Miguel de Cervantes: Early Modern (1547–1616)

DON QUIXOTE

Part I, Chapter I:
Which Treats of the Character and Pursuits of the Famous Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha

In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing. An olla of rather more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays, made away with three-quarters of his income. The rest of it went in a doublet of fine cloth and velvet breeches and shoes to match for holidays, while on week-days he made a brave figure in his best homespun.

He had in his house a housekeeper past forty, a niece under twenty, and a lad for the field and market-place, who used to saddle the hack as well as handle the bill-hook. The age of this gentleman of ours was bordering on fifty; he was of a hardy habit, spare, gaunt-featured, a very early riser and a great sportsman. They will have it his surname was Quixada or Quesada (for here there is some difference of opinion among the authors who write on the subject), although from reasonable conjectures it seems plain that he was called Quexana. This, however, is of but little importance to our tale; it will be enough not to stray a hair’s breadth from the truth in the telling of it.

You must know, then, that the above-named gentleman whenever he was at leisure (which was mostly all the year round) gave himself up to reading books of chivalry with such ardour and avidity that he almost entirely neglected the pursuit of his field-sports, and even the management of his property; and to such a pitch did his eagerness and infatuation go that he sold many an acre of tillageland to buy books of chivalry to read, and brought home as many of them as he could get.

But of all there were none he liked so well as those of the famous Feliciano de Silva’s composition, for their lucidity of style and complicated conceits were as pearls in his sight, particularly when in his reading he came upon courtships and cartels, where he often found passages like “the reason of the unreason with which my reason is afflicted so weakens my reason that with reason I murmur at your beauty;” or again, “the high heavens, that of your divinity divinely fortify you with the stars, render you deserving of the desert your greatness deserves.”

Over conceits of this sort the poor gentleman lost his wits, and used to lie awake striving to understand them and worm the meaning out of them; what Aristotle himself could not have made out or extracted had he come to life again for that special purpose. He was not at all easy about the wounds which Don Belianis gave and took, because it seemed to him that, great as were the surgeons who had cured him, he must have had his face and body covered all over with seams and scars. He commended, however, the author’s way of ending his book with the promise of that interminable adventure, and many a time was he tempted to take up his pen and finish it properly as is there proposed, which no doubt he would have done, and made a successful piece of work of it too, had not greater and more absorbing thoughts prevented him.


Don Quixote is frequently described as “the first modern novel” and that is true in many ways.  Here we find both the structural bones of contemporary fiction and the gateway to modernity. It is certainly much more than that. Author Glynn Young wrote a terrific feature piece about Don Quixote some time ago for Literary Life (see it HERE) in which he said the following:

He didn’t see a fallen world; he saw the world as God created it and as he, Don Quixote, was called to redeem it. And no matter what happens or what impossible situations he finds himself in, he remains true to his mission and calling. It is only when he is tricked into seeing reality by his family that he “regains his sanity.”

Had the novel ended like that, it would have been a funny book but also disappointing. But it didn’t end like that.

Don Quixote isn’t only the first “modern” novel and one of the world’s great works of literature. It is also a great work about a fallen world and the crazy people who are called to redeem it, who are ridiculed, often physically attacked, bullied, and persecuted, but who nonetheless joyfully persevere in what they’ve been called to do.

As John Mark Reynolds said in his book The Great Books Reader:

Perhaps the alternative to modernity is not postmodernity but an Age of Cervantes.

Cervantes fought and bled in one of history’s great conflicts, the Battle of Lepanto, to defend Christendom against conquest by Islam. He justly was proud of his wounds and of the victory he and many like him had secured for his faith. As he mocks his culture and his church, it’s important to remember that this is the mockery of a man who loved the Catholic faith enough to bleed for it. He lived in a world less parochial and more international than our own, one where the Pope could lead a multinational coalition whose relative power the U.N. could never muster.

Cervantes is witty, first of all. Laugh with him before becoming too serious about his knight. After all, it is absurd to tilt at windmills, and his knight does just that. And yet Don Quixote is more likable than the sane people around him.

