins that is more convincing than the argumentum ex silentio in Mateu y Llopis's classic numismatic study of the poem, and the tempering of some of Ubieto Arteta's views regarding geographic anachronisms), Duggan concludes that the CMC ‘as we have it was composed toward the end of the twelfth century or the beginning of the thirteenth in a version close to that passed on by Per Abbat’ (p. 12). The Per Abad in question is, for Duggan, a scribe who wrote the poem down in 1207, the date provided by the colophon of the surviving fourteenth-century manuscript and not, as Menéndez Pidal maintained, on the basis of an erasure following the second ‘c’ (to create, perhaps, the impression of greater antiquity), in 1307. As no ink traces remain which might, through the use of reagents, reveal the letter originally erased (and other similar erasures are found in the manuscript), one is tempted to accept Duggan's simple explanation that ‘the act of effacement could just as well have been necessitated by another letter perceived as erroneous or by a slip of the pen’ (pp. 13-14).

It is evident that Duggan has an open mind on this question, which is vital for his later argument regarding the possible identity of Per Abad (‘it is best to assume that if a “c” has been erased it was removed for a good reason’ (p. 14)). Nevertheless, he argues very convincingly against Jules Horrent's speculation of an erased ‘c’ following a scribal error by a fourteenth-century Per Abad who, while writing his own name, is supposed to have kept the original (1207) date. Whatever personal reservations I might have regarding the automatic interpretation of ‘copied’ for the key word escrivio in Per Abad's explicit, there is little doubt that the majority of scholars believe that this should be its meaning and not that of ‘composed’ as some (Colin Smith possibly foremost among them) have suggested. In this respect, Duggan agrees with the former view—a view entirely consistent with the oralist notion of an unlettered author. However, his pronouncement that ‘Per Abbat was the scribe of one of the earliest written states in the poem's textual history’ (p. 15) is a bold statement, and one which—were it devoid of its oralist background and taken literally—would, ironically, be in keeping with Smith's even more daring assertion that the CMC represents the first epic to be composed in Castilian.6

In turning next to the remaining chapters, I should say at the outset that Chapters 2 (‘The Acquisition of Wealth’) and 3 (‘Economy and Gift-Giving’) constitute the most useful original material in the book. Admittedly, as regards Chapter 2, the statement that ‘the poem's economic aspects have seldom attracted attention’ (p. 150, n. 6) can hardly be said to be accurate,7 and the point about the CMC being ‘an inspiring tale of social success and an economic example for ambitious Castilians of narrow means’ (p. 20) has surely been often made before. However, the real contribution of this chapter is in the stressing of the different social structures in France (where the basis for the feudal society was land) and Castile (in which the conferral of movable goods—rather than of landed property—was much more important). On the basis of works on the economic history of the period, Duggan presents a fascinating picture of relative values which will have a lasting bearing on future readings of many a passage in the CMC, where riches, gifts and/or booty are continuously enumerated. Thus, for example, the notion that, around 1090, a horse was worth between 500 and 1000 solidi, whereas an ox and a manor house might fetch about twenty and thirty solidi respectively is extremely illuminating, and it is this type of approach that enables Duggan to present an excellent outline of what the booty described in the CMC actually amounted to in terms of riches. The calculations seem logically carried out and are convincing, although I would question his use of economic studies for the period the poet is depicting (that is, the late eleventh century), as it would make more sense to employ the documentation for the time of the poem's composition (c. 1200).

In Chapter 3, the economic and social implications of gift-giving—an uncodified obligation and not mere generosity—are impressively outlined. The extent of such a ‘gift-economy’ is stressed, for not only did it affect the percolation of prosperity from rich to poor but it was also an important factor in the transfer of wealth between equals and even from inferior to superior. Thus, Duggan points out that ‘the relationships that depended on these gifts were mutually beneficial’ and concludes that ‘the economic system fueled by this movement of wealth … acted in general as a force that held the social edifice together’ (p. 31). Through the conversion of items such as horses and equipment to their monetary equivalents indicated in the previous chapter, Professor Duggan is able to show how staggering the various presents that the Cid makes throughout the poem actually are, stressing, in an entirely convincing manner, the relevance of such gift-giving to our understanding of the poem.8 One is almost left with the impression that a system of parias is in operation amongst the various (Christian!) personages in the CMC! An interesting point to emerge concerns the meanness of character of the Infantes de Carrión who, significantly, give no gifts at all throughout the poem.

Given that the main arguments of Professor Duggan for the importance to be accorded to wealth acquisition and gift-giving in the poem are undeniable, it is surprising that he often feels the need to strengthen his (already won) case by unnnecessary references to certain lines in the CMC to which he attempts to attach new meanings. Examples of this throughout Chapter 2 include: the invoking of lines 1249-54 as underscoring the significance of booty in the poem (p. 21), while the obvious implication is that, whereas the Cid intends to stay in Valencia, some of his men are naturally eager to return to Castile (especially as their movable goods would be more prized than any estates granted to them around the newly-conquered town); the interpretation of mal in line 509 as suggesting the King's possible appropriation of the Cid's quinta (p. 150, n. 8), instead of the clear implication this has for the hero's safety; the view that the attack by Fáriz and Galve is unnecessary from a military standpoint but is simply an excuse by the poet to provide the Cid with further booty (p. 23) (how are the two Moorish kings to know that Rodrigo intends to sell Alcoçer back to its inhabitants and to move on? Furthermore, their obvious aim is to punish him, prevent further razzias, and retrieve the booty!); the interpretation (p. 26) of line 14—surely ironical—as a genuine expression for rejoicing by the Cid (at being banished and stripped of all his possessions!), and so on. Similarly, Chapter 3 includes the intimation that, in lines 823-25, one ought to perceive the incentive of a payment by the Cid to his wife and daughters so that they should pray for him (an argument Duggan sees ‘as an index of the extent to which economic considerations permeate the poem’, though he admits that on such occasions as this ‘they seem out of place’ (p. 32)); the reading of line 495 (‘pagar se ia della Alfonsso el Castellano’) as Álvar Fáñez's advice that the Cid's quinta should be given to the King, and that it may even be viewed as a pun on the grounds that the monarch ‘will consider it as a (partial?) payment for the supposed misappropriation of funds for which he exiled his great vassal’ (p. 35), even though the epic connotation—that the quinta is worthy of a king—is self-evident; the interpretation of lines 2552-56 as expressing contradictory ideas (p. 39), whereas, if the lines are read as a succession of individual thoughts (admittedly, somewhat muddled) they are in perfect keeping with Fernando's and Diego's characters (Duggan bases his argument on causality between lines which are clearly not connected), and so on.

Such tenuous reasonings do not necessarily detract from the principal conclusions of Chapters 2 and 3 but are in sharp contrast with the many incisive interpretations of various aspects of the poem outlined in these sections of the book (for example, the explanation Duggan puts forward as to why the Cid decides to exchange chests, supposedly full of Arab coins, for Christian silver marks (p. 18); the interesting parallel connotation of lines 498-503 and 2453-54, with their implications for a comparison between Minaya's response and that of the Infantes to offers of wealth (p. 38); new insights into the Infantes' behaviour with Abengalvón (ll. 2659-63) (p. 40) and the Cid's fulfilment of the promise made to Martín Antolínez earlier in the poem (l. 205) (p. 41), and so on.

Chapter 4 (‘Social Status, Legitimacy, and Inherited Worth’) revolves around Professor Duggan's interpretation of what he has earlier termed to be ‘the key lines 3379-80’ in the poem and which he sees an an open ‘slur upon the hero's birth’ (p. 3). Here is a detailed exposition of the author's earlier expansion of Ian Michael's suggestion that Asur González's offensive remarks may, in addition, be exaggerating the lowliness of the Cid's social standing, with an insinuation to a tradition that the hero was the illegitimate offspring of Diego Laínez and a miller's wife. This is an interesting view but, as A. D. Deyermond has rightly pointed out, whereas ‘Michael produces enough evidence to justify his tentative introduction of such a possibility’, he (Deyermond) is ‘not sure that it can support Duggan's transformation of possibility into strong probability’.9 Thus, Duggan sees the rise of the Cid's status in the CMC as not only that of an infanzón, but of an infanzón who was rumoured to be illegitimate.

Four major criticisms may be adduced against Duggan's reading of lines 3379-80. First, such a reading is based on the assumption that the legend of the Cid's supposed bastardy was known at least as early as 1200 and that it was widespread (through popular songs), so that the innuendo would have been readily understood by the audience.10 This problem is recognized by Professor Duggan, but despite his attempt to bolster his argument by means of an ingenious (and partly convincing) new interpretation of the lines written on the verso of the last folio (74) of the extant manuscript, the weakness remains, since such scribal additions were inserted in the fourteenth-century. Secondly, the use of an argumentum ex silentio (‘While the poet has Ansur González so formulate his innuendo as to avoid words that might be forbidden in law, the very gravity of what he is circumventing lends impact to his taunt’ (p. 52) postulates a clever move by the Infantes' brother, whereas the poet says clearly that ‘en lo que fablo avie poco recabdo’ (l. 3376) and even hints at the intemperate state of Ansur (‘vermejo viene, ca era almorzado’ (l. 3375). Therefore, as Professor Duggan goes on to admit, ‘an insult specifically proscribed by the law codes is not employed’, and this militates against the numerus clausus nature of the offending terms which Duggan's earlier exposition suggests actually existed (p. 52). Thirdly, Duggan's view that the clash between the family of Carrión and the Cid ‘also serves … to provide a context within which a question can be raised and answered concerning the nature of the Cid's descent from Diego Laínez and, concomitantly, his progeny's worthiness to contract marriages with partners of the very highest social rank’ is hardly in keeping with his admission that ‘both the Laras of Molina and Alfonso VIII himself were related to Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar’ (p. 43). Furthermore, this view becomes totally incompatible with his later argument that the Cantar was possibly ‘performed in honor of Alfonso VIII’ (p. 99). Would the monarch have been flattered by such ‘raising and answering’ of his famous ancestor's pedigree? Would a poet trying to ‘further … the interests of the Lara clan’ (p. 54) bring out any (supposed) descendency of the Cid's daughters from a fornezino (who would, then, also have been an enfamado no less (pp. 44, 48))? The fourth weakness in Duggan's line of argument concerns a fundamental misconception of the legal nature of the rieptos and the ensuing duels in the CMC. This is evident throughout the whole of Chapter 4 and, also, in subsequent chapters for reasons set out below.11

For a start, the riepto did not necessarily constitute ‘the formal challenge leading to judicial combats’ (p. 43), but was a formal accusation of one nobleman against another for treacherous conduct: an accusation, moreover, which did not always result in duels. Furthermore, none of the various incidents which Professor Duggan sees as leading to rieptos, duels and/or charges of menos valer (such as Ansur's public outburst and insinuation concerning the Cid's birth (pp. 45, 48), the breaking of the Infantes' betrothal promises and accusations of their cowardice (pp. 45, 48), Fernando's conduct against Búcar and the brothers' abandonment of their father-in-law in a moment of peril (p. 47)) was a valid ground for these highly specialized notions in the CMC.12 The many references to the duels as being in keeping with divine justice, with the losers' cause automatically lost (for example, p. 55) are incorrect: such duels were not of the iudicium Dei type, while the death of the accused would, in fact, have exonerated him (it is to avoid the latter outcome that the poet has Ansur's father intervene with the legal declaration that his cause is lost, a point of which Duggan is evidently unaware—see page 56).

One of the main failings of Professor Duggan's use of legal sources is in his preference for municipal fueros rather than national law codes (for example, p. 49), whereas the rieptos between noblemen were exclusively a concern of the latter, unlike ordeal combats (he laments, for instance, the lack of legislation concerning noble status in municipal codes amongst which he apparently includes the Fuero Viejo, a territorial code (pp. 43-44)). On the other hand, when he does make use of national or ‘royal’ legislation, either his analysis shows a blind reliance on them, without the necessary background knowledge of their formation, especially as regards the lack of terminological rigour of the times (for example, the interchangeability of menos valer, alevosía, traición that the Partidas attempt (unsuccessfully) to sort out (pp. 44, 48)) or he tries to minimize the influence of Roman law (for example, p. 44) which, as a number of Spanish legal historians have proved beyond any doubt, was a decisive factor in the emergence and regulation of the rieptos and (ironically) ensuing duels.13

Much of Chapter 4, therefore, rests on suspect criteria for the interpretation of lines 3379-80. What Duggan refers to as ‘the apparently anomalous passage’ (p. 3) and the ‘obscure taunt’ (p. 47) leads him to a hypothesis which rapidly becomes fact. Thus, for example, he eventually takes it for granted that ‘the Infantes are free of the union of barraganía’ (p. 47) despite the lawful consecration of the marriages in the poem, the legality of which and the Cid's status of lawful infanzón (which made the marriages possible) the two brothers never deny—as Duggan admits elsewhere (p. 46). Significantly, Professor Duggan's study of lines 3379-80 is at its most useful when he again reverts to its economic implications in terms of ‘gift-giving’, showing how this passage represents a unique instance in the CMC of ‘the Cid receiving payment’—and this through ‘practically valueless wheat’ (p. 56).

The poet's purposes in composing the CMC are explored in Chapter 5, ‘The Poet's Milieu’. Duggan's acceptance that the work was composed in the latter part of Alfonso VIII's reign enables him to make full use of Julio González's definitive work on this period, and in this he follows the approach adopted in the last decade by several (neo-individualist) scholars. He also departs from the classical neo-traditionalist view of historicidad as he freely admits that either the poet distorts the historical truth or his account of history is simply what he actually knew (p. 58). However, Professor Duggan's oralist stance makes him reject the possibility that the CMC author's historical knowledge might have been derived from archival documents (as suggested, for example, by Smith) on account of misnamings which he sometimes ascribes to the existence of a multiplicity of orally-transmitted predecessor texts (for example, pp. 61, 79). (Such an argument, of course, ignores the possibility that the documentation available to whoever composed the work might have been incomplete and/or erroneous; it also contradicts the accepted view that the poet twists and even invents history for his own ends.) Drawing on Julio González's account of the reign of Alfonso VIII, Duggan gives a good account of the period from about the time of the defeat of Alarcos to the crucial victory at Las Navas de Tolosa, and agrees with José Fradejas Lebrero's view that the poet was actively trying to promote the Reconquest. Though the poem cannot match the crusading spirit of some of the French epics, there is undeniably an air of Crusade in some of the passages in the CMC, which broadly supports Duggan's arguments.14 However, the use made of González's excellent book for the purpose of clarifying certain aspects of the CMC is, on the whole, disappointing. The reason for this is, to a large extent, the obsessive prominence of the earlier hypothesis of the supposed implicit innuendo in Ansur's outburst which is now treated as established fact. Thus, Duggan states that ‘the inclusion [in the CMC] of a challenge to the Cid's legitimacy as the final issue to be decided in the judicial duels of the third cantar is noteworthy’, although he goes on to admit that ‘no historical reference to the Cid's being challenged by anyone in this regard is extant’ (p. 61). (Similar categorical statements about the cause and outcome of Ansur's taunt abound throughout the chapter: ‘the poet emphasizes the issue of legitimacy by making it the subject of the third judicial duel, the final act of heroic achievement [!]’ (p. 77); ‘the questions about the Cid's worthiness to mix his lineage with that of a comtal family in legitimate marriage are decided in his favor by the judgements of God [!]’ (p. 78), and so on.

Much of Professor Duggan's belief that ‘the poet would have had motives … for placing in question and then confirming the legitimacy of his hero's birth’ (p. 62) centres on the pervading hostility between the two cousins, Alfonso VIII of Castile and Alfonso IX of Leon, and the marriage of the latter to Berenguela, his cousin's daughter, an alliance whose consanguinity soon met with papal excommunication and potential illegitimacy for the offspring. This is a subtle and interesting viewpoint but one which is not backed by convincing arguments. As Duggan believes the creation of the CMC to have taken place in 1199 or 1200 (prior to its being written down in 1207), whereas the first son of Alfonso IX and Berenguela was born in July 1201, the supposed parallel illegitimacy of the Cid and the male offspring of the royal couple (the future Fernando III ‘El Santo’ of Castile and Leon, no less) poses anachronistic difficulties, as Duggan himself recognizes (p. 77). Moreover, the notion that the duels in the poem might serve the purpose of upholding Berenguela in the case of rejection by her husband (p. 78) cannot stand, for even if one accepted the idea that Elvira and Sol in the poem were the daughters of a fornezino, Alfonso VIII's daughter certainly was not!

Nor is it obvious that lines 3706-07 in the CMC (‘qui buena dueña escarneçe e la dexa despues ¦ ¡atal le contesca o si quier peor!’) ‘might well have been aimed in the direction of Alfonso IX of Leon’ (p. 80). Prior to the eventual forced separation from Berenguela in 1204 (after seven years of marriage and five children), he never mistreated her (despite the admittedly sinister tone of the dowry conditions in which the possibility of mistreatment, captivity, or death was given careful legal consideration (p. 73)). Another highly doubtful reading of the CMC refers to line 28, in which the threat to the souls expressed in the mandato real is mentioned. Duggan suggests that its meaning would be understandable by reference to the interdiction imposed by the Pope on communities in which Alfonso VIII, his wife, and daughter Berenguela resided (pp. 78-79, 89-90). But even if that meaning were somehow clear to the audience around 1200, would the poet be reminding the public (and Alfonso VIII himself) of the monarch's disobedience to papal instructions?

In addition to the above slender arguments for the poet's intentions as Duggan sees them, there are also instances where potential flaws in his theory are not addressed. For example, the appearance in the cort scene of Jimena's brother (but without any mention of such family ties) and the fact that both were of royal Leonese lineage might, arguably, be explained as ‘related to the anti-Leonese sentiment that permeates the poem’ (p. 60)—itself a somewhat sweeping statement. Nevertheless, this makes little sense had the poet been so keen to enhance the Cid's social standing and to refute any possible rumours concerning his birth. Difficulties of this type and the clinging to the barest textual details to reach seemingly definitive conclusions (the mere mention of ‘San Servan’ in line 3054 is apparently sufficient for Duggan to assert that ‘the poet would have been favorably inclined toward … the monastery of San Servando in Toledo’ (p. 61)) are not helpful in his attempt, throughout Chapter 5, to elucidate the poet's intentions and background. In this respect, Professor Duggan falls prey to the same kind of criticism he levels at others whose ‘debates over the Cid poet and his intentions [as regards legal, social, economic, and literary matters] … frequently betray an insufficient sensitivity to the differences that separate the medieval civilization from the modern’ (p. 2). Does, for example, the statement ‘it appears … that the poet does not sympathize with the money-lenders’ (p. 60) not betray insensitivity to the well-known medieval prejudice against usurers in general and Jews in particular? (Making use of Duggan's own analysis of the importance of gift-giving in the CMC, it is significant that the Cid's promises to reward and/or bestow gifts throughout the poem are always fulfilled, with the exception of Rachel and Vidas (ll. 178-81).) Unfortunately, whereas such an instance of anachronistic socio-historical thinking will, of course, be obvious to any reasonably well-informed reader, the very serious legal anachronism inherent in Chapter 5 (and also evident throughout the book) needs to be exposed.15

Professor Duggan's insistence that the legal background in the CMC is customary and oral is to be expected, as any degree of ‘professional’ legal knowledge by the poet would invalidate much of this oralist approach to the poem, despite the remark that ‘intimate knowledge of the law, the customs, and the procedures of a specific region would by no means imply that the person possessing such knowledge was culto in the sense of being learned, or even literate’ (p. 64). (Of a region, perhaps, but not if the knowledge extended to royal/territorial legislation or—horribile dictu—Roman law.) Thus, Duggan first stresses that ‘the influential Fuero de Cuenca … codifies a series of customs and practices that were already in effect’ (p. 64) although he later concedes, somewhat grudgingly, that in this ‘most widely distributed of the municipal codes granted by Alfonso VIII … certain features reflected the influence of Roman law’ and that ‘while Roman law was … in the process of being received in the period prior to 1207, it had only begun to have influence’ (p. 67) (see my note 13 above). Furthermore, he assumes, without evidence, that foreros are present in the CMC (‘although not under that designation’), boldly equating them to the sabidores of the cort scene, dismissing Menéndez Pidal's opinion that these were letrados and Lacarra's view that they were connected with Roman law, and stating simply that ‘the influence of Roman law in the poem is minor, if it surfaces at all’ (p. 65). Finally, he rejects Smith's designation of the poet as a ‘lawyer’, and Lacarra's similar views on the matter, arguing ‘that the poet did possess expert knowledge of the law is unlikely, since the references to law are such as might have been made by any intelligent and well-informed person in the period’, although he states dogmatically that even if a ‘legal mind’ were at work on the CMC ‘the expertise involved would be in oral customal law … if one could indeed show that highly technical and obscure aspects of the law were involved, which as a matter of fact is not the case’ (p. 67).

Unfortunately, Professor Duggan does not seem to be aware of several publications of the last decade which show that in fact such highly technical and obscure aspects abound in the poem, especially as regards the rieptos, the marital transactions, and court procedure, in all of which Roman law intermingles with Germanic customary law and sometimes even predominates over the latter.16 It is for this reason that, for example, he mistakes the rieptos for ‘judgements of God’, accepts the (incorrect) view that the return of gifts has no legal basis (p. 41), fails to see that the highly technical Roman-law procedure of extraordinaria cognitio (including some terminology) permeates the whole of the cort scene, and seems unaware of the potentially confusing meaning of ‘dowry’ in the CMC to denote marital transactions.17

Many of Professor Duggan's objections to anything that smacks of learned and/or professional legal knowledge are sometimes naive. The mention in the CMC of laws from several different codes is sufficient for Duggan to conclude that the poet was unlikely to be a peritus in the law of any particular town or region (p. 67), bypassing the possible (and likely) explanation that such broad legal knowledge would have been natural in someone attached to the chancery of a powerful family with widespread land and town possessions (as Lacarra has cogently argued). Duggan also objects to the notion that the poet was familiar with the Fuero de Molina de Aragón, despite line 902, which clearly states that ‘el Poyo de mio Çid asil diran por carta’: for him, it is more likely that the poet (an unlettered juglar) knew that this toponym was recorded in some written document. Finally, if the argument that ‘no scene shows a character consulting a written lawcode’ is to be accepted as proof that the CMC author was not trained in written law (p. 66), one could equally well argue that the mention of [Knjige Starostavne] in several Serbian epic poems (which many see as referring to the books enshrining Emperor Dušan's lawcode) must have been composed by someone who had been trained in written law (an absurd conclusion, as these songs are known to have been created by unlettered individuals).

In marked contrast to the unconvincingly presented material of the previous two chapters, Chapter 6 (‘Geography and History’) is an impressively-constructed theory concerning a possible setting for the composition of the CMC around 1200. An analysis of the geographical knowledge displayed by the poet leads Duggan to an important centre of religious influence in the Jalón valley patronized by Alfonso VIII: the monastery of Santa María de Huerta. He posits that the CMC was performed before the monarch in 1199 when he visited Huerta, or at either Huerta or Ariza in 1200 when, again, Alfonso's presence in the region can be documented. The juglar's performance was then copied down in 1207 by a Per Abad (the Abad here denoting rank, not a surname) for whom two possible candidates are suggested, the Abbot of Santa María de Huerta and the Abbot of Santa María de Ovila, both of whom bore the name Petrus around that time. Allowing for the speculative nature of any attempt to identify the Per Abad of the explicit with a historical personage, Duggan's theory is consistent within its own assumptions, although his insistence that it was the question of the legitimacy of Berenguela's offspring which inspired the original performance (1199-1200), whereas its recording in writing (1207) was influenced by the birth of Fernando and the treaty of Cabreros, might only partly (but never fully) account for the poet's and (in Duggan's theory) the scribe's motives.

The whole picture inherent in Professor Duggan's hypothesis is an intricate one, involving, besides Alfonso VIII and the abbot(s), also Pedro II of Aragon, the Laras, San Martín de Finojosa, and even the latter's nephew, the famous Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada. However, the conjecture that the last-named might also have descended from the Cid, though exciting in its implications, rests on a very thin argument (based on an earlier hypothesis by Ubieto Arteta).18 It is compatible with Lacarra's theory, to which in fact it contributes (especially as regards the popularity in the Lara family, for over a century, of the name Elvira, one of the Cid's daughters in the CMC).

One objection to Professor Duggan's carefully-argued theory is of a geographical nature and concerns the ever-present problem of Alcoçer, for it is difficult to envisage how a poet writing for an audience in the Jalón valley, and who knew the region well, could introduce a ‘fictitious place’ (p. 83) and give it such prominence in his work. Other possible sources of weakness in the proposed theory are of a historical nature: for example, the poet is credited with knowing all about the events of the time of Berenguer Ramón II ‘El Fratricida’ but gets his name wrong, mistaking it for that of the brother he was accused of murdering, Ramón Berenguer II, ‘Cap de Estopa’; and this he is supposed to have done while performing in the presence of the latter's direct descendant, Pedro II of Aragón (pp. 91-92). Similarly, if the conjectures about the poet's motives for including some of the personages in the CMC (for example, Galind Garçiaz (‘el bueno de Aragon’) (p. 90)) are correct, it is difficult to reject, as Duggan does, at least some degree of archival research on his part. Nevertheless, despite these objections, and some minor inaccuracies (both textual and historical),19 there is no doubt that this part of the book succeeds in presenting a self-contained (and fairly convincing) hypothesis for a possible background to the creation of the CMC, and puts forward credible candidates for the Per Abad of the explicit.

The remainder of this book is devoted largely to a thoroughly oralist (though far from typical) view of French influence, or, rather, a supposed lack of it (Chapter 7, ‘The Cantar de Mio Cid and the French Epic Tradition’), and on an equally oralist, but more restrained, portrayal of the way the poem was likely to have been composed (Chapter 8, ‘Mode of Composition’). In his treatment of the first of these topics, Professor Duggan's main preoccupation is the possibility—raised not only by individualists, but also by many neo-traditionalists (such as Menéndez Pidal who, besides accepting the written nature of epic composition, while insisting on its tradicionalidad, also pointed out that the juglares were often reasonably cultured people who knew their mester)—that ‘if the Cantar de mio Cid can be shown to owe something to foreign literary models, a strong case might be made that [the poet] belonged among the small number of individuals who were literate in this period of Castilian history’ (p. 108).20 Since ‘foremost among hypotheses of this type is the idea that he had access to French models’ (p. 108), Duggan eagerly concludes at the end of the chapter that ‘the cantares de gesta and the chansons de geste are cognate genres [but] quite different in character’ (p. 123), their common origin going back to a much earlier (mythical?) period. What is the evidence presented for such extreme (and largely novel) views?

For a start, the argument for minimizing French influence on the CMC is not a balanced one, since practically the whole of Chapter 7 shows an obsessive concern with the work of Smith (most of which he gathered and summarized in The Making of the ‘PMC’) and the article by Walker (‘A Possible Source for the Afrenta de Corpes Episode in the Poema de Mio Cid’, MLR, 72 (1977), 355-47). This is grossly unfair to the other scholars—many of whom are, in fact, oralists—whose important contributions to the question of French-epic influence on the CMC, if mentioned, receive scant treatment. It cannot be denied that Duggan's counter-arguments to Smith's parallels in general and Walker's Chanson de Florence source in particular are often impressive, and with some of them many will agree. However, while it must be admitted that Smith does sometimes overstate his case (and that of others since, for example, Walker never intended his article to be more than a tentative hypothesis, as the title suggests, ‘A Possible …’), so too does Duggan in his criticism of Smith, through his obvious need to contest every one of the latter's arguments, including those which rest on firm ground. However strongly one might disagree with the most ‘notorious’ member of the ‘British School’,21 it would be very harsh judgement indeed to dismiss completely his contributions to the study of French and Latin sources in the CMC. In his desire to minimize any French influence on the CMC, Duggan even rejects some of Menéndez Pidal's well-known and widely accepted observations on this matter and almost goes on to deny any direct link between the CMC and the Chanson de Roland, often refusing to accept what are clearly-evident parallels between these two works.

One fallacy is the notion that the usage of common phrases in deliberate imitation constitutes ‘a debilitating theory of poetic creation’ (p. 117), but, when the parallels do not entirely match, Duggan twists the argument by demanding, as evidence of French influence, exact parallels (thus denying the poet any original treatment of themes, scenes, and/or characters he might have drawn from certain sources). When confronted with irrefutable evidence of resemblances between the CMC and the chansons de geste, he admits that ‘such stylistic adaptation would not be surprising’ but adds, somewhat obscurely, ‘I refer here to the stylistic device rather than to any particular example of it’ (p. 120). Finally, faced with Michael Herslund's oralist analysis of the parallels between the CMC and the chansons de geste, Duggan resorts to the argument that ‘in the absence of evidence for directionality … in individual instances the direction of influence might be from the Spanish to the French or the Latin’ (p. 121)! If true, of course, this would go against all existing evidence that shows the Iberian Peninsula's relative literary backwardness (by about a century) with respect to, say, its French counterparts. One interesting and useful point to emerge from Duggan's keen desire to negate any French models for the CMC is his proposal that the puzzling name given to the Cid's battle-horse might in fact derive from the Old Spanish bava (baba, drivel), thus constituting a complimentary epithet, indicating a spirited war-horse (pp. 108-09).22

Chapter 8 begins with a series of preludes whose aim is to prepare the reader for the discussion of the poem's mode of composition. These open with a somewhat weak objection to the theory that the poet arrived at the many historical names through archival research (the historical inconsistencies need not necessarily mean an orally-transmitted tradition, but could be the product of incomplete archives and/or the predominance of creativity/propaganda over any modern notions of ‘historicity’). There follows a very good summary of existing linguistic evidence that may be used for dating purposes, and here Duggan takes the sensible view that the use of linguistic traits allows us only to approximate the period encompassing about half a century, the lifespan of a single person. Such dating is important for purposes of establishing the chronology of the tradition within which Professor Duggan believes the CMC poet to have been working. However, except for the well-known and often-quoted passage in the Carmen de expugnatione Almariae urbis, no new evidence is given for the existence of such a tradition. The implications of this passage in the Poema de Almería are widely accepted, but to use it as a basis for a hypothetical reconstruction of earlier (‘traditional’) versions of the CMC (coupled with speculations such as the theme of illegitimacy) stretches one's credulity. It is possibly in this chapter, where the oralist approach reaches its apogee, that the departure from classical neo-traditionalist tenets becomes most evident. Besides rejecting Pidalian views on historicity and early dating, Duggan also believes that earlier versions of the CMC had less in common with that of the extant manuscript than has been posited by Lapesa (who approaches ‘Menéndez Pidal's position’ (p. 129)) and dissents from Pidal's theory that the poem is apparently the work of two poets.

Much of Professor Duggan's oralist reasoning is impressive, not surprisingly since this is the mester to which he has contributed so eminently over the past years. Thus, the idea that ‘the development by which the Cid's [historical] deeds were transformed [in the poem] … must have involved … a process of localization … by poets of the Transierra’ (p. 129) is not incompatible with the geographical and even linguistic evidence Duggan so skilfully incorporates into his theory, and which automatically allows for the Aragonese influence in this borderland region between Castile and Aragon (pp. 141-42). The arguments for single authorship include the numerous ‘links and resemblances’ (p. 131) between the two halves of the poem identified by Jules Horrent, to which Duggan adds his belief that one poet reworked the whole poem but that in common with French and Serbo-Croat epics, the first cantar contains material which was developed earlier and formed part of a ‘constant’ tradition (a view supported by Albert Lord's observation that the beginnings of songs tend to be more stable than their later episodes, since songs are not always sung to the end), unlike the other two cantares, which represent later developments of the tradition. (This would certainly explain the more ‘historical’ nature of the cantar del destierro, but the whole question of a ‘Cid tradition’ is an open-ended one as there are no parallel texts to lend definitive support to Duggan's view.)

Professor Duggan does not see the differences in versification noted by Menéndez Pidal as necessarily revealing two poets at work, but argues that the smaller variety in assonances and the lengthier tiradas found in the later part of the poem might be explained by the increasing fatigue experienced by the juglar as the day progressed. This fatigue could also account for some of the olvidos del juglar, as Duggan suggests, but I am not convinced that this is the case for ‘the poet's failure to tell about the liberation of Alvar Salvadórez, captured in line 1681 but inexplicably free again in line 1719’ (p. 132), since not only are these lines very close to each other but the juglar had presumably restarted (see p. 139) the second cantar, after a break, at line 1085. Finally, Duggan recalls that Pidal's two-poet theory is weakened by don Ramón's own conclusion that there are no linguistic differences between the poem's various sections. However, as regards dating, he makes the point that ‘while the phonological and syntactic characteristics isolated by Menéndez Pidal undoubtedly point to the twelfth century, all of them may have survived in the dialects of the Transierra well into the second half of that century’ (p. 132). This problem of archaic linguistic features in the CMC is obviously a central question for Duggan, who reiterates his conviction that the poem was composed c. 1200 by pointing to the symbolic choice in the CMC of Carrión as the seat of the Cid's enemies, a town in which Alfonso VIII had triumphed over his Leonese cousin (in 1188), and in which the latter had attempted to avenge his humiliation eight years later. The preservation of archaic linguistic features is, as Professor Duggan rightly points out, a characteristic of orally-transmitted heroic epic, and the presence of such archaic features in the CMC is compatible with a later date of composition, especially since the notion of a Kunstsprache in the poem (similar to that found, for example, in the Chanson de Guillaume) has met with the support of several British scholars not noted otherwise for their neo-traditionalist and/or oralist views. However, I do not think that this leads necessarily to the conclusion that the text is the result of (direct) oral transmission, denying the possibility of ‘the individual authorship of a writing poet’ (p. 134), since a ‘writing poet’ would, in composing an epic, have respected the time-honoured tradition associated with the genre (as, for example, the Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, Petar Petrović Njegoš, in adopting the style of Serbian oral epic for his [Gorski Vijenac]).23

The last part of Chapter 8 describes a statistical study of the CMC which, based largely on several of Duggan's earlier articles (especially his ‘Formulaic Diction in the Cantar de Mio Cid and the Old French Epic’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, 10 (1974), 260-69), aims to show that the percentage of formulas in the poem suggests that it was orally composed. The method employed (the counting of all repeated hemistichs) is more favourable to such a conclusion than that employed by Edmund de Chasca, who limited the number of formulas to those phrases which occur at least three times in the poem, thereby eliminating over a third of repeated hemistichs. That de Chasca's approach is unnecessarily restrictive has also been pointed out by Smith,24 but, on the other hand, it must be stressed that Duggan allows a considerable degree of laxity in his definition of a formula by treating as identical formulas hemistichs that contain ‘an additional word or two’ (p. 138) but which are not essential to the messages being conveyed. Such laxity is conceivable in the case of irregular metrical conditions (although the whole concept of a formula then comes into question, according to orthodox oralist thinking), which is a characteristic of the extant CMC. The problem, however, is that Duggan believes that ‘the poem as it was performed was … metrically regular … even taking into account that other Castilian poems of this period exhibit some degree of metrical irregularity [as Henríquez Ureña has pointed out]’ (pp. 137-38). The argument is clearly a circular one and runs something like this: since it is difficult to admit that a sung text should vary in syllable count from line to line, and as the chanson de geste (a genre cognate with the cantar de gesta, but one which, supposedly, did not influence the latter!) is composed in isosyllabic lines, we are to accept that the lines of the CMC, too, must originally have been of fixed length (prior to its having been written down). A further strange type of reasoning is that similar relative formulaic densities found in French and Spanish works composed in writing imply that ‘there are excellent reasons to believe that the same stylisic opposition between works composed orally and works composed in writing exists in medieval Spanish literature as has been found in medieval French’ (p. 139).

