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El Cid - Spain's epic hero and poem
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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,
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.
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