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El Cid and Medieval History
Medieval Spain was a constant battlefield where Christians and Moors fought constantly. The Moors had invaded Spain in the early stages of the 7th century and remained in control of the area well into what are now known as the Middle Ages. The Moors had begun their campaign in Europe intent upon conquering the entire continent but had been stopped at the Pyrenees by Charles the Hammer. Nevertheless, the Moors remained in Spain for over 700 years and their influence on Spanish culture remains evident to this very day. These influences include the Spanish language and its architecture.
In the course of over 700 years many legends and tails arise both fictional and real. When these legends and tails begin, at least when they are based upon living characters, they tend to accurately reflect the conditions and events as they occurred. As time progresses, however, the legends and tales begin to lose their historical and factual accuracy.
In the long period of Moorish occupation in Spain there are many stories of resistance and attempts at ridding the area of the Moors but none are greater or more significant than the stories surrounding one Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, colloquially known as El Cid. El Cid was a Castillian nobleman and military leader who rose to become the chief general in King Alfonso's army and in said capacity led Alfonso's efforts to rid Spain of the Moorish influence. The documentation regarding El Cid's birth, death, and life are well documented but through the passage of time and the publishing of historical accounts legend and historical facts have become understandably mixed. As best as anyone can tell, El Cid apparently found himself fighting on behalf of the Christians while at other times he was known to have fought with the Arabs. How this developed and why is often confusing and because of the historical period during which El Cid lived (1043-1099) the historical facts are not well documented. Much of what is known about El Cid was passed down through word of mouth and its attendant problems or through the use of poems which by their inherent nature often mixed fact with fiction in order to produce an engaging story. One of these poems, entitled as either El Cantar de Myo Cid or El Poema de Myo Cid in Spanish, or in English as The Lay of the Cid or The Poem of the Cid, is the oldest of the preserved Spanish poems and some of the subtle differences in the translation of this poem through the centuries provide an clear idea of how facts can become blurred through the years despite the good intentions of those providing the translations.
The cited poem shows some variations from historical facts. The poem in question does not mention that El Cid had a son while, in fact, he had a son named Diego Rodriquez, who died at the Battle of Consuegra. Another fact cited incorrectly by the poem is the fact that his daughters' names were Christiana and Maria but the poem identifies them as Elvira and Sol.
The problem with these poems is that they were composed prior to the date when such stories were transcribed in writing, that is, they were transmitted through oral means only. As a result, there was a high probability of error. Even as the poems began to be transcribed, the poems were being written in medieval Spanish which differs substantially from the Spanish in use today. Therefore, there remains the possibility for error. Nevertheless, the stories relative to the history of El Cid have proven to be of great historical significance and, surprisingly, have also seemingly free of grandiosity. They portray a historical figure of great complexity whose legend may be deserved and, for many years, it was assumed by many historians that the El Cid legend was historically accurate but modern historians such as Richard Fletcher are beginning to raise questions.
One of the leading authorities on El Cid, Richard Fletcher, who teaches medieval history at the University of York in England, has aggressively taken aim at the accuracy of El Cid's legend in his book, The Quest for El Cid.
Fletcher argues that El Cid never had any particular belief that he was taking part in the so-called re-conquest of Spain from the Moors. Instead, Fletcher argues that El Cid's interest in the Spanish Muslims was more related to his desire to pursue the immense stores of gold possessed by the Muslims and not be any desire to expel them from Spain. Fletcher writes: "In Rodrigo's (El Cid) day there was little if any sense of nationhood, crusade, or reconquest in the Christian kingdom of Spain. Rodrigo….was as ready to fight alongside Muslims against Christians as vice versa. He was his own man and fought for his own profit."
Fletcher does believe that the primary sources relied upon for depicting life during the time of El Cid do a creditable job of depicting the rich cultural and ethnic mix of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, that lived in relative peace on the Spanish peninsula but he is careful to point out that The Poem of El Cid upon which much of the history of the period is based is full of fictional elements. Fletcher, however, felt that the poem, based on what he was able to uncover regarding medieval Spain and the stories surrounding the legendary El Cid was deeply rooted in historical fact.
Fletcher analogized The Poem of El Cid to other legendary epics from other cultures such as The Song of Roland
in France and Beowulf
in English literature. Both epics were revealing about the era about which they were written but, like all such epics, were written to tell a story and not written to document events in history. Over time they have been used as an insight into the period but true historians would never rely upon them as being precise history. These epic poems were developed in an era that predated written records and relied heavily upon the stories being transmitted orally. As a result, many of the details were lost in the process and the more inspiring portions were subsequently omitted. Fletcher would point out that as the stories were transmitted orally the tendency would be for the story tellers to emphasize the portions of the story that glorified the heroes of the story and omit the portions that reflected negatively on the hero. This is human nature and it lends a lack of credibility to the entire story. For this reason, among others, Fletcher relied more heavily on the literary work of Menendez Pidal in doing the research for his book than upon any translation of the Poem of El Cid.
Although the historical details of El Cid may be questionable the poem does provide good insight into the chivalry of the day. Due to the fact that narrators are less likely to embellish information such as human behavior the poem is believed to be a reliable source as to the knightly qualities of the characters described therein. As such, El Cid embodies the qualities of the honorable knight but, as the story develops, he is also described as possessing qualities commonly associated to criminals, or more appropriately, mercenaries.
The Poem of El Cid has been translated numerous times throughout history and there are differences in all the translation. Its value as a historical document is questionable but it remains an important piece of literature. Experts in medieval history still reference the translated versions when analyzing medieval Spain and it provides insights into the time period. Through the passage of time, The Poem of El Cid, has created a legend that became larger than life in Spain. In Spain, the Cid has developed into a…[continue]
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