Sunday, March 29, 2009

El Cid written by an Arab poet, historian says

"El Cid" the work of an Arab poet, Spanish academic says
EFE News Service

The medieval epic poem "El Cantar del Mio Cid" (The Song of the Cid), a Spanish-language account of the adventures of a warlord and nobleman during the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims, is not as Spanish as generally believed but instead was written by a Arab poet, a scholar says.

Dolores Oliver, a Spanish professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Valladolid, claims in her book "El Cantar del Mio Cid: genesis y autoria arabe" (The Song of the Cid: Arabic Origin and Authorship) that Arabic poet and jurist Abu I-Walid al-Waqqashi conceived the epic as political propaganda in the service of his Spanish Christian patron.

"There was a pact between them" - Oliver told Efe in an interview - whereby the poet wrote the work "to immortalize" his Cid Campeador. The latter, whose real name was Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, pledged in turn to "respect the beliefs of the Muslims of Valencia," which he had conquered.

Described by both Christian and Muslim chroniclers as one of the wisest men of his time, Al-Waqqashi composed the work in the Valencian court and, according to Oliver, it "began to be recited in 1095, a year after Diaz de Vivar conquered the city, which had been under Arab rule since the 8th century.

The scholar said she began investigating the authorship of the anonymous epic poem on a "casual" basis after being invited to participate in a seminar in 1984.

"Then I started reading the 'Cantar,' which I had read during my years as a student, and as I was reading I began saying 'this came from the mind of an Arab,'" said Oliver, who confessed that she did not even believe that theory at first and refused to touch the subject for two years "because I was afraid of it."

But she revisited it periodically until finally taking up the challenge of proving the thesis, convinced that "the only explanation for all of the content of the 'Cantar' was (that it was written by) an Arab poet at the service of a Castilian lord."

"As a poet, his birth and formation would have allowed him to describe (heroic) battles, like those of the 'Cantar,' and touch on topics of Bedouin poetry," the professor said.

Among the arguments in favor of her theory, she mentioned the religious climate described in the epic poem.

"A poem where the Christians are not the good guys and the Muslims are not the bad guys had to have been written in an era of tolerance, in the era of the Cid," Oliver said, adding that after the death of the Campeador, in 1099, "a feeling of hostility" emerged toward Muslims.

The last Muslim city fell to the Catholics in 1492 and, between that year and 1610, an estimated 3,000,000 Muslims voluntarily left or were expelled from Spain.

Because of the growing intolerance, the scholar said the "Cantar" could not have been written in 1207, the most traditionally accepted date, nor in 1140, as the late Spanish philologist and historian Ramon Menendez Pidal contended.

Oliver also rejects the argument that the custom of court poets recounting the exploits of their lords was unique to Al-Andalus (medieval Arab-occupied Spain), where all the rulers "had a poet to sing their glories."

"Would the Cid, who had been in the court of Seville, in that of Zaragoza, be so foolish as not to take advantage of that political weapon?" the author asked rhetorically.

Thirdly, Oliver pointed to the art of war described in the poem, including an equestrian technique "that only the Almoravids (a Berber dynasty from the Sahara that spread over a wide area of northwestern Africa and the Iberian peninsula during the 11th century) successfully practiced."

She said it is called an "arrancada" in the "Cantar" but, in Oliver's opinion, the technique is none other than the Arabic "haraka."

Oliver joked about how her thesis has been received and said it has been "very well accepted by medievalists or people who haven't spent their lives studying 'El Cid," adding that it also took her "many years" to believe it.