Historical Context

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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...

(This entire section contains 1517 words.)

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the throne in 1158, as often happens when a child becomes king, a struggle ensued for control over his education and for control over the government. The Lara clan, staunch supporters of Alfonso VIII, were soon embroiled in a feud with the powerful Castro family, whose interests were not served by Alfonso VIII's lifelong program to unite Castile and Leon against the Moorish threat to the south. A critical moment was reached in 1195, when Alfonso VIII of Castile attacked the Moorish stronghold of Toledo. Alphonso VIII suffered a monumental defeat at the hands of the Moorish Almohad caliphs. Importantly, Pedro Fernández de Castro, head of the Castro family, who were related to the Infantes de Carrión and the Beni-Gómez clan, fought on the Moorish side in this battle. The Lara family, who had remained loyal to Alfonso VIII of Castile, saw Pedro's actions as traitorous to the cause of Castile and Leon. Joseph Duggan, a notedCid scholar, sees the 1207 Cantar de mio Cid as a praise poem for the historical Cid that is also a shame poem for the Beni-Gómez family, a representative of whom was considered a traitor to Alfonso VIII, who was a descendant of the Cid himself. The Lara family, in addition, benefitted from a praise-poem about the Cid since they were also related to him through marriage. By writing a poem about the exploits of a famous fighter of Moors who, in the process of winning lands and booty, caused a rival clan to lose face, the author of the 1207 Cid might have been writing a propagandists poem which praised an ancestor of Alfonso VIII and the Lara clan while functioning to incite renewed efforts against the Moors after a dramatic defeat during the darker days of the Christian Reconquest of Spain.

The Reconquistà Never far in the background of the Cantor de mio Cid is the long history of the Spanish Reconquest of Muslim territory, which began in the early Middle Ages and was nearly completed by the middle of the thirteenth century. The last Muslim enclave, Grenada, was annexed by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in 1492, thus completing a long and painful reordering of the Spanish peninsula. In the early history of the Reconquest, Christian success came in direct proportion to the strength of Islamic Spain. Tension between the kings of Astunas, Castile, and Leon and the rulers of Portugal, Navarre, and Aragon-Catalonia often undermined the Christian program to gain territory, but by the end of the Middle Ages, only Portugal remained separate. With the Reconquest and the resettling of territory came accelerated development of the towns, with the consequence, among others, that Christian religious centers were reestablished, restored, and expanded. With the expansion of Christian territory, many Muslims and Jews came under Christian rule. For the most part, a relatively stable coexistence was maintained; Muslims and Jews were allowed freedom of religion and their own law codes as long as they paid regular fees (tribute) to the Christians.

Authorship of El CidIntense scholarly debate has raged over the question of the identity of the Cid's author. Critics are divided into two camps, the "traditionalists" and the "individualists." The former group, led by Ramón Menéndez Pidal, believes that the poem was composed as an oral composition soon after the historical Cid's death, and was written in a manuscript only later, thus negating the importance of the idea of a single author for the poem. The "individualists," on the other hand, (championed most recently by Colin Smith) insist that a single, brilliant author wrote the poem in 1207. Some critics point to Per Abbad, the name that appears at the end of the poem, as the author, although the text states that this personage "wrote" the text (escrivó), indicating that he was the copyist rather than the author. Opinion on the subject is so divided that individualists tend to call the work the "Poema" of the Cid, whereas traditionalists entitle it the "Cantar," or Song of the Cid, to emphasize its oral origins. The interpretation of the text varies widely according to the stance of a given critic with regards to the text's authorship and the author's intentions.

The person who wrote the 1207 version of the text was undoubtedly a talented author. The individualist school (especially the British Hispanists) insists that the author had extensive knowledge of the law and the Bible, and used written historical documents to bolster the more historically sound sections of the epic. Traditionalists tend to discount all three of these claims, maintaining the oral nature of the transmission of this information during the presumed era of composition, which, for Menéndez Pidal, was around 1140. In addition, they note the archaic nature of the language of the 1207 text itself. Despite the quality of this literary text as it has come down to us in its single manuscript, the traditionalist viewpoint has prevailed in recent years. This view is bolstered by research by "neo-traditionalist" scholars who draw on new findings in the oral tradition in literature by scholars such as Albert Lord and Milman Parry, who suggest that the written versions of the most famous epics that we possess are but one manifestation of a chain of oral versions. The debate about authorship has dominated epic research during the past century, but with increased understanding about the role of orality in medieval literature and new scholarship about the status of the author in this era, the problem can be approached in new ways.

Literary Style

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Meter 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 collecting epic songs from the "singers of tales" in Yugoslavia, these scholars noted that, while the meter of the songs remained regular when they were sung, when the researcher requested that the singers recite the works without singing, the meter became irregular. Harvey and Deyermond theorize that the Cid may have been originally collected from a recited, rather than a sung, source, which might explain its metrical irregularity.

