The Poem of the Cid

‘I ought not to give my daughters in marriage,’ replied the Cid, ‘for they are hardly grown up and are still too young. Besides, the Infantes come of a distinguished family and could aspire to far better marriages. Though they are my daughters, you brought them up and both they and I are subject to you in this matter. I am content to place them in your hands to dispose of as you wish.’ Cid, p. 131

‘Entreat him to consider as a deep and serious grievance the dishonour done to me by the Infantes of Carrión. The King was responsible for this marriage of my daughters, for I myself did not give them away. The dishonourable desertion they have suffered is not merely an insult to me, it is a far greater one to my lord the King, who is responsible for both.’ Cid, pp. 174-175

The two passages selected from The Poem of the Cid relate to one another in that they are both blocks of the title character’s speech where he addresses the subject of King Alfonso’s responsibility for the welfare of his daughters’ marriage to the Infantes of Carrión. In the first passage, the Cid is making his thoughts on the matter known publicly before the marriage occurs: he does not desire to take responsibility for the union of Elvira and Sol to Diego and Fernando. Instead, he washes his hands of the matter and places the burden squarely on King Alfonso’s shoulders. In the second passage, the Cid reminds his vassal Muño Gustioz of what he said in the first passage, and essentially reasserts his belief that the responsibility for the marital failure is Alfonso’s in a kind of “I-told-you-so” manner. These passages serve as a testament to the Cid’s intelligence in such matters, therefore instilling readers’ respect and sympathy for the Compeador.

The first part of the first passage consists of the Cid listing a few reasons why the Infantes of Carrión have little reason to pursue a marriage to his daughters. First of all, they are “still too young”— his daughters are mere girls, not fully-grown women and, ergo, are not ready for marriage. In addition, “the Infantes come of a distinguished family and could aspire to far better marriages.” The Cid, after all, has new money derived from recent conquests, not ancient landed wealth and noble ancestry like the Infante brothers. Typically, nobles try to marry into the same social class, and to marry the Cid’s daughters would be to descend several rungs down the societal ladder. Because of these factors, the Cid says he “ought not to give [his] daughters in marriage.” The fact that he would prefer their marriage not to happen implies that he is suspicious of the Infante brothers’ motives. The question running through his mind must be, How would marrying my immature daughters born to a much lower social class benefit them?

The Cid gives in to the King’s request to allow their kin to intermarry, but only under the condition that Alfonso will realize that he is “subject to [him] in this matter.” In other words, the Cid will oblige the King’s request to allow his daughters to be married, but only because he and the daughters are Alfonso’s royal subjects and because Alfonso “brought them up” while the Cid was exiled. Ruy Diaz knows that he ought not to wed his daughters to the suspicious Infantes, but he will allow it to happen if the king is the active force in creating the marriage and Diaz is a passive, blameless onlooker. This passivity and ambivalence is illustrated in the Cid’s words at the end of the passage: “I am content to place them in your hands to dispose of as you wish.” The key word here is “dispose.” One might suggest that the word “dispose” in this context merely means that the Cid is permitting Alfonso arrange or decide matters of his daughters’ marriage. I would argue, however, that if that were the case, the author could have chosen a different word with less potent connotations attached to it. The word “dispose” also strongly hints at the idea of discarding, which could mean that the Cid expects the King to figuratively throw his daughters away, allowing them to be harmed by neglectful husbands. Yet he is content— content because he knows that when and if some tragedy occurs, he will not be at fault.

In passage two, the Cid has just discovered that his daughters were beaten and left for dead by their newlywed husbands. He admits that, yes, he feels shamed by the unprovoked violence committed against Elvira and Sol; he feels a “deep and serious grievance” and “dishonour” because of his daughters’ mistreatment. Nevertheless, he reminds the world that “the King was responsible for this marriage of my daughters, for I myself did not give them away.” It is important to note the Cid’s use of the phrase “I myself” to emphasize his innocence in the matter. The King took the Cid’s place at the wedding, giving the brides to the grooms of his own accord and not the Cid’s, which means that he accepted full responsibility for their marriage. Thus, Ruy Diaz argues, “The dishonourable desertion they have suffered is not merely an insult to me, it is a far greater one to my lord the King.” The Cid is, indeed, bothered by this turn of events since the victims are his daughters. He begat them and has an emotional connection to them. Yet the King should be even more troubled; for the Infantes to nearly murder their wives is to make a mockery of the man who afforded them the favor of marrying the women. They took advantage of Alfonso’s gullibility and willingness to appease blood relatives; they used the King’s generosity against him. The Cid need not feel this burden because he did not accept the offer of marriage from the Infantes— but the King did accept.

Because the Cid tells his vassals that he was not the responsible party, it is apparent that he thinks of himself as being on the moral high ground. The Infantes’ assault on the daughters proves he was justified in his wariness of their intentions. Thus, he was correct to act on his suspicions by allowing the King to bear the responsibility for both Diaz-Infante marriages. In effect, he “told them so,” and now he promptly sends a messenger to remind the King of his duty to remedy the situation that Alfonso brought upon himself by claiming responsibility.

The Infantes’ betrayal and the Cid’s subsequent reminders to friends of his blamelessness illustrate a major point of the poem: the Cid may actually possess more wisdom and foresight than the King. The King’s ignorance to the possibility of failure in the marriage causes readers to view him as being foolish, and perhaps leads them to believe the Cid would make a better monarch of Christian Spain than his lord, Alfonso. After all, for the whole book up to now, Alfonso has accomplished nothing, while the Cid frequently conquers mighty armies and captures valuable territories. While the king is shortsighted and too trustworthy of the Infantes, the Cid is wise enough to distrust them, which led him to pin the responsibility for his daughters’ marriage to the Infantes on someone else. He realizes early that the Infantes’ intentions for wanting to marry Elvira and Sol were suspect, so he made sure to show no strong signs of support for their union. As a result of the King’s poor choice, the Cid remains highly regarded by his peers and by this poem’s literary audience, but the King’s reputation declines.