The Northern Way

WSong and Legend From the Middle Ages


Page 1

The golden age of Spanish Literature embraces the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; but the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were, in Spain as in other European countries, a period of special literary activity. The impulses at work were the same as those to be noted in contemporary France, England, and Germany, and the work produced of the same general type. The chief phases of Spanish mediæval literature are these:

1. Epic and heroic poetry.

Here, as elsewhere, heroic ballads grew up about the national heroes. These were gradually fused into long epic poems by the wandering minstrels. The best of these Chansons de Geste are [1] The Poem of the Cid, [2] Rhymed Chronicle of the Cid. Both of them belong probably to the twelfth century.

2. Romances.

Many romances, or short semi-epic poems, grew out about the Cid. Of others, some were of the Carlovingian cycle, the most famous being that concerning Bernardo del Carpio, the traditional rival and conqueror of Roland. Some were devoted to the Athurian legend. This latter cycle of stories was immensly popular in Spain, though rather in translation and imitation than in original works. In the fourteenth century these older romances were technically called "books of chivalry" and their popularity and influence was widespread.

3. Lyric poetry.

There seems to have been no special development of lyric poetry early in Spain, such as is found in France. The earliest noteworthy lyric poet is Juan Ruiz (1300-1350).

4. Didactic literature.

As early as the first half of the thirteenth century, we have in Spain a strong didactic literature. Gonzalo de Berceo (d. 1268) wrote many lives of the saints, miracles, hymns to the Virgin, and other devotional pieces. But the impulses to allegorizing does not seem to come to Spain till much later.

5. Fables and tales.

Though a little later in being developed in Spain than in France, the same delight was taken in fables and short tales. About the middle of the fourteenth century, Juan Manul (d. 1349) made, in his El Conde Lucanor, a large collection of these tales.

6. Chronicles.

Spain had early an excellent school of chroniclers. An example of their work is The General Chronicle of Spain compiled under Alphonso the Wise (d. 1284).


Romantic ballads grew up in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Spain, centering chiefly about the national hero, Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, who was called THE CID, some account of whom is necessary in order to an understanding of the poems.

History.----Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, born 1030-40, died 1099, was the foremost warrior of the great struggle between the Christians and the Moors in Spain. The Moors called him the CID (Seid, the Lord), and the Champion (El Campeador). He was a vigorous, unscrupulous fighter, now on one side, now on the other. He was at one time entrusted with high embassies of state, at others, a rebel. His true place in history seems to be that of a great freebooter and guerrilla. His contemporary fame was really great.

Legend.----During the lifetimeof the CID many marvels and myths grew up about him, and within the next century they became almost numberless. He became the hero of poet and of romancer to the Spanish people. His story was told everywhere by the wandering minstrels, and his name became the center of all popular romances.

Literature.----At once, then, a large literature sprang up concerning the CID---ballads, romances, and incipient dramas. The chief pieces are [1] The General Chronicle of Spain, compiled under Alphonso X. (died 1284); [2] The Chronicle of the Cid, perhaps extracts from the first, and [3] Various Poems and Romances of the CID from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century.

The following give some of his adventures, and show the spirit of this interesting early literature---the earliest ballad literature in Europe.

From the Cid Ballads


(The Test)

Brooding sat Diego Laynez o'er the insult to his name,

Nobler and more ancient far than Inigo Abarca's fame;

For he felt that strength was wanting to avenge the craven blow,

If he himself at such an age to fight should think to go.

Sleepless he passed the weary nights, his food untasted lay,

Ne'er raised his eyes from off the ground, nor ventured forth to stray,

Refused all converse with his friends, impelled by mortal fear,

Lest fame of outrage unatoned should aggravate his care.

While pondering thus his honor's claims in search of just redress,

He thought of an expedient his failing house to test;

So summoning to his side his sons, excused all explanations,

Silent began to clutch their hands in proper alternation,

(Not by their tender palms to trace the chiromantic linings,

For at that day no place was found in Spain for such divinings),

But calling on his honor spent for strength and self-denial,

He set aside parental love and steeled his nerves to trial,

Griping their hands with all his might till each cried: "Hold, sir, hold!

What meaneth this? pray, let me go; thou'rt killing me, behold!"

Now when he came to Roderick, the youngest of them all,

Despair had well-night banished hope of cherished fruit withal

(Though offtimes lingering nearest when farthest thought to be);

The young man's eyes flashed fury, like tiger fierce stood he

And cried: "Hold, father, hold, a curse upon ye, stay!

An ye were not my father, I would not stop to pray,

But by this good right arm of mine would straight pluck out your life

With a bane digit of my hand, in lieu of vulgar knife!"

The old man wept for joy: "Son of my soul," quoth he,

"Thy rage my rage disarmeth, thine ire is good to see;

Prove now thy mettle, Rod'rick; wipe out my grievous stain,

Restore the honor I have lost, unless thou it regain---"

Then quickly told him of the wrong to which he was a prey,

Gave him his blessing and a sword and bade him go his way

To end the Count's existence and begin a brighter day.

-----Tr. by Knapp.


(The Soliloquy)

Pensive stood the young Castilian, musing calmly on his plight;

'Gainst a man like Count Lozano to avenge a father's slight!

Thought of all the trained dependents that his foe could quickly call,

A thousand brave Asturians scattered through the highlands all;

Thought, too, how at the Cortes of Leon his voice prevailed,

And how in border forays the Moor before him quailed;

At last reviewed the grievance---No sacrifice too great

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