Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Geography as a Linking-Device in the 'Poema De Mio Cid.'

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Geography as a Linking-Device in the 'Poema De Mio Cid.'

Article excerpt

Hispanic medievalists have frequently contrasted Spanish and French epic poetry. This actually means that only one of the almost 300 French manuscripts containing epics--the Oxford version of the Chanson de Roland--has been compared repeatedly with the sole complete survivor of a Spanish epic poem--the Poema de Mio Cid. The Chanson de Roland recounts one clash of the eternal war waged between Christian and Pagan armies on the vast stage of the orbis terrarum. The location where the events of this particular skirmish take place is irrelevant--as is the fact that the whole matter was kindled by a personal feud between Ganelon and his stepson Roland. By the time this episode of the battle between Christian and Pagan forces concludes, the Archangel Gabriel has already laid-out the grounds for Charlemagne's further tribulations in another corner of his kingdom--"la tere de Bire" where the Christians are suffering another pagan assault. As Erich Auerbach noted, the events of the Chanson de Roland are juxtaposed in a series of independent pictures of action--strung together like beads--where landscape rarely intrudes. When it does, the depiction of the territory takes the form of a crude background screen of schematic trees, mountains, or valley passes (1946:115). Spanish critics like to point out the fictitious and fantastic nature of the Chanson de Roland. The historical Charlemagne never spent one day on Spanish ground, Saragossa is not at all in a mountain ["en une muntaigne"], the distance from Roncevaux, in the Basque country, to Saragossa is never taken into account by the poet, and so on.

The Spanish Poema de Mio Cid, on the other hand, stages the struggle and personal grief of an individual, Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, in a very concrete geographical setting. Exiled from Castile by his lord Alfonso VI, he must fight to make a living in foreign and hostile territories. The topographic accuracy of the Poema is so remarkable that not a few theories posited for it are in fact based upon its geographical realism or verisimilitude. Most of these theories, however, use the geography of the poem to prove extratextual features, not the artistry of its design. Among other things, to disengage the Spanish epic poem, accurately represented by its main surviving example, from the French epic, quite incorrectly epitomized by only one instance of an extremely rich epic corpus. Menendez Pidal, the dean of Mio Cid studies, perceived the geography of the Poema in the framework of his beliefs about the ~verismo' and ~historicismo' of Spanish literature. It could tell us something about the poet's home turf: his birthplace, or the territory he knew and travelled; the origins of the poet could help explain certain Aragonese linguistic traits found in the language of the Poema (similar to those found in the Fuero de Medinaceli). Geography could then be used to emend the manuscript when the editor suspected that a scribe contradicted or transposed the poet's faithful account of the regions crossed by Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar. At one point in his career, Menendez Pidal, noting that the geographical references become more concentrated and accurate around two nuclei, San Esteban de Gormaz and Medinaceli, even advanced a theory of dual authorship for the Poema.

Several scholars have rectified many of Menendez Pidal's main tenets. For Jules Horrent, the poet was from Medinaceli, but knew San Esteban well; for Ubieto Arteta, the geography of the Poema depicts more accurately the valleys of the Jalon and Jiloca rivers, and the poet must have been therefore from Santa Maria de Albarracin; for Deyermond,

The poet could well have travelled these roads more than once

without living in the area, and the general geographical accuracy

of PMC between San Esteban and the Jiloca is entirely consistent

with the theory of a learned author (lawyer or ecclesiastical administrator)

who lived in Burgos, wrote for the people of Burgos,

and travelled far afield on official business. …

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