Sacrificial and Un-sacrificial Epics: An Examination of El Cid

Sacrificial and Un-sacrificial Epics: An Examination of El Cid

By Julio F. Hernando

Paper given at the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, University of Notre Dame, June 30-July 4, 2010

Excerpt: I want to focus my attention here in another text, the Lay of el Cid, the only fully preserved Castilian epic poem. Mimetic analysis of this work reveals fracture lines in the epic narrative patterns which problematize aggression and de-stabilize validity of the processes of sacrificial substitution. This deviation from epic convention suggests the emergence of new discourses in this text, which become more evident in the third and final chant of the poem.

For good or evil, Hollywood has popularized the main elements of the narrative of the Poem. El Cid, Rodrigo Díaz, a member of the lower nobility, is expelled from Castile by his king, Alfonse. While never clearly explained, the king’s reasons for Rodrigo’s expulsion are probably related to an encroachment of Rodrigo in the king’s operative sphere: he may have embezzled taxes his king sent him to collect, might have failed to show up with his men in a military royal campaign, or, according to other traditions, might have challenged his king with the accusation of having had part in the killing of his brother and former king, Sancho. A second reason for the expulsion, explicitly declared in the text, is the action of Rodrigo’s “bad enemies,” that is, of other members of the royal court who perceive Rodrigo as an upstart who threatens their status.

These two oppositions define two triangles of desire: in the first, Rodrigo mediates Alfonse’s desire for his sovereignty; in the second the desire of the other members of the nobility for priority of status. Rodrigo’s expulsion from Castile would reverse these two triangles: king and enemies would place themselves as mediators of Rodrigo’s desire for social integration, for being part of a body which has, violently, expelled him.

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