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El Cid: The Favourite Hero of Spain

by Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition

CID, THE, the favourite hero of Spain, and the most prominent figure in her literature. The name, however, is so obscured by myth and fable as scarcely to belong to history. So extravagant are the deeds ascribed to him, and so marvellous the attributes with which he has been clothed by the fond idolatry of his countrymen, that by some he has been classed with the Amadises and the Orlandos whose exploits he emulated. The Jesuit Masdeu stoutly denies that he had any real existence, and this heresy has not wanted followers even in Spain. The truth of the matter, however, has been expressed by Cervantes, through the mouth of the Canon in Don Quixote : “There is no doubt there was such a man as the Cid, but much doubt whether he achieved what is attributed to him.” The researches of Professor Dozy, of Leiden, have amply confirmed this opinion. There is a Cid of history and a Cid of romance, differing very materially in character, but each filling a large space in the annals of his country, and exerting a singular influence in the development of the national genius.

The Cid of history, though falling short of the poetical ideal which the patriotism of his countrymen has so long cherished, is still the foremost man of the heroical period of Spain—the greatest warrior produced out of the long struggle between Christian and Moslem, and the perfect type of the Castilian of the 12th century. Rodrigo Diaz, called de Bivar, from the place of his birth, better known by the title given him by the Arabs as the Cid(El Seid, the lord), and El Campeador, the champion par excellence, was of a noble family, one of whose members in a former generation had been elected judge of Castile. The date of his birth cannot be fixed with any certainty, but it was probably between 1030 and 1040. As Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar he is first mentioned in a charter of Ferdinand I. of the year 1064. The legends which speak of the Cid as accompanying this monarch in his expeditions to France and Italy must be rejected as purely apocryphal. Ferdinand, a great and wise prince, under whom the tide of Moslem conquest was first effectually stemmed, on his deathbed, in 1065, divided his territories among his five children. Castile was left to his eldest son Sancho, Leon to Alphonso, Galicia to Garcia, Zamora and Toro to his two daughters Urraca and Elvira. The extinction of the western caliphate and the dispersion of the once noble heritage of the Ommayads into numerous petty independent states, had taken place some thirty years previously, so that Castilian and Moslem were once again upon equal terms, the country being almost equally divided between them. On both sides was civil war, urged as fiercely as that against the common enemy, in which the parties sought allies indiscriminately among Christians and Mahommedans.

No condition of affairs could be more favourable to the genius of the Cid. He rose to great distinction in the war between Sancho of Castile and Sancho of Navarre, in which he won his name of Campeador, by slaying the enemy’s champion in single combat. In the quarrel between Sancho and his brother Alphonso, Rodrigo Diaz espoused the cause of the former, and it was he who suggested the perfidious stratagem by which Sancho eventually obtained the victory and possession of Leon. Sancho having been slain in 1072, while engaged in the siege of Zamora, Alphonso returned from exile and occupied the vacant throne. One of the most striking of the passages in the Cid’s legendary history is that wherein he is represented as forcing the new king to swear that he had no part in his brother’s death; but there was cause enough without this for Alphonso’s animosity against the man who had helped to despoil him of his patrimony. For a time the Cid, already renowned throughout Spain for his prowess in war, was even advanced by the king’s favour and entrusted with high commissions of state. In 1074 the Cid was wedded to Ximena, daughter of the count of Oviedo, and granddaughter, by the mother’s side, of Alphonso V. The original deed of the marriage-contract is extant. Some time afterwards the Cid was sent on an embassy to collect tribute from Motamid, the king of Seville, whom he found engaged in a war with Abdallah, the king of Granada. On Abdallah’s side were many Castilian knights, among them Count Garcia Ordoñez, a prince of the blood, whom the Cid endeavoured vainly to persuade of the disloyalty of opposing their master’s ally. In the battle which ensued under the walls of Seville, Abdallah and his auxiliaries were routed with great slaughter, the Cid returning to Burgos with many prisoners and a rich booty. There fresh proofs of his prowess only served to kindle against him the rancour of his enemies and the jealousy of the king. Garcia Ordoñez accused him to Alphonso of keeping back part of the tribute received from Seville, and the king took advantage of the Cid’s absence on a raid against the Moors to banish him from Castile.

