Thursday, September 29, 2022

Quote of the Day (Miguel de Cervantes, on How Don Quixote Went Mad)

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” —Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605)

Miguel de Cervantes—born on this day in 1547—is lucky to have stayed alive long enough to write his masterpiece. At the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, he suffered three grave wounds—two gunshot wounds to the chest and another that completely maimed his left hand.

As if that weren’t enough, he was captured by pirates and imprisoned for five years, then jailed on two more occasions owing money to the treasury from a shortage in his accounts.

Maybe Cervantes needed to find a laugh somehow, somewhere to get his mind off his terrible situation. In any case, he came up with one of the great satires in world literature: a parody of chivalric romances.

In the process, he offered the world one of the most indelible depictions of the clash between illusion and reality, in this scene that has become immortal:

“Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is nobel, 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 very nearly two leagues long."

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

"Obviously," replied Don Quijote, "you don't know much about adventures.”

Cervantes, the greatest writer in the Spanish language, died in April 1616 on the same day as William Shakespeare, arguably the greatest writer in the English language.

(The image accompanying this post comes from the film adaptation of Man of La Mancha, with Peter O’Toole as Don Quixote.)

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