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El Cid, the Impaler?

: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid
Alexander J. McNair

Essays in Medieval Studies, Volume 26, 2010, pp. 45-68 (Article)
Published by West Virginia University Press
DOI: 10.1353/ems.2010.0008

For additional information about this article

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Chapter 4

El Cid, the Impaler?: Line
1254 of the Poem of the Cid
Alexander J. McNair
University of Wisconsin-Parkside

He filled his imagination full to bursting with everything he read in
his books, from witchcraft to duels, battles, challenges, wounds, flirtations, love affairs, anguish, and impossible foolishness, packing it
all so firmly into his head that these sensational schemes and dreams
became the literal truth and, as far as he was concerned, there were no
more certain histories anywhere on earth. He’d explain that Cid Ruy
Díaz had been a very good knight, but simply couldn’t be compared
to the Knight of the Flaming Sword, who with one backhand stroke
had cut in half two huge, fierce giants.

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quijote1

When a ruler is at the head of his army and has a vast number of soldiers
under his command, then it is absolutely essential to be prepared to be
thought cruel; for it is impossible to keep an army united and ready for
action without acquiring a reputation for cruelty.

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince 2

. . . they should take his belongings and put him on a stake.

Rodrigo Díaz (El Cid) in Poem of the Cid 3

I. Cruelty Well Used?
In an anonymously published dialogue entitled Viaje de Turquía: La odisea de
Pedro de Urdemalas [Voyage from Turkey: The Odyssey of Pedro de Urdemalas] of
1557, the title character recounts his capture at sea by Turks and after describing the
gruesome execution of one of his galley’s captains (they cut off his arms, ears, and
Essays in Medieval Studies 26 (2010), 45-68. © Illinois Medieval Association. Published
electronically by the Muse Project at


Alexander J. McNair

nose) he remarks almost offhandedly that “they impaled the other [captain].”4 This
is among the first appearances in print of the verb empalar, to impale, in Spanish.
It also becomes the occasion for the word’s first definition in Spanish, since one
of the discussants asks Pedro for clarification—”¿Qué es empalar?” (What is ‘to
impale’?)—to which he responds with a graphic description:
La más rabiosa y abominable de todas las muertes. Toman un
palo grande, hecho a manera de asador, agudo por la punta, y
pónenle derecho y en aquél le espetan por el fundamento, que
llegue quasi a la boca, y déxansele ansí vibo, que suele durar
dos y tres días. (IV)
[The most violent and abominable of all deaths. They take a
large stake, made in the manner of a skewer, sharpened to a
point, they place it in an upright position, and on it they stick
[the victim], piercing him from his fundament through almost
to his mouth, and they leave him thus, still alive, to last for two
or three days usually.]
This definition probably influenced the first official definitions of the word in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Sebastian de Covarrubias in his Tesoro de
la lengua castellana o española (Treasure of the Castilian or Spanish Language)
of 1611 defines empalar as “a cruel and barbaric kind of punishment, skewering a
man with the stake, as one would skewer a bird on the spit.”5 To “it is a cruel and
barbaric kind of punishment,” the Diccionario de Autoridades in the eighteenth
century would add “very ancient, with which the Turks and Moors usually take
the lives of Christian captives.”6
Centuries before the first documented appearance of the verb empalar in
Spanish, how would this “very ancient” death sentence be described by Iberian
Romance vernacular? Could the Spanish language’s earliest surviving epic, the
Poem of the Cid (1207), provide evidence of this “cruel and barbaric” punishment?
This study seeks to answer these questions by exploring possible interpretations of
line 1254, our third epigraph: “Tomássenle el aver e pusiéssenle en un palo” (they
should take his belongings and put him on a stake). The line occurs in the context
of the Cid’s successful siege and subsequent defense of Valencia:
Grand alegría es entre todos essos cristianos
con mio Cid Ruy Díaz, el que en buen hora nasco.
Mio Cid don Rodrigo en Valencia está folgando,
con él Minaya Álbar Fáñez, que nos’ le parte de so braço.
Los que exieron de tierra de ritad son abondados;
a todos les dio en Valencia el que en buen hora nasco
casas e heredades de que son pagados;
el amor de mio Cid ya lo ivan probando.

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


Los que fueron con él e los de después todos son pagados.

(ll. 1236-37, 1243-48)
[Great is the joy among those Christians
with my Cid Ruy Diaz, fortunate the hour of his birth . . . .
My Cid, Don Rodrigo, takes his pleasure in Valencia
with Minaya Alvar Fáñez never parted from his side.
Those who followed him into exile receive abundant riches;
Everyone in Valencia receives from him, born at a lucky hour,
houses and land from which they reap reward;
now they know the generosity of the Cid.
Those with him in the beginning and those who came later,
all are well paid.]
Some of the Cid’s men had been with him for many years, choosing to follow their
leader even after Alfonso VI banished him from Castile; they had forfeited all their
land holdings to do so (cf. ll. 287-305) and had stuck with him when things looked
pretty grim. They were few in number, but the Cid could count on their loyalty. The
great majority, however, were mere opportunists, trying to hitch themselves to the
Cid’s rising star as the fall of Valencia appeared imminent and the spoils looked
to be plentiful; in the end, even the lowliest foot-soldier in the Cid’s army would
receive no less than 100 silver marks as a share of the booty (ll. 1197-1235). The
Cid recognized that these more-than-well-paid soldiers might not stick around for
the next battle if they could sneak back to less contested lands to the north with
all their new-found wealth intact: “que con los averes que avién tomados / que
sis’ pudiessen ir, ferlo ién de grado” (ll. 1249-50 ) [... that with all the goods they
had taken / they would willingly leave if they could].7 After consulting his trusted
lieutenant, Álvar Fáñez, the Cid issues an order that none of his vassals should
abandon Valencia without first taking leave of the Cid and kissing his hand (ll.
1251-52). Anyone who disobeys this order, if caught (“sil’ pudiessen prender o
fuesse alcançado” [l. 1253]), would be subject to the punishments mentioned in
line 1254: confiscation of goods and death on the stake.
This detail in a late twelfth-century or early thirteenth-century epic about a
late eleventh-century warrior is one of the more realistic touches in the Poem of the
Cid. A certain severity of punishment was necessary to maintain order in what had
become a rather large standing army. The historical Rodrigo Díaz would become the
Cid of epic and romance in the not too distant future, but in the immediate aftermath
of his conquest of Valencia in 1094 would have been forced to make some practical
decisions. More than four centuries after the death of Rodrigo (1099), the pragmatist
Machiavelli distinguished between “cruelty well-used and cruelty abused” (30)
and recognized that “it is more compassionate to impose harsh punishments on a
few than, out of excessive compassion, to allow disorders to spread” (51). In part,
Machiavelli was breaking the spell of the chivalric ideals of late-medieval romance;