Duggan accepts eventually that, unlike French epics, the CMC exists in a single extant text, but he still insists that it is consistent with the theory that it was orally composed and he goes on to list a number of points in support of this, all of which are decidedly shaky. The most convincing of these would, at first, appear to be the solution elaborated by L. P. Harvey on the basis of Serbian oral poets whose metrically-regular songs may become metrically-irregular texts when dictated: nevertheless, and leaving aside Kenneth Adams's objections to this argument, I query the notion implicit in Duggan's reasoning that the scribe who took the poem down in writing and/or Per Abad who later copied it did not know about metrical regularity or about rhyme (changing, for example, the muort required for assonance proper to its evolved form muert) while, at the same time, retaining the older epic tradition elsewhere. Therefore, I remain unconvinced by Duggan's assertion that ‘the irregularity of versification originated in the interface between the oral and the written, the dictated text and its first recording in manuscript’ (p. 140), since in the absence of more tangible proofs, a simpler (and often-invoked) hypothesis is that the CMC (and, perhaps, early Spanish epic in general) allowed a certain deficiency in syllabic count and assonance.

Professor Duggan's book is most notable in its adoption of an oralist approach which, to a large extent, is at the same time in open conflict with classical neo-traditionalism, especially in the many important instances where the long-held views of Menéndez Pidal are manifestly disavowed. In this respect, the common ground with many a neo-individualist view is surprisingly large, although I doubt whether this was the author's intention when he set out to write his book.25 The main contribution to Cid studies is undoubtedly the importance given to the acquisition of wealth and gift-giving (Chapters 2 and 3). The remainder of this book is also quite useful as a reference for specialist scholars who will profit from its many sound ideas once they have identified the not-infrequent weaknesses (such as the treatment of the legal aspects of the poem), some of which arise as a result of preconceived notions that are not borne out by textual evidence. In this respect, the conclusion that ‘the portrait of the poet that emerges is of a person belonging to one of the lowest levels of society—a juglar with little or no formal education, and probably no direct contact with French culture’ (pp. 143-44) is totally incompatible with an objective reading of the poem and may be explained only as an (unpoetic) creation on the part of the critic.


  1. This review article has been prompted by the publication of Joseph J. Duggan's The ‘Cantar de mio Cid’: Poetic Creation in its Economic and Social Contexts (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, [6]) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1989. [xi] + 178 pp. £27.50.

  2. The opposing views of neo-traditionalists and individualists are perhaps best illustrated by the debate conducted, for some years now, through various publications between Samuel G. Armistead and Colin Smith; the polemic dates from their now classic articles ‘The Mocedades de Rodrigo and Neo-Traditionalist Theory’, Hispanic Review, 46 (1978), 313-27, and ‘Epics and Chronicles: A Reply to Armistead’, Hispanic Review, 51 (1983), 409-28. For the most recent assessment of ‘the intensity of the controversy’ between neo-traditionalists and individualists, see Edward H. Friedman, ‘The Writerly Edge: A Question of Structure in the Poema de Mio Cid’, La Corónica, 18.2 (1989-90), 11-20 (p. 12). Although some scholars refer to ‘the seemingly powerful arguments of the individualist critics of the Cid, who might seem to be in the ascendancy today’ (see Edward R. Haymes's review of John Miles Foley, Oral Tradition in Literature: Interpretation in Context, La Corónica, 18.2 (1989-90), 121-22 (p. 121)), the individualists' case is often drowned by the frequency—and vehemence—of the criticism with which their conclusions are sometimes met. No doubt, as E. Michael Gerli points out, ‘the debate between Individualists, Neo-Traditionalists, and Formulists will … continue to rage’, despite his somewhat over-optimistic view that ‘Formulism may have been permanently put to rest’ (‘Individualism and the Castilian Epic: A Survey, Synthesis, and Bibliography’, Olifant, 9 (1982), 129-50 (p. 140)).

  3. See, for example, Armistead's acceptance that ‘what the individualist approach has brought to light is an even more complex picture of the Castilian epic [than that evoked by the traditionalists]. They have demonstrated in the case of the Refundición de las Mocedades, and to a lesser extent perhaps in PMC, the presence of an erudite overlay imposed in these late adaptations upon originally traditional material’ (pp. 324-25, n. 22). Such views, coming from a devoted neo-traditionalist, are significant, as A. D. Deyermond points out in ‘A Monument for Per Abad: Colin Smith on the Making of the Poema de Mio Cid’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 62 (1985), 120-26 (p. 122).

  4. See Armistead, passim, but especially pages 319-24. The relationship between chronicles and the epics is not of course the sole preserve of neo-traditionalists, as is shown, for instance, in D. G. Pattison's From Chronicle to Legend: The Treatment of Epic Material in Alphonsine Historiography, Medium Aevum Monographs, n.s., 13 (Oxford, 1983) and in Brian Powell's Epic and Chronicle: The ‘Poema de mio Cid’ and the ‘Crónica de veinte reyes’, Modern Humanities Research Association Texts and Dissertations, 18 (London, 1983). However, the key difference is in the applicability of the concept of refundición, which neo-traditionalists apply to the epics, whereas others suggest this notion might be more relevant to the chronicles themselves (see the review by L. P. Harvey of Pattison's monograph (BHS [Bulletin of Hispanic Studies], 63 (1986), 153-54) and that by Ian Michael of Powell's book (BHS, 62 (1985), 128-29)).

  5. Duggan here accepts Leo Spitzer's views regarding Menéndez Pidal's position as a member of the Generación de 1898 (‘Sobre el carácter histórico del Cantar de Mio Cid’, Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica, 2 (1948), 105-17), a point also made repeatedly by Colin Smith (see, for example, ‘Los orígenes de la poesía vernácula en España’, Actas del Sexto Congreso Internacional de Hispanistas (Toronto, 1980), 27-36 (p. 27)). To imply, however, as Duggan does, that don Ramón could not have emphasized the Cid's acquisitive qualities, as these would have been somewhat embarrassing to the early twentieth-century Spanish public, is questionable: most medieval knights, of course, were ‘acquisitive’ and this was not looked upon by their contemporaries as shameful.

  6. The Making of the ‘Poema de mio Cid’ (Cambridge, 1983).

  7. For example, amongst the scholars enumerated by Duggan who have studied the economic aspects of the CMC one finds neither Luis Rubio García (Realidad y fantasía en el ‘Poema de mio Cid’ (Murcia, 1972), pp. 59-78) nor María Eugenia Lacarra (El ‘Poema de mio Cid’: Realidad histórica e ideología (Madrid, 1980), pp. 32-50).

  8. Some minor accounting slips appear to creep in to his analysis, as when he argues that the Cid's quinta after the capture of Valencia must have included horses as well as the 30,000 marks (admittedly, lines 1213 and 1218 make it clear that numerous horses as well as ‘otros averes’ formed part of the booty, in addition to the ‘aver monedado’ (l. 1217)), for otherwise he would not have been able to send the 100 horses as a present to King Alfonso; yet, in accordance with Professor Duggan's own estimates, 100 horses would have represented about 7,500 marks, well below the Cid's quinta, even assuming this to have consisted exclusively of the trove of coins (p. 33 and p. 151, n. 1). Furthermore, between the fall of Valencia and the second embassy to the King with the 100 horses, the defeat of the army of the King of Seville takes places, the poet stressing ‘mucho fue provechosa … esta aranca(n)da’ (l. 1233; all quotations are taken from Colin Smith's edition of the poem (Oxford, 1972)). In fact, since even the menores receive 100 silver marks (l. 1234) and the subsequent counting of the Cid's forces (l. 1265) puts the latter at 3,600, an estimate of the total booty (which could be added to the list of estimates for the various campaigns and battle on page 24) would give 360,000 marks, a conservative sum in view of the fact that the knights receive twice the amount due to the foot-soldiers. Thus, a lower bound for the Cid's quinta from this battle alone is 72,000 marks, that is, nearly ten times 100 horses. Duggan also misreads line 2509, since he assumes that each Infante receives 5,000 marks, whereas the text makes it quite clear that this sum is shared by the two brothers. In any case, his analysis of the Infantes' wealth (pp. 38-39) is limited to the assumption that they share 10,000 (instead of 5,000) marks from the booty after the defeat of Búcar, whereas earlier in the poem it is hinted that during their two-year stay in Valencia, the brothers have had much more bestowed upon them (‘los amores que les fazen muchos eran sobejanos’ (l. 2272)).

  9. See J. J. Duggan, ‘Legitimation and the Hero's Exemplary Function in the Cantar de mio Cid and the Chanson de Roland’, in Oral Traditional Literature: A Festschrift for Albert Bates Lord, edited by John Miles Foley (Columbus, Ohio, 1981), pp. 217-34, and A. D. Deyermond's review of this work in La Corónica, 9 (1982-83), pp. 351-57 (p. 356) and Ian Michael's edition of the CMC (Madrid, 1980) (note to line 3379).

  10. This objection has already been raised in Brian Powell's brief review of Duggan's book (‘Knight's Castile’, Times Higher Education Supplement, 2 February 1990): ‘[Duggan's] interpretation of lines 3378-80 as suggesting the illegitimacy of the Cid seems difficult to sustain. It relies on the belief that an oblique reference to a legend which appears for the first time in the Crónica de los reyes de Castilla, written around 1300, would have been instantly recognizable a century earlier. In fact, the story in the chronicle is part of the Gesta de las Mocedades de Rodrigo, a complex late 13th-century extension of the legend of the Cid’ (p. 27). The ballads that make use of such a legend are, of course, much later. In a similar vein, Duggan posits the existence of traditional material as regards other aspects of the poem when, for example, he states that ‘although the poet does not mention Muño's kinship by marriage with Jimena, it is possible that he knew of it from the tradition of poems concerning the Cid and decided to associate Muño with Jimena in the poem’ (p. 55). But why, then, is Muño described by the poet (unhistorically) as the Cid's vassallo de criazón (ll. 737, 2901-02)?

  11. For the natures of the rieptos and duels in the CMC and their implications in interpreting the poem, see Milija N. Pavlović and Roger M. Walker, ‘A Reappraisal of the Closing Scenes in the Poema de Mio Cid’, Medium Aevum, 58 (1989), 1-16 (Part I: ‘The Rieptos’) and 189-205 (Part II: ‘The Duels’). A more detailed legal background can be found in my doctoral dissertation, ‘A Study of the Legal Aspects of the Themes of Justice and Honour in the Poema de Mio Cid’ (University of London, 1984).

  12. It is the manner in which the Infantes abandon their wives that is at stake; see Milija N. Pavlović and Roger M. Walker, ‘Roman Forensic Procedure in the Cort Scene in the Poema de Mio Cid’, BHS, 60 (1983), 95-107. Fernando's flight from the battlefield could not give rise to riepto, although it would have made him infamous in accordance to canon law; see Pavlović and Walker, ‘The Implications of Pero Vermúez's Challenge to Ferrando Gonçalez in the Poema de mio Cid’, Iberoromania, n.s., 24 (1986), 1-15.

  13. For example, Duggan states that ‘although the Fuero real is from 1255 and thus later than the Cantar de mio Cid, it is little affected by the revival of Roman law in its provisions concerning iniuria (Serra Ruiz 1969: 222) and probably reflects earlier practice’ (p. 48). Leaving aside the fact that the riepto (with which this iniuria is concerned) evolved largely as a result of Roman-law influence, and the fact that the Fuero Real is a highly romanized code commissioned by the openly romanizing Alfonso X, it is interesting to explore what the ‘earlier practice’ (presumably, roughly contemporary with the CMC which Duggan dates c. 1207) actually reflects: the Fuero de Cuenca (1189), commissioned by the less overt (but more successful) romanizing zeal of Alfonso VIII, though it is the most important law code of its time and a thorough compilation of Germanic customary law relating to affront, treats this (as well as other) material by drawing greatly on the principles of Roman law; more specifically, the desonor strongly resembles the Roman iniuria atrox. Such views are, in fact, those of Rafael Serra Ruiz (Honor, honra e injuria en el Derecho medieval español (Murcia, 1969), pp. 65-74, 249-51), on whose work Duggan bases his arguments. See also my dissertation, pp. 327-28 (especially note 23), and, for other examples of Roman-law influence on the Fuera de Cuenca, pp. 191-93, 201-02.

  14. See, for example, Pavlović and Walker, ‘The Implications of Pero Vermúez's Challenge’. Powell's objection—‘would Alfonso [VIII] have enjoyed a poem which does not fully embody the ideals of the Reconquest and certainly does not show a unified Christian side?’ (‘Knight's Castile’)—may be countered by pointing to the historical realities of the time and the fact that the poet's aims were not exclusively directed to the Reconquista, although this certainly featured as one of his propagandist goals. However, to claim, as Duggan does, that ‘the Cantar de mio Cid as we have it in the poetic text differs thematically from all other epics in the Romance languages because it was designed to fit the needs of the Reconquest at a specific moment’ (pp. 80-81) is surely an overstatement.

  15. In what follows I am basing my arguments on the various publications listed in previous notes (a more detailed exposition of the legal issues may be found in Chapters 3 and 4 of my dissertation).

  16. Duggan's fairly superficial handling of legal matters is also evident in his failure to consult original sources. For instance, he attributes to Lacarra the explanation that the return of the 200 marks to the Infantes by the King represents essentially a fine (p. 41), whereas the solution to this interesting question was proposed by Juan García González, as Lacarra herself makes quite clear (El ‘Poema de Mio Cid’ (p. 58-59)). Similarly, the first to point to the poet's knowledge of the Fuero de Molina was P. E. Russell (‘Some Problems of Diplomatic in the CMC and their Implications’, MLR [Modern Language Review], 47 (1952), 340-49), not, as Duggan seems to imply, Lacarra (p. 66).

  17. An interesting suggestion (though stated somewhat uncompromisingly) is ‘that the poetic Cid is intent on recovering the dowry he has given to the Infantes de Carrión corresponds to Alfonso VIII's concerns over the castles of Berenguela's dowry’ (p. 80). Yet, castles were exchanged by both sides. Thus, Duggan either equates the very different dos/axuvar (gift from wife to husband) and donatio/arras (gift from husband to wife)—referring to both as ‘dowry’—or fails to see that the presence of the former (both in the CMC and in the marriage contracts of Alfonso VIII's reign) is a relatively new concept strongly influenced by Roman law. See Pavlović and Walker, ‘Money, Marriage and the Law in the Poema de Mio Cid’, Medium Aevum, 51 (1982), 197-212.

  18. There is also the question raised by Roger Wright (in a different context, but very relevant here): ‘Ximénez de Rada's De Rebus Hispaniae (written in the 1240s) presents us with a further puzzle. Why has the best educated writer of the age not apparently heard, or heard of, the Poema de Mio Cid’? (‘Several Ballads, One Epic and Two Chronicles (1100-1250)’, La Corónica, 18.2 (1989-90), 21-37 (p. 29). This question was also mentioned in passing in one of his earlier articles (‘How Old is the Ballad Genre?’, La Corónica, 14 (1985-86), 251-57), that is, well before the publication of Professor Duggan's book. In the latter part of this latest article in La Corónica (pp. 29-33), Wright provides an impressive list of instances where De Rebus Hispaniae departs from the CMC in its treatment of various episodes involving Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (amongst these, ‘the perennially startling fact that unlike the Poema de Almería, of 100 years before (c. 1147), Ximénez de Rada consistently fails to call Rodrigo “Cid”’ (p. 33), and concludes that ‘in short, Ximénez de Rada almost certainly did not know the Poema’ (p. 33).

  19. Duggan states that ‘the Cid shows a particular devotion … to the Virgin Mary, promising her a thousand masses at San Pedro de Cardeña, paying off the debt after the capture of Alcocer’ (p. 105); the text, however makes it absolutely clear that the votive Masses are for Santa María de Burgos (ll. 215-25, 822, 931). The historical slip concerns Count Pedro González de Lara, who was the lover of the daughter (not the sister, as Duggan states (p. 95) of Alfonso VI (both women, of course, bore the name Urraca). Incidentally, earlier in the book Duggan mentions the reign of Alfonso VIII's ‘great-grandfather’ (which implies Queen Urraca's consort) when referring to the ‘economic climate Alfonso VIII might have envied’ (p. 29), this, of course, being the golden age of the parias during the life of Alfonso VI (that is, Alfonso VIII's great-great-grandfather).

  20. It may be interesting to ponder what sort of material might have been more readily available to such literate individuals. In this respect, when referring to the reading habits of Castilians of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, John Dagenais states that ‘the wills and inventories published in the works unearthed [by Professor Charles Faulhaber] tend to confirm that if individuals owned any books at all, they were likely to be legal books’, and goes on to ask whether we have ‘really done enough in investigating the specific influences of these works on vernacular letters’ (see Dagenais's review of Faulhaber's Libros y bibliotecas en la España medieval: Una bibliografía de fuentes impresas, La Corónica, 18.2 (1989-90), 118-20 (p. 119)).

  21. Fortunately, Professor Duggan does not actually employ this ludicrously coined designation—so often rejected by two of its supposedly leading representatives, Smith and Deyermond. As the latter says, ‘the school—if it exists—is a singularly ill-conducted academy, with raucous disagreement drowning the polite murmurs of consensus’ (‘A Monument for Per Abad’ (p. 122))—a sensible view and one, I might add, that could equally be applied to American scholars (see, for instance, H. Salvador Martínez's summary of the annual meeting of the Societé Rencesvals, American-Canadian Branch, in La Corónica, 10 (1981-82), 250-54). That Deyermond practises what he preaches is evident in his joint article with David Hook, ‘The “Afrenta de Corpes” and Other Stories’, La Corónica, 10 (1981-82), 12-37.

  22. Though such a view (already strongly hinted at in Michael's edition—see note to line 1573) would be strengthened if one could prove that bavieca did not have a pejorative meaning around 1200, I find Duggan's explanation possibly more convincing than Martín de Riquer's proposal that Bavieca was derived from the French balçan, bauçan dapple-grey (‘Bavieca, caballo del Cid Campeador, y Bauçan, caballo de Guillaume d'Orange’, Boletín de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona, 25 (1953), 127-44). On the other hand, the existence of equine parallels (in a broader sense) between the CMC and some of the earlier French epics has recently been argued elsewhere (see Walker and Pavlović, ‘War Horses and Their Epithets in the Poema de Mio Cid and French Epic: Some Observations and Tentative Conclusions’, Neophilologus, 75 (1991), 76-85).

  23. This is of course an obvious point but one which, significantly, oralists have on the whole been careful to avoid (but see the work of John S. Miletich, as summarized by Gerli in ‘Individualism and the Castilian Epic’ (p. 139). For example, as Haymes points out, ‘Lord has resisted treating such poets [as Njegoš] before because they bring us perilously close to the “transitional text” heresy’ (p. 121). Admittedly, the presence of oral-formulaic devices and rhetoric in literate poetry that has been written in proximity to oral traditions is currently being explored by oralists such as Albert Lord and Alain Renoir (see Haymes's review, pp. 121-22).

  24. ‘Some Thoughts on the Application of Oralist Principles to Medieval Spanish Epic’, in A Face not Turned to the Wall: Essays on Hispanic Themes for Gareth Alban Davies (Leeds, 1987), pp. 9-26. Smith believes de Chasca's large catalogue of formulas should be expanded in some cases (for example, the imposition of a minimum of three occurrences should be relaxed), but reduced in others (that is, very common and basic phrases without which discourse would be hard to imagine)—see especially pages 11-16.

  25. After this review article was written, Professor Walker kindly drew my attention to the review of Duggan's book by Thomas Montgomery (Journal of Hispanic Philology, 14 (1989-90), 94-97). It is significant that, despite Montgomery's clear sympathies towards the ‘popular’ and ‘traditional’ elements in Spain's early literature, he appears to share many of the views expressed in the present article, especially when he remarks that ‘oddly, [Duggan] comes close to combining oralist and individualist tenets’ (p. 97). Montgomery's various specific criticisms might well be summarized by his statement that ‘sometimes … the thread between factual material and ultimate conclusions is stretched nearly to breaking point’ (p. 94), a view with which I fully concur.

Matthew Bailey (essay date 1991)

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SOURCE: Bailey, Matthew. “The Encylopedic Function of the Poema del Cid.” In Estudios Alfonsinos y Otros Escritos, pp. 17-25. New York, N.Y.: National Endowment for the Humanities/National Hispanic Foundation for the Humanities, 1991.

[In the following essay, Bailey suggests that the purpose of the Cantar de mio Cid is didactic, as it constantly reinforces common knowledge, practical and legal procedures, and social attitudes.]

For the most part the study of the Poema del Cid has not treated the work as the product of an oral tradition but as just another literary text. This approach ignores the impressive findings of scholars in other literatures who have explored the implications of the oral composition of epic poetry. Cedric Whitman, Eric Havelock and Isidore Okpewho all present compelling studies of preliterate society and within it the role of both the poet and his poetry. In this society the spoken word is the only source of knowledge. There are no books to consult; long hours of isolated, diligent study are impossible. Anything a person is to know must be told to him. The learned man is thus one with a special capacity for recall, one capable of remembering and retelling more than others. Recall has its special techniques. A society that depended on memory for the retention of information must have developed elaborate, efficient systems of recall. The most successful method would become an institution. That institution was epic poetry, its learned men the poets.

The very nature of a non-literate society would require a learned man to be a communicator of knowledge. Besides having a gifted memory, a well-versed person would take every opportunity to recite, to repeat his wealth of information. Others, naturally interested in learning, would listen to him, perhaps at times joining in with him. To keep their knowledge alive they had to repeat it over and over. The poet was then a teacher of sorts, no doubt aware that he was entertaining as well as teaching (Havelock 145-164). Like the teachers of today, he probably was as concerned with his presentation of the education material as with the material itself. His methods may at times have been worthy of praise, but they were always subservient to the lessons to be taught (Havelock 93).

The idea of an epic being intrinsically didactic somehow seems to take away from its appeal. To us, so far removed from a primarily non-literate society, these ways of preserving and divulging information are curious indeed (Montgomery). The written word has liberated us from a dependence on memory and thus distanced us from the methods used to enhance it. But if we turn our attention away from the presentation, perhaps the educational material it was meant to preserve and divulge will become apparent.

Eric Havelock studies the Iliad as a compilation of inherited lore rather than a piece of creative fiction (61-86). He found that in the first one hundred lines a total of about fifty were didactic “in the sense that they recall or memorialise acts, attitudes, judgments and procedures which are typical” (87). In the description of his approach, Havelock asks that one consider the Muse of the first book of the Iliad “as though, while celebrating ‘the mighty deeds of former men’, she was recording what Hesiod says she records, namely ‘public usage and private habit of all’, whether men or gods: as though in fact her utterance did conform to Plato's conception of Homer as a sort of tribal encyclopedia” (66).

The hypothesis that worked so well for Havelock will be here applied to the Cid. The primarily non-literate society that produced the Iliad was probably much like Christian Spain as regards the genesis and function of epic poetry. As Havelock does for Homer's epic, this paper takes as axiomatic that the purpose behind the best-known Spanish epic is didactic and that the tale is made subservient to accommodating the weight of educational material which lies within it (Havelock 87-96). A number of the more familiar lines will be scrutinized with their didactic function in mind; the inherited lore will be identified with the understanding that the poet assures his own place in society by supporting it and that this fact may influence the choice of details to emphasize.

The Cid, like the Iliad and the two African epics studied by Okpewho, begins with a conflict; a sense of affronted justice sparks the four tales. Both the Iliad and the Cid begin with a dispute over the distribution of spoils and the subsequent punishment resulting from alleged greed. The similarity is probably not coincidental. Okpewho's heroes, although they place themselves above the rank and file of society, are communal men. The hero is objectified in such a way as to reflect the cosmic interests of the community (Okpewho 125). The same is true of Homer's heroes as well as of the Cid. Havelock says that while we tend to focus our attention on the heroes as autonomous personalities, they are anything but that. Their acts and thoughts affect the fate of the society in which they move, yet they are very much controlled by the conventions of that society. This kind of poetry is public or political and so the tale of the quarrel becomes the vehicle for illustrating the public law, the governing apparatus of the society (Havelock 66).

The harsh punishment dealt to the Cid should surprise no one. He had purportedly violated one of the best-known and hence binding codes of behavior to which a warrior and all of society adhered. The Cid could not be angry at his king for implementing justice, for there could be no other response. The only source of action remaining for the Cid was to carry out the distribution of the future spoils of battle just as the oft-cited prescriptions in the poem indicate. The king was to be sent his rightful share, he would know time and again that his ever-faithful vassal would include him in the distribution of spoils. In this way only could the Cid right the wrong in the eyes of the king.

The extant text begins after the sentencing of our hero. There is no appeal; the Cid simply expresses grief and begins his journey into exile. The authority of the king will never be questioned; the king is an important part of the stable social structure. It is not possible to put his sentence into question, to challenge it. The Cid can only express sadness for his circumstance. This sadness is objectified in the hero himself: “De los sos ojos tan fuertemientre llorando” (Michael 75; line 1).3

The Cid must leave and his departure is difficult. In a stratified society, a rigorously hierarchical society, to be exiled is to lose all that has meaning. For as the poem implies, there can be no real happiness outside society, only within it and then in one's rightful place.

The grief being expressed by the Cid is soon directed to concrete images of abandonment and loss: “vio puertas abiertas e uços sin cañados, / alcándaras vazías, sin pielles e sin mantos / e sin falcones e sin adtores mudados” (3-5). The doors are open, the locks are gone, there is nothing left to keep. The finer, distinguishing items associated with the hero's privileged social position are either useless or absent. Their loss emphasizes the displacement of exile which accounts for the Cid's grief. But the Cid's loss is not merely a material one. Since they represent a rank in society, the absent items translate into a significant loss of place for the Cid. Their inclusion thus contributes to the narrative, but a didactic function is also served as the audience is reminded of the identifying possessions of a specific social rank.

The first speech by the hero is in a context of generalities. His personal circumstance is one in which anyone anyone breaking the rules of booty distribution would soon find himself. The Cid's reaction to his forced exile is typically sad; one's place in this highly structured society gives all else meaning. The indication of his social status is one the listening public readily recognizes, it reinforces their knowledge of it. If the Cid's status and his circumstance can be classified as part of the public law then the intelligence and mannerisms which are expected of him also become part of society's public code. The one is inseparable from the other. So when the hero speaks, couched in what is so typical, the way he speaks must also be typical: “fabló Mio Cid bien e tan mesurado” (7). Here the narrator indicates qualities of the Cid that will be reinforced throughout the poem. What the Cid says is correct and prudent, and, as the poem will document, the Cid's actions are always correct and prudent as well. The correspondence between the Cid's words and his actions may be the most important yet unspoken message of the poem, especially when compared with the contrasting example of the Infantes de Carrión. Having been unjustly banished from the kingdom he served so well, the Cid unequivocally reconfirms his faith in the very society that has so wrongfully punished him: “¡Grado a ti, Señor, Padre que estás en alto! / Esto me an buelto mios enemigos malos” (8-9). This is the statement by the Cid that is correct and prudent. It is not irony, the Cid is expressing his unwavering faith in God, the cornerstone of his society, in spite of the treachery which has brought the king's wrath upon him. In a very timely fashion these two lines serve to assure the audience of the Cid's firm faith in society despite his present circumstances. The Cid understands the two realities as separate and throughout the poem will treat them accordingly. In the end the enemigos malos suffer shame and disfavor as a consequence of their deceitful ways, while the Cid basks in the glory of his success, which reinforces the poem's message that the correctness and prudence of the Cid are the means to the success that he achieves. The attitude of the Cid is exemplary, and it is memorialized in the poem.

Continuously in the poem we see conventional behavior reenacted. The tale is composed of situations necessary to the story but which also represent inherited lore. The second laisse offers just such a situation. The hero begins his journey out of the kingdom and is quickly confronted with two omens: “a la exida de Bivar ovieron la corneja diestra / e entrando a Burgos oviéronla siniestra” (11-12). The exit from Vivar and the entrance into Burgos offer the poet the opportunity to present two omens. The good omen follows the exit, the bad omen follows the entrance. The two are later substantiated in the text. The Cid's reception by the people of Burgos is not warm, but his adventures in exile are very successful in the long run. The two omens foreshadow the events in the poem thus fulfilling an important narrative function. To the modern-day reader, such a narrative function is commonplace and can be confirmed after one reading and minimal reflection. In order for the omens to have foreshadowed events for the listening public, their meaning and interpretation had to be common knowledge, for in an oral performance only that which is readily understood can communicate.

The poem continues to reinforce common knowledge as the narrative develops. Knowing the correct responses to omens would be just as important as understanding them. This necessary procedure directly follows the omens: “Meció Mio Cid los ombros e engrameó la tiesta” (13). It is possible that each of the two gestures corresponds to one of the omens. The sighting of a good omen calls for an appropriate response. Epic poetry tends toward a symmetrical patterning of information, in this way it is more easily memorized and communicated. The three lines containing the omens and the Cid's responses to them pass from the poet to the listening audience; knowledge is reinforced while the narrative continues.

The second laisse, like the first, ends with a statement by the Cid: “¡Albricia, Álbar Fáñez, ca echados somos de tierra!” (14). This statement directly follows the good and the bad omens and the Cid's ritualistic gestures. The omens set a tone of adventure and the Cid reacts enthusiastically. The Cid's “aceptación heroica del desafío de la fortuna adversa” can be viewed as a personal response to a singular situation (Michael 77, n14). But the encyclopedic function of oral epic poetry presents another dimension to our understanding of the Cid's personal behavior. If “the minstrel is simply reporting and describing” attitudes which are familiar and proper (Havelock 67), then the reaction of the Cid toward the unknown of adventure was culturally determined to both poet and audience. Ian Michael suggests that the poem “pudo haber sido empleado para alistar reclutas durante el período de transición que precedió al nuevo e irrefrenable avance cristiano iniciado en 1212” (45). Michael's suggestion conforms to the assumptions behind the encyclopedic function in that the poem encourages the listening audience “to admire the status which is ‘best’ and perhaps to aspire to it” (Havelock 76). That status in the poem is not an arbitrary creation imposed on an unwitting audience but a shared ideal reflecting the common inherited lore of both poet and audience. The Cid confronts the perils that he encounters with vigorous determination, and in at least one other occasion he and his vassals express delight at the opportunities that dangerous confrontations provide. In contrast to the Cid the poet offers the cowardly ways of the Infantes de Carrión. For example, when the Moorish king Búcar sets siege to Valencia, the Cid and his men are delighted at the prospect of further enriching themselves through battle with the Moors, while the Infantes fear for their lives and want desperately to avoid battle (lines 2315-2323).

The expected consequences of banishment begin to take shape in the third laisse. These are essential to the progress of the narrative but also offer occasion to recapitulate relationships basic to the stability of the social structure. Lines 15-16a evidence the mix of narrative and description in the poem: “Mio Çid Ruy Díaz por Burgos entrava / en su conpaña sessaenta pendones.” The knights of an exiled noble were obliged to accompany him into exile and stay with him until he had been assured a means of support (Smith xxvi). In the specifics of the narrative this prescription becomes description but not without subtly revealing one of the public laws of the overall governing apparatus of society.

The remaining lines of the laisse portray the citizens of Burgos as moved by the circumstances in which the Cid finds himself. Here their voice is one: “plorando de los ojos, tanto avién el dolor; / de las sus bocas todos dezían una rrazón: / «¡Dios, qué buen vassallo, si oviesse buen señor!»” (18-20). The Cid has incurred a terrible punishment and the people of Burgos are saddened. Their sadness is probably more a reflection of the poet's and the audience's understanding of the importance of a stable vassal-lord relationship than a true depiction of the feelings of the people of Burgos. The latter, either historically or in the narrative, have little stake in the affairs of the Cid. The warrior class did have a stake in the fortunes of nobles like the Cid, they would fully understand the significance of banishment and the subsequent disruption of lives associated with it. If epic idiom is, among other things, a preservative of acceptable attitudes (Havelock 76), then the audience whose attitudes the poem reinforces most probably belong to the warrior class or are sympathetic to its values.

Line 20, which ends the third laisse, has been the subject of much debate. It might be considered as simply a restating of the undesirable state of affairs of the hero. His circumstances are precisely what Leo Spitzer sees as the subject of the lamentation: … ese verso nos revela la óptica del Cantar. El vasallo es bueno, el rey es bueno (siempre lo llama así el poeta); lo que le falta es la adecuada relación de buen vasallo a buen señor, por imperfección de la vida humana, que no es precisamente vida paradisíaca. (110)

The Cid is a worthy vassal, but he lacks a lord to serve, he has lost his place in society. The sorrow expressed for him by the citizens of Burgos underlines the importance placed on the vassal-lord relationship. Again the personal circumstances of the Cid, by way of the epic idiom, have been framed in a generalized observation. The necessity of the vassal-lord relationship, an important part of the governing apparatus of society, is reinforced in the minds of the poet and audience.

