El Cid, Legend and Mith


It is quite extraordinary that we are able to know so much about the life of Rodrigo the Battler, and the success of El Cid as a literary figure is no less extraordinary. From the times during which he lived to the present day, his figure has constantly inspired all kinds of artistic expressions (mostly literary but also plastic and musical) and been depicted onscreen, through the famous film El Cid, and on TV, in the form of a series of cartoons broadcast at the beginning of the nineteen-eighties, “Ruy, el pequeño Cid”. But for now, we will continue with our analysis.


El Cid in the Arabic sources

It may seem a paradox, but the oldest texts about the figure of Rodrigo the Battler are Arabic, which (in yet another paradox) never refer to him using the title Sidi in the twenty works in which his name is mentioned. This should come as no surprise.  During the Middle Ages, literature in the Iberian Peninsula was usually written more often in Arabic than in the Romance languages. In particular, the 11th century is one of the most flourishing periods of Al- andalus, both with respect to poetry and with respect to history.

Concerning the title Sidi, there are two reasons that explain why it is not used in the Arabic texts: it was a term traditionally reserved for Muslim governors and the references made to El Cid in them are extremely negative.

Despite acknowledging some of his great qualities, for the Moors the Battler was a tagiya «tyrant»,  «accursed» la‘in and even a kalb ala‘du «enemy dog», and if they wrote about him, it was due to the impact that the loss of Valencia caused at that time.

In these circumstances, it is quite amazing that in the third part of the Dajira or Treasure (circa 1110), Ben Bassam referred to him as «that wretch [i.e., Rodrigo] during his time, due to his skill, firm resolution and extreme bravery, one of the great prodigies of God», although «prodigy» used in this case is not taken entirely as a positive trait. This author is one of those who wrote extensively about El Cid in Arabic, and tells many tales that were related by witnesses.

This latter category includes authors of the oldest Works on the Battler, which are, today, only known through indirect channels: the Elegy of Valencia of the Alfaqui and poet Alwaqqashí (who died in 1096), composed during the most difficult phase of the siege of the city (very likely at the beginning of 1094), the Eloquent Manifesto about the terrible incident, a history of the rule of the Battler written between 1094 and 1107 by the author from Valencia Ben Alqama (1037-1115) and another work on the same subject, whose title is unknown, written by Ben Alfaray, visir of king Alqadir of Valencia on the eve of the conquest of El Cid. These two Works, which are quoted or summarised by different authors at a later date, are the basis of practically all the Arabic references made to El Cid, up to the 17th century.


El Cid in the Christian sources. Mediaeval texts

There is much speculation about the possible existence of songs bearing tides of the Battler; these would be short poems handed down from his times by people who were eager to learn news and the deeds of the gentleman from Burgos. The truth is that there is no firm support in this respect, and the only thing that is certain is that the oldest Christian texts about Rodrigo date from the 12th century and are in written in Latin.

The first, which we have already quoted, is the Poem of Almería (1147-1148), which tells of the conquest of that city by Alfonso VII and also briefly praises our hero, saying, as has already been seen, that he had never been defeated. This allusion has given rise to the idea that  the Cantar de mio Cid already existed at that time, or at least one of his ancestors but (as I have already explained) that expression appears only to say  “legend has it he was never defeated”.

As opposed to this isolated testimony from the mid 12th century, a great many examples of literature about El Cid existed at the end of that same century. The detonator to this appears to have been the composing of the work Historia Roderici, (circa 1180), which was perhaps written in the Rioja region.  This is a Latin biography about the Battler in which all the available information about the life of the hero is included and put into some kind of order (most certainly based on oral literature). Based partly on this work, but allowing for more legendary components about the role played by Rodrigo in the battle of Golpejera and the siege of Zamora, we have the Crónica Najerense (Chronicle of Najera) written in Nájera (as its name indicates) between 1185 and 1194.

Shortly afterwards, the first Romance work was composed, the Linaje de Rodrigo Díaz (Lineage of Rodrigo Díaz”, a brief text from Navarre (circa 1094) that described the family tree of the hero and a short biography based on the “Historia” and the “Crónica”. At about the same time, based on the same works, a Latin poem was composed that describes the main battles fought by Rodrigo, in the form of a hymn, the Carmen Campidoctoris.

