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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction by Charles Sprague Smith (1853–1910)

By El Cid (c. 1043–1099)

IN the Cid we have two distinct personages, Rodrigo or Ruy Diaz (Dia son of Diego) who flourished during the last half of the eleventh century; and that legendary hero of Spanish epic poems, ballads, and dramas, whom Philip II. tried to have canonized. We are not left to our own conjectures as to the character and life of the historical Cid. Both Spanish and Arabic records place the main facts beyond all controversy.

He was born at Bivar, a hamlet three miles north of Burgos (circa 1040–1050), of an ancient Castilian family claiming descent from Lain Calvo,—one of the two judges who, tradition declares, was named by the Castilian people as their governor after the Leonese king had treacherously put their counts to death (circa 923).

The period of the Cid coincides with the political disruption of Arabic Spain. The Caliphate of Cordova, which in the preceding century had attained its high point in power and in all the arts of civilization, had fallen. A multitude of petty Moorish States disputed with each other the heritage of the Ommiad caliphs. The Christian States were not slow to profit by their opportunity. Ferdinand I. of Leon-Castile (surnamed the Great, 1037–65) not only extended his territory at the expense of the Moors, but also imposed tribute upon four of their more important States—Saragossa, Toledo, Badajoz, and Seville. Valencia only escaped a similar fate through his death.

The Peninsula was at this time divided among a large number of mutually independent and warring States, Christian and Moslem. The sentiments of loyalty to religion and to country were universally subordinated to those of personal interest; Christians fought under Moorish banners, Moors under Christian. Humanity toward the enemy, loyalty to oaths, were not virtues in the common estimation. Between the Christian States of Leon and Castile great jealousy ruled. Castile had come into being as a border province of the Asturian kingdom, governed by military counts. From the first there seems to have been a spirit of resistance to the overrule of the Asturian kings (later known as kings of Leon). Finally, under its Count Fernan Gonzalez (who died 970), Castile secured its independence. But whether leading a separate political existence, or united with Leon, Castile was ever jealously sensitive of any precedence claimed or exercised by its sister kingdom. Ferdinand I. of Leon-Castile, treating his territorial possessions as personal property,—a policy repeatedly fatal to all advance in Spanish history,—divided them at his death (1005), among his five children. Sancho, the eldest, received Castile, Nahera, and Pampeluna; Alfonso, Leon, and the Asturias; Garcia, Galicia, and that portion of Portugal which had been wrested from the Moors; Urraca received the city of Zamora; and Elvira, Toro.

The expected occurred. Sancho made war on his brothers, compelling both to flee to Moorish territories, and wrested Toro from Elvira. Rodrigo Diaz, the Cid, appears first at this period. He is the alferez, i.e., the standard-bearer, or commander-in-chief under the King, in Sancho’s army. The brother Kings, Sancho and Alfonso, had agreed to submit their dispute to a single combat, the victor to receive the territories of both. Alfonso’s Leonese army conquered the Castilian, and relying upon the agreement withdrew to its tents. Rodrigo Diaz was already known as the Campeador, a title won through his having, vanquished in single combat the champion of Sancho of Navarre, and signifying probably one skilled in battle, or champion.

Rodrigo gave a wily counsel to the routed Castilians. “The Leonese are not expecting an attack,” he said; “let us return and fall upon them at unawares.” The counsel was followed; the victors, resting in their tents, were surprised at daybreak, and only a few, Alfonso among the number, escaped with their lives. Alfonso was imprisoned at Burgos, but soon released at the entreaty of the Princess Urraca, on condition of his becoming a monk. Availing himself of such liberty, he escaped from the monastery to the Moorish court of Mamoun, King of Toledo. Sancho ruled thus over the entire heritage of his father,—Zamora excepted, the portion of Urraca. While laying siege to that city, he was slain by a cavalier in Urraca’s service, Bellido Dolfos, who, sallying from the city, made good his escape, though almost overtaken by the avenging Campeador, 1072.