The analysis of didactic material in the poem may also focus on larger segments taken as a whole. Battlefield tactics and legal procedures immediately come to mind as constituting a major portion of the poem and as being of special interest to an audience concerned with prosperity in a land often at war. Lines 1448-1559 narrate the escorting of the Cid's wife and daughters from San Pedro to their eventual reunion with the hero in Valencia. The episode makes clear that travel was a potentially dangerous undertaking; extensive precautions were taken to ensure a safe passage and a dignified arrival. To the listening audience the potential dangers of travel would come as no surprise; their interest would more likely focus on the precautionary measures taken by the Cid. For many in the audience occasional participation in similar escorts was a duty and an understanding of the procedures involved was desirable. The Cid initially prescribes measures to be taken to ensure the safety of the travelers, the narrative then describes the procedures adopted as the escort advances. The peculiarities of the safeguarding include the provision of food to the travelers. The journey is structured according to the stops the escort can make in safe havens with supplies. Álbar Fáñez leads the group to Medina (1451-52), which is the end of Alfonso's territory, and then awaits the arrival of the Cid and his vassals. Alfonso has promised to provide for the escort only within his lands, and they are not equipped to venture any further without provisions and protection. The Cid directs his men to go first to Molina, which belongs to Avengalvón, who is indebted to the Cid (1463-64), and then on to Medina (1466). They meet in Medina (1515), then move on to Avengalvón's Molina (1545, 1550). The lands that separate these safe havens are hostile, and must be traversed without delay in order to avoid trouble (1492b). The meals that are taken during the stops have a festive and celebratory air about them, as if each step along the way were cause for rejoicing. The king's steward (portero) provides well for the escort to Medina: “el portero con ellos que los ha de aguardar, / por la tierra del rrey mucho conducho les dan” (1449-50). After the Cid's men meet Minaya and the travelers in Medina, the king's steward pays for the great feast that ensued: “de tan grand conducho commo en Medínal' sacaron; / el rrey lo pagó todo e quito se va Minaya” (1538-39). Once the escort reaches Molina, Avengalvón provides for them until they reach Valencia: “el moro Ave[n]galvón bien los servié sin falla” (1551), and lines 1556-57. Speed is necessary, the travelers waste no time: “De San Pero fasta Medina en çinco días van” (1451), “e quanto que pueden non fincan de andar” (1474), “non speró a nadi” (1481b), “esto non detard[an] ca de coraçón lo han” (1496), “Esso fue apriessa fecho, que nos' quieren detardar” (1506). An unexpected and curious element is the importance given to the attire of the horses and riders. Minaya spares no expense to provide the ladies with the best horses and attire (1426-28), and their appearance clearly sends a message: “que sopiessen los otros de qué seso era Álbar Fáñez / o cuémo saliera de Castiella con estas dueñas que trahe” (1511-12). This show of wealth signifies power and serves as a deterrent against aggression along the way. Another indication that all precautions against danger must be taken are the descriptions of the armed warriors. The Cid instructs his men to ready themselves for combat: “cavalguedes con çiento guisados pora huebos de lidiar” (1461), Minaya's men have taken the same precautions (lines 1509b-10), and don Jerónimo has his weapons at the ready, while he keeps a close eye on Jimena and the two daughters of the Cid (1547-48). The overall message is to be serious and alert at all times, and to take precautions. Although the celebrations at the various stops along the route may make the return of the Cid's family seem more like a celebration than a military maneuver, and the attire might lead one to compare the trip to Valencia to a parade, other indicators suggest that everthing is at stake in a journey through hostile lands. The Cid decides not to leave Valencia for fear of attack: “E yo fincaré en Valençia, que mucho costádom' ha, / grand locura serié si la desenparás; / yo fincaré en Valençia ca la tengo por heredad” (1470-72), Muño Gustioz instructs Avengalvón not to leave the escort until they reach Valencia: “e fata en Valençia d'ellas non vos partades” (1486), Álbar Fáñez takes no chances before greeting the Cid's small army: “E en Medina todo el rrecabdo está, / envió dos cavalleros Minaya Álbar Fáñez / que sopiessen la verdad” (1494-95b), these scouts are mentioned again: “Los que ivan mesurando e llegando delant” (1513), and the escorted ladies are never out of sight, even when they reach Avengalvón's territory, perhaps because he is a Moor, and not completely trustworthy: “El obispo don Iherónimo, buen christiano sin falla, / las noches e los días las dueñas aguardava, / e buen cavallo en diestro que va ante sus armas; / entre él e Álbar Fáñez ivan a una compaña” (1546-49). The minute detailing of the operation underlines its importance to the audience, and the methods responsible for a safe passage would be retained by all.

The application of Havelock's hypothesis concerning the encyclopedic function of oral epic poetry has yielded interpretive insights for the understanding of the Cid. A majority of the first twenty lines of the poem as well as the nature of lines 1448-1559 have been identified as didactic. The focus of the narrative is the Cid, but through the memorializing of his private acts the attitudes, judgments and procedures of a people are recalled and reinforced. The tale has a two-dimensional quality, at once private and public. The poet in his role as encyclopedist concerns himself with his audience and their inherited lore. The details he emphasizes prove didactic only if they illustrate the public law of the people he addresses. The distinctive possessions the Cid has lost, his enthusiastic attitude toward the unknown of adventure, the correspondence between his words and actions, the judgment pronounced in line 20 and the prescriptive procedures for a successful escort through dangerous territory all suggest an audience sympathetic to the values of a society at war. The Cid represents the private habits which are most highly regarded in his tribe, but the quarrel that sparks the tale constitutes the vehicle by which the private habits and the public law are shown to coexist in harmony. The repetition of the group's inherited lore through oral epic poetry reinforces and continues that group's common heritage. Therefore, the hero's greatest quality, his single most important value, is his undaunted faith in his society.

Works Cited

Havelock, Eric A. Preface to Plato. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963.

Michael, Ian, ed. Poema de Mio Cid. Madrid: Castalia, 1980.

Montgomery, Thomas. “Oral Art in Transition.” Mio Cid Studies. Ed. A. D. Deyermond. London: Tamesis, 1977.

Okpewho, Isidore. The Epic in Africa. New York: Columbia UP, 1979.

Smith, Colin, ed. Poema de mio Cid. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Spitzer, Leo. “Sobre el carácter histórico del Cantar de Mio Cid.” Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica 2 (1948): 105-117.

Whitman, Cedric H. Homer and the Homeric Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1958.

Colin Smith (essay date spring 1992)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3620

SOURCE: Smith, Colin. “The Variant Version of the Start of the Poema de mio Cid.La Corónica 20, no. 2 (spring 1992): 32-41.

[In the following essay, Smith discusses the faulty internal logic of the twelve lines that have been suggested as a variant of the opening of the Cantar de mio Cid.]

Professor Armistead drew attention in 1984 to the (in his view) fact that at one point “the Crónica de Castilla is prosifying—not even prosifying, but copying word for word—a traditional *Refundición del Cantar de Mio Cid”, supporting this with evidence about the traditionality of the material drawn from sixteenth-century ballads. Brian Powell, stimulated by Armistead's study, took the matter much further in 1988 with more extensive evidence from the same section of the chronicle, concluding that what was involved was not a reworking of the whole poem as Armistead (following Menéndez Pidal and others) had proposed, but rather “that the evidence of the Crónica de Castilla reveals the existence of a relatively short poem, known to the chroniclers and adapted by them for use in their chronicle. This poem must have related how the Cid was exiled by Alfonso, left Bivar, went to Burgos, and subsequently moved on from there towards exile.”1 As both Armistead and Powell saw, the chronicle material at this point may have some relation to the general tone, the characterization of the Cid, and some phrasing of the Jura de Santa Gadea materials. Powell's proposal about “a relatively short poem” is supported in his conclusion by a reference to a then recent study by Roger Wright about the existence of ballads in Castile at a much earlier date than is usually thought, in its turn the subject of an exclamatory response by Armistead.2

It is not my purpose here to indulge in any polemic about refundiciones (although as Armistead would reasonably expect, I lean more to Powell's view than to his). I must also make it clear from the start that just as I accept that the twelve lines of verse reconstructed from the chronicle by Menéndez Pidal, following Bello and Milá (E los que conmigo fueredes …), now with Armistead's additional thirteen lines, closely resemble or actually are part of a lost opening of a text of the poem (which to judge from the account given in the chronicle would have differed from the surviving Poema only in this opening section), so do I accept also, with both Armistead and Powell, that the evidence newly adduced from the chronicle points to a verse text of some sort and is not an invention of the chroniclers. (The radical displacement of the episode of the moneylenders—see Powell's exposition on his page 344—probably is owed to the chroniclers, and they made a few adjustments on which I shall comment below.) What I am concerned with here is the internal logic of the chronicle passage in question, which may or may not lead us towards conjectures about its origin and transmission.

The text of the Crónica de Castilla, its section on the Cid often being referred to as the Crónica particular del Cid, is cited by Powell from the 1512 printing of the latter as follows:3

[Capitulo XC …]

E desque el Cid tomo el haver movio con sus amigos de Bivar e mando que se fuesen camino de Burgos. E quando el vio los sus palacios deseredados e sin gentes, e las perchas sin açores, e los portales sin estrados, tornose contra oriente e finco los finojos e dixo, “Santa Maria madre e todos los santos, haved por bien de rogar a Dios que me de poder para que pueda destruyr a todos los paganos e que dellos pueda ganar de que faga bien a mis amigos e a todos los otros que comigo fueren e me ayudaren.” E estonce levantose e demando por Alvar Fañez e dixole, “Primo, ¿que culpa han los pobres por el mal que nos faze el rey? Mandad castigar esas gentes que no fagan mal por onde fueremos.” E demando la bestia para cavalgar. E estonce dixo una vieja a la su puerta, “Ve en tal punto que todo lo estragues quanto fallares e quisieres.” E el Cid con este provervio cavalgo, que se non quiso detener. E en saliendo de Bivar dixo, “Amigos, quiero que sepades que plazera a la voluntad de Dios que tornaremos a Castilla con gran honrra e con gran ganançia.” E desque llego a Burgos, non le salieron a recevir el rey nin los que ay eran porque lo havia defendido el rey. E estonce mando fincar sus tiendas en la glera, e diole de comer este dia Martin Antolinez e todo lo al que avia menester. E esa noche albergaron en aquel lugar.

Capitulo XCI de como el Cid mando arrancar sus tiendas e robo lo que fallo fuera de Burgos e vinose a Sant Pedro de Cardeña.

Cuenta la hystoria que otro dia de mañana mando el Cid tirar sus tiendas, e mando tomar todo quanto fallo fuera de Burgos e mando mover al paso de las ansares que fallo en la glera que levava consigo robadas. E asi llego a Sant Pedro de Cardeña do havia embiado a la muger e a las fijas. E quando vio que ninguno non salio en pos el, mando tornar la presa de quanto havia robado en Burgos. E estonçes salieron doña Ximena Gomez e sus fijas contra el …

(fol. 28v).

There are some strange features here. It was not Powell's purpose to comment on these in his study, but when I put points to him in correspondence, he was kind enough to agree with the proposition in a letter which I have permission to quote: “I entirely agree with you that the section you analyze is ‘a ghastly mess’, and borders on the nonsensical. This is equally true of the description of the exiling of our hero …” (which is quoted by Powell 348). The strange features are:

1. The Cid prays for divine help so that he may destroy the heathen and win booty from them which will enrich his men. In line with this he instructs his lieutenant to issue orders that no harm should be done to the peasants as the Cid's men pass through the farmlands: the soldiers are not to live off the [friendly] land as evidently they might be tempted to do. But immediately the crone appears and seems to give the Cid carte blanche—is she some kind of wise woman conveying other-worldly permission?—“que todo lo estragues quanto fallares e quisieres”. This involves not merely the property of the paganos about which the Cid has just specifically prayed, but todo, including first the geese in the glera which belong to those citizens of Burgos who would by implication have come out to welcome the Cid the day before had it not been for the King's prohibition (“non le salieron a recevir”).

2. Stealing geese whether belonging to friends or enemies is hardly the act of a noble hero, and to have to travel in consequence as far as Cardeña at the pace of the geese is hardly credible in a great commander who the previous day “se non quiso detener”. (Taking cattle on the hoof from enemies was legitimate and heroic enough: among many examples, in the Mocedades story the trouble between the families of the Cid and Jimena seems to have begun with a cattle-rustling episode.)

3. On reaching Cardeña the Cid orders his men to return the geese to their owners in Burgos: it had after all been pointless to take them in the first place. The journey at goose-pace back to Burgos, and then the return of the men to Cardeña to rejoin the Cid, will take up another day or possibly two. This appears to be of no concern to a man given (according to this chronicle's own account) a mere nine days, of which several have already passed, to quit the kingdom.

4. The Cid decides to return the booty “quando vio que ninguno non salio en pos el”. This hardly makes sense; one might have expected the Cid to return it precisely because the owners, exclaiming “Look, my lord, we're on your side” or the like, had come from Burgos to protest.

5. The old woman at the gate looks like some kind of metamorphosis of the “niña de nuef años” so justly admired in the Poema. It was on the basis of this detail in the chronicle that Bello proposed, indeed, to replace the niña of the poem (that is, considering her a textual error) by “una nana de noventa años”, an unfortunate aberration among his otherwise often excellent ideas. Armistead thinks her “a grotesque adaptation” of the niña, and Powell calls her provervio “bizarre”. What she says to the Cid is somewhere between conversational good wishes and an instruction of divine origin, but it is, as noted above, gravely deficient since she omits to make plain that her words refer to havoc to be wrought among the infidels and not among friendly Christian locals, an omission which the Cid in a cynically literal-minded way quite foreign to his earlier reputation exploits when he steals the geese. How the words could constitute any sort of provervio, in whatever sense this might have had around 1300, is very unclear.

6. “Vio los sus palacios deseredados”: we have become used to this because deseredados is present in Menéndez Pidal's reconstructed lines, and of course it is presumptuous for a non-native speaker to query Menéndez Pidal's native-speaker acceptance of it: but can a manor-house (palacios) be des(h)eredado in the way a person can? (It appears in the Poema, line 1363, with a personal object.) I find no support for a sense ‘abandon’, ‘leave vacant’, or similar, in the period or since; and even if we argue that it is being used metaphorically, it does not seem to be the kind of metaphorical extension that would have been natural in the period. Is it possible that we have here an effort to interpret what had become, in the chronicler's model, corrupt or illegible? I note that at this point the Portuguese version of the Crónica de 1344 has “quando sayo dos seus paaços e vyo como ficava hermos e todos seus lavradores desemparados, tornousse …”, which is logical enough; did the original Castilian verse text have desemparados (perhaps desenparados, des˜eparados) here?

7. “Vio … los portales sin estrados”: but a portal, a door or doorway, does not have an estrado, in any of the senses current at the time (as documented by Corominas; most commonly, a dais or platform). Clearly here some relation must be suspected to line 3 of the Per Abbat text, “Vio puertas abiertas e uços sin cañados”, that is “he saw doors standing open and other doors without padlocks”. This is the most glaring example of careless narration or plain non sequitur confusion in this strange text, and it seems to have arisen as a result of guesswork: the model which the chronicler was following or adapting was at this point illegible or scribally corrupt, or he did not recognize the (slightly rare?) forms uços and cañados (in more standard form, candados).

Whether this kind of explanation, that given at the end of point 7 above, could account for the other oddities which I have listed remains to be seen. We seem in all cases to have a failed attempt to put sense and order back into a text deficient in these qualities: a matter of deleting extraneous materials (and thereby introducing illogicalities by undue compression), or of guesswork to repair what was already corrupt or illegible. I feel one can say this because, while the text of the Poema de mio Cid as we have it contains a number of minor illogicalities or “olvidos del juglar” about which there is general agreement, and while orally-transmitted balladry has occasional bits of nonsense or confusion, the chronicles were the work of careful compilers who took their time in prose and who generally do not make the kind of mess here under review; at least I can recall no comparable instance. That prose should on the whole be more straightforward—more discursive, more explanatory, plainer as basic communication—than verse, seems axiomatic. I think, however, that despite my agreement with Armistead and Powell at the start of this study that behind this part of our chronicle text there lies a verse text, I must now rather say “there lies ultimately” a verse text. It seems to me most unlikely that part of an epic (Armistead) or an early ballad (Powell), even in scribally corrupt form, can lie directly behind our confused fragment of prose. It seems to me equally unlikely that an epic or a ballad poet of the thirteenth century could have composed anything closely resembling this text, with all its confusions and those unheroic ansares, in the first place. (The character of the Cid here displayed is not an issue; one accepts that his character in the hypothesized verse could well have resembled that which he shows in the banishment scene of the Jura, not that known to us in the Poema).

I turn then to the fact already noted by Pattison as cited with approval by Powell: the Crónica de Castilla has a “tendency … to increase the number of pious references”. In our fragment I see several such indications:

1. The Cid's prayer, “Santa Maria madre …”, is very carefully phrased. The Cid asks the Virgin and all the saints to intercede for him with God, whereas in the Poema the hero in his frequent prayers usually addresses God directly; the chronicle version seems to be an ecclesiastical adjustment. As preparation for prayer the Cid naturally kneels both in the chronicles and in the Poema (line 53, in the situation which corresponds most nearly to that in the chronicle account), but in the chronicle also “tornose contra oriente”, unknown in the Poema and hence probably a church-inspired addition.

2. The words “sepades que plazera a la voluntad de Dios” surely have a churchy ring about them.

3. Provervio, mentioned above, is a learned word, first recorded in Berceo. It seems likely to proceed from clerical education in rhetoric. Oriente is learned too, but was amply used in legal parlance of the time (as well as in religion, naturally) and was of course present in the Poema. Paganos is surely significant: the word is not only learned (first documented again in Berceo) but typical of the severe view taken by the Church (and by French epic, “paien unt tort”), whereas the tolerant Cid as known in the Poema and in chronicle versions depending upon that text would never use such a gross and inaccurate term for the Muslims of Spain whether friends or foes. In Spanish epic it surfaced again in the Poema de Fernán González of the monastery of Arlanza (“los pueblos paganos”, 141a, etc.). In the mouth of the Cid in our text it seems the clearest possible indication of an ecclesiastical intrusion.

On these grounds, then—the uncharacteristically odd and confused nature of this section of chronicle text, the erroneous estrados, the possibly unsatisfactory deseredados, and the three instances of ecclesiastical interference—I conclude that a text of church provenance inserted itself between the original verse and the chronicle, and did so, moreover, with sufficient authority to force its acceptance upon the chronicler(s) despite what must already have seemed manifest incongruities, these being probably already compounded by scribal confusion or ignorance at some intermediate stage (the matter of the estrados).

There are two other curiosities. The sentence “¿que culpa han los pobres por el mal que nos faze el rey?” seems to be a strong echo of the ballad lines “Qué culpa tienen los muertos / de lo que hacen los vivos?”, spoken by Arias Gonzalo in answer to Diego Ordóñez's challenge to Zamora, lines which will have proceeded from the Sancho II epic or will have been present in an early proto-ballad of the kind postulated by Wright; in either view they are, or are on their way to becoming, “traditional” in every sense that Armistead could possibly require.

The second matter is potentially more important. In the chronicle passage under discussion, the Cid prays to the Virgin and all the saints at the moment when he quits his house at Bivar. In the Per Abbat text of the Poema, what he does at the corresponding point (lines 8-9) is give ironic thanks to God for what his enemies have wrought, and the hero's prayer to the Virgin (it is presumably to her, since the cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin, as mentioned in line 52) is deferred until he is at the door of the cathedral of Burgos (lines 52-54, in narrative form only). I suggested some years ago that the poet was indebted for a variety of important materials to a section of La Chevalerie d'Ogier de Danemarche, including a whole structure for the start of his plot.4 As indicated there, Ogier's prayer to the Virgin (lines 8883-85) within that section, which describes Ogier abandoning his castle, is displaced by the Spanish poet in his imitation to a slightly later moment at his lines 52-54 (and more elaborately at lines 215-25). The Crónica de Castilla passage shows us the prayer to the Virgin still firmly within the section in which the Cid abandons his house at Bivar: that is, it is closer to the French model. Whether this means that there existed some earlier, pre-Per Abbat form of the Poema in which at least this section was closer to a French model, I do not know, and of course one can hardly use such tenuous evidence to launch the possibility. The prospect of a Wright-type proto-ballad—that is, a short poem telling of “The exile of the Cid” and nothing more—being influenced by French seems even more dubious.

One final point. Very visible in the early lines of the Crónica de Castilla passage are the echoes of verse assonances in á-o, naturally enough when the corresponding laisse of the Poema and the lines reconstructed by Menéndez Pidal are so rhymed: palacios, deseredados, estrados, santos, paganos. As suggested earlier, the nonsensical estrados and the possibly unsatisfactory deseredados might have arisen because a model being followed was already corrupt or illegible. The rhyme-words at the end of lines—even those that are not particularly long, as perhaps here—are peculiarly subject to damage and resulting miscopying when parchment is trimmed as a work is bound or as fingers turn leaves in the course of ordinary usage. (From a perusal of a facsimile of the extant manuscript of the Poema one can appreciate that line-beginnings are not affected in the same way, since an ample margin was allowed and a vertical line was drawn to ensure that initial letters were correctly placed.) I suspect that some such process may explain oddities in the extant manuscript of the Poema. It may be a factor to be reckoned with here, especially as the first folio of a manuscript—bearing text of the start, or soon after the start, of the work—is involved. I think, moreover, that whatever possibilities of “traditionality” and oral transmission are involved, and I by no means deny them, we must postulate learned clerical intervention at some stage because of the three numbered points listed earlier. If the likely assonance-words santos (at this point; it is frequent, of course, elsewhere in the extant Poema) and paganos are owed to ecclesiastical intrusion, that intrusion would have been—surprisingly?—in assonanced verse.

I have discussed here the possibilities of this interesting text, not made dogmatic assertions about it, and I hope to have avoided banging the drum in favour of any particular theoretical viewpoint. It will be interesting to see if others are able to carry the inquiry forward.5


  1. Samuel G. Armistead, “The initial verses of the Cantar de mio Cid”, La Corónica, 12 (1983-84), 178-86; Brian Powell, “The opening lines of the Poema de mio Cid and the Crónica de Castilla”, MLR [Modern Language Review], 83 (1988), 342-50. Both studies give full bibliographies of the theme.

  2. Roger Wright, “How old is the ballad genre?”, La Corónica, 14 (1985-86), 251-57; S. G. Armistead, “Encore les cantilènes! Prof. Roger Wright's proto-romances”, La Corónica, 15 (1986-87), 52-66. On the Jura, with important remarks about the 13 lines reconstructed for the start of the Cid poem, see now Giuseppe di Stefano, “Los versos finales del romance En Santa Agueda de Burgos (versión manuscrita)”, Homenaje a Eugenio Asensio (Madrid, 1988), 141-58.

  3. Armistead in an appendix helpfully gives the corresponding passages from MSS of the four main families of the Crónica de Castilla. They contain no variants of importance for my present purpose.

  4. Colin Smith, Estudios cidianos (Madrid, 1977), 148-49. The matter is taken up by David Hook, “The opening laisse of the Poema de mio Cid”, Revue de Littérature Comparée, 53 (1979), 490-501: he recognizes the Spanish poet's debt here to Ogier, but rightly adds to it a further debt to Garin le Loheren for other details (which do not concern the prayer to the Virgin).

  5. A draft of this was seen by Dr. Powell and several improvements were made as a result of his comments, for which I am most grateful. It is not to be taken that he is in agreement with what remains: he thinks, for example, that the word paganos was simply introduced by the chroniclers and that its assonance here could be purely accidental, as is of course entirely possible.

Gene W. DuBois (essay date September 1992)

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SOURCE: DuBois, Gene W. “The Return of Rachel and Vidas.” Hispanofila, no. 106 (September 1992): 1-8.

[In the following essay, DuBois discusses the narrative shortcomings of the episode involving the moneylenders Rachel and Vidas in the Cantar de mio Cid and considers its implications for the unsatisfactory handling of The Cid's debt in the poem.]

At an early point in the narrative development of the Poema de mio Cid (ll. 78-207), the poet describes in some detail how the impoverished hero, through the clever machinations of Martín Antolínez, goes about securing 600 marcos from the moneylenders Rachel and Vidas, while leaving as surety chests filled with sand. Some 1,200 lines later, near the conclusion of Alvar Fañez's second embassy to Burgos on behalf of the exiled Cid, Rachel and Vidas suddenly and quite unexpectedly reappear, demanding that the hero's outstanding debt be repaid (ll. 1431-34).

The vague nature of Minaya's response to their suit:

Hyo lo vere con el Cid          si Dios me lieva ala;
Por lo que avedes fecho          buen cosiment i avra.


has generated a good deal of critical controversy over the years, centering on what message the poet wished to convey to his audience through the expression buen cosiment. Many students of the poem maintain that the promise of repayment is implicit in Minaya's laconic rejoinder to the moneylenders; others make mention of the fact that the debt does not come up for further consideration in subsequent episodes, and thus the notion of reimbursement is more the wishful thinking of Cidophiles than the ultimate intention of the poet.1

With the exception of this polemic which, like the debt itself, may never be resolved, the return of Rachel and Vidas has drawn relatively little scholarly attention. As a result of this narrow focus of discussion, two intriguing and potentially revealing questions regarding the poet's method of composing the episode have, for the most part, gone unanswered. First, why did the poet select this particular moment to reintroduce Rachel and Vidas into the story line? Second, what factors may have contributed to his failure to settle the matter of the Cid's debt in totally unequivocal fashion?

In an attempt at addressing the first question, John England has argued that the manner in which theme, structure, and characterization are enhanced through the moneylenders' reappearance suggests that the poet was motivated by artistic considerations. Although my conclusions run counter to those posited by England, I believe he should be commended for relegating the question of the debt to a tangential issue, thus offering an imporant rapprochement to the study of the episode.

England maintains that placement of the return within the context of the second Alvar Fáñez embassy is key to plot development and dramatic impact. It is clear that the poet's opportunities to address the issue of the debt are limited to those episodes in which either the Cid himself or his lieutenants journey to Burgos. In addition to these limitations, further constraints are imposed by the narrative. Minaya's first mission, for example, unfolds while the Cid's own position is still too precarious for the debt to be brought up. His military victories at Castejón and Alcocer, while definite harbingers of future success, are overshadowed by the continued uncertainties which are part and parcel of the Cid's persona non grata status.

England mentions the third embassy as a possible alternative episode in which Rachel and Vidas might have returned. However, the poet declares quite specifically that Minaya must detour to Valladolid in order to meet with Alfonso (1872), thus rendering any participation by the moneylenders, who are so closely identified with Burgos, impossible.

England neglects to discuss the only other episode which could have served as backround to the moneylenders' return: the pardon assembly. Had the poet wished to resolve the debt here, he could have included Rachel and Vidas among the throng of witnesses attending the event. It is a mark of the poet's artistry, though, that he avoided any reference to the Cid's financial obligation at this climatic moment; the solemnity of the ceremony at which the hero finally returns to royal favor would have been seriously attenuated by the moneylenders' untimely demand for repayment.

By process of elimination, then, the second embassy represents the only appropriate episode in which Rachel and Vidas may participate. The Cid's position as ruler of Valencia assures his ability to deal with any previously incurred debts. In concluding that the implicit contrast between the moneylenders and the Cid at this juncture of the poem has an important effect on narrative development, though, England may be overstating his case:

the trajectory of the poem is thus emphasized by the fact that Rachel and Vidas have stood still, but the Cid has progressed beyond such matters, and devotes his attention to more important affairs.


If we limit our assessment of the episode to the hero's material gain, England's point is well taken. However, a strong argument can be made for extent to which Rachel and Vidas have evolved as characters. They remain so thoroughly unconvinced by Minaya's promise of buen cosiment, that they threaten to pursue the Cid to the very heart of his domain unless the matter is settled to their satisfaction. While this brave posturing may be a humorous and totally futile gesture, it nonetheless serves to show that the moneylenders's gullibility, so patently obvious in the arcas de arena episode, has since been tempered with a healthy dose of skepticism; vague assurances are no longer sufficient to sway them. Rachel and Vidas are fully aware that their reputation, as well as their purse, has been hurt by the Cid's failure to repay them.

The factor which England views as most decisive in the reintroduction of Rachel and Vidas centers on characterization: the poet wished to align in the mind of the audience the moneylenders with the Infantes de Carrión, who made their initial appearance in the narrative some sixty lines before. England observes that the two pairs share basic tendencies toward greed, mutual dependence, and the disconcerting habit of conferring en poridad. For England, then, this parallel characterization “strengthens [the] comic role” (56) of the Infantes, prior to the poet's revelation of their more sinister side.

England's argument in support of the poet's purposeful juxtaposition of the two pairs as a means of establishing the humorous nature of the Infantes overlooks clear textual evidence to the contrary. While the Infantes do express immediately their ulterior motives for sending greetings to the Cid through Alvar Fáñez:

Mucho creçen las nuevas          de mio Çid el Campeador;
bien casariemos con sus fijas          pora huebos de pro.


little else regarding their nature may be inferred at this point in the story. It is only in subsequent episodes, through the poet's depiction of their cowardice in the lion and Búcar episodes, and of their sadism in the afrenta de Corpes, that the character of the Infantes is gradually fleshed out. In short, an accurate picture of the pair—be it comic or dramatic—is too far removed from the brief second appearance of the moneylenders for the audience to make any viable connection between the two pairs.

Colin Smith has addressed this same point in cautioning against reading too much into the poet's intentions in his narration of the Infantes' initial appearance, underscoring the fact that, in large measure, audience reaction to the pair would have hinged on the manner in which their words were sung or recited (Tone). Approaching the question from the perspective of the poet's narrative style, Joseph Szertics has remarked that the Infantes

no son tratados como traidores desde el principio … sino que se van transformando en ellos paulatinamente. Ello obedece a la técnica acertada del narrador que no anticipa ningún rasgo suyo que no esté ligado a la acción en curso, logrando así que los diferentes aspectos de su personalidad sean descubiertos en el momento requerido por los sucesos narrados.


Moreover, if we compare Minaya's reaction to the petitions of the two pairs, it appears that the poet is actually making an effort to distinguish between them. While, in a sense, both the moneylenders and the Infantes approach the Cid's lieutenant as supplicants, his response to the latter has all the impact of a verbal shrug of the shoulders:

Respuso Minaya:          ‘Esto non me a porque pesar.’


In contrast, the tone of his brief conversation with Rachel and Vidas demonstrates an explicit recognition of the legitimacy of their demand.

A further indication that the poet wished to distinguish between the two pairs is found in their own attitude toward Alvar Fáñez. The Infantes reveal an obsequiousness unbecoming their superior social status in their suit:

En todo sodes pro,          en esto assi fagades:
saludad nos          a mio Çid el de Bivar,
somos en so pro,          quanto lo podemos far;
el Çid que bien nos quiera          nada non perdera.


This attitude is in sharp contrast to the moneylenders' militant stand in reaction to Minaya's response to their demand.

England's attempt to discern greater artistic accomplishment in the narrative of the moneylenders' return reflects his own critical orientation toward the poem's origin and authorship. In employing such terms as “literary skill” (51) and “thoughtful poet” (57), he places himself among that group of PMC scholars known as neo-individualists, who view the work as the product of a single, learned author, who owed little if any debt to a Castilian vernacular epic tradition.2

Ironically, though, the episode which England has chosen to affirm this approach to the Poema is remarkable for the evidence which militates against participation by a “thoughtful poet” in the process of composition. The most obvious example of this is, of course, the manner in which the debt is handled. As Smith has shown, this has not only troubled present day scholars, but was also a source of consternation to medieval chroniclers, who were forced to use their ingenuity to inform their readers in a more overt way that the Cid's debt was, indeed, repaid. Furthermore, England's conclusions regarding the episode's effect on plot, structure, and characterization do not bear up under a close scrutiny of the text.

The narrative shortcomings of the episode suggest, I believe, an interpretation diametrically opposed to that championed by England; one which would account for the brevity of the episode and the concomitant lack of a clear resolution to the Cid's debt. I propose that the sudden reappearance of Rachel and Vidas is not due to premeditation on the part of the poet, but rather is the result of a spontaneous decision on his part, arrived at while he was already in the process of narrating his tale; a decision which springs directly from narrative material which immediately precedes the moneylenders' return.

Three episodes which occur in relative proximity to the return of Rachel and Vidas stand out in terms of theme and content: the introduction of the Infantes, the preparations for Jimena's departure for Valencia, and Minaya's payment of 500 marcos to the abbot of San Pedro de Cardeña. An understanding of how these may have functioned as factors in turning the poet's attention to the moneylenders and the Cid's debt could assist in answering the two questions posed above, as well as providing some insight into the poet's method of composing the episode.

I concur with England that the introduction of the Infantes is related to the subsequent appearance of the moneylenders. My major disagreement, as outlined above, centers on his view that the poet purposefully sought to establish a parallel characterization between the pairs in order to underscore the humorous nature of the Infantes. A more plausible explanation for their appearance within the space of sixty lines may be had when we bear in mind the most fundamental quality which they share: precisely that the poet habitually presents them as pairs. One indication of this is that, with few exceptions, the poet has them speak and act in unison. In terms of character differentiation, then, Fernando is as indistinguishable from Diego as Rachel is from Vidas.

Inherent in this interpretation of the episode's composition is a shift away from England's notion that the pairs were to be identified in the mind of the audience, to one in which they become linked in the mind of the poet. When viewed from this perspective, the introduction of the Infantes functions as the initial stimulus, a seed crystal of sorts, which sets the poet, consciously or intuitively, on the path toward the reintroduction of the moneylenders.

A second factor related to the return of Rachel and Vidas is found in the narrative context in which they reappear. As discussed above, their return actually represents a minor episode within the broader framework of Minaya's second embassy. His primary mission at this juncture of the story line is to secure Alfonso's permission so that Jimena and her daughters may rejoin the Cid in Valencia. Once this request has been granted, the poet turns his attention to narrating the preparations which must be made for the journey.

A comparison of episodes within the text reveals that the first appearance of Rachel and Vidas occurs against the backdrop of this same theme-type: the Cid's preparations prior to his departure from Burgos.3 Variations in the treatment of this theme are dictated by the narrative context: in the first instance, Martín Antolínez actively seeks out the moneylenders; in the second, it is they who search for Alvar Fáñez. However, this does not diminish the possibility that the poet recognized the similarity of the thematic background and was thus prompted to reintroduce the pair.

Shortly before Jimena and her entourage leave San Pedro de Cardeña, Minaya approaches the abbot of the monastery and presents him with 500 marcos for having housed and cared for the Cid's family (1422). This contribution represents something more than a gesture of gratitude; it is very much payment for services rendered, a debt which the Cid felt obligated to pay. This unquestionably represents the strongest cue which the poet could have gathered from his own narrative; payment to the abbot would have called to mind the only other debt incurred by the hero: that owed to Rachel and Vidas. The text itself appears to supply ample justification for this conclusion: the moneylenders are thrust back into the story line just nine lines after Minaya pays the abbot.

I am well aware of the dangers inherent in attempting to enter the thought processes of the poet in order to explain one of his less felicitous narrative moments. And I readily admit that it is impossible to determine whether one, two, or all three of the previous episodes outlined above shared an equal role in generating the reappearance of the moneylenders. Nevertheless, I believe that the similarities in characterization, theme, and actions cannot be explained away as mere coincidence, nor through the premeditated design of a “thoughtful poet.”

If indeed these previous episodes did play a role in the return of Rachel and Vidas in the manner I suggest, some insight into the poet's handling of the Cid's debt is within our reach; for the notion that the narrative line exerts some influence on subsequent episodes, that the tale grows in the telling, indicates that the poet's method of composition allowed for a degree of spontaneity, an element characteristic of oral poetry, in which composition and performance are simultaneous.

