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The Cid is a fair and just man, which is part of the knightly image, and he lives a good and just life. He is pious, and he commands respect, as the growth of his forces during his exile indicates. The image of the knight is also extremely brave, especially in battle, and both books hold up this image. The Cid and his men are extremely brave on the battlefield, and they support each other, as well. In one battle, one of his knights loses his horse. Simpson writes, "His lance is broken, but he grasps his sword and smites mightily, now on foot" (Simpson 33). This is one of the enduring images of the knight, that he is brave among all other things, and that he is extremely brave in battle.
Another image of the knight in both books is that they share a camaraderie and sense of working together, in their fighting and in their lifestyle. El Cid and his men are friends as well as fighters, and when they are not fighting, they take time to have fun and to enjoy each other's company. This is shown on the battlefield, during their preparation, and in their celebrations after victories. The knights were like a team, and they supported each other when they needed it. The Cid supports his followers and shares his wealth with them, indicating that he was fair and honorable, and that was a very important ideal for the knights.
These two works are very different genres, and so, they do present the knights in different lights. The Cid is clearly meant to celebrate the life of a great, heroic knight, and so, it tells the story in romantic and heroic terms. The writing, which has been translated many different times, is flowery and old-fashioned, and My Cid can do nothing wrong in the poem. He also rises to great heights, takes car of his family, regains his wealth, and defies his enemies; he is the "perfect" knight and helped create some of the ideas people have about knights and how they lived. It is not written as a true history of knighthood, like the Gies book is, and the difference between the two gives a better understanding of knights and their lives.
The Gies book is meant to be a glimpse into real history -- how the knights lived and worked, and what it was like to live in a medieval castle. Their book gives a much more balanced view of the life and work of a knight, because they have used research and study to learn about how these people lived and worked, and they want to show the good and the bad. It gives a much more complex picture of the knights and their society, while the poem gives a hint at the battles and hardships the knights endured while they were fighting and battling others, like the Moors they face in the poem.
The image of the knight is also one filled with pageantry and pomp. In recreations of medieval tournaments, there are always banners flying, shields with heraldry, and bright colored costumes. Much of this is seen in both these books too. The Gies' show a ceremony for a new knight filled with special tunics, ornate armor and weapons decorated with gold and gems, and a pageant that is worthy of any celebration today, including a great feast after religious prayers and rituals. The pageantry of the celebration indicates how important the knights were in medieval society, and the status they held, but they also help reinforce the ideal of the knight, and that they were undertaking almost a sacred duty. They had to have high ideals and embrace the chivalric code to become a successful and influential knight.
Today, people want to believe in the heroic image of the knight, like King Arthur and his Round Table, because that is the way they have been portrayed historically, through poems like "The Poem of El Cid" and others. Yet, knights were people too, and they had the same realities and problems that others of the time endured. They were human, and they had difficult, even dangerous jobs. They helped ensure the survival of the upper classes, they fought religious crusades, and they attempted to enrich themselves with the spoils of war. Eventually, the need for knights disappeared, and they disappeared, too, leaving the defense of the homeowners to large, continental armies that fought bigger wars over bigger objectives.
In conclusion, these two works give a more complete picture of what it was like to be a knight in the Middle Ages. Much of what people "know" about knights come from epic poems like the one about My Cid and others like the "Ballad of Roland." They helped build up the myth about medieval knights, chivalry, and created a very romantic view of knights and knighthood. The realities are really very different. Knights were often mercenaries who hired themselves out to others in order to make money, and they were highly trained in fighting, weaponry, and defense. That was their main task, to defend the castle and its occupants. Knights were regarded as high-class members of society, they had their own codes and ideals, and they often died in the line of duty. They were not as romantic and glorious as they have been portrayed, but they were effective solutions to attacks and defense for several centuries before they died out. They formed the backbone of medieval society, and their ideals still make a good story today.
Gies, Joseph and Frances. Life in a Medieval Castle. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974.
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