Don Quixote: First Part of the Ingenious Gentleman, by Miguel de Cervantes
I think it is interesting that “Don Quixote” was the epitome of Cervantes’s life work. Upon completing the second part of the book in 1615, Miguel de Cervantes died just one year later. This seems to be a common theme with the greatest works of literature. It takes a lifetime of learning and understanding to acquire enough knowledge and perception to write something that is so well-done that it thrives for hundreds or thousands of years. Obviously there are exceptions, such as J K Rowling and the “Harry Potter” series. But generally, some of the most influential works like “Don Quixote” or “Lord of the Rings” are written towards the end of the author’s life.
This book made me think about lots of things. It is a book about chivalry, stories, love, reality, and perception. I’m glad that I read it. I think that reading this book was not time wasted. While reading, I learned some interesting facts. For example, I was introduced to the “Nine Paragons of Fame,” who exemplify the ideals of chivalry, and whom Don Quixote claims to surpass in chivalrous deeds: (1) Joshua, (2) David, (3) Judah Maccabee, (4) Hector, (5) Alexander, (6) Julius Caesar, (7) King Arthur, (8) Charlemagne, and (9) Godfrey of Bouillon. Additionally, I learned about some of the Greek figures who are sentenced to eternal punishment in Tartarus. Ixion fathered the first Centaur after he was tricked by Zeus into having sex with a cloud that resembled Zeus’s wife, Hera, and as punishment, Ixion is bound to a burning wheel for eternity. Tantalus is doomed to stand in a pool of water for his eternal punishment. Sisyphus is obligated to repeatedly push a boulder up a hill. As soon as the boulder reaches the top, it rolls back down, and Sisyphus is doomed to restart. Tityos is sentenced to eternal punishment in the deepest part of hell, Tartarus, where two vultures eat his liver every day. And every night, his liver grows back. This cycle repeats for eternity. The discussion about these mythologies prompted me to wonder about different levels of punishment in hell. Are different levels of hells Biblical? Does God judge differently, based on the severity of the sin? And does God also have different levels of reward? Are there different levels of heaven? I think it is Biblical that God judges according to actions (for example, Matthew 11:24 supports this), and consequently this implies levels of hell. Similarly, there is Biblical evidence that to whomever more knowledge is given, more will be required. But I am unsure if this supports multiple levels of heaven. I want to investigate these points further. Part of this further investigation will be reading “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri, which is towards the top of my reading list.
A large part of what makes this book entertaining is Quixote’s misinformed reality and the weave of deceptions. In his mind, he imagines one thing, but the reality in many cases is starkly different. Summary of notable events and Quixote’s misconceptions:
Quixote arrives at an inn, but misconceives it as a castle
Quixote mistakes prostitutes for princesses
The innkeeper dubs Quixote as a knight
Quixote appears to rescue a boy from a whipping, but we learn later that this only created additional punishment for the boy
The barber and priest, who are Quixote’s friends, burn Quixote’s library of books about chivalry and knight-errantry
Quixote believes that a powerful magician (necromancer) removed his library. He does not suspect his friends.
Sancho Panza becomes Quixote’s squire
Quixote mistakes windmills for giants, and then blames the necromancer for deceiving him [A]
Quixote believes in a panacea healing balm. The ointment appears to help Quixote, but it only makes his squire sick
Quixote is badly bruised and goes to an inn for recovery. In Quixote’s mind, this inn is a castle
At the inn, Quixote mistakenly believes that a woman is trying to seduce him
Quixote is traveling on the road, and he mistakes two herds of sheep for two armies [B]
Quixote and Sancho spend the night frightened by the sound of a thudding fulling-mill hammer
Quixote believes that a barber’s basin is actually Mambrino’s helmet
Quixote frees a group of criminals
Quixote and Sancho separate, because Quixote sends his squire on a mission to deliver a letter to the Lady Dulcinea of Toboso (Quixote’s imaginary betrothed)
Returning to the inn, Sancho meets Quixote’s friends, the priest and barber, who devise a plan to bring Quixote back home. One of them will disguise himself as a lady in distress who needs a knight’s help back at her home kingdom. Sancho agrees to participate in the deception [C]
At the inn, the priest discovers the manuscript, “The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious” [D]
Quixote mistakes the inn’s wineskins for giants and makes a tremendous mess
Don Fernando and Luscinda arrive at the inn where Quixote and company are staying. Don Fernando is happily re-united with his original lover, Dorotea. And, Cardenio is similarly re-united with Luscinda. This is a joyous and celebratory scene.
Quixote insists that the barber’s basin is actually Mambrino’s helmet and similarly insists that the donkey’s packsaddle is a knight-errant’s trappings
The barber and priest devise another plan to bring Quixote home. They tie Quixote to the cart, crafting the story that Quixote is being imprisoned by phantoms. The inn is a magical and evil place, and the necromancer is Quixote’s enemy.