The brief interval between the introduction of the Infantes de Carrión and the reappearance of Rachel and Vidas would have given an oral poet little time to narrate his story while planning a suitable dénouement to the moneylenders' suit. These temporal exigencies become even more pronounced as the narrative proceeds, so that if the poet's decision was based solely on Minaya's payment to the abbot, he had nine lines, a question of seconds, in which to accomplish some form of resolution before beginning the narration of Jimena's journey to Valencia. In the light of Salinas' masterful analysis of this episode, it is clear that it took narrative precedence. Thus caught between the unplanned presence of Rachel and Vidas and the new thrust of his story line, it appears that the poet sacrificed clarity for an expeditious means of dealing with the debt, with the result that the both the medieval audience and the modern day reader are left to infer the ultimate outcome.

Some years ago, Edmund de Chasca addressed this same point in declaring:

A nosotros, teniendo presentes las condiciones de la recitación oral, no nos parece que semejantes omisiones se daban a una técnica poética deficiente. Se deberían, más bien, a las exigencias de la narración rápida. Por falta de tiempo de decirlo todo, el poeta recurriría a lo que puede denominarse elipsis narrativa, recurso que permite el sobreentenderse de la conclusión de sucesos cuyo desenlace se da por supuesto.


Although I would argue with de Chasca's view of the efficacy of the desenlace, his thoughts regarding the effect of time constraints on oral composition are instructive.

It is important to underscore the fact that this mode of composition contrasts greatly with that which would have been employed by England's “thoughtful poet.” A learned author, committing his work to parchment, would have had in his favor that which the oral poet singularly lacked: the advantage of time. An intrinsic element in the composition of written poetry is the luxury of reflection; the opportunity to set the quill aside and ponder the direction which the story will take. Minaya's ambiguous rejoinder is not indicative of such reflection.

In conclusion, then, the return of Rachel and Vidas, despite its brevity, is a uniquely significant episode in the PMC. For although it does not lend sufficient evidence for us to conclude that the poem in toto was the product of an oral poet, it does illustrate that it was not wholly composed by a learned cleric. Moreover, it is through the poet's handling of the episode that the pitfalls of extemporaneous narration become clear.


  1. For an excellent rehearsal of the pertinent scholarship on this point, see Smith and McGrady.

  2. For an overview of the basic tenets of neo-individualist theory, see Faulhaber and Deyermond.

  3. I use “theme” here in the sense delineated by Lord: “The groups of ideas regularly used in telling a tale in the formulaic style of traditional song” (68).

Works Cited

de Chasca, Edmund. El arte juglaresco en el “Cantar de mio Cid.” 2.a ed. Madrid: Gredos, 1972.

Deyermond, Alan D. “British Contributions to the Study of Medieval Spanish Epic.” La Corónica 15 (1987): 197-212.

England, John. “The Second Appearance of Rachel and Vidas in the Poema de mio Cid.Hispanic Studies in Honour of Frank Pierce. Ed. John England. Sheffield: Sheffield Univ. Department of Hispanic Studies, 1980. 51-58.

Faulhaber, Charles B. “Neo-traditionalism, Formulism, Individualism and Recent Studies on the Spanish Epic.” RPh [Revue de Philologie] 30 (1976): 83-101.

Lord, A. B. The Singer of Tales. New York: Atheneum, 1970.

McGrady, Donald. “Did the Cid Repay the Jews? A Reconsideration.” R 106 (1985): 518-27.

Poema de mio Cid. Ed. Colin Smith. 3rd. ed. Madrid: Castalia, 1977.

Salinas, Pedro. “La vuelta al esposo: ensayo sobre sensibilidad y estructura en el Cantar de mio Cid.BSS [Bulletin of Spanish Studies] 24 (1947): 79-88.

Smith, Colin. “Did the Cid Repay the Jews?” R [Romania] 86 (1965): 520-38.

———. “Tone of Voice in the Poema de mio Cid.JHP [Journal of Hispanic Philology] 9 (1984): 3-19.

Szertics, Joseph. “El Cantar de mio Cid: El narrador y los Infantes de Carrión.” ExTL [Explicacion de Textes Literarios] 9 (1980-81): 15-24.

Thomas Montgomery (essay date March 1993)

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SOURCE: Montgomery, Thomas. “The Presence of a Text: The Poema del Cid.MLN 108, no. 2 (March 1993): 199-213.

[In the following essay, Montgomery discusses the authority of the narrative voice in the Cantar de mio Cid, noting that as the poet creates an aura of authentic history through his fictional tale, he himself becomes a leader of men and upholder of values.]

Everybody knew exactly what I was talking about.

—Paul Simon

Nobody believes the claim made in our epigraph. Even if the speaker's assertions were trivial, and especially if they were not, each listener's interpretation was inevitably different from all others, depending on cultural baggage, tacit presuppositions, vagaries of common sense, experience, intelligence, perceptions of group interaction during performance—on factors innumerable and often imponderable. Yet it is most important for a presenter working before a group to achieve a consensus regarding at least some aspects of the content or the form of his presentation. Without it he loses group acceptance and fails as a performer.

An aid to success is the adept integration of ritualistic elements into the presentation. Doing, even if only symbolic, does not err in the way words can err, and the familiarity of ritual, defined as repetition of acts and words in a given kind of place, and on a particular kind of occasion, by an authorized or self-authorized person, carries an audience along.1 A further effective mode of narrative presentation is to depict the characters of the tale—gods or epic heroes especially—as themselves acting ritualistically. In this mode the characters are on display, perceived and known through their actions, externally—as performers—and they know each other in the same way. The skillful presenter then has the opportunity to devise a likeness between himself and his chief character or characters. Homer “composes like his heroes”; he and Achilles, to the exclusion of all others, share certain turns of phrase with each other (Martin 231, 235). By manipulating his narrative voice, the minstrel assumes authority, and creates an absorbing atmosphere in which he joins with his personages and his hearers to form a single community (Castro 8, Zumthor 157). Even the reader distant in space and time, despite the removes and the resulting skepticism introduced by the printed word, senses the multidimensional presence implicit within the text.

These general remarks might be applicable to a variety of literary productions, but they are offered as particularly pertinent to the less “writerly” epic, less influenced by the conventions that developed rather early in France, for example (by c. 1140), as narrative songs come to be seen as entertainments, as imaginative variations on one another.2 In Spain, the effects described are best represented by the Poema del Cid, which, though largely fictional, takes on a persuasive aura of authentic history.3 The task here is to explore the means by which that effect of authority is achieved, as observable in the text itself. The method, since we cannot share the experience or the assumptions of the medieval audience, is to compare the text with others, those most apt for the purpose—the few epic or quasi-epic compositions that bear the closest resemblance to the Poema. What comes to light is a text in which certain modes of expression, common elsewhere, are severely limited. A disciplined text that excludes distractions so as to intensify an effect of truth and immediacy. A deceptively transparent text which in its directness seems to omit too much, inducing modern translators to supply interrelationships and motivations by means of paraphrase and grammatical subordination, so as to create a structure of meanings more explicitly interdependent than in the original.4

Of the limitations peculiar to the language of the poem, the most fundamental is the almost total suppression of metaphor as a stylistic device—of any transferred lexical meaning based on resemblance. This peculiarity might at first be attributed to oral composition, but if there is a connection it is not a necessary or predictable one, since much preliterate poetry makes free use of metaphor, simile, and related tropes. A deliberate, doctrinaire prohibition of a class of tropes is hardly likely, but a conscious distaste for phraseology depending on imagined resemblances is plausible as an aspect of an instinctive avoidance of distracting language. Such avoidance at the stylistic level does not, however, rule out more abstract patterns of resemblance.5 The poem offers models of behavior, for instance. Jakobson has implied that all verbal (and mental) associations are either metaphorical, by resemblance, or metonymic, by nearness or contact in space or time (or, in each case, by the opposite relation). This powerful assumption provides a key to the peculiar idiom of the Poema del Cid. Obviously, no narrative composition can be without both dimensions, though in some cases a strong bias toward one or the other may be identifiable. Here it is taken as principle that all verbal constructs may be analyzed in terms of metaphor and metonymy, operating together or separately.

Apt, original, colorful metaphor is of course a most effective tool of expression, but it draws attention to itself and to the individual who uses it, and it brings new problems to the task of judging the truth value of an assertion. By presenting experience as conceived through resemblances, it can easily make the author appear as the creator or victim of ironies, caught in a network of discrepant self-images—another distraction that can lead to unpredictable consequences (Bäuml 95). Such interference between audience and textual message may not appear important to the self-conscious writer or to the showy entertainer, but they may be avoided by the presenter intent upon conveying the concentrated, unequivocal message of the anonymous though propagandistic epic. The few metaphors of the Poema del Cid are unobtrusive, including clichés such as “treacherous dogs” applied to villains or “white as the sun” applied to women, and occasional expressions combining metaphor and metonymy such as “my right arm” referring to a valued second in command, in which the synechdoche (a class of metonym) “arm” is understood through both tropes as a source of power, authority, and so on, and pre-empts any need to introduce words denoting those abstractions. Similarly, calling a man a “valiant sword” personifies (a metaphor) the metonym “sword,” contiguous to (not resembling) the man. Again, the celebrated simile “like the nail from the flesh,” glossing the separation of family members, builds metaphoric sense on a metonymic base. The poem's many uses of metonymy, from simple tropes to the organization of scenes to larger narrative structure, appear as authentic representations of habits of thinking (Montgomery, “Potentialities” 424-25) as well as poetic effects, and lend vividness to the person or scene visualized, as in the three partial metonyms just cited, without interposing an additional visual image between hearer and message. Avoidance of figurative elaboration is extended to its congener abstraction, which also would divert the focus from the progressing action of the poem. The hero does not weep “because of” a stated fact; he weeps as he looks back at the home he is abandoning.

To bring out these peculiarities, a contrast can be drawn with the Poema de Fernán González (c. 1250), presumably based on a lost folk epic but by a monk with a distinct weakness for symbolic intrusions and interpretations. At one point, for instance, he recounts how, during the night preceding a great battle against the Moors, while the eponymous count is sleeping, a fearful portent appears in the sky in the form of a gigantic, screaming, fiery “serpent” or dragon. The count's men, demoralized by this apparent omen of defeat, interrupt his sleep to describe it to him. He provides a rather lengthy explanation which they accept tacitly: the Moors, astrologers and magicians, have created the monster to frighten the Christians; but since the latter are intelligent, they know that they need only fear God (Catalán ed., str. 471-87).

The count, like the poem's author, assumes the role of teacher, replacing what has been seen with what is to be believed. His knights, like the poem's intended audience, accept the interpretation supinely. They even follow his recommendation to go to sleep for the rest of the night. The technique is directly opposed to that of the Cid, which establishes quite different roles for the poem's personages as well as for the poet and audience. The fundamental traits of the serpent episode are simply absent from the earlier work: supernatural or magical phenomena, explanation and interpretation, individual as opposed to collective opinion, manipulation of belief, passive acceptance of authority (which, by the way, is elsewhere challenged and criticized in Fernán González, as it never is in the Cid). All these elements are extraneous or contradictory to the perceptions gained by direct observation, which is the very source of the group cohesion that underlies the power of the Poema del Cid. In this poem, appearances, as perceived by all good people—admired characters, minstrel, and audience—are truthful and are to be read metonymically. Smiling means happiness, kneeling means humility, a privileged seat means honor, a great beard means manliness; a garment askew, accompanied by other metonyms, means drunkenness. Of the abstract words of our definitions, only “honor” is part of the poem's vocabulary (Montgomery, “Palabras” 133-37). What you see is—what you see: “to see” is also ‘to understand’ in the poem.

The interfering effect of calling an embattled knight a “beautiful castle,” as does Fernán González, is obvious, but brilliant metaphors such as those of Gonzalo de Berceo (Guillén 16-20), also distract, sometimes to create a new, higher reality to replace that of the senses (see Lakoff & Johnson 145-54). Even confining our commentary to epic texts, we find that all of them introduce artful symbolism much more overtly than the Cid. A predictable occasion to do so arises in the retelling of dreams. In the Chanson de Roland (ed. Bédier) and in the lost Spanish epic of the Infantes de Lara (ed. Catalán; preserved as adapted in the chronicles), birds and animals usually represent the dreamer and his or her enemies, and the dreamed events call for interpretation after waking. The Cid does contain a prophetic dream, in which the archangel Gabriel appears to the hero, praising him and predicting his success in war. But the archangel acts only as the voice of divine authority, is not described, and uses no symbolic language. His words are direct and require no interpretation. The memory of this dream apparently resurfaces in the Mocedades de Rodrigo (ed. Deyermond) of around 1360. Here the youthful warrior who will become the Cid befriends a leper, who then appears to him during the night as Lazarus, in white raiment (and in one version, dispelling a distinctive odor). The apparition blows on the hero's back to give him a chill, which will recur later in battle as a token of invincibility. So, in this rather decadent text, symbol and magic are confused. As a further distraction, in the battle, when the chill is urgently desired, its tardiness in arriving creates suspense. The Roland (which portrays “a social order whose matrix is literary” according to Vance 62), provides another kind of contrast, this time with the direct, metonymic signifier (as the lance for the knight), when enemy emissaries carry olive branches, an act that, we are informed, “signifies (‘senefiet’) peace and humility” (line 73). The author obtrudes gently to read the arbitrary sign for us, displaying his bent for abstractions and definitions.

To complete the inventory of narrative procedures avoided by the Cid, two may be mentioned briefly that are absent also from some of the other epic works. While less clearly distinctive exclusions, they also, if used, would interfere with the integrity of perception. Fernán González and the Mocedades both begin with summaries of background history that supply a context of information but introduce perspectives other than those proper to the main story. Another less disturbing source of diffuseness appears in shifts of attention to characters who are not on the scene. Thus, Fernán González comes in for some unfavorable comment on the part of his vassals when they are unable to locate him on the eve of a battle. In the Roland, knights riding to battle think of the women at home. The prohibition against such distractions is partially relaxed in the Cid on occasions when messages travel between present and absent figures, and in one instance when the poet listens in briefly on the king of Morocco (2499). Here integrity of stance is maintained by treating the alien figure ironically, thereby holding to the viewpoint shared by the Cid, his clan, the minstrel, and the community constituted by the audience—what we might call, recalling Dunn (111) and with deliberate geometrical imprecision, the circle of four.

Up to this point the elements found lacking in the text would have belonged to the poet's voice: the language, style, and content. Other exclusions are projected into the experience of the personages themselves, as portrayed by the text—specifically those who are presented favorably. The poet exercises a kind of power over their senses that obviously works as a tool of mind-control over the audience.6 Most notable is their lack of fear (Bailey 159-61, 162-63), the more striking because fear and self-doubt are major motives in the more “writerly” texts. The general terror created by the serpent in Fernán González is a case in point. The unwillingness of his troops to undertake armed conflict is a recurring problem for the count. He spends much of his poem engaged in disputatious dialogue, with God on the one hand and with his cohorts on the other, concerning the merits of his cause and the possibility of gaining victory. He is himself often assailed by doubts and thereby isolated from those same interlocutors—from everyone. In the Roland, Charlemagne's knights repeatedly voice concern about the prospect of a shameful death in battle. No sense of shame is ever acknowledged in the Cid, even by the Infantes de Carrión, who project or blame their deficiencies on others, recognizing in themselves nothing more serious than an earlier misjudgment: “Catamos la ganançia e la pérdida no” (2320). The poems retaining stronger traces of their popular origin ascribe correspondingly greater bravery to their personages. The Mocedades contrasts the brave with the reluctant, as when the king delivers a rousing pre-battle harangue that meets with silent inaction on the part of all those present, until Rodrigo appears on the scene. A primitive, impulsively reckless bravery marks the Infantes de Lara and carries them to their destruction, but the virtue of prudence is offered as an alternative in the person of a wise counselor whose warnings they scorn. In the Cid, prudence and valor are not in conflict, and while well-justified doubts may arise as to future fortunes, self-confidence never flags among the admired characters. This poem, like the others, shows the destructive effects of fear in its portrayal of conflicts within the individual as well as divisions within the group. Still, the cautionary stances of the other poems are transcended by the Cid, in which the poem gains authority by bringing to his audience the wholeness of spirit prevailing among the fearless clan of heroic figures, leaving no room for doubt or faltering on the part of his hearers.

This principle comes out with some complexity in a contrast drawn with the two misfits, the Infantes de Carrión. When faced with danger they express fear plainly enough, but by indirection: “¡Non veré Carrión!” (2289, also 2322), in an ironic metonym alluding to their property and accordingly to their social class. The divisive effects of fear now infect the narrative. The two relatives by marriage of the Cid become objects of scorn among his followers. His authority is thereby threatened and duplicities are generated, producing ruptures in the group's cohesiveness that must be healed. The developing situation recalls the Roland, in which the emperor cannot control private disputes and feuds that lead to tragic destruction and failure. A symptom of the contentious atmosphere of this poem is the number of insulting words, culvert ‘ignoble man,’ bricun ‘rogue,’ malvais hom de put aire ‘evil man of vile origin,’ fols ‘foolish’, fels, felun ‘villain,’ vil ‘vile.’ The reader who comes to the Roland already knowing the Cid is surprised to find words like these in an epic. Traditional expressions of insult are used in the Cid as part of formal challenges, but there is only one denigrating word comparable to those cited. As a curious reflection of French influence in Spain and in Spanish epic, with the mixed reactions it provoked, the word follón ‘foolish braggart’ is applied to a “franco,” the foppish Count of Barcelona (see also West). It has a French ring, with its resemblance to fol and felun. With this exception, the Cid presents personal defects through appearance and action, not by means of descriptive adjectives.

The Cid and his men appear immune not only to the fear of battle, but to its harsh effects: the terrible fatigue that overcomes combatants in other poems, the heat, and of course the injuries. The few members of the Cid's force who become casualties are not given names. The Roland provides the sharpest contrast, with its thousands who weep and swoon in the midst of battle, and its heroes who are grotesquely mauled before finally being dispatched. The Infantes de Lara legend shows vivid appreciation of some of the cruel realities of war. When the first of the seven brothers has been killed in a battle, the survivors have to clean the dust off their faces before they can identify each other and know who was lost. They succumb to the enemy when they become too weary to lift their swords. The Cid speaks graphically of blows and wounds suffered by the enemy, but violence touches the hero's followers in refined or distilled form, even literally. Enemy blood drips from the heroic swordsman's elbow, but the verb used is destellar, applied in other early medieval sources to honey from the comb, to myrrh, and to the juice of leaves (Menéndez Pidal, Cantar 2:625), hardly comparable to the sticky, dirty gore of the battlefield. Physical suffering is recounted in poignant detail only when the hero's daughters are beaten and left for dead in a wild place by their wretched husbands. Here the language remains restrained, reflecting the sober fortitude of the women, and the effect in strengthening consensus is powerful, built at the same time on identification with the victims and the distinction of gender. But scenes of brutality, like those of the terror and butchery of war, are not allowed to divert attention from the overriding message of collective concern and collective success.

Enough examples have been cited, it is hoped, to indicate that the Poema del Cid uses an expressive mode that is consonant, on the one hand, with a concept of the hero, and on the other with a way of relating to an audience, that are both radically unlike those of the other poems. Analogies with those works that have caught the attention of some critics appear as relatively superficial.7 The Poema's manner is largely a function of the author's intense awareness of the conditions and exigencies of oral presentation. Through avoidance of a number of habits and devices that would draw attention to the performer and his ego, and away from the message, the poem holds to an exceptional integrity of view to create a powerful presence.8 But the poem goes a step further along the same path. The presenter not only develops a special understanding with his audience and a close identification with his hero. As will be shown below, he makes the hero another performer, with his own set of collaborators, an admiring audience of his own from which secondary performers may emerge as needed to occupy or share the attention of the minstrel's hearers.

The point may be best brought out by a comparison. In Fernán González, as in most didactic literature, all characters speak with the same voice, that of the author, uttering his words, giving his viewpoint and opinion. If they differ among themselves, it is only to demonstrate that one of them is right and the other wrong. The tone, vocabulary, and syntax of author and characters are the same. The audience is expected to accept the author's pronouncements tacitly. They, along with the hero's vassals, are to benefit from his reading of the serpent, which was in turn derived from certain precepts. As a conveyer of information and of interpretations that, though probably not original with him, bear the stamp of an individual mind, he takes on the role of eminent authority on his material. His isolation is bidirectional: he refers to absent happenings, and does not fully identify himself with the performer who is to read his poem before the intended audience.

By contrast, the Cid minstrel is a presence who brings to life a known story and makes it also a presence. The term “material” is not appropriate to his dynamic medium. If he manipulates it he does so discreetly, sensitive to the beliefs of the audience, who have learned the story as he has, through repeated presentations. Of a variety of excerpts that would illustrate aspects of his technique, one will be chosen to bring out the complementarity of ritual and consensus. The passage in question presents the Cid and his men in a hostile, alien land, garrisoned in a captured castle, besieged by a large, threatening army of Moors. Their situation may be considered desperate, calling for a desperate solution. But it is not so presented. A meeting is held to publicize a decision already known, since it was inevitable under the circumstances, and for another purpose not openly stated, to build morale and common agreement. Everyone is free to form his own opinion, which, not paradoxically, will be that of the group, for here as always the Cid's followers concur in his decisions. As they are free to agree, so is the minstrel's audience. The circumstances will be reviewed in two complementary speeches, in summary form, and with some overlap in content, as a ritual enactment would review representationally the essential conditions leading to the next action. The audience will take part.

A cabo de tres semanas, la quarta querié entrar,
Mio Cid con los sos tornós' a acordar:
“El agua nos an vedada, exir nos ha el pan,
que nos queramos ir de noch no nos lo consintrán;
grandes son los poderes por con ellos lidiar,
dezidme, cavalleros, cómmo vos plaze de far.”
Primero fabló Minaya, un cavallero de prestar:
“De Castiella la gentil exidos somos acá,
si con moros non lidiáremos, no nos darán del pan.
Bien somos nós seiscientos, algunos ay de más,
en el nombre del Criador que non passe por ál;
vayámoslos ferir en aquel día de cras.”
Dixo el Campeador: “A mi guisa fablastes;
ondrástesvos, Minaya, ca aver vos lo iedes de far.”


So ends the conference; the “first” rejoinder is also the last. The two performers have said what any of their company would say, the second echoing the first line by line. Only in his last remark does the Cid give any sign that he is directing the ritual. As to freedom of response, a detail of phraseology is significant. In line 670, “cómmo vos plaze de far” has been rendered by translators as “what you consider best.” The original says more. Plazme is the normal formula of assent to a request: ‘it pleases me,’ therefore ‘I am pleased to do so.’ Its opposite, the formula of refusal, is “no quiero.” The Cid correctly expects his men's desires and acts to be one. The minstrel's expectations of his audience are analogous.

Speaking and acting are again conceived as a unity in a memorable negative example. The Infantes face trial for their crime against the Cid's daughters. The accusation and the defense rest on the opposing values of two social groups. The Infantes claim their act was justified by a difference in rank. The poem's value system reasserts itself in the set of challenges, culminating when Pero Bermúdez, who has kept secret the cowardly flight of the elder Infante before Valencia, now breaks his silence and concludes: “lengua sin manos, ¿cuémo osas fablar?” (3328) Truth is in action; the metonyms brutally expose the non-integrated character. Now, if this were a dramatic scene, the Cid and his group would have to be amazed and outraged by this revelation of a well-kept secret, and a distractingly complex set of interactions within the group would be implied. The audience, too, would disintegrate into a number of individuals trading impressions. In the stylized presentation of the poem, however, this recounting of an incident already known to the minstrel's audience simply blends in to reinforce the consensus.

For today's reader, what impresses in such a passage is not so much the value system, admirable though it is, but rather the force of the expression. We see a literary effect as we may see artistic excellence in a ceremonial mask, apart from the primary intention of its maker. The minstrel's art form, with its conventions of presentation, had functions analogous to those of the mask. The stylized language, poetic, archaizing, with its own tense system, full of repetitions and linguistic parallels, is, with the music, part of a ritualistic medium conferring a peculiar presence and authority to the minstrel and his message. For his part, the hero of the poem, as performer, becomes a master of words as of deeds, and so wholly successful as a leader of men and upholder of values. The success begins with and is shared by the minstrel, who in turn could not have created such a figure without the support of a knowledgeable and demanding audience. The acceptance of the minstrel and his medium as authoritative is not a matter of conjecture. They were respected, if grudgingly (Menéndez Pidal, Poesía 301), by chroniclers who took the text as a historical source and adapted it in their prose accounts, sometimes without significant changes. Many a modern reader has willingly seen the epic fictions as truth.

If we are taken in by the poet's rhetoric even without the authenticating presence of the performance, we are faced finally with the image of the minstrel as illusionist. That he was no stranger to the art of illusion is evident in his treatment of the Cid, who achieves most of his triumphs by capitalizing on his adversaries' mistaken apprehension of circumstances. The poet's manipulative skill, as seen in a number of mechanisms considered in this paper, produces one of its best effects by undermining the distinctions separating the three grammatical persons. The third of these, that of narrative, a “non-person” in the analysis of Benveniste (209), is assimilated to the “I” and “you” of the time and place of performance in a form antithetical to drama: a presence of words, not of distinct speaking figures. The ritualized language is like the mask of authority in traditional cultures, an artifact that reduces some aspects of reality to accentuate other aspects, that embodies a power handed down across generations, that assimilates the identities of audience, performer, and narrative personages, the ruling metaphor that controls all others.9 As an artifact, it carries truth that transcends the need to convince. The best performer lets it speak, becomes one with it as it comes to life in his voice.


  1. The concept of ritual adapted here is in accord with Cazeneuve 42-45. Ritual in performance of the Poema del Cid is touched on by Gilman 11, clearly implied by Castro, and mentioned by Miletich, “Oral” 184. Early religious functions of the minstrel are noted by Menéndez Pidal, Poesía 341, by Lord 66-67, 220-22, and in pre-Christian Northern Europe, by Faulhaber 97.

  2. Jean Rychner has maintained that some French epics later than the Roland are more oral than it in character, citing their lack of coherence (14, 17, 55) and of originality (126) as evidence. But readings of La Chanson de Guillaume, Le Couronnement de Louis, and Doon de Mayence, all of the mid-twelfth century, some fifty years after the Roland, can lead to another interpretation. Decadent touches in these chansons, which prefigure the chivalresque novel, include, along with the defects noted by Rychner, references by the jongleur to himself, sermons on the attributes of a good king and on the good old days, court intrigues, a deal offered by the Pope to Guillaume by which, if victorious, he can have all the wives he wants (Coronation 390-91), and a lengthy prayer begun by this same hero in the middle of a pitched battle. Ong and Zumthor provide abundant criteria for identifying these elements as post-oral.

  3. Some clarification as to the orientation of this study may be in order. It is taken as non-controversial that the mode of presentation of medieval literature, especially poetry, was normally oral, and that this poem, dealing with Spain's greatest hero, was well known through repetition. These presumptions do not amount to an “oralist” stance that would deny or downplay the effects of written adaptation of the poem. I do maintain, though, that the written versions, except for the latest and least original ones, were made by poets intimately familiar with oral tradition.

  4. An expertly researched recent article by Walsh brings out another kind of omission to be observed in the poem, that of significant information, which was undoubtedly supplied through gesture as the minstrel performed. Walsh also attributes certain of the poem's geographical inaccuracies to the matching of symmetries of content to alternating movements made by the performer as he recreated imagined space around the audience. In a bolder surmise, Walsh sees the minstrel reproducing and controlling scenes by use of his eyes. Walsh advances his views effectively, and the presenter's role was undoubtedly crucial, but his actions would have been more subject to variation than were his words, to judge by Zumthor, who brings out the inexactness of the performer's movements in today's tribal oral poetry (155). Lord's thorough description of the art of the Yugoslavian guslar is curiously silent on gesture. Its effectiveness would depend on the size, make-up, and mood of the audience, on lighting conditions, and on other circumstances difficult or impossible to orchestrate.

  5. Among critics proposing figurative, usually metaphorical, interpretations for the poem have been De Chasca, Grieve, Gwara, and most ingeniously, Burshatin (“Docile,” “Moor”). More metonymically slanted, without making the distinction explicit, are Castro, Smith & Morris, Bly, Deyermond & Hook, while Darbord deals particularly with the metonym. Symbolic overtones are undoubtedly present in the poem, but it is risky to turn essential and pressing realities of existence, such as buildings, horses, or Moors, into something else—symbols or abstractions that begin to take on a disembodied existence of their own. The argument here is that things are above all what they are, that transferred meanings remain secondary, and that the poem itself compels this kind of reading by its own avoidance of interpretative elaboration. Its aim is to duplicate an (idealized) experience, rather than develop images or concepts attending that experience. Its language thus supports “performance, [which] figures experience, but at the same time it is experience [and] does not call for interpretation” (Zumthor 187-88; emphasis his). For the interdependent realities of economics and war, which would surely occupy an audience's mind much more than possible symbolic values, see Vincens Vives 118, Lacarra 165-66, and the excellent treatment by Duggan 16-42.

  6. For another kind of mind-control practiced by the poem, see Montgomery, “Rhetoric.”

  7. Comparable warlike action in the Cid and Fernán González, for instance, or the presence of the church, or shared verbal clichés, indicate that the two authors lived in the same world, not that they took the same view of it.

  8. “View” is an unsatisfactory term, but “viewpoint,” which its implication of personal perspective, would be worse. A modern discussion must of course depend on abstractions, a mode of expression largely alien to the style of thought represented by the poem, and especially prone to inaccuracy when aimed at essentializing a remote complex of perceptions. As can happen in scientific investigation, the instrument of observation or act of observation distorts the observed object.

  9. “[In] traditional civilizations the figurations of the mask introduce the wearer [and] its spectators at once into the mythical universe to which they aspire” (Zumthor 157). It would be tempting to quote Zumthor in extenso, given the remarkable sweep of his judgments. The perspectives advanced in this paper are probably more in accord with his than with those of any other critic. Still, this study is quite independent of him, and is offered as essentially different in its use of the text as a point of departure, in its comparative method, in its aim of concreteness, and in conclusions on points such as the stylized mode of expression and its effects, the distillation of language, the characters as performers, and the nature of performance.

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Montgomery, Thomas. “Las palabras abstractas del Poema del Cid.Cahiers de Linguistique Hispanique Médiévale 16 (1991): 124-40.

———. “The Poema del Cid and the Potentialities of Metonymy.” Hispanic Review 59 (1991): 421-36.

———. “The Rhetoric of Solidarity in the Poema del Cid.MLN 102 (1987): 191-206.

Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen, 1982.

Poema de Mio Cid. Ed. Ian Michael. 2a ed. Madrid: Castalia, 1980.

Rychner, Jean. La Chanson de geste, essai sur l'art épique des jongleurs. Génève: Droz, 1955.

Smith, Colin y J. Morris. “La fraseología física del lenguaje épico.” Colin Smith. Estudios cidianos. Madrid: Cupsa, 1977. 219-89.

Vance, Eugene. “Medievalism and Models of Textuality.” Rev. art. of Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy. Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983. Diacritics 15 (1985): 55-64.

Vicens Vives, Jaime. An Economic History of Spain. With the collaboration of Jorge Nadal Oller. Trans. Frances M. López-Morillas. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969.

Walsh, John K. “Performance in the Poema de mio Cid.Romance Philology 24 (1990-91): 1-15.

West, Geoffrey. “A Proposed Literary Context for the Count of Barcelona Episode of the Cantar de Mio Cid.Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 58 (1981): 1-12.

Zumthor, Paul. Oral Poetry: An Introduction. Trans. Kathryn Murphy-Judy. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1990.

D. G. Pattison (essay date April 1993)

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SOURCE: Pattison, D. G. “How Many Cantares Are There in the Poema de mio Cid?The Modern Language Review 88, no. 2 (April 1993): 337-42.

[In the following essay, Pattison questions the common practice of dividing the Cantar de mio Cid into three cantares, maintaining that this somewhat arbitrary division diminishes the poem's complexity.]

It is generally accepted that the Poema de mio Cid is divided into three cantares.1 This division depends on lines 1085 (‘Aquis conpieça la gesta de myo Çid el de Biuar’) and 2276 (‘Las coplas deste cantar aquis van acabando’) at the beginning and end respectively of the second cantar. However, like so much in our reading of the text, it depends in good measure on an editorial tradition deriving authority from the work of Ramón Menéndez Pidal. Earlier editors such as Sánchez, Hinard, Restori, and Huntington, among others, made no division at line 1085, although they often divided the poem into two at line 2276.2

The manuscript contains no obvious physical division into cantares, nor do these have titles. It is true that the third cantar begins with a large capital letter with rough illumination, but other similar capitals are found at fourteen points in the manuscript, and there is little obvious pattern in their use. Indeed, the one which begins the third cantar is the only one of the fourteen which begins a laisse, and it seems likely that the occurrence of a capital at this point is fortuitous; there is no such capital at the start of the second cantar.

If the division of the Poema into cantares, and of course the titling of them, is something decided by modern editors, so is the division into laisses or tiradas. The manuscript makes no such division, and the only way we know when a fresh laisse begins is when the assonance changes.

Line 1085, ‘Aquis conpieça la gesta de myo Çid el de Biuar’, should be read in its context; lines 1082-90 are as follows:

1082 Hydo es el conde tornos el de Biuar
1083 Juntos con sus mesnadas conpeçolas de legar
1084 De la ganançia que an fecha marauillosa e grand
1085 Aquis conpieça la gesta de myo Çid el de Biuar
1086 Tan Ricos son los sos que non saben que se an
1087 Poblado ha myo Çid el puerto de Alucant
1088 Dexado a Saragoça e alas tierras duca
1089 E dexado a Huesca e las tierras de Mont Aluan
1090 Contra la mar salada conpeço de guerrear

Line 1085 is in fact problematical as to both its interpretation and its position. In the manuscript it comes after line 1084, and most modern editions, including the two most often used as reading texts, those of Smith and Michael,3 have respected this. But Menéndez Pidal thought it came more naturally after line 1086 and led into line 1087 with its new narrative matter. My first point is that the assonance throughout the nine lines cited above is the same, in -á; in fact this assonance extends from line 1077 to line 1093, or seventeen lines, which would make it by no means a long laisse; indeed, it is rather shorter than the average of twenty-four lines established by Michael in his introduction (pp. 27-28). To sum up, there is no obvious metrical or narrative reason for beginning a new laisse at line 1085; that this has been done depends solely on line 1085 itself. It might be added that this is the only point at which Menéndez Pidal introduced a laisse division at a point other than where the assonance changes.

