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El Cantar de mio Cid or The Poem of the Cid is not only "the oldest preserved Castilian epic poem" but also "considered a national epic of Spain". The text may date from the 12th or early 13th century, but Wikipedia also tells us that "Date and authorship are still open to debate."

Interestingly, the Spanish Wikipedia article "Cantar de mio Cid" does not claim this text is a national epic. (And unlike the English Wikipedia, the Spanish Wikipedia does not have an article about national epics.)

The German Wikipedia also treats the text as a national epic, though only in passing ("um die Selbständigkeit des spanischen Nationalepos zu erweise"). The French Wikipedia does not call the text a national epic and does not list it in the article Épopée nationale.

If El Cantar de mio Cid is indeed a national epic of Spain, how long has it enjoyed this reputation?

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  • @user14111 As far as I know, what you refer to as "its usual idiomatic meaning" is its meaning in colloquial American English. My contributions on this site are in written British English. If you think the phrase is appropriate, could you please suggest an alternative that works in British English?
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 7, 2021 at 20:16
  • @user14111 Update: I have now asked on English SE. I will update my questions when a good alternative comes up :-)
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 7, 2021 at 20:39

1 Answer 1

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It had such consideration from the 19th century, with the advent of Romanticism, to the 20th century.

Note that El Poema de Mío Cid wasn't even printed before 1779, as you can read in the book La filologia romanza by Pietro G. Beltrami (in Italian):

Solo nel tardo Settecento e nell'Ottocento sono tornati nel circolo della cultura testi fondamentali della letteratura medievale di Francia e Spagna. In Italia, invece, i classici del Trecento sono sempre stati letti, studiati e imitati, ma questa è una caratteristica particolare della storia letteraria e linguistica italiana.
      Il Poema del Cid, il maggiore testo epico castigliano delle origini (cfr. n. 277), è rimasto confinato in ambito locale a Bivar (oggi Vivar del Cid) e a Burgos, nell'unico ms. antico noto, di cui fece una copia Juan Ruiz de Ulibarri nel 1596 (entrambi i mss. sono oggi alla Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, mss. Vitr/7/ 17 e V.a. Mss/6328). Citato solo, e raramente, in opere erudite, soltanto nel 1779 è stato stampato da Thomas Antonio Sánchez nel primo volume della sua Colección de poesías castellanas anteriores al siglo XV. Nei quattro volumi (1779-1790), Sánchez stampa il Cid, le opere di Berceo (cfr. n. 298), il Poema de Alexandro Magno (cioè il Libro de Alexandre, cfr. n. 297) e il Libro de buen amor (cfr. n. 330), con ampi glossari che spiegano parole e locuzioni della lingua antica, gettando le basi degli studi moderni di letteratura spagnola medievale.

My translation:

Only in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries fundamental texts of medieval literature of France and Spain returned to the circle of culture. In Italy, however, the classics of the fourteenth century have always been read, studied and imitated, but this is a particular feature of the story of Italian literature and linguistics.
      The Poema del Cid, the major Castilian epic text of its origins (see no. 277), remained confined to the local area in Bivar (today Vivar del Cid) and in Burgos, in the only known ancient manuscript, of which Juan Ruiz de Ulibarri made a copy in 1596 (both manuscripts are now in the Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, manuscripts Vitr/7/ 17 and V.a. Mss/6328).
Mentioned only, and rarely, in scholarly works, it was only printed by Thomas Antonio Sánchez in 1779 in the first volume of his Colección de poesías castellanas anteriores al siglo XV. In the four volumes (1779-1790), Sánchez prints the Cid, the works of Berceo (see no. 298), the Poema de Alexandro Magno (i.e. the Libro de Alexandre, cf. no. 297) and the Libro de buen amor (cf. no. 330), with extensive glossaries explaining words and phrases of the ancient language, throwing the basics of modern studies of medieval Spanish literature.

