The famous early classic of Spanish literature, the sober and unornamented epic poem Cantar de Mío Cid (12th cent.), deals with the life and deeds of the national hero, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, called the Cid Campeador. In the 13th cent. many other epic poems as well as the oldest popular lyrics appeared in the different provinces of the Iberian Peninsula. The first Spanish poet whose name is known is the priest Gonzalo de Berceo. Under the patronage of King Alfonso X (1221–84), himself a writer, Castilian prose was developed and many Arabic and Hebrew works were translated into Castilian.
In the 14th cent. the most important writers were López de Ayala, whose poem Rimado de palacio satirized the customs of the age; Fán Pérez de Guzmán, author of the historical Generaciones y semblanzas ; the prince Don Juan Manuel, nephew of King Alfonso X, whose Libro de los exemplos del conde Lucanor et de Patronio was the first book of short stories in Spanish; and the satirical poet Juan Ruiz.
During the reign of John II of Castile in the first half of the 15th cent., two important poets were Juan de Mena and the marqués de Santillana, both of whom wrote under Italian influence. The Italian poetic forms were to be of great importance in aiding Spanish verse to grow beyond folk art and pseudo-Provençal, but they were not assimilated into Spanish letters for another century. The outstanding prose work of the period was the novel La Celestina (1499), attributed to Fernando de Rojas.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.