Alexander J. McNair

ideals that would cement themselves in the European imagination in the centuries
following the historical Rodrigo, but ideals that El Cid himself could not entertain
in effectively governing a newly conquered principality. After a century in the oral
tradition, an epic about “Rodrigo, often called My Cid, of whom it is sung that
he was never vanquished by his enemies,”8 with all its potential for myth-making
would still reveal vestiges of the pragmatic warrior ethos that characterized the
Cid’s life. The threat of impalement (“pusiéssenle en un palo”) as a punishment
for desertion and treachery may have been one of those “well-used” cruelties that
would help Rodrigo solidify his hold on newly conquered territory.
If this appears shocking, though understandable, now, one can understand
how distasteful it would have been for a post-enlightenment reader—brought up to
understand that this sort of “barbaric” torture was how “Turks and Moors usually
take the lives of Christians.” For Romantics, the Cid was Spain’s “national” (i.e.,
Christian and Castilian) hero; and viewed through the prism of the very chivalric
romances that Don Quijote would try to imitate in Spain’s other foundational masterpiece, El Cid could not possibly be an impaler. For a late nineteenth- or early
twentieth-century sensibility, such as that of the renowned Cidian scholar Ramón
Menéndez Pidal, death by hanging was the only comprehensible interpretation for
line 1254. In the wake of the scholarship on the Poem of the Cid by this founder
of Spanish Philology, the interpretation of line 1254 as a reference to hanging has
gone virtually unquestioned. Triangulating the three epigraphs, however, provides
a clue as to why this may be so, at the same time that it encourages us to read the
line in a new light. Line 1254 of the epic certainly seems to evoke a Machiavellian
pragmatist, but perhaps a Quixotic dream has unduly influenced its interpretation.
II. A Short History of Impalement
While the verb empalar entered the Spanish language only in the mid-sixteenth century,9 the use of impalement as a form of torture and capital punishment
is indeed ancient. The Assyrian emperor Sennacherib employed it during his siege
of the Judean city of Lachish in 701 BC, as is clearly portrayed in a stone relief
sculpture on display in the British Museum.10 Other instances of impalement are
perhaps found in the Bible: in 2 Samuel 21.6, for example, where we read “let
seven of his sons be handed over to us, and we will impale them before the Lord
at Gideon” in the New Revised Standard Version.11 The Harper Collins Study Bible
notes: “The meaning of the term of execution translated impale here is unknown; it
was probably some form of crucifixion” (466). The Vulgate uses the verb crucifigere
in this instance, and crucifixion appears to be used to describe a broad range of
capital punishments including impalement and strangulation of various types (as
confirmed by artistic portrayals, such as the Assyrian relief mentioned above);12
but probably not to describe death by hanging as earlier generations of English
translators assumed. The “Capital Punishment” entry of the Tyndale Bible Dictionary notes the following: “Hanging may have been a form of execution in biblical
times. But many scholars think the word translated ‘hanging’ or ‘hanging on a tree’

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


actually meant impalement [...]. Commonly practiced by the Assyrians, that form
of execution was reserved for those guilty of the worst crimes and for prisoners
of war or deserters.”13 The fact that words like crucifigere and configere in Latin
could refer either to impalement (infixio) or crucifixion and its various forms of
strangulation (affixio) has contributed to a great deal of confusion: “In Livy even
crux means a mere stake [...]. In consequence of this vagueness of meaning, impaling
is sometimes spoken of loosely, as a kind of crucifixion.”14 The use of impalement
to punish betrayal (the desertion of one’s religion, for example) may support the
argument that Moses employed it to execute the Israelites who had turned to Baal
(Numbers 25.4).15 It is difficult to say for sure, since a verb exclusively denoting
this type of punishment does not exist until much later.
The verb “impale” makes its first appearance in English in the sixteenth
century, from the Old French empaler, where it is attested as early as the twelfth
century.16 A verb referring exclusively to the action of impalement did not exist in
Classical Latin, though impalare is attested in Medieval Latin.17 All of these late
lexical additions have their root in the Latin palus, for “stake,” a noun which could
be declined and combined with verbs or prepositions, so that context might provide
some indication about the nature of the punishments in which the palus was used.
C.T. Lewis’s entry on palus lists examples in which something (or someone) could
be tied to a stake (ad palum aligantur) or suspended from a stake (palo suspendat);
he provides no examples of someone being placed on the stake, which presumably
would require the preposition in.18 The Spanish palo is derived from this word
and is attested in the earliest works written in Spanish vernacular. In their respective etymological dictionaries, Martín Alonso and Joan Corominas both cite the
Poem of the Cid for the first documentation of the word palo in Spanish.19 Alonso
goes so far as to cite specifically line 1254—“tomássenle el aver e pusiéssenle en
un palo” (they should take his belongings and put him on a stake)—as the first
documentation of his fifth definition for palo: i.e., any “death sentence carried out
using the stake, such as hanging or garroting.”20 Other punishments that could have
been added to this list might have included burning at the stake, being shot through
with arrows, flogging, crucifixion, and, of course, impalement. None of these possibilities has been seriously considered for line 1254, which has been interpreted
almost exclusively as a reference to death by hanging.
As verbs unambiguously denoting impalement appear in the European vernaculars, it becomes much easier to identify its uses and abuses. Cervantes claims
the following about the Algerian captor of Ruy Pérez de Viedma in the “Captive’s
Tale” in Don Quijote (an episode reflecting many of Cervantes’s own experiences
during five years of captivity in North Africa):
... ninguna cosa nos fatigaba tanto como oír y ver a cada paso
las jamás vistas ni oídas crueldades que mi amo usaba con los
cristianos. Cada día ahorcaba el suyo, empalaba a éste, desorejaba aquél, y esto, por tan poca ocasión, y tan sin ella, que los

Alexander J. McNair


turcos conocían que lo hacía no más por hacerlo y por ser de
natural condición suya ser homicida de todo el género humano.
[... Nothing troubled us as much as the continual, incredible
cruelties my master practiced on Christians. Every day he’d
hang or impale someone, or maybe cut off someone’s ears, and
for so little reason, or no reason at all, that the Turks admitted he
did it just because it pleased him, and because he was naturally
disposed to be murderous to any and all human beings.] (272)
Neither was impaling unheard of among Christians. Though most of the Spanish
instances cited—in Cervantes, for example, or in the Voyage from Turkey—are
attributed to practices within an Islamic sphere, we find the most disturbing account of impalement in Spanish literature executed by Spaniards in the third part
of Alonso de Ercilla’s epic La Araucana of 1589. The Araucanian chief Caupolicán
is condemned to impalement and then to be shot through with arrows;21 he arrives
at the stake impassive, though Ercilla himself describes the sentence as an atrocity.22 After a brief struggle, where Caupolicán protests that the hand of a low-born
executioner should not be allowed to touch him, the sentence is executed:

Le sentaron después con poca ayuda
sobre la punta de la estaca aguda.
No el aguzado palo penetrante
por más que las entrañas le rompiese
barrenándole el cuerpo, fue bastante
a que al dolor intenso se rindiese.

[They seated him afterwards with little help
over the sharpened point of the stake.
But the sharp and penetrating pole,
though it break through his innards,
drilling through his body, was not enough
to make him succumb to the intense pain.] (473)

As late as the nineteenth century we have confirmation of impalement practiced
in Spain itself: Fransisco de Goya’s etching 37 of his Disasters of War series
(1808-1815) provides the visual evidence with its graphic portrayal of impalement
combined with partial dismemberment.23
III. The Legacy of Ramón Menéndez Pidal’s Cid
The Cid was, for late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Spain, a national
hero, the initial force behind the Reconquest. After 1898, when Spain lost the
Spanish-American War to the United States and was forced to forfeit the remains
of what had once been a vast colonial empire, that country underwent a collective

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


identity crisis. Spain, adrift in the political and economic crises of the modern
age, needed an anchor in its glorious national past. Menéndez Pidal’s scholarship
on the Cid provided that anchor in the image of a Christian warrior, loyal subject,
and Castilian patriot.24 These lines from a poem by Antonio Machado, one of the
leading poets of the Generation of 1898, encapsulate this sentiment:

Castilla miserable, ayer dominadora
La madre en otro tiempo fecunda en capitanes,
madrastra es hoy apenas de humildes ganapanes.
Castilla no es aquella tan generosa un día,
cuando Myo Cid Rodrigo el de Vivar volvía,
ufano de su nueva fortuna, y su opulencia,
a regalar a Alfonso los huertos de Valencia.