Alfonso, the fugitive at Toledo, was now rightful heir to the throne; and however reluctant the Castilian nobles were to recognize the authority of a Leonese king, they yielded to necessity. It is asserted—but the historical evidence here is not complete—that before recognizing Alfonso’s authority the Castilian nobles required of him an oath that he had no part in his brother’s murder, and that it was the Campeador who administered this oath, 1073. Whatever the facts, Alfonso will have thought it wise to conciliate the good-will of the Castilian grandees, and especially that of their leader Rodrigo, until at least his own position became secure. To this we may attribute his giving to Rodrigo in marriage of Jimena, daughter of Diego, Count of Oviedo, and first cousin of the King. The marriage contract, bearing date 1074, is preserved at Burgos.

Some years later Rodrigo was sent to collect the tribute due Alfonso by his vassal Motamid, King of Seville. Finding the King of Granada at war with Motamid, Rodrigo requested him not to attack an ally of Alfonso. But prayers and threats were alike unavailing; it came to battle, and Rodrigo conquered. Among the prisoners were several Christians in the service of Granada, notably Garcia Ordonez, a scion of the royal Leonese house. Not long after, we find Rodrigo charged with having appropriated to his own use a portion of the tribute and gifts sent to Alfonso by Motamid, Garcia Ordonez being his chief accuser. Taking advantage of the pretext—it can have been but a pretext—of Rodrigo’s attacking the Moors without first securing the royal consent, Alfonso banished him. Old wrongs still rankling in the King’s memory furnished probably the real motive.

And now began that career as soldier of fortune which has furnished themes to Spanish poets of high and low degree, and which, transformed and idealized by tradition, has made of Rodrigo the perfect cavalier of crusading Christian Spain. He offered first, it would seem, his service and that of his followers to the Christian Count of Barcelona, and when refused by him, to the Moorish King of Saragossa. This State was one of the more important of those resulting from the distribution of the Caliphate of Cordova. The offer was accepted, and Rodrigo remained here until 1088, serving successively three generations of the Beni-Hud, father, son, and grandson, warring indifferently against Christians and Moors, and through his successes rising to extraordinary distinction and power.

At this time—1088—the attention of both Mostain, the King of Saragossa, and of his powerful captain Rodrigo, was drawn to Valencia. This city after the fall of the Caliphate of Cordova had been ruled for forty-four years by descendants of Almanzor, the great Prime Minister of the last period of the Ommiad dynasty. Mamoun, King of Toledo, who sheltered the fugitive Alfonso, deposed the last of these Valencian kings, his son-in-law, and annexed the State to his own dominion. At Mamoun’s death in 1075 Valencia revolted; the governor declared himself independent and placed himself under Alfonso’s protection.

Ten years later Mamoun’s successor, the weak Cadir, finding his position a desperate one, offered to yield up to Alfonso his own capital Toledo, on condition that the latter should place Valencia in his hands. Alfonso consented. Valencia was too weak to offer resistance, but Cadir proved equally incompetent as king and as general. Depending entirely upon his Castilian soldiery, captained by Alvar Fañez, a kinsman of Rodrigo, he grievously burdened the people in order to satisfy the demands of this auxiliary troop. But grinding taxes and extortions alike failed; and the soldiery, their wages in arrears, battened upon the country, the dregs of the Moorish population joining them. The territory was delivered at last from their robberies, rapes, and murders, by the appearance of the Almoravides. This new Moslem sect had grown strong in Africa, attaining there the political supremacy; and in their weakness the Moorish kings of Spain implored its assistance in repelling the attacks of the Christian North.

King Alfonso, alarmed at the appearance of these African hordes, recalled Alvar Fañez, was defeated by the Almoravides at Zallaca in 1086, and could think no more of garrisoning Valencia for Cadir. The position of Cadir became thus critical, and he appealed for help both to Alfonso and to Mostain of Saragossa. Mostain sent Rodrigo, ostensibly to his assistance; but a secret agreement had been made, Arabic historians assert, between the king and his general, whereby Cadir was to be despoiled, the city fall to Mostain, the booty to Rodrigo (1088).