In the 13th century, the Latin historians Lucas de Tuy, in his Chronicon mundi (1236), and Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, in his Historia de rebus Hispanie (1243), made brief allusions to the main deeds of the Battler and in particular the conquest of Valencia, whereas (during the second half of the century) Juan Gil de Zamora dedicated several chapters to the life of Rodrigo Díaz in his works Liber illustrium personarum and De Preconiis Hispanie, just as the Bishop of Burgos, Gonzalo de Hinojosa, did at the start of the 14th century, in his Chronice ab origine mundi.


The songs of deeds of El Cid

The Latin texts configured the literary nature of the character of El Cid, but the vernacular works were responsible for finally consecrating the character and projecting it into the future. The foundational core of that production is formed by the songs of deeds series of El Cid. These are basically three epic poems (some with different versions) that from then on gave rise to the same number of themes: the “Mocedades de Rodrigo” (Tales of Young Rodrigo), which gives a completely fictitious version of his marriage to Jimena (after  her father was killed in a duel) and his deeds during his youth (which include  invading France); the “Cantar de Sancho II”, which tells about the siege of  Zamora and the death of king Sancho at the hand of Vellido Dolfos, and the  “Cantar de mio Cid”, which we have already analysed.

The oldest and most important is the latter work (circa 1200), as has already been mentioned; this is followed by the “Cantar de Sancho II”, which was most certainly composed in the 13th century, and is known only indirectly, and the “Mocedades de Rodrigo”, which originally had a first version (that has been lost) written in around 1300 and another (that still survives) written in the mid 14th century.

In addition to these, there are three short poems, one of which has been conserved, the "Epitafio épico del Cid” (Epic epitaph of El Cid) (which may have been written in about 1400), a brief text in epic verse that has fourteen lines summarising the heroic career of the Battler, and two that were lost, and were probably longer, but it is thought that they did exist: “La muerte del rey Fernando (o La partición de los reinos)” (The death of king Fernando – or the division of his kingdoms) and “La jura en Santa Gadea” (The oath of Santa Gadea), both probably written at the end of the 13th century, which were apparently considered a bridge between the three longer songs already quoted, to create just one extensive biography about El Cid.

“Estoria de España” (History of Spain). Alfonso X the Learned

The poems we have just mentioned as being lost are not entirely lost, since they are all conserved to a certain extent in the form of prose. This was possible due to the fact that at the end of the 13th century, when Alfonso X the Learned planned his “Estoria de España” (History of Spain) (circa 1270), his collaborators decided to include the prose versions of the main songs of deeds in the information sources.

Thanks to this, today, we not only know about their existence and plot, but also some of the verses have been conserved in full, although it would not be wise to try and reconstruct the poems based on the prose versions. The part that has to do with El Cid in the original narrative version by Alfonso of “Estoria de España” has not been conserved and it is quite likely that no final draft exists, although at least the part that comes before the conquest of Valencia was practically finished. However, two later rewritten versions exist that do contain that part.

One of them is the “critical version”, a review of the “Estoria” that Alfonso X ordered to be written at the end of his rule (between 1282 and 1284) which has been perpetuated in the “Crónica de Veinte Reyes” (Chronicle of Twenty Kings).

The other is the “Sancho or extended version”, written during the rule of Sancho IV and completed in 1289, and well known, thanks to the edition by Menéndez Pidal, entitled “Primera Crónica General” (First General Chronicle).

The tendency to convert songs of deeds into prose was maintained in the historiographers that followed the model used by Alfonso X, due to which his works are known as the Chronicles of Alfonso: the “Crónica de Castilla” (Chronicle of Castile” (circa 1300), the “Traducción Gallega” (Galician Translation) – written shortly afterwards, the “Crónica de 1344” (Chronicle of 1344) – written in Portuguese and translated into Spanish and then back into a second version in Portuguese circa 1400), the “Crónica Particular del Cid” (Special Chronicle of El Cid) – from the 15th century, published for the first time in Burgos in 1512) and the “Chronica Ocampiana”  published by Florián de Ocampo, a historiographer during the rule of Carlos V, in 1541).

