45 pages 1 hour read


The Poem of the Cid (The Song of the Cid)

Fiction | Novel/Book in Verse | Adult | BCE

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Summary and Study Guide


The Song of the Cid, also known as El Cantar de mio Cid, is a Spanish epic written in verse by an unknown author. The only surviving medieval Spanish epic, it is widely considered Spain’s national folktale, telling of fictionalized events at the formation of medieval Spain in the 11th century. It is based on the true story of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, a Castilian knight who in reality fought for both Christian and Muslim forces, and explores chivalric themes such as loyalty, honor, and justice. The narrative takes place during a pivotal moment of destabilization in Muslim Spain, while various Christian territories attempted to form and maintain alliances in northern Spain.

The Cid survives in one manuscript dated to 1207, which was likely composed as early as 1140 and may have circulated orally before being transcribed. Composed of 3730 lines divided unevenly into 152 laisses or stanzas, the overall structure of the epic falls into three cantar. The first cantar addresses the Cid’s banishment and vindication, the second the conquering of Valencia and his pardon by King Alfonso, and the third his conflict with the Carrión nobles and the story’s denouement. Typical of medieval narratives, most characters of The Cid are stock figures or are depicted with little distinguishing physical or personal details. There is some psychological development, from the Cid’s love of his king and family, to the Carrión heir’s desire for revenge after their humiliation in Valencia. However, most characters are flat, either devoted to the Cid or against his success. This guide uses the 2009 Penguin Classics edition, The Song of the Cid: A Dual-Language Edition with Parallel Text, translated by Maria Rosa Menocal.

Plot Summary

With the first pages of the manuscript missing, Canto 1 opens with the Cid’s banishment from Castile by King Alfonso, though no reason is given for the exile. The hero reluctantly leaves his homeland; no one can help him, though all agree his banishment is unjust. He is accompanied by a few of his men, and they must flee the land within nine days or face execution. A man named Martín Antolínez joins them and helps the Cid secure a loan from two merchants named Raguel and Vidas. With this money the Cid can pay his men. He stops at the Abbey San Pedro de Cardeña to take leave of his wife Doña Jimena and daughters Sol and Elvira. He pays the Abbot Don Sancho to care for them while he is away. Joined by the knight Minaya Álvar Fáñez, they begin to leave Castile, attracting more followers along the way. The Cid is encouraged by the Angel Gabriel in a dream, who assures him of success in everything he does.

Before leaving Castile, the Cid and his followers ambush the Castejón Moors and take their city, but this is risky as the king’s forces may be following them. They quickly leave the town and continue on to attack Alcocer, tricking the residents to come out and fight them. With the spoils from both of these cities, the Cid is gaining wealth and soldiers. He sends Minaya back to the king with gifts, and the king in turn decrees that while he cannot pardon the Cid, he will encourage men to join his fight. As the Cid crosses Spain, Count Ramón of Barcelona takes offense and accuses him of crossing into his territory. After a confrontation between their forces, Count Ramón is captured, but refuses to concede. The Cid successfully convinces him to become an ally and lets him return to Catalonia, but he keeps the man’s wealth and the famous sword Colada.

Canto 2 begins as the Cid encroaches on Valencia, taking smaller cities along the way. Outside of Valencia he confronts the Moorish army, winning the battle and besieging Valencia for nine months. At the tenth month the Moors surrender, and the Cid becomes ruler of the city. He sends gifts back to King Alfonso, who agrees to let the Cid’s wife and daughters travel to join him. Minaya and the Cid’s men, including his ally Abengalbón of Molina, escort the women to Valencia, where their safe arrival is celebrated. Not long after, King Yusef of Morocco attacks the Cid’s forces and loses. After this victory, the Cid sends Minaya to the king with a new gift of horses. The king is delighted, but the Cid’s enemies—Don García and the Carrión nobles—are not and begin strategizing. With the king ready to pardon the Cid, the Carrión nobles ask the king for the Cid’s daughters in marriage. Encouraged by the king, who has now pardoned him, the Cid reluctantly allows the king to decide on the marriage proposal. The king sanctions the marriage; Doña Sol and Doña Elvira marry the Carrión heirs Fernando and Diego Gonzalez, ending Canto 2.

In Canto 3, the Carrión heirs are humiliated in Valencia when they hide from a lion that has gotten loose in the palace, and later when they run from a counter-attack from King Búcar that is easily quelled by the Cid’s men. After killing Búcar, the Cid acquires the sword Tizón. Unbeknownst to the Cid, the Carrión brothers decide to return to Castile with the wealth they have acquired and find better wives. Along the way they beat and leave their wives, Sol and Elvira, for dead in a forest, but they are found by their cousin Felix and returned to Valencia. The Cid asks the king for justice, and the latter calls a court in Toledo, obliging the Carrións to attend. Here, the Cid asks first that the swords Tizón and Colada be returned to him, which he had given as gifts to his sons-in-law. The Carrións agree, and the Cid re-gifts the swords to Martín Antolínez and his nephew Pedro Bermúdez. Next, the Cid asks the court that the Carrións return his daughters’ substantial dowries, which they are ordered to do. This essentially ruins their family since they had already spent most of the money. Finally, the Cid challenges them to fight, with his men fighting in his place. In the meantime, messengers from the Princes of Aragon and Navarre arrive, asking to marry the Cid’s daughters.

Three weeks later, with the Cid back in Valencia, Pedro Bermúdez challenges Fernando González, handily beating him with Tizón. Martín Antolínez defeats Diego González with Colada. And Muño Gustioz defeats a Carrión noble named Ansur González. With these three victories, the Carrións are humiliated, and the Cid has won honor for his family. The epic ends with the Cid fully reconciled with King Alfonso, his daughters married to the Princes of Aragon and Navarre, and the Cid, who brought honor to his family, dying at Pentecost.

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