Historia de la conquista de la Nueva España, de Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1585)

On the fifth centenary of the arrival of Hernán Cortés to the Aztec empire, it is worth remembering one of the key books that tells the events that changed the world forever. And this one from the aztec point of view: the book of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590) entitled History of the conquest of New Spain or Book XII of the General History of the things of New Spain.

Book XII

This General History was the result of a long compilation process carried out between 1547 and 1585, initiated shortly after the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. It is also known as the Florentine Codex, since a version is in the Medicea Laurenziana Library of Florence, Italy. The complete codex can be consulted online at the World Digital Library (WDL)

But approaching this work requires first knowing the process of its elaboration and understanding how it has reached us, since it is about a complex document which offers a variety of information about Mexica culture in Náhuatl, Spanish, and Latin. It also contains pictographical images and ornaments which unite