Both the critical and Sancho versions of “Estoria de España” contain a prose version of “La muerte del rey Fernando”, “el Cantar de Sancho II” and “el Cantar de mio Cid”, to which subsequent Chronicles of Alfonso added “La jura en Santa Gadea” and the original version of “Las Mocedades de Rodrigo”. For example, several verses of the latter have been conserved practically intact, for instance: «E hízole caballero en esta guisa, ciñéndole la espada / y diole paz en la boca, mas no le dio pescozada» (es decir, que le dio el beso de paz, pero no el espaldarazo) o «que nunca se viese con ella en yermo ni en poblado, / hasta que venciese cinco lides en campo».

The history written by Alfonso X and his descendants not only used epic poems, but was also based on the Latin works already quoted, by Lucas de Tuy and Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, and the “Historia Roderici” and perhaps the “Crónica Najerense”, and also on the lost work of Ben Alfaray, with a translation of the “Elegía de Valencia” of Alwaqqashí, thereby conserving the memory of two other works whose original version has not been conserved.

It uses the “Linaje de Rodrigo Díaz” and (except for the critical version, followed by the “Crónica de Veinte Reyes”) completed the full legendary biography of El Cid with material taken from the hagiographic traditions developed around the tomb of the Battler in San Pedro de Cardeña, such as the famous victory of El Cid, once dead.

In  general, it was thought that this monastery was the place where “Estoria del Cid, señor que fue de Valencia” (History of El Cid, who was once lord of Valencia) was written, and incorporated into the Chronicles of Alfonso, which contains a fictitious account of the final part of the life of El Cid, from the conquest of Valencia, combined with elements from “el Cantar de mio Cid” and the work by Ben Alqama along with the monastic legends on the death and burial of the hero, which were greatly influenced by the literature written about the lives of saints.

However, Cardeña contains no record of any important historiographic activity until the 17th century, when Fray Juan de Arévalo (who died in 1633) composed his unpublished “Crónica de los antiguos condes, reyes y señores de Castilla” (Chronicle of ancient counts, kings and lords of Castile). In addition, the “Historia del Cid Ruy Díaz” (History of El Cid Ruy Díaz) is mentioned, and so it is not likely that a work such as "Estoria del Cid”, with its relatively elaborate merging of sources, was written on that site.  What probably occurred is that the legendary materials from Cardeña were taken to the workshop where the documents of Alfonso or Sancho were prepared, and added to a text that combined the “Cantar” with a brief summary of the lost work of Ben Alfaray (not that of Ben Alqama) and that the “Estoria del Cid” to which reference is made is none other than the part of the chronicle dedicated to the life of the hero. Similarly, in the “Crónica de Castilla” (Chronicle of Castile” probably written in the times of Sancho IV, again the influence of other traditions of Cardeña is present, but without this making it possible to link the work directly with the monastery itself.


The “Romanceros” (folk ballads) 

The Chronicles of Alfonso were one of the great channels for transmitting the story of El Cid to future generations, especially among more learned citizens, with the other channel being the “Romanceros”. These ballads, sung in the squares and learned by heart by the people, were passed down from generation to generation and took over from the old songs of deeds in keeping alive the popular fame of El Cid.

Some of these ballads took their inspiration more or less directly from the epic poems and were composed during the last part of the Middle Ages, and for that reason, they are known as «romances viejos» (old ballads); all the others are more modern creations, as a result of the renewed popularity of this type of literature from the middle of the 16th century, and are thus known as «romances nuevos» (new ballads).

These, in turn, may have been inspired in the tales of the chronicles, giving rise to what are known as the  «romances cronísticos» (chronicle ballads) or they may be rewritten, free versions of episodes existing in the earlier sources of El Cid, as completely original inventions, and giving rise to the «romances novelescos» (novelesque ballads).

These poems were compiled in the form of different ballads, of which the most important, since it focuses merely on our hero, is the “Romancero e historia del Cid” (Ballad and history of El Cid), compiled by Juan de Escobar, and printed for the first time in Lisbon in 1605.  It has been re-edited many times and was even translated into French in 1842.


El Cid in Golden Age literature. The new comedy

The literature on El Cid contained in the chronicles and ballads were passed on by these sources to Golden Age literature. In the mid 16th century, the plot of the story of El Cid was developed in an extensive epic work, a narrative stanza consisting of eight lines in the typical style of the Renaissance epic poem, but with a strongly moralising tone: the famed, heroic deeds of El Cid Ruy Díaz de Vivar, Diego Ximénez de Ayllón, published in Antwerp in 1568 and reprinted in Alcalá in 1579.