[Miserable Castile, dominant yesterday
Once a fertile mother of captains,
Today she is barely a stepmother to humbled beggars.
Castile is not that same generous land she was once
when My Cid Rodrigo of Vivar returned,
proud of his new found fortune and opulence
to hand Valencia’s orchards over to Alfonso.]25

Menéndez Pidal’s erudition rehabilitated the reputation of the historical
Rodrigo for Spaniards, rescuing the Cid from what he called “cidofobia.”26 In the
mid-nineteenth century the Dutch scholar Reinhart Dozy had published Arabic
documents that revealed the Cid’s atrocities in his occupation of Valencia. One
such atrocity was the execution characterized by Richard Fletcher as “his most
barbaric act, the burning alive of the qadi Ibn Jahhaf in 1095.”27 Fletcher, using
the same Arabic sources as Dozy, describes it thus: “A pit was dug, probably in the
marketplace, in which he was secured by burying him up to his armpits and then a
fire was lit about him. [...] Rodrigo was with difficulty restrained from inflicting the
same fate upon his victim’s wife and children” (180). Menéndez Pidal systematically
discounts Arabic documents (some of them contemporaries and eyewitnesses) as
unreliable in his La España del Cid; reasoning that their Muslim authors naturally
would have been hostile to the conqueror. In the case of Ibn Jahhaf’s execution,
for example, he gives credence to a fourteenth-century chronicle in which the Cid
allows the Valencian Muslims themselves to stone Ibn Jahhaf to death, according
to their own law; Menéndez Pidal then attempts to harmonize this account with the
earlier Arabic sources.28 As an exacting scholar, however, Menéndez Pidal recognizes that the actual punishment applied was in fact burning alive, but only after
going to great lengths to mitigate the cruelty of the act. He claims, for example,
that the cruelty was an inevitability of the times, and emphasizes the Cid’s legal


Alexander J. McNair

duty in executing the sentence; he even extols the Cid’s clemency in not carrying
out the full sentence (i.e., burning alive the entire family and their property).29
Menéndez Pidal defended a very early composition date and, by extension,
the historical accuracy of the Poem of the Cid throughout his long career, because
it presents the Cid as a loyal vassal, a Castilian patriot, and a good Christian warrior.30 Scholars are now generally agreed that this vision of the Cid reflects the
concerns of a society (and therefore a composition date) closer to the turn of the
thirteenth century than the close of the eleventh, though most would still agree that
versions of the epic would have been in the oral tradition for nearly a century by
the time the Poem of the Cid took its final written form in the month of May, 1207.
Ironically, Menéndez Pidal himself distorts one of the very details in the Poem of
the Cid that appears to be an accurate reflection of the historical Cid’s concerns in
the aftermath of the conquest of Valencia. If anything, line 1254 is one of the few
traces of the Cid’s pragmatic warrior ethos to survive the mythologizing process.
As Northrop Frye wrote “In every age the ruling social or intellectual class tends
to project its ideals in some form of romance, where virtuous heroes and beautiful
heroines represent the ideals and the villains the threats to their ascendancy.”31 The
Poem of the Cid is certainly “some form of romance” if we use Frye’s definition,
but the ideals that it projects are closer to the ideals of the military aristocracy of
twelfth-century Castile than to the ideals of chivalric romance. Yet at times it appears that Menéndez Pidal’s vision of the Cid, founded in the favorable portrayal of
this epic, conforms more to the chivalric ideal than to the realities of command and
control on the shifting frontier between Christianity and Islam. It is a telling moment
when Menéndez Pidal compares Dozy and his scholarship to the villainous sorcerer
Arcalaus from the prose romance Amadis of Gaul: “Dozy’s erudite knowledge is
an undercover friend of Cidophobia; armed to the teeth with his rich erudition, he
fights to support villainous deeds, like that evil knight Arcalaus always involved
in ruinous schemes.”32 Arcalaus, in book one of that most famous of all Spanish
chivalric romances, imprisons Amadis with an enchantment and then appears before
the court of King Lisuarte with Amadis’s armor as proof that he has killed “the finest
and most courageous knight in the world.”33 In this scenario, Dozy’s scholarship is
nothing but a horrible deception, and the Cid—equated with the faithful lover and
heroic knight Amadis—has been imprisoned by en evil enchantment.
Returning to line 1254 with its possible reference to impalement, we find
Menéndez Pidal unable to consider the Cid capable of threatening such a “cruel
and barbaric kind of torture” as the Diccionario de Autoridades had called it. In
his note to palo in the glossary of his three volume critical edition of the Poem of
the Cid, the scholar prefers instead to indulge a rare anachronism, reasoning that
palo and horca (the gallows, where hanging is traditionally carried out) are synonymous in modern Spanish.34 In his oft reprinted edition for the popular Clásicos
Castellanos series (orig. pub. 1911), Menéndez Pidal’s note to l. 1254 reads simply
“palo, ‘horca’.”35

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


Since the publication of Menéndez Pidal’s monument of Cidian erudition,
there has been near unanimity in the acceptance of his interpretation of line 1254.
Editor after editor, translator after translator has followed the scholar’s lead. Alberto
Montaner, in his most recent critical edition, glosses the line: “que le quitasen los
bienes y lo ahorcasen” (they should take away his goods and hang him, 81n); and
in his commentary he defends this accepted interpretation against its lone detractor
in the Spanish language.36 Every other Spanish edition or modern adaptation that
I have consulted glosses the line in a similar fashion: “le confiscasen sus bienes y
ahorcasen”; “que le quitaran su parte y lo ahorcaran”; “y su riqueza le quiten y en
horca sea colgado”; “que tomasen las riquezas y lo colgasen de un árbol.”37 Most
English versions could be translations of these Spanish glosses (rather than literal
translations of the original) and they nearly always mention the gallows: “and
take from him everything and hang him on a gallows”; “their goods forfeited and
they be hanged on a gallows tree”; “he should be hanged from the gallows and
his possessions confiscated”; “they should take back from him what he had and
hang him on the gallows”; “they would seize his goods and bring him unto the
gallows-head.”38 Archer M. Huntington, an early editor and translator of the work,
interprets lines 1249-1254 as follows:
My Cid perceived that, holding such spoil
as they had gained, if now they might depart,
'twould willingly be done. This bade my Cid—
Minaya counseled it:— “Each man who took
no leave, nor kissed his hand, if they might seize him
or overtake, they should attach his wealth
and on a gibbet raise him high.”39
The most recent translator, Burton Raffel, translates l. 1254 simply “He
would take back their wealth, and hang them.”40 Only two modern translations, to
my knowledge, translate the line as something that might suggest impalement as
the possible punishment: Paul Blackburn’s free verse version (“... his goods taken
from him and / himself impaled on a stake”) and the line-by-line translation in
Matthew Bailey’s digital edition of the epic (“they take his wealth and put him on
a pole”).41 The earliest translation into English of the “full” poem, John Ormsby’s
in 1879, omits the passage altogether, perhaps reflecting Victorian discomfort with
the prospect of the epic hero imposing such a harsh penalty on fellow Christians.42
A similar discomfort was almost certainly at work on Menéndez Pidal when he
was putting together his influential edition.
IV. El Cid, Impaler: Some Historical Considerations
Laws preserved from Medieval Spain reveal that there must have been
some difficulties keeping new landholders from abandoning their posts in frontier
communities after they had made short-term gains.43 Documents from the twelfth


