Historical Context

(Epics for Students)

Spain and Feudalism
The shape of Spanish society, as opposed to the situation in France, was not strictly or formally organized by feudal ties that linked a lord to a vassal who, in return for protection, provided military services. Although the social structure in Catalonia (the northeastern corner of Spain) was influenced by France, the northwest was original. The fine gradations of northern feudal society in Spain, become a more or less direct relationship between a man and his king. As the Cantar de mio Cid shows, the sign of the lord-vassal relationship is the kissing of hands. The reason for this less-stratified shape of society has to do with the Reconquest of Moorish Spain and with the resettlement of the lands taken from the Moors. Peasants occupied these frontier lands, often taking up arms to defend their new territory, militia-style. The king, on the other hand, retained his power as warlord, as the organizer of these campaigns against the Moors. The kings of the Spanish provinces ruled effectively over their comparatively small kingdoms, thus remaining in touch with their subjects. Northern feudal society is characterized by two factors: the vassal-knight's monopoly of military duty, and the dominance of the various ties of vasselage—the dependance and reliance of one man on another—over other forms of government. Spanish society, organized to combat a numerous and formidable enemy, rather than to maintain interior peace, took on a different shape. In the Cid, written down in the early thirteenth century, the emergence of the state as a larger organizing force can be charted in the evolution of the portrayal of King Alfonso who, once he pardons the Cid, acts as an arbiter between warring clans. The people who made up Spanish society then included the Christians, who organized themselves in "households" (made up of criados), and who were classified as ricos hombres or wealthy men; infanzones , also called caballeros (the Cid is an infanzon); and knights. There were two types of peasants: the serfs, or solariegos, were tied to the land and were not free to move, whereas the behetrías were freemen, and sometimes moved to the borderlands to become "peasant knights."

Late Twelfth-Century Politics and the 1207 Cid
One of the most important recent studies of the cultural context within which the Cantar de mio Cid was written is María Lacarra's 1980 study on history and ideology in this epic. She considers the poem a frankly propagandistic work that functions as a denunciation of an important Leonese family whose ancestors were hostile toward the Cid. The historical background of the tension between the powerful Beni-Gómez family and the historical Cid seems to uphold this theory. During the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a power struggle developed between the provinces of Castile and Leon. The historical Cid was involved in one phase of these developments. The Cid was the head of the armies of King Sancho II of Castile, but upon Sancho's death, his brother, Alfonso VI, became king of Castile and Leon. Alfonso cultivated relations with the obviously talented Cid, marrying his cousin Ximena to the Cid and verifying his land holdings in Vivar. Alfonso sent the Cid to collect tribute from the Moorish king of Seville in 1079. While in Seville, the Cid confronted García Ordóñez, who was attacking Seville in the company of the king of Granada. The tension between the Cid and García Ordóñez is charted in the epic, and is expanded to reflect the clan feud that marked Castillian politics of the late twelfth century.

When the young Alfonso VIII of Castile ascended the throne in 1158, as often...

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Literary Style

(Epics for Students)

Discussions of the Cantar de mio Cid's narrative technique tend to revolve around the unusual irregularity of the epic's meter. French epic, for example The Song of Roland, is characterized by its regular, assonanced ten-syllable lines. The French epic is organized in "laisses," or unequal blocks of text that are grouped by their assonance, that is, the similarity of the last vowel of the line. Additionally, each line has a strong hemistich, also known as the "caesura," or pause between the first four syllables and the final six. Thus, in The Song of Roland:

Rollant est proz / e Oliver est sage; Ambedui unt / merveillus vasselage (11.1093-94)

The narrative technique of the Cid does share some similarities with this pattern. The epic is constructed of 152 assonanced laisses with a strong hemistich. Thus:

De los sos ojos / tan fuertemientre llorando, tornava la cabeça / e estávalos catando (11 1-2)

However, as this example indicates, the length of the verse is extremely irregular, and is termed "anisosyllabic." The verse length in this poem can vary from eight to twenty-two syllables. This irregularity has puzzled critics who attempt to locate the variance in meter to the original source of the epic. P. T. Harvey and A. D. Deyermond compare the epic to the oral literature researched by Milman Parry and Albert Lord. When...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Epics for Students)

Sources for Further Study
Bloch, Marc. Feudal Society, 2 vols University of Chicago Press, 1961.
Marc Bloch's classic study of the society of the Middle Ages in the West includes a useful discussion of feudalism m Spain, in Volume I, pp. 186-87.