Does embracing a Christian worldview require a measure of madness?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


On Madness and Reality

RT Llizo

Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra’s “Sorrowful Knight” strikes us, at the outset, as a buffoon, a loveable fool who’s easy to scorn.

He’s a hidalgo, the equivalent of what might be known in England as a country squire, which means, as the second or third son of nobility, he cannot inherit his father’s title, but he can’t engage in business either, so he runs his estate (at least, what’s left of it) while selling several of its parcels in order to buy books on knight-errantry.

Then he leaves the care of his estate in order to pursue foolish fantasies, all culled from silly books. After reading Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and other tales, he’s convinced that the world of knight-errantry is the best way to lead one’s life, and he decides to do something about it. He sallies forth in search of “adventures,” seeing giants and castles that turn out to be merely windmills and taverns.

As his sidekick, or, shall we say, his squire, we have Sancho Panza, who believes promises of a governorship of distant islands and castles. The plain facts of the matter, however, are plain to Sancho as he constantly tries to remind Don Quixote that the objects he’s charging toward are actually common structures.

Don Quixote, undaunted, continues in his insistence that these are indeed giants and that they must be slain. When the matter is made clear to the Sorrowful Knight after a round with the windmills—which ends with him on his back—he blames his delusion on “enchantment” and continues his noble quest.

———

It’s easy to write off Don Quixote as a deranged nutcase, but as we read through the novel, something begins to evolve. We laugh in the beginning, but then we gradually become caught up in his world; we begin to see it from his eyes, and we end up enjoying it.

We grieve with Sancho for his death, for the vision of a world where he is more than a worthless ne’er-do-well—an important governor and lord—will die with him. The barmaid weeps, and we weep with her, for in Don Quixote’s eyes, she’s more than a mere barmaid; she’s a noble lady named Dulcinea.

What’s happened? How is it that we chuckle at him at the onset but now are caught up in his “madness”?

But this is where Cervantes has caught us in our own folly. Is it madness?

In the course of the tale, we begin with a self-assured notion that the world Don Quixote imagines makes him unable to live in the true milieu of “reality,” yet increasingly our own assumptions about the nature of that reality come under question.

In Part II we’re moved by statements like these:

All I aim at is, to convince the world of its error in not reviving those happy times [of chivalry], in which the order of the knight-errant flourished. . . . But nowadays, sloth triumphs over diligence, idleness over labour, vice over virtue, arrogance over bravery, the theory over the practice of arms, which only lived and flourished in those golden ages, and in those knights-errant. (From the Oxford World’s Classics, 528.)

One can hear the quintessential Christ-like question coming through in the following passage:

In the meantime, tell me, friend Sancho, what do folks say of me about this town? What opinion has the common people of me? What think the gentlemen, and what the cavaliers? What is said of my prowess, what of my exploits, and what of my courtesy? What discourse is there of the design I have engaged in, to revive and restore to the world the long-forgotten order of chivalry? (ibid., 535)

Sancho’s answer is quite expected: “The common people take your worship for a downright madman” (ibid.). But what can be said of Don Quixote’s stated desire to “revive and restore” the chivalric order?

———

Reality is a complex phenomenon, filled with dimensions, not the least of which are two that Christians affirm and understand: the physical and the spiritual. We are invited by Cervantes to enter into Don Quixote’s imaginary world and reflect on these layers.

We’re to ignore no points of view: neither the idealism of Don Quixote nor the realism/literalism of Sancho Panza. The point that comes across is this: We must not have a reductionist attitude toward reality.
While we must not fall into the gnosticizing trap of seeing the world as only ideal, without any reference to the physical and tangible universe we inhabit, neither should we commit to a crass literalism devoid of imagination and poetry.

Poetry in the soul ennobles the insignificant. Something in us does yearn for the ideal Don Quixote envisions, and yet his failed efforts to actualize it should give us pause, for however noble his vision, it cannot be established here and now without any reference to the needs of the here and now.

Cervantes’ masterpiece, then, cautions the literalist/materialist against a world (and a future) devoid of enchantment, just as it challenges the idealist who gazes toward heaven to remember that the coming reality is “not yet.”