Before looking more closely at what that line says or has been taken as saying, I shall consider a connected editorial problem, the second half of line 1083 (‘Juntos con sus mesnadas conpeçolas de legar’). The manuscript reads legar (that is, modern llegar), which at first seems to make no obvious sense, since we think of llegar as an intransitive verb, and las seems to be its object here. Menéndez Pidal, in his vocabulary to the Poema, pointed out that it can be transitive, with the meaning ‘juntar, reunir’, and though he does in fact emend the line, it could make sense as ‘He rejoined his troops and began to assemble them’. One school of thought, exemplified by Smith, preserves the manuscript reading; but as Michael points out, this leaves the following line unsatisfactorily isolated (he says ‘deja el verso siguiente sin sentido’ (p. 336)). Menéndez Pidal and Michael adopt a less conservative approach to this line, and their two versions of lines 1082-87 are as follows:

Menéndez Pidal
          1082 Hido es el comde, tornós el de Bivar
          1083 juntós con sus mesnadas, conpeçós de alegrar
          1084 de la ganançia que han fecha maravillosa e grand;
          1086 tan ricos son los sos que non saben qué se an.
          1085 Aquis conpieça la gesta de mio Çid el de Bivar.
          1087 Poblado ha mio Çid el puerto de Alucat,
          1082 Ido es el conde, tornós' el de Bivar,
          1083 juntós' con sus mesnadas, conpeçós' de pagar
          1084 de la ganançia que an fecha maravillosa e grand.
          1085 Aquís' conpieça la gesta de Mio Çid el de Bivar.
          1086 Tan ricos son los sos que non saben qué se han.
          1087 Poblado ha Mio Çid el puerto de Alucant,

Menéndez Pidal's emendations involve reading alegrar for legar and changing conpeçolas to conpeços[e]—‘he began to rejoice [at the booty]’.4 Michael also makes the second of these changes, but prefers to read pagar for legar (on the grounds that alegrarse normally takes the preposition en rather than con); the meaning is similar. It will be seen that Menéndez Pidal made another change: by reversing the order of lines 1085-86. This seems logical; I would go even further and punctuate differently at this point, putting a full stop or semicolon at the end of line 1083 and suppressing that at the end of 1084. Lines 1084 and 1086 might then make sense as a couplet: ‘From the booty they have won, marvellous and great, his men are so rich that they do not know how much they have.’ If this is done, emendation of line 1083 seems no longer necessary, and, with Smith, I would prefer to retain the manuscript reading with the sense, ‘He rejoined his troops and began to assemble them’.5

To return to line 1085. If, like Pidal, we agree to place it after line 1086, where it does not interfere so obviously with the sense, the question remains as to what is the meaning of line 1085 itself. Menéndez Pidal, and the better known of the twentieth-century editors who have followed him, have little doubt: gesta means something like cantar: Smith's glossary entry is probably the most explicit, ‘(division of an) epic poem’. Michael interestingly gives in his glossary ‘hazañas’, that is ‘heroic deeds’, and this is an idea worthy of further examination.

Two editors whose work appears to be less regarded (at least in Britain) than that of Michael and Smith are Miguel Garci-Gómez and Jules Horrent.6 The former is one of the few twentieth-century editors not to have followed Menéndez Pidal in the tripartite division of the Poema. In part of Garci-Gómez's note to line 1085 he states:

No hay razón ninguna para dividir aquí la narración, ni de los signos ortográficos en el Ms., ni de lenguaje, ni de contenido; todos los elementos, por el contrario, nos obligan a desechar cualquier división de cantares. Lo único que se aduce como base para la división es el término gesta, que para los críticos modernos comprende significados que escapaban al autor de Mio Cid. […] Atengámonos al Ms. y no multipliquemos entes sin necesidad.

Then, contrasting meanings of gesta with the tactical arte, celada, corrida of the first cantar, he sums up: ‘El vocablo gesta nos indica, sin duda, progreso en el crecimiento de la acción y nos prepara para la conquista de Valencia: la gesta por excelencia’ (p. 195). At this point Garci-Gómez seems to go slightly astray in making of line 1085 an exclamation put into the mouth of the Cid, announcing as it were to his troops the change of direction to a new phase in his military career. It seems more logical to see line 1085, as almost every other critic has, explicitly or implicitly, as a narratorial voice rather than as something spoken by the protagonist. But it is not necessary to follow Garci-Gómez along that part of the path to believe he is making a valid point in general about this line and the supposed division into cantares.

Horrent, writing in 1982, was the other twentieth-century critic and editor to take a similar tack. He essentially follows Garci-Gómez's argument and admits that in an earlier study of 1973 he had overrated the importance of the line when he wrote: ‘Su papel es declamatorio y se relaciona con la recitación de la obra.’7 Nine years later he was to write: ‘Sans lui donner de fonction structurale, [nous] lui donnions tout de même un rôle dans la récitation de l'œuvre. Ce rôle, nous ne le voyons plus, le mot “gesta” n'a plus pour nous un sens littéraire technique.’8 In fact, in the 1973 work he had already made two very relevant points. First, that line 1085 introduces a transitional passage:

Si el verso no inaugura la parte del poema en que Rodrigo pudiera tener otras ambiciones que ganar batallas y hacer botín, al menos se sitúa en un momento del relato en el que el lugar de sus hazañas pasa de las regiones interiores de España a la costa levantina del Mediterráneo, adonde su destino le vincularía definitivamente. El verso 1.085 introduce un pasaje de transición en el que el victorioso Rodrigo pasa de campeador a conquistador.

He then asks of this line: ‘¿Fue desplazado? Ningún indicio permite suponerlo: el verso tiene asonancia en á’, and refers to it as ‘Inserto en medio de una “tirada” sin relación esencial con la continuación narrativa que pretende ordenar’.9 It may be remarked that medieval chronicles often contain marginal notes pointing out where important matter starts, and it is possible that ‘Aquis’ conpieça la gesta de mio Cid …’ could be just one such note originally not forming part of the text but merely added by a scribe; this would subsequently have been mistakenly incorporated into the text in the Per Abbat manuscript or one of its predecessors.10 Whether or not this is the explanation, I repeat my contention that the line in question is an intrusive one of no structural significance.

Lines 2276-77, marking the supposed division between the second and third cantares, are of a different order. They are here quoted in their immediate context:

2274 Plega a santa Maria e al padre santo
2275 Ques page des casamiento myo çid o el que lo [ovo en] algo
2276 Las coplas deste cantar aquis van acabando
2277 El Criador uos valla con todos los sos santos
2278 En Valençia sey myo çid con todos sus vassallos
2279 Con el amos sus yernos los yfantes de Carrion

It must be said at the outset that few of the points made earlier about line 1085 are relevant here. The sense does stop with line 2275; the assonance changes, so this is the end of a laisse (in fact it is not quite so straightforward, because line 2278, in sense the first line of a new laisse, continues the assonance, á-o, of the previous one, then changes, with no break in sense, to -ó; there are other examples of this ‘gradual’ change elsewhere in the Poema).11 I have already referred to the ‘illuminated’ capital which begins line 2278, but as I have said, the fact that such capitals regularly occur at random, within laisses, leads me to discount this factor.

In terms of sense, it could be argued that this is a logical break point in the narration: the marriages are over; there is a break in the temporal scheme (line 2270 tells us that ‘I moran los ifantes bien cerca de dos años’); and, at the beginning of the following laisse, the dramatic (and comic) incident of the escaped lion will begin to move the story on to its climax with an unstoppable momentum.

Some critics—most notably Garci-Gómez—have, in my view, overstated points of this kind, to the extent where they are driven to propose dual authorship. Here is Garci-Gómez's view, as set out in 1975. He writes of ‘una Primera Parte que acababa allí donde el autor decía: “Las coplas deste cantar aquis van acabando”; y una Segunda Parte, de muy distinta urdimbre estilística y temática, que constituye el que suele llamarse Cantar de la Afrenta de Corpes’.12

I do not think one can support this view, and once again I quote the view of Jules Horrent, from his 1982 edition:

Nous pensons que la composition du poème est unitaire et que son sommet structural est constitué par la scène des rives de la Tage où le Cid atteint son but politique—obtenir le pardon du roi—mais se trouve lancé en même temps malgré lui dans une mésaventure familiale—les mariages ratés de ses filles et des enfants de Carrión—. Mais la gloire qu'il a acquise dès le début du poème le projetera grâce à son habilité juridique, plus haut encore que le sommet qu'il avait atteint, le mariage réussi de ses filles avec les infants de Navarre et d'Aragon, ce qui a pour effet d'apparenter le Cid à des familles royales semblables à celles de D. Alphonse […]. Une telle organisation élimine toute collaboration créatrice, qu'elle soit l'œuvre d'un continuateur ou d'un remanieur fidèle.

(II, 309)

In short, lines 2276-77 have a structural function which is at best a minor one. They can be seen as suggesting, emphasizing even, a pause in the temporal scale of the narration, and possibly as suggesting a suitable stopping-point in recitation.

This leads inevitably to the consideration of one other possible explanation of the lines under discussion—that is, 1085 as well as 2276-77—namely, the oralist one: that this is merely a left-over of juglaresque performance. There are objections to this on two levels. First, even if one grants the whole idea of juglaresque dictation or recording of a performance, the middle of a laisse is a very odd place to stop. One must also question whether the idea of a juglar dictating to a scribe or of anyone transcribing a popular oral performance is in any case acceptable. The difficulty in imagining the process in question stems in part from the numerous learned features—both in detail and in theme—of the poem,13 but it is also hard to envisage the prodigious expenditure of time, labour, and materials on recording ‘lo que dizen los juglares en sus cantares’ as early as the beginning of the thirteenth century. It is true that it happened later with Alfonso el sabio: but he was an exceptional and innovative figure, and in any case what his chroniclers recorded was, for the most part, only the barest details of the story plot. Brian Powell has shown how the Crónica de veinte reyes, which is now regarded as a relatively early chronicle, systematically destroyed the poetic features of the Poema de mio Cid.14 Only much later, with the Crónica de Castilla and some other relatively late texts such as the Interpolación de la Tercera Crónica General, do we find prosifiers who actually wrote down lines of verse with so little change that modern critics have been able to reconstruct parts of poems—notably the Siete Infantes de Lara—with any degree of confidence. In short, putting juglaresque verse into written form would probably have struck anyone at the beginning of the thirteenth century as a pointless exercise.

To conclude: it can be argued that modern editors and critics, while feeling themselves free to cast off Pidalian orthodoxy in a number of important respects, have, with one or two honourable exceptions, followed it all too slavishly in the matter of the division of the Poema into cantares. Ian Michael has, in the introduction to his edition, shown us how the structure of the poem is basically bipartite and not tripartite, ‘dos tramas que se entrelazan’,15 the first being the loss and redemption of the hero's public honour, the second dealing with honour on a more personal level, which none the less links clearly with the first. It does so not merely because of the King's role in the first marriages of the Cid's daughters, but also through the part played by Alfonso in providing justice for his loyal vassal. That kind of analysis clearly resists the splitting of the poem into three or even two neat sections, and it follows that editorial practice should respect the complexity of the poem.


  1. Earlier drafts of this article were read as papers at the Conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland in Belfast (March 1991) and at the Oxford Spanish Research Seminar (May 1991); I am grateful to those present who made comments and suggestions (see also note 10 below).

  2. Colección de poesías castellanas anteriores al siglo XV, ed. by T. A. Sánchez (Madrid: de Sancha, 1779); Poëme du Cid, ed. by D. Hinard (Paris: Imprimerie Impériale, 1858); Le Gesta del Cid, ed. by A. Restori (Milan: Hoepli, 1890); Poem of the Cid, ed. by A. M. Huntington, 3 vols (New York: Putnam, 1897-1901). Unless otherwise stated, quotations from the poem are taken from the palaeographic edition by R. Menéndez Pidal: Cantar de Mio Cid, 3rd edn, 3 vols (Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1954-56), III. Abbreviations have been resolved without comment, and long s is printed as s; punctuation, however, has been suppressed.

  3. Poema de mio Cid, ed. by Colin Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972); Poema de mio Cid, ed. by Ian Michael, 2nd edn (Madrid: Castalia, 1980).

  4. Alternatively, the line may simply mean ‘was pleased’ if one takes conpeçarse as a not very meaningful, even pleonastic, modal auxiliary—a use seen elsewhere in the poem, for example, line 1201, ‘conpeços' de pagar’, and which is discussed by Michael on page 25.

  5. Of the nineteenth-century editors of the Poema, it is interesting to note that Restori also omits the punctuation at the end of line 1084. He puts line 1085 between 1084 and 1086, in parentheses, and notes ‘verso che qui non è al suo posto e che, nello stato presente del Poema non si saprebbe ove collocare’; Hinard says ‘ce vers n'est ici […] qu'une interpolation. Le copiste l'aura ajouté par un pur caprice, pour essayer sa plume’ (p. 76).

  6. Cantar de Mio Cid, ed. by Miguel Garci-Gómez (Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 1977); Cantar de Mio Cid/Chanson de Mon Cid, ed. by Jules Horrent, 2 vols (Ghent: Story-Scientia, 1982).

  7. Jules Horrent, Historia y poesía en torno al ‘Cantar del Cid’ (Barcelona: Ariel, 1973), p. 247.

  8. Cantar de Mio Cid, ed. by Horrent, II, 169.

  9. Horrent, Historia y poesía, p. 246.

  10. I am indebted for this suggestion to the late Professor D. W. Lomax, who raised the point during the discussion following my paper in Belfast (March 1991).

  11. Michael has noted that many of the cases of apparent irregularities in the assonance fall towards the beginning or end of laisses (for example, ll. 174, 404, 491, 507, 819, and so on), and speculates that they may ‘marcar un cambio de marcha en el proceso creador’ (p. 21).

  12. Miguel Garci-Gómez, ‘Mio Cid’: Estudios de endocrítica (Barcelona: Planeta, 1975), p. 156.

  13. See the seminal article by P. E. Russell, ‘Some Problems of Diplomatic in the Cantar de mio Cid and their Implications’, MLR, [Modern Language Review] 47 (1952), 340-49. The most persuasive of many subsequent treatments of this theme, to my mind, is David Hook, ‘Correspondences between the Poema de mio Cid and Contemporary Legal Instruments’, Iberoromania, 11 (1980), 31-53.

  14. Brian Powell, Epic and Chronicle: The ‘Poema de mio Cid’ and the ‘Crónica de veinte reyes’ (London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 1983).

  15. See Michael, pp. 33-38.

John R. Burt (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: Burt, John R. “The Cid's Third Sword.” Critica Hispanica 16, no. 2 (1994): 205-10.

[In the following essay, Burt explores the theme of avarice in the Cantar de mio Cid, describing how The Cid uses his understanding of the power of human greed as a “third sword” to achieve his ends.]

Throughout the Poema de Mio Cid, the main concern of many of the characters seems to be the acquisition and retention of averes: “riqueza, dinero; bienes muebles” (PMC [Poema de Mio Cid] ed. Colin Smith, 314). While acquisitiveness remains characteristic of human behavior in all times, in the Middle Ages it was considered sinful and ran contrary to Christian doctrine. There existed a clear association in the medieval mind between averes and the sin of avarice (codicia), as may be observed in this gloss of aueres monedados linking both ideas: “Los omnes cudiçiosos del aver monedado, Que por ganar riqueza non dubdan ser peccado” (Menéndez Pidal, 487). Avarice was certainly one of the most important means of motivation for medieval man despite its burden of sinfulness. Its sinful nature in fact served primarily to drive recognition of its power and universality beneath the surface. One of the Cid's achievements was his recognition of the power of greed and his ability to use its existence in others to achieve his own ends.

The Cid's heightened awareness of the importance and potential power of material possessions, averes, may well have developed initially from his complete lack of all such goods at the beginning of the poem, in the moment made so poignant by his looking back at the desolation he has left behind. Because of his great loss he listens with keen perceptiveness later, when the young girl explains why he and his men are not welcome in Burgos. The child becomes the teacher and ironically reveals an important lesson on the power of averes: “Non vos osariemos abrir nin coger por nada; / si non, perderiemos los averes e las casas / e demás los oios de las caras” (PMC, ed. Ian Michael, lines 44-46).

From this brief moment of conversation, the Cid appears to assimilate a two-part lesson. He learns from the child that the menace of bodily harm can be made even more powerful when accompanied by the additional threat of the loss of goods, and after isolating the element of avarice, he develops from it the corollary of how powerful the promise of the gain of goods coupled occasionally with the threat of bodily harm might be as a means of motivating and controlling others. The Cid from this moment seems to recognize that the avarice of others is a force he may be able to tap into.

The deception of the money lenders provides the first opportunity for him to apply his knowledge, and we see it come into play when he explains to them: “non puedo traer el aver, ca mucho es pesado, / enpeñar ge lo he por lo que fuere guisado” (91-92). The explanation he gives of the difficulty he has in trying to take the great weight of his valuable cargo with him works so well for the Cid in large part because of the money lenders' inherent nature. Their entry into the work shows them to be susceptible to just such ministrations: “Rachel e Vidas en uno estavan amos / en cuenta de sus averes, de los que avién ganados” (100-101). Their favorite pastime is counting their averes and now the Cid has identified for them a potential source of averes which has them veritably dancing with glee. Both the iconic nature of their description together with their succeeding actions closely parallel the common usage in medieval art of depicting avarice as a figure seated before a coffer, examining or counting the contents (Katzenellenbogen, 2-3; Mâle, 114, 117; Tuve, 100). To increase their susceptibility even more, Martín Antolínez cajoles them with “por siempre vos faré rricos que non seades menguados” (108). Moments later, succumbing to temptation and in consultation with one another, they reason: “Nós huebos avemos en todo de ganar algo; / bien lo sabemos que él algo gañó, / quando a tierra de moros entró, que grant aver sacó” (123-125). They accept the proposal because they feel certain that the Cid must have kept something of the aver taken from the Moors since it is reasonable in their minds to assume that most people would have done so under similar circumstances. Norman Schafler finds in this misjudgment of the Cid's character a clear “demonstration of Raquel and Vidas' lack of sapientia” (45), Eliezer Oyola, without additional analysis, notes the presence of codicia as an element of the encounter (38-39).

Having agreed to the Cid's proposal and with the arrival of the arks filled with sand, they express through body language and behavior that the Cid has made an accurate estimation of their character: “Al cargar de las arcas veriedes gozo tanto, / non las podién poner en somo, maguer eran esforçados” (170-171). The Cid using the keen edge of avarice has sliced through the bonds of their common sense, and has provided him with the wherewithal to continue and survive in his exile.

With this first major test of the use of avarice so successful, it becomes a major tool for the Cid who will continue to employ it, varying its governance to suit each new obstacle or opponent. Armed with this new weapon, the Cid is well prepared for his next important encounter, the attempt to seize Alcoçer. Up to this point he has used avarice as a kind of tool only at the personal level.

Enlarging his scope and making deliberate use of avarice now as a military stratagem, the Cid after some days of half-hearted siege pretends to depart hastily, leaving behind a tent filled with riches. When the people of Alcoçer see this, they are unable to restrain their avaricious desire for ‘easy’ wealth: “Salieron de Alcoçer a una priessa much estraña” (588). Almost as if he had bewitched the citizens of Alcoçer, the Cid masterfully employs his knowledge of the effect of avarice on human nature, which results in a most clever victory. It is greatly ironic that the townsfolk impelled by avarice scurry out seeking easy wealth only to have it vanish before their eyes, and upon turning around see all their own wealth vanish as well. Their own avarice used against them has served the Cid like a secret weapon, better than a fifth column.

The Cid's knowledge of avarice's effect on human nature manifests itself again when the time comes to defend his gains against the Moors, with the Cid proclaiming, “si vençiéremos la batalla, creçremos en rrictad” (688). This energizes his army, and soon after the successful defense of Alcoçer, the Cid fulfills his promise, not only rewarding his own men but also those citizens of the city who served them:

A so castiello a los moros                    dentro los an tornados,


mandó Mio Çid aún                                        que les diessen algo.
Grant á el gozo Mio Çid                    con todos sos vassallos,
dio a partir estos dineros                    e estos averes largos.

At this moment, the Cid not only shows generosity to his former enemy within Alcoçer, but with the lessons of avarice still fresh in his mind, he reaches the decision to send the first of three gifts to Alfonso (815-816). The great benefit for the Cid which eventually results from this string of gifts will be achieved not only through its demonstration of continued loyalty, but also through piquing Alfonso's susceptibility to avarice. The reception of the first gift by Alfonso also reveals a thorough psychological understanding of the king's personality: “Violos el rrey, fermoso sonrrisava” (873). As with the moneylenders before and the townspeople of Alcoçer afterwards, Alfonso in his eagerness to accept the first gift also behaves in a manner which reveals that he too perhaps has been struck with avarice. The power of the Cid's ability to manipulate avarice in others is exemplified here in the way in which the king welcomes the second gift even more warmly than the first: “De tan fieras ganançias commo á fechas el Campeador; / “¡Sí me vala Sant Esidro! plazme de coraçón” (1341-1342).

Even the Count of Barcelona finds the Cid's employment of avarice against him irresistible. Luis Beltrán has noted in passing the Count's avarice, but he fails to explain that it is the Cid's manipulation of it which has enabled the Cid to gain complete control over the Count (241).

Preparing for the siege of Valencia, the Cid uses avarice once again to his own ends with the call for more troops that goes back to Castilla. The promise of great riches grows in the minds of all who join, the idea having sprouted from a seed planted purposely by the Cid: “Andidieron los pregones, sabet, a todas partes, / al sabor de la ganançia non lo quieren detardar” (1197-1198).

When Valencia falls, the Cid fulfills his promise (1215). He has wielded his ability to use the knowledge of avarice in others as though it were the sharpest of swords, and has overcome all physical obstacles to the recovery of his lost honor.

There remains now just one final seet of opponents on whom the Cid must demonstrate the power of avarice. In the case of the Infantes de Carrión at this moment, as with all those before, the Cid will need to make an accurate estimation of their character. There will soon be evidence aplenty. From the moment they first enter onto the stage, it is clear that the quality they like best about the Cid's daughters is the wealth of their father: “bien casariemos con sus fijas pora huebos de pro” (1374). In order to solve their own financial problems and having revealed the quality of greed inherent in their character, avarice leads them inexorably to the Cid like insects drawn to a flame, and just as inexorably, their avarice will lead to their downfall.

When their suit has been accepted the Infantes behave almost as children at the prospect of getting part of the Cid's wealth (1975-1978). Their reactions underline their simple, two-dimensional, child-like character whose only real expressions of concern are on behalf of greed and a misguided pride in their lineage. They think single mindedly only of what may benefit themselves, “Catamos la ganançia e la pérdida no” (2320). In this they strongly echo the self-delusion seen earlier in the episode of the moneylenders.

They begin to feel wealthy (2468-2470), and as long as they remain in Valencia this feeling continues: “valía de çinco mill marcos ganaron amos a dos; / mucho s' tienen por rricos los ifantes de Carrión” (2509-2510). Their character has thusly been revealed, establishing their vulnerability to the Cid's ability.

After their petition to leave Valencia in order to return to Carrión (2540-2542), the Cid appeals one last time to their avarice through his parting gifts, and creates a final, crucial connection between them and his noble house (2568-2576). This set of gifts becomes the bond by which he can pull them back when the time comes.

En route to Carrión, the Infantes and the Cid's daughters spend the night with Abengalbón, and there they plot once again with avaricious intent:

“Si pudiéssemos matar                                        el moro Avengalvón,
“quanta rriquiza tiene                                                  aver la iemos nós.
“Tan en salvo lo abremos                                        commo lo de Carrión,
“nunqua avrié derecho de nós                    el Çid Campeador.”


Their feeble plot discovered, they are forced to make an uncomfortable exit. Their discomfort reaches a climax in the Robledo de Corpes where, unwilling now to share their wealth with spouses they think inferior, they commit the affront and leave the daughters for dead.

Later, in the Cortes, it is poetic justice that the Cid begin his act of revenge by seeking recovery of his property first. As with the taking of Alcoçer, the Cid now in the Cortes awaits in ambush until the appropriate moment when he can turn knowledge of his opponents' avarice into the weapon that brings about their demise. First the swords (3158), then the money (3204-3206). What makes the petition so painful for the Infantes is that they have already squandered a good part of the amount reclaimed, and in order to repay the debt they realize that they not only will lose all that they have but will have to borrow on their inheritance in Carrión as well (3221-3223). Like the citizens of Alcoçer, the Infantes too thought they saw easy pickings free for the grabbing, and impelled by avarice they rushed headlong into the entire relationship with the Cid through his daughters. The Infantes learn to their chagrin that it is they who now must pay with averes and with lost honor.

In this process, it has been seen that the Cid used his knowledge of the avarice of others in order to accomplish much for himself. He enlists an army promising to double the value of all they invest in his enterprise. The money-lenders allow themselves to become party to the Cid's undertaking because of the profit they think they see in the enterprise. By showing restraint in his demands for the ransom of Castejón, he deceptively allows the Moors to make what they think is a sharp deal, but it is one which benefits the Cid even more. The citizens of Alcoçer are virtual icons of greed in their foolish rush to seize the tent the Cid left behind as a temptation. Alfonso too finds his distrust of the Cid ameliorated through the process of the gifts—avarice altering his judgment. Eventually the Infantes de Carrión become interested in the Cid's daughters as a means of satisfying their avaricious desires. Wrongly thinking themselves much more clever than the Cid, they depart from the scene like sheared lambs, but only after returning to the Cid all they got from him, and more, losing even their honor and becoming stains on the lineage they were so boastful of.

In this way then it can be said without hyperbole that in his knowledge of the avarice of others, the Cid has a third sword which is also his sharpest.

Works Cited

Beltrán, Luis. “Conflictos interiores y batallas campales en el Poema de Mio Cid.Hispania 61 (1978) 235-244.

Caso González, José Miguel. “El Cantar de Mio Cid, literatura comprometida.” Estudios sobre literature y arte dedicados al profesor Emilio Orozco Diaz, Vol. I. Eds. A. Gallego Morell, Andrés Soria, & Nicolás Marín. Granada: U de Granada, 1979: 251-267.

Katzenellenbogen, Adolf. Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Medieval Art from Early Christian Times to the Thirteenth Century. Trans. Alan J. P. Crick. 1939. New York: Norton, 1964.

López Estrada, Francisco. Panorama critico sobre el Poema del Cid. Madrid: Castalia, 1982.

Mâle, Emile. The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century. Trans. Dora Nussey. 1913. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958.

Menéndez Pidal, Ramón. Cantar de Mio Cid: Texto, gramática y vocabulario. Vol 2. Obras completas de R. Menéndez Pidal, IV. 1964. 4th ed. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1969.

Oyola, Eliezer. Los pecados capitales en la literatura medieval española. Barcelona: Puvill, 1979.

Poema de Mio Cid. Ed. Ian Michael. Madrid: Castalia, 1976.

Poema de Mio Cid. Ed. Colin Smith. 10th ed. Madrid: Cátedra, 1983.

Schafler, Norman. “‘Sapientia et fortitudo’ in the Poema de Mio Cid.Hispania 60 (1977) 44-50.

Tuve, Rosemond. Allegorical Imagery: Some Medieval Books and their Posterity. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1966.

E. Michael Gerli (essay date 1995)

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SOURCE: Gerli, E. Michael. “Liminal Junctures: Courtly Codes in the Cantar de Mio Cid.” In Oral Tradition and Hispanic Literature: Essays in Honor of Samuel G. Armistead, edited by Michael M. Caspi, pp. 257-70. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995.

[In the following essay, Gerli explores what he sees as one of the non-epic voices in the Cantar de mio Cid and argues that the poem shares many common techniques, thematic concerns, and issues found in medieval romance.]

The Cantar de Mio Cid is different. It is, as Colin Smith remarks, a work which “departs greatly from epic stereotypes” (The Making, 87). In fact, if there is one thing critics agree upon it is that the poem, composed as we know it near the beginning of the thirteenth century, fails to conform to most notions of the medieval Romance epic and continues to violate what Jauss calls the horizon of expectations of its modern audience familiar with medieval heroic paradigms. As early as 1941, Dámaso Alonso insisted upon the work's uniqueness, emphasizing its purely poetic and inventive aspects. Similarly, Leo Spitzer in 1948 countered Ramón Menéndez Pidal's arguments of its “historicity,” central to the latter's notion of traditionalist epic poetry, by underscoring the work's crucial imaginative magnitude. For Spitzer, Menéndez Pidal's interpretation of the Cantar (CMC) [Cantar de Mio Cid] as an historical national epic, and his repeated efforts to compare it to the hieratic, mythic, virile, and martial Chanson de Roland, were misconceived and inspired primarily by the Spanish critic's chauvinistic patriotism. After a lengthy and learned argument, Spitzer concluded that the CMC can best be described as a biografía novelada, rather than an epic, and that its most patently fanciful, fictive events—the episodes of the arcas de arena, the lion, the vision of Gabriel, the marriage of the Cid's daughters, and the afrenta de Corpes, among others—are, in fact, central to its narrative interest (16).

Since Dámaso Alonso's pathfinding essay uncovering the CMC's subtle poetic craft and Spitzer's challenge to Menéndez Pidal, critics have examined some of the non-historical, purely literary aspects of the work, though few have considered these from the perspective of the most widely-disseminated form of medieval fiction—romance. Outside a handful of studies published long after Spitzer and Alonso's pioneering work (notably Alan Deyermond's Mio Cid Studies, which contains important contributions by Hart, Pattison, Smith, and West, as well as Deyermond 1982, and Michael), literary criticism of the CMC has in general suffered at the expense of its historical and philological dimensions. There has been a decided tendency to concentrate upon the problems of its origins or its historical elements (e.g., fidelity to events, or its politics and ideology) rather than upon what it actually presents as a work of literature. Few have sought, then, to look at the poem as a fictional construct, and even fewer have sought to question its place in the universe of medieval imaginative literature. Yet, as Thomas R. Hart concluded in his essay on characterization and plot structure in the CMC, the latter is a polyphonic work encompassing various literary modes and traditions, and “it is perhaps just these partial resemblances to several different literary forms—chivalric romance, epic, novel—that explain some of the difficulties modern critics have had in attempting to define the essential character of the Poema” (72). It is my purpose here to explore one of the non-epic voices of the CMC, namely romance, and attempt to bring to light some of its more distinctive literary dimensions.

If the Chanson de Roland is concerned with the struggle for a universal social order symbolized by a Christian empire in the person of Charlemagne, the CMC, like the later chansons of the William of Orange cycle contaminated by the discourse of romance (see Jauss and Köhler), celebrates a less utopian vision personified in Rodrigo Díaz, who through his charisma dislocates the centrality of monarchy and the concern for the rei publicae of the Roland. In the Cid the civic dimensions of action provide little more than a framework for the interplay of personal relationships—the great events of history like the conquest of Valencia, though important for defining the rising political and social fortunes of the protagonist, are displaced and seem devoid of transcendental significance. Though inevitably tied to some notion of public events and public virtues expressed in personal terms, the feats of arms, the battles, and the combats in the Castilian work do not take place in order to support or save a society to which the characters belong, but rather to portray the conflicting internal values of the performers. Indeed, the poem fails to identify any redemptive or superior motivation for martial and political accomplishments, but rather concentrates on the more subjective, psychological consequences of action—we see more the effect of events upon the personages than the consequences of their actions upon the collective destiny of Castile.

The assault of King Búcar upon Valencia illustrates the point. Following fast upon the Infantes de Carrión's display of cowardice with the lion, the battle to defend Valencia, although necessary for understanding the role of the Cid in Castilian political and military history, is subordinate to the poet's interest in the idiosyncracies of character and the mechanics of his plot. While the Cid's successful defense of the city serves as an emblematic reaffirmation of his military and political power, within the poem it functions chiefly as the stage upon which to play out more personal conflicts and elaborate further upon the origins of the sense of shame the Infantes will seek to purge through the humiliation of Rodrigo's daughters. The poet primarily develops the event in order to display Diego's and Fernando's cowardice in battle rather than to make some point on the civic righteousness of the Cid's victory. In fact, as is well known, the order of the historical events depicted is altered, though not on account of some mysterious process of progressive fictionalization in the transmission of epic poems. Rather, it is changed and tailored to conform to the artistic necessities of the story line and to portray inner motivation—it is adapted to the purely imaginative needs of the poem. More than anything, the episode performs a structural function within the work at the level of plot and character, ending with the deeply ironic expression of satisfaction and thanks the unknowing Rodrigo utters at the successful completion of the battle (vv 2477-81).1

The poet seeks in this episode to privilege personal contrasts and ironies at the expense of the civic and martial themes of the poem. The Cantar de Corpes concentrates on the portrayal of the radical impulses of the Infantes in order to pit them against the Cid's honorable expectations, heroic code of conduct, and personal affection for his family. Diego and Fernando, through subtly crafted, conspiratorial dialogue, become the incarnations of dark passions—uncontrolled desires shaped by personal greed, overweening pride, and a subterfuge of violent eroticism. Quite to the contrary, unmoved by any social advantage offered by the marriages, Rodrigo is the paragon of both public honor, an inner constant faith and love. Once aware of the treachery, he seeks restitution in the name of justice as well as affection. Through all the actions performed by the characters, we see that the range of human events and emotions they depict become the text's permanent resource: in the CMC the epic's notions of honor and nobility, while there, are inextricably entangled with an intense and complex vision of human psychology, an inner universe that exists in consonance with social and political values. As in romance, the extreme forces of loyalty and dark desire inform the portrayal of personal inner experience in the poem, and they play a part in it greater than, or equal to, any notion of collective values or patriotic deeds.

