"El Canto de mio Cid", otherwise known as "The Poem of the Cid", is the oldest Castilian epic poem that is preserved today. It is based on a real-life historical event and its hero is also taken from history. El Cid was a Castilian nobleman and military hero who was enormously respected and often revered by the Moors in Military Spain, who called him "El Cid", which means "lord." El Cid's real name was Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar. Amongst the Castilian Christians he was known as "El Campeador", which means "valiant warrior". All of these honorable titles and nicknames tell us that El Cid was an outstanding leader on the battlefield, and that he was revered and adored by both the Muslims and the Christians in Medieval Spain.
The poem about El Cid was actually written after his death as a tribute. It relates the story of the Reconquista, a long drawn out series of battles that went on for seven hundred and eighty years between the Muslim Moors and the Christian Castilians for control of the region. All of the Muslim territories were taken by the Christians. The very first battle in the Reconquista took place in the year 718, and the last in 1492.
There are differing schools of thought as to where the poem originated from. Many scholars and historians believe it to have been passed verbally through the generations as part of a Spanish tradition called Mester de juglaria, predominant in Medieval times. They were the Medieval equivalent of slam poetry and were intended for minstrels to perform before an audience. Like a Chinese whisper, the poems would change and become redirected with each telling as each minstrel added his own embellishments. However, individual critics believe that a lone Abbot named Per wrote the manuscript after learning the correct way to structure poetry whilst living in a monastery. The text itself suggests that the individualists might actually be right, because the poem is clearly written by someone who has a clear understanding of the political situations of the day.
The poem was first translated into English in 1808 by Robert Southey, with subsequent translations following in 1879 and most recently,in 1985 by historian Rita Hamilton.
As well as being the subject of an iconic piece of writing, El Cid is also a folk hero in his native Spain, and still revered to this day. There is even a popular tourist tour itinerary based on Rodrigo Diaz and the poem, which is considered to be one of the classics of European literature.