Archive for October, 2021

The Oxford World Classics series publishes an edition of an ancient Egyptian collection of tales, ‘The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems. 1940-1640 BC

The structure of the title piece caught my eye. First recorded in written form in circa 1875BCE, it was much copied in the preceding three hundred years. The book jacket remarks on the respect with which the Tale was held, for its dramatic scenes and use of a variety of narrative styles. 

‘The Tale of Sinuhe’ itself is a relatively short piece, of little over three hundred lines.

After years of civil war and unrest, coup d’état, of wars against the competing claims of Nubians and of Wawat, there followed a settled golden age, where literature also flourished. ‘The Tale of Sinuhe’ is generally regarded as the best of the texts from this middle period, the Twelfth Dynasty. Toby Wilkinson suggests (The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt) that Sinuhe was a commissioned piece to commemorate the settled rule of King Senwosret. It succeeded.


The Tale consists of five sections, clearly marked, and roughly equal in length. The range of writing styles in the piece enriches the reading. By this I mean that the narration embodies the cultural signifiers of the time, and we can begin to share these as we juxtapose our knowledge of our own time with that of our knowledge of the period of the Tale.

Part One opens with what seems to be a funerary inscription, an autobiographical account of the dead man’s life. It tells us that Sinuhe was a ‘Follower’, that is, Retainer, of the Egyptian Royal household.

We then encounter a narrative by Sinuhe that is dated Year thirty, Month three, Day seven; it tells how he was part of the King’s son’s party returning from the lands to the West, that is the north African coastal regions. A messenger from the Royal Court arrived, and Sinuhe overheard the news that the King was dead. The king’s son immediately returned to Court leaving the party behind, uninformed. But Sinuhe had heard, and fled in a panic.

It was nightfall, he hid, travelled South, then East, then North. At one point a man recognised him, but he avoided him, hid again. He made his way to the eastern border of Egypt, travelling by night. Suffering badly from thirst he was rescued by a Syrian who also recognised him. He took care of him, took him in. They travelled up to Byblos, Qedem. He spent six months travelling with the Syrian group, when he was carried off by Amunenshi, another Syrian of higher rank. But he was a Syrian, a non-Egyptian, in fact a barbarian, or so he is also titled, an Asiatic.

Part Two consists of a question and answer section. Amuneshi asked him Why did you come here? Sinuhe replied, and told a wary version of his tale. He reassured Amuneshi that he was no fugitive, he had not been disgraced, was not a wanted man. 

Amuneshi’s next question was So how is that land (Egypt)? Sinuhe entered into a huge sell of all the righteous wonders and virtues of Egypt, its culture, and its claims to supremacy. Amuneshi’s reply to this was practical and down to earth.

We are then regaled with a description of all the riches of fruits, oils, cattle, grains of Sinuhe’s new settlement in the land of Iaa. He was honoured, his abilities recognised; he was given Amuneshi’s eldest daughter.

In Part Three we find he had lived there many years, his children grown into tribal warriors; the ruler of the adjoining land of Retjenu relied on him as chief warrior to subdue recalcitrant tribesman. He was very successful; his life was good and he was richly rewarded. And yet, as the Notes point out, he was an outsider, to some extent an inferior. Then the greatest warrior of the land challenged him to a fight for supremacy. Sinuhe won the battle, killed the challenger with the man’s own axe. He was allowed as with all such acts, to seize the man’s cattle, goods, enslave his people etc.

There is a richness of wordplay in the text here, in the use of homophones. The imagery is of cattle as plunder, but also as representing the nomadic people he found himself living amongst.

Following this again, he reminisced: we have moved on many years, and he felt age upon him, and also a desire to return to Egypt. He wondered if the new King would allow him home. The Notes give another clue to structure; the central settings, descriptions and events of the Tale emphasise change in fortunes and health that find parallels with Sinuhe’s collapse earlier. 

Part Four consists of letters of correspondence between the King of Egypt and Sinuhe, and Sinuhe and the King. The King remembered him, had no blame for his flight; told of Egypt, how he was remembered, and would welcome him home. Sinuhe in turn effused and offered the King the land of Retjenu, which he had claimed through conquest.

