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"Cató por agüero": The Evolving Function of Augury in the Cidian Tradition

From: Essays in Medieval Studies
Volume 28, 2012
pp. 69-82 | 10.1353/ems.2012.0002

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

"Why does an augur think it a favorable omen when a raven flies to the right, or a crow to the left?"

Cicero, De divinatione

The crow flew on their right coming out of Vivar,
but now in Burgos flies on their left-hand side.
My Cid shrugged off the omen and shook his head:
"Cheers, Álvar Fáñez, we are banished today!"

(Poem of the Cid, lines 11-14)

Augury is a form of divination that, according to John of Salisbury, "consists in the observation of the conduct of birds, expressed in voice and flight." The epic poet Ennius, in a fragment recorded in Cicero's De divinatione, wrote of the crucial role that augury played in the founding of Rome, as Romulus and Remus vied for control of the new city:

When each would rule they both at once appealed
their claims, with anxious hearts, to augury.
Then Remus took the auspices alone
and waited for the lucky bird; while on
the lofty Aventine fair Romulus
his quest did keep to wait the soaring tribe:
their contest would decide the city's name
as Rome or Remora. The multitude
expectant looked to learn who would be king.
. . . 'Twas then an augury,
the best of all, appeared on high—a bird
that on the left did fly. And as the sun
its golden orb upraised, twelve sacred birds
flew down from heaven and betook themselves
to stations set apart for goodly signs.
Then Romulus perceived that he had gained
a throne whose source and proper was augury.

(339-41)

In Rome of the regal and early republican periods augury was an important part of the state's decision-making process; a college of augurs was established, codifying criteria for reading auspices. The practice was probably introduced to the Roman province of Hispania around the time of the second Punic War (218-202 BC). By the late republican period, however, the practice in Rome had become more ceremonial than anything else. Though the Roman college of augurs continued to exist until Augustine's day, around 400 AD, he could point to its early decline in prestige: "Cicero the augur laughs at auguries, and reproves men for regulating the purposes of life by the cries of crows and jackdaws" (City of God, IV, 30). A millennium later Dante's diviners, soothsayers, astrologers, and augurs end up in the fourth bolgia of Inferno's circle 8, where the poet "must turn sad torments into verse," describing the twisted forms of their bodies in the afterlife. Augury was condemned by popes as well as church councils and synods in the late antique and medieval worlds—thus leaving the realm of official practice and entering that of folklore.

As a folk practice, augury endured in Spain until at least the thirteenth century and was even associated with the epic hero Rodrigo Díaz, El Cid (d. 1099). Was the historical Cid an augur? The answer appears to be yes. But scholars have not fully explored this fact and its implications for the literary tradition developing in the wake of the Cid's death. Criticism of the epic Poem of the Cid—known in Spanish as the Cantar or Poema de mio Cid—(c. 1207), for example, when it considers the presence of an omen derived from augury (agüero < augurium), has focused almost exclusively on the question of whether or not an omen is favorable, without asking how this icon of Medieval Spanish Christianity could be associated with augury in the first place, especially at the same time that the church is actively preaching against it. This study will attempt to demonstrate how the Cidian literary tradition manages to reconcile the Medieval church's prohibitions with the augural practices of the Spanish church's favorite warrior.

Evidence of the Cid as a folk practitioner of augury occurs in the Historia Roderici, a Latin biography of Rodrigo Díaz. Since this biography was written soon after the death of the Cid and appears to make use of documents surviving from his lifetime, it is an extremely important historical witness. One set of documents that the author of the Historia Roderici embeds within it records an...



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