The Epic Epithet The epic as a performed literary form tends to present characters as representatives of certain human traits. One technique that works to emphasize these specific characteristics is the epic epithet. This technique forces the reader/listener to concentrate on the most important traits of a given personage. The Cid, for example, is'"El de Bivar," "the man from Vivar," emphasizing the importance of the Cid as a landowner and locating him within a matrix of local politics. He is the good "Campeador," "master of the battlefield." King Alfonso, interestingly, recieves few epithets while his relations with the Cid are antagonistic. When he pardons the Cid, he receives more favorable epithets. Important places, such as Valencia, can also receive epithets.

Ring Composition The form of many epics, as oral literature, is shaped, according to some scholars, by the characteristics of oral memory and composition. Specifically, patterns of repetition, formulaic expressions, standard themes such as battles, marriages, and reconciliations emerge. Often, a circular pattern that serves as a frame adds shape and clarity to the narrative. The Cantar de mio Cid has such a shape according to Cedric Whitman and Walter Ong. The first Cantar, for example, reveals ring composition. In line 1, we learn of the adversities and anguish resulting from the Cid's exile and of the convocation of vassals; and later, in lines 48 through 63, we hear of the benefits and jubilation resulting from the Cid's conquests and of the increase in number of his vassals. Similarly, this type of repetition of themes and ideas can be seen in lines 2 through 22, with the departure from Castile accompanied by ill omens and the promise of masses, and in lines 40 through 47, which depict the return of Minaya Alvar Fáñez to Castile with favorable omens and masses paid. Ring composition draws the listener's attention to important parallels in the work, and is a device commonly used in oral literature.

Compare and Contrast

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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 no state religion, but the Roman Catholic Church receives state support. The vast majority of Spaniards are Catholic.

1090s: The feudal system of government, characterized by a personal relationship between a vassal and a lord, gained ground in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Spain. Spanish feudalism, as is demonstrated in the Cid, consisted of the promise of service to a lord, and was sealed by kissing the lord's hand. In Spain, however, the triangular shape of feudal society was overshadowed by the role of the king as military leader; in the epic, the Infantes and the Cid all work for the king, although they are of unequal rank.

1207: The rise of towns in the thirteenth century added a new aspect to the relationship between king and vassal, as towns demanded increasing governmental autonomy.

1990s: Spain is a constitutional monarchy, led by the popular King Juan Carlos I, who regained the throne after the dictator Franco died in 1975.

1090s: Spain in the eleventh century is noted for the sometimes uneasy cohabitation of Muslims, Jews, and Christians. The Cid chronicles the efforts of Christians to reclaim Muslim lands, lost in the eighth century. In Christian territory, Jews were isolated, but were also under the protection of the king. Muslims were distrusted, and were also isolated in ghettos in the cities. In Muslim territory, whose inhabitants had constructed a specific culture, Jews and Christians enjoyed relative lenience. The relativistic attitude towards Muslims is demonstrated in the Cid, for example in the depiction of the Cid's moorish ally Abengalbón. The Jews, on the other hand, are shown in harsher light.

1207: The thirteenth century and the later Middle Ages are generally considered to be a period of increased oppression of minority groups in Spain. An important Church council decreed that Jews wear a distinctive dress in 1179 and 1215. A great pogrom against the Jews erupted in 1351, and the Muslims were also oppressed. In 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain.

1990s: Today, there are about 250,000 non-Catholic Christians, around 12,000 Jews, and a growing Muslim community of over 300,000 whose numbers are increasing because of immigration from North Africa.

Media Adaptations

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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 playwright Guillen de Castro's 1618 play The youthful deeds of the Cid, available in translation from Exposition Press, 1969.

At least two operas also drew on the Cid legends, including Antonio Sacchini's II Cidde of 1784, available from T. Michaelis, 1880; and Jules Massenet's 1885 opera Le Cid, Columbia Records, 1976.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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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 structure, form, and meaning of this epic, with chapters on the epic epithet, number symbolism, the role of time, and the epic's cultural context.

Deyermond, A. D. "The Singer of Tales and Medieval Spanish Epic," Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Vol 42, no. 1, 1965, pp. 1-8. This article can be read as a companion to Harvey's 1963 article on orality and the Cid.

---- "Tendencies in Mio Cid Scholarship, 1943-1973," in his "Mio Cid" Studies, pp 13-48, Tamasis Books, 1977. Deyermond presents a useful survey of Cidian scholarship in this article.

Duggan, Joseph J. "Formulaic diction in the Cantar de mio Cid and the Old French Epic," in his Oral Literature: Seven Essays, Barnes and Noble, 1975, pp. 74-83. Duggan shows how the formula, a key aspect of oral literature, is present in the Cid.

