Summer Reading Reviews, Part 1:
Poem of the Cid

The Poem of the Cid: Dual Language Edition. Tr. Rita Hamilton and Janet Perry. New York: Penguin Classics, 1985. 256 pages.

This summer, I'm doing a readings course that is mostly about the literature of the Muslim-Christian contact in the Middle Ages. I'll read The Poem of the Cid, The Song of Roland,Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzifal, Arab Historians of the Crusades, The Arabs and Medieval Europe, Europe and the Mystique of Islam, and The Orient in Chaucer and Medieval Romance. I'll probably also read The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History, if I have time. My plan is to read them, then blog about them here, mostly because I haven't heard otherwise yet.

We start this week with the Penguin edition of the Cantar del mio Cid, which was probably composed in the 12th century, but exists in a single manuscript dated to the 14th century. Like any good scholarly edition for those of us whose linguistic training doesn't extend as far as it ought, it's nicely dual language so you can fake your quotes later (owning copies of the Loeb library classical editions is also paramount). The translation is quite readable, and kept parallel with the text so that by triangulating between the English, my Latin, and the Castilian, I can make out what the Castilian is saying.

That said, this is my first time reading the Cantar (or Poema; no-one's really clear about the preferred term, and it may just be the idiosyncrasy of the manuscript compiler) and let me tell you, it's weird. To be honest, it first put me in the mood for the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie, in that el Cid, having been exiled, decides to randomly besiege the neighboring taifa until he has enough money and prestiege to buy his way back into the king's heart. It's insane, and poorly justified, and has a nice bit of the usual medieval antisemitism in the front, in which Ruy Diaz fills two chests full of sand, pretends they're full of gold, and gets the Jews to loan him 400 marks (about £270 sterling, assuming a mark was about 13/6
a nice little sum).

What else? It's a national epic, they say, and that's not surprising; it's pure Castilian, in that—to borrow the refrain from La chanson de Roland—the pagans are wrong and the Christians are right. There are a few of the virtuous heathen, but they're in the minority; most of the Moors are awash in luxury, so much so that only a few years and battles later, Ruy Diaz has his entire fortune back twice over, and has a retinue that could seriously threaten the King of Castile. Good thing he's distracted from all that by the marriage of his daughters to the Infantes of Carrion, who turn out to be jackasses.

I'm sure all the Moors were relieved.


Brooke said...

Dude, I totally disagree. The Christians are certainly not always good. The king of Aragon is clearly the villain of the piece. The king of Aragon takes El Cid's land away turning him into a mercenary. The whole poem is a revenge piece against the King of Aragon, which is as Christian of a kingdom as Castile. I think El Cid tells us more about factions in Christian Spain then it does anything else and I include race relations in my “anything else.” Tricking Jews out of money and killing greedy Moors are just an added benefit in the quest of revenge. The Jews and Moors in the work are stock characters, crude caricatures of stereotypes, while the Christians are much more fully realized, their evil much more complex.

Also, how can you blog about El Cid and not mention the beard stroking? I am pretty convinced that the major theme of the poem is that beards are badass.

Jacob said...

I'm not sure I see that entirely; while El Cid is certainly taking revenge on the King of Aragon, the king himself is rather pleased by everything, especially when he gets stuff from Ruy Diaz.

You're right about the beards, though. Seriously--he's so damn proud of that thing, you'd think he was all the members of ZZ Top.