The Cantar de mio Cid (Cid) web project is conceived as an educational tool that will allow 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.
This oral epic narrative was recorded on parchment in 1207, eventually leading to its treatment as written text and to the occlusion of its oral essence. The original manuscript was copied at least once, in the unique fourteenth-century copy that resides in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. The oral narrative poem represented in this unique manuscript may have evolved over a period of one hundred years. Previous to the death of the historical Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar in 1099, the Latin Carmen Campidoctoris (c. 1093) celebrated his defeat of the Count of Barcelona, an episode also represented in the Cid. Later, the Latin Historia Roderici (c. 1110) was written with the expressed purpose of recording Rodrigo's famous deeds in writing before the passage of time erased them from human memory. Prose versions of the poem with notable variants are included in the first vernacular histories of Spain, beginning with Alfonso X and his Estoria de España (c. 1270), and reminiscences of the poem are found in the ballad or romancero tradition prevalent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This evolution, along with similar trajectories for other Spanish epic narratives such as one dedicated to Rodrigo's youthful deeds or mocedades, point to a rich and enduring oral narrative tradition, very much independent of parchment, pens and scribes. For this epic poem and others, the manuscript copy of the poem represents an accident of sorts, a kind of fossil record of a once living and breathing oral art.
The classroom setting and its inherent time limitations are obstacles to the recreation of the oral essence of epic narrative. Printed editions of the poem are portable and therefore convenient, but modern editions treat the poem as another literary text, conceived in writing for readers. This conception leads editors to reconstruct the poem as text, to number the verses, to split them into two hemistichs, and on occasion to modify them in order to achieve a more correct reading or consistent assonance. The verses are grouped according to assonance, and these groupings are then numbered and sometimes given headings. Such modern editions and the reading aids they include create a nearly insurmountable obstacle to the appreciation of the poem as oral narrative.
This web site, with its recorded oral rendition of the poem, allows for the savoring of the epic in its oral form without the time limitations of three weekly class meetings. Students can listen to the 5 hours, 9 minutes and 28 seconds [05:09:28.10] of epic narrative without ever seeing a written word, if they like, as many times as they please. Students and others who experience the poem in this way can begin to truly appreciate, understand, and assimilate the noble expression of this epic narrative. As the first literary text of Old Spanish, the poem and its oral rendition also encourage the study and contemplation of the unique pronunciation of the precursor to modern Castilian.
The normative transcription is offered in a way that makes clear its link to the paleographic transcription, which, in turn, is drawn from the manuscript. This link between the copy of a manuscript created in 1207 and its normative transcription allows students to see for themselves the processes of transcription and transformation that eventually produce the modern editions of the poem. The paleographic transcription facilitates the reading of the manuscript which, now legible, can be consulted and appreciated as the transcription of an oral performance that took place somewhere in Castile in 1207. The English translation of the poem allows an appreciation of the poem by a much wider audience. The time-consuming consultation of glossaries can be put aside as the poem plays and is read or simply emerges in sound from the manuscript. The images that accompany the narrative serve as a visual aid to immersion in the cultural milieu of the poem. This web site, through the marvel of its technology and design, brings together seemingly disparate components of an epic narrative which all contribute to its full appreciation. It represents a concerted effort to allow us to at least imagine the moment when the poem was written down on parchment.
|The letter b stands for the voiced bilabial stop /b/, except between vowels in which case it is pronounced as a voiced bilabial fricative . The letter v stands for the voiced labio-dental fricative /v/, which in all likelihood had begun forming a bilabial variant  as well.|
|The letter c represents the voiceless velar stop /k/ before consonants
and before the vowels a, o, u.
|The letter ç represents the voiceless alveolar affricate //.|
|The letter z represents the voiced alveolar affricate //.|
|The letter g stands for the voiced velar stop // in the groups
ga, go, gu, gue, gui, or the voiced velar fricative  between vowels.