Laugh at the beginning, if you will. In the end, the Sorrowful Knight has the last laugh.

Robert Llizo, PhD, is a lecturer in Medieval History at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

The Redemptive Eyes of Don Quixote by Glynn Young

Glynn Young

It is said that the novel The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes should be read three times – youth, middle age, and old age. I first read it at 17, in English literature class my senior year of high school. Our teacher, who dearly loved the book but knew better than to force the unabridged version on a class of 35 teenaged boys, gave us the option of reading the abridged or unabridged version. The difference was 600 pages, so you can imagine the results.

Two of us chose the unabridged version, and we had to read it in the same amount of time that the rest of the class was reading the unabridged. Neither of us regretted our decision, but we both had to carry that book everywhere we went, reading in any spare moment. The assignment was both a paper and an oral presentation in class.

Perhaps it was the determination to finish a novel of almost 1,000 (in two parts), but I fell in love with the story. The crazy old man roaming around Andalusia in Spain on a broken-down nag, seeing giants instead of windmills, mistaking prostitutes for fair maidens, and joyfully wearing a bedpan as his “golden helmet of Mambrino” was sheer delight. And as every knight has a squire, so Don Quixote had his Sancho Panza, who kept the story from tripping into the ridiculous by keeping his mind clear and eye sharp, the counterpoint to Don Quixote’s point.

In my early 40s, Don Quixote accompanied me to the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. And there, on the sand each day under a beach umbrella, I reread the favorite novel of my youth.

It had lost none of its charm and appeal. But it had gained something I didn’t notice the first time. Or perhaps I had gained something in the intervening years.

Don Quixote, crazed by his constant reading of medieval romances, comes to believe he is living in medieval times. And he sees everything through medieval eyes. Those windmills really were giants. Aldonza, the prostitute, really was Dulcinea the beautiful and noble lady. That ramshackle inn really was a castle.

Don Quixote had moved from a belief in the texts he was reading to applying what he had learned to the world. He didn’t see a fallen world; he saw the world as God created it and as he, Don Quixote, was called to redeem it. And no matter what happens or what impossible situations he finds himself in, he remains true to his mission and calling. It is only when he is tricked into seeing reality by his family that he “regains his sanity.”

Had the novel ended like that, it would have been a funny book but also disappointing. But it didn’t end like that.

Don Quixote isn’t only the first “modern” novel and one of the world’s great works of literature. It is also a great work about a fallen world and the crazy people who are called to redeem it, who are ridiculed, often physically attacked, bullied, and persecuted, but who nonetheless joyfully persevere in what they’ve been called to do.

And sometime soon I will read Don Quixote for the third time, and see what else I have to learn.

 

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

Glynn Young is the author of two novels, Dancing Priest and A Light Shining, and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. He is also an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.

D I G  D E E P E R


Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) was a native of Castile in Spain, the son of a barber-surgeon who had married an impoverished noblewoman. Not much is known about his early years; in fact, not much is known about most of his life. What is known is that he joined the army in 1570, was wounded in the great naval battle of Lepanto, and later was captured by Ottoman pirates and spent five years in captivity in Algiers.

After being ransomed and returning to Spain, Cervantes began to write poetry, plays, and pastoral novels like La Galatea. But he was working other jobs, including as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada and as a government tax collector (serving a couple of terms in jail for discrepancies in his accounts). In 1605, Don Quixote was published and was a remarkable success in Spain and Europe. Part II was published in 1615. Cervantes died in 1616, one day before William Shakespeare’s death.

 

Links used in the text:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_de_Cervantes

https://www.amazon.com/Don-Quixote-Miguel-Cervantes-ebook/dp/B001R1LCKS/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/Dancing-Priest-Glynn-Young-ebook/dp/B006FI4Y8U/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/Light-Shining-Dancing-Priest-Book-ebook/dp/B00A9NWZ6K/ref=sr_1_2

https://www.amazon.com/Poetry-Work-Masters-Fine-Living-ebook/dp/B00HBVLJ42/ref=sr_1_1

http://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com