Cid, El (Cantar de mio Cid, El poema del Cid, Song of My Cid)

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Cid, El (Cantar de mio Cid, El poema del Cid, Song of My Cid)

Cid, El (Cantar de mio Cid, El poema del Cid, Song of My Cid)

A puzzle for medievalists, the anonymous Spanish epic Cantar de mio Cid (Song of My Cid), also called El poema del Cid (The Poem of the Cid), transforms popular Castilian and Valencian legend into a literary tale of clashing empires. The text lionizes Rodrigo (also Ruy) Diaz de Vivar (ca. 1043-99), called El Campeador (the champion) for his skill at hand-to-hand combat. The feats of El Cid (“the Lord” or “the Master,” from the elision of the Arabic al-Sayyid) carry the Christian warrior from his home north of Burgos, the capital of Castille, to his death and cult veneration in Valencia on Spain's east central coast. During his coming of age at the palace of Ferdinand I, the Cid became fast friends with the future king, Sancho II. At age 22, the Cid rode as commander of the royal vanguard. Two years later, he won battlefield acclaim for besting the Moors at Zaragoza and for reducing the Islamic king al-Muqtadir to a vassal. Sancho's war against his brother, Alfonso VI, king of Leon, ended in death for Sancho and alienation for the Cid at court, even after his marriage to the king's cousin, Jimena of Oviedo.

Various folk treatments of the Cid's unenviable political position picture him as a master of psychological tactics, especially for asking advice from his military staff and for doing the unthinkable. In 1079, he trounced an insidious enemy, Count Garcia Ordonez, during the Granadine invasion of Cabra outside Sevilla. At age 47, when he authorized a raid on the Moors at Toledo, envious courtiers convinced Alfonso to banish the Cid for overreaching his authority by launching an attack without royal approval. At Zaragoza, while learning Mozarabic customs, law, and government, the Cid hired out as a mercenary leader for Yusuf al-Mutamin, the founder of Morocco. Victories at Barcelona earned the knight a fortune. When the Berbers from the Almoravid empire in Northwestern Africa invaded Iberia on October 23, 1086, the Cid once more abandoned his Castilian allegiance to besiege Valencia, which he maintained from December 1093 to May 1094. As the ruler of both Islamic and Christian citizens, he allied his family by marriage with the dynasties of Aragon and Navarre.

According to the 3,700-verse epic Cantar de mio Cid, by Spanish author Ramon Menendez Pidal, the charismatic adventurer holds credit for unifying the splintered Iberian Peninsula. At the time of la reconquista (the reconquest), native Iberians fought off Islam while battling among themselves for realms and thrones. Unlike the heroism in VIRGIL'S AENEID, the subtext of the Cid's renown lies in triumph and opportunism, not piety, royal bloodline, or ethnic superiority. The anonymous narrative, composed by a lawgiver familiar with Burgos, preserves romantic strands from ballad and legend that include the Cid's admiration for his warhorse Babieca; dependence on his sword Tizona, a steel weapon captured from a Moorish paladin; and love for Jimena, their two daughters, and a son who later dies in combat. At a turning point in the knight's loyalties, the angel Gabriel appears in a vision urging him to take advantage of “so propitious a moment; as long as you live that which is yours will prosper” (Poem of the Cid 1959, 65). Without qualm, the Cid rides out the next day at the head of 300 lancers, each bearing a pennon. His courage later infused Spain's epic antihero, Don Quixote, the creation of MIGUEL DE CERVANTES.

Missing from the text of El Cid are conventional elements of magic, divine intervention, and the crusader's zeal. In place of idealized heroic traits, the poet provides raw hand-to-hand combat that describes close ups of a broken buckler and girth, a lance strike through two of three layers of chain mail, and a flow of blood from a combatant's mouth as he tumbles over his horse's crupper. When unengaged, the Cid also maintains a husband's loyalty to his wife and children, an open mind toward religious and military pluralism, and a realistic appreciation of plunder. At a high point of gallantry, the knight defends his daughters, Dona Elvira and Dona Sol, from disgrace by caddish mates, two princes of Carrion, and assures the girls' happiness as the respected wives of Iberian princes. A formal reunion depicts the Cid at a gallop: “It was a wonder to watch. When he had ridden one round everyone marveled; from that day Babieca was famous through all Spain” (155). He leaps to the ground to embrace his wife and daughters and weeps with joy before dedicating to them the captured city of Valencia.

In 1961, the screen version of El Cid featured Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren as the chivalric husband and his wife Chimene.


Barton, Simon, and Richard Fletcher, anno. and trans.

The World of El Cid: Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquest. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2000.

The Poem of the Cid. Translated by W. S. Merwin. New York: New American Library 1959.