Alexander J. McNair

century stipulate a residence of at least a year (increasing to up to twelve years
in some thirteenth-century documents) after receiving a land grant; though none
of the documents make provision for the kind of punishment to be received for
abandoning the land prematurely, which makes ll. 1253-54 of the Poem of the Cid
unique.44 The Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris (c. 1150) mentions that the emperor
Alfonso VII commanded local judges “to eradicate severely vice” from the kingdom, and that they “judged justly, hanging some from the gallows, leaving others
to have their hands and feet cut off.”45 In this context the Latin makes it clear that
the penalty is hanging—“in lignis suspendentes”; the chronicle’s author uses the
phrase “in lignis”—translated as “from the gallows”—rather than “in palo.” Ramón
Menéndez Pidal, in his definitive critical edition and commentary of the Poem of
the Cid, adduced from this passage of Alfonso VII’s chronicle that the much more
vague l. 1254 must refer to death by hanging, though as late as the seventeenth
century the palo was used for a much wider variety of execution methods; indeed,
one would expect the two words to be much closer to their Latin origins (palus
and furca) in a document as old as the Poem of the Cid, which chooses to use palo
rather than forca or horca.46
Impalement—”the most violent and abominable of all deaths”—might be
expected from arch-villains like Vlad the Impaler, real life inspiration for the vampire Dracula, or Ruy Pérez de Viedma’s Algerian captor in Don Quijote. But such
behavior from “Cid Ruy Díaz,” described by Don Quijote himself as a “very good
knight,” would be unthinkable. Menéndez Pidal goes to great lengths to distance
the Cid from this inhuman cruelty, but the evidence he provides to gloss l. 1254
begins to unravel upon closer examination. Citing the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris for an example of death by hanging seems to imply that this was the only
appropriate punishment available for the Cid to administer. This is, of course, not
true as the Cid’s execution of Ibn Jahhaf demonstrates. That very same chronicle
cited by Menéndez Pidal records Christian warriors parading the severed heads of
their Muslim foes on lance points in triumphal celebrations, lasting several days
in 1143 (234-36). The Historia Roderici, considered by all historians to be the
most reliable primary source on the historical Cid, records Rodrigo threatening the
defenders of Murviedro in 1098: “if you do not at once surrender the castle to me,
as many of you as I can lay hands on I shall burn alive or execute after torture.”47
Coincidentally, when the Poem of the Cid would have been reaching its final stage
of composition in the oral tradition around 1200, Pedro II of Aragon issued a law
“banishing heretics from his dominions under threat of confiscation of property
and death at the stake.”48 Perhaps we could assume that death by hanging was the
preferred method of execution, but it certainly was not the only method.
And even Pedro de Urdemalas, who described the savage practice for his
audience in Voyage from Turkey, suggests that the Spanish king should combine it
with burning alive to punish those Christians who had collaborated with the Turks
during their captivity: “Sin más información ni más oír, había el rey ... de mandarle

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


espetar en un palo y que le asasen bibo” (without any further information or hearing the king must ... order him skewered on a stake and roasted alive, V). He tells
his interlocutors later in the dialogue that impalement was used to punish traitors
among the Turks: “y ansí matan al omiçida, ahorcan al ladrón, empalan al traidor”
(XVI) [and so they kill the murderer, hang the thief, and impale the traitor]. Could
a similar distinction have been made at the time of the Cid? Would deserters from
the Cid’s ranks have been considered petty thieves or would they have been given
a punishment deemed suitable for treason and heresy?
It is difficult to say with certainty what the poet may have intended with his
“pusiéssenle en un palo”; perhaps he wants his audience to equate the deserter with
the petty thief, or perhaps (and this seems to be in accord with the ethos of the
epic) he expects his audience to understand potential deserters as traitors, akin to
heretics. An audience around 1200 would have had in mind the recent controversies
surrounding the Albigensian heretics, for example, who had found sanctuary in the
County of Toulouse under Pedro II’s brother-in-law, Raymond VI, who ruled Toulouse 1194-1222 and was, coincidently, a descendent of the “Conde don Remont”
of Barcelona, the Cid’s foil in ll. 957-1086.49 The Spanish Dominic Guzmán, future
St. Dominic, founded the Order of Preachers mostly to respond to this heresy in the
first decade of the thirteenth century. The Council of Tours in 1163 had called for
confiscation and imprisonment of the Albigenses, but much more severe punishments were adopted toward the close of the twelfth century and Pope Innocent III,
who would eventually call for a crusade against them in 1207, claimed they were
“worse than the Saracens.”50 The suggestive pairing of confiscation—“tomássenle
el aver”—and palo in l. 1254 parallels the pronouncements against heretics, whose
gruesome executions audiences in Northern Castile would not have had to travel
far to witness for themselves. The audience might even be reminded of the fact that
Alfonso VI, early in the epic, issued his own pronouncement against anyone who
might give aid and shelter to the Cid in Castile after his banishment:
que a mio Cid Ruy Díaz que nadi nol’ diessen posada,
e aquel que ge la diesse sopiesse vera palabra,
que perderié los averes e más los ojos de la cara,
e aun demás los cuerpos e las almas. (ll. 25-28)
[that no one shelter Ruy Díaz, my Cid,
and whoever does should know the king’s word:
that he’ll lose his property and the eyes from his face
and his body and his soul besides.]
All of this leads us to the conclusion that the poet’s palo in l. 1254, whatever he
may have intended it to mean, for an audience at the turn of the thirteenth century
would not necessarily bring to mind death by hanging.
V. Poner en un palo: Some Semantic Considerations
At this point we should return to Menéndez Pidal’s note on palo and examine


Alexander J. McNair

what evidence he provides to support his interpretation of l. 1254 as a reference
exclusively to hanging.51 Beyond the citation of hanging as a possible punishment
in the Latin Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris and the modern synonymy of horca
and palo, he only cites one other source: a passage from a late thirteenth-century
manuscript of Alfonso X’s vernacular General Estoria. The passage quotes the
Persian Darius III sending a message to Alexander the Great: “enviaré cavalleros
a tí que te tomen non como a fijo de Philippo, mas como a príncep de ladrones,
e mandaré que te pongan en un palo” (I will send knights for you, so they might
take you not as a son of Philip, but as a prince of thieves, and I will order that they
set you on a stake/place you on the gallows). The expression used is indeed the
one our poet chooses in the Poem of the Cid: the word palo follows the verb poner
(to set, place, put), an object pronoun (le/te), and the preposition en. Menéndez
Pidal, however, seems to imply (with the scant evidence already presented) that
this expression is an unambiguous reference to hanging and that, therefore, line
1254’s pusiéssenle en un palo is also an unambiguous reference to hanging. A
somewhat circular argument is beginning to develop along the following lines: the
expression poner en un palo refers to hanging in the General Estoria, so the Poem
of the Cid must refer to hanging; in actuality, we have no confirmation that the
expression as used in the General Estoria refers to hanging, except that we think
it refers to hanging in the Poem of the Cid. Unfortunately, two ambiguities do not
disambiguate each other. It may be worth reviewing Menéndez Pidal’s argument,
based on evidence provided:

palo and horca are synonymous with one another in modern Spanish;
hanging was indeed a punishment used at the time of the Cid;
the expression (poner en un palo) used by the Cid poet is also found in
the General Estoria;
therefore, the expression is used exclusively to refer to hanging.

This is hardly an airtight case and makes several assumptions. First, we have
to assume that the modern connotation of the word palo is essentially the same in
medieval Spanish; second, we need to assume that hanging was at the very least the
preferred method of execution; and third, we are asked to assume that the expression
poner en un palo refers unambiguously to that form of execution in the General
Estoria. We have already seen evidence that casts serious doubt on the validity of
the first two assumptions. Nonetheless, the third assumption, if correct, would be
enough to seal the argument in favor of Menéndez Pidal’s interpretation of line
1254; and so he provides the Latin passage that the General Estoria translates:
“Dirigemus ad te innumerabilem copiam armatorum qui te, non Philippi filium sed
ut latronum principem, crucifigant” (we will direct toward you innumerable troops
who, not as Philip’s son but as a prince of thieves, should crucify/impale/hang(?)
you) Rather than confirm that the expression te pongan en un palo conveys the
sense of hanging, the original Latin te . . . crucifigant creates even more confusion.
It may be fair to say that the medieval translator would not have been aware, as