Quite aside from its interest in the complexities of human emotions, the CMC shares with medieval romance a sense of the exotic, a feel for pageantry and color, and an awareness of social refinement. The greater part of the Cantar de las bodas, for example, is devoted to marking the procession of the Cid's family from Burgos to Valencia, while the central epic deed of the city's conquest is scarcely related in two tiradas (vv 1170-1235). By the time we reach the second cantar, Alvar Fáñez appears not at the vanguard of military columns, but at the head of a courtly train traversing the Castilian countryside. When recounting its departure, the poet's attention dwells upon the rich material details of a world now more lavishly chivalric than epic:

Minaya a doña Ximena          e a sus fijas que ha
e a las otras dueñas          que la sirven delant
el bueno de Minaya          pensolas de adobar
de los mejores guarnimientos          que en Burgos pudo falar
palafres e mulas, que non parescan mal.
Quando estas dueñas          adobadas las han
el bueno de Minaya penssar quiere cavalgar


The courtly cut of the Cantar de bodas is strikingly reaffirmed during Minaya's journey when he encounters Avengalbón, the Moor who, despite religious differences, places friendship and duty above all, and with courage and magnanimity confronts the Infantes de Carrión with their treachery in the last cantar. Though a Muslim, Avengalbón is sympathetically portrayed both for his loyalty and for his stylized refinement (vv 1488-90, 1535, 1553). While recognizing the inevitable differences between himself and Rodrigo, he extends the hand of courtesy out of unmitigated admiration for the man. He greets Minaya and the Cid's women with gallant elegance and unstinting generosity. Though all who join the train on its trek to Valencia must pay humble homage to Minaya as they join it, the poet stresses that the Moor Avengalbón hails him as an equal:

Quando lego Avengalbon          dont a ojo lo ha
sonrrisando se de la boca          hivalo a abraçar,
en el ombro lo saluda          ca tal es su husaje:
“¡Tan buen dia con vusco          Minaya Albar Fáñez!
Traedes estas dueñas          por o valdremos mas,
mugier del Cid lidiador          e ssus ffijas naturales;
ondrar vos hemos todos          ca tal es su auze,
mager que mal le queramos          non ge lo podremos far,
en paz o en gerra          de lo nuestro abra;
muchol tengo por torpe          qui non conosçe la verdad”


Avengalbón subverts the expected epic opposition between Christian hero and pagan villain, thus producing remarkable structural and ideological transformations of an established epic convention. This marvelous character, who did not coincide with the historical Cid, seems the very spirit of chivalry—as if he were lifted from the pages of romance. Ethically speaking, he is the emblem of courtesy, a positive concept that will be actualized in the Cantar de Corpes when, casting all differences aside, he discovers the Infantes' plot against him yet restrains his fury while invoking his admiration and respect for their father-in-law (vv 2675-80). He remains the earliest incarnation of the idealized Moor in Spanish literature (Smith, The Making, 101, and Burshatin, 1985, 100-03), a fictional type that turns epic fury at a distance and portrays the clashes at the frontiers of Christianity and Islam as stylized encounters between culturally different but equally noble adversaries whose actions are shaped by a code of mutual honor and personal respect. On account of his picturesque exoticism, the figure of the noble Moor inspired the medieval imagination and constitutes one of the most powerful emblems of later chivalric romance. Chivalrous beyond measure, Avengalbón introduces a note of gallant urbanity into the CMC which critics have in general failed to recognize.

At journey's end, at the gates of Valencia, there is an air of festival and rejoicing, and the procession is rapidly transformed into what can only be described as a tournament. Hearing the news of the train's proximity,

alegre fue mio Cid que nunqua mas nin tanto
ca de los que mas amava yal viene el mandado.
Dozientos cavalleros mando exir privado
que reçiban a Mianaya e las dueñas fijas dalgo


Wishing to impress as well as to honor his wife and daughters, Rodrigo, not having ridden Bavieca before, saddles the charger in order to test it and “delant su mugier e de sus fijas querie tener las armas” (1577). However, the arms and armor depicted in this passage are not the steel and mail of battle, but the wood and textiles of the joust, the so-called armas de fuste (1586). They are borne solely to boast of prowess and win favor, as well as smiles of admiration, from the ladies. Rodrigo's display at the gates of Valencia betrays a new and radical dynamism in the economy of epic action; it transparently combines sentimental motivation with the notion of martial deeds. After the Cid's mock charge, the reunion with Jimena turns lyrical and, as if in a courtly romance, culminates in the emblematic scene where, from the highest tower in Valencia, the poet refocuses perspective and recounts now “ojos velidos catan a todas partes” (1612), filtering the rich huerta through the eyes of the feminine observers. The scene refracts the Cid's military accomplishments through a feminine prism and allows yet another fleeting glimpse at the sentimental incentives of his heroic actions. We perceive once again the emotional dynamics of Rodrigo's complex personal motivations and the intimate underpinnings of the civic actions he performs. In this brief tableau the imaginative center of the narrative shifts away from the epic's concern for community toward the more personal, inner universe of romance. There is a change of mood and interest as we see the second cantar gradually transformed into a story of sensibilities as much as one of deeds. There is, in short, a thematic subterfuge portraying a more genteel and delicate universe coinciding with the idealized vision of romance.

Alan Deyermond has recently pointed to the role played by women and sexuality in the Castilian epic (1987, 95-97; 1988), and it is by now a cliché to say that the CMC departs from epic stereotypes in its detailed portrayal of females (see Lacarra's important essay). Yet little has been said about just how gender functions within the work and of the central motivational role played by feminine characters. A not irrelevant question to the centrality of gender in the poem and the poet's sensitivity to the significance of women in his work is raised by his exclusion of Diego Rodríguez, the historical Cid's son, from the story. Though Diego is sufficiently well documented and known in relation to the historical Rodrigo, the poet deliberately suppresses his existence precisely in order to emphasize the significance of the feminine in the dynamics of the plot and in the fictional hero's life. Diego Rodríguez's presence in the poem would have militated against the depiction of sentimental motives in the Cid and kept the imaginative center of the narrative squarely within the hyperbolic, masculine world of epic. However, beginning with the nine-year-old girl who entreats the imposing warrior astride his horse not to compromise the people of Burgos and ending with Jimena and her daughters, the poet reshapes history and makes the relationship of men to women a prime motivation in his tale. Not content with mere description, he explores carefully the male/female associations depicted in it and subtly plumbs their emotional nuances and depths.

Indeed, it is worth noting that the first character to shape fundamentally Rodrigo's course of action and temper his epic fury is the unnamed girl. In the carefully studied scene depicting the confrontation of the nine-year-old girl with the fierce warrior astride his horse kicking at the doors of Burgos, the poet highlights the Cid's sensitivity to the female voice and foreshadows the central role played by the feminine in the remainder of the poem. Frail, innocent, and sensitive, the anonymous child incarnates the voice of reason (“Cid, en el Nuestro mal vos non ganades nada” v 47) and thwarts the scene from erupting into violence. It is, of course, at this point, where Rodrigo realizes that his recourse lies in reason and in justice rather than reprisal. While conspicuously inscribing the feminine within the poem, the scene, through the agency of the child, quite consciously avoids all hints of sexuality. The relationship between the masculine and the feminine is portrayed as a constructive force transcending the physical and capable of producing mutually beneficial effects. And in this sense, the poem exceeds once again an expected epic paradigm (see Deyermond, 1988).

In yet another instance, when Valencia is assaulted by the Moroccan forces, the poet's emphasis falls decidedly upon the affective rather than the political dimensions of the struggle about to unfold, and the events are played out in an entirely masculine/feminine context. Announcing that he welcomes his enemies so that his wife and daughters might see him do true battle, the Cid takes his family to the tower of the alcázar while the poet, dwelling again upon the ladies' eyes, portrays the menacing scene as if through them:

alçavan los ojos,                    tiendas vieron fincadas


The frightening panorama is scanned amidst a subtle counterpoint of feminine fear and masculine gallantry that consciously exploits the emotional capital of the events. There is a close analysis of feelings, a depiction and penetration of intimate experience. Terrified by the din of the Moroccan drums, Jimena and her daughters “del dia que nasquieran non vieran tal tremor” (1662), yet Rodrigo, more in a gesture of a courteous knight than an epic warrior, smiles and entreats “Non ayades miedo ca todo es vuestra pro” (1664). The whole scene is infused with an almost courtly elegance and a refined quality focusing upon the role of two different, intimately tied spirits reacting to the same event. The field of battle is sentimentalized through this exchange, and we perceive a motivation in Rodrigo that a Roland could never honorably display. At this point in the economy of the text there is a contiguity of political and personal objectives. It is one of the least studied moments in the CMC, yet it remains central to understanding the contrast Rodrigo poses vis-à-vis an epic hero like Roland. The Cid's virtues as a loving and courteous knight now match or even subsume his accomplishments as a warrior, and on the ramparts of Valencia the figure of the undifferentiated epic bellator is domesticated as he is cast almost imperceptibly in the role of the gallant, idealized paladin of romance.

In fact, nearly half of the Cantar de las bodas is devoted to painting an intimate portrait of the relationship between Rodrigo and the female members of his family. Its object is in part to create an atmosphere of love, joy, expectation, and solidarity culminating in the sumptuous, colorful wedding feast. In the latter, the poet often casts his fabled sobriety to the wind and in his description of the happy preparations enjoins the imaginative participation of the audience:

Penssaron de adobar          essora el palaçio;
por el suelo e suso          tan bien encortinado,
tanta porpola e tanto xamed          e tanto paño preçiado:
¡sabor abriedes de ser          e de comer en el palaçio!


The Cantar de las bodas goes on to chronicle Rodrigo's great wealth, the grand nature of his newly-formed court, and the sumptuous wedding in which his daughters marry the Infantes de Carrión, while we perceive the accommodation of worldly wealth and desire to an epic context.

Aside from its interest in the sentimental overtones informing the relations of men and women, as well as its preoccupation with the material images of social refinement, the CMC shares with medieval romance the portrayal of emblematic landscapes whose purpose is to engage subjectively the audience of the text. In the last cantar in particular, scenic visualization becomes an important complement of action and coincides both in form and in function with the types of landscapes studied by Manfred Gsteiger, Ingrid Hahn, and Joachim Schildt in medieval French and German romances. In Corpes the forest is characteristically deep, dense, broad, and dark; it is a haunt for wild animals, and becomes the scene of evil deeds, adventure, and dramatic rescue. Preceded by the menacing evocation of the caves of Elpha (2695), a landmark suggesting a descent into a symbolic lower world, the description of the mist-shrouded mountains of the forest of Corpes creates a forbidding mood and constitutes an unreal, fairy-tale landscape at whose heart we find a locus amoenus (Curtius 202), a “vergel con una linpia fuent” (2700), which stands in ironic contraposition to the dark wood and the sensational events about to unfold. We are in the midst of a clearly symbolic, dream-like terrain that drifts toward the powerful subjectivity and heightened imagination which lie at the center of romance. More than descriptive, the Corpes landscape seeks to communicate an emotional sense greater than the sum of its parts—it seeks to generate mystery, wonder, and terror. It is turned by the poet into a mirror of the sensibilities and demonic desires that move the characters who populate it, and it becomes a scene whose particulars are perceived with an intensity suggesting the ideal rather than the real. The whole episode is sustained by the subjective imagination of an artist whose inspiration freely ranges from epic deeds to lurid romantic adventure, an individual skilled at creating emotional density through scenic mood and the portrayal of the interaction of characters with their surroundings. We see that, as Curtius notes, “the primitive landscape requirements of the heroic epic are far exceeded” (201) here by the atmospheric needs of the tale while they are transformed into “emotive formulas” (202).

Clearly, the language of epic has changed in Corpes and has been momentarily displaced by the subjectively intensified discourse of romance. In fact, at the height of the outrage, the poet abandons all pretense of objectivity and appeals both to his audience and to Providence, calling out twice:

¡Qual ventura serie esta          si ploguiesse al Criador
que assomasse essora el Cid Campeador!

(2741-2, and 2753).

Rather than resulting in Cidian intervention and heroic resolution, however, the poet continues to appeal to his audience on a purely visceral level. Félez Muñoz, the girl's callow cousin, finds Rodrigo's beaten daughters amidst repeated invocations of the family ties which bind them. “¡Primas, primas! … ¡Ya primas, las mis primas don Elvira e doña Sol,” he cries out (2778, 2780 cfr. also 2786-7) in a voice filled with youthful confusion as much as with a sense of urgency. In the rescue scene, the objective distance between subject matter and audience is momentarily bridged, and the text becomes infused both with the type of dramatic suspense and the sentimental ideals encountered in romance. During this moment of melodrama in the dark forest of Corpes we sense that the story might be told simply for the sake of telling it, and that its immediate aim is to engage and stimulate the imagination of an audience.

When closely scrutinized, then, the CMC shares not only many common interests, motifs, and techniques with medieval romance, but subtle traces of a common ethos as well. In the poetic economy of the work, much as in the late-twelfth-century chansons de geste of the Guillaume d'Orange cycle, there is a destabilization of heroic discourse. We encounter in it a contamination or, at the very least, an incipient intrusion of courtly codes that point to a broad ideological displacement in which the civic themes of epic are evolving into the sentimental preoccupations of romance. It becomes a literary enterprise in which the discursive conventions of heroic narrative begin to deconstruct and are translated into a idiom whose controlling forces are emotion and imagination—a dynamic that substitutes a new, more personal set of values for the ethical and intellectual principles governing epic action. At the center of this romantic tendency lies the metamorphosis of the masculine warrior into the domesticated, courteous knight—his transformation into a personage of sense and sensibility whose life is shaped as much by his dealings with the opposite sex as it is by the social and political forces that menace and confront him.

Despite the fact that the CMC is a text firmly anchored in civic themes and realistic, representational action, it fails, then, to obey fully a sovereign epic voice. The latter is tempered, when not undermined, by a network of rudimentary romance subtexts that diffuse its epic authority and point to the emergence of a new set of literary registers, qualities, and ideals: love, constancy, civility, temperance, and sentimentality. Though the hero's acts, words, and facial expressions continue to have political meaning, they also embody wit, affection, eloquence, and love. The poem's conflation of these romantic impulses with traditional epic themes can only betray its proximity to courtly culture and its probable links to what Brian Stock calls a textual community. Thus, the romance elements in the CMC appear, then, to point to, in Stock's words, “a realignment of oral discourse within a cultural reference system based on the logical priorities of texts” (522)—a culture in which the proximity and knowledge of written texts began to impinge upon, and redefine, the boundaries of oral discourse. They doubtless provide a further measure of the Cid poet's propinquity to courtly culture as well as his probable familiarity with late-twelfth-century romance. It is, in fact, the subtext of romance in the epic discourse of the CMC that is responsible for producing the disconcerting uniqueness of the work as it points toward a later, more complete hybridization of two literary modes and to the impact of literacy and written texts upon the making of vernacular fiction. Put more simply, the presence and echoes of the imaginative elements of romance I have sought to single out in the CMC place this epic at the juncture between written and oral discourse and at a fundamental crossroads of values and ideals in medieval narrative fiction.


  1. All references are to the edition by Colin Smith.


Alonso, Dámaso. “Estilo y creación en el Poema del Cid,Escorial 3 (1941): 333-72. Rpt. in Ensayos sobre poesía española. Madrid: Editorial Revista de Occidente, 1944.

Burshatin, Israel. “The Moor in the Text: Metaphor, Emblem, and Silence,” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 98-118.

———. “The Docile Image: The Moor as Figure of Force, Subservience, and Nobility in the Poema de Mio Cid,Kentucky Romance Quarterly 31 (1984): 269-80.

Curtius, Ernst Robert. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Willard R. Trask, trans. Princeton, 1953. Rpt. New York: Harper and Row. 1963.

Deyermond, Alan. “La sexualidad en la épica medieval española,” Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica 36 (1988): 767-786.

———. El Cantar de Mio Cid y la épica medieval española. Barcelona: Sirmio. 1987.

———. “The Close of the Cantar de Mio Cid: Epic Tradition and Individual Variation.” In The Medieval Alexander Legend and Romance Epic: Essays in Honor of David J. A. Ross. Millwood, NY: Kraus International. 1982.

———, ed. Mio Cid Studies. London: Tamesis. 1977.

Gsteiger, Manfred. Die Landschaftsschilderungen in den Romanen Chrestiens de Troyes: Literarische Tradition und künstlerische Gestaltung. Berne: Francke. 1958.

Hahn, Ingrid. Raum und Landschaft in Gottfrieds ‘Tristan’ Ein Beitrag zur Werkdeutung. Munich: Eidos. 1963.

Hart, Thomas R. “Characterization and Plot Stucture in the Poema de Mio Cid.” In Deyermond, Mio Cid Studies. Alan Deyermond, ed. London: Tamesis. 1977.

Jauss, Hans Robert. “Chanson de geste et roman courtois.” In Chanson de geste und höfischer Roman: Heidelberger Kolloquium. 30 Januar 1961. Heidelberg: Karl Winter. 1963.

Köhler, Erich. “Quelques observations d'ordre historico-sociologique sur les rapports entre la chanson de geste et le roman courtois.” In Chanson de geste un höfischer Roman: Heidelberger Kolloquium. 30 Januar 1961. Heidelberg: Karl Winter. 1963.

Lacarra, María Eugenia. “Los paradigmas de hombre y de mujer en la literatura epicolegendaria medieval castellana.” In Estudios históricos y literarios sobre la mujer medieval. Málaga: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Diputación Provincial de Málaga. 1990.

Michael, Ian. “Epic to Romance to Novel: Problems of Genre Identification,” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 68 (1985-86): 498-527.

Pattison, D.G. “The Afrenta de Corpes in Fourteenth-century Historiography.” In Mio Cid Studies. Alan Deyermond, ed. London: Tamesis. 1977.

Schildt, Joachim. “Zur Gestaltung und Funktion der Landschaft in der deutschen Epik des Mittelalters,” Beitrage zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 86 (1964): 279-304.

Smith, Colin. The Making of the Poema de Mio Cid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1983.

———, ed. Poema de Mio Cid. Madrid: Cátedra. 1978.

———. “The Distinctiveness of the Poema de Mio Cid.” In Mio Cid Studies. Alan Deyermond, ed. London: Tamesis. 1977.

Spitzer, Leo. “Poesía e historia en el Mio Cid: El problema de la épica española,” Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica 3 (1949): 113-29. Rpt. in his Sobre antigua poesía española. Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires. 1962.

Stock, Brian. The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1983.

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Ruth House Webber (essay date 1995)

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SOURCE: Webber, Ruth House. “Jimena's Prayer in the Cantar de mio Cid and the French Epic Prayer.” In Oral Tradition and Hispanic Literature: Essays in Honor of Samuel G. Armistead, edited by Michael M. Caspi, pp. 619-47. New York, N.Y.: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995.

[In the following essay, Webber assesses the origin and development of the biblical prayers used in romance epics and explores the prayer spoken by Dona Jimena in Cantar de mio Cid]

To say that the prayer is a topos of the medieval Romance epic, albeit true, is an understatement.1 The prayer is a topos of all medieval European literature in an epoch in which the Church played a dominant role in every aspect of life. It was the single unifying force in lands inhabited by people of varying ethnic backgrounds who lived in small rival domains with ever-changing frontiers and spoke a multitude of languages and dialects. The Church was the arbiter of man's life on earth, and faith was often his only comfort and hope. Prayers, which came frequently and easily to people's lips, could be expected to enter with equal frequency into the works that afforded them entertainment and pleasure as well as in those of a sacred nature.

It is as appropriate as it is necessary to study Jimena's prayer in the Cantar de Mio Cid (CMC) with reference to the French epic prayers, appropriate since it is a Romance epic problem and not one of individual texts, and necessary as well because, owing to the dearth of extant Spanish epics, there are no other comparable prayers in Spanish.2

The epic prayer is an elaborative device that is both fitting and natural in the epic context. It was an optional theme with its own conventions that could be developed at appropriate moments. Part of the topos was the understanding that the outcome would be favorable. The prayer has both structural and narrative independence. The choice of motifs is not related to the action in progress. The miracle is that once the prayer is in place, it acquires a narrative authority that is deceptive, making it easy to find thematic ties with the rest of the poem.

Romance epic prayers are of several varieties, many fragmentary, all of which can be found both in the chansons de geste and in the CMC. Most of the prayers are expressed audibly, but occasionally there are silent prayers like “Finco los yñoios, de coracon rogaua” (He knelt, he prayed to himself) (CMC 53),3 or narrated (indirect) prayers like Charlemagne's when he prayed to God to stop the sun (Chanson de Roland 2449-51). Among the spoken prayers, there are numerous very short ones composed of invocation plus petition similar to: “Valme, Dios glorioso, e curiam deste espada!” (Help me, glorious God, and protect me from this sword!) (CMC 3665). This type was also developed into a longer prayer, particularly in the later chansons de geste, in which the enlarged petition formed the body of the prayer. In addition there are prayers of thanksgiving, as well as prayers of the quid pro quo type like Mirabel's in Aiol, who pledges she will become a Christian if Aiol's life is spared (6240-71).

The prayers that have attracted the most scholarly attention are the prayers of supplication that are made up primarily of Biblical material. They are customarily voiced by the hero in moments of dire distress or danger, most often on the battlefield or the field of combat, hence the term prière du (plus) grand péril used by Frappier and others after him. In some French epics they came to have exceptional length, at times exceeding one hundred verses. In any single epic text the number of fully developed prayers of this kind, whether long or short, is not great. Some chansons de geste have none while Aiol exceptionally has seven, with the average being about two to a epic.

These Biblical prayers are all fashioned in more or less the same way. Typically they open with an invocation of God that is sometimes brief but commonly developed to present a portion of sacred history, customarily a selective retelling of the main events of Christ's life, which becomes the body of the prayer. Familiar stories of divine miracles from the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha are interspersed at random. The suppliant then utters a formal declaration of faith before he states his petition. For this reason they are often called credo prayers. Even though this pattern may be elaborated in a multitude of ways from epic to epic, these parts are readily distinguishable in the majority of prayers.

The question of epic prayer origins involves not only what model or models may have given rise to its overall form, but also what may have inspired each one of its several characteristic features. The development of the credo or Biblical prayers has been the subject of considerable debate. Of the many hypotheses that have been offered, none has received universal acceptance. In addition to the Bible, the Apocrypha, and the Credo itself, the proposals put forth by Scheludko include the Latin prayers of the “exaudi me orantem sicut exaudiste …” type, in particular the Commendatio Animæ, the prayers of St. Cyprian of Antioch, the prayers of the ordeals and the exorcist rituals together with other Latin prayers and hymns (1934:180-88). A few critics like Spitzer and Sister Marie Pierre Koch believe there may have been an older prototype. Scheludko argued in addition that the two long prayers of the Couronnement de Louis established the prayer canon imitated by all subsequent epic poets (1932:455-57), a theory that has garnered both acceptance and opposition. At the same time there has been considerable critical accord as to the dependency of Jimena's prayer upon the French epic prayer despite the recognition of the many discrepancies that are manifest in the former. Russell, who in a superb essay analyzed every aspect of the Romance epic prayer question, came to believe that the Spanish poet considerably modified the French model.

There are three aspects of the Biblical prayers with which we shall be concerned. The first is to reassess the complex problem of their origin and development with the hope that careful textual scrutiny will produce some new insights. The second is to review the relationship of Jimena's prayer with the French epic in order to determine the extent and nature of the latter's influence and to evaluate the differences along with the similarities. Since these two questions are interrelated, much of the discussion will take the form of a running commentary on Jimena's prayer with an occasional excursus when necessary. The third problem, Jimena's prayer within the context of the CMC, an aspect to which heretofore insufficient attention has been paid, will be developed independently.

Jimena's prayer encompasses verses 330-365 inclusive, but it is set within a narrative frame:

325 Tanen a matines a vna priessa tan grand;
326 Myo Cid e su mugier a la eglesia uan.
327 Echos doña Ximena en los grados delantel altar,
328 Rogando al Criador quanto ella meior sabe,
329 Que amio Cid el Campeador que Dios le curias de mal:

(Matins are rung with great haste; / My Cid and his wife go to the church. / Doña Jimena threw herself upon the steps in front of the altar, / praying to the Lord as best she can, / that God protect My Cid the Campeador from harm.)

The Cid, exiled from Castile, is about to take leave of his family and depart. Embarking upon a journey is not the usual pretext for a prayer in the Romance epic despite the precarious nature of the Cid's situation. The fact of the ensuing journey led Gerli to propose that it was the Itinerarium that suggested the context for Jimena's prayer. The Itinerarium, like the Ordo Commendationis Animæ, is a multi-part prayer, the composition of which has remained essentially the same from the Middle Ages to modern times (Andrieu 1940:3:619-21). The traveler is an active participant in the ceremony, which creates a scenario that is quite different from that of the CMC.

The setting of Jimena's prayer is the monastery church of San Pedro de Cardeña, where she enters with the Cid to hear Mass and prostrates herself before the altar. The ecclesiastical ambiance and the fact that the suppliant is a woman are both anomalies in French epic prayers. The few examples of sacred loci have been listed by Russell (119). Occasionally French epic heroines pray aloud like Mirabel in Aiol (6240-71) or Berte in Berte as grans piés (715-17) (see De Caluwé 1973). There is even one who prays for her husband's safety (Aye de Avignon 2739-2757), but the only comparable scene is in Raoul de Cambrai when Aalais, Raoul's mother, goes to church to pray for her son. However, there is almost no resemblance between the two prayers, the latter being very short with a reduced narrative component.

The prone position before the altar reflects current custom. According to Gautier (538-39), the twelfth-century knight customarily prayed while lying in the form of a cross with his head turned toward the east although the kneeling posture was already beginning to come in. This transition is documented in the French epic along with other variants like praying while on horseback as the Cid did upon leaving Burgos (214-216).4

The French epic prayer is prefaced more times than not by a simple verse like: “Deu reclama et son glorieus nom” (He calls upon God and his glorious name) (Prise d'Orenge 539). Other times the introduction, like Jimena's, can be prolonged. The frame verses of the CMC prayer bear a generic resemblance to the French introductions, but the anticipation in v. 329 of what the petition is to be is an unusual feature.

330 'Ya señor glorioso, padre que en çielo estas,

(Oh glorious Lord, Father who art in Heaven,)

The very first words of Jimena's prayer support the theory of French imitation on the part of the Cid poet. The invocations of God in the Romance epic are exceedingly numerous and constitute one of the richest formula families. A great many different formulas are found in French epic prayer openings. A few are simple forms, but the majority appear in combination as hemistich or verse fillers. There is a tendency for a given poet to favor a certain invocatory expression. In overall usage in the chansons de geste the common word for God, “Dieu” and its variants, dominates although much in evidence as prayer openers are the composite terms with the epithet “glorieus.5 Latin prayer openings are so varied that it would be difficult to conceive of any single one's having imposed itself. In Alcuin's prayers, for example, with the exception of “Domine,” no one of the many different formulas is favored (Migne 101:1383-1402). In Sonet's repertoire of prayer incipits in Old French, “Sire Dieus” heads the list followed by “Mon Dieu” and “Biaus sire Dieus,” but no one of them is important in the chansons de geste. It is significant that the repeated use of “glorieus” is limited to a handful of epic poems: Aiol (6), Fierabras (5), Couronnement de Louis (4), Prise d'Orenge (4), Girart de Vienne (4), Raoul de Cambrai (3), and Moniage Rainouart (3). Elsewhere it appears only sporadically. In addition to Jimena's opening words, “glorioso” is found only one other time in the CMC in v. 3665. Like the chansons de geste the simple form “Dios” is preferred throughout the Spanish epic to begin a verse. However, the emphatic “ya” preceding a name in Jimena's invocation is a characteristic vocative and dialogue opener in the CMC, where it occurs some twenty times. The second hemistich of Jimena's opening verse comes from the most familiar of all prayers, the Pater Noster. There is no comparable verse in any of the French epic prayers that were examined.

331 Fezist çielo e tierra, el terçero el mar;
332 Fezist estrelas e luna e el sol pora escalentar;

(You made heaven and earth, and thirdly the sea; / You made stars and the moon and the sun for warmth;)

These two verses from Genesis display great condensation and considerable liberty in the ordering of the elements sun, moon and stars as well as in the unconventional characterization of the function of the sun (see Russell 120). Although the creation of the world is a common initial motif in the chansons de geste (see Labande 70 and Moisan 5:946-53),6 the CMC version is unique in including six elements. Only two prayers among those studied even mention the heavenly bodies: the Chanson de Guillaume (804-5) and Elie de St. Gilles (2389-90). Two parallel verses with anaphora like those above are not an uncommon occurrence in the CMC. In the prayers of the chansons de geste, anaphora, especially with simple words like e(t), que, se, li, etc., is one of the most frequent prosodic devices, but it is not usually found linking parallel verses except in enumerative series.

333 Prisist en carnaçion en santa Maria madre,
334 En Belleem apareçist, commo fue tu veluntad;
335 Pastores te gloorifficaron, ouieron de a laudare,
336 Tres reyes de Arabia te vinieron adorar,
337 Melchior e Gaspar e Baltasar, oro e tus e mirra
338 Te offreçieron, commo fue tu veluntad;

(You were incarnated in Saint Mary your mother, / You appeared in Bethlehem, as was your will; / Shepherds glorified and praised you, / Three kings from Arabia came to adore you, / Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar, gold, incense and myrrh / they offered you, as was your will;)

Here begins the narration of the life and miracles of Christ on earth, the fundamental theme of the prayers of this type. It is tempting to attribute their structure to the Apostolic Creed, the oldest and most basic of all the creeds and the only one that includes the Descent into Hell and ends with a credo. However, the prayers themselves manifest considerable license in filling out the Evangelical narrative as outlined in the Creed. It may be short or long, almost always with some parts omitted and others sometimes greatly amplified. Pontius Pilate is not usually mentioned, and there is no precedent for the interspersed miracles. What can be safely said is that this type of epic prayer is in essence a creed, that is, a declaration of faith based upon the assumption that the true believer will be saved (Mark 16.16). There was, in fact, no need for a specific structural model for these prayers beyond what was already common knowledge, the events themselves of Christ's life, which followed a predetermined course.

In the CMC there prevails the monotheistic convention in which epic prayers are directed to God without naming Christ, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. Although for Scheludko (196) and later for Russell (120-21) “commo fue tu veluntad,” repeated twice in these several verses, was inspired by “fiat voluntas tua” of the Pater Noster, it is more likely that its primary function was as a rhyming verse-filler as it is fourteen other times throughout the poem.

The Incarnation and the Nativity are among the most frequently sounded motifs in all the prayers although the naming of the three kings is unusual (Russell 121-22). Still more unexpected is the adoration of the shepherds (335), which Labande does not even list as a prayer motif in the chansons de geste although it is found in Fierabras (1174) in a different form. The several apparent Latinisms in these verses like “tus” and “laudare,” familiar from hearing the Gospels read aloud, are words which the acoustic memory of the juglar could have converted into similar sounding vernacular ones. In only nine out of the twenty-odd chansons de geste that contain the episode of the Magi are the gifts listed. In every instance the learned word “encens” is used in contrast to the popular-sounding “tus” of the CMC.

339 [salveste] A Ionas, quando cayo en la mar,(7)
340 Saluest a Daniel con los leones en la mala carçel,
341 Saluest dentro en Roma al señor san Sabastian,
342 Saluest a santa Susanna del falso criminal;

(You saved Jonah when he fell into the sea, / You saved Daniel with the lions in the evil prison, / You saved Saint Sebastian in Rome, / You saved Saint Susanna from the false testimony.)

Verse 339 breaks the biographical sequence with a series of four parallel verses with anaphora that incorporate three well-known Old Testament stories along with the reference to a Christian martyr, St. Sebastian. The suspension of the narrative with examples of divine miracles and legends is a recognized feature of the epic prayer canon. The break may appear at any point. In the CMC it occurs early in the body of the prayer while in Aliscans, for example, it comes between the Harrowing of Hell and the Ascension. This interruption is not an arbitrary violation of the chronological sequence. Rather it introduces a different prayer ethos that goes back to the very roots of prayer origins. It is based on a principle associated with formulas of magic and charm forms, that like can engender like. The petitioner reminds God of the miracles he has wrought in the past, whereby he hopes to cajole God into performing for him in the present the miracle he so desperately desires, the “as x, so y” pattern, as Bloomfield categorized it (538). The more miracles, the greater the persuasive force of the prayer. The fourteen petitions of the Commendatio Animæ offer a pure example of this type, also utilized by Juan Ruiz for his own purposes in the Libro de buen amor.

In the Romance epic these capsulated references to divine intervention in the commendatio pattern tend to be presented in a single group containing from one to six of the most common miracles which are combined with those associated with the life of Christ. Furthermore, the same stories keep reappearing from epic to epic. The favorites are Longinus, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Daniel, and Jonah in descending order. The CMC's three-fold set of Jonah, Daniel, and Susanna is not found elsewhere. In fact, no two prayers show exactly the same combination. A scrutiny of the way in which these Biblical stories and allied legends are combined demonstrates beyond a doubt that there was no distinction made among Old Testament, New Testament or Apocryphal sources. To the epic poet they were no more than popular religious tales that he had heard time and time again and which he incorporated into his prayers, just as other epic poets had done, as an elaborative device without any awareness of prayer patterns, anachronisms, or figural meanings.

The repetition of favored miracles throughout the epic corpus has also been offered as evidence concerning epic prayer origins. The liturgical prayers most often cited as possible models for epic prayers contain for the most part Old Testament and Apocryphal miracles. The story of Jonah, an epic favorite, is missing from among the fourteen petitions of the Commendatio Animæ, which include, however, the Three Hebrew Youths in the Furnace, Susanna, and Daniel. The very popular second prayer of St. Cyprian of Antioch contains a somewhat different list that comprises nonetheless Daniel, the Three Youths, Susanna, and Jonah along with references to New Testament miracles (Migne 4: 987-90). In the prayers that form part of the exorcist rites and those of the Judicia Dei, which must have been universally familiar since they were public ceremonies, the stories of the Three Youths and of Susanna are referred to a number of times and those of Daniel and Jonah only somewhat less frequently (Migne 87:929-44). There appears to be no direct correlation between epic usage and these age-old liturgical prayers as far as miracles are concerned, but what can be observed is that same traditional miracles were in circulation from an early date and remained as common currency for many centuries.

The long-lasting popularity of many of these sacred legends is further attested to by their repeated appearances in various art forms. Nor is it coincidental that they are the most pictorial tales of their kind. Le Blant in his study of the early Christian sarcophagi of Arles lists Jonah, Lazarus, and Daniel as the most frequently sculptured images (xxi). Those he encountered most often both named in funereal prayers and carved on the tombs were Daniel, the Three Youths in the Furnace, Susanna, and Jonah (xxx). Leclercq supplies similar information from the frescoes of the Roman catacombs and early Christian funerary chapels concerning the omnipresence of more or less the same miracles portrayed without any concern for chronological or testamental appropriateness (107, 271-75).

The question of prayer form needs to be taken into consideration as well as that of narrative content, especially in the Spanish epic where it has assumed more importance than in the French. The source of the commendatio type prayer is presumed by many to be the Commendatio Animæ with its series of fourteen parallel pleas: “Libera, Domine, … sicut liberasti …” The question of prayer form, however, has several ramifications. The Commendatio Animæ is an ensemble of prayers, many parts of which are of great antiquity although it did not acquire what is essentially its modern form until sometime between 1100 and 1200 (cf. Andrieu 1:279-85 with Andrieu 2:495-504). That the “Libera, Domine, … sicut librasti …” formula had long since been a widely accepted prayer form is attested to by Salmon among others. He found evidence of the same parallel prayer technique as early as the end of the fourth century (xix), while Le Blant had previously encountered examples of the identical liturgical formulas going back to the first centuries of the Christian era (xxviii). The widespread Oratio de S. Brandani, which probably dates from the second half of the eighth century, contains two sections of Biblical examples framed by this device (Salmon 5-15). In a collection of Alcuin's prayers from a manuscript of about the year 900, there is a prayer for the dead with eleven pleas, eight of which correspond almost word for word with the modern form of the Commendatio Animæ (Migne 101:1390). The exorcist, anti-demoniacal character of this part of the ritual is also found in the prayers associated with exorcism and trials by fire and water that date back at least to the seventh century (see Migne 87: 929-63). Although not in the parallelistic style of the Commendatio Animæ, both the liberasti and salvasti formulas are frequently repeated.

