Cantar de Gesta: what it is, meaning, characteristics, origin, how to write it and more 


What is the sub-genre of the Song of Gesta?

It is one of the most important sub-genres of the epic genre, as well as being one of the most transcendent in the literary world. The cantares de gesta, as this type of epic is also known, consists of a series of popular poems that often gather information and stories related to historical, as well as traditional and legendary characters.

In other words, the cantar de gesta is responsible for narrating the exploits of a hero who, at the same time, represents a set of virtues that were considered exemplary during the Middle Ages. However, the information we have about this subgenre is considerable, especially because only fragments of representative works of the subgenre are found and the authors of the canta de gesta are unknown.

Meaning of the sub-genre cantar de gesta

The concept -cantar de gesta- was used to refer to a type of text in the Middle Ages that focused on the adventures of a hero. It used this term because the text could either be recited or sung to a popular audience, hence the language it uses is extremely simple.

Definition of the sub-genre cantar de gesta

The cantares de gesta are defined as poems of popular character that were transmitted orally within families, the texts were taught from parents to children. This is the way in which many works could be known; passing from generation to generation. Its content was focused on narrating a story in relation to a hero who was sought to perpetuate due to his qualities, such as bravery, so that it becomes a reference for the community in which it is told from its particular context.

What was the function of the canto de gesta?

In principle, it is important to remember that for this time, the means of communication consisted mainly of oral communication and given the lack of citizens who could read and write, the canta de gesta appears as an epic poem that consisted of informing the masses of facts relevant to the present time. This also served for propaganda, given that through the songs warriors, for example, were encouraged.

Another considerable purpose, if we take the idea of the minstrels as artists who made their living by telling these texts, is entertainment, where they performed and constituted a means of distraction for the public during the Middle Ages.

History and Origin of the cant de gesta

It is known that this subgenre would begin to be used in the Middle Ages between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a time when a large percentage of the population was illiterate. The cantares de gesta, which were sung or recited and narrated the adventures of mythological or historical characters, were transmitted orally, a task that corresponded to the minstrels. The term minstrels was used to refer to itinerant artists during medieval times who exchanged food or money for street performances in which they narrated the canto de gesta. However, when the text was very long, the minstrels divided the story, and in fact, the show took several hours.

Because of the way the minstrels traded their performances for food, many of these texts clearly had modifications and were cut down to summaries of relevant fragments within the story. This made it easier for listeners to keep abreast of events and they were soon able to learn them.

Later the cantares de gesta began to pass into manuscripts, which over time became printed works and thanks to this we can know them today. Their form of dissemination was due to the impossibility of reading and writing. For this reason, one of the most important and representative works of the canta de gesta is the Cantar de mio Cid, one of the most famous and representative works of the subgenre whose author, as is well known, is unknown.

What is the sub-genre of the Song of Gesta

Characteristics of the sub-genre cantar de gesta

In order to go deeper into this subgenre, it is necessary to consider the following particularities:

Unknown author

Due to the way in which this type of text was disseminated, especially because it was transmitted from generation to generation, there is no specific knowledge of any author who was the main exponent of works of the cantar de gesta, so that, although works of this subgenre are known, the authors remain anonymous.


The cantar de gesta maintains a simple language that is extremely easy to understand, given that they were addressed to the general public, so they do not use complex words or words that could not be easily understood. In addition to this, the words and, in general, the form of recitation included a pedagogical aspect that was intended not only for children, but also for young people and adults.

Form of writing

One of the particularities that, in addition, has put the experts in conflict when organizing and classifying this type of texts, has to do with its form of writing, given that the cantar de gesta maintains a composition in verse. This is mainly due to the fact that, as their name indicates, they were works that were intended to be sung or recited.


It should be noted that although it is a verse composition, the content of the work is organized by titles that divide sections or key moments in the history of the character. According to the events, each fragment can be divided with a title. An example of this, could be: Song of Return, Song of Departure, Song of Reunion, etc.