In Part Five we see Sinuhe return to Egypt in splendour, be received with honour, and given an honoured residence, food from the Court, and in time, a tomb according to his rank prepared for him amidst the Royal pyramids.

R B Parkinson in his Introduction emphasises the use of repeated phrasings and events within the Tale. The parallels between the Parts are clearly drawn, and the turn in Part Three well constructed. Throughout Sinuhe’s exile one constant thread is the conflict between the Delta Man: Egyptian, and the barbarian: Asiatic. When Sinuhe killed the challenger, using strategy, skill, he records he asserted his Egyptian identity, whilst the audience cheers sounded more like the cries of beasts, cattle. There are many disparaging comments on the behaviour and ways of the Asiatics – who were after all his wife’s people, and who saved him from death and dishonour. Before the fight the Retjenu ruler commented that his people and the Nile people were never in accord with each other. And so, in Sinuhe’s reply to the King of Egypt he has no hesitation in saying, Retjenu: it is yours. In other words Sinuhe has conquered it for the King. The area of Iaa and Retjenu seem to coincide with modern Lebanon, Syria; in effect Sinuhe has added to Egypt’s dominion lands.

The paralleled contrasts between Part One, his journey out like an outcast, hiding, travelling by night, and Part Five his journey home in splendour are clearly drawn; as also are the use of the question and answer of Part Two, with the use of Royal correspondence in Part Four. Both cover similar grounds: Why are you here? What is it like there (itself a rather dubious question: in times of conquest and expansion, such a question could only mean, Is it worth my having/Have I anything to fear?).

There are many similarities of phrasing between the Parts that also tie them together. In his flight from Egypt (Part One) he recorded how he ran and behaved like a beast and hid from sight, of how he travelled only at night.
In the central Part Three, he began a series of, almost, homilies, about how a fugitive, a man who leaves his land, a man who runs off, behaves, and how he himself by contrast was an honourable man. Sinuhe’s running off was not an act of dishonour, subterfuge; he was not an outlaw, he was out of his mind. He cannot account for his behaviour, either to Amuneshi, or the King.

Several Parts are connected with repeated phrasings, references: in One he mentions how he set out for Byblos and Qedem; in Four the place names are referenced again. Parts Three and Five are linked with references to linen: the clean linen of Iaa, and then the linen of his clothes that are returned back there upon his return to Egypt. In Part One there are two references to being recognised as he fled, this contrasts with being recognised and welcomed by the Royal household (Part Five).

It can be seen from this that there is a complex system of linking images and phrases, rather than a system of straight equivalences. We now begin to see why the Tale was so esteemed.

Part Three opens some years later, with Sinuhe in his prime, his sons grown, and himself the chosen warrior and subduer for the ruler of Retjenu. The section closes after the challenge, again some years later, but with Sinuhe past his prime, declining in years, health and potency. It is a structural paralleling, and as such a well used device. 

Sinuhe’s prostration and raising in Part One is neatly paralleled by his prostration before the king in Part Five.

The full referencing of the beginning and end of the tale occurs at the central point. What we have in the challenge is Sinuhe’s felling the challenger with the man’s own axe; the Notes then comment how Sinuhe called on his Egyptian gods. This is sufficient, I think, when we consider that these motifs, images were placed there to be picked up by the listeners to the tale.

There does seem good cause to read each section as a complete sequence in itself, in fact one that is chiasmic in nature, whose beginning and end find common phrasings and/or situations. 

Part One begins with a lead-in to the tale. We also find this device used as a lead-out at the very end of the tale also: the funerary inscription mode.
The tale proper begins after this. Part One begins with Sinuhe as part of a company returning – from the Libyan lands.
The end of the sequence of Part One finds find him once more part of a company, and a company that returns to its own territory.

For Sinuhe it is not a return but a departure, the reverse of his first action. The central part seems to occur when Sinuhe is saved from dehydration by the Syrian; he is raised up and revived.

