El Cid Extended Historical Criticism

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(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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 It is one of the oldest Spanish historical documents in existence, and the only Spanish cantar de geste (song of heroic deeds) to have survived almost completely intact.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...

(The entire section is 102,387 words.)