Epic and Chronicle: The Poema de Mio Cid and the Craonica de Veinte Reyes

By Brian Powell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

THE POEMA DE MIO CID AND REFERENCES TO THE
CID BEFORE THE COMPOSITION OF THE POEM

I. THE POEMA DE MIO CID

The Poema de mio Cid (PMC) is the most complete epic poem of the Spanish medieval period now known to us in a form close to that in which it was originally written down. It is also one of the oldest extant literary works in Castilian, and one of the important landmarks in the tradition of epic poetry in Western Europe. 1 It has survived in only one manuscript, which is of no more than fair quality, having a number of scribal errors and corrections, some passages which are barely legible, and folios missing at the beginning and at two points within the text. It is generally agreed, however, that not a great deal of the poem is missing. 2 The date of composition of the poem and the date of the extant manuscript are both topics of critical debate, although the manuscript does have an explicit which states that it was written down 'En era de mill & C.C. xL.v. años', that is, in A.D. 1207. 3 These matters are discussed in the following section.

The theme of the PMC is the progress of its hero, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as the Cid, from the condition of penurious exile to that of conqueror of

Valencia, from disgraced vassal to honoured father of princesses. Perhaps within his lifetime, and certainly from shortly after his death, and well before the composition of the PMC, the figure of the Cid had taken on heroic proportions. He became a figure worthy of literary praise, and the stories told or written about him began to confuse the facts of his life with elements of fiction. The PMC, in fact marks only one stage in a process which has meant the development of the heroic legend of the Cid, and its survival, in various forms, up to the present day. The Cid became and has remained the national hero of Castile. 4

Consequently, the importance of the PMC in the whole history of the legend should not be exaggerated. Before the poem was composed, tales about the Cid appeared in a variety of texts, mainly in Latin and hence by learned men. Some of these references are brief, but imply that the Cid's name had great prominence outside the circles of the learned. After its composition, the PMC was used as a source by the chroniclers of the thirteenth and fourteenth

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