However, the type of literature in which the heroic deeds of El Cid reached their apogee in terms of development and literary greatness was drama. Juan de la Cueva was the first to adapt the old Spanish epic poems to the stage, and composed a drama about El Cid entitled “La muerte del rey don Sancho” (The death of King Sancho) which was first staged in Seville in 1579.

This drama recreates the siege of Zamora and is true to the ballads sung about this event, sometimes almost literally, which would later become habitual in dramatic works of that time. In the 17th century, during the period when the new comedy reached its peak, the subject of the wars between King Sancho and his brothers is dealt with in the “Comedia segunda de las Mocedades del Cid” (Second comedy of the Tales of the Young Cid), also known as “Las Hazañas del Cid” (The deeds of El Cid), printed in 161, by Guillén de Castro (which focuses on the siege of  Zamora) or “En las almenas de Toro” (On the battements of Toro), published in 1620 by Lope de Vega, among others.

The subject of Valencia was also converted into a dramatic work in “Las hazañas del Cid anónimas” (Anonymous deeds of El Cid) published in 1603 and “El cobarde más valiente” (The bravest coward) by Tirso de Molina, which, in turn, is inspired by “El amor hace valientes” (Love brings courage), written in 1658 by Juan de Matos Fragoso and “El Cid Campeador” (EL Cid the Battler) and “El noble siempre es valiente” (Nobles are always brave  (1660), by Fernando de Zárate (pen name of Antonio Enríquez Gómez, a converted man pursued by the Inquisition).

However, the central motif of these works is not the conquest of the city, but an episode that is taken from “Crónica de Castilla”, that of Martín Peláez, a timorous knight and supporter of El Cid who is inspired with courage by his master. On the contrary, the central conflict of the second part of “el Cantar de mio Cid” is the offence suffered by his daughters, through the work “El honrador de sus hijas” (The man who restored his daughters’ honour), written in 1665 by Francisco Polo.


“Las Mocedades del Cid”; French version of the myth. The Baroque 

The most important topic during this period was the youth of Rodrigo and his marriage to Jimena, after killing her father in a duel, which made it possible to stage the personal conflicts of the characters (in a struggle between duty and love) in a setting that has more courtly than warlike elements, in which the king’s justice in turn poses the problem of the reason of state.

This vision of the plot which is only mentioned in a few ballads, is achieved thanks to the famous “Comedia primera de las Mocedades del Cid” (First Comedy of the Tales of the Young Cid), also published in 1618) by Guillén de Castro. This, in turn, served to inspire Pierre Corneille’s El Cid (1637), one of the most important French dramas, in which the hero is converted into a figure of universal literature, in which task it was preceded by the French novel of chivalry entitled “The heroic and amorous adventures of Rodrigo de Vivar” (Paris, 1619) by François Loubayssin.

As a result of El Cid and the controversy unleashed in French literary circles (encouraged by Cardinal Richelieu himself) known as «The Quarrel of El Cid», the first French imitations appeared, written by Chevreau, Desfontaines and Chillac (1638-1639), which attempted to adapt the drama to the «rules» proposed by the dramatic school of those times. Shortly afterwards, the adaptation of the Spanish work “El honrador de su padre” (His Father’s Honourer) (1658) by Juan Bautista Diamante appeared. The subject became so popular that, following an important trend of the Baroque period, parodies also exist  such as the burlesque comedies “El hermano de su hermana” (His sister's brother), written in 1656 by Bernardo de Quirós, and “Las Mocedades del Cid” (Tales of Young Rodrigo) (circa 1655), by Jerónimo de Cancer, that are based principally on the work by Diamante, or “La mojiganga del Cid” (Farce of El Cid), an anonymous burlesque work consisting of a one-act play based on the ballads of the tales of the hero’s youth.

In addition, Corneille’s work El Cid gave rise to parodies, including that of “Le Chapelain décoiffé” (1664), in allusion to a minister of Louis XVI who was ridiculed by the text. The comic touch is also present in a couple of sarcastic works by Quevedo, whereas the anonymous “Auto sacramental del Cid” (Allegory of El Cid) uses the same plot in an allegoric code, in which Rodrigo symbolises Truth and Jimena, the Church.