Henceforth Rodrigo Diaz began to live that life of a soldier of fortune which has made him famous, sometimes fighting under the Christian banner, sometimes under Moorish, but always for his own hand. At the head of a band of 300 free lances he offered his services first to the count of Barcelona; then, failing him, to Moktadir, the Arab king of Saragossa, of the race of the Beni Houd. Under Moktadir, and his successors Moutamin and Mostain, the Cid remained for nearly eight years, fighting their battles against Mahommedan and Christian, when not engaged upon his own, and being admitted almost to a share of their royal authority. He made more than one attempt to be reconciled with Alphonso, but, his overtures being rejected, he turned his arms against the enemies of the Beni Houd, extending their dominions at the expense of the Christian states 362of Aragon and Barcelona, and harrying even the border lands of Castile. Among the enterprises of the Cid the most famous was that against Valencia, then the richest and most flourishing city of the peninsula, and an object of cupidity to both Christian and Moslem. The Cid appeared before the place at the head of an army of 7000 men, for the greater part Mahommedans. In vain did the Valencians implore succour from the emir of Cordova, and from their co-religionists in other parts of the peninsula. In defiance of an army which marched to the relief of the beleaguered city under Yusef the Almoravide, the Cid took Valencia after a siege of nine months, on the 15th of June 1094—the richest prize which up to that time had been recovered from the Moors. The conditions of the surrender were all violated—the cadi Ibn Djahhaff burnt alive, a vast number of the citizens who had escaped death by famine slaughtered, and the possessions divided among the Campeador’s companions. In other respects the Cid appears to have used his victory mildly, ruling his kingdom, which now embraced nearly the whole of Valencia and Murcia, for four years with vigour and justice. At length the Almoravides, whom he had several times beaten, marched against him in great force, inflicting a crushing defeat at Cuenca upon the Cid’s army, under his favourite lieutenant, Alvar Fanez. The blow was a fatal one to the aged and war-worn Campeador, who died of anger and grief in July 1099. His widow maintained Valencia for three years longer against the Moors, but was at last compelled to evacuate the city, taking with her the body of the Cid to be buried in the monastery of San Pedro at Cardeña, in the neighbourhood of Burgos. Here, in the centre of a small chapel, surrounded by his chief companions-in-arms, by Alvar Fanez Minaya, Pero Bermudez, Martin Antolinez and Pelaez the Asturian, were placed the remains of the mighty warrior, the truest of Spanish heroes, the embodiment of all the national virtues and most of the national vices. The bones have since been removed to the town hall of Burgos. Philip II. tried to get him canonized, but Rome objected, and not without reason.

Whatever were his qualities as a fighter, the Cid was but indifferent material out of which to make a saint,—a man who battled against Christian and against Moslem with equal zeal, who burnt churches and mosques with equal zest, who ravaged, plundered and slew as much for a livelihood as for any patriotic or religious purpose, and was in truth almost as much of a Mussulman as a Christian in his habits and his character. His true place in history is that of the greatest of the guerrilleros—the perfect type of that sort of warrior in which, from the days of Viriathus to those of Juan Diaz, El Empecinado, the soil of Spain has been most productive.

