Lashed in the saddle, the Cid thundered out
To his last onset. With a strange disdain
The dead man looked on in victory. In vain
Emir and Dervish strive against the rout.
In vain Morocco and Biserta shout,
For still before the dead man fall the slain.
Death rides for Captain of the Men of Spain,
And their dead truth shall slay the living doubt.
The sould of the great epic, like the chief,
Conquers in aftertime on fields unknown.
Men hear today the horn of Roland blown
To match the thunder of the guns of France,
And nations with a heritage of grief
Follow their dead victorious in Romance.
With this sonnet, R. Seldon Rose and Leonard Bacon open their translation of the “Lay of the Cid.” I just finished reading this medieval ballad, and found myself blown away. While I was familiar and already a pretty big fan of El Cid through the Heston 60’s epic, this poem crowned my respect for this knightly vassal, El Cid Campeador Rodrigo Diaz.
G.K. Chesterton once declared that
“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
Rodrigo Diaz demonstrates the value of a mind closed on something solid. His actions are entirely based around what he believes to be true, rather than his circumstances. His belief in the authority of the king is not shaken by an unjust fool ascending to the throne. When king Alfonso rashly exiles the Cid, rather than decide to strike out against Alfonso, or grander yet, establish a new kingdom after himself, the Campeador doggedly seeks out the favor of the king, even offering the king his spoils of war. Though amidst rejection and hardship, he considers himself a vassal of the king. His principles are not changed by circumstance. What is real, what is true, what is just, is what matters, not the circumstances around us. If we know something to be true, it will be true even when every calamity falls down upon us and we are left with nothing.
This profound respect for truth is illustrated throughout the entire life of the Cid, but culminates in his dramatic death. While not depicted in the Lay of the Cid, Rodrigo Diaz’s death is demonstrative of how he lived. His glorious exploits and skill as a leader made the Cid into a powerful symbol for his men. When the Campeador was leading his troops, they could not be beaten. Once the Cid was given a mortal blow, this symbol was threatened. But even death could not stop the truth of the Campeador. His closest friends strapped his lifeless body to the saddle, and he yet again lead the charge, victoriously posthumously winning the battle. The villainy of the attackers was no match for the righteousness of the Cid, even after death.
No matter how battered, no matter how antiquated, no matter how tarnished, truth is truth, and righteousness is righteousness. What is, is. The story of the Cid is a story of Ethos. It is our duty to strap on our armor, gather our knightly accoutrements, set ourselves in the saddle, and charge out of the great city of Valencia, following the Cid. We must follow our principles with no hesitation, and truth, no matter how seemingly dead or sick, will victoriously slay the living doubt. Let us set our minds down on the things that are solid, and ride with the Campeador.
The Lay of the Cid
While it is a bit of a laborious read, it is vastly worth the time spent. This poem is both powerful and inspiring
El Cid (1961)
This 60’s epic starring Charlton Heston is phenomenal. It portrays the gallant Campeador with vigor and passion. Before venturing into this 3 hour film though, be prepared to deal with some of the most passionate and prolonged staring in cinema history. It would probably be a 2 hour film without these impassioned glances. But hey, it is totally worth it.
As a side note, a great deal is made of the beard of the Cid. In fact, in the poem, almost every other page has some reference to the Cid’s great beard. It is even said to have brought some to repentance who ventured to touch it. As the Cid grows more and more manly and strong, so does his beard grow longer. While this has little to do with the article above, the beard of the Cid deserves a mention regardless of context.