Miguel de Cervantes

views updated

Miguel de Cervantes

Excerpts from Don Quixote (1605)

Translated by Burton Raffel
Published in 1999

Don Quixote (Quijote in Spanish) is considered one of the great masterpieces of world literature. This work was largely responsible for creating what is known as the modern novel. (A novel is a long narrative work that features fictional, or imaginary, characters involved in complex plots.) Don Quixote has been translated into more than sixty languages and its central character, Don Quixote of la Mancha, has become a major figure in Western (non-Asian) culture. Don Quixote's image has been popularized in films, musicals, and paintings. His creator, Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), lived at the end of the glorious years of the Spanish empire and fought heroically at the decisive sea battle of Lepanto. However, throughout his life Cervantes lived on the margins of society in a continuous struggle for survival. On occasion he was subjected to all the mishaps of Don Quixote, with extended periods in captivity and ceaseless economic hardship. These experiences are reflected in the novel's narrative, which is sympathetic and touchingly humane.

Don Quixote contains a number of the popular literary styles and subjects of the Renaissance, such as the romantic novel that focuses on tales of chivalry and issues of religion and faith. (The Renaissance was a cultural revolution that began in Italy in the mid-1300s. It was initiated by scholars called humanists who promoted the human-centered values of ancient Greece and Rome. Humanist ideals were soon influencing the arts, literature, philosophy, science, religion, and politics in Italy and later into the rest of Europe.) Chivalry was a medieval tradition that required knights, or nobleman soldiers, to pledge themselves to a complex code of honor. Knights frequently dedicated their military adventures to ladies, whose virtue they vowed to protect. Cervantes originally intended to mock the popular chivalric romances and the adventures stories of errant, or traveling, knights. He created the character of Don Quixote, an elderly gentleman who is driven insane by his passion for reading chivalric romances. Don Quixote leaves his home, having decided to revive heroic times by reenacting knightly feats. Later, with the promise of fabulous rewards, he convinces the poor peasant, Sancho Panza, to be his squire, or shield bearer. The novel narrates the absurd adventures of the knight and squire as they travel through Spain. Using a satiric approach, Cervantes depicted characters who reflected their society, thus making a commentary on the social customs of the day. (Satire is criticism through the use of humor.)

Things to Remember While Reading Excerpts from Don Quixote:

  1. The first excerpt comes at the end of chapter one, where Don Quixote embarks on his first quest as a errant knight. After assembling his armor (metal suit worn in battle), he selects and names his horse, adopts a noble-sounding name for himself, and chooses the name for the lady to whom he will dedicate his quest.
  2. In the second excerpt, from the end of chapter seven, Don Quixote is preparing for his second quest. By this time he has had several misadventures, and he concludes that he might avoid such mishaps in the future if he is accompanied by a squire (knight's assistant). All the great knights, who he has been reading about, traveled with squires who carried the knights' shields and other equipment and aided them in battle. Don Quixote therefore vows to become a proper knight, and he sets out to find his squire. He chooses a local farmer, Sancho Panza.
  3. The third excerpt, from the opening of chapter eight, is one of the most memorable scenes in world literature. Against the common-sense warnings of Sancho Panza, Don Quixote attacks windmills that he mistakenly believes to be evil giants. This scene is the source of the familiar expression "tilting at windmills," which is used when referring to a foolhardy venture that is sure to end in failure or disappointment.

Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (known as Cervantes) was born in 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. He was the fourth of seven children in the family of Rodrigo de Cervantes, a barber-surgeon, and Leonor de Cortina. Cervantes never attended a university, and any knowledge he acquired over the years was due to his lifelong devotion to independent reading. In 1570 he joined the Spanish army in Italy. The following year he was wounded at the Battle of Lepanto, the famous naval conflict in which the Christian fleet (combined naval forces of European nations) defeated the Turkish fleet off the coast of Greece. Cervantes remained in Italy as a soldier until 1575, when he decided to return to Spain. During the voyage three Turkish galleys intercepted his ship off the coast of Marseille, France. The crew and passengers were taken as captives to Algiers, Africa. Cervantes's ransom (money paid in exchange for release) was set impossibly high, so he spent the next five years in prison. He made several failed escape attempts. In 1580 Cervantes's family finally secured his freedom by paying the ransom of five hundred escudos (an amount of Spanish money).

