El Cid - Spain's epic hero and poem

Statue of El Cid in Burgos, Spain.
Statue of El Cid in Burgos, Spain. | Source

El Cid 1043 - 1099

Every country and / or people has its epic poem that defines its culture, values, and heroism. One of the most famous epic poems in the English language is Beowulf. In the Spanish culture and language, that epic poem is Cantar del Mio Cid (The Poem of El Cid). But, who was El Cid? Actually, El Cid was a real human being that lived in medieval Spain, not just a character devised from someone's imagination.

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar was also known as El Cid Campeador, which means "The lord-master of military arts." He was a Castilian nobleman, military leader and diplomat in Spain during the 11th century. He had been exiled from the court of the Spanish Emperor Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile.

During exile from the royal court, El Cid went on to command a Moorish force under Yusuf-a Mu'taman ibn Hud, and Moorish kin of the northeast region of Al-Andalus in the city of Zaragoza, Spain. At this time in Spain's history, the Moors had invaded from N. Africa and conquered the entire Iberian Peninsula in 711 AD. El Cid became famous and heroic in his efforts to rid Spain of the Moors and began the Reconquista. (Reconquest of Spain).

After the Christian defeat at the Battle of Sagrajos in 1086, El Cid was recalled to service by Alfonso VI to command a combined Christian and Moorish Army. With his successes in battle, El Cid created his own fiefdom in the Moorish Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia. He married the cousin of King Alfonso VI, Dona Jimena and they had one son and two daughters. They lived a happily married life and family life in Valencia, Spain.

Rodrigo Diaz, El Cid, was educated in the royal court of Castile and became the Alferez, the chief general of Alfonso VI and was the king's most valuable asset in the fight against the Moors and the Reconqista of Spain,


Existing  manuscript of El Cid.  Today, it can be seen in the National Library in Madrid, Spain.
Existing manuscript of El Cid. Today, it can be seen in the National Library in Madrid, Spain. | Source

Cantar del Mio Cid

The title can be translated to The Song of My Cid or The Poem of the Cid. It is the oldest preserved Castilian epic poem. An epic poem is defined as a lengthy narrative poem (tells a story) concerning a character of high position and containing detail of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation.

Cantar del Mio Cid is based on a true story and tells of the Castilian hero, El Cid, and takes place during the Reconquista or reconquest of Spain from the Moors during medieval times. It is a popular poem handed down from generation to generation and being changed in the process.

Many of these epic poems were meant to be performed in public by minstrels who each performed the traditional composition differently. Many times these minstrels added their own twists to the epic poem they told. These renditions were usually passing the epic poem down by word or mouth or by performing the content.

The author of the poem is anonymous and to this day the author of this work is a mystery. The only existing copy of El Cid, which you see one page of to your right, was signed by Per Abbad - Abbot Peter in 1207. It is believed he was not the author, but the monk who copied the epic poem and is an example of the learned poetry that was cultivated in the monasteries and other centers of erudition. This existing copy forms part of a 14th century codex in the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana (The National Library of Spain) located in Madrid, Spain.

It is written in medieval Old Castilian, which was the ancestor of the modern Spanish language. Historians have determined that it is written in a language of a cultured author, a lawyer who worked for some chancellery, since he knows accurately the legal and administrative language with technical precision and he understands the style of the medieval cantares de gesta. The existing copy of El Cid is incomplete as it is missing three pages.

The Story

El Cid has married the cousin of King Alfonso VI, Dona Jimena. However, El Cid has fallen into the disfavor of the king and had to leave his home country of Castile. The poem begins with the exile of El Cid. His enemies had unjustly accused him of stealing money from King Alfonso VI and this has lead to his exile.

To regain his honor, El Cid has won battles against the Moorish armies and conquered Valencia, Spain. By these heroic acts, El Cid regains the confidence of the king and his honor is restored.

The two daughters of El Cid marry some weak, cowardly princes who beat the two daughters and leave them for dead. When El Cid learns of this, he fights the two princes, defeating them in duels and stripping them of all honor. The marriages are annuled.

El Cid's two daughters remarry the princes of Navarre and Aragon of Spain and through these two marriages, El Cid begins the unification of Spain.

The tone of the poem is realist. Spain's epic poem is unlike other medieval European epics in that there is no magic in the story as there is, for example, in Beowulf. Spain's epic poem does depart from historic truth as there is no mention of El Cid's son and his daughters never married princes or were queens.

There are more than 3,700 verses to the poem. Each verse has a caesura between the hemistiches and the rhyme of the poem is assonant - it rhymes by the vowels within the lines. A caesura in meter is a complete pause in a line of poetry. It is used especially in heroic verse form. A hemistich is a half-line of a verse followed and preceded by a caesura, that makes up a single overall prosodic or verse unit. (a coherent unit of verse.)