The Cid of romance, the Cid of a thousand battles, legends and dramas, the Cid as apotheosized in literature, the Cid invoked by good Spaniards in every national crisis, whose name is a perpetual and ever-present inspiration to Spanish patriotism, is a very different character from the historical Rodrigo Diaz—the freebooter, the rebel, the consorter with the infidels and the enemies of Spain. He is the Perfect One, the Born in a Happy Hour, “My Cid,” the invincible, the magnanimous, the all-powerful. He is the type of knightly virtue, the mirror of patriotic duty, the flower of all Christian grace. He is Roland and Bayard in one. In the popular literature of Spain he holds a place such as has no parallel in other countries. From an almost contemporary period he has been the subject of song; and he who was chanted by wandering minstrels in the 12th century has survived to be hymned in revolutionary odes of the 19th. In a barbarous Latin poem, written in celebration of the conquest of Almeria by Alphonso VII. in the year 1147, we have the bard testifying to the supereminence of the Cid among his country’s heroes:—

“Ipse Rodericus Mio Cid semper vocatus,

De quo cantatur quod ab hostibus haud superatus,

Qui domuit Mauros, comites domuit quoque nostros.”

Within a hundred years of his death the Cid had become the centre of a whole system of myths. The Poema del Cid, written in the latter half of the 12th century, has scarcely any trace of a historical character. Already the Cid had reached his apotheosis, and Castilian loyalty could not consent to degrade him when banished by his sovereign:—

“Dios, que buen vassalo si oviese buen señor!”

cry the weeping citizens of Burgos, as they speed the exile on his way.

The Poem of the Cid is but a fragment of 3744 lines; written in a barbarous style, in rugged assonant rhymes, and a rude Alexandrine measure, but it glows with the pure fire of poetry, and is full of a noble simplicity and a true epical grandeur, invaluable as a living picture of the age. The ballads relating to the Cid, of which nearly two hundred are extant, are greatly inferior in merit, though some of them are not unworthy to be ranked with the best in this kind. Duran believes the greater part of them to have been written in the 16th century. A few betray, not more by the antiquity of their language than by their natural and simple tone, traces of an earlier age and a freer national life. They all take great liberties with history, thus belying the opinion of Sancho Panza that “the ballads are too old to tell lies.” Such of them as are not genuine relics of the 12th century are either poetical versions of the leading episodes in the hero’s life as contained in the Chronicle, that Chronicle itself having been doubtless composed out of still earlier legends as sung by the wandering juglares, or pure inventions of a later time, owing their inspiration to the romances of chivalry. In these last the ballad-mongers, not to let their native hero be outdone by the Amadises, the Esplandians, and the Felixmartes, engage him in the most extravagant adventures—making war upon the king of France and upon the emperor, receiving embassies from the soldan of Persia, bearding the pope at Rome, and performing other feats not mentioned even in the Poem or the Chronicle. The last and the worst of the Cid ballads are those which betray by their frigid conceits and feeble mimicry of the antique the false taste and essentially unheroic spirit of the age of Philip II. As for the innumerable other poems, dramas and tales which have been founded on the legend of the Cid, from the days of Guillen de Castro and Diamante to those of Quintana and Trueba, they serve merely to prove the abiding popularity of the national hero in his native land.

The chief sources from which the story of the Cid is to be gathered are, first, the Latin chronicle discovered by Risco in the convent of San Isidro at Leon, proved by internal evidence to have been written before 1258; the Cronica General, composed by Alphonso X. in the second half of the 13th century, partly (so far as relates to the Cid) from the above, partly from contemporary Arabic histories, and partly from tradition; the Cronica del Cid, first published in 1512, by Juan de Velorado, abbot of the monastery of San Pedro at Cardeña, which is a compilation from the last, interlarded with new fictions due to the piety of the compiler; lastly, various Arabic manuscripts, some of contemporary date, which are examined and their claims weighed in the second volume of Professor Dozy’s Recherches sur l’histoire politique et littéraire de l’Espagne pendant le moyen âge (Leiden, 1849). Huber, Müller, and Ferdinand Wolf are among the leading authorities in the history and literature of the Cid. M. Damas Hinard has published the poem, with a literal French translation and notes, and John Hookham Frere has rendered it into English with extraordinary spirit and fidelity. The largest collection of the Cid ballads is that of Durant, in the Romancero general, in two volumes, forming part of Rivadeneyra’sBiblioteca de autores españoles.

Book: Shattered Sighs