El Cid in the 18th century

Not many references were made to our hero during this century. Among the few works on El Cid of this period, are the famous five-lined stanzas of the “Fiesta de Toros en Madrid” by Nicolás Fernández de Moratín, in which El Cid suddenly shows up at a party organised by the Moors and leaves everyone astounded by his skills on horseback. In addition, “Historia del Cid” (Paris, 1783) is an anonymous French adaptation in prose of the ballads about the hero, with certain influences of Corneille, that was partly translated into German in 1792 as “The Romantic Story of El Cid”.

However, at the end of this century a fundamental event took place with respect to the evolution of the legend of El Cid. In 1779, the erudite librarian Tomás Antonio Sánchez published the first edition of “El Cantar de mio Cid” in his important Collection of pre-15th century Castilian poems that led to the recovery of mediaeval poetic tradition for modern readers.  From then on the “Cantar” was converted into the focus of attention of philologists and also occupied an important place in literature among the chronicles and ballads that had been used hitherto as a source of inspiration about El Cid.


The romantic vision of El Cid, the 19th century

The Romantic period was the era that gave a new drive to the subject of the hero from Vivar in literature. In 1805, the famous German Romantic poet Johann Gottfried Herder, who, after reading the foregoing Romantic Story of El Cid had developed great interest in the character, published his work “El Cid”, an imitation of the “romancero”, based on the French text of the Story rather than on the Spanish ballads, but unifying the models through the unitary concept of chivalrous and divine honour.

This new heroic vision of Rodrigo, idealised based on the Romantic tastes, led to a new burst of enthusiasm for literature about the hero. Consequently in 1830, the Spanish liberal Joaquín Trueba y Cosío (in exile in England), published “The gentleman from Vivar” in English, as part of “La novela de la historia: España” (The historic novel:  Spain), which was soon translated into French in 1830, into Germany in 1836 and into Spanish in 1840.  

At the same time, in France, the drama entitled “El Cid de Andalucía” (El Cid of Andalucía) (1825) by Lebrun appeared, and the tragedy “La hija del Cid” (The daughter of El Cid), 1839, by Delavigne, and in Germany, the first musicals were produced: Grabbe performed his opera and parody El Cid (1835), based on the romantic works of Herder, whereas Peter Cornelius staged El Cid (1865), a lyrical drama with complex religious connotations. The hero also reached Italy, with Il Cid (1844) by Ermolao Rubieri, and even the United States, with El Velasco (1839) by Epes Sargent. 

Spanish Romantic production again led Rodrigo to the stage, with Bellido Dolfos (1839), by Tomás Bretón de los Herreros; “La jura en Santa Gadea” (The oath of Santa Gadea), 1845, by Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch, where the hero appears as the Romantic promoter of an almost constitutional oath and Doña Urraca de Castilla (1872), by Antonio García Gutiérrez.

However, it was in the historic novel field that was so typical of the period that best developed the subject of El Cid and in which it was best accepted. Such literature includes “La conquista de Valencia por el Cid” (The conquest of Valencia by El Cid) in 1831 by Estanislao de Cosca Vayo, in which the subject is treated as an adventure story; “El Cid Campeador” (1851) by Antonio de Trueba, a novel based on the stories about the youth of El Cid and the siege of Zamora and “El Cid Rodrigo de Bivar” (1875), by Manuel Fernández y González, which relates the entire life of the hero in the form of a novel in instalments. In turn, José Zorrilla wrote a poetic-legendary biography in verse in his lengthy “Leyenda del Cid” (Legend of El Cid) in 1882.

As opposed to this recovery of narrative poetry, a traditional tool in relating the deeds of El Cid, one new aspect of the period is the appearance of El Cid in lyrical poetry during the second half of the century, with “The Romance of Le Cid” (1859) by the famous Víctor Hugo (which was later included in “La légende des siècles”, in 1883) and Le Cid (around 1872) by Barbey d’Aurevilly, and the poems dedicated by Leconte de Lisle in his Poèmes Barbares (1862) and Hérédia in Les Trophées (1893).