Heroic epic poems define a country and a culture and Spain's Cantar del Mio Cid does just that. We cheer for the brave El Cid, who perseveres adversity and fights for the honor of his daughters and they in turn begin the reconquest of Spain from the Moors. This is the chivalric medieval hero who defines what a Spanish man is all about and defines the importance of uniting Spain under the Spanish and their culture and driving the Moors back to Northern Africa.


Copyright (c) 2012 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved


Charlton Heston is El Cid

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Comments 16 comments

whonunuwho profile image

whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

Magnificent tribute to El Cid,suzzetenaples. It is great that we have such heroes to lead us and represent what we believe, and then serve as a grand model of the power in spirit.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

What is interesting about El Cid is that he was a real person and not fiction so he really defines the epitome of Spanish medieval chilvary and the whole unification of Spain. Thanks for stopping by to read this and I'm glad you enjoyed this.


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

You hit a soft chord in my heart. Thank you. El Cid is one of my favorites! You did a real good job. The legend and the man is epic. It use to be hard to tell where one ends and the other began.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Mhatter: Glad to hear I picked one of your favorites - El Cid. Thanks for the kind complements. I like El Cid because it is based on a real human being, unlike Beowulf, who is fiction. Thanks for reading this and for your insightful comments - most appreciated!


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

This was a great history to see as I didn't now much about El Cid, Suzette. First thing that stood out was the ever changing allegiances right before and during the Reconquest. Another thought is how in the eleven- hundreds the church and monastery-type scribes were generally the only ones who could read and write well enough to record or recopy great works like the El Cid poem. We're lucky that one original manuscript survived the centuries- amazing!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

I'm so glad you enjoyed this Alastar. I think El Cid was angry at being ousted from court, so he fought for the enemy. I think he was winning so the king wanted him back. I agree, we are very lucky to have one of the original manuscripts today. Can you imagine writing these out by hand over and over again? We are so used to keyboarding on our computers, we hardly write anything by hand anymore. Thanks so much for the visit and I can't believe I found an historical figure you didn't know much about. This is a first! LOL


epigramman profile image

epigramman 4 years ago

I remember seeing a movie called El Cid with Charlton Heston? or Yul Brynner? with my dad as a kid - so this was very rewarding to finally discover all about the real El Cid and with your world class attention to detail and content in every historic/cultural hub that you write is always delivered to your readers like a true labor of love - lake erie time ontario canada 12:10am and sending you warm wishes and good energy ....


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Epi: I am so glad to hear from you. That one poem of yours had me a little concerned. I love the kitty photo much better than the other guy. The angle or something about that picture was a little weird. Anyway, thank you so much for reading my El Cid hub. He started it all in the Spanish culture. I, too, have seen that movie. It was Charleton Heston who played El Cid and he did him justice. Sophia Loren played his wife or a love - I forget which, but it is one of my favorite old movies. I haven't seen that one in ages. Thanks for the visit - and I love that you are back to your old self - no pun intended.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 4 years ago

....yes Epi is just an attention getter (between you and me -lol) or a performance artist, if you will, in reference to my 'gag' hub - bye bye from epi-man bye bye.

The other avatar was Alex as played by Malcolm Mcdowell in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange -

and yes that is Little Miss Tiffy who is now 17 years old and was my mum's cat - and the last link to my family because I don't have one anymore in this world - and no she is not a beer drinker - well at least not that I know of - lol - although the photographer put down his can of beer when he took the picture - lake erie time 1:21pm and a return to summer this afternoon with a nice warm breeze off the lake


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

I thought it was a joke - but, then, we just recently had someone come out on HP and I thought, no - this isn't Epi's way of telling us. . . So, I am thrilled to hear from you. The other avatar - I thought it looked familiar and then I thought, why would I know it and think it is familiar? Well, that explains it. Little Miss Tiffy is adorable and I bet she brings you lots of affection and love. Your biological parents may be gone, but all of us here in HP love you to death, Epi. Take care and I love Ontario - just at the moment I'm in Ohio and just across the lake from you. Sending you greetings from Ohio 6p.m. Ohio time!


tom_caton profile image

tom_caton 3 years ago from The Desk

I love the El Cid story, especially how he thrived despite losing all court favor, all for Alfonso to come begging.

Fantastic hub!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 3 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thanks so much! I have always loved this story also - great epic poem.


tom_caton profile image

tom_caton 3 years ago from The Desk

I also love epics based in mythology, such as the Poetic Edda

(or is that just a loose collection...)


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 3 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Interesting! I haven't heard of Poetic Edda - I'll have to look into that. Yes, the mythic epics are also interesting and usually have magic or fantasy in them. I have always enjoyed El Cid because it is based on an actual person, but I also loved reading Beowulf in English literature class. Thanks so much for the visit and for your insightful comments!


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 15 months ago from london

Very stimulating Hub and story, Suzette. Thank you for writing it. I loved the Cid.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 15 months ago from Taos, NM Author

manatita: So glad you enjoyed this. I love the El Cid story also.

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