In the chapter entitled "Evolución histórica" (that is, "Historical evolution") of the book Las historias literarias españolas: repertorio bibliográfico (1754-1936) by Fermín de los Reyes Gómez (in Spanish), you can read how Spanish medieval texts were completely ignored in Spanish literarature histories, in the chapter devoted to the eighteenth century:

En paralelo se reeditan obras de escritores del siglo XVI y principios del XVII (Garcilaso, Lope), en unos años de vital importancia para el desarrollo de la historiografía. Aún no se tendrá en cuenta la literatura medieval y, así, durante décadas no tuvieron consideración de textos canónicos los que hoy son piezas clave como el Poema del Mío Cid o La Celestina. Tendrá que llegar el Romanticismo para recuperar, de forma más imaginativa que documental, según expresión de Pozuelo Yvancos, la Edad Media.

My translation:

In parallel, works by writers of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries (Garcilaso, Lope), in years of vital importance for development of historiography. But medieval literature will not yet be taken into account and, thus, for decades they had no consideration of canonical texts those that today are key pieces such as Poema del Mío Cid or La Celestina. Romanticism will have to come to recover, in a way more imaginative than documentary, in the words of Pozuelo Yvancos, the Middle Ages.

In the book Literatura y nación, you can find an article by Antonio Martín Ezpeleta, entitled "El concepto de nación en la historiografía literaria española" (that is, "The concept of nation in Spanish literary historiography") that explains how the cliché of national epic poem was developed:

Por su parte, la definición de la poesía o poema nacional también suele ser un tópico repetido de historia literaria en historia literaria desde las primeras hasta las del siglo XX, momento donde la labor de Menéndez Pidal particularmente subrayó más si cabe su importancia para la nación. El Poema de Mío Cid, como poema épico nacional por excelencia, se convierte en una suerte de referente para los españoles. Las cualidades del personaje histórico y literario son trasvasadas a la españolidad en un curioso proceso mitificador que también alcanza, como veremos, al Quijote. [...]
    Lo que significa el Cid para la poesía épica es lo que representan los romances para la poesía lírica, a los que las historias literarias del XIX cada vez dedican más atención.

My translation:

For its part, the definition of national poetry or national poem is usually also a cliché repeated from literature history to literature history from the first ones to those of the twentieth century, when particularly the work of Menéndez Pidal further underlined its importance to the nation. The Poema de Mío Cid, as a national epic poem par excellence, becomes a kind of reference for the Spaniards. The qualities of the character, both historical and literary, are transferred to the Spanishness in a curious mythifying process that also reaches, as we will see, Don Quixote. [...]
    What the Cid signifies for epic poetry is analogous to what the romances represent for lyrical poetry, to which the literature histories of the nineteenth century pay more and more attention.

It's curious to see in the text of this lecture of 1868, entitled "La poesía épico-nacional en la edad media", how these ideas are expressed. For instance:

Terminaba mi última Conferencia encareciendo la verdad de esta tesis: —El canto de Gesta, seguido del Poema del Cid, terminan y cierran la épica heróico-popular de nuestra pátria, representando la unidad nacional, última forma y complemento necesario de la inspiracion de independencia y nacionalidad que expresa la épica Asturiana y la de Castilla.— España sucede por lo tanto á Castilla, como Castilla había sucedido á Leon y Astúrias. Hoy me incumbe la grata tarea de demostrar que así es, y de contestar a la crítica francesa, que se atreve á poner en duda la originalidad nacional, de esta creacion épica de la musa popular española.

This is quite difficult to translate for me, but I'll try:

I ended my last lecture by stressing the truth of this thesis: —The cantar de gesta, followed by the Poema del Cid, ends and closes the heroic-popular epic of our country, representing the national unity, the last form and necessary complement of the inspiration of independence and nationality that expresses the Asturian epic and that of Castile. — Spain therefore succeeds Castile, as Castile had succeeded León and Asturias. Today I have the pleasant task of demonstrating that this is the case, and of answering the French critics, who dare to question the national originality, of this epic creation of the Spanish popular muse.

As an evidence of the fact that this poem has been completely ignored for centuries, it is interesting to notice how the "cid" entry in the Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española, the first dictionary of the Spanish language, compiled by Sebastián de Covarrubias in 1611, mentions that the name of "cid" is given to Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar in the book of Tales of Count Lucanor, but there isn't any mention to the Poem of the Cid.

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