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  • Ei(aa)roneia:The Politics of Religion in the Cantar de mío Cid
  • Joachim Küpper (bio)

The pertinence of religion differs widely in the great epics that have survived until today. In the Iliad and the Aeneid, the question is almost negligible. Religious difference does not present a vital problem within a polytheistic culture. Every community, in victory as in defeat, is able to reconcile its own belief with that of the other party by conceiving of the others' gods as identical in substance to their own gods. Just as "apple" is mēlon in Greek and pomum in Latin, the goddess of love is called Aphrodite in the Greek, Venus in the Roman and Ishtar in the Semitic world. The difference is primarily in labeling and not in essence. It is a matter of conventions established according to differing traditions, but not about a difference in truth.

This situation changes with the rise of monotheism. The shift is intensified by the fact that the move to monotheism is accompanied by a medial reset of the site of religious truth. Within the monotheistic systems, belief is based on texts that are supposed to give a definitive description of God's will. The exclusivity of truth that is linked to the idea of the one and only God and to the alleged fixation of God's will within a text accessible to humans contravenes the ideological flexibility of the age of polytheism and makes religious difference into a virulent, even vital problem.

That said, one would have to emphasize that there is much variation as to the role of religion in epics that date from Christian times. In the Edda, Beowulf and the Nibelungenlied, problems of religion are of minor relevance. This may be due to the fact that whereas the written versions that still survive today date from Christian times, the [End Page S60] action—or the deep structure of the action—takes place within a past situated before the Christianization of the Celtic and Germanic tribes of North-Western Europe. In the Song of Roland, however, we have as a basic constellation the conflict between the Franks (Christians) and the Moors (Muslims), and a corresponding ideologization which is at times extremely schematic: "Paien unt tort e chrestiens unt dreit" (line 1015) "The pagans [Muslims] are wrong, the Christians are right," as the one to whom we owe the written version of the text puts it. Charlemagne finally defeats Balligant and Marsilie, he conquers Zaragoza, and the first order he issues after having taken control of the town is to destroy the "idols" in the mosques and the synagogues and to kill all those inhabitants who are not ready to instantaneously receive baptism. And when the internal conflicts are then resolved with the trial and the execution of Ganelon and the story seems to be coming to a sort of happy ending, Charlemagne is summoned by the Archangel Gabriel to a new war against the non-believers. Religious expansionism and the propagation of faith by military means are presented in the Song of Roland as a story for which there is no ending, at least not in a foreseeable future.

With the Cantar de mío Cid, the situation seems to be quite similar, which is not astonishing, since the written versions of this text and the Song of Roland date from the same time. The action described in the Cantar, although not historically accurate in the way it is presented, took place under the reign of King Alfonso VI, that is, roughly between 1070-1109.1 According to Spanish national mythology, the reconquest of the Peninsula after the Arabic invasion of the early eighth century began with the rediscovery in 811 of Saint James' tomb, near Santiago de Compostela, and with the subsequent appearance of his ghost during the battle of Clavijo (844) where he purportedly killed thousands of Moors with his own hands (hence his surname: Santiago matamoros).2 And the Reconquista ends in 1492 with the surrender of Granada to Queen Isabel's troops and the enforced Christianization of those Muslims and other non-Christian subjects who did not opt to immediately leave the country...