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


modern biblical scholars are, that the verb crucifigere was used to describe many
types of executions, impalement and crucifixion being prominent among them
(as we have seen above). But it would be safe to assume that crucifixion (the type
used to execute thieves, and, significantly for a medieval scribe, Christ himself)
was probably what the translator had in mind when he rendered te crucifigant as te
pongan en un palo. This association would have been even stronger for a medieval
translator familiar with typological interpretation, perhaps seeing Alexander as a
figure for Christ. In any event, a scribe or translator in the 1280s could have, if
he wanted to be unequivocal, used the phrase te pongan en una forca;53 the fact
that he used palo probably indicates that he did not have hanging in mind when
translating te crucifigant.
Had the Latin original used the verb configere rather than crucifigere the association with crucifixion might not have been as automatic. In the Vulgate’s version
of Ezra 6.11 we read an edict, coincidently attributed to another Persian Darius (the
first), issued to reestablish the Temple in Jerusalem (c. 520 BC) and accompanied
by the following threat: “A me ergo positum est decretum, ut omnis homo qui hanc
mutaverit iussionem, tollatur lignum de domo ipsius, et erigatur et configatur in
eo; domus autem eius publicetur” (my emphasis). One modern translation (NAB),
availing itself of better source texts than Jerome’s Vulgate, renders the verse thus: “I
also issue this decree: if any man violates this edict, a beam is to be taken from his
house, and he is to be lifted up and impaled on it; and his house is to be reduced to
rubble for this offense” (cf. NRSV, which also translates this as a threat of impalement). But in the early modern period—and perhaps the influence of the Vulgate
had something to do with this—the punishment to be executed was hanging: “let
him be hanged thereon” (KJV). The two verbs, configere and crucifigere, in the
Vulgate may have been vague enough to convey a range of different executions
in the Roman Empire. But by the later Middle Ages, it is important to remember,
crucifigere would have connoted the Christian crucifixion almost exclusively and
only configere could have been construed as hanging. Menéndez Pidal’s example
of poner en un palo used to translate crucifigere in the General Estoria can not
substantiate the expression as a reference to hanging; quite the opposite, in fact,
it nearly invalidates it altogether. If the original had read te configant instead of te
crucifigant, then poner en un palo might more plausibly seem to refer to hanging,
though one could never be sure because the Latin is simply too vague.
We can confirm that the expression poner en un palo would have been
closely associated with crucifixion by looking at other early appearances of this
exact phrasing in their contexts. Searches for “en un palo” and “en el palo” in the
Corpus del español database (Davies) locate the largest possible number of examples between 1200 and 1700. The phrase en un palo is often found in contexts
not referring to capital punishment at all, as we might expect with such a common
word as palo. Of those instances in which the phrase is used to refer to a death
sentence the accompanying verb is often specific enough to indicate the type of


Alexander J. McNair

execution: atravesar (to pierce), crucificar (to crucify), atar (to tie/bind), ahorcar
(to hang), asaetar (to shoot with arrows), desollar (to flay), espetar (to skewer) are
all possibilities when the victim is en un palo or en el palo. When the verb poner,
which is much more generic, is used with either en un palo or en el palo we have
to look closely at the context to determine what method of execution is intended.
The expression poner en un palo is used often after beheadings (to display the
severed heads), for example, but there are many cases in which the context is just
too vague to determine what is intended. I have found only one case in which the
expression poner en un palo refers unambiguously to a hanging, Pedro Cieza de
León’s Crónica del Perú (1551), which has the following: “El cacique le habló
ásperamente diciendo que en pena de su maldad fuese ahorcado, y así lo pusieron
en un palo” (the chief spoke to him bitterly, saying that in punishment for his
wrongdoing he would be hanged, and so they set him on a stake/gallows, qtd. in
Davies). Against this there are several examples of the expression used unequivocally to describe crucifixion; poner en un palo appears frequently in devotional
works contemplating Christ on the cross.54
It may be objected that the poet could not have intended line 1254 to refer to
the threat of crucifixion, because this would have been an abhorrent practice among
Christians. It is almost certainly the case that poner en un palo used in the General
Estoria to translate Darius’s threat to Alexander the Great referred to crucifixion.
But crucifixion is probably not the intended meaning of line 1254. Nevertheless,
it is important to reiterate that while line 1254 probably does not refer to the threat
of crucifixion as we have come to understand the term, neither does the General
Estoria confirm that it refers to hanging. The palo itself is used in many types of
executions, as we have seen, and even the expression poner en un palo, as generic
as it is, can be found to connote more than either hanging or crucifixion. José de
Valdivielso uses the expression repeatedly (at least 5 separate times) in his short
allegorical play La Serrana de Plasencia (1599) to refer to—and this becomes
evident toward the end of the play—a primitive firing squad. Apparently the Santa
Hermandad (lit. Holy Brotherhood; a rural police force founded in Castile at the end
of the middle ages), whose primary duty was to keep the roads safe from robbers,
conducted summary executions by tying their suspects to trees or stakes and then
shooting them with crossbows. In Valdivielso’s allegory, the female protagonist,
Serrana (Shepherdess), has been seduced by Engaño (Deception) and leaves her
husband, Esposo (Spouse, but also the Christ figure), to live the life of a highwayman. When she is finally caught Esposo orders her to be taken up to the road and
put on a stake (“Sacadla luego al camino, y en un palo la poned”).55 The Hermandad
is more than happy to oblige, and one of their number yells “Ballesteros, a tirar,
que ya está puesta en el palo la Serrana desleal” (Crossbowmen, shoot, for the
disloyal Serrana is already set on the stake). The next line makes it clear that she
is merely tied to the stake and not impaled on it: “Atada al palo, ¡ay de mí! (tied
to the stake, oh my!).

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


Impalement is, of course, also a possible referent for poner en un palo and
would be the most literal translation of the expression; perhaps we should assume
that poner en un palo refers to impalement unless context proves otherwise. Verbs
like “pierce,” “penetrate,” and “skewer” in combination with en un palo or en el
palo all convey this sense unambiguously. But even a generic verb like fincar (to
fix, set) in combination with en el palo can be seen to refer to impalement in a
fifteenth century document, when modified by a phrase like “por la natura [through
the genitalia]” (qtd. in Davies). So it comes as no surprise that poner en un palo
can be found in a context that makes its reference to impalement quite clear. In
Cervantes’s play Los baños de Argel [The Baths of Algiers], when the Cadí (qadi
is Arabic for a judge or interpreter of Islamic law) orders the death sentence for a
Muslim who openly confesses having converted to Christianity he shouts: “¡Alto,
su muerte se ordene! / ¡Ponedle luego en un palo!” (Enough, his death is called
for! Set him on a stake immediately!, I. 840-41).56 Several lines later it becomes
clear that the execution is indeed an impalement, as the Cadí sends his guards and
their victim on their way: “caminad; llevadle aína, y empalalde en la marina” (get
moving; take him straight away and impale him in the marina, I. 856-57). One
character describes the cruel sentence—”a empalarle sentenció” (he sentenced him
to be impaled, II. 109)—and death as a martyrdom, but from the Cadí’s perspective
it is an appropriate punishment for apostasy. When he later threatens a Christian
slave who has already attempted escape several times, there is little doubt that the
Cadí will not hesitate to impale him: “Vuélvete, pues, a huir, que si te vuelven /
yo te pondré en un palo” (Go ahead, then, and try to flee again; if they bring you
back / I will put you on a stake, III. 519-20). One can almost hear an echo of the
Cid’s threat to the potential deserter: if he can be chased down and brought back
(“sil’ pudiessen prender o fuesse alcançado” [l. 1253]), he will be put on a stake
(“pusiéssenle en un palo” [l. 1254]).
VI. Conclusion
In fact, we can never be completely sure what the poet intended with that
line; though I would suggest, given the context and the evidence presented, that
impalement is the most likely candidate. The fact that “pusiéssenle en un palo” did
not specify precisely enough would eventually lead the subsequent Cidian tradition
to render the means of execution even more vaguely. Among the thirteenth-century
vernacular chronicles, the Estoria de España or Primera Crónica General of Alfonso X, which scholars have agreed follows the Poem of the Cid closely through
the first thousand lines or so, renders line 1254 “perderie quanto ouiesse et muriere
por ello” (would lose everything he had and would die for it).57 The Crónica de
Veinte Reyes has it even more vaguely as “quel tomarie quanto ouiesse e el cuerpo
que estarie a su merçed” (that would take from him whatever he had and his body
would be at [the Cid’s] mercy).58 The first printed chronicle of the Cid, the Corónica
del Çid Ruy Díaz (1498), itself mostly a reworking of material from the Primera
Crónica General, is completely silent on this episode, moving straight from the


