Masculinity in Cantar de Mio Cid : the roles of metonymy and hierarchy




Šetek, Nika

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The unknown author of the medieval epic poem Cantar de Mio Cid uses the pre-existing hierarchy of gender to address issues of honor and class. The text associates moral superiority with the medieval understanding of the masculine as superior to the feminine. This effect is largely achieved through the use of metonymic expressions, which serve to construct the Cid as the ideal model of masculinity in the poem. These metonymies include the Cid's beard, swords and daughters, all of which serve to tie masculinity with honor. On the other hand, the unsympathetic characters, such as the Cid's son-in-laws, the count Ordóñez and the moneylenders are not only portrayed as lying cowards, but they also display an inability to properly handle the metonymic symbols of masculinity. For example, the Infantes are poor warriors and they assault the Cid’s daughters instead of protecting them, while the count allows for his beard to be plucked. What we find is that the text collapses hierarchies of class and religion into the hierarchy of gender. While the women in the poem, whose occupation of feminine roles appears natural, are presented as positive characters, a male character’s association with the feminine signals moral inferiority. The hierarchy of gender, which traditionally subordinates the feminine to the masculine, becomes applied to the Cid's adversaries, who are largely presented as effeminate men and who cannot measure up to the warrior ideal of masculinity embodied by the Cid. The association of the Cid's enemies with the feminine allows the poet to attack both the type of higher nobility that identifies honor as something one is born into instead of something one earns, and the presumably Jewish characters who engage in money lending. In contrast, the Cid's honor is one achieved through deeds, which justifies his upward social mobility. When the Cid finally climbs higher than his enemies, the gender association naturalizes this change in fortune: the "truly" masculine assumes its expected position over the effeminized.



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