Upon returning to Spain in 1581 Cervantes had difficulty finding work. At one point he tried to immigrate to the Americas, but was denied official permission. During this time he wrote his first novel, La Galatea (1585), which brought him prestige but little economic security. In 1584 he married Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, a woman eighteen years his junior. The previous year Cervantes had fathered an illegitimate daughter, Isabel de Saavedra, who was his only offspring. He did not acknowledge her until she was fifteen. In 1587 he was appointed commissary (officer in charge of supplies) for the Spanish Armada. Cervantes was later accused of mismanagement and was held in Spanish prisons in 1592 and 1597. Possibly during his last imprisonment Cervantes conceived the idea of writing Don Quixote. The novel was published in 1605 to great acclaim. When another man attempted to write an unauthorized sequel, Cervantes decided to write the second part of Don Quixote. It was published in 1615. Three years earlier Cervantes had released The Exemplary Novels. In the prologue (introduction) he claimed to be the first person ever to write novellas (short stories in a form that originated in Italy) in Spanish. Before his death in 1616 he was working on another novel, Los trabajos de Persiles y Segismunda (The Labors of Persiles and Segismunda). Cervantes was buried in an unmarked grave at a convent in Madrid. His wife survived him by ten years, and his daughter died in 1662.

Ingeniously

Ingeniously: Cleverly.

Excerpts from Don Quixote

Chapter One

The first thing he did was polish up his great-grandfather's suit of armor, which for a century or so had been lying, thrown in a corner and forgotten, covered with mildew and quietly rusting away. He got it as clean and bright as he could, but saw that it had a major deficiency: the helmet was gone, and all that was left was a metal head-piece that would cover just the top of his skull. So he put together,ingeniously, a kind of half-helmet of cardboard that, fitted into theheadpiece, looked very much like the real thing. True, when he wanted to test its strength and see if it could stand up under a slashing stroke, he pulled out his sword and gave it a couple of whacks, and the very first blow undid in a second what had taken him a week to put together. He couldn't help but think it a poor sign that he'd destroyed it so easily, so to safeguard himself against that risk he went back to work, lining the inside with iron bars until he was satisfied it was strong enough, after which, not wanting to make any further experiments, he declared it a perfect, finished helmet, ready for use.

Then he went to have a look at his skinny old horse, whose hide had more cracks than a clipped coin… He spent four days trying to decide what name to give the old horse, because—as he said to himself—it would be wrong for the steed of such a celebrated knight, a horse with such merit of its own, not to bear a famous name. What he was after was something to make clear what the animal had been before his master turned to knighthood, and what it had now become. It was clear to him that, the master having changed his state, the horse's name had to reflect the new condition of things—had to be something great and famous, in order to properly indicate the new way of life, the new profession, that the horse had too adopted. After he'd proposed and discarded a huge list of names, wiping out each one, framing another, then getting rid of that one too, dipping over and over again into his memory and his imagination, he finally decided to call the animal Rocinante [ rocin = old horse; ante = before], which struck him as a truly lofty name, resonant, and also meaningful, because an old horse was exactly what it had been before, while now it had risen to be first and foremost among all the old horses in the world.

Veracious

Veracious: Truthful.

Dub

Dub: Name.

Lineage

Lineage: Family line.

Having settled on such a fine name for his horse, he turned to himself, and spent eight more days thinking until at last he decided to call himself Don Quijote [ quijote = thigh armor]—a plain fact which, as we have said, persuades the authors of this highlyveracious history that, beyond any question, his family name must have been Quijada, rather than Quesada, as others have claimed. Yet remembering that the brave Amadís was not content to call himself just plain Amadís, but added on his kingdom's name, in order to make it famous, too, thus terming himself Amadís of Gaul, so as a good knight he wanted to add his region's name to his own and finally decided todub himself Don Quijote of La Mancha, which as far as he was concerned neatly explained hislineage and his origins, both of which he thus honored.

