Synopsis of the plot
“El Cantar de mio Cid” is an anonymous epic poem written in the 12th century that tells of the deeds of an older El Cid, based on the central theme of the conquest of Valencia, after being banished from Castile by King Alfonso. The king condemns him to exile after believing false rumours spread by noblemen who are jealous of El Cid, falsely accusing him of stealing part of the taxes paid to the crown by the Moorish king of Seville. The conserved text starts with El Cid and his men preparing to leave Castile in haste, as the end of the term given the king for them to leave is fast approaching. After leaving the town of Vivar, birthplace and home of El Cid, he heads for the nearby city of Burgos with a small group of men who are still loyal to him.
The citizens come out onto the balconies when they see him pass by, showing their vexation and also their sorrow since the hero cannot lead them to disobey the royal order which forbids the inhabitants to offer shelter or food to the exile. El Cid and his men are therefore obliged to camp outside the city, on the banks of the river, like outlaws.
In this situation, he is aided by one of his vassals from Burgos, Martín Antolínez, who prefers to leave everything he has rather than leave El Cid to his fate. However, his help is not sufficient, as the hero, who does not have any of the gold he has allegedly stolen, has insufficient resources to keep his men.
For this reason, with the help of the clever Martín, he devises a plan: he will pledge some chests that are supposedly filled with the stolen taxes but are really filled with sand, to two usurers from Burgos, Rachel and Vidas. That way he manages to obtain six hundred gold marks, which is sufficient for them to cover their basic needs. Then, El Cid and his men continue to San Pedro de Cardeña, a Benedictine monastery that has offered shelter to the hero’s family, while he is in exile.
However, his stay there is short, since the term for leaving the kingdom has expired. After a heartrending farewell, El Cid continues his journey and, that same night, he reaches the frontier between Castile and the Moorish kingdom of Toledo. Before crossing the border, the hero has a vision of Gabriel the archangel in his dreams who says that everything will turn out well for him.
Encouraged by this heavenly prophecy, El Cid enters Toledo, prepared to survive in extremely harsh conditions, and begins his most important activity during the first part of the exile: obtaining wealth from war and collecting taxes in return for protecting the Moors. For this purpose, he plans a first battle in the Henares valley, consisting of two combined actions: while El Cid, aided by some of his men, takes the town of Castejon, the rest, under the command of Álvar Fáñez, his lieutenant, undertake a sacking expedition downriver, towards the south.
Both operations are successful and they obtain many riches. However, since the kingdom of Toledo is under the protection of King Alfonso, the king could take reprisals against the exiled band. For this reason, El Cid sells Castejón to the Moors and continues towards the north-east. The second battle takes place in Jalón valley. After sacking all the towns in the valley, El Cid establishes his headquarters with two objectives: to collect taxes from the locals and to occupy the important site of Alcocer.
The fall of this town which in “El Cantar de mio Cid” is depicted as a strategic point in the area, leads to the Moors in the neighbouring areas becoming alarmed and seeking help from King Tamin of Valencia. The latter, concerned about the fame of El Cid, sends two of his generals, Fáriz and Galve to defeat him. They lay Alcocer to siege, but the hero, following the advice of Álvar Fáñez, decides to lead a surpise attack at dawn that leads to an overwhelming victory.
Despite his victory, El Cid considers he is in a difficult situation, so, just as he did in Castejón, he sells Alcocer and continues towards the south-east. At this point, he has accumulated so much wealth that he decides to send Álvar Fáñez to King Alfonso with a gift, as a token of his good will and the first step to obtaining his pardon. While his lieutenant goes to Castile, El Cid enters Jiloca valley, where he camps on a mount known as El Poyo del Cid. According to the poem, this name was due to the hero setting up camp on that site. From there, El Cid makes several incursions and obliges the local inhabitants to pay him taxes. Later, he journeys towards the east, to the area of Maestrazgo, which is under the protection of the count of Barcelona. The latter, on hearing about the deeds of El Cid, vows to teach him a lesson and goes in search of him with a large army.
The battle takes place in the wood of Tévar and, as always, El Cid emerges victorious. In addition to obtaining great wealth, the hero and his men capture the most important nobles from Barcelona and the count himself. The count decides to starve to death, but after three days, when El Cid offers to set him free without holding him to ransom, in exchange for him eating at his table, the count happily agrees, and forgets his previous vows.
After his victory (at war and in ethical terms) over the count of Barcelona, El Cid starts his campaign on the eastern coast. His ultimate objective is no longer sacking and temporary occupation, as in Castejón and Alcocer, but the final conquest of Valencia and the creation of a new domain in which the hero and his vassals can live for ever. To do this, the hero starts out by controlling the area surrounding Valencia, to cut it off from other areas. After taking Murviedro (Sagunto), the Moors from Valencia try to stop his advance by laying the town to siege, but as occurred in Alcocer, El Cid’s troops defeat them, and this spurs them on in their intention to conquer Valencia. After three years, they have succeeded in occupying practically all the territory along the east coast, leaving Valencia isolated. The inhabitants of the city are desperate and ask the king of Morocco for help but he is unable to come to their aid. After losing all hope of succour, El Cid moves closer to the city and after nine months of siege, the starving inhabitants of Valencia finally surrender.
The conquest of Valencia has not yet assured his position. On hearing the news, the Moorish king of Seville organises an expedition to try and recover the city but fails miserably and is defeated by El Cid and his men, who amass even more riches obtained after taking the city. After securing his position, El Cid takes a series of measures to guarantee the adequate colonisation of the city and its internal organisation. He even takes advantage of the arrival of a warrior and priest, the Frenchman Hieronymus, to establish a bishopric in Valencia. In addition he again sends Álvar Fáñez with a new gift for King Alfonso, and asks the king permission for his family to be reunited with him in Valencia.
