Composed: ca. 1140-1207 CE
Earliest extant manuscript: ca. 1300 CE


Cantar de mio Cid

The oldest and most intact of the three Spanish epic poems to survive in writing, the Cantar de mio Cid—known also as the Poema de mio Cid—recounts the deeds of a mature Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, el Cid, as he navigates his exile at the decree of King Alfonso VI. The central theme is honor, with the hero’s journey to recover and maintain both his public and personal honor guiding his decisions and actions as he provides for his family and vassals.

Image of the primitive pennon of the Order of Santiago

Primitive pennon of the Order of Santiago, as found in the manuscript of the “Tumbo Menor de Castilla”, ca. 1170-75. Archivo Historico Nacional de España, Madrid, Spain | Source:

Though not to be confused with a work of historiography, the hero protagonist of the Cantar de mio Cid was indeed a historical figure. Rodrigo Díaz was likely born in Vivar around 1043 (Fletcher 107). El Cid is an unofficial title gained in his later years, which stems from the Arabic sayyid and can be translated to señor or lord (3). He came from an aristocratic family, eventually serving King Sancho II of Castile (and later León and Galicia). Upon Sancho’s assassination in 1072, the Cid became the vassal of the slain king’s brother, Alfonso VI, with whom he fell out of favor on more than one occasion (116, 118-20). He was banished by Alfonso in 1081, which led him to serve the Muslim ruler of Zaragoza; after recovering the King’s favor, he was banished a second time in 1089 (125). After numerous military campaigns in the Levante in the 1090s, he besieged Valencia in 1093, which surrendered in 1094 (163-64). He held the city until his death in 1099. His wife, Jimena, remained there until 1102, at which point the city was evacuated after a lengthy siege by Almoravid forces (186). Jimena, who would live at least another decade, returned Rodrigo’s body to Castile, where it was reinterred at the monastery of Cardeña (187).

With respect to his family life, Rodrigo Díaz married Jimena in 1074 or 1075 (121-23). They had three children who survived to adulthood: Cristina, María, and Diego, though the order of their birth is unknown. Cristina married Ramiro, the grandson of King García III of Navarre and María married Ramón Berenguer III of Barcelona; little is known about Diego, who does not feature in the Cantar de mio Cid; Rodrigo’s daughters, called Elvira and Sol in the Cantar, are central figures of the second half of the work.

The tremendous successes and challenges experienced by Rodrigo Díaz have led to many retellings of his life and deeds. The work now known as the Cantar (or Poema) de mio Cid is one of the earliest of such retellings, having likely been composed in the final years of the twelfth century or beginning of the thirteenth (Smith 18; Michael 16). The last three lines of the colophon provide the terminus ante quem: “May God grant his paradise to the man who wrote this book! / Per Abbat wrote it down, in the month of May, / in the year 1207” (The Poem of the Cid, lines 3731-33).[1] The use of escrivir—to write—in the colophon refers to the act of copying. As such, Per Abbat was likely a scribe who copied an extant poem in the year 1207. The Cantar survives in one fourteenth-century manuscript, currently housed in Spain’s Biblioteca Nacional. It is also available digitally through the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica and Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. The manuscript itself is incomplete, missing four folios, including the first.

While circumstantial, the initial lacuna does lead to one of the most striking images of the Cantar, as Rodrigo experiences one of his darkest moments: weeping, having lost everything, he contemplates his deserted hometown as he prepares to leave for exile. Over three cantares, the audience walks with the hero as he works tirelessly in the name of honor. Unlike many heroic counterparts—which include other depictions of the Cid himself—our Rodrigo is calculated in every decision he makes, with every action further characterizing him as an ideal vassal and lord. He perseveres through professional and personal hardship, eventually establishing himself as lord of Valencia, recovering favor with Alfonso VI, and marrying his daughters to royalty. For medieval audiences, he would have been an inspirational model for soldiers to follow. For the 21st-century student, he is a sympathetic, admirable figure, though at times his character-defining mesura does prove frustrating. Beyond the characterization of the Cid himself, the Cantar de mio Cid is an accessible epic poem that leads to rich conversations on the nature of honor, vassal-lord relationships, inter-religious dynamics, and medieval frontiers, among many other possibilities.

[1] The manuscript references “en era de mill e .cc xlv años,” (Poema de mio Cid, lines 3731-32) or 1245 in the Era [de Julio César]—a dating system 38 years ahead of the Christian era (Michael 242).

Katherine Oswald
University of Notre Dame

Works Cited

Fletcher, Richard. The Quest for El Cid. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1989.

Michael, Ian. Introduction. The Poem of the Cid. Translated by Rita Hamilton and Janet

Perry, Penguin Books, 1984, pages 1-19.

The Poem of my Cid. Translated with an Introduction and Commentary by Peter Such and John Hodgkinson, Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1987. (Verse translation)

Smith, Colin. Introducción. Poema de mio Cid. 26th edition, Cátedra, 2008.



Cantar de mio Cid: manuscrito de Per Abbat. Biblioteca Digital Miguel de Cervantes.

Poema del Cid. Biblioteca Digital Hispánica. Biblioteca Nacional de España.


Select Spanish critical editions

Cantar de mio Cid. Edited by Alberto Montaner. Galaxia Gutenberg, Círculo de Lectores, 2011.

Poema de mio Cid. Edited by Colin Smith, 26th edition, Cátedra, 2008. (This is the Spanish edition used for Such and Hodgkinson’s facing translation.)


Select English translations

Bailey, Matthew. “Cantar de mio Cid”. Open Iberia/América, Humanities Commons, 2020.

Open Iberia/América. (A concise introduction followed by facing translations and commentaries of several central passages.)

The Poem of my Cid. Translated with an Introduction and Commentary by Peter Such and John Hodgkinson, Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1987. (Verse translation)

The Poem of my Cid. Translated with an Introduction and Commentary by Peter Such and John Hodgkinson, Liverpool University Press, 1987. JSTOR. (Verse translation)

The Poem of the Cid. Translated by Rita Hamilton and Janet Perry, Penguin Books, 1984. (Prose translation)


Further reading

A Companion to the Poema de mio Cid. Edited by Irene Zaderenko and Alberto Montaner, Brill, 2018.

Fletcher, Richard. The Quest for El Cid. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1989.


Bibliography supplied by Katherine Oswald, University of Notre Dame.

Bailey, Matthew, editor and translator. Cantar de mio Cid / Poem of my Cid. Washington and Lee University, . (Students can listen to a modern recording of the Cantar being read/recited in Old Spanish. The website also offers an in-depth commentary of the Cantar in English.)