The Vivar Codex

The greatest mediaeval Spanish songs of deeds and one of the classic works of European literature takes the name of its hero; “el Mio Cid” (my Cid). This song has been conserved in the form of a poem in one codex that is currently stored at the National Library in Madrid. It is a quarto volume (with average dimensions of 198 × 150 mm), consisting of 74 pages (there were originally 78), written on thick, somewhat rough parchment (possibly made of goatskin). It has eleven books, stitched together by five ribs and bound in black varnished dressed sheepskin board embossed with gold tassels (of which there are few remains) and still has part of the two leather and metal clasps that were used to close it. This binding dates from the 15th century and was the second binding of this codex.  The date of the first binding is known, although it was most certainly more or less the same time it was written. The ruling of the text on the page was based on drypoint guidelines in the first book, and leadpoint (or perhaps silverpoint) in the remaining books. That guideline is formed by two vertical master lines and two horizontal lines that form a box of text ranging from 174 x 121 mm to 163 × 112 mm. The text is written in block form, with an average of 25 lines per page, in hybrid Gothic lettering in rotular and textual script (also known as formed Italic script), in one colour (the original colour was very likely black, but which now looks brownish), written in a careful but non-intricate fashion. All the verses start with Gothic capital letters. On fourteen occasions, large Lombardic capitals are used as ornamental initials providing an austere decoration: however, they do not appear to have any specific function in relation to the content. There are also two illustrations representing feminine heads with long tresses, in the right-hand margin of f. 31, which were thought to allude to the daughters of El Cid, who are mentioned in this part, but this is not known for certain, among other things, because the second head is a copy of the first, made by a less skilful hand, which could lead one to think the author was merely practising his art with the pen, as is often done in the margins of mediaeval manuscripts, rather than being a figure related to the content.

This manuscript bears an inscription by the copier which sets its date at 1245 of the Hispanic age, which would correspond to the year 1207 of the Christian age:

Quien escrivió este libro dél’ Dios paraíso, ¡amén!

Per Abbat le escrivió en el mes de mayo

en era de mill e dozientos cuaraenta e cinco años.

However, the codex that transmits this indication was not written at the beginning of the 13th century, but during the following century and, based on its palaeographic characteristics, probably dates from between 1320 and 1330. Therefore, it could be considered that the copier made a mistake or even deliberately altered this inscription. In truth, the numbers appear in the original text in the Roman form; “mill. & .C.C.   xL.v• years”, with one space between the hundredths and tenths that might have contained a third C, which would allow us to date the colophon at around 1345, i.e., 1307, which is more in keeping with what can be inferred from the material constitution of the manuscript. This hypothesis has been defended since Tomás Antonio Sánchez (assisted by Juan Antonio Pellicer) first published “El Cantar de mio Cid”  in 1779, and was confirmed after the monumental edition of Ramón Menéndez Pidal consisting of three volumes, published between 1908 and 1911. Nevertheless, to admit this hypothesis, it must be assumed that the C was scraped to make the codex seem older in the Middle Ages, since in the copy made in 1596 by the genealogist Juan Ruiz de Ulibarri (when the manuscript was kept by the municipality of Vivar) the date already appears in its current version, which is suggestive of an antiquarian approach that did not exist in the mediaeval mentality and therefore leads us to think of an anachronistic operation. On the other hand, the possibility of inspecting the only existing codex in 1993 with a surface video-microscope and an infrared reflectographic camera allowed me to determine that in actual fact, nothing had been scraped at that point, and so that supposed third C could not have been eliminated.

This poses the question of why a manuscript dating from the 14th century presents an inscription dated one century before. This situation may quite rightly seem surprising to a modern reader, but during the Middle Ages it was quite frequent, in particular in the scriptoria or workshops where the Benedictine monks copied their works, for a codex that was to be copied to be copied in full, i.e., conserving even the colophon of the model used, in order to ascertain from which ancient copy the new copy had been taken. This gave rise to what is technically termed a copy inscription, which obviously does not transmit the production data (copier, date and sometimes, place) of a manuscript, but that of its model. This hypothesis is strengthened if we consider that the conserved codex most likely came originally from the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, where El Cid was buried, and this means that the copy inscription was a normal operation. At all events, it can safely be said that the conserved codex comes from a lost model that was dated May 1207 and had been written, i.e., copied by hand, by a certain Per Abbat or Pedro Abad. What is clear is that the date is not the date on which the work was composed and the proper name is not that of the author, but merely the typical signature of the copier, of which many other similar examples have been conserved in a large number of mediaeval manuscripts.


Author: Alberto Montaner Frutos

Rev. JGG 02.08.16