Many scholars—and I among them—believe that medieval vernacular epic originated from a popular oral tradition. We are, as yet, uncertain how it was initially composed, whether orally or in written form (Deyermond 1971, 31–54, esp. 49), but we do know that it was directed toward the populace. In other words, its public was different from that of Augustan Roman high society and also from that of learned Renaissance European society. We assume that the medieval Spanish heroic epic was primarily addressed to the people of the lower classes, although it might also have been sung in knightly or military-feudal circles (Smith 1972, xv).
The number of extant medieval Spanish epic poems is very small, compared, for example, with the French songs, with which they are closely related. We have roughly one hundred poems in French (about a million lines), and only three texts in the traditional Spanish epic meter (some five thousand lines). Fortunately, evidence from medieval chronicles and ballads allow us to establish, on the basis of wellfounded hypotheses, the existence of many other extant songs now lost (Deyermond 1971, 32–34).
Medieval historians writing in the vernacular from the thirteenth century onwards declare explicitly having used minstrel songs when composing several episodes of their versions of the national past. In these chronicles not only the story line, but also numerous traces of