Another theoretical source, advocated by Leclercq (191), Koch (170-71), Gimeno (118-19), and others are the two very popular prayers of uncertain date attributed to Saint Cyprian of Antioch, a fourth-century heathen magician who was converted to Christianity, came to hold various Church offices, and died a martyr. The second prayer is like an exorcistic incantation set forth in repetitive units characterized by the formulas “Exaudi me …, sicut exaudisti …” or “Libera me … sicut liberasti …” (Migne 4:987-90) in a freer and more elaborate form than the parallel petitions of the Commendatio Animæ.

The list could be prolonged with examples from other liturgical sources and from the Acta martyrum (Delehaye 1966), but the foregoing is sufficient to indicate that it is a question of a basic, universal prayer form with which everyone would have been familiar. Neither the Commendatio Animæ nor any other single prayer of that type can be considered a direct source of the French epic prayers or of Jimena's prayer. In fact, if it were not for the need to dispel the widely held misconception of the specific role of the Commendatio in the formation of epic prayers despite the inappropriateness of its basic funerary character (see Russell 143), it would not be necessary to enter into this argument. Parallelistic verses, with or without anaphora, are a constant feature of traditional epic and ballad style. These four verses of the CMC (339-42) display a characteristic form of repetition composed of series of parallel hemistichs or verses in which at least one unit modifies or breaks the pattern, in this case v.341 with its chiasmic order. In contrast to the CMC, the French epic prayers examined exhibited no comparable parallelistic passages.

Daniel in the lions' den and Jonah and the whale are among the Old Testament motifs that are most often repeated in the chansons de geste. It would be difficult to find in Jimena's truncated version of the Jonah story any trace of the theological discussions it engendered concerning the identification of Jonah's three days' sojourn in the whale with Christ's entombment and his liberation with the Resurrection (see Duval 124 and passim). Jonah's adventure is commonly portrayed in condensed form in which he is tossed off the boat into the gullet of the waiting sea monster. The entire story consists of three scenes: Jonah cast into the sea, Jonah ejected from the whale, Jonah in the shelter of the gourd plant. Any one of the three episodes could be used alone or combined in various ways. Given v.339, it is conceivable that the Cid poet was familiar with the story of Jonah through a sculpture or fresco of only the first scene. The chansons de geste invariably present the episode of the whale reduced to a simple statement like “Garis Jonas le ventre poisson” (You rescued Jonah from the belly of the fish) (Couronnement de Louis 1016).

Daniel is another Christ figure who was often portrayed in frescoes and sculpture, sometimes as a prophet but more often in the lions' den. He was cited even more frequently than Jonah in the chansons de geste. The “mala cárcel” of Daniel in the CMC was undoubtedly a function of the rhyme as was also the inclusion at this point of St. Sebastian, a Christian martyr who was greatly revered in Spain. Although his martyrdom—he was shot to death by arrows—is one that might be remembered, there would appear to be no special significance in this context to the inclusion of a saint who was a protector against the plague, a guardian of archers and, by extension, of upholsterers, ironmongers, and pavers (Perdrizet 60). French epic prayers contain many allusions to favorite saints who sometimes also serve to supply the assonance. Not only does “san Sabastian” furnish the á assonance but sustains, as does “santa Susanna,” the alliteration in s that pervades these four verses. Delehaye pointed out that the title “saint” in medieval hagiographic literature was applied, without canonical sanction, to a wide assortment of personages who were not all equally deserving (1961:108). In popular usage the examples proliferated especially in the cases of Susanna, Daniel and Lazarus. The reason for the title in most instances as well as in the CMC was undoubtedly prosodic. Noteworthy also in v. 342 of the CMC is the acoustic imitation of the Latin “de falso crimine” (from the false accusation) in “del falso criminal” (from the false criminal), with an apparent lack of awareness of the distortion of the meaning (cf. the interpretation of Russell 125). The few occurrences of Susanna in the French epic offer no such problem.

343 Por tierra andidiste xxxij años, señor spirital,
344 Mostrando los miraclos, por en auemos que fablar:
345 Del agua fezist vino e dela piedra pan,
346 Resuçitest a Lazaro, ca fue tu voluntad;

(You spent thirty-two years on earth, spiritual Lord, / Displaying miracles we must speak about: / You made wine from water and bread from stone, / You brought Lazarus back to life, as was your will.)

With v. 343 the Christological narrative is restored. Christ's life on earth is given variously in the chansons de geste as thirty to thirty-three years although thirty-two remains the norm. The miracles of wine made from water at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2) and the multiplication of the bread in a corrupt version of Matthew 14.15 crossed with Matthew 4.3, here combined, are almost never mentioned in French epic prayers (see Sheludko 197). The miracle of the loaves is one of the few New Testament motifs to be found in early Christian paintings because of its symbolic significance (see Mâle 1978, 29-30; Palol 1969, 132, 140).

The theme of Lazarus raised from the dead, the most obvious symbol of the Resurrection, was also constantly depicted from early Christian times on in the plastic arts. References to Lazarus are in all the old liturgical prayers, and his story sometimes comes in tandem with that of Mary Magdalene. The latter, second only to Longinus in the frequency of its appearances in the French prayers, is missing from Jimena's prayer.

347 Alos iudios te dexeste prender; do dizen monte Caluarie
348 Pusieronte en cruz por nombre en Golgota;
349 Dos ladrones contigo, estos de señas partes,
350 El vno es en parayso, ca el otro non entro ala;

(You allowed the Jews to take you at the place called Mt. Calvary / They placed you on a cross in Golgotha by name; / Two thieves with you, one on each side, / One is in Paradise, but the other one did not get there;)

The Crucifixion, as might be expected, is the single most frequent topic in all epic prayers. Labande lists fifty-seven occurrences (76) and Moisan eighty-seven (946-53), but it is almost never depicted in detail. The preliminaries as well as the aftermath tend to be sketchy. Menéndez Pidal endeavored to mask the confusion manifested in the CMC between Calvary and the Mount of Olives by inserting an antiprosodic semicolon in the middle of v. 347 and omitting any end punctuation (see Russell 126). The Spanish poet did not realize that Calvary and Golgotha were one and the same place. In the French epic a place name is almost never given. An exception is Aiol (6194-95) where again Golgotha and Calvary are presumed to be different. Jimena's mention of the two thieves appears to be almost unique.

351 Estando en la cruz, vertud fezist muy grant:
352 Longinos era çiego, que nuquas vio alguandre,
353 Diot con la lança enel costado, dont yxio la sangre,
354 Corrio la sangre por el astil ayuso, las manos se ouo devntar,
355 Alçolas arriba, legolas ala faz,
356 Abrio sos oios, cato atodas partes,
357 En ti crouo al ora, por ende es saluo de mal;

(While on the cross, you did a great deed: / Longinus was blind, for he never could see at all, / He struck you on the side with the lance, from which blood flowed, / The blood ran down the shaft, it anointed his hands, / He raised them up, he reached them up to his face, / He opened his eyes, he looked all around, / He believed in you at once, / therefore he is saved;)

Longinus is the theme most consistently elaborated throughout all of these prayers. Two simple narrative statements, one of John 19.34 to the effect that a soldier pierced Christ's side with his lance and blood and water flowed out, and the other, the conversion of a centurion upon witnessing the earthquake that accompanied the Crucifixion (Matthew 27.54), had merged into one and undergone extensive development, including the illogical addition of the soldier's blindness, by the time it entered into epic prayers.

Peebles sought to trace the evolution of this tale (5-55), the first important step of which was manifested in the apocryphal Acti Pilati (Gospel of Nicodemus), sometime between the fourth and fifth centuries. There the soldier who pierced Christ's side was given the name Longinus as was also, in a later text, the converted centurion (Peebles 8), which indicates that the two stories had already begun to contaminate one another. According to Rhabanus Maurus (Migne, 110:1135) and other martyrologies of the eighth and ninth centuries, the soldier Longinus had become converted after observing the meteorological phenomena attendant upon the Crucifixion (Peebles 15). By the tenth-century Acta Sanctorum both the soldier's and the centurion's stories had been extended with highly fictionalized details of their subsequent lives and martyrdom (Peebles 16-20), but blindness had no part in it. The earliest indication of blindness cited by Peebles (22-23) came a couple of centuries later from Petrus Comestor, who succinctly recounted the story of the unnamed soldier who pierced Christ's side, adding to the Biblical account that his eyesight was restored by his accidentally touching his eyes with the blood: (Migne, 198:1633-34). The ambiguity inherent in Comestor's expression, “caligassent oculi ejus,” in which “caligare” could mean “to suffer from weakness of the eyes,” “to be dim-sighted” as well as “to be blind,” probably was responsible for Jacopus de Voragine's equivocation concerning Longinus' blindness. His Legenda Aurea (thirteenth century) tells of Longinus' conversion on seeing celestial signs (“videns signa”) and his eye malady (“oculi ejus caligassent”) as the product of either illness or old age. When he touched his eyes with blood from the lance, he saw clearly (“clare vidit”), Comestor's very words. In Vincent de Beauvais we have the same quotation from Comestor, to which is added that Longinus at once believed in Christ: “Protinus illuminatus, in Christum credidit” (237). While authoritatively documenting the final step in the development of the Longinus story, Vincent de Beauvais's version can be interpreted either as spiritual or physical blindness. In fact, Peebles suggested that the whole matter of blindness had its origin in the concept of spiritual blindness, which was represented literally, as was the wont in the Middle Ages, and then came to be accepted in the physical sense (39).

The full form of the legend of Longinus, including his blindness and his conversion immediately upon the restoration of his sight, had been visible in miniatures, ivories, frescoes, mosaics, and sculpture since at least the eighth or ninth century according to Peebles (44). In the early representations of the Crucifixion, it is difficult to tell whether the spear-bearer was intended to be blind or not. The first unmistakable example of the blindness of Longinus that Peebles found is from an Irish miniature in a ninth-century manuscript (48). More pertinent for the Romance epic is the Gerona Beatus of 975. There Longinus, who is named in the painting, is portrayed with a mere slit for his left eye and no eye at all on the right (another slit may have worn off), whereas all the other figures have large, encircled eyes, and the blood is running down the spear shaft into his hand (Williams 97). Once more evidence shows that religious art forms played a major role in the molding of the legend in the popular mind and that written accounts developed much more slowly than oral or visual versions.

Scheludko recognized that the Longinus legend of the French epic prayers had features from sources not easily identifiable (1934:75) and insisted that the model was the Couronnement de Louis. According to the French canon, Longinus is blind, he strikes Christ, the blood flows, he rubs his eyes with it and can see. The final feature, the recognition that he has sinned and his subsequent pardon, represents the crossing with the good thief (Luke 23.40-43).

In Jimena's prayer Longinus is not only blind but “nuquas vio alguandre,” blind from birth. Only three chansons de geste add that detail. From the wound there flowed only blood, not blood and water, as the Gospel says. The French versions are almost unanimous in using the formula: “He rubbed his eyes with it” (“Il en terst à ses ex,Fierabras 949, 1210). The Spanish is quite different: “He raised up [his hands], he reached them up to his face.” Instead of a formula such as “tantost en fu véant” or “tantost fu alumés” (at once he was able to see), we have “He opened his eyes, he looked all around.” In the majority of the chansons de geste the expressions like “ot alumoison,” “vit la clarté,” “fu alumés,” etc., lend themselves to a spiritual interpretation while in the CMC only a literal meaning is possible. The dénouement in which Longinus becomes a believer with the promise of salvation reflects the popular form of the legend in contrast to the deviant finale with confession and pardon of the French epic versions.

358 Enel monumento resuçitest, fust alos infiernos,
359 Commo fue tu voluntad;
360 Quebranteste las puertas e saqueste los padres santos.(8)

(You came back to life in the tomb, you went down to Hell, / As was your will; / You broke down the gates and brought out the Holy Fathers.)

The Harrowing of Hell is a theme found in thirty-one chansons de geste according to Labande while Moisan lists fifty-three. The Gospels only suggest the possibility of Christ's descent to Hell (see Eph. 4.8-10). With pre-Christian roots, the Descent was accepted as fact early in the Christian era and soon became part of the dogma of the Church. It was accorded official recognition in the fourth century with its introduction into the Apostles' Creed (Hulme lxiii). The Descensus, the second part of the Gospel of Nicodemus, was thought by some to have been written as early as the second or third century (Hulme lxii, MacCulloch 154) while Altaner (70) puts it as late as the beginning of the fifth century. It was then combined with the Acta Pilati. The fact that the Harrowing of Hell follows the Resurrection in almost all of these epic prayers (there are only four exceptions) has not been explained with complete satisfaction. There are antecedents in the Egyptian church order, and it is also a feature of Gnosticism (MacCulloch 76, Saly 56-56). The likelihood is once more that it was the Gospel of Nicodemus that popularized the notion. The Latin A recension reads: “… Rex gloriae mortuus et uiuus, … Mortuus iacuisti in sepulchro, uiuus ad nos descendisti.” (King of glory dead and alive. Dead you lay in the tomb, alive you descended to us.) (XXII:11-13). It is by no means an explicit statement of the Descent's following the Resurrection as Saly contends (58) since the Entombment and the Harrowing could be interpreted either as simultaneous or sequential events. Evidently there was at this time a strong popular current of belief in the post-Resurrection version of the story reinforced by the ambiguity of the Descensus. It would have been more acceptable to the unsophisticated mind than the complex theological discussions provoked by the theory of the Descent during the three days of Christ's stay in the tomb (cf. Vincent de Beauvais 238-39). This is borne out by the fact that two out of the three Old French verse translations of the Descensus put the Resurrection first (Saly 58-59). The Couronnement de Louis appears to have introduced into the epic prayer canon the Resurrection/ Descent order of events. Jimena's prayer adheres to this convention.

In the French epic prayers the Descent rarely encompasses more than two verses. The two principal elements are: Christ went to Hell or broke into Hell; he threw out (“geter”) his friends. The “friends” may also be named, Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. In the CMC there are three elements: Christ went to Hell; he broke down the gates; he removed the Holy Fathers. The latter term does not appear in any French version.

361 Tu eres rey de los reyes e de todel mundo padre,
362 Ati adoro e creo de toda voluntad,
363 E ruego a san Peydro que me auide a rogar
364 Por myo Cid el Campeador, que Dios le curie de mal.
365 Quando oy nos partimos, en vida nos faz iuntar.

(You are king of kings and father of the whole world, / I adore you and believe in you with all my heart, / And I pray to St. Peter to help me to pray / for My Cid the Campeador, that God may protect him from harm. / When we separate today, bring us together again in this life.)

At this point the narrative portion of Jimena's prayer comes to an end. In epic prayer narratives there is no consensus as to where the terminus should be. Many go on to include the Ascension and sometimes even further. Here Jimena returns to her initial theme of God the all powerful followed by her own credo simply stated. The petition to protect the Cid and bring them together again is indirect, being made through Saint Peter, the patron saint of San Pedro de Cardeña, where the scene takes place. The penultimate verse of her prayer is a repetition of v. 329 and another reminiscence of the Pater Noster.

In her conclusion Jimena breaks completely away from the French epic prayer pattern. In the chansons de geste almost without fail there is included some variant of the credo formula “Si com c'est voir, sire, et le creon” (Just as all of this is true and we believe it) (Prise d'Orenge 874), which leads directly to the petition. In Jimena's prayer the credo stands by itself and is not tied verbally to the petition that follows. The request for someone else to intercede with God is found occasionally in the French prayers.

The following two verses complete the frame:

366 La oraçion fecha, la missa acabada la an,
367 Salieron dela eglesia, ya quieren caualgar.

(The prayer completed, they finished the Mass, / They left the church, they set out on their way.)

What, then, is the relationship of Jimena's prayer to the French epic prayers? It would seem that the poet who composed Jimena's prayer, thoroughly familiar with the chansons de geste, wanted to incorporate into the CMC a long prayer of the French type with its Gospel framework and popular religious stories, ending with a credo. It is not a direct imitation of any French epic text or combination of texts despite its adherence to the French epic canon. The only specific borrowing by the juglar was the “Ya señor glorioso” invocation. It is a distillation of memories of other epic prayers and of the Cid poet's own familiarity with liturgical prayers, prayer patterns, rituals and sacred stories. The final result at every turn differs in detail from French models. It is simpler and more naive, more quintessential, and creates more of a prayerlike illusion with its rhythmical sequences. In contrast the long French prayers tend to be discursive and plodding, and much less moving.9

Does this scrutiny throw any new light on the question of epic prayer origin and development? The results show that there is no single theory that is convincing. What is manifest is that the epic poet wanted to create a prayer that sounded authentic in order to enrich and humanize his heroic song. Imbued, like all his contemporaries, with a vast knowledge of sacred legends constantly reinforced on all sides from both oral and visual sources, he made up his prayer from familiar prayer patterns together with tags of remembered wording of the liturgy and even occasional echoes of the Gospels themselves. The prayer became an increasingly popular motif in the Romance epic canon. It is not at all clear that it was born ready made in the Couronnement de Louis since those two prayers are atypical in several respects (see Singerman 292). It is probable, if the chronology of epic texts and versions were more secure, that it could be shown that the epic prayer form evolved gradually. In fact, the earliest prayer that displays the complete canon, albeit a brief one, is from the Prise d'Orenge (497-508).

Whereas Jimena's prayer is akin to, yet in many ways independent of the French tradition, what is its relationship to the rest of the CMC? This final problem can only be dealt with by means of technical criteria.

Her prayer comes early in the poem in laisse #18 of Destierro. It assonates in á, the assonance that is favored in the first cantar. Not only do its 109 verses make it the longest laisse in Destierro, but it is only one of six in the whole CMC that contains more than one hundred verses. The average length of the 63 tiradas of Destierro is 17 verses; there are only 17 with more than 20 verses, eight with more than 40 verses, all of which indicates that laisse #18 is abnormally long for this part of the poem.

Also unusual is the fact that 75 different words serve as assonants in this laisse, that is, 71٪ of its verse terminals are never repeated. This would be a reasonable figure in a short laisse but not in a long one since the number of repetitions of the same word in the assonating position increases in direct proportion to the length of the laisse. The other five very long laisses in the CMC have on an average only 40٪ of their verses with different terminal words. Within the 36 verses of the prayer itself, two words are repeated once, mal and mar, and one other, vo(e)luntad, four times, which means that 84٪ of the verses have different assonants, an extraordinarily high number. Although vo(e)luntad is a common assonating word in á laisses, in no other part of the text are there so many occurrences in short order.

In the laisses assonating in á verbs supply the assonance in more than one half of the verses while nouns account for only 30٪ of the assonating words and the other grammatical categories much less. Laisse #18 follows the norm in this respect with 52٪ verbs, 36٪ nouns, and 12٪ other types of verse terminals. If one takes the prayer by itself, the situation changes: only 22٪ of the verse endings are verbs, 64٪ are nouns, and 14٪ the remainder, all of which reveals a different kind of prosodic system.

There is still another statistic which is perhaps more significant than that of laisse length or category of assonating words. The Cid's story is told by means of narrative units into which the laisses are subdivided.10 In this case the narrative unit begins with v. 325 when the Cid and his wife go to church; the end coincides with the end of the prayer (v. 365) for a total of 41 verses. However, the average length of the narrative units in Destierro is approximately nine verses, which indicates that laisse #18 also deviates from the norm as far as the narrative structure is concerned.

The excessive length of tirada #18 attracted the attention of Menéndez Pidal, who in an infrequently observed passage of “Dos poetas …” assigned to the late poet of Medinaceli the twenty-six verses of the prayer that correspond to the Christological part, leaving ten verses which he believed constituted the original prayer (181).11

Like Menéndez Pidal, I am convinced that Jimena's prayer is at variance with its surroundings. I should like, however, to offer a different hypothesis, which is that Jimena's prayer was originally not verbalized at all. In this case the text would read:

327 Echos doña Ximena en los grados delantel altar,
328 Rogando al Criador quanto ella meior sabe,
329 Que amio Cid el Campeador que Dios le curias de mal.
367 La oraçion fecha, la missa acabada la an,
368 Salieron dela eglesia, ya quieren caualgar.

There is an earlier silent prayer in the CMC with comparable wording:

51 Partiose dela puerta, por Burgos aguijaua,
52 Lego a Santa Maria, luego descaualga;
53 Finco los yñoios, de coraçon rogaua.
54 La oraçion fecha luego caualgaua;

(He left the gate (of his house), he rode through Burgos, / he arrived at the church of Santa María, then he dismounts; / he knelt, he prayed silently.12 / The prayer completed, then he rode on.)

The omission of Jimena's prayer would leave the laisse with 75 verses, which, while still the longest of Destierro, is of a much more logical length. More revealing is the matter of the narrative units. With the elimination of the 36 verses of the prayer, the narrative unit in question would be reduced to seven verses, very much in line with the nine-verse average of Destierro.

Jimena's prayer could not have been the work of a poet like Menéndez Pidal's poet of Medinaceli, whom he viewed as reworking and modifying the entire text. Rather it would have been the contribution of a juglar who, at a late stage in the evolution of the CMC, wanted to create a prayer in accord with the importance of a critical moment in the Cid's story, a prayer for which there was already the frame as well as a follow-through in the form of the vision of Saint Gabriel (406-409).

In order to attempt to determine how a churchman would evaluate the prayer in ecclesiastical terms, I consulted an erudite Augustinian friar of the Real Monasterio of El Escorial. His verdict is as follows: “… la oración impetratoria de Jimena [es] un documento de ingenua e ignorante fe de carbonero con rebetes de pobre e inconsistente teología.” (Jimena's prayer of solicitation is a document that displays the naive and ignorant faith of a charcoal maker touched up with a poor and inconsistent knowledge of theology.)

Fortunately the juglar of the prayer was a far better poet than he was a theologian. That Jimena's prayer produces the proper illusion and enhances the poem few would deny. Here a modest but talented poet has created from oral and visual sources a small masterpiece.


  1. A preliminary version of this study was read at the MLA meeting in Washington, D.C., December 1989.

  2. The hundred-verse fragment of the Roncesvalles contains no prayers, nor does the corrupt text of the Mocedades de Rodrigo. In the verses reconstituted from the chronicle prosifications of the Siete Infantes de Lara, there are only token prayers. The Poema de Fernán González has a substantial prayer of the same order as the epic prayers (vv. 105-13), which, however, is a product of the clerical reworking of the lost epic into a poem of the mester de clerecía. In the prose legend of the abbot Don Juan de Montemayor, there is a prayer of thanksgiving with epic features, notably in placing the Harrowing of Hell after the Resurrection (Menéndez Pidal 1934: 122, 232).

  3. The quotations from the Cantar de Mio Cid are from the paleographic edition of Menéndez Pidal.

  4. The edition of De oratione et speciebus illius of Petrus Cantor includes fifty-eight delightful illustrations from eight manuscripts that show the seven modes of prayer (Trexler, Part Two). See also the Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic (Tugwell, 94-103).

  5. Russell's suggestion that this usage reflects the liturgical “Deus gloriae” (119) is not persuasive except as a possible model for abberrant invocations like “Cil Damediex de gloire” (Gui de Bourgogne 948) or “Deus, rey de gloire” (Chanson de Guillaume 800).

  6. Labande lists 103 epic prayer themes based on 83 prayers from 41 chansons de geste while Moisan, who tallied information from 119 prayers in 55 epics, combined the themes into 58 categories.

  7. Salveste” was written in by a later hand at the end of v. 338.

  8. Note the missing half-line in v. 358. The second hemistich belongs with the following verse.

  9. Russell agrees that the inspiration for Jimena's prayer came from French models, but instead of viewing it as an essentially popular product as I do, he finds it has “un aire marcadamente cultista” and believes that the Spanish bard made use of Latin-Christian sources (132-33).

  10. These narrative units were the basis for Menéndez Pidal's paragraphing in his critical edition of the CMC.

  11. The ten remaining verses include the invocation (330), the four parallelistic verses (339-42), the credo and the petition (361-65). The inclusion of the credo without the corresponding format would have made it an anomalous kind of prayer.

  12. That “de coraçon” means “silently” or “to himself” is not recognized by Menéndez Pidal or subsequent editors. The “Fourth Way of Prayer” of the Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic says: “At other times, however, he spoke in his heart and his voice was not heard at all, …” (Tugwell 97).

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Stephen B. Raulston (essay date fall 1997)

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SOURCE: Raulston, Stephen B. “Poetic Craft and Dramatic Tension: The Climax of the Poema de mio Cid.La Corónica 26, no. 1 (fall 1997): 203-23.

[In the following essay, Raulston argues that the climax of the Cantar de mio Cid—the court scene that has been regarded by many critics as unsatisfactory—can be better appreciated when one has some understanding of medieval Spanish juridical institutions.]

Literary criticism has consistently praised the Poema de mio Cid (PMC) as a work of art, for its unity and concision, for its creative departures from the epic tradition. Despite this acclaim, however, the poem's climax and conclusion have proved less than satisfying, even irksome, to some modern scholars. There is something about the court scene and the scene of judicial combat with which the work closes that has offended the modern sense of dramatic structure: the real denouement—the satisfaction of the hero's honor, reparation for offenses against him, and the assurance of his family's social position- has been seen as taking place in the court, and the sense of resolution which the modern reader experiences in this scene renders the judicial duels which follow anticlimactic, at best an obligatory and unrewarding nod to epic tradition, at worst a kind of aesthetic faux pas trailing limply behind an already satisfying conclusion. Anthony Zahareas is among those who have viewed the infantes' defeat as merely “the fulfillment of an expectation” (164) and the combat itself as “an anticlimax” (168). Alan Deyermond, likewise, holds the view that it is the court hearing at Toledo which vindicates the hero; the judicial duels merely serve to ratify that decision (11). These opinions found agreement in Colin Smith, who, nevertheless, tempered his criticism with the parenthetical remark that the poem's ending is anticlimactic “at least to modern readers” (138 n. 3533), admitting the possibility that to its medieval audience the work possessed an aesthetically satisfying closure.

Another hindrance to our appreciation of the poem's final passages is what the 20th-century reader is apt to view as a flaw of characterization. Scholars have repeatedly interpreted the infantes as utter cowards, and have judged them unworthy opponents against the warrior champions of an epic hero: there is no suspense involved in seeing the brothers of Carrión fall one by one to their challengers. Even Menéndez Pidal chafed at the poet's handling of his work's climax. The epic tradition, he reminded us, pits great heroes against foes whose villainy is of a grandeur equal to that of the protagonist's virtue. The Cid poet would have done better to adhere more closely to such a model (En torno 43), and he could have improved the dramatic impact of the conclusion of his cantar (209). John K. Walsh, on the other hand, showed that the infantes as they are depicted in the final combat scene do indeed fight as “heroic adversaries”, but he still viewed as a structural flaw the “improbable metamorphoses” which they have had to undergo in order to reach the level of valor with which they compete against the Cid's vassals (100-101).

Smith's and Walsh's views, while they are still critical of the poem's concluding scenes, point to the possibility that the PMC's medieval audience was not encumbered by the expectations nor the limited understanding with which the 20th-century reader has approached the work, and that the poem's modern audience has overlooked or misunderstood some element of the charactization of the infantes of Carrión, whom the poet may not have intended to be altogether cowardly figures.

Milija N. Pavlović's and Roger M. Walker's two-part article “A Reappraisal of the Closing Scenes of the Poema de Mio Cid” and Joseph J. Duggan's The ‘Cantar de mio Cid’: Poetic Creation in its Economic and Social Contexts, released the same year, offer a reappraisal of these scenes. Both consider the passages in question in the light of the provisions of medieval legal codes and illuminate the poem's climax in keeping with the way it must have been preceived by its original audience.

Every reader, it has been noted, approaches the text with his own system of values and expectations, “which leads sometimes to new insights into the text but no doubt just as often to the blocking of vision and the denial of what to readers and listeners in other times and places was obvious” (Duggan, The ‘CMC’ 2). If we are to reconstruct the medieval reception of the PMC, then the areas of the text that require out special attention will be “precisely passages that do not fit the models and expectations that prior scholarship has provided” (3). The criticisms outlined above indicate that the court and judicial combat scenes certainly qualify as passages in need of attention.

To appreciate the legal maneuvering that goes on between the Cid and his followers and the band of Carrión in Alfonso's court at Toledo, one must understand several discrete institutions of medieval Spanish law: namely, the desafío, the riepto, and the lid or judicial combat. Manuel Torres, in 1933, commented that it would be difficult to find in the history of Spanish law any juridical institutions that have been more constantly misunderstood than these, despite the fact Spain's most important medieval legal documents contain detailed and precise regulations for each of them (161). Here we shall have recourse primarily to Alfonso the Wise's Fuero Real and Siete Partidas to resolve such misunderstanding.1 One thing the medieval legal texts make clear is that, while modern scholarship has tended to regard desafío and riepto as synonyms for a challenge to combat, the two are completely distinct legal institutions. Another essential point is that all three institutions -desafío, riepto and lid- were at the time of the poem's composition in the process of becoming exclusively associated with the rights of the nobility.

The desafío as a legal institution was based upon the assumption of a kind of tacit and mutually respected peace among all members of the noble class. This assumption of a basic state of concord among the nobility was considered ancient tradition by the time of the writing of the Fuero Real; it is a concept central both to medieval European law and to the Romance epic. The desafío itself is the formal breaking of that peace between individuals, and was a legal prerequisite for any violent action against a fellow noble. The Siete Partidas explains that the ancient premise of ties of friendship among nobility carried with it this obligation: “non fazerse mal los unos a los otros a so ora, a menos de se desafiar primeramente” (7.11 preamble). The desafío was delivered in response to a perceived wrong, either to one's own honor or person or to that of a kinsman. It was accomplished by means of the recitation of a formula, one version of which is “Tornovos el amistad, e desafiovos, por tal desonrra, o tuerto o daño, que fezistes a mi, o a fulano mi pariente, por que he derecho de lo acaloñar” (Partidas 7.11.2). This brief but formal rite was customarily carried out in public and before witnesses. It was followed by a truce, generally of nine days, after which, if the opponents had not made their peace, the offended party could legally avenge himself on his enemy or his property.

The desafío originated as a way of curbing private warfare between nobles. For example, one could not with impunity avenge a perceived offense to one's honor by launching a surprise attack on one's adversary. The offended party, if he wished to operate within the law, had first to issue a desafío directly to his opponent, naming the offense committed and formally breaking friendly relations; the accused stood warned of possible violence against him, his extended family and his property, and was afforded the opportunity to make amends or to prepare for his defense. If he did not take steps toward the satisfactory resolution of the grievance during the imposed truce period, his adversary was permitted under the law physically to attack the accused or members of his family as well as to destroy his land and property, a condition which easily escalated into private warfare at great cost to the families involved and to the society in which they lived. Homicide under these conditions was not punishable under the law. The threat of destruction was incentive to seek resolution during the legally imposed truce. Not to forewarn one's enemy, by means of the desafío, constituted a crime of alevosía (or aleve), which carried with it grave consequences.

It was precisely such a case of traición or alevosía that constituted the only possible route to the next key legal institution, the riepto, which also arose from the need to bring private warfare under control. In an attempt to curtail the violence which could legitimately take place between rival nobles following the commission of an offense, the crown established the following procedure: in cases of alevosía the offended party, with the permission of the king, could make a formal accusation at the royal court, a riepto, which presented a precise account of the offense and the conditions under which the offense had occurred. His declaration ended with an accusation of alevosía or traición against his adversary.2 The defendant was expected to deny the charge and to respond at each allegation of traición or alevosía that his accuser lied (Partidas 7.3.4). The case, according to the provisions of the Partidas, could be resolved either by recourse to judicial combat or by inquest (7.3.4) with the former preferred: “que touieron los fijosdalgo de España, que mejor les era defender su derecho, e su lealtad por armas, que meterlo a peligro de pesquisa, o de falsos testigos” (7.4.1). In other words, while witnesses might lie and documents be falsified, the proclamation of innocence or guilt via judicial duel is irrefutable, the assumption being that this formalized armed combat constituted a judgement of God.3

The riepto, then, was simply a highly ritualistic, formal accusation, which, according to the Alfonsine codes, could take place only in the king's court and only with the sovereign's prior permission, an arrangement which allowed the monarch greatly expanded control over the settlement of disputes among his noble subjects.4 Like the desafío, the riepto was accomplished by means of the recitation of a formula. In the presence of the monarch, the accused and at least twelve knights, the plaintiff must pronounce, “Señor, fulan Cavallero, que esta aqui ante vos, fizo tal traycion, o tal aleue [at which point he described the offense in detail] e digo que es traydor por ello” (Partidas 7.3.4).

Judicial combat was also regulated in detail by the law. The contest took place on a round or square field in which the contestants could be placed at equal advantage with regard to the sun. The field was delimited by stone markers or mojones, and its boundaries were carefully shown to the litigants prior to the combat. The event took place under the king's supervision with the aid of a number of officials or fieles chosen by the monarch, whose duty was to be present on the periphery of the field to insure the proper conduct of the combatants and to witness confessions of guilt and other details of the combat that might be imperceptible to the judge and the public. The guilt of the accused was manifested in the combat in one of three ways: abandoning the field, whether willfully or forced to do so by an opponent; offering a confession of guilt on the field; or being slain in combat.

Before moving from this legal background to discussion of the court scene of the PMC, it will help to retrace the events which have led up to the convocation of the cortes at Toledo. The infantes of Carrión, married to the Cid's daughters Elvira and Sol, had been living as members of the Cid's household, in his service and under his protection. Dishonored and offended by the ridicule to which they are subjected at the Cid's court in Valencia for their behavior during the episode of the escaped lion, they seek to avenge themselves on their lord by way of a premeditated physical attack upon Rodrigo's daughters. Although the offense their honor has suffered warrants issuing a desafío, which would also afford the Rodrigo the opportunity to make amends without conflict (Pavlović and Walker, “A Reappraisal” I, 7), they do not do so. Moreover they attack not the lord in whose court they have been dishonored, but the women of his household. This offense to the Cid without prior desafío constitutes, as we have seen, precisely one of the grounds laid out in medieval legal texts for the riepto or accusation of alevosía.