On the road home, Quixote and his friends meet a canon, who proves to be very intelligent [E]
Quixote, while on a bathroom break, attacks a group of priests who he believes are carrying a woman against her will
Quixote is imprisoned on the cart and brought home
End of the first part
This is probably the most popularized and recognizable scene from “Don Quixote.” One possible interpretation of this scene, that I particularly like, is that Don Quixote is willing to act, regardless of success or failure. Although he does not “kill” the “giants,” since they are transformed into windmills by the necromancer, Quixote is still victorious in the sense that he acted on behalf of his spiritual belief system. His perception of reality showed him a field of enemies that needed to be vanquished. As a knight-errant, there is a pre-defined code, i.e. a set of actions, that he must live his life according to. Despite the failures, beatings, and betrayals that he experiences along his journey, Quixote continues his adventures and does not forsake his ideals. Quixote must be respected for his commitment to being a knight-errant. I think that too many people in our world are not passionate about anything. People with passion make a difference and influence the world. So I think that although Quixote is disillusioned, he is more respectable than the impassionate cowards that occupy most of our communities. People that I meet are not excessively passionate about career, religion, or hobby. They are content to simply pass through life. At least Quixote is not numbly passing through life. He is taking action, and his actions passionately support his world view.
Don Quixote mistakes two herds of sheep for two armies. Consequently, he is stoned by the shepherds and blames the whole situation on the necromancer. The necromancer is working tirelessly to deceive Don Quixote and cause him to stumble. Quixote, the story’s hero, does not allow the necromancer’s tricks to stop his pursuit of chivalry. This made me think about the role of heroes and leaders. Heroes and leaders are men who impose their wills and visions on the world. They bend events of reality to meet their wills, and if they are convincing enough, these men gather followers, because the followers agree with the visions that the leader is imposing on reality. People follow ideas. Followers depend on leaders (aka men of ideas) when they are threatened with a situation that they do not understand. Reality is an internal quality. Reality is what you shape inside your mind; it is what you internalize, and then project onto the world. This is an interesting thought, because I think that it is true. Leaders are separated from followers by their ability to generate ideas that other people want to follow, project those ideas, transform those ideas into a reality, and continue following those ideas despite failures. Influential leaders generate ideas that engage large masses of people. Insignificant leaders, like Don Quixote, operate into opposition to the greater world, because their ideas do not align with the majority. If the masses agreed with chivalry, like they did during the Dark Ages, then Don Quixote would arguably be a great world influencer. The world can be viewed simply as a clash of ideas. It is a battleground for leaders to project their ideas on the world and attempt to make them a reality: knight-errantry, Christ-servitude, military dominance, geographical exploration, and religious transformation are a few examples of passionate world views. We all have different internal realities that we try to project onto our surroundings. Battles, wars, and squirmishes arise because of these differences.
I think that I was traveling or daydreaming while reading the events that occurred at this point. I didn’t fully comprehend them, and I think that it is important to understand what happened during these scenes in order to understand the rest of the novel. So I want to use this section to dissect the events at the inn, most notably to understand the story of the troubled lovers. One of the major themes in Don Quixote is love, and the idea of love is explored through the characters that Quixote encounters. The priest and barber meet the Man of the Woods, Cardenio. Cardenio was set to be married to the beautiful lady, Luscinda. In another town, another man named Don Fernando was pursuing a woman, Dorotea. Like Cardenio was assumed to marry Luscinda, Don Fernando was assumed to marry Dorotea. However, Dorotea and Don Fernando came from different parentages and different classes. Knowing this significant fact, Dorotea initially tried to refuse Don Fernando’s advances. But by promising loyalty and marriage, Don Fernando eventually seduced Dorotea and won her heart. Since Dorotea’s class was unacceptably below his own, Don Fernando was sent to the castle that Cardenio and Luscinda lived at in an effort to cool his passion for Dorotea. While at Carendio’s residence, Don Fernando became enamored by the beautiful Luscinda. Eventually, Don Fernando and Luscinda are wedded, despite Luscinda’s promises to Cardenio. Feeling betrayed by his ex-lover, Cardenio flees to the woods, where he experiences episodes of madness. Similarly, when Dorotea hears about Don Fernando’s marriage, she is enraged and flees to the woods. It is in these woods outside of the inn that the priest and barber meet the betrayed lovers (Cardenio and Dorotea) and learn their stories. After exchanging stories, Cardenio and Dorotea agree to participate in the deception to bring Don Quixote home. Dorotea pretends to be the Princess Micomicona from the Micomicon kingdom. Through masterful acting and the promise of an earldom, Dorotea convinces Don Quixote to escort her to her home kingdom, which coincidentally passes through Quixote’s hometown. Through this twist of events, the readers get a romantic story about frustrated and wronged lovers, plus a masterful deception, mixed with knights and giants. “Don Quixote” is a well-crafted story.