When g precedes the vowels e, i, it is pronounced as a voiced prepalatal fricative .
|The letter j also stands for the voiced prepalatal fricative //.|
|The letter d stands for the voiced dental stop /d/, which had a voiced interdental fricative variant  in between vowels.|
|The letter h was not silent, but a voiceless glottal aspirate.|
|The letter ll represents the voiced palatal lateral //.|
|The letter s represents the voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ at the beginning or end of a syllable. Between vowels it stands for the voiced alveolar fricative /z/. Between vowels the voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ was represented by -ss-.|
|The letter x represents the voiceless prepalatal fricative //.|
|The letter y represents the voiced palatal fricative /y/,
or the semi-vowel  in a diphthong.
In general, paleographic transcriptions are stand-alone works that provide a record of a particular manuscript to scholars with limited access to it. Such is not the case with this web site since it also includes the digitized reproduction of the transcribed manuscript. The presentation of the manuscript and its paleographic transcription allow users to examine the link between them and the deliberative process of producing the paleographic transcription.
In the paleographic transcription of the Cid manuscript, the disposition of the lines and the spacing of the words within each line were respected, with a few exceptions made for technical reasons (vv. 658-59, 3662-63, 3733-35). Words placed outside their respective manuscript lines were brought back within them (v. 34). The graphs of the manuscript are reproduced in the transcription, with the exception of the ampersand, transcribed as e, and abbreviations, which have been resolved or spelled out in accordance with the criteria employed by Menéndez Pidal. Roman numerals are reproduced as they appear in the manuscript (v. 16), as are the Latin graphic equivalents of Greek letters (v. 29). The inclusion of scribal corrections to the manuscript for the most part follows the determinations of Menéndez Pidal, who distinguishes the various hands by the color of their ink, the thickness of their lines and their writing styles. These hands are identified as of the copyist (vv. 46, 55), the corrector (v. 16), or later hand (v. 17). Nevertheless, the manuscript corrections have been judged on an individual basis, and their integration into the text depends on the reading they provide, the consideration of modern editions of the poem and what is generally accepted as a judicious correction (v. 41). Corrections not integrated into the text have not been reproduced, but may be examined in the digitized manuscript images.
The normative transcription is drawn from the paleographic. Due to the nature of the web site and its design, the distribution of the lines has not been altered, nor have the verses been divided into hemistichs, or grouped into laisses and then into cantares, or shorter poems.
Manuscript spellings have been preserved when they do not impede the Old Spanish pronunciation and are recognizable in modern Spanish (quando, commo, enbiar). The few instances of metathesis (tóveldo v.3322) and epenthesis (nimbla v.3286) have not been altered. Variant spellings have been regularized, to clarify distinctions such as those between l/ll, n/ñ, c/ch, as well as for the voiced/voiceless distinction in -s-/-ss- between vowels. The letter v has been normalized and represents the consonantal sound, whereas the letter u stands for the vowel sound. The letter i has been reserved for the vowel sound, whereas the j is used as a palatal fricative consonant. The letter y as a consonant or semi-vowel is distinguished from the vowel sound represented by i (including the adverb í 'there').
The manuscript letter g has been changed to j when it represents a palatal consonant before the vowels a, o, u such as in juego. The normative text reserves the letter g for the velar consonant. The use of the letter h reflects present-day use, as in hermano, heredad and has been omitted in cases such as trahe. Double consonants such as ff, rr, cc have been simplified to reflect present-day use (-rr- has been reserved for intervocalic cases to represent the multiple vibrant, as in tierra). The ç is used in all instances of the voiceless alveolar affricate, even in the few occasions in which the scribe represented sound in ce, ci. However, we have respected some variant pronunciations found in the poem, such as miyor/mijor/major, ajudar/ayudar, jazer/yazer, morir/murir, nunca/nunqua(s), piessan/piensan, as well as the stress variation in vazías/vazias vv.4 and 997, the latter a requirement of the rhyme (lanças/vazias/alcança).