Alfonso convokes the court at Toledo so that the Cid may receive justice for the wrong done to him through his daughters. At Rodrigo's demand the swords Colada and Tizón, former gifts of the Cid to the infantes, are recovered. Diego and Fernando, believing that Rodrigo has chosen to proceed lightly against them by requesting only the swords as retribution, congratulate themselves on the ease with which a potentially dangerous conflict seems to have been resolved (vv. 3164-69). However, we see the infantes' relief turn to surprise and desperation when the Cid, without pause, proceeds to request the return of the three thousand marks in gold and silver which had formed part of the dowries of Elvira and Sol. Not the least complication for the brothers of Carrión is that this money has already been spent. The judges reject their protests that the demand is excessive and that restitution has already been made (vv. 3207-11), and the offenders are reduced to borrowing the sum to be repaid (vv. 3247-49).

The infantes can hardly conceive of a turn for the worse at this point. Nevertheless, they see their predicament take on yet an astonishingly graver cast at these words from the Cid:

Oídme toda la cort e pésevos de mio mal;
ifantes de Carrión, quem desondraron tan mal,
a menos de rriebtos no los puedo dexar.

(vv. 3255-57)

Rodrigo himself does not issue the rieptos, but his verbal attack on his former sons-in-law lays the foundation for the rieptos proper later on.

Dezid, ¿qué vos mereçí ifantes [de Carrión],
en juego o en vero o en alguna razón?
Aquí lo meioraré a juvizio de la cort.
A la salida de Valençia mis fijas vos di yo
quando las non queriedes, ya canes traidores,
¿por qué las sacávades de Valençia sus honores?
¿A qué las firiestes a çinchas e a espolones?
Solas las dexastes en el rrobredo de Corpes
por quanto les fiziestes menos valedes vós.

(vv. 3258a-3268)

This speech stresses a number of important elements of the infantes' offense and Rodrigo's response to it. By offering to make amends in court for any transgression that may have justified the attack on his daughters, Rodrigo stresses that the afrenta de Corpes was not preceded by a desafío: the infantes failed to declare their hostility, and he had no opportunity to make amends. Their crime is made yet more repugnant with regard to the law by a series of aggravating circumstances which Rodrigo emphasizes: the offense was premeditated, and the spurs and harness straps with which the injury was inflicted were proscribed arms (Lacarra 89; Fuero de Cuenca 2.2.18).5

It is significant, however, that, although Rodrigo laid the basis for the charge of alevosía or traición that will shortly be made against his opponents, he ends his address to the court with an allegation of a lesser nature, that of menos valer. While it ranked below alevosía in gravity, menos valer was nevertheless a highly serious assertion, not a crime but a specific legal state which included, among other undesirables, noblemen who broke a solemn oath, those who could be proven to have lied in court or who recanted statements that they had made there (Partidas 7.5.2), and, by extension, those defeated in judicial combat. The enfamado was no longer considered the equal of other men at the king's court; he could not hold any royal office or dignity, could not testify in court, issue rieptos, participate in judicial combat or even reside in the king's household (Partidas 7.5.1, 7.5.3, 7.7.7; Duggan, The ‘CMC’ 44). The offense committed by the infantes at Corpes would have rendered them guilty of menos valer because it constituted a breach of the promises made by them in court on the occasion of their betrothal to Elvira and Sol by king Alfonso as well as a breaking of the solemn oaths of fealty which preceded their marriage vows (Duggan, The ‘CMC’ 45). Rodrigo's success in upholding this accusation would place them “on the same social level as juglares, pimps, bastards, and usurers, not only dishonored in public but subject to legal disablements” which could possibly encumber their descendants as well (45). All this is inferred even before the first riepto has been issued.

From its first utterance, the word rieptos strikes fear in the hearts of Carrión. The family's response to Rodrigo's address is swift and is designed to subvert the impending accusations of alevosía by placing in doubt the Cid's legal capacity to make such assertions. García Ordóñez, count of Cabra, rises to take the first step in the Carrión strategy of discrediting Rodrigo. He states that Elvira and Sol are unworthy matches for men of such lofty social stature as the Infantes de Carrión:

Los de Carrión son de natura tal
non ge las devién querer sus fijas por varraganas,
o ¿quién ge las diera por pareias o por veladas?
Derecho fizieron por que las han dexadas.

(vv. 3275-78)

The count is never given the opportunity to explain why the daughters of Castile's most celebrated warrior lord are inferior in dignity to concubines. He is shamed into silence and his authority as an arbiter of worth is impugned when Rodrigo reminds him before the assembly of an incident in which he, the Cid, once pulled out a handful of García's beard, an offense which the count lacked the valor to avenge.6

The infante Fernando, however, rises to take García Ordóñez's place with a curious declaration. He seems at first to acknowledge a position of juridical disadvantage by appealing to Rodrigo that he not pursue rieptos, reasoning that sufficient restitution has already been made in the form of the returned swords and dowries. But he concludes by repeating almost verbatim the words with which García Ordóñez had begun to question the suitability of Rodrigo's daughters for marriage.

At this point Rodrigo's nephew Pero Vermúdez rises at his uncle's urging to accuse Fernán González of treason in the first of three rieptos to be delivered by the Cid's men. And here again, the epic coincides exactly with the law: one of the few instances in which the Partidas stipulate that a person other than the offended party may issue a riepto is in the case of a vassal who presents the riepto on behalf of his lord (7.3.2; Pavlović and Walker, “A Reappraisal” I, 11). A riepto can only be issued in a charge of traición or alevosía, and Pero Vermúdez, in addition to evoking the infante's infamous acts against Rodrigo's daughters, recalls the battle of Valencia during which the infante Fernando fled the field and had to be defended against his Moorish attacker. The accuser also recalls the episode of the escaped lion, where Fernando failed to join the rest of the household in defending his sleeping and defenseless lord, fleeing instead to hide beneath the Cid's bench. The accusation of desertion in battle intersects with Partidas 7.2.1, the sixth of whose fourteen examples of traición is abandoning one's lord in battle or leaving the fray without his permission.7 It follows that the second charge of failing to protect the Cid against the escaped lion was also viewed as constituting alevosía. Pero Vermúdez labels his opponent traidor and promises to validate his claim through judicial combat. He has accused Fernando of alevosía on not one but three counts.

Pero Vermúdez's charge prompts another outburst from the Carrión clan, this time from Diego González, the second infante, whose assertion regarding the unsuitability of Elvira and Sol for marriage to him and his brother marks the third time in these cortes that the mysterious allegation has been made.

He is answered on the Cid's side by Martín Antolínez, who, like Pero Vermúdez before him, accuses his opponent of treason. This time the charge is made on only two counts: the deplorable behavior of the accused in the episode of the lion, and the dishonor done to Rodrigo's daughters at Corpes.

We now have two rieptos—two accusations against two infantes for offense against two daughters. The third accusation, curiously, is not related to the offense for which the court was convened. Ansur González, brother of Fernando and Diego, has not been present for the first part of the court proceedings, and, in the Per Abat version of the story, has not participated—other than through his kinship to the accused—in the affront to the Cid's daughters. Up to this point he has been named only in passing in the poem, as present at the infantes' nuptial celebrations (vv. 2172-73) and as one among the clan of Carrión in attendance at the cortes (v. 3008). He makes a brusque entrance, apparently for the sole purpose of making derogatory and rather cryptic remarks in reference to the Cid's association with a mill in Vivar:

¿Quién nos darie nueuas de myo Cid el de Biuar!
Fuesse a Rio d'Ovirna los molinos picar
E prender maquilas, commo suele far!”

(vv. 3378-80)

This assertion and the third riepto together have long been regarded as something of an enigma. Deyermond has considered the poet's sudden introduction of Ansur González to be unnecessary in terms of the requirements of the plot, suggesting rather that the poet is acting out of a subconscious need to adhere to the patterns of folk tradition, three being “a favorite number for narrative units in a traditional tale” (16). Ian Michael characterizes Ansur's appearance and Muño Gústioz's response to his insults as an “adición gratuita”, whose only virtue is that it allows the poet to explore almost all the possible results of judicial combat in the passage concerning the duels (89). Pavlović and Walker attribute the third riepto to the Germanic principle of clan solidarity and collective responsibility (“A Reappraisal” II, 200).

Such views point up our general misunderstanding of what the words of Ansur González's sudden outburst mean in the context of this court scene. What does an association with mills have to do with the preceding accusations of alevosía? Duggan convincingly reveals that what seems to be simply an irrelevant insult by Ansur González is actually nothing less than a charge of bastardy against the Cid which carries with it serious legal implications (The ‘CMC’ 48). Ansur's insult seems cryptic to the modern reader for two reasons. First, it is deliberately couched in obscure and allusive terms in order that the insult itself not constitute a crime (52).8 Moreover, the taunt refers to an oral legend, now virtually unknown, that would have been familiar to the poem's medieval audience. The Spanish ballad tradition contains references to Rodrigo as a commoner, the product of the illegitimate union of a nobleman and a villana (49).9 In addition, a genealogical treatise found at the end of the Crónica particular del Cid of 1512 constitutes proof of an early 16th-century version of the Cid legend in which the hero's mother is indeed a miller's wife: “E por que algunos que no han leydo la cronica del Cid: piensan que este don Diego Laynez ovo al Cid ruydiaz en vna molinera. sepan que no es assi” (fol. 104v, col. 1; cited in Duggan, The ‘CMC’ 50).

This passage and others from the Crónica particular also form the basis of a 16th-century bifolium document now housed in the library of the Hispanic Society of America, a sentencia concerning the legitimacy of the Cid's birth, which purports to be the very judgment rendered by Alfonso VI in the cortes of Toledo depicted in the epic poem (Duggan, “A False Sentencia”). The content of the document is, of course, as fictitious as are the cortes of the poem. The king's sentencia is directed to the infantes: “A lo que dizen los infantes y condes, que sodes hidalgos mas que el Cid, a esto vos digo yo que lo teneis mal aprendido, que no lo pretendistes bien”. And Alfonso goes on to trace Rodrigo's genealogy, stressing that the Cid's lineage and his own are linked. He ends with the declaration, “y assi viene de la mas alta sangre de Castilla, y de mas que el Cid es el mas honrrado home, e tan acabado qual nunca ouo otro tal en n[uestr]o linaje”. The document's docket bears the inscription “Copia de la declaracion q[ue] el rey don Al[fon]so hizo en favor del Cid Ruy Diaz por estar infamado de villano contra verdad” (96).

It is clearly the purpose of the poet of the PMC to assert the legitimacy of the lineage of the poem's hero and to subject it to divine affirmation. Unless we acknowledge this, Ansur González's accusation seems superfluous, unrelated, and unequal in gravity to the others.10 When the third accusation is understood, however, its gravity and structural importance become clear: to claim successfully that Rodrigo is of illegitimate birth is to nullify his status as a fijo dalgo, his participation at court and, most importantly for the purpose of the clan of Carrión, the status of his daughters. To prove such an assertion would indeed justify the infantes' claim that they considered Elvira and Sol to be less than concubines and unworthy of ties of marriage to men of extremely noble lineage. The successful defense of this claim would simultaneously nullify all charges against Fernando and Diego González and bring the Cid's family to disrepute.

Duggan notes that when the Cid poet places elements of his tale in groups of three he does so in an order of ascending dramatic impact: Rodrigo's three gifts to Alfonso, his three judicial demands, and, here, the three exchanges of accusations. The third charge, far from being superfluous, becomes the climax of the series of accusations (The ‘CMC’ 51); because of it there is more dependent on the judicial duels than offenses which seem already to have achieved partial redress.

Ansur González's slur is met with a swift challenge by the Cid's man Muño Gústioz. As the last in this accelerating sequence of challenges is fired off, king Alfonso, perceiving the dangers inherent in the too-rapid escalation of conflict, calls an end to the procedings.

Seen from this perspective, the court scene can no longer be regarded as the true climax of the poem. The passage carries the protagonists as well as the audience of the poem from what promises to be an easy resolution, through a series of cunning judicial maneuvers, to a point at which everything most dear to each side of the dispute is in danger of being lost. By the close of the court procedings, everything has been risked and nothing resolved. The infantes stand accused of alevosía; the bastardy of the Cid has been alleged. Because of the legal consequences of both accusations, the vanquished risk the devastation of personal and family honor, social prestige, political future.

The poet's brusque and unexpected introduction of the character and accusation of Ansur González is not only the brilliant climax to the escalating pace of the court episode, it is also the single element that gives the subsequent combat scene dramatic purpose and the poem satisfying closure. The audience of the work knows that the infantes are guilty, and its perspective on their villainy is more complete than that enjoyed by any character in the poem. The audience has been privy to the private expression of their base motivations, seen Fernando's secret defection on the battlefield, even witnessed every detail of their perversion and cruelty at Corpes. It is unfathomable that such villainous conduct, laid before God, go unpunished. The poet's dramatic genius lies in his introduction at precisely this juncture of an element of doubt: his surprise interjection of a character about whom we know almost nothing, but who wields a claim strategically calculated to exonerate the unworthy infantes and wreak the greatest possible dishonor on the Cid.

Far from being the poem's climax, the cortes scene emerges instead as a real cliff-hanger, laying the groundwork and supplying dramatic tension for the duels which follow. The medieval audience, furthermore, would have understood that the rieptos are not an end in themselves; formal accusations of such consequence not followed by irrefutable judgement would have seemed ludicrously incomplete and unacceptable.

The offers of marriage to Elvira and Sol from the princes of Navarre and Aragon which are the final element of the court episode have been partly responsible for the critical tendency to find dramatic resolution in this assembly and not in the judicial combats. Such alliances do indeed eventually represent the apogee of Rodrigo's rise from exile, the very culmination of the thematic exposition of the poem's honor motif. Yet what the royal messengers proffer here is the potential of second marriages, not their realization. Elvira and Sol would be as unfit for the princes of Navarre and Aragon as for the counts of Carrión should the hero's low birth be proved, and that charge is yet pending. The poet has masterfully introduced the suggestion of lofty marriages at this suspenseful moment in order further to intensify his swiftly created dramatic tension: Rodrigo now risks losing not only what he has gained so far for himself and his family, but also the extraordinary promise of a direct link to two royal houses of the Peninsula.

There still remains the question of whether or not the infantes as characters are worthy adversaries in the decisive ordeal of the judicial duels. I have alluded already to criticisms that their behavior on the field of combat is so far superior to their comportment in Valencia that it strains the imagination; there is no denying that in the past they have been guilty of cowardly self-interest. But they have also handled arms with enough dexterity during their nuptial festivities to merit Rodrigo's approval (vv. 2245-46). Moreover, Pavlović and Walker note that the infantes' vanity “is stronger than their fear … they are no mere cowards, for, as before the battle against Búcar, they are capable of mastering fear -albeit only for a short time- when their honour and pride are at stake” (“A Reappraisal” II, 196). At no time in the poem have their honor and pride been more at risk than before the judicial combats. Under these circumstances, it is significant that the brothers do not choose to exercise their option as reptados to be represented in the judicial duels by champions.11 Their decision to confront in person opponents of superior strength and military experience “makes them worthy adversaries in daring, at least” (196). Such a move may not be motivated by valor, but, against Menéndez Pidal's criticism that epic heroes require epic foes, one may justifiably respond that, just as the Cid possesses the qualities of rectitude and military prowess in epic proportions, what is equally epic about the brothers of Carrión is their cruelty and their vanity, a vanity so inflated and consuming that it is capable of producing acts of valor in men who lack more laudable motivation.

The infantes request that the combat take place not, as King Alfonso has suggested, in Toledo, which would have the been the expedient solution, but rather in Carrión, ostensibly because they require additional time to procure mounts and equipment for the contest, having been obliged to present all their available horses and arms as payment to Rodrigo. Their petition is possibly also motivated by a conviction that the location and the presence of their extensive and powerful family will give them an advantage. The infantes may have considered Valencia merely the frontier court of a lesser noble, but in the judicial combat they appear in the seat of their family's power, in the villa which bears their name, surrounded by their relatives and vassals, with their family and personal honor and their own political future at stake. These circumstances and the infantes' epic pride provide sufficient motivation for their valiant behavior in the duels.

The combat is begun, and all six contestants charge their respective opponents at one time. Although the action is short lived and all combat takes place simultaneously, the poet—grappling with a classic narrative problem—offers a sequential account of each encounter at this point, again adopting a triadic structure by describing the encounters in the order in which the accusations were made and thereby saving the point which will decide Rodrigo's fate until the end. Fernando attacks Pero Vermúdez “sin todo pavor” (v. 3625) and wields a lance with such skill that it pierces his opponent's shield and breaks in two places (v. 3626). He suffers a direct blow from Pero's own lance which pierces his chest, and is thrown to the ground when the cinches of his saddle give way. Seriously wounded, and threatened by the approach of Pero Vermúdez, who is still mounted and brandishing the celebrated Tizón, Fernando concedes defeat.

After a fierce exchange with lances against Martín Antolínez, Diego González finds his helmet destroyed and, bare-headed, deliberately guides his mount out of bounds to escape the merciless sword blows being dealt him by his assailant, who is declared victorious by the king (v. 3646-69). Finally and most importantly, Ansur González takes on Muño Gústioz. Ansur is “Furçudo e de valor” (v. 3674), and like his brother, runs his lance through his adversary's shield (v. 3676). His own shield, however, is soon destroyed, and he is completely run through by the lance wielded by Muño Gústioz, who gives the weapon a sharp twist in order to unhorse his impaled opponent (vv. 3683-86).

When the infante Fernando is wounded in the first duel by Pero Bermúdez, those watching fear that the blow has been a mortal one. But the poet takes pains to inform his audience that Fernando's leather upperbody protection is of triple thickness, which probably saved his life: “Tres dobles de loriga tenié Fernando, aquéstol' prestó” (v. 3634). The lance point has penetrated the flesh “una mano” (v. 3637), but the wound has left Fernando able enough to declare his own defeat (v. 3644). Ansur González, on the other hand, has suffered a graver blow. The lance has entered one side of his chest and come out a six-foot length on the other: “metio'l por la carne adentro la lança con el pendón. / dela otra part una braça ge la echó” (vv. 3683-84).12 Next, the weapon has been twisted to wrench him from the saddle (vv. 3683-86). The poet's juxtaposition of “una mano” in reference to the depth of penetration of Fernando's wound and “una braça” for Ansur's seems aimed at accentuating the gravity of the latter, which corresponds to the gravity of the question being decided in this encounter. In contrast to Fernando's defeat, Ansur González is rendered unable to make any move of his own to end the combat: it is his father, Gonzalo Ansúrez, who must declare defeat on behalf of his son. As for those who witness Ansur's downfall, “Todos se cuedan que ferido es de muert” (v. 3688), and in this case it seems certain that they are right.

Deyermond has emphasized the “complete and perfect” punishment in having Diego's and Fernando's lives spared so that they must live with dishonor just as they had spared the lives of their wives for the same reason (16). How much more perfect this justice when the authors of the crime at Corpes, former owners of Colada and Tizón, are defeated by those very swords in the hands of new and more worthy owners (Michael, “Tres duelos” 88) and survive to live on in dishonor, while the author of the attack on the legitimacy of the Cid's birth dies at the hands of the Cid's man, impaled by a lance with Rodrigo's banner attached. Throughout the poem Rodrigo's white pendón has symbolized the hero's honor and status. It is entirely appropriate that the Cid's birth and social rank be definitively affirmed in a judgement of God in which the man who had dared to call their legitimacy into question dies transfixed by this very symbol, the white banner of the Cid's honor, cleansed in the blood of his accuser. It is towards this graphic and symbolically charged moment that the pace and tension of the poem's final scenes have been crafted. This is the poem's climax.

A final point. The abundance and accuracy of legal detail here and elsewhere in the poem have led some scholars to conclude that the author of the work was a learned individual familiar with the practice of law (e.g., Lacarra 255). Of the critics who have explored the legal content of the PMC, however, few have acknowledged what the poem's legal content says about the legal acumen of its audience.13 The preoccupation of a medieval epic with the law and its impact on feudal relationships is not unique to the PMC. We see the same detail, the same structural importance given to legal questions in the Chanson de Roland,14 in Raoul de Cambrai and other epic poems. The Cid poet's assumption of his audience's knowledge of the law is no different from Gonzalo de Berceo's taking for granted that his audience was familiar with the law surrounding the desafío.15 Indeed we could say that the centrality of legal issues is characteristic of medieval narrative in general. Duggan notes examples of a knowledge of the law in the lais of Marie de France (The ‘CMC’ 67), and we have only to point to Tirant lo Blanc and Curial i Güelfa to show that a concern with the copious legal detail surrounding judicial combat continues into the later chivalric novel in Spain. It is doubtful that any of these works was written by a legal specialist. Tirant, at least, we know was written by a knight, not a jurist.

The elements shared by both medieval law and medieval works of literature should indicate to us that medieval law was intimately linked with literature and that its workings and ceremonies were common knowledge and part of public life. R. Howard Bloch reminds us that “from the appearance of the first works in the vernacular until the era of printing, literature was, to a much greater degree than today, a collective phenomenon whose modes of creation and dissemination involved the community as a whole …” (1). Public literary performance signified, for Bloch, “a complicit act of self-definition on the part of audience and performer”; the text in performance became “a locus in which shared values were publicly—orally and ritualistically—communicated and affirmed” (2).

The public performance of epic poetry, with its gesture and formulas, its preocupation with the past and with the struggles and values of a society, resembled the enactment of legal procedure. The language of the legal text, conversely, assumed a literary quality: the Partidas, in codifying the law, regularly employ a story with a beginning, middle, and end in order to present and explain the law as it was traditionally practiced. Moreover, the depiction of certain aspects of legal practice itself was an essential element of the literary object: in narrative, Bloch states, “at least one scene of judicial combat, oath or ordeal appears to have been a sine qua non of poetic production” (4). Both literature and law “fulfilled in different ways a common purpose—the affirmation of an acknowledged set of shared beliefs and aspirations through the articulation of a collective history …” (3).

When medieval literature and law are seen in this light, it is in no way extraordinary that poets, as well as their audiences, who were not jurists, should be familiar with the minute details of a traditional, public, and oral legal system.

Thanks to current research on the works's legal content and on the true meaning of Ansur González's remarks, a re-evaluation of the final scenes of the PMC has been made possible. It is only now that we can appreciate the poem's cortes episode as an extremely well-wrought crescendo of dramatic tension, which achieves its climax and resolution through a heroic combat in which justice triumphs eloquently over pride and the legitimacy of the hero is divinely affirmed. Yet the legal knowledge necessary to that understanding should not lead us to the conclusion that the poet was a legal professional or that he was trained in the law. He knew the law because the law was oral, public, and traditional, and he incorporated the law as he knew it into his work with the assurance that it would be recognized and understood by his public.


  1. Alfonso the Wise's legal codes are the clearest and most thoroughly developed written record of regulations regarding the institutions that interest us. We refer to them here always with the awareness they are the product of a monarch intent on legal reform and were compiled over half a century later than the writing of the Per Abat text. The discussions of Alfonsine legislation set forth in this study are based primarily on Book 4, titles 17 and 21 of the Fuero Real; Partida 7, titles 2-6, 11, 13; and Partida 4, title 13.

  2. The terms alevosía and traición at the time of the writing down of the poem had broad meanings which included failure to observe the regulations pertaining to the desafío as well as to the breach of one's obligation of fealty to a feudal superior. The Cid poet uses the terms interchangeably, and this appears to have been the norm until the legislative projects of Alfonso X. Partida 7.2.1 determines fourteen offenses which, when committed against the king, the kingdom, or the common good, constitute traición, while the same acts against any other superior constitute alevosía.

  3. Pavlović and Walker claim in their study that the judicial duels in the PMC are not a judicium Dei (“A Reappraisal” I, 12; II, 189-91). I believe that they are misguided in this statement, led astray by Otero Varela. Otero, for his part, takes from the Portuguese scholar Luis Cabral de Moncada the idea that the result of judicial combat among members of the nobility was not considered to be a revelation of divine judgment. Moncada believed that the judicial duel as conducted among noblemen was a phenomenon altogether distinct from the judicial duel recorded in the early municipal fueros of Spain and Portugal. My own research suggests that customary law and the fueros were in fact the source of the provisions for judicial combat gathered in the compilations of territorial and, later, royal law, and that efforts to cast the judicial combat as anything other than the judgment of God were most likely an innovation of Alfonso X. The learned king sought to alter the nature of the judicial duel as a judicium Dei by modifying several of its essential elements: in contrast to previous provisions in the municipal fueros, under which the accused had no choice but to submit to the combat (see, e.g., the Fuero de Cuenca 2.2.1), Alfonso placed the decision regarding the method of proof in the riepto in the hands of the accused and provided him with alternatives to the combat in the form of inquest, witnesses, and documentary evidence (Partidas 7.3.4). He further proclaimed that the litigant who was slain on the field of combat be declared innocent if he died without confessing his guilt, whereas previously the death of either contestant had been interpreted as an infallible act of divine intervention (7.4.4). Against tradition, which held a knight's leaving the field for any reason to be an act of God, Alfonso decreed that the combatant who crossed the boundaries of the field due to some defect in his equipment or to the fault of his mount could re-enter the contest without penalty (7.4.4). Finally, The king reserved the right to proclaim a litigant innocent even if he were proven guilty in court or on the field of combat (Fuero Real 4.21.5).

    In delineating the methods of proof admissible in the courts, the Partidas acknowledge the judicial combat as an ancient method of proof still in use among noblemen and commoners in the second half of the thirteenth century. But Alfonso targeted this practice for suppression, “porque aquel que ha voluntad de se aventurar a esta prueba semeja que quiere tentar a Dios nuestro señor, que es cosa que él defendió por su palabra …” (3.14.8). In attempting to modify contemporary practice, the king merely confirms the status of the judicial duel as a method of proof and the popular conviction that its outcome was a manifestation of divine judgment. De batalla (c. 1251) a treatise on judicial duels possibly used by judges in the court of the veguer of Barcelona (Bohigas 24), calls for the judgment of God in cases where evidence is insufficient: “E si provar non pot, sia jutjada la bataya, cor lavors deu hom recórrer al juy de Déu com prova d'omens falex” (82). Custom as preserved in the fueros and in territorial compilations so closely associates judicial combat with the system of ordeals or iudicia Dei as methods of proof that some documents refer to all ordeals, including those of hot iron and boiling water, by the term batalla (e.g., the fueros of Palenzuela, Lérida, Jaca, and Caparroso: Muñoz 276, 330 n.5, 235, 391). That the Cid's champions make the sign of the cross over their saddles before entering the field is probably an indication of the expected intervention of the Almighty in the approaching contest. At the close of the judicial combats, the poet attributes the victory of Rodrigo's vassals not to their skill at arms but to God: “Por ondrados se parten los del buen Campeador, / vençieron esta lid, grado al Criador” (vv. 3695-96, my emphasis; all quotations from the PMC correspond to the edition by Ian Michael). At least one chronicle account, the Crónica del famoso cauallero Cid Ruydiez, campeador, or Crónica particular del Cid, has Alfonso himself acknowledge the role of the Almighty in the outcome of the duels: “& [Alfonso] gradesciolo mucho a dios por que veya gran miraglo & gran vengança de los que gran desonrra fezieron a el & al Cid” (cap. 267, fol. 89r, col. 1).

  4. It seems that this exclusive control was an innovation. Widely used custom drawn from municipal sources by the Libro de los Fueros de Castiella, the oldest surviving compilation of Castilian territorial law, indicates that the riepto could take place in municipal courts as well as before the king: “Esto es por fuero de todo omne a quien reubta por traydor a otro omne. & dize que gelo conbatra en casa del Rey. o en la villa …” (Título 110, fol. 40 v).

  5. Furthermore, under the heading for “Homicidio”, Joaquim de Santa Rosa de Viterbo's Elucidario transcribes a Portuguese notarial document from the year 1200 which indicates that under medieval law abandoning a wife (even without attacking her physically and endangering her life) was a crime whose gravity equalled homicide and was cause for criminal charges against her husband: “Ego Gontina Gonzalviz ganavi istos quatuor casales de viro meo Petro Menendiz, pro eo, quod demisit me, et ut homicidium non haberet inter gentem meam, et suam” (315). The homicidium refers not to a true homicide but to the state of enmity which would have existed between the husband and the woman's extended family had restitution not been made (314; Hinojosa 69 n.1).

  6. In the municipal fueros to tug, cut, or pull out the hairs of the beard constituted an extremely grave offense which incurred a fine and a declaration of enmity between the culprit and the offended party. If the accusation were contested, it could lead to a judicial combat (Fuero de Cuenca 2.2.10).

  7. Partidas 7.2.1: “La sesta [i.e., the 6th example of treason] es, si alguno desamparasse al Rey en batalla, o se fuesse a los enemigos, o a otra parte, o se fuesse de la hueste en otra manera, sin su mandado, ante del tiempo que deuia seruir”. Though this section is dedicated to traición regia, the text makes clear that what is stipulated with regard to the king applies also to a vassal's offenses toward his lord.

  8. The implicit manner in which the issue of lineage is raised here is exceptional. Epic tends to emphasize and to underline key points, and one would expect similar treatment of an issue so central to the economy of this section of the work. Yet the taunt of Rodrigo's illegitimacy is couched in the same obscure terms not only in the Crónica de veinte Reyes (Libro X, cap. 81), which closely follows the Per Abat text, but also in the Primera Crónica General (cap. 943), and the Cronica del famoso cauallero Cid Ruydiez, campeador of 1512 (cap 255, fol. 85v), texts whose treatment of the Cid legend's characters and events sometimes differs notably from that of the epic manuscript. Moreover, in the latter two chronicles, the gravity and scandalousness of the allegation, despite its indirectness, shock the court, provoke Pero Bermúdez to deal the accuser a fist blow to the face, and very nearly reduce the royal assembly to a brawl. In both epic and chronicle accounts, then, the oblique charge of bastardy has an explosive effect that must have been comprehended by the audience. And the fact that in none of these texts is the charge made explicit leads us to conclude that those critics are correct who suggest that “bastard” was among the terms which could not with impunity be used against a man in public.

  9. Duggan cites the romance “Ese buen Diego Laínez”. See also romance number thirty-one of Menéndez Pidal's Flor nueva de romances viejos (191-93), in whose version of the court scene the infantes themselves affirm, “Nós somos fijos de reyes, / sobrinos de emperador; / ¿merescimos ser casados / con fijas de un labrador?”

  10. Fourteenth-century historiographers indeed seem to have perceived a lack of relationship here. Pattison (135) has noted that among the chronicle accounts of the Cid story the Crónica de veinte reyes adheres closely to the Per Abat text while another cluster of chronicles (including the Crónica particular del Cid, the Primera crónica general, the Crónica de Castilla, the Crónica de 1344, and the Crónica Ocampiana) differs significantly from the epic text without any great divergence in narrative content among its own members. This group's departures from the Per Abat version consist largely of embellishments aimed at rationalizing actions and events in the epic poem which the chroniclers judged unlikely or enigmatic (138). One such modification is their common justification of Ansur (Suero) González's participation in the judicial duels: they make him advisor and co-conspirator to Diego and Fernando in their plot to avenge themselves at Corpes, and his direct involvement in the crime leads Alfonso to order the third duel. Pattison concludes that logical, literate historiographers regarded Ansur González's role in the epic version of the court scene as insufficiently related to the afrenta de Corpes and felt compelled to justify it in the same way that they tidied up other details of the story that had not encumbered the epic poet or his public. This does not, however, imply that the chroniclers were unaware of or unconcerned with the issue of Rodrigo's lineage. They coincide in having García Ordóñez, instead of Ansur González, issue the slur against the hero. While the poet of the Per Abat text grants the question of legitimacy a more prominent role by making it the subject of a judicial combat, epic and chronicle texts alike raise the issue of lineage in the court scene and resolve it, directly or indirectly, in the judicial duels.

  11. Partidas 7.4.3 confirms the right of the accused to be represented in the judicial combat by a champion if he desires, with the stipulation that “deue ser par, tambien en linaje, como en bondad, e en señoria, e en fuerça (…)”. Similar language occurs in the Fuero Real 4.21.21. Unlike some other Alfonsine provisions for riepto and judicial combat, this one does not represent an innovation on the part of the monarch. Collections of Castilian territorial law which were privately compiled and gathered from municipal fueros and oral custom contain the same option: Libro de los Fueros de Castiella, Título 110, fol. 40v.

  12. A braça (‹ L. Bracchia, neuter plural of Bracchium, according to Corominas), is defined by the Real Academia Española as the distance between the thumb of one hand and that of the other with the arms extended horizontally, approximately six feet.

  13. The only two, to my knowledge are these: Duggan: “The complex of legal charge and countercharge that one encounters in the trial scenes poses challenges to the modern reader's competence to understand it. Phrases that the characters appear to be uttering haphazardly or in passing take on weighty meanings when placed in the context of medieval Castilian law. Obviously the poet took for granted that his contemporaries would understand their import …” (The ‘CMC’ 54, my emphasis) and Peter N. Dunn: “I suggest that literary scholarship has too easily assumed the unfamiliarity of legal documents in the daily life of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Land contracts, deeds of gift, diplomas and fueros … must have been the only forms of writing, apart from the Bible, with whose contents everyone was acquainted in some degree” (264). Dunn's insistence on written law corresponds to his focus on the mandato real with which Alfonso announces the hero's banishment early in the poem. What he says of documents would have been even more true of oral law.

  14. For a discussion of the central importance of the desafío and of legal questions to the structure of the Chanson de Roland, see Mickel “Ganelon's Defense” and Ganelon.

  15. It is generally accepted that Berceo's Milagros were intended for an audience of pilgrims, i.e., people of all walks of life. In his tale of Guiralt, romero de Santiago, Berceo includes the realistic detail that the pilgrims who discovered their friend's lifeless and grotesquely disfigured body on the road to Santiago were deeply perplexed by his having died in so violent a manner, because they knew that no one had defied him:

    Quando los companneros que con elli isieron
    plegaron a Guiraldo e tal lo vidieron,
    fueron en fiera cuita en qual nunqua sovieron;
    osto cómo avino asmar no lo pudieron.
    Vidién que de ladrones non era degollado,
    ca no'l tollieran nada ni'l avién ren robado
    non era de ninguno omne desafiado,
    non sabién de quál guisa fuera ocasionado.

    (194-95; my emphasis)

Works Cited

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———. Fuero Real. Leyes de Alfonso X 2. Ed. Gonzalo Martínez Diez. Ávila: Fundación Sánchez Albornoz, 1988.

Berceo, Gonzalo de. Milagros de Nuestra Señora. Ed. Michael Gerli. 5th ed. 1985 Madrid: Cátedra, 1991.

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Bohigas, Pere. Noticia preliminar. Tractats de cavalleria. Els Nostres Clàssics, Collecció A, 57. Barcelona: Editorial Barcino, 1947. 9-42.

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Duggan, Joseph J. “A False Sentencia de Toledo, the Legend of the Cid's illegitimacy, and the Question of his Nephews”. Romance Philology 48 (1994): 95-110.

———. The ‘Cantar de mio Cid’: Poetic Creation in its Economic and Social Contexts. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge UP, 1989.

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Essays and Criticism