Alexander J. McNair

partition of spoils to Álvar Fañez’s departure without mention of the Cid’s proclamation.59 Juan López de Velorado’s Chrónica del famoso cavallero Cid Ruy Diez
(sic) Campeador (1512), which would be reprinted often throughout the sixteenth
century, has the line as “perderia quanto levasse, e mas que lo mandaria matar por
ello” (he would lose whatever he was carrying and moreover [the Cid] would order
him killed for it).60 And, finally, the oral ballad tradition, collected sporadically over
the course of the sixteenth century in song books and in one notable compilation
devoted exclusively to Cidian ballads—Juan de Escobar’s Romancero del Cid (orig.
pub. in 1612)—does not retain the slightest trace of our episode.61
In 1808, as Spain was thrust into the war that would inspire Goya’s horrific
etchings, Robert Southey published his Chronicle of the Cid. The work, as he
claimed, was “wholly translation, but not the translation of any single work.”62
Southey follows mostly López de Velorado’s chronicle and a sixteenth-century
printed version of the Primera Crónica General (Florian de Ocampo’s), but he also
took advantage of the fact that the Poem of the Cid manuscript had just resurfaced
in Vivar after centuries in obscurity. It was available to Southey in Sanchez’s edition of 1779—the first printed edition of Per Abbot’s unique codex. The English
romantic recognized the Poem of the Cid as “unquestionably the oldest poem in
the Spanish language,” also judging it “decidedly and beyond all comparison
the finest” (xxiv). In coming to the episode in question (in Book 10, Chapter xi),
Southey translates: “And Minaya advised him that he should cause proclamation
to be made through the city, that no man should depart without permission of the
Cid, and if he were overtaken he should lose all that he had, and moreover be fixed
upon a stake” (175). This last phrase—“and moreover be fixed upon a stake”—could
only have been inspired by line 1254 in the Poem of the Cid. Translating a century
before Menéndez Pidal’s three-volume edition was published, Southey did not feel
constrained to limit the Cid’s threat to the gallows. He simply translated the phrase
as literally as possible and decided that the Poem of the Cid’s version was better
in this instance than the chronicle tradition that he normally rendered faithfully.
The Poem of the Cid may not be as old as earlier generations of scholars
thought, that is, springing from eyewitnesses to the events retold, but it is still the
oldest extensive narrative in the Spanish language. It still is for many, as it was for
Southey, “decidedly and beyond all comparison the finest” narrative in Old Spanish
poetry. The Poem of the Cid straddles the turn of the thirteenth century, simultaneously looking back to the oral epic tradition of the twelfth century and forward to
the clerkly romances of the thirteenth. It is at times a sober, martial epic—the text
describes itself as song (cantar) and deed (gesta)—but a fourteenth-century scribe
intervening at the manuscript’s end tells us that the “romance has been read” and
we should pass the wine: “E el romanz es leído, datnos del vino” (l. 3734). Alberto
Montaner refers to this as the “reciter’s colophon” (218); it signals to readers today
that after only a century in the manuscript tradition the transition from oral epic to
written romance had already been completed as far as the audience was concerned.

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


And it is almost certainly the ethos of late-medieval romance that has informed
a great deal of the Poem’s exegesis. Where the epic itself presents a valiant, if
pragmatic, warrior, modern criticism has to be careful not to interpret the valiant
and idealistic hero of romance. For many critics the Cid seems, as he was for Don
Quixote, another Amadis or Galahad; and so in a classically quixotic way they
have imposed the chivalric romance ethos onto the twelfth-century warrior ethos
that shaped the epic. A literal understanding of l. 1254 as an impalement is not
out of the question simply because the white knight of romance would not submit
even the most unworthy traitor to this punishment; Southey’s literal rendering,
“he should lose all that he had, and moreover be fixed upon a stake,” is in perfect
keeping with the spirit of the epic itself.

Burton Raffel, trans. (New York and London, 1999), p. 14; subsequent parenthetical references to Cervantes's Don Quijote in English will be to pages in
this translation. When citing the Spanish, parenthetical references will be to
part, chapter, and page number in the ed. of Francisco Rico (Madrid, 2004).


In Chapter Seventeen: “About cruelty and compassion; and whether it is better
to be loved than feared, or the reverse” (David Wooton, trans. [Indianapolis,
1995], p. 52; subsequent parenthetical references to page numbers in this ed.).


Line 1254; all translations from Spanish, unless otherwise noted, are mine;
subsequent parenthetical references to the Spanish text are to line numbers in
Alberto Montaner, ed., Cantar de mio Cid (Barcelona, 2007). Parenthetical
references to Montaner's introduction and notes will cite page numbers.


“y al otro empalaron”; accessible online at, the
episode cited here is found in Chapter IV: “Pedro cautivo de los Turcos” (Pedro
captured by the Turks); no pagination. Subsequent parenthetical references to
this ed. will be to chapter.


“Género de castigo cruel y bárbaro, espetando el hombre por el palo, como se
espeta el ave en el asador” (ed. Martín de Riquer [Barcelona, 1998], p. 507).


“Es un género de castigo cruél y bárbaro, mui antiguo, con que suelen los
Turcos y Moros quitar la vida à los Cautivos Christianos” (orig. pub. 17261737 [Madrid, 1969]). The Spanish Royal Academy has long since sanitized
this definition ideologically: “Espetar a alguien en un palo como se espeta un
ave en el asador” (skewer someone on a stake, as one would skewer a bird on
the spit), according to the 22nd ed. of the Diccionario de la Real Academia
Española (Madrid, 2001).


Montaner's most recent ed. (2007) reads “ferio” instead of “ferlo” in l. 1250,
though not in his earlier eds., cf. Cantar de mio Cid (Barcelona, 2000), for
example; “ferlo” is the correct reading, cf. Alexander J. McNair, ed., Poema
de mio Cid (Newark, DE, 2008), p. 105.


Alexander J. McNair


Lines cited from the Latin Poema de Almeria of about AD 1150 in the Chronica
Adefonsi Imperatoris, trans. Simon Barton in The World of El Cid: Chronicles
of the Spanish Reconquest, ed. Simon Barton and Richard Fletcher (Manchester
and New York, 2000), p. 257.


Martín Alonso, Enciclopedia del idioma, 3 vols. (Madrid, 1958), records the
first appearance in 1545, only a decade before the Voyage from Turkey cited
above. See also Mark Davies, Corpus del Español: 100 Million Words, 1200s1900s (2002-) available online at

10 See image of “Stone Panel from the South-West Palace of Sennacherib (Room
36, no. 7)”; a “highlight” of the Museum's collection on-line (britishmuseum.
org; accessed 9 Feb. 2010).
11 Revised Edition, gen. ed. Harold W. Attridge (San Francisco, 2006), p. 466.
Most English translations of this verse (The NRSV is a notable exception)
interpret this passage with “hanging” (KJV, for example) or some other form
of execution, crucifixion (Douay-Reims, translating the Vulgate), dismemberment (NAB). In addition to the NRSV cited above, I use the following editions
for this study: KJV: The Bible, ed. David Norton (London, 2006); NAB: The
New American Bible (Iowa Falls, 1976); Vulgate: Biblia sacra: Vulgatae
editionis (Turin, 1965). Subsequent reference to any specific trans. will use
these abbreviations.
12 Otto Betz notes that “According to ancient historians such as Herodotus and
Diodorus Siculus, various kinds of crucifixion (e.g., impalement) were used
by the Assyrians, Scythians, Phoenicians, and Persians (see also Ezra 6.11).
The practice of crucifixion was taken over by Alexander the Great and his
successors, especially by the Romans, who reserved it for cases of robbery
and rebellion. Roman citizens could be punished in this way only for the crime
of high treason”—see “Crucifixion” in The Oxford Illustrated Companion to
the Bible, Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford, 2001; New
York, 2008), p. 50.
13 Ed. Philip W. Comfort and Walter A. Elwell (Wheaton, 2001), p. 336. See also
the “Impalement” entry, which notes the confusion or conflation of crucifixion
and impalement in early sources (629), along with Betz's “Crucifixion” article
(cited in the previous note). Cf. the Anchor Bible Dictionary: “Hanging, imprisonment, and torture are not generally used as punishments in the A[ncient]
N[ear] E[east] legal systems. Hanging is to expose the corpse after death by
some other means” (my emphasis; ed. David N. Freedman [New York, 1992],
vol. 5, p. 555).
14 Frederick William Farrar, “Cross,” A Dictionary of the Bible: Comprising its
Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, ed. William Smith and
J. M. Fuller (London, 1893), vol. 1, p. 670. Farrar later goes on to write about
the cross that the “crux simplex or bare stake ... was probably the original of