As is customary in current editorial practice, an apostrophe is used to indicate instances of vowel elision (del > d'él v.23). Accent marks have been added in accordance with the norms of modern Spanish as pronunciation aids for Old Spanish. Word separation corresponds to modern Spanish usage. Examples include the separation of words joined in the manuscript (delos > de los, enla> en la) and the joining of words separated in the manuscript, with the requisite accentuation added (estaua los catando > estávalos catando v.2; e en grameo la tiesta > e engrameó la tiesta v.13). The many cases of vowel elision in object pronouns are indicated with an apostrophe whether enclitic (nadi nol' diessen posada v.25) or proclitic (ca no l'osan dezir nada v.30) pronouns. Verbs with apocopated enclitic pronouns are accentuated as if the pronouns were whole (déxem' v. 978), whereas proclitic pronouns are joined to the word whose vowel sound attracts them, and these words in turn are accentuated as if they carried an additional syllable (una ferídal' dava v.38). The demonstrative pronoun és (v.1146 [m.Sp. ese]) has been accentuated to avoid confusion with the third-person singular of the verb ser.
Accentuation and word separation continue to follow modern usage even in cases in which the resultant word combinations are not found in modern Spanish, such as tóvos'lo a grand fonta v.959, gradéscolo a mio Cid v.1856. Accentuation breaks from modern usage in some cases in which an unfamiliar word combination might cause confusion, such as echógelas aparte v.766, cortól' el yelmo v.767, and quiérol'enbiar v.816. Accentuation is also used to distinguish single-syllable homonyms that do not exist in modern Spanish, such as these forms of the present indicative é, á, só (modern Spanish he, ha, soy) from the conjunction e (m.Sp. y), and from the prepositions a, so (m.Sp. a, bajo); the present indicative dó (m.Sp. doy) and the interrogatives dó, ó (m.Sp. dónde) from the conjunctions do, o; the pronoun ál (m.Sp. lo demás) to distinguish it from the contraction al (a+el) ; the adverb én (m.Sp. por ello) as distinguished from the preposition en (m.Sp.); the stressed pronouns nós, vós (m.Sp. nosotros, vosotros) versus the unstressed forms nos, vos (m.Sp. nos, os). The word mio has not been accentuated, because its stress seems to have varied. The imperfect indicative endings in -ie are accentuated as diphthongs (-ié, -iés, -ié, -iemos, -iedes, -ién) as is the case when they are used in the synthetic conditional (avié, osarién, but not darle ien (vv. 6, 64, 161).
The use of capital letters follows that of modern Spanish, as does the punctuation, although colons and semi-colons have been avoided.
The English translation has benefited in many ways from previous English translations of the poem: Archer M. Huntington, Rita Hamilton and Janet Perry, Peter Such and John Hodgkinson, and of course W. S. Merwin's wonderful verse translation. All of them live on in the translation written for this web site. Nevertheless, this English translation has aesthetic criteria of its own.
It has been apparent for some time that those who read the Poem of the Cid in English have an impression of the work quite distinct from those who read it in the original Old Spanish. It seems that when the poem is read in translation its readers do not sense all of its expressive power. This translation attempts to retain more of the original's nobility of expression by recreating its syntax as much as is possible in modern American English, because in its characteristic syntax may lie an important component of its unique expression, more so even than in the rhyme. The syntax is unfamiliar to native speakers of Spanish, but many of the poem's expressive characteristics seem to depend upon it. Another striking aspect of the original poem is its paucity of abstraction, or its concrete, concise and matter-of-fact expression. The poem has very little figurative language, and virtually no metaphors. Part of its power is the intense focus it gives to every narrative moment. There is a certain tone in the narration of actions and in the dialogues that encourages the audience to take the poem and its characters seriously. This tone is essential to understanding the clash of values that plays itself out in the poem, and a more literal translation may be the best way to reproduce it. As oral art, the expressive characteristics of the poem are the key to its meaning, and while we may not perceive these as well as the original Castilian audience of some eight-hundred years ago, a translation that attempts to preserve the expressive characteristics of the original can aspire to preserve at least some of them.