This trend reached Spain through the Modernism movement at the end of the century, for instance, the work «Cosas del Cid» included by Rubén Darío in his “Prosas profanas” (Profane prose) (1896) or the poems of Manuel Machado «Castilla» and «Álvar Fáñez», from his book “Alma” (1902). The first is an emotional variation of the episode about the 9-year old girl in “El Cantar”, the same that later served as inspiration to the American poet Ezra Pound in the third of his Songs (1925). The French opera Le Cid by Jules Massenet (1885) also belongs to the end-of-century period and the Spanish modernist drama “Las hijas del Cid” (The daughters of El Cid) (1908) by Eduardo Marquina, which has the novel feature of presenting Elvira disguised as a man in order to avenge the offence, opposite a rather senile Battler.


El Cid in the 20th century

Although it is true that the first few years of the 20th century were filled with allusions to El Cid, the remainder of the century also continued with that initial impulse. In the narrative scope, the singular work “Mío Cid Campeador” (1929) by the creationist Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro is worth mentioning.  This is an avant-garde work in which the old traditional plot is combined with elements of parody and historical data (it should not be forgotten that during the same year, Ramón Menéndez Pidal published his monumental study “La España del Cid” (The Spain of El Cid)).

On the other hand, María Teresa León adopts the perspective of the wife of the hero in “Doña Jimena Díaz de Vivar. Gran señora de todos los deberes” (Jimena Díaz de Vivar: the great lady of all obligations” (1968). The theatre too, took a renewed interest in El Cid, in the form o fan existential conflict, as seen in “El amor es un potro desbocado” (Love is an unbridled stallion) (1959) by Luis Escobar, who dwells on the love between Rodrigo and Jimena, and “Anillos para una dama” (Rings for a lady) (1973), by Antonio Gala, in which, after the death of El Cid, Jimena, must give up her true wish to maintain her role as the hero’s widow. However, despite the vitality of the plot, in some of those declarations the subject has a certain false ring of finality to it. On the other hand, the figure of the hero was able to take on a new diffusion through new media.

The famous film El Cid (1961) should be taken in this sense.  It is a genuine  «film epic» lasting three hours, directed by Anthony Mann, with Charlton Heston cast in the starring role of El Cid and Sofia Loren in that of Jimena.

The year after, the Spanish-Italian film “Las hijas del Cid” (The daughters of El Cid), directed by Miguel Iglesias, was shot, but in contrast to the stylistic plot of the American film, it came across as a mere vulgar adaptation of the final part of “El Cantar de mio Cid”. In comic strip field, the pioneer work of Antonio Hernández Palacios at the end of the 1970s is important, with El Cid in the form of instalments in the magazine Trinca which was then published in albums in colour.

A version that was more suitable for children was produced by Walt Disney in 1984, with El Cid, in which Donald Duck himself (transported by a time machine) served as witness and narrator of the deeds of Rodrigo. A few years before, as we have already said, the cartoon series “Ruy, el pequeño Cid” had been filmed, in which using a technique that would later be applied by Steven Spielberg to the famous Warner characters (Buggs Bunny and company), the main characters of the plot were depicted (Ruy, Jimena, Minaya), in this case, as children who were already displaying the attitudes that would characterise them later in life, but living their own adventures near San Pedro de Cardeña.


El Cid in the 21st century

The 20th century had started out with many references being made to the story of El Cid, and the end of the century would not be much different. Many publications of classic works about the hero were available (particularly “El Cantar de mio Cid”, “Las mocedades del Cid” by Guillén de Castro or “El Cid de Corneille”), the film by Anthony Mann could be purchased on video (and now on DVD) and the character still remained popular, added to which the centenary of his death was celebrated in 1999.

A good example of that ongoing interest for the famous warrior of the 11th century is that during the same year, the rock group from Rioja, Tierra Santa, recorded a CD whose main theme, “Legendario”, refers to the hero from Burgos, or in 2000, when at the end of the century and millennium, the biography and novel “El Cid” by José Luis Corral became a best-seller just after being published. Similarly, the Spanish full-length cartoon feature film “El Cid, la leyenda” (EL Cid, the Legend), won the Spanish Goya prize in 2004 for the best cartoon film, and through its acclaim by critics and the public, clearly showed the tremendous vitality of the figure of the hero at the dawn of the third millennium.

Author: Alberto Montaner Frutos, Professor at the University of Zaragoza, Spain.

Rev. PAB: 29.10.18