Well, with his armor scrubbed clean, and his helmet ready, and then his horsechristened and himself confirmed, he realized that all he needed and had to hunt for was a lady to be in love with, since a knight errant without love entanglements would be like a tree without leaves or fruit, or a body without a soul. So he said to himself:

"Now, if for my sins, or by good fortune, I happen to find a giant right here in this neighborhood, which after all is something that usually happens to knights errant, and we have a go at it and I overthrow him, or maybe split him right down the middle, or, however it happens, conquer and utterly defeat him, wouldn't it be a good idea to have someone to whom I could send him, so he could go and kneel down in front of my sweet lady and say, his voice humble andsubmissive, 'I, my lady, am the giant Caraculiambro, lord of the island of Malindrania, defeated in man-to-man combat by that knight who can never be too much praised, Don Quijote de La Mancha, who has sent me here to offer myself at your pleasure, to be dealt with however your Grace may happen to think best'?"

Oh, how our good knight relished the delivery of this speech, especially once he'd decided who was going to be his lady love! It turns out, according to some people, that not too far from where he lived there was a very pretty peasant girl, with whom he was supposed, once upon a time, to have been in love, although (as the story goes) she never knew it nor did he ever say a word to her. Her name was Aldonza Lorenzo, and he thought it a fine idea to bestow on her the title of Mistress of his Thoughts. Hunting for a name as good as the one he'd given himself, a name that would be appropriate for that princess and noble lady, he decided to call her Dulcinea del Toboso [ toboso = limestone rock], since Toboso was where she came from. To him it seemed a singularly musical name, rare, full of meaning, like all the others he'd assigned to himself and everything that belonged to him.

Chapter Seven

Christened

Christened: Given a name.

Submissive

Submissive: Obedient.

Endowed

Endowed: Possessing a natural ability for something.

During this time, too, Don Quijote sought out a farmer, a neighbor of his and a good man (if we can use that term for anyone who's poor) but not very wellendowed from the neck up. To make a long story short, he piled so many words on him, coaxing him, making him promises, that the poor fellow agreed to ride out with him and serve as his squire. Among other things, Don Quijote told him he ought to be delighted to join the quest because you could never tell when an adventure might earn them, in two shakes of a lamb's tail, a whole island, and Don Quijote would leave him there to be its governor. Because of promises like this, and many more of the same sort,Sancho Panza—which was the farmer's name—left his wife and children and agreed to become his neighbor's squire.

Don Quijote promptly set to work hunting up money and, selling something here,pawning something there, making one bad bargain after another, he managed to put together a fair-sized sum. He also wangled a small shield for himself (borrowed from a friend) and, patching up his helmet as best he could, warned his squire of the exact day and hour at which he planned to ride out, so Sancho could make sure he had everything he was going to need. And above all else Don Quijote advised him to bring along saddlebags, which Sancho said he would do, and he'd bring a very fine donkey, too, because he hadn't had much practice getting places on foot. Don Quijote had some doubts about the donkey, trying to remember if there had been a knight errant whose squire rode along on an ass, but couldn't recall a single one. In spite of which he decided to take Sancho with him, intending to arrange a more honorable mount as soon as he had the chance, by seizing a horse from the first ill-mannered knight he bumped into…One night they rode out of the village without anyone seeing them, and rode so far that, by dawn, they thought it would be impossible to find them, even if a search were made.

Sancho Panza jogged along on his donkey like somebiblical patriarch carrying his saddlebags and his leather wine bottle, wanting very badly to see himself the governor of an island, as his master had promised. Don Quijote had decided to go in the very same direction, and along the very same road, as on his first expedition, which led through the fields of Montiel, which he crossed with less difficulty than the last time, for it was early morning and the sun's rays came slanting down and did not tire them out. Then Sancho Panza said to his master:

Pawning

Pawning: Leaving at a pawnshop in exchange for a loan of money.

Biblical patriarch

Biblical patriarch: Prophet in the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible.

"Now be careful, your grace, sir knight errant, you don't forget that island you promised me, because no matter how big it is I'll know how to govern it."