The mission is a success as the king accepts the gift, and grants this permission. Furthermore, it has a contrary effect on the nobles at court, as it awakens the envy of the slanderers who had brought about his exile (led by Garcí Ordóñez) and the admiration of other aristocrats, including the dauphins of Carrión, who consider the possibility of marrying the daughters of El Cid and benefiting from his wealth.
Accompanied by Álvar Fáñez, El Cid’s wife and daughters, accompanied by their maids-in-waiting, go to Valencia. Meanwhile, El Cid is informed of the royal decision and sends an escort to bring back his family to Medinaceli, on the Castilian border. From there, the entourage advances to Valencia, where the hero is impatiently waiting for them. Their arrival is welcomed with austerity and also joy.
The arrival of El Cid's family coincides with a period of calm and happiness. However, the next spring (a time when the armies were mobilised) brings an attack by King Yussef of Morocco. Then, in May, the most important battle of all those described in “El Cantar” is fought, as it is the only one that lasts for more than two days. Despite the enemy being superior in number, the use of a wise tactic once again leads El Cid and his men to victory.
Thanks to the important booty obtained, the hero sends Álvar Fáñez on a mission to give a third gift to King Alfonso. The king’s joy is as great as the anger of the nobles who are the enemies of El Cid and his prestige, and finally moves the dauphins of Carrión to ask the king to arrange their marriage to the daughters of El Cid, Elvira and Sol. The king agrees and also decides to forgive El Cid.
The reconciliation of the king and the hero takes place in a solemn meeting of the court near the river Tagus, which lasts for three days. On the first day, El Cid is received upon his arrival by the king, who forgives him in public and then hosts El Cid and his men. On the second day, El Cid offers a reception for the king, and finally on the third day, the marriage arrangements take place.El Cid is not happy about the marriage, but agrees out of deference to the king.
Thus, the marriage is agreed, the meeting ends and El Cid and his men, together with the dauphins and many noblemen from Castile who want to attend the wedding, return to Valencia. There, the wedding ceremony is held, with all the luxury of the social status acquired by El Cid and a great many celebrations that last for fifteen days. After the weddings, the dauphins stay on and live in Valencia, and events take a positive course for about two years.
One day, a lion belonging to El Cid escapes from its cage, terrorising the fortress of Valencia. The hero is asleep and his men, unarmed, surround him to protect him, while his sons-in-law flee in terror and hide. When El Cid awakes, he takes the lion back to its cage as it nothing had happened. The admiration aroused by the hero's gesture is, however, nothing compared to the mockery aimed at the dauphins for their cowardice. This is confirmed shortly after, when the troops of King Buchar of Morocco try and win back Valencia. There, in contrast to the heroic deeds of the El Cid’s men, his sons-in-law flee from the Moors and only the good will of the most important knights make it possible for the hero to be made aware of this. However, the criticism they receive from the rest of the men and the wealth obtained after sharing out the booty leads them to plot a scheme to avenge the offences they have suffered. For this purpose, they decide to leave Valencia on the pretext of showing El Cid's daughters their lands in Carrión, and abandon them by the wayside.
Therefore they put their scheme into operation and, laden with gifts from El Cid, they set off. Along the way, they try to murder Avengalvón, the Muslim governor of Molina, who is an ally of El Cid. However, he discovers their plans and out of esteem for the hero, lets them leave. The dauphins and their entourage continue to the forest of Corpes. There, after spending the night, they send their men on and are left alone with their wives, whom they brutally beat and leave to their fate.
Luckily, the cousin of El Cid, Félez Muñoz, whom El Cid had sent along with them, rescues them and warns the Battler. El Cid not only sends his men to bring back his daughters, but he also sends Muño Gustioz, one of his most trustworthy men, to bring a lawsuit before King Alfonso. The king, who was responsible for promoting the unfortunate marriages, agrees to the demands of El Cid, and calls a meeting of the court, to decide on the fairest action.
The court meets in Toledo and is attended by the king, the dauphins of Carrión with their family (including Garcí Ordóñez) and El Cid with his most important knights. El Cid asks his sons-in-law for his finest swords (Colada and Tizón) which he had given them as a gift on bidding them farewell. The dauphins heave a sigh of relief and return them to him, believing the hero will be content with that. But he then asks them for the three thousand marks of the dowry of his daughters, which they must repay on the dissolution of the marriages. The dauphins, who are not only cowards but spendthrifts, must return that sum in kind to El Cid, as they have no money. They eventually agree to do so, thinking that no more will be asked of them. Again, they are wrong, for the hero has left the most serious matter for last: the outrage perpetrated against his daughters. In accordance with the customs of that time, El Cid's men challenge the dauphins, together with their elder brother Asur González. The king accepts the challenges and decides that the fight will take place in Carrión in three weeks’ time. At that point, the emissaries of the princes of Navarra and Aragón reach the court, to ask for the hand of El Cid’s daughters, which brings the court great satisfaction.
The hero instructs his men and returns to Valencia. Once the term has expired, El Cid's men and the Carrión family meet in Carrión, under the king’s supervision. Then the three duels take place with all the formalities foreseen by the law. During the course of the duels, El Cid’s men, Pedro Bermúdez, Martín Antolínez and Muño Gustioz, defeat the dauphins and their elder brother, who are permanently discredited.
El Cid’s satisfied champions return to Valencia, where they are greeted with great jubilation. At this point, the hero, having recovered his honour and on an equal status with the Spanish monarch, has fulfilled his ambitions. Following this, nothing remains to be told, except to mention that his death took place during the solemn feast of Pentecost.
Author: Dr. Alberto Montaner Frutos
Rev. JGG 02.08.16