“The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious” is a novella about a husband, Anselmo, who wishes to test the faithfulness of this his wife, Camila. Anselmo asks his best friend, Lotario, to woo and seduce Camila. At first, Lotario is resistant to Anselmo’s scheme, but after much insistence by Anselmo, Lotario pursues Camila, and unintentionally falls in love with her, consequently spoiling her virtue. When Anselmo returns home from his business trip, Lotario and Camila, who are lovers but wish to deceive Anselmo, put on a show for the cuckold. Camila pretends to fatally wound herself rather than succumb to Lotario’s advances. This show/deception pleases Anselmo. However, the curtain is opened when Anselmo discovers Leonela’s lover (Leonela is Camila’s maiden and confidant). Spooked, scared, and worried that Leonela will tell Anselmo about the deception, Camila and Lotario flee town. The next day, Anselmo realizes that he was deceived, and he kills himself. In his suicide note, he says that he was reckless and foolish. Unfortunately, Anselmo realized his mistake too late. He should have never wished to test his wife’s loyalty. He shouldn’t have tempted his wife, and he should have listened to his friend’s wisdom. When Anselmo first presented his idea to Lotario, Lotario spoke wisdom and encouraged against such ill actions. While reading the beginning of this novella, it was clear to me that Anselmo was acting foolishly, and that Lotario was the wise one. From the beginning, Lotario called Anselmo’s venture an act of patent madness. What good will come of this? Nothing will be gained, but all could be lost. Consider a fine diamond whose worth, legitimacy, and beauty was confirmed by every jeweler who saw it. Confirmed of its purity and value by so many expert eyes, it would be foolish to crush the diamond with a hammer and anvil in order to test its true fineness and value. If the diamond survived the test, the tester would gain nothing, since the diamond’s worth has already been confirmed by expert appraisers. Yet, if the diamond is shattered during the test, then it will be lost, and all other people will view the man who tested it as a fool. It is the same with Camila. She is a fine diamond, confirmed in her virtue, beauty, and worth by all of those who know her. There is nothing more valuable in the whole world than a chaste and honorable woman. Yes! One should not put obstacles in her way that might cause her to stumble. In fact, the husband should act in the opposite manner to this. He should be removing obstacles from his wife’s path and creating an environment for her to flourish in. When God created husband and wife, he united them in one flesh, so that whatever good happens to one partner, or whatever misfortune troubles one partner, actually happens equally to both.
In the scheme of the priest and barber to bring Don Quixote home, they imprison him on a cart. While on the road with the imprisoned Quixote, they meet a canon (who is a type of clergy man). The priest and barber explain their situation to the canon, who proves to be an intelligent man full of fine understanding. He and his servants listen to the priest tell the tale about “the caged man,” Don Quixote. The canon responds that he has never been able to read a book about chivalry from beginning to end, although he has read the beginnings of nearly every chivalry book. They are all filled with foolishness. A good tale delights and teaches. The principal aim of books of chivalry is only to delight; hence their foolishness. Fictional tales are crafted to captivate the minds of those who read them. Therefore, books about slaying monsters and rescuing queens are written for 16 year olds. The canon speaks harshly about chivalry tales: the style is fatiguing, love is lascivious, courtesies are clumsy, battles are long, language is foolish, journeys are nonsensical, they are lacking intelligent artifice, and the beginning middle and end do not connect. However, the canon does see one benefit about books of chivalry. They offer a broad landscape for an author to display his talent and skill. A skilled author can demonstrate his cleverness and intelligence in a particular field. At this point , he lists particular areas of expertise, such as the guile of Ulysses, piety of Aeneas, valor of Achilles, misfortunes of Hector, treachery of Sinon, and the fidelity of Zopyrus. I understand the references to the Greek literature here, but I am missing comprehension about the reference to Zopyrus. According to the book’s footnote, Zopyrus went undercover into Babylonian territory on behalf of Darius, and he was crucial for Darius conquering Babylon. I want to learn more about this historical figure. This section of the novel also made me think about what makes a story survive through time. Why is “Don Quixote” such a classic work and considered such a great work of literature? I think that Cervantes answers this question via the canon’s monologue. A great novel teaches, delights, is skillfully written, and demonstrates the author’s erudition. In this work, Cervantes meets all of these criteria. He writes an entertaining and delightful story. While doing so, he embellishes the story with well-researched content about chivalry, Greek, Christianity, King Arthur, love, the Bible, and psychology. The author is intelligent in many subjects, and this is clear through his writing. What does this novel teach? Well one interpretation, I think, is that Cervantes is trying to display his skill as an author. And he is expressing his dislike for books about chivalry. This book is clearly a farce on chivalry books. In his opinion, these are foolish novels, penny-novels, and not worth reading. They should be burned. Anybody who gathers delight from them is disillusioned, or they are simple-minded. These books only entertain the minds of simple readers; hence they are well suited for 16 year old readers, not mature adults. Older readers, who have possess more learning, should be seeking literature that seeks to delight a more matured mind. Intelligent people engage with intelligent books.