The oral rendition of the Cantar de mio Cid is meant to bring to life the unique expression of this epic poem, its austere artistry, its sobriety of tone, its awesome optimism in dire circumstances, its sense of adventure, its authentic emotion, its sly humor, and especially its sincerity. The deliberative pace of the recording is intentional and represents an attempt to bring to mind the process of oral composition that produced this epic poem. In the performance of the poem before a live audience composition and narration occur simultaneously. The creative energy and mental focus required of the bard during performance may well be responsible for many of the expressive characteristics of the poem, and could certainly have resulted in a measured and deliberate narration much like the oral rendering of the poem recorded here. This rendition, however, is not conceived as a dramatic performance, nor is it meant to present an argument against musical accompaniment in the performance of medieval Spanish epic.
It probably should be assumed that some form of musical accompaniment was part of the oral performance of the Spanish epic, although it seems unlikely that it would resemble the highly stylized and ecclesiastically inspired chanting style employed in the recorded rendition of the poem by Antoni Rossell. An authentic oral-narrative traditional style of singing is the shrill but rhythmic performance by the Serbo-Croatian guslar or singer, Avdo Mededovic, the Yugoslav Homer, who can be seen and heard sawing his gusle in the recording made by Milman Parry and Albert Lord. Also pertinent in a consideration of singing styles for the epic are the many recordings of Spanish romances or ballads. These ballads are still sung today in a variety of musical styles, as evidenced in the rich sampling on the CD that accompanies Paloma Díaz-Mas's Romancero. If any conclusion can be drawn from the recorded romances, it might be that through the centuries the tales recounted in the Spanish ballads have maintained a remarkable degree of consistency while the music that accompanies them varies dramatically.
Note: the commentary will be added to the site in late 2023.
The commentary is designed to highlight some of the expressive characteristics and literary qualities of the Cantar de mio Cid that may not be immediately apparent to modern readers, naturally accustomed to a more bookish literary experience. The language of the poem has been the source of its powerful hold on audiences for centuries, and it continues to cast a kind of aesthetic spell on readers and listeners today.
Some of the historical and cultural information that in all likelihood was common currency to a thirteenth-century audience is offered here as a way to amplify the range and effect of the poem’s meaning. Factual information can of course lead to a better understanding of the world inhabited by the heroic Rodrigo Díaz, but it is also included here as a way to draw attention to the mix of historical fact and fiction in the poem. This potent blend was crafted before expectant audiences over the hundred or so years between the warrior’s death in 1099 and the writing down on parchment of the hero’s life in 1207. Distinguishing clearly between history and myth is not always possible, but the commentary should help to clarify the presence of both over the course of the entire narrative.
Users can access the commentary from any of the five views, or independently of the poem. For many, the most welcome advantage of the technology deployed here will be the ability to access the commentary without interrupting the experience of listening to the poem.
Note: this material will be added to the site in late 2023.
The manuscript illustrations included in this web site are intended to add a visual component to the experience of the oral narrative. Only the modern illustrations by René Ben Sussan recreate directly events from the poem. The manuscript of the poem is a utilitarian copy of a lost original, which may well have contained miniatures of the events narrated. The miniatures included here all have some relationship to the warrior theme of the poem, or depict relevant sites in Spain, or, as in the case of some of the miniatures from Alfonso X's Cantigas de Santa María, offer scenes from Marian miracle stories that provide some insight into the medieval Christian imagination during a period not too distant from the time the poem was recorded on parchment. These miniatures also provide an additional avenue for savoring a world that seems very distant chronologically, and yet familiar in its fears, hopes, and aspirations.