Cantar de Mío Cid

Cantar de Mío Cid
   The Cantar de Mío Cid, or Poema de Mío Cid as it is also known, serves as the only remaining literary manifestation of an essentially complete epic poem in Castilian. Like classical epic poems such as The Odyssey or The Iliad, the Cantar de Mío Cid is a narrative poem that recounts the challenges, successes, and failures of Rodrigo de Vivar—the epic hero.Rodrigo, also known as the Cid—meaning lord in Arabic— lived from 1043–99 and gained the epithet campeador, or “great warrior,” for his bravery in establishing the border between Navarre and Castile in the early 1060s. The epic story of Rodrigo was immortalized by Hollywood in 1961 with El Cid, starring Charlton Heston as Rodrigo and Sophia Loren as his wife, Jimena. Unlike many cinematic adaptations, El Cid substantially relies on the epic poem for its plot, characters, and themes. The poem itself consists of 3,730 poetic lines and is divided in three parts or cantares. Rodrigo’s epic struggle has two aspects: the Cid’s political estrangement from King Alfonso; and the personal crisis related to the dishonor of his daughters by their husbands—the Infantes de Carrión. One of the many artistic achievements of the Cantar de Mío Cid is the manner in which the poem intertwines such different plot lines, creating a tapestry in which Rodrigo reveals himself both as a brave soldier and military strategist as well as a father and husband. The first cantar centers on King Alfonso’s decision to give credence to those members of the court who are jealous of Rodrigo and have accused him, in his absence, of having stolen much of the Moorish tribute that he was charged with collecting. Accepting the king’s order for his exile from Castile and León, Rodrigo visits his wife, Jimena, and his two young daughters, Elvira and Sol, to say good-bye. Rodrigo cries openly (v. 277) and appeals to God to allow him successfully to marry his daughters. The remainder of the first cantar centers on Rodrigo’s need to survive and provide for his entourage of vassals. He achieves this by conquering Moorish lands and finally capturing the count of Barcelona, whom he frees after three days of imprisonment.
   In the second cantar, the Cid’s military victories continue with the conquest of Mediterranean lands, including the city of Valencia. Additionally, Rodrigo gains considerable wealth through the defeat of the king of Seville and King Yucef of Morocco. In each case, he sends a portion of this new wealth to Alfonso to whom he continues to remain faithful even in exile.At Alfonso’s court, jealousy of the Cid and his success grows to the point that the noble but cowardly Infantes de Carrión offer to marry the Cid’s daughters in order to enrich themselves. Unaware of their true motives, the king agrees to the marriages and pardons the Cid. The second cantar concludes with the marriage of Elvira and Sol—the Cid’s daughters—in Valencia. The final cantar brilliantly interweaves the Cid’s heroism in battle with his love and concern for his family. The Cid’s sons-in-law repeatedly reveal their cowardice both in the Cid’s household in Valencia and in battle against King Búcar.Confronted with the Cid’s growing wealth and power as well as the mockery of their behavior, the Infantes decide to take revenge on the Cid through their marriages to Elvira and Sol. They request to take their leave of Valencia in order to show Elvira and Sol their homeland in Carrión. Upon arriving in Corpes, they spend the night and make love to their wives. But the following morning, they instruct their entourage to go ahead while they brutally beat Elvira and Sol, leaving them for dead. The Cid’s reaction to this dishonor is significant in that he does not immediately take revenge. Rather, he demands justice of King Alfonso, who calls all the parties to court in Toledo. At court, the Cid requests the return of his prized swords—given as gifts to the Infantes—as well as the dowry that he had bestowed on them. In addition, he demands an explanation from the Infantes as to why they dishonored his daughters. When they boast of their behavior, the Cid requests that his family’s honor be restored through battle. At this moment, two messengers arrive at court asking for the marriage of the Cid’s daughters to the princes of Aragon and Navarre, of which they will be queens. This proposal will bring much additional power, wealth, and honor to the Cid, and King Alfonso accedes to the proposal. As scheduled, three weeks later, the representatives of the Cid not surprisingly defeat the Infantes de Carrión. The poem closes with the remarriage of Elvira and Sol, a symbolic act that genetically connects all future kings of Spain to the Cid—the national epic hero. This connection between the Cid and the kings of Spain has contributed to the nationalist interpretation of the Cantar advocated by the great Hispanist Ramón Menéndez Pidal (1869–1968). In His “traditionalist” conception of the origins of the Cantar, Menéndez Pidal sought to free the poem from any foreign influence—especially the French epic tradition—and he asserted that the poem emerged from a process of collective authorship around 1140. This theory has been countered by the British Hispanist Colin Smith, who has proposed an “individualistic” interpretation of the poem’s origins. He has suggested that a man named Per Abad wrote the poem around the year 1207—the date with which the poem closes. For Menéndez Pidal, Abad is not the author but the scribe, or copyist, and the date is not the date of the poem’s original composition but rather of the creation of the sole existing manuscript.
   Aside from its nationalist implications and the competing theories of authorship, the Cantar de Mío Cid is distinguished by its realism. In contrast to the Chanson de Roland (SONG OF ROLAND) in France, the Cantar de Mío Cid is “veristic” epic. The Cid is not a superhuman figure but a man who does heroic deeds as he loves and cares for his family.He does not seek conflict with King Alfonso or the Moors but harmony on both a political and personal level. At the same time, the Cantar contains moments of humor and irony. Just as a nineyear-old girl can show bravery when the people of Burgos hide in their homes, the Infantes can show their cowardice when a lion escapes its cage in the Cid’s household.
   ■ Chasca, Edmund de. El arte juglaresco en el Cantar de Mío Cid.Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1967.
   ■ ———.The Poem of the Cid. Boston: Twayne, 1976.
   ■ Montaner, Alberto, ed. Cantar de Mío Cid. Barcelona: Crítica, 1993.
   ■ Menéndez Pidal, Ramón. Cantar de Mío Cid. 3 vols. Madrid: Bailly-Baillière, 1908–1911.
   ■ ———. En torno al Poema del Cid. Barcelona: E.D.H.A.S.A., 1963.
   ■ Smith, Colin. The Making of the Cid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
   John Parrack

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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