Download El Cid Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes

(Epics for Students)

The Cantor de mio Cid tells the story of a Spanish warrior who, disinherited by his king and driven from his lands, finds wealth, social success, validation, and acceptance through his great military prowess and strength of character.

Nobility and Class
An epic about a highly successful social climber, the Cantar de mio Cid has much to say about the concept of nobility. For example, the Infantes de Carrión are characterized as members of the upper nobility, they have vast land-holdings and enjoy high status in King Alfonso's court. They marry the Cid's daughters for their money, but later describe these marriages as "concubinage," implying that this match is null and void because of the vast difference in class between the Infantes and the Cid.

According to medieval Spanish law, those of illegitimate birth cannot legally marry, and can only be concubines, rather than legitimate wives. The hint of illegitimacy can be found in lines 3377-3381, where the brother of the Infantes, Ansur, implies that the Cid is the son of a miller. In the later romances of the Cid, the tradition notes that the Cid's father raped a miller's wife, who gave birth to the Cid. The allusion to bastardy on the part of the Cid and, by extension, his daughters, makes the theme of nobility even more dramatic, especially when someone of such low birth garners enough allies and supporters to challenge the insults to the Cid's family's legitimacy flung at them by the highest stratum of society. When, by the end of the poem, we are informed that, after the Infantes are soundly defeated, the Cid's daughters' marry princes whose alliance causes them to be related to subsequent kings of Spain, we know that the Cid, as a self-made man, has "arrived." Nobility, then, does not simply stem from one's birth into a social class. An individual, according to the Cid, can work to augment one's status as a person of quality. One way to do this, in medieval Spanish society, is to demonstrate great generosity.

Generosity and Greed
The definition of a "gift economy" is an economy in which an individual gains prestige by giving gifts. These economies are illustrated, for example, by the "potlatch" festivals in which the chief of certain Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest gives away huge amounts of money and other forms of wealth. In the Cid, the hero proves his worth by, literally, giving it away. This epic is filled with itemized lists of each piece of war booty that the Cid and his followers win after each battle; the Cid himself is careful to use his fifth of the winnings to send magnificent presents to the king to, essentially, buy back favor. The Cid also is generous with the Church, sending money regularly to the Abbey of Cardeña to assure God's favor. In addition, he is generous even with his victims, allowing the residents of one of the cities that he conquers to return to their homes, and freeing Ramón Berenguer, count of Barcelona, from captivity. An interesting exception to the Cid's generosity is the repayment of Rachel and Vidas, the Jewish moneylenders who are themselves shown to be especially greedy, and whom it seems the Cid never pays back. The Infantes of Carrión, the Cid's typological opposites, are noted for their lack of princely generosity. By the end of the epic, however, the Cid is proven to be a man as worthy as King Alfonso when the king is forced to admit that the Cid's generosity embarrasses him (1.2147). It is more noble to give than to receive in this society.

Cowardice and Bravery
Just as generosity is the mark of a noble man, bravery in battle is likewise an important characteristic of the ideal hero. The Cid, of course, is the epitome of the brave warrior, using tactics and courage to defeat armies of superior numbers. Bravery, like generosity, is not necessarily linked with one's inherited social status. The comic episode in which the Infantes de Carrión hide under a couch and behind a wine cask when a lion escapes illustrates the importance...

(The entire section is 1,150 words.)