The expedition was a successful one: Cadir’s enemies were compelled to withdraw, and Rodrigo established himself in Valencian territory. As the recognized protector of the lawful king, in reality the suzerain of Valencia, Rodrigo received a generous tribute; but he had no intention of holding to his agreement with Mostain and assisting the latter to win the city. It is clear on the contrary that he had already resolved to secure, when opportunity offered, the prize for himself. Meanwhile he skillfully held off, now by force, now by ruse, all other competitors, Christian and Moslem alike; including among these King Alfonso, whose territories he wasted with fire and sword when that monarch attempted once, in Rodrigo’s absence, to win Valencia for himself.

At another time we find him intriguing simultaneously with four different rivals for the control of the city,—Alfonso and Mostain among the number,—deceiving all with fair words.

As head of an independent army, Rodrigo made now successful forays in all directions; despoiling, levying tribute, garrisoning strongholds, strengthening thus in every way his position. At last the long awaited opportunity came. During his temporary absence, Cadir was dethroned and put to death; and the leader of the insurgents, the Cadi Ibn Djahhof, named president of a republic.

Rodrigo returned, and appealing in turn to ruse and force, at last sat down before the city to reduce it by famine. During the last period of the siege, those who fled from the city to escape the famine were thrown to dogs, or burned at slow fires. The city capitulated on favorable terms, June 15th, 1094. But all the conditions of the capitulation were violated. The Cadi-President was buried in a trench up to his arm-pits, surrounded with burning brands, and slowly tortured to death, several of his kinsmen and friends sharing his fate. Rodrigo was with difficulty restrained from throwing into the flames the Cadi’s children and the women of his harem. Yet the lives and property of Ibn Djahhof and his family had been expressly safeguarded in the capitulation. It is probable that Rodrigo’s title of “the Cid” or “my Cid” (Arabic, Sid-y = my lord) was given to him at this time by his Moorish subjects.

Master of Valencia, the Cid dreamed of conquering all that region of Spain still held by the Moors. An Arab heard him say, “One Rodrigo (the last king of the Goths) has lost this peninsula; another Rodrigo will recover it.” Success crowned his arms for several years. But in 1099 the troops he had sent against the Almoravides were utterly routed, few escaping. The Cid, already enfeebled in health, died, it is said of grief and shame (July, 1099). His widow held the city for two years longer. Besieged at that time by the Almoravides, she sought help of Alfonso. He came and forced the enemy to raise the siege; but judging that it was not possible for him to defend a city so remote from his dominions, counseled its abandonment. As the Christians, escorting the body of the Cid, marched out, Valencia was fired; and only ruins awaited the Almoravides (1102).

The Cid’s body was brought to San Pedro de Cardeña, a monastery not far from Burgos; enthroned, it is said, beside the high altar for ten years, and thereafter buried. Jimena survived her husband until 1104.

Ibn Bassam, an Arabic contemporary, writing at Seville only ten years after the death of the Cid, after describing his cruelty and duplicity, adds:—“Nevertheless, that man, the scourge of his time, was one of the miracles of the Lord in his love of glory, the prudent firmness of his character, and his heroic courage. Victory always followed the banner of Rodrigo (may God curse him!); he triumphed over the barbarians,… he put to flight their armies, and with his little band of warriors slew their numerous soldiery.”

