238. The Poem of the Cid (1140-1207)

Source :  Penguin Classic edition translated by Rita Hamilton and Janet Perry, 1975.

Thoughts :  Surviving almost complete in a single manuscript, this story of a legendary Spanish warlord is part history, part literature, and in this edition at least, a fairly flat experience in the first half. Ruy Diaz de Vivar (The Cid, or Campeador) has been exiled by King Alfonso, and with a growing band of followers, leaves Castile to raid and take over Moorish Spain. Nowhere as dramatic as that sounds, it takes the second half and the marriage of his two daughters to cowardly villains The Brothers Infantes to bring the story alive, and even then it is The Cid’s brave knights who rescue and rain down retribution on the evildoers in personal battle.

While it was written around the time of the second and third Crusades, the wars fought by El Cid are not rabidly anti-Muslim, as he is not religiously driven to drive them out of Spain, but to carve his own territory into the landscape to feed himself and his army. He befriends and releases some Moors, and fights against Christians and Muslims in the Moorish army.

“We are obliged to defend ourselves with lance and sword. If we did not do so we could not live in this impoverished land”   page 65.

If the Vikings invading and settling in England had told their story, it would probably be similar.

Favourite quotes/scenes: While The Cid sleeps on a couch, a lion escapes its cage in the court. While the knightly retinue surround the sleeping Lord to protect him, his sons-in-law hide underneath the couch and behind the wine press. The Cid awakes, walks up to the lion who cowers in submission to the great man, and leads it back to the cage by its mane.

Digressions/diversions:   As you can see above, Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren brought this to life on the big screen in the 1960s. Hopefully it was more exciting than this translation.

Personal rating: 5/10

In the years 1140-1149: from the Book of Key Facts (Paddington Press, 1978)

  • Hohokam and Pueblo cultures on the rise in southwestern North America
  • Alfonso VII of Castile forges ahead with Christian reconquest of Muslim Spain, 1144
  • Second Crusade begins 1147, led by German Emperor Konrad III and French King Louis VII.
  • Defeated Matilda leaves England, 1148;  her son Henry will inherit the Duchy of Normandy
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