---- The "Cantar de mio Cid": Poetic Creation in its Economic and Social Contexts, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 6, Cambridge University Press, 1989. In this important book, J. Duggan studies the economy that is depicted in the Cid, a text obsessed with money, populated by characters who are "surely the most acquisitive heroes in any epic poem composed in a Romance language" (p. 37) and the economy of Spain during the central Middle Ages. He also discusses the importance of lineage and legitimacy in the epic, as well as the social milieu of the poet and the possible reasons behind his choice of events to include in his text.

Hamilton, Rita. "Epic epithets in the Poema de mio Cid," Revue de Littérature Comparée, Vol 36, no 2, 1962, pp 162-78. Hamilton's article is an in-depth study of the epic epithets in the Cid.

Harney, Michael. Kinship and Polity in the "Poema de mio Cid," Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures 2, Purdue University Press, 1993. Harney fills an important scholarly gap with this book, in which he draws on social science to study the idea of social class in this epic. According to Harney, the Cid chronicles not the emergence of one social class but of the idea of class itself. In the process it also demonstrates how the invocation of transcendant power to put clans in their place indicates the emergence of the state.

Harvey, P. T. "The Metrical Irregularity of the Cantar de mio Cid," Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Vol 40, 1963, pp 137-43. Following Lord's suggestion that metrical irregularities in the Cid may be a sign of oral composition, Harvey explores the meter of this epic.

Lacarra, María Eugenia. El Poema de mio Cid realidad histórica e ideologíca, Ediciones José Porrrúa Turanzas, 1975. In an important thesis, Lacarra portrays the Cid as a politically slanderous poem, written to debase the Bem-Gómez clan, including García Ordóñez, Alvar Díaz, and the Infantes de Carrión, who were the historical ancestors of the Castro family, a powerful force in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Castilian politics, to the benefit of their rivals, the Lara family, who were related to the Cid.

Lord, Albert B. The Singer of Tales, Harvard University Press, 1960. Reprint, 1971. This classic study of epic performers in Yugoslavia gave rise to the field of oral literature; "neo- traditionalists" or "oralists'' such as Duggan owe much to Lord. Note: This work was earned out under the guidance of Milman Perry, an eminent scholar of orality in the Homerian epic tradition.

Menéndez Pidal, Ramón. The Cid and his Spain, J Murray, 1934. Although parts are outdated, this history of the Cid and his cultural context is another seminal work by the great Spanish scholar.

———. ed. Cantar de mio Cid. Texto, gramatica y vocabulario, 3 vols., 3rd ed., Obras Completas, Vols. 1-3, Espasa-Calpe, 1954-56. This edition of the poem is a classic, and has been used by generations of Cid scholars.

Michael, Ian, ed. The Poem of the Cid: A Bilingual Edition with Parallel Text, Penguin Books, 1984. Michael's edition of the epic is one of the most accessible for students, and contains a useful introduction.

O'Callaghan, J. F. A History of Medieval Spain, Cornell University Press, 1975. Offers an in-depth analysis of the history of the periods during which the Cid was composed and written.

Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, Routledge, 1982. This is Walter Ong's seminal work in which he studies how oral literature is transformed when it is written down, and how literature which is composed as a written document differs from oral literature.

Russell, P. E. "San Pedro de Cardeña and the heroic history of the Cid," Medium Aevum, Vol 27, no. 2,1958, pp. 57-79. Russell demonstrates the ties between the tomb cult of the Cid at San Pedro de Cardeña and the Cantar de mio Cid.

Smith, Colin. The Making of the "Poema de mio Cid," Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1983. Smith's book offers the most radical and recent expose of the "individualist" theory of the Cid's authorship.

Spitzer, Leo. "Sobre el carácter histórico del Cantar de mio Cid," Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica, Vol 2,1948, pp 105-17. In this article, an eminent literary scholar contests Menéndez Pidal's approach to the Cid as a historical document, later obliging the latter to somewhat amend his position. Spitzer points out the unhistorical aspects of the poem, especially the episode of the beating of the Cid's daughters by the Infantes, and suggests some reasons for this fictionalization.

Webber, Ruth House."The Cantar de mio Cid. Problems of Interpretation," in Oral Tradition in Literature: Interpretation and Context, edited by John Miles Foley, University of Missouri Press, 1986, pp. 65-88. This article includes a useful overview of the "individualist" and "traditionalist" controversy in Cidian scholarship.

West, Geoffrey. "Hero or Saint? Hagiographic Elements in the Life of the Cid," Journal of Hispanic Philology, Vol. 7, no. 2, Winter, 1983, pp. 87-105. West suggests that the Cid, as a character, shares some aspects with saints whose lives are described m hagiographical legends.

Whitman, Cedric H. Homer and the Heroic Tradition, Harvard University Press, 1958. This study of Homer contains interesting discussions of ring composition, a characteristic technique of oral literature.




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