The Cid, a man not of princely birth, through the exercise of virtues which his time esteemed,—courage and shrewdness,—had won for himself from the Moors an independent principality. Legend will have begun to color and transform his exploits already during his lifetime. Some fifty years later he had become the favorite hero of popular songs. It is probable that these songs (cantares) were at first brief tales in rude metrical form; and that the epic poems, dating from about 1200, used them as sources. The earliest poetic monument in Castilian literature which treats of the Cid is called ‘The Poem of My Cid.’ While based upon history, its material is largely legendary. The date of its composition is doubtful,—probably about 1200. The poem—the beginning is lost—opens with the departure of “My Cid” from Bivar, and describes his Moorish campaigns, culminating with the conquest of Valencia. Two Leonese nobles, the Infantes (Princes) of Carrion, beseech Alfonso to ask for them in marriage the conqueror’s daughters. The Cid assents—to his King he would refuse nothing—and the marriages are celebrated in Valencia with due pomp. But the princes are arrant cowards. To escape the gibes of the Cid’s companions, after securing rich wedding portions they depart for Carrion. In the oak wood of Carpes they pretend a desire to be left alone with their wives. Despoiling them of their outer garments, with saddle-girth and spurred boot they seek to revenge upon the Cid’s daughters the dishonor to which their own base conduct subjected them while at the Cid’s court. But time brings a requital. The Infantes, called to account, forfeit property and honor, esteeming themselves fortunate to escape with their lives from the judicial duels. Princes of Navarre and Aragon present themselves as suitors, and in second marriages Doña Elvira and Doña Sola become queens of Spain. The marriages with the Infantes of Carrion are pure invention, intended perhaps to defame the Leonese nobility, these nobles being princes of the blood royal.

The second marriages, if we substitute Barcelona for Aragon, are historical. Of the Cid’s two daughters, one married Prince Ramiro of Navarre and the other Count Raynard Berenger III. of Barcelona. In 1157 two of the Cid’s great-grandchildren, Sancho VI. of Navarre and his sister Doña Blanca, queen of Sancho III. of Castile, sat on Spanish thrones. Through intermarriage the blood of the Cid has passed into the Bourbon and Habsburg lines, and with Eleanor of Castile into the English royal house.

The ‘Poem of My Cid’ is probably the earliest monument of Spanish literature. It is also in our opinion the noblest expression—so far as the characters are concerned; for the verse halts and the description sometimes lags—of the entire mediæval folk epic of Europe. Homeric in its simplicity, its characters are drawn with clearness, firmness, and concision, presenting a variety true to nature, far different from the uniformity we find in the ‘Song of Roland.’ The spirit which breathes in it is of a noble, well-rounded humanity, a fearless and gentle courage, a manly and modest self-reliance; an unswerving loyalty and simple trust toward country, king, kinsmen, and friends; a child-faith in God, slightly tinged with superstition, for “My Cid” believes in auguries; and a chaste tender family affection, where the wife is loved and honored as wife and as mother, and the children’s welfare fills the father’s thoughts.

The duplicity of the historical Cid has left indeed its traces. When abandoning Castile he sends to two Jewish money-lenders of Burgos, chests filled, as he pretends, with fine gold, but in reality with sand; borrows upon this security, and so far as we are informed, never repays the loan. The Princes of Carrion, his sons-in-law, are duped into thinking that they will escape from the accounting with the loss of Tizon and Colada, the swords which the Cid gave them. But a certain measure of prudent shrewdness is not out of place in dealing with men of the treacherous character of the Infantes. And as to the Jewish money-lenders, to despoil them would scarce have been regarded as an offense against the moral law in mediæval Spain.

The second poetic monument is variously named. Amadar de los Rios, a historian of Spanish literature, styles it ‘The Legend or Chronicle of the Youth of Rodrigo.’ Its date also is disputed, some authorities placing its composition earlier, others later than that of the Poem. The weight of evidence seems to us in favor of the later date. It is rude and of inferior merit, though not without vigorous passages. It treats the earliest period of the Cid’s life, and is (so far as we know) purely legendary. The realm of Castile-Leon is at peace under the rule of Ferdinand (the First), when the Count Don Gomez of Gormaz makes an unprovoked descent upon the sheep-folds of Diego Lainez. A challenge of battle follows. Rodrigo, only son of Diego, a lad in his thirteenth year, insists upon being one of the hundred combatants on the side of his family, and slays Don Gomez in single combat. Jimena, the daughter of Gomez, implores justice of the King; but when Ferdinand declares that there is danger of an insurrection if Rodrigo be punished, she proposes reconciliation through marriage. Diego and his son are summoned to the court, where Rodrigo’s appearance and conduct terrify all. He denies vassalship, and declares to King Ferdinand, “That my father kissed your hand has foully dishonored me.”