Part Two like Part Four is a complex sequence of seven parts. There is a question and answer sequence which seems to take the form of the ‘Negative Confession’.
The turn around seems to occur in part six, where after Sinuhe’s veiled threats about the might of the Egyptian king, and how it would be wise for the Syrians to pay homage, send conciliatory messages. Amunenshi’s response is not what Sinuhe counseled. In the Notes R B Parkinson comments the response is more down to earth – that is, re-contextualises for him, it emphasises Sinuhe’s delicate position. 

Part Three is the well-framed sequence of Sinuhe’s sojourn in Iaa, his marriage and fatherhood, that is, growth to maturity. This is contrasted with his later acknowledged sense of decline in health. The main event is the challenge from the regional warrior.

Part Four we see the epistolary sequence; this is also a quite complex piece where personal, internalised thoughts, and open and external responsibilities and desires play out. The centre here is the acceptance by the new King of Sinuhe’s request to return. The sequence begins much as Part Two with a negative admission, a sequence repeated at the end of the section.

Part Five is full of symbolic and resonant imagery: Sinuhe’s triumphant return to Egypt, to the royal Court, to his rightful place. The turn here is paralleled with Part One’s near-death episode: this time it was the opposite, he was raised up by the King himself.

One of the strongest contrasts drawn is between the events of the night and of the day: it is by night he travels as he flees the country, whilst he disembarks in Egypt on his glorious return at dawn. By night he scurries away, avoids people. By day he is recognised by the Syrian, and saved from dying of thirst; in the daylight he takes on, and conquers, the challenger.

There is also a very striking contrast between the description of the riches of the land of Iaa, and those of Egypt. Iaa.
Iaa is in effect an earthly paradise. He is able to prove his prowess there; his abilities are recognised. Egypt is first described by alluding to the supreme worthiness of the new King, of his might, how he can subdue all others. It is as though Egypt was the residence of the Gods on earth. The earthly paradise pales against the actual paradise of the King.

These last are important points, because they allow us to understand the panic, the flight of Sinuhe. For the people of Egypt at that period it was commanded that they value the King as supreme, and the source of reason; and as the offspring of the Gods, to whom he will return in due time. And so when the King died (the Notes suggest it was an assassination, and that this would be a given reference for the readers) then reason was suddenly extinguished. Sinuhe’s flight was a panic, a consequence of loss of reason. It is as though his wits had been disordered. It is almost a King-Lear-on-the-blasted-heath moment. 

He describes how in his flight he crossed a river like a boat with no steering. It was, as we have seen, mostly an act of the night, of chaos, where order and clarity are obscured. Truth, balance, order, morality, law and justice, as one source has it, were the attributes of the goddess Maat. It is at the border of the kingdom he crosses a lake dedicated to Maat. In effect then, by crossing the border he leaves the ordered world behind.

His eventual return is at dawn, where reason and order are restored. Although he and his sons were tribal leaders and warriors amongst the Asiatics, his return to the Royal Court is to be placed once more amongst the children of the King where he began. 

Being of ‘common’ stock, this apparently was the highest position he could command in the supreme hierarchy of the King and his Court. The constant referrals to Maat in the text point to these positionings: Maat is often glossed as ‘truth’; the Introduction says that Maat has many meanings, but the most important is that the name expresses the cohesion of the people and their beliefs.

Not a lot of humour, here. And certainly no place for women.
In the Gilgamesh tale, approximately similar time period, women’s roles are crucial to the story.

It is also worth nothing that neither this nor the Gilgamesh tale exist in complete forms, but only as fragments. It may well be that no period’s tale of s readers would recognise the patched-together tales as we now have them.

Novahead, by Steve Aylett. Published by Scar Garden, 2011. ISBN 975 0 95665677 2

A book full of crackling dialogue. All mood, atmosphere, attitude.
It is written in flows of rhetorical language, surfing on the edge of meaning at times.
It is the created worlds and assumed allusions that pull it all together. His worlds are the further edges of dystopia; his intent satire. The language is so allusive, tight, I wonder about amphetamines, coke. The main character/narrator, Atom’s, drug of choice is Jade.
It’d disservice the ethos to review. The best I can do is excerpt.