Clissold, Stephen. "El Cid: Moslems and Christians in Medieval Spain," History Today, Vol. 12, no. 5, May, 1962, pp. 321-28.
This article, written for the popular press and including interesting illustrations, was written after the 1961 film brought renewed attention to the Cid.

De Chasca, E. El arte juglaresco en el "Cantar de mio Cid,'' 2d ed. Gredos, 1972.
De Chasca offers in-depth studies of the...

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Compare and Contrast

(Epics for Students)

1090s: The primarily agricultural economy of medieval Spain was influenced by the Reconquistà. The repopulation that accompanied the capture of Moorish territory led to the establishment of fortified Christian towns which became economic centers for international trade. The Cid, however, depicts an archaic gift economy, in which a man's status depends on how much wealth he can win and then distribute.

1207: Towns garner increasing population and importance, trade increases, and commerce expands. The expansion of the market economy, dominated by monetary exchanges, credit, and international commerce, characterizes this period.

1990s: Spain's inclusion in the European Union shows that it has a strong economy. However, unemployment remains around 21%, the near-worst rate in Europe in 1996.

1090s: Christian culture was in the process of a great renewal, which started with the Church reforms begun in the monasteries of Cluny and Cîteaux in France. Bishop Jerome, in the Cid, is a figure linked to these reforms; in the epic, his arrival in Spain demonstrates the effect of the French reforms on the Church of Spain.

1207: A new wave of reforms, including the movement headed by the Spaniard Domingo de Guzman, established the Dominican Order in 1215. The Dominicans were later instrumental in the administration of the Spanish Inquisition.

1990s: Spain has...

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Topics for Further Study

(Epics for Students)

When the apparently advantageous marriages between the Cid's daughters and the high-born Infantes de Carrión have been contracted, the daughters thank their father, saying, "Since you have arranged these marriages, we are sure to be very rich." What is the place of women in the society described in the Cantar de mio Cid? Compare the different women in the epic, including Ximena and her ladies in waiting. What is the traditional role of women in epics? How is the Cid different? Why do you think later interpretations of the legend of the Cid concentrated so intensely on Ximena as a heroine?

The Cid is well-known for its relativistic portrayal of Muslims and Christians, especially compared to the contemporary epic the Song of Roland, where "the Christians are right and the pagans are wrong." Research the intercultural relationships between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Spain in the Middle Ages. Try to present the points of view of each of these groups about the other communities. Have some of the stereotypes about Christian, Muslim, and Jewish cultures persisted in the twentieth century?

The Cantar de mio Cid displays a restless "frontier spirit" in which a growing population turns its attention to new lands to conquer. Find narratives of the American West and compare them to passages in the Cid that demonstrate similar attitudes towards a frontier.

The Cid, as a character, is sometimes...

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Media Adaptations

(Epics for Students)

The best-known modern media adaptation of the Cantar de mio Cid is El Cid, the 1961 film produced by Anthony Mann and starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. It draws on later romance versions of the Cid legend, and is considered one of the finest epic films ever made. It was restored and re-released by Martin Scorsese for Miramax films, and is available on home video.

Another famous adaptation of the Cantar, also drawing on later texts, is the play Le Cid by Pierre Corneille, written in 1637 and published in translation by John Cairncross. See The Cid Cinna; The theatrical illusion, by Pierre Corneille, Penguin Classics, 1975.

Corneille, in turn, drew from the Spanish...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Epics for Students)

The Song of Roland, an epic roughly contemporaneous with the Cantar de mio Cid, takes place on the frontier between France and Spain, in an atmosphere of impending doom which contrasts strongly with the exhuberant conquests of the Cid.

Pierre Corneille's The Cid, written in 1637, reflects the turbulence of France under Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII, more than the turmoil of Reconquest Spain.

The twelfth-century Pilgrim's Guide to Compostela offers a different view of medieval Spain: that of the pilgrim who traveled to Compostela on the Western coast of Spain to visit the famous shrine of Saint James.

Ibn Hazm, a theologian from Cordoba (994-1064), wrote the...

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