Married to Jimena against his will (Jimena Diaz, not Jimena Gomez, was his historical wife), he vows never to recognize her as wife until he has won five battles with the Moors in open field. Ferdinand plays a very unkingly rôle in this poem. While his fierce vassal is absent the King is helpless; and Rodrigo draws near only to assert anew his contempt for the royal authority by blunt refusals of Ferdinand’s requests. He is always ready, however, to take up the gauntlet and defend the realm against every enemy, Christian or Moor. But this rude courage is coupled with devout piety, and is not insensible to pity. At the ford of the Duero a wretched leper is encountered: all turn from him with loathing save Rodrigo, who gives to him a brother’s care. It is Saint Lazarus, who departing blesses him.

At last a formidable coalition is formed against Spain. The Emperor of Germany and the King of France, supported by the Pope and Patriarch, require of Spain, in recognition of her feudal dependence upon the Roman empire, a yearly tribute of fifteen noble virgins, besides silver, horses, falcons, etc. Rodrigo appears when Ferdinand is in despair, and kisses at last the royal hand in sign of vassalship. Though the enemy gather “countless as the herbs of the fields,” even Persia and Armenia furnishing contingents, their battle array is vain.

The five Kings of Spain cross the Pyrenees. Arrived before Paris, Rodrigo passes through the midst of the French army, strikes with his hand the gates of the city, and challenges the twelve French peers to combat. The allies in alarm implore a truce. At the council, Rodrigo, seated at the feet of his King and acting as Ferdinand’s spokesman, curses the Pope when the latter offers the imperial crown of Spain. “We came for that which was to be won,” he declares, “not for that already won.” Against Rodrigo’s advice the truce is accorded to all. Here the poem is interrupted.

Besides these two epic poems, we have in the earlier Spanish literature two chronicles in prose which describe the life of the Cid,—‘The General Chronicle of Alfonso the Learned’ and ‘The Chronicle of the Cid,’ the latter being drawn from the former. Both rest in part upon historical sources, in part upon legend and tradition. Two centuries and more after the Poem, we meet with the Romances or Ballads of the Cid. For the earliest of these do not in their present form date far back of 1500. These ballads derive from all sources, but chiefly from the Cid legend, which is here treated in a lyric, sentimental, popular, and at times even vulgar tone.

Guillem de Castro (1569–1631) chose two themes from the life of the Cid for dramatic treatment, composing a dual drama styled ‘Las Mocedades del Cid’ (The Youth of the Cid). The first part is the more important. De Castro, drawing from the ballads, told again the story of the insult to Don Diego (according to the ballads, a blow in the face given by Don Gomez in a moment of passion), its revenge, the pursuit of Rodrigo by Jimena, demanding justice of King Ferdinand, and finally the reconciliation through marriage. But De Castro added love, and the conflict in the mind of Rodrigo and in that of Jimena between affection and the claims of honor.

Corneille recast De Castro’s first drama in his ‘Le Cid,’ condensing it and giving to the verse greater dignity and nobility. The French dramatist has worked with entire independence here, and both in what he has omitted and what he has added has usually shown an unerring dramatic instinct. In certain instances, however, through ignorance of the spirit and sources of the Spanish drama he has erred. But the invention is wholly De Castro’s, and many of Corneille’s most admired passages are either free translations from the Spanish or expressions of some thought or sentiment contained in De Castro’s version.

In more recent times Herder has enriched German literature with free renderings of some of the Cid ballads. Victor Hugo has drawn from the Cid theme, in his ‘La Legende des Siècles’ (The Legend of the Centuries), fresh inspiration for his muse.