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


the rest. Sometimes it was merely driven through the man's chest, but at other
times it was driven longitudinally ..., coming out the mouth ..., a method of
punishment called ... infixio. The affixio consisted merely of tying the criminal
to the stake (ad palum) from which he hung by the arms” (vol. 1, p. 671; my
ellipsis indicate omission of Farrar's Greek terms and his citations of ancient
15 The NRSV reads “Take all the chiefs of the people and impale them in the
sun before the Lord, in order that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away
from Israel.” The Vulgate (“suspende eos contra solem in patibulis”) implies
“hanging from,” which provides the cue for most English versions (KJV, for
example; the NAB has it simply as a “public execution”).
16 See the Oxford English Dictionary entries for “impale” and “impaling” (Oxford,
2009), On the French, see Paul Robert, “Empaler," Dictionnaire
alphabétique et analogique de la langue français (Paris, 1969), vol. 2, p. 453.
17 Impalare is Med. Latin according to most etymologies (see Merriam-Webster,
e.g., or the OED), though I have not seen it used in context as yet
18 An Elementary Latin Dictionary, orig. pub. 1891 (London and New York,
19 Alonso, op. cit.; Joan Corominas, Diccionario crítico etimológico de la lengua
castellana (Bern, 1970), 4 vols. Corominas’s entry for empalar refers the reader
to palo and no definition of the verb “impale” is offered, or referred to in the
palo entry (vol. 3, p. 626).
20 “Último suplicio que se ejecuta en un instrumento de palo, como la horca, el
21 “a empalar y asaetarle vivo / fue condenado en público sentencia” (to be impaled alive and shot with arrows / was he condemned in a public sentencing)
in Ed. Ofelia Garza de Del Castillo (Mexico City, 1986), p. 472; subsequent
parenthetical references to page numbers of this ed.
22 “Llegóse él mismo al palo donde había / de ser la atroz sentencia ejecutada”
(He brought himself up to the stake where [it] was / to be executed, that atrocious sentence, 473).
23 I owe this reference to Ana Montero, who happened to mention Goya's depiction of impalement during our session at the IMA annual meeting, Friday,
February 19, 2010. The Disasters of War series was originally published in
the 1860s, though executed half a century earlier in response to the Spanish
struggle against French occupation (see Philip Hofer, intro., The Disasters of
War [New York, 1967]); the 1863 ed. has been reprinted several times; Number 37 of the series can also be found in Goya’s The Complete Etchings (New
York, 1943). Most reprint eds. are not paginated since the original etchings
are individually numbered and not difficult to locate.


Alexander J. McNair

24 Richard Fletcher discusses this aspect of Menéndez Pida’s career and his vision
of the Cid in The Quest for El Cid (New York, 1990), pp. 200-05.
25 From “A orillas del Duero” (“On the banks of the Duero”) in Campos de
Castilla (1907-17); my translation here is a literal line-by-line translation. For
a full verse translation of the poem see the bilingual ed. and trans. of Willis
Barnestone, Border of a Dream: Selected Poems by Antonio Machado (Port
Townsend, Washington, 2004); Spanish verses cited here are on p. 144.
26 In his massive two vol. work of 1929, La España del Cid (7th ed. [Madrid,
1969]); see esp. vol. 1, pp. 14-45.
27 The Quest for El Cid, p. 180.
28 “Las dos versiones discrepantes—hoguera, apedreamiento—creo son conciliables” (The two differing versions—burning alive, stoning—are, I believe,
reconcilable, vol. 2, p. 805).
29 For Menéndez Pidal’s account of Ibn Jahhaf's execution, see España del Cid
vol. 1, pp. 517-19.
30 See esp. his article “Dos poetas en el Cantar de mio Cid,” orig. pub. in Romania 82 (1961), pp. 145-200, and repr. in Entorno al Poema del Cid, 2nd ed.
(Barcelona, 1970), pp. 115-74. Perhaps not so unexpectedly, Menéndez Pidal
insisted that the tiradas in which the episode including l. 1254 occur were not
based on any historical event and were novelistic or anachronistic (p. 168).
Colin Smith would argue against Menéndez Pidal’s two-poet thesis and his
assumptions about early dates of composition: “The excessively early dating,
even that of 1140, has gravely prejudiced inquiry into the nature of the Poema
and into its sources” (The Making of the Poema de mio Cid [Cambridge, 1983],
p. 46).
31 Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, orig. pub. 1957 (Princeton, 1971), p. 186.
32 “El saber erudito de Dozy es amigo encubierto de la cidofobia; armado de punta
en blanco, con su rica erudición, pelea para sostener bellaquerías, como aquel
mal caballero Arquelaus (sic) empeñado siempre en mantener ruines causas”
(España del Cid, vol. 1, p. 44).
33 Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, Amadis of Gaul: Books I and II, trans. Edwin
Place and Herbert Behm (Lexington, KY, 2003), p. 219. The original reads
“el mejor cavallero y más esforçado del mundo” (Amadís de Gaula, ed. Juan
Manuel Cacho Blecua [Madrid, 2001], vol. 1, p. 449).
34 Cantar de mio Cid: Texto, gramática y vocabulario, 1908-1911 (Madrid, 1969),
vol. 2, p. 784.
35 Poema de mio Cid (Madrid, 1968), p. 177.
36 In the commentary he writes: “[Francisco] Marcos Marín cree que no se refiere
al ahorcamiento, sino al impalamiento o a la crucifixión, según el castigo árabe.
Sin embargo, no aporta ninguna prueba de esta interpretación (imposible, en

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


el ámbito cristiano, para el segundo suplicio), mientras que la expresión poner
en un palo o colgar de un palo está perfectamente atestiguada en referencia
a la horca (véase M. Pidal 784)” (Marcos Marín believes that it refers not
to hanging, but rather to impalement or to crucifixion, following the Arab
punishment. Nevertheless, he does not offer any proof for this interpretation
(impossible, in the Christian sphere, in the latter punishment's case), while
the expression poner en un palo and colgar de [hang from] un palo are well
attested in reference to the gallows (see M. Pidal 784)), 481). In sections IV
and V of this essay I offer some “proof for this [Marcos Marín’s] interpretation” (cf. his ed. of the Cantar de mio Cid [Madrid, 1997], pp. 312-13) and
will show that, ironically, it is Menéndez Pidal’s unnecessary limitation of the
possible meanings of poner en un palo which is not as well documented as
scholars since 1911 have assumed.
37 These Spanish glosses could all be translated by the phrase I used above to
translate Montaner's gloss. The quotations, in order, are from: Julio Rodríguez
Puértolas, ed., Poema de mio Cid (Madrid, 1996), p. 103n; José Jesús de Bustos
Tovar, ed., Poema de mio Cid (Madrid, 1983), p. 104n; Pedro Salinas, trans.,
Poema de mio Cid, 5th ed. (Madrid, 1969), p. 105; Francisco López Estrada,
trans., Poema del Cid, Odres nuevos [1955], 13th ed. (Madrid, 1999), p. 54.
See also the glosses and notes in these influential critical editions: Colin Smith,
ed., Poema de mio Cid (Madrid, 1976) and Ian Michael, ed., Poema de Mio
Cid (Madrid, 1984).
38 These quotations, in order, are from the following translations: W.S. Merwin,
Poem of the Cid in Medieval Epic (New York, 1963), p. 513; Lesley Byrd
Simpson, The Poem of the Cid, 1957 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2006), p.
52; Peter Such and John Hodgkinson, Poem of My Cid (Warminster, 1987), p.
119; Rita Hamilton and Janet Perry, Poem of the Cid (London, 1984), p. 89;
R. Selden Rose and Leonard Bacon, The Lay of the Cid (Berkeley, 1919), this
last one accessible online at
39 Poem of the Cid, 3 vols. [1898-1903] (New York, 1921), vol. 2, p. 59.
40 The Song of the Cid (London, 2009), p. 93.
41 The Blackburn translation was orig. pub. in 1966 and is re-issued as Poem of
the Cid (Norman, 1998); the passage in question can be found on p. 67. For
Matthew Bailey, digital ed., Cantar de mio Cid (Austin, 2010), see www.laits. [last accessed 14 Feb. 2010].
42 The Poem of the Cid (London, 1879), see esp. 88-90 where the passage should
occur. Robert Southey's, Chronicle of the Cid (1808) actually has the first
translation of this section of the poem, though he does not attempt a translation of the full poem; I discuss Southey’s intervention in the tradition in more
detail below, while discussing the relation of the epic to later chronicles. For
the history of the Poem of the Cid's translation into English, see Peter France,