Striking quotes so far:

Taffy Atom meeting Betty Criterion:
‘There you are, dangling from your head,’ she said.
‘The sooner I’m replaced by my corpse-in-waiting the better.’
‘Cushioned in loose worms.’
‘In a coffin, adjusting to my remains.’
With courtesies fulfilled, she stood, placed her pet ganglion on her throne….
(page 72)

And later:
‘Do you understand that when a collective identity is formed it has a very distinctive intelligence of its own, always lower than the average among its individuals?


‘For millenia humanity’s been learning with the handbrake on… but a stopped clock never boils, Mr Atom.
… science has created the misery and systems of drainage that separate us from the barbarians…
(pages 92/3)

I’ve plenty more riches to read, yet.

Novahead is the last of the Beerlight novels.

We meet the young lad, Heber, the boy with a bomb in his mind. To render him temporarily safe Atom relocates him to The Fadlands, where nothing stimulating or lively happens; where nothing can spark off interest in his mind, and so set off The End. It is a place where everything, all energy and creativity, are drained from people.
Major metaphor, anyone?
I look out of my window, and… hmm…
Perhaps I’ll leave something interesting around for him to find.
But first, must read on.

For Philip K Dick, that’d be be the trap laid out for you, to draw you in to closed recursive mind-sets: see Lies Inc. For Steve Aylett the trap is ourselves: we are each the ampitheatre of our own ruin.

And I was reading on, and a character quoted some lines. I had to re-read that again,  What? I know that. It’s lines from an early song by a band, circa 1967/8. They are not credited, I noticed, nor permission sought – so I will not press this, other than to say I can’t think of anyone more remote from Steve Aylett.
Ok, why’s that?
Well, Steve is cooler-than-cool, hipper-than-hip, to some readers. That is to say he is The Cutting Edge of present day, ‘and beyond’ (to quote Buzz Lightyear).
And he also has been adopted by the bizarro movement

Of course, once you start spotting things, it takes a hold.
So then, Heber, the boy with the bomb in his mind – was he part-suggested by an early Mark Leyner story (‘Ode to Autumn’) from the short–story collection, My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist (1991), about the human bomb ?

There is family-resemblance of style, too, with the early Leyner. Steve Aylett does far more with the concept, though.
There are passing/throw-away references to William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and no doubt loads of things I just don’t, but should, know.

Each of the three sections of the book concludes in a battle scene; all very laddish, perhaps. But even Atom, in the middle of it all, is circumspect: he begins to suspect this happens every night, not to win any fight, but just for the sake of fighting. A weariness sets in.
And the ubiquitous car chase – it is more Blood Drive than Wacky Races, though.
And there is his fascination… obsession, with guns – but here he develops it into sentient weaponry, guns, that evolve their own living species.
Yep, Cronenberg is in this mix, and why not.
But all this saved by the wit in the telling, and the fun in the multiplying exuberance.

His flows of language are more than vehicles for attitude, and ‘smart’: they reach.
They reach, and in mid-
achieve some amazing feats, grasp new-minted concepts, ideas, that are sometimes just a little beyond my own grasp; I see them sparkling there, but can’t get to them.

And then the mix changes, and new possibilities suggest themselves.
It is like watching a vast kaleidescope, that holds one configuration for a moment, and as we are busy spotting the patterns, it all changes again. The constituents are many and intricate, and so the patterns possible are endless, and all fascinating.
And it is 3-dimensional.

Steve Aylett:


New Collected Poems, Tomas Transtromer. Translated and Introduced by Robin Fulton

Robin Fulton in his Introduction to the Bloodaxe edition of Tomas Transtromer’s ‘New Collected Poems’ (2002), writes of the poem sequence Baltic’s ‘arch-like patterning of themes.’ Page 15, Introduction, ibid.
Instantly I was paying attention.


In the nineteen-seventies Tomas Transtromer published his poem sequence ‘Baltics’.
It is based, we are told, on the writer finding (inheriting?) his grandfather’s ship’s log. He was a sea captain, and sailed the archipelago of islands from Stockholm to the Baltic regularly.
His home was one of the islands of the archipelago. From this grew an exploration of the writer’s family history, and its repercussions and interrelations with history and events.