On the other hand, its length is extremely long. In fact, the length of a cantar de gesta can reach 2,000 verses and there are cases of works that have exceeded 20,000 verses. The verses maintained an assonant rhyme.


Another aspect that should be considered in the canta de gesta has to do with the content, especially with the characters, since it often tells the story of a character who can be either historical or mythological and is the one who becomes the protagonist of the story.

How to write a canto de gesta?

Although the cantar de gesta is a type of text written during the Middle Ages that was not used again, it is possible to retake its structure and characteristics to write one adapting it to this subgenre nowadays. Let’s see how to do it:

Choose the character 

The first thing we must do, taking into account the type of content included in the canto de gesta, is to choose the character of our story. We can start from a favorite hero we have, even a superhero from a movie, for example, a character from a cartoon, etc. It is important to remember that in the course of the story a hero will be raised completely.

Once the character has been chosen, it is necessary to gather as much information about the character as possible. For example, you should have knowledge about his background within the initial story, superpowers if he has, the place of his birth, his family, preferences, activities, etc.

Start writing 

Once you have this information, it is time to start what will be our first version or the first draft of the composition. To do this, you must keep in mind that the form of writing involves a simple language in which the facts are narrated from the hero’s traits, for example. In this regard, starting from his characteristics you can start writing his story, taking into account his activities, qualities, hobbies, concerns, interests, etc.

Organizing the canto de gesta 

Once you have all this information, remember that, as far as possible, it should be organized from divisions with their corresponding title, you can review the form of writing that you are using, making sure that it can be easily understood. You can also evaluate other key aspects such as spelling and the way in which the whole presentation is organized.

Make a technical data sheet 

Once the above is done, it is time to make a technical sheet which includes a series of fundamental aspects to detail the elements that are part of the composition, as well as allowing you to be more certain about its structure, content and characteristics to take care of the particularities of the sub-genre of the cantata de gesta.

This technical sheet includes, first of all, the name of the hero you have chosen to tell the story. Then, in the metric section, it includes the number of runs, number of syllables of verses and the type of rhyme that will be used. In the linguistic features area we will specify appeals to the audience, realism, epic epithets, pleonasm and direct style. In the hero’s traits zone we will put his religiosity, moderation, perception of the people or community, etc. Finally, in the structure area, we will mention to which song the fragment belongs according to the content and the aspects it shares.

Remember that one of the secrets to writing any type of text correctly, involves taking the time to read, first, some examples and previous references to have a better overview of the possibilities and examine many more writing options, reviewing key elements of other references to expand and inspire your writing ideas and, in this way, print your own touch.

How to write a canto de gesta

Authors and most important works of the sub-genre cantar de gesta

The most important work of the cantar de gesta as a subgenre is the “Cantar de mio Cid”, the representative work of the subgenre of anonymous author that is considered to have been written around the year 1200 and tells the story of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, who was known as the great Cid Campeador. It is one of the few works of which there is physical evidence, as well as other works such as Cantar de las Mocedades and short verses of the Cantar de Roncesvalles.

Example of the canta de gesta

The following is a fragment of the work Cantar de mio Cid, anonymous author, one of the representative works of the canta de gesta:

La afrenta de Corpes 

The four were left alone, everyone left,

the infants of Carrion meditated so much wickedness.

“Listen to us well, wives, Doña Elvira and Doña Sol:

You are going to be mocked in these mountains, both of you,

we will leave you here, leaving you here, and you will not

you will have no part in our lands in the county of Carrión.

Then with this news you will go to the Campeador

and we will be avenged for the lion.”

[…] Fainting they are left, so strong are the blows,

the brials and shirts were covered in blood.

The infantrymen of Carrión had their fill of hitting,

striving to see who could hit the best.

Doña Elvira and Doña Sol could no longer speak.

In the oak grove of Corpes they were both left for dead.

The infants took away their cloaks and fine furs

and left them fainting, in briales and shirts,

among the birds of the mountain and so many evil beasts.

They left them for dead, dead but not alive.