Alexander J. McNair


ed., Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation (Oxford and New York:
Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 407-11.
43 Various scholars have connected the Cid"s measures in l. 1254 with historical
documents of the time—see, Montaner, pp. 480-82, for example, as well as
María Eugenia Lacarra, El Poema de mio Cid: Realidad histórica e ideología
(Madrid, 1980), esp. pp. 47-48. Colin Smith went so far as to suggest that
the “author” of the Poem of the Cid actually consulted specific documents
in composing (The Making, p. 78). Smith’s neo-individualist thesis about the
composition of the epic has not been widely accepted, but the idea that certain
aspects of the literary work are connected to larger social patterns is important.
For a recent basic overview of criticism on the date and composition of the
Poem, see McNair, pp. 19-22; in Spanish, consult Montaner’s introduction,
esp. pp. XCIV-XCIX.
44 See the references provided on this by Montaner, p. 481.
45 Trans. Simon Barton, World of El Cid, p. 194; subsequent page references to
this chronicle will be parenthetical.
46 Menéndez Pidal, Cantar, vol 2, p. 784. The OSp forca was certainly a possibility if the poet wanted to be unequivocal about his choice. Just a few decades
after the Poem of the Cid entered the manuscript tradition, Gonzalo de Berceo
would write in his Marian miracle of the devout thief: “judgaron que lo fuessen en la forca poner” (they judged that they should lead him to—lit. ‘set him
on’—the gallows) in Milagros de Nuestra Señora, ed. Michael Gerli (Madrid,
1992), p. 97.
47 Trans. Richard Fletcher; in Barton and Fletcher, World of El Cid, p. 144.
48 Joseph F. O'Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain (Ithaca and London, 1975),
p. 249. The law was issued in 1197; the context does not make clear how the
victims would die “at the stake”; burning seems likely, though impaling is not
out of the question.
49 In addition to O'Callaghan (pp. 249-53), see Nicholas Weber, “Albigenses” in
The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1907; New Advent, web accessed 11
March 2010); and Norman F. Cantor, Medieval History: The Life and Death
of a Civilization (New York and London, 1967), esp. pp. 455-58 on the larger
Cathar movement of which the Albigensian heresy was a part in Southern
50 Qtd. in Weber, see note above.
51 In Cantar vol. 2, p. 784.
52 Also qtd. in Cantar vol. 2, p. 784; this is a Latin translation of Pseudo-Callisthenes’ History of Alexander; an English translation of a Syriac version reads:
“... they will fetch thee, not as the son of Philip but as a leader of robbers, and
we will crucify thee upon a tree” (E. A. Wallis Budge, ed. and trans., The ­History

El Cid, the Impaler: Line 1254 of the Poem of the Cid


of Alexander the Great, Being the Syriac Version of Pseudo-Callisthenes
[Cambridge, 1889], p. 47).
53 See our note 46 above on this phrase in Berceo.
54 See the following examples (all qtd. in Davies; search terms: “en un palo”
or “en el palo”; English translations are mine): Christ speaking in José de
Valdivielso’s Romancero espiritual (c. 1600) says “pónenme en un palo
[they set me on a stake/cross]”; Luis de Granada in his Libro de la oración y
meditación (1546), meditating on Christ crucified asks “¿Quién, finalmente,
te trajo hasta poner en un palo... (Who brought you at the last even to be set
on a stake/cross?)”; Antonio de Guevara in his Libro primero de las epístolas
familiares (1513) writes of the thief crucified next to Jesus “ aun arrepentido hasta que le pusieron en el palo, y después de puesto allí un solo sospiro
le higo [sic] cristiano, y una sola palabra le llevó al cielo” (not even repentant
until they set him on the stake/cross, and after being set there a single sigh
made him Christian, and a single word brought him to heaven); and Cristóbal
de Castillejo in his Obras de devoción (c. 1500) has an “Himno a la cruz” in
which he writes “...el Hacedor / de la carne en carne humana / fue puesto de
propia gana / en el palo del dolor” (the Maker / of flesh in human flesh himself
/ was by his own will set / upon the stake/cross of anguish).
55 The on-line edition I use (Alicante: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes,
1999; accessed 9 Feb. 2010) is not paginated and does not include line numbers,
presumably because it is relatively short. This is the same edition that Davies
cites in Corpus del español.
56 Orig. pub. 1615. I use the online ed. of Florencio Sevilla Arroyo (Alicante:
Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2001; accessed 10 Feb. 2010) and cite
act, line numbers in parenthesis.
57 Ed. Ramón Menéndez Pidal (Madrid, 1906), p. 592b; on the use of the Poem of
the Cid in this chronicle and the Crónica de veinte reyes [Chronicle of Twenty
Kings], see Nancy Joe Dyer, El Mio Cid del taller alfonsí: versión en prosa
en la Primera Crónica General y en la Crónica de veinte reyes (Newark, DE,
1995), esp. pp. 6-8. On the relationship of the vernacular chronicles to one
another, see the especially clear exposition of David Pattison, “Historiography:
Estoria de España and its Derivatives in Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia,”
ed. Michael Gerli (New York and London, 2003), pp. 390-92.
58 Dyer, op. cit. in previous note, p. 105.
59 Historias caballerescas del siglo XVI, ed. Nieves Baranda (Madrid, 1995),
vol. 1, p. 61. See Baranda, vol. 1, pp. xxxviii-xl, for more on the sources and
bibliography of the Corónica, which is commonly referred to as the Crónica
popular del Cid in scholarly circles.
60. Ed. Victor A. Huber (Stuttgart, 1853), p. 212. This chronicle is known more
commonly as the Crónica particular del Cid among modern scholars.


Alexander J. McNair

61. In early eds. (e.g. Cádiz, 1702) the full title of Escobar’s compilation is
Romancero e historia del muy valeroso cavallero El Cid Rvy Diaz de Vibar.
See also the Cidian ballad collection of Carolina Michaelis de Vasconcellos,
Romancero del Cid (Leipzig, 1879), esp. 215-39, where we would expect to
find this episode treated, if at all; Felipe C. R. Maldonado in the intro. to his
own Romancero del Cid ([Madrid, 1970], p. 11) calls Michaelis's collection
“el corpus más nutrido que se ha publicado” (the most complete body—i.e.,
of Cidian ballads—that has been published).
62 (Garden City, NY: Dolphin-Doubleday, n.d.), p. xix. Subsequent parenthetical
references to page numbers of this ed.