If we look at ‘Baltics’ for its structure and thematic patternings we can see many interesting features.
It is a sequence of six poems of varying length. Poem Three has a striking structure, the beginning and ending sections enclosing an isolated word in capitals. In the first part of the poem we encounter a 12th Century church font; the writer imagines it revolving in his memory. Immediately prior to the last isolated word (MANDRAKE) we have an image as of a rotating lighthouse: ‘The strategic planetarium rotates. The lenses stare into the dark (…).’

This central division is critical to the sequence as a whole, treating as it does of transition from heritage issues and memories to a more contemporarily responsive approach.

The whole sequence begins with the grandfather in poem one, with the list of all the ships he has worked on; it is in effect a log book and also the diary of a man unused to recording his inner life.
The last poem in the sequence, poem VII, concentrates on the grandmother, and emphasises her unwillingness to dwell on or explore the past of her life. This attitude frees her, we read, ‘to catch what was new/ and catch hold of it.
The grandfather disappeared from sight, the grandmother remained, if only in the writer’s memory.

Many have argued that this sequence marked a turning point in Tomas Transtromer’s writing, from more closed and structurally conservative modes to more open and free-ranging modes.


Images of wind and water recur in many guises throughout the sequence. We open with fog, a combined air and water image, as the grandfather seaman edges his way through the Swedish archipelago into the Baltic. The air/wind image is taken into the next poem, where the grandmother shows concern for seafarers whenever the wind blows, even inland on her island.
Here it is contrasted with the image of free-flowing life the child surmises the wind to be. The wind can fan the flames, or blow them out.
It is in this poem we encounter the theme of the unknown threat. The threat is turned into a benign image: the sea mine was made safe, used as an ornament. The threat is from outside, whether as here the devices of a nation at war, or later where an imposed political totalitarianism brings in the contemporary reference to eastern Europe in the depths of the Cold War.

This water image recurs in the next poem as an image of peace and safety: the church font depicts carvings of battles fought, the threat theme recurring again, but once more made safe in the use of water as a placid element. In the central section the steamer continues the water and danger themes until, ‘a hundred year’s later’ and shore-based, the threat is made safe once more. The poem is top and tailed with the image of religion paralleled with the superstition surrounding the mandrake. Both are assumed to have magical properties. The writer includes the font water into this assessment by implication. By doing so he smudges any strict demarcation of paralleled elements to great effect.

Poem Four is a short but interesting piece. It is paraphrased in the first line: ‘From leeward/ close ups.’ We encounter Bladderwrack seaweed, a Bullhead fish, then the shore-based rock face on the lee-side.

We again meet the image of water, the Baltic Sea, and picking up on the previous image of the font water as placid, a calm endless roof of sea. The sailing image returns: the flag we sail under washed-out, sun-bleached – a wonderful image of sailing under all flags and none; the parochial and national identity has broken down: the close-ups have given us a sense of perspectives: near and far as a necessary relationship, inter-dependent and mutually productive.
As a poem this too falls into two contrasted halves. Note that they are not opposed but made safe by being put into a mutually reciprocal relationship. Is it another chiasmus? A chiasmus of an order we have not come across before?

Poem Five gives us an influx of jellyfish, they are not a threat so much as a curiosity, a symptom even.
Air recurs as a wordless condition, a mis-condition of the brain – aphasia (Aphasia as a rewriting of history: what was known is devalued, overwritten).
We find here that there can be style without content, there can be language without words. In poem One the grandfather attempts conversations in a kind of English, attempts communication using whatever means he can.

Threat recurs; we have seen the danger of fog at sea, of war and the sea mine, here we have the totalitarian regime that denounces the Conservertoire Director. His response after eventual rehabilitation is aphasia: danger, and its consequences. The close-up of a snail in the grass opens up the vista a time: Franciscans brought them here as a food. The influence from outside again, but this time benign.

Poem VII gives us the grandmother’s story. And it is harrowing: TB and the loss of one’s family, it also looks at the meaning of family: another close up. Family as blood-kin can also mean being used as an unpaid servant. The grandmother refuses to look back, to be caught up in the recriminations and self-recriminations that are inevitably produced by this. 

The poem moves with the narrator whose memory keeps the grandmother alive. The archipelago reappears. This time the narrator uses an island fisherman’s cottage. Wind and water recur as potent images, this time of a sense of time moving on, and of perspectives opening up, newness becoming possible.


The patternings tie together the poems, rather than opposing them as we might expect with a chiasmus. Nor do we find structurally reversed placing of theme or image between first and latter half of the sequence as a whole.  

Transtromer has noted that ‘Baltics’ marks the writer’s ‘most consistent attempt to write music’, that is, to structure the sequence thematically as a musical piece.
Helen Vendler remarked on Tomas Transtromer’s abiding concern with music in his work, particularly the work of Schubert, Grieg and Liszt, which he could play himself very competently ( poetry-inexplicit). It has been suggested that his return to piano helped him over a critical period in his life, aged fifteen.

Schubert’s last sonatas in particular make great use of recurring themes and modalities; we find here similar arching structures to what we see in ‘Baltics’. Musically they are called ‘ternary’ structures, and generally have the pattern of ABA, or extensions on that, ABBA  etc.

Commentators on the Bach Cantatas WebsiteBach Contatas Website:, have gone into some depth discussing what constitutes a chiasmic structure in music, and how it differs from a palindromic structure.
These are literary terms applied to music. The chiasmic structure, according to the Bach writers, must needs have more than one term between first and middle part, in each half of the whole; all else is a palindrome.

To apply a musical term in turn, we can say then that a ternary structure does have similarities to a chiasmic structure. In practical terms things are much more complex: tonality and melodic elements are the elements of the structure. Schubert even introduced intermediate tonalities that had only distant relations with the general key of the piece.

Tomas Transtromer’s sequence fits more comfortably with the less oppositional structure of, say, Schubert’s last sonatas, than with strict chiasmus and ring.
His psychological concerns here with conflict-resolution, appeasement of danger, the untying of heritage-issues and parental demands does seem to have accord with Schubert’s possible last accounting and valuing that went into how and by what means he structured those last sonatas.

The title phrase ‘Cid’ is from an Arabic word sidi/sayyid, ‘Sir.
Nor are the Moors in the tale portrayed as badly as in ‘The Song of Roland’. There are many examples of the Cid taking and being received by Moors as friends. There is a lot of in-fighting amongst the Muslim inhabitants in the tale: towns held by the Cid earlier on are grateful to him for his releasing them with property and lives intact as he moved out to take on the bigger rulers, the ones who also had laid burdens on the smaller towns.

We see in the history of the Alhambra in Granada how the delightful gardens witnessed much slaughter and bloodshed by rival Muslim rulers. It is important here to distinguish between the Umayyad Arabic rule, based at Cordoba, and the new incursions of warlike Berbers from North Africa. The Berbers overthrew the settled Muslim rule and threw Muslim Spain into chaos as they vied for power and control amongst themselves (Introduction, Night and Horses and the Desert – An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature, by R Irwin).

One source states, that the entire work was divided into three parts in 1910. This has significance; although the text itself does divide into sections by explicitly stating ends and beginnings in the places the cantares are introduced. The only ambiguous one is the last one: the cantare begins with the humiliation of the Infantes in the ‘lion episode’, whilst the Penguin Classics edition begins it on the marriage betrothal of the Cid’s daughters, prior to this, and where the Infantes come into the story fully.

In the first cantare we meet the Cid, his devoted friends, his family – he had just been banished from Castile. We don’t know why, because the first page of the ms is missing, and no copy has yet turned up.

He left his family at the monastery, had a dream of greatness, and then had to go out from Castile. None were allowed, on pain of death, to sell him food, or allow him a bed for the night.
He had to plan a ruse to raise money to fund his foray, and support his followers.
Once outside of Castile he first of all planned and executed raids on Muslim townships along a river course. Each was successful, through the Cid’s use of tactics. He was able to send back his first gift to King Alfonzo. Following this he planned a much more difficult raid among a bigger series of towns. This raid involved planning, trickery and subterfuge; he gained great prestige and booty from this.

We see the cantare begin with the Cid’s banishment from Castile, and it end with the restoration of the Count of Barcelona to his freedom and region. The high point of the cantare must surely be the presentation of the first gift to King Alfonzo. It followed from this act that the Cid’s’ followers were pardoned for their part in helping him, and allowed home.
Home is the hidden theme here, that informs beginning, middle and end of the cantare.

The second cantare has three main raids: one in the Levantine, the second in the towns surrounding Valencia, including the lengthy siege of the city. Then he settled the city as a reconquered Christian city.
The emir of Seville was defeated in battle, and much booty gained.
The Cid set up a Christian bishopric, and was henceforth allowed restitution of his family. They all settled in Valencia.
The last battle was with King Yusuf of Morocco.
This was by far the greatest. The spoils were magnificent. He sent back his greatest gift to King Alfonzo, and won his own pardon.
His renown as a great and wealthy warrior was settled.

The two main battles book-end the seizure of Valencia, whose capture depicted a very prolonged siege as a battle of wills between Spain and Moor. The battle with the emir of Seville ran concurrently with the winning of Valencia.

This is surely the centre of the poem. All changes from here; from now on the whole tone of the poem is different. The latter part of the poem is concerned with justice under Spanish law, whereas the first parts were concerned winning prestige – is there a hint of injustice in his exile? – wealth and a reputation for loyalty and honesty. That is, of winning back his place in the Spanish sphere of civility and legality.

Throughout, the poem set out to prove the Cid’s loyalty and honourable character.
One under-theme image is the beard of the Cid; he vowed never to cut it (or have it travestied) until he won restitution. All through the poem are references to his beard: well, the poem does take years to run the story’s course: even the King was outclassed by the Cid’s beard! Ok, but the point being the beard is a mark of the Cid’s commitment to the cause, and an emblem of his prestige.


The first cantare saw the Cid banished, cut off from family and legal recourse. He fought three campaigns against the Moors of Henares, the Jalon River, and the Jiloca River. At each he won bounty and wealth.

In the last cantare of the poem we saw three legal challenges to the treachery of the Infantes whereby the Cid reclaimed his generously given wealth; and also three duels – one duel per campaign. He won back, by recourse to Spanish law, his position and prestige.

We began (despite the lost first page) with the Cid realising his banishment from Castile (a metonym for Christian Spain), and end with the Cid helping unite Spain through marriage. The central event also echoed in this, where we saw the Cid settle Valencia and environs for Christian Spain, but also establish a Christian bishopric there under battling Bishop Jeronimo.

The reverse order of events is encapsulated in the court case: the lawsuit, the duels, the marriages (laisses 135-52).

So, yes, it does work. We have a ring of the whole poem, and as in true classical style, the three smaller rings of the cantares.

But where did Per Abbad learn of the structure? So little has come down from pre-Moorish Spain. But what of Mozarabic Spain? I may have to hunt out Arabic sources, but also perhaps Sephardic as well.


We see in the Penguin edition of ‘The Cid’ what has been called the prosification of the poem. The term is relatively self-explanatory; the implications, however, are not. With prosification goes the break-down of the line; epithets and formulas are lost, as their function in the line is lost.
As we know from chiasmic and particularly ring construction, these play an important structural role, indicating a parallelism, point of special notice or as rhythmic notifier.
Benjamin Smith notes the symmetry that chiasmus gives to a work is important to its message. He examples the interior chiasmic form in the lines 2402-3, ‘Los de mio Çid a los de Búcar de las tiendas los sacan,/ sácanlos de las tiendas, cáenlos en alcazas’, as the form  A B C C B A. This is a particularly interesting chiasmus because it is the only instance where we bridge two stanzas, 117 and 118.
The translation has it: ‘The Cid’s men drove Bucor’s men out of their tents.// When they had driven them out they fell to the pursuit.’
What we see here, what we can say the chiasmus is drawing out attention to, is how the poem is skillfully structured to emphasise an ongoing action that changes as the fortunes of the two parties change. The Cid here encounters Muslim King Bucor outside Valencia, and the battle turns in the Cid’s favour.

 We begin to see here how richly textured the text is in the original Spanish. This written text also appears to be richly structured, with many inner treasures and smaller rings. Perhaps this implies the poem was also a part of a national treasury, for which read a cultural heirloom of sorts.