This book takes a new look at the place occupied by medieval Spanish epic within European folk and literary tradition. Thomas Montgomery traces the origins of key parts of most known medieval Spanish epics to an ancient myth. He shows how the myth of the initiation of the young warrior, shown by Georges Dumezil to be fundamental to the belief systems of widely distributed Indo-European peoples, was variously adapted to shape the action of texts including the Siete Infantes de Lara, the Mocedades de Rodrigo, and the Poema de Mio Cid, in which it accounts for the peculiar behavior of the Infantes de Carrion. Montgomery also connects the same mythic tradition to works as diverse as Tristan and the Chanson de Roland.
In a pre-literate society, the oral presentation of this archetypal lore required a special language capable of recreating the ritualized behavior of the epic characters and maintaining the ceremonial tone of the performance. Focusing on the Poema de Mio Cid, Montgomery examines the ways in which the poetic language worked to evoke a feeling of group unity that absorbed the audience and still works its spell upon today's readers.