The Cantar de mio Cid web project is an educational tool that allows students of the Spanish epic to understand and appreciate the oral essence of the genre and to recognize the enormous conceptual distance between an oral narrative poem and the modern textual editions used in the classroom.
The Cantar de mio Cid survives in a unique fourteenth century manuscript preserved by the Biblioteca Nacional de España (Spanish National Library). From the manuscript colophon we may surmise that it is a copy of a previous manuscript penned by one Per Abbat in 1207 (1245 of the Spanish Era). This date may represent the transcription of an oral performance of the poem, but it is just as likely a copy of yet another lost manuscript.
The protagonist of the poem is the historical Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1045-1099), also known as Cid (a dialectal form of the Arabic word sayyid, 'lord' or 'master') and Campeador ('Battler' or 'Victor'). The poem begins with the departure of Rodrigo from his home in Vivar, the first of two exiles of Rodrigo decreed by Alfonso VI, king of Castile and Leon (1065-1109). In the poem this first exile (1081) and the second (1089) are conflated and lead to the Cid's military campaigns in the Spanish Levant, culminating in the Cid's conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Valencia (1094). Here Rodrigo will remain with his wife and children as an independent prince until the end of his life.
In the narration of these events the poem follows the historical later life of this extraordinarily successful warrior, the Campeador. But as the story draws to a satisfying resolution with the pardoning of the Cid by his king, another story emerges. The Cid now becomes a more passive protagonist as inexorable forces pit him in a mythological struggle against evil. In this story two well-born youths from Alfonso's court scheme to use their good name to garner marriage with the Cid's daughters. The Cid's success in warfare has made him a rich man and these young men, infantes ('heirs') of Carrión, expect that their marriages will be a quick and easy route to untold wealth. Although the Cid's natural instincts and good sense tell him not to accept these marriages for his daughters, his loyalty to Alfonso leads him straight into the snares of these evildoers.
The Cid and his family pay a heavy price for his loyalty to the king. Once the infantes are welcomed into the Cid's court in Valencia, he no longer seems able to control events, his authority begins to erode, and eventually he allows himself to be put into a position from which he can no longer ensure the well being of his daughters. Finally it is King Alfonso who acts on the Cid's behalf in calling his kingdom to court for a trial. In the course of this judicial process the Cid ably restores his lost honor and his daughters marry again, this time to men of the highest nobility, the heirs to the crowns of Navarre and Aragon.
In the poem the Cid proves himself an unyielding adversary in battle and in court. Rodrigo Díaz was certainly an exceptional warrior, winning battles in unprecedented fashion and subduing the mighty kingdom of Valencia. He was most certainly the envy of his peers and it seems that his king harbored resentment towards him as well. Sources nearly contemporary with the Cid go to great lengths to emphasize his unflagging loyalty to Alfonso, but only in the poem does this loyalty have near-tragic consequences. Reminiscent of ancient epic heroes, this victor has a flaw, and in spite of his battlefield victories and the wealth they bring him, he fails to protect his family from the wickedness of the infantes. But in the overcoming of adversity lies the universality of the Cid's story, and the merit of the poetic tradition that has kept him alive for these one thousand years since his historical death.