To which Don Quijote answered:

"You must know, Sancho Panza my friend, that it used to be very common, in ancient times, for knights errant to make their squires governor of whatever islands or regions they conquered, and I am resolved not to neglect this gracious—indeed, I intend to improve on it, for occasionally, and I suspect most of the time, they waited until their squires had grown old and fed up with such service, enduring bad days and even worse nights, and then gave them a title—count, or more oftenmarquis of some valley or province, more or less. But if you and I both live, it could be that in less then a week I'll have conquered a kingdom to which others payallegiance, which would be just right for crowning you ruler of one of thosesubordinate domains. Nor should you think this in any way remarkable, for no one can possibly foresee or even imagine the way the world turns for such knights, so it could easily happen that I will be able to grant you still more than my promise."

"So," said Sancho Panza, "if I become a king, by one of those miracles your grace is talking about, at the very least my old lady, Teresa, would get to be a queen, and my kids would be princes."

"But who could possibly doubt it?" answered Don Quijote.

"I doubt it," replied Sancho Panza, "because it seems to me that, even if God let crowns come raining down all over the earth, none would land on my wife's head. You see, señor, she wouldn't be worth two cents as a queen. She might make a bettercountess, but it wouldn't be easy even with God's help."

"Put yourself in God's hands, Sancho," said Don Quijote, "and He will give both you and your wife what it is best you should each have. But don't so lower your spirit that you'll be satisfied with less than aprovincial governorship. "

"I won't, my lord," answered Sancho, "especially since I've got a master like your grace, who understands just what's best for me and what I can handle."

Chapter Eight

—the great success won by our brave Don Quijote in his dreadful, unimaginable encounter with two windmills, plus other honorable events well worth remembering

Count

Count: Nobleman.

Marquis

Marquis: Nobleman ranking below a count.

Allegiance

Allegiance: Loyalty.

Subordinate domains

Subordinate domains: Dependent states.

Countess

Countess: Lady; wife of a nobleman.

Provincial governorship

Provincial governorship: Position of governor of a state within a kingdom.

Just then, they came upon thirty or forty windmills, which (as it happens) stand in the fields of Montiel, and as soon as Don Quijote saw them he said to his squire:

"Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and to kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth."

"What giants?" asked Sancho Panza.

"The ones you can see over there," answered his master, "with the huge arms, some of which are nearly two leagues long."

"Now look, your grace," said Sancho, "what you see over there aren't giants, but windmills, and what seem to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn themillstone. "

"Obviously," replied Don Quijote, "you don't know much about adventures. Those are giants—and if you're frightened, take yourself away from here and say your prayers, while I go charging into savage and unequal combat with them."

Saying which, he spurred his horse, Rocinante, paying no attention to the shouts of Sancho Panza, his squire, warning him that without any question it was windmills and not giants he was going to attack. So utterly convinced was he they were giants, indeed, that he neither heard Sancho's cries nor noticed, close as he was, what they really were, but charged on, crying:

"Flee not, oh cowards and dastardly creatures, for he who attacks you is a knight alone and unaccompanied."

Just then the wind blew up a bit, and the great sails began to stir, which Don Quijote saw and cried out:

"Even should you shake more arms than the giant Briareus himself, you'll still have to deal with me."

As he said this, he entrusted himself with all his heart to his lady Dulcinea, imploring her to help and sustain him at such a critical moment, and then, with his shield held high and his spear braced in its socket, and Rocinante at a full gallop, he charged directly at the first windmill he came to, just as a sudden swift gust of wind sent its sail swinging hard around, smashing the spear to bits and sweeping up the knight and his horse, tumbling them all battered and bruised to the ground. Sancho Panza came rushing to his aid, as fast as his donkey could run, but when he got to his master, found him unable to move, such a blow had he been given by the falling horse.

"God help me!" said Sancho. "Didn't I tell your grace to be careful what you did, that these were just windmills, and anyone who could ignore that had to have windmills in his head?"

Millstone

Millstone: Large stone used to grind grain in a mill.

Perpetual

Perpetual: Unending.

Vanquishing

Vanquishing: Conquering.

"Silence, Sancho, my friend," answered Don Quijote. "Even more than other things, war is subject toperpetual change. What's more, I think the truth is that the same Frestón the magician, who stole away my room and my books, transformed these giants into windmills, in order to deprive me of the gory ofvanquishing them,so bitter is his hatred of me. But in the end, his evil tricks will have little power against my good sword."

"God's will be done," answered Sancho Panza.

Then, helping his master to his feet, he got him back up on Rocinante, whose shoulder was halfdislocated. After which, discussing the adventure they'd just experienced, they followed the road toward Lápice Pass, for there said Don Quijote, they couldn't fail to find adventures of all kinds, it being a well-traveled highway…

What happened next…

The popularity of Don Quixote was so extraordinary that in 1614 a man named Avellaneda attempted to write a sequel without Cervantes's permission. Cervantes was so enraged that he decided to write the second part of Don Quixote, which was published in 1615. At the conclusion Don Quixote dies after recovering his sanity, much to the distress of a transformed Sancho, who is eager to engage in more adventures. With Don Quixote's death Cervantes ended the possibility of further adventures for his character.

Cervantes's achievements as a novelist did not guarantee him the economic security that best-sellers bring their authors today. In the seventeenth century writers lost the rights to their work after selling it to a merchant. Therefore, Cervantes had no access to the profits made from his books. Before he died in 1616, he was trying to finish what would be his last novel, Los trabajos de Persiles y Segismunda (The Labors of Persiles and Segismunda). The book was published by his widow after his death. Cervantes was proud of this novel and thought its success would exceed that of Don Quixote. Los trabajos de Persiles y Segismunda was not well received, however, and Cervantes's fame rests on his creation of the errant knight and his faithful squire.

Dislocated

Dislocated: Pulled out of place.

Don Quixote is one of the few books in Western literature that has been translated into most languages. The literary influence of the novel has been immense. Direct traces can be identified in the work of countless other authors of various nationalities. In addition, thinkers and philosophers have dedicated essays to the myth of Don Quixote. Twentiethcentury musical productions, such as The Man of La Mancha, and movies have been inspired by Don Quixote. Modern artists like the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) have immortalized the image of the errant knight escorted by his faithful squire.

Did you know…

  1. Don Quixote contributed many familiar expressions to the English language. A few of them are: "the sky"s the limit," "thanks for nothing," "mind your own business," "think before you speak," "forgive and forget," "to smell a rat," "turning over a new leaf," "the haves and have-nots," "born with a silver spoon in his mouth," "the pot calling the kettle black," and "you've seen nothing yet."
  2. Cervantes described his years of captivity in several plays, as well as in the "The captive's" stories in Don Quixote (chapters 39–41). In his first work of narrative prose, Infomación de Argel (Information of Algiers) he wrote about the four unsuccessful escape attempts he organized. The reader learns that he refused to inform on any of his fellow captives, and he described a near miraculous escape from the severe punishments usually given out for those offenses.
  3. In addition to writing novels, Cervantes tried to become a playwright. At that time in Madrid, theater-going was a popular form of entertainment, much like going to the movies today. There were several open-air theaters in the city, and people were eager to see new plays. Cervantes decided to try his fortune in the thriving market of comedies. His main rival was Lope de Vega, who was also the public's favorite playwright. Cervantes wrote several plays, but only two have survived: El cerco de Numancia and El trato de Argel. He eventually abandoned his attempts at a career in the theater.

For More Information

Books

Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quijote. Translated by Burton Raffel. Edited by Diana de Armas Wilson. New York: Norton, 1999.

Canavaggio, Jean. Cervantes. Translated by J. R. Jones. New York: Norton, 1990.

Sound Recordings

Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. St. Paul, Minn.: HighBridge,1997.

Man of La Mancha. New York: Sony Classical, 1996.

Video Recordings

Don Quixote. TNT Original: Hallmark Entertainment Production, 2000.

Man of La Mancha. Mich.: CBS/FOX Video, 1984.

Web Sites

"Cervantes, Miguel de." Britannica.com. [Online] Available http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=114980&tocid=0&query=cervantes, April 10, 2002.

"Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de." Encyclopedia.com. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/[email protected]%20Cervantes%20Saavedra%20%20Miguel%20de, April 10, 2002.

The Don Quixote Exhibit. [Online] Available http://milton.mse.jhu.edu:8006/, April 10, 2002.

About this article

Miguel de Cervantes

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article