Spanish epic context, characteristics and notable works

Charles McCarthy
Spanish epic context, characteristics and notable works

The spanish epic refers to a narrative genre that deals with the national history of Spain during the Middle Ages. Heroes, deeds, battles, etc., are narrated in a simple style full of tradition, religiosity and realism..

That realism happens to reflect the feats and geography that involve the story, as they are. In fact, there is consensus among scholars in stating that the stories inscribed in this movement have abundant historical content..

The cid campeador

Over the years, research done on this narrative has revealed a greater fidelity to the historical reality of Spain, than is found of French history in the epics of France, for example.

This has influenced that, not infrequently, more attention is paid to the historical data contained in works of this type, than to their literary qualities. In the same way, it is noted that the use of the supernatural and factual exaggeration is avoided..

On the other hand, in this type of narrative the human character (not supernatural) of the heroes and the role of women as an active character stand out. In these stories appear the Spanish heroes who participate in the conquest of America.

Context of the Spanish epic

Epic poetry appears in the heroic ages of the peoples, that historical moment in which a national identity is forged.

Being a society led by warriors who seek fame with their military prowess, this narrative arises to enliven the warrior and heroic spirit, to exalt military victories and create an ideal role model..

Epic poems were often sung before a battle to boost morale and cheer up the combatants. A reminiscence of this tradition can be seen in the slogans that are often recited in barracks during physical training or before combat.

The plot behind revenge is a theme that appears in Spanish epics. Likewise, the journey is a backdrop for the development of the plot..

Unlike the epic of other latitudes, the Spanish one deals with legal or ethical-political conflicts between social groups

Another characteristic to highlight of this type of narrative is that, generally, the works that compose it are written in verses that are distinguished by their polymetry, although the real octave with consonant rhyme was used frequently.

It could be said that the Spanish epic found its role model in the Latin classics and Italian authors became the obligatory reference..

To locate this narrative in a period of time, it would be necessary to refer to the Middle Ages and the time of the Spanish Reconquest, a long period (7 centuries, approximately), in which Spain struggles to end the Arab invasion and that goes from 718 to 1492.

It was that same time in which the Spanish language is considered to be born, when it was considered synonymous with Castilian (Spanish spoken in Castile).

In the epic texts there is an underlying oral trait due to the tradition inherited from the Latin classics such as the Iliad and the Odyssey from Homer.

The people who were dedicated to telling these deeds to the public were called minstrels, and they used to refine the language used to facilitate the memorization of the verses and to "polish" the version of the story they related..

Some epic works written in different parts of the world are: Aeneid of Virgil In latin; Roland's Chanson in medieval french, Orlando furious by Ludovico Ariosto and Gerusalemme set me free by Torquato Tasso in Italian; Sing of mine Cid in spanish and Paradise lost by John Milton and Faerie by Edmund Spenser Queene in English.

Other notable and common aspects of epic poems would be:

  • Some of its lines are preserved by chronicles and ballads from the 13th to the 16th century.
  • A group of poems refers to the events around the counts of Castile and another group about the events of the Cid.
  • There is no proven evidence that there are poems about events before the middle of the 10th century..


So, listing its most distinctive characteristics, the Spanish epic of the Middle Ages contains or reflects:

  • Nationalism.
  • Realism.
  • Verisimilitude of facts and characters / Historical character.
  • Tradition.
  • Religious sense.
  • Versification.
  • Humanization of heroes.
  • Vengeful and dominant female characters.
  • Actions during a trip.
  • Roots in oral tradition.

Some works

  • Mine Cid
  • The Roncesvalles
  • The traitorous countess
  • Seven Infants of Salas
  • The partitions of King Don Fernando
  • Song of Sancho II
  • The Romance of the Infante García

To understand a little better what the epic is about, it is convenient to roughly describe two of his most representative works:

The poem Mío Cid

It is the poem that describes the Spanish epic par excellence and, although it is known as the poem of Mío Cid, its original title is a mystery because the manuscript that reflects it (copy transcribed in 1307), lacks the first page.

The protagonist of this anonymous story, symbolizes the medieval Christian knight. Most of the other characters lack obnoxious or unpleasant traits.

Its origin seems to be Mozarabic because geographic and customs data from Soria are found in the poem, although it was discovered at the time of the Spanish reconquest..

It was written in the Spanish of the beginnings of the language (14th century) and, although there is no definitive consensus on its metric, some think that it responds to the formula 7 + 7, due to the French influence.

The Romance of the Infante García

It is one of the most faithful poems to historical reality, even when it is subordinated to fiction in order to support a plot that contains revenge at its center as the engine of forceful actions in history..

Attending to this characteristic that alludes to the cult of monastic tombs, this poem speaks of the burial of the count murdered in Oña with an epitaph that has the history of the murder inscribed..


  1. Deyermond, Alan. Medieval Spanish epic cycles: observations on their formation and development. Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library Foundation. Recovered from:
  2. Pincerati, Walker (s / f). Castilian language or Spanish language: A movement of production of the homogenizing effect. Recovered from:
  3. Yoshida, Atsuhiko (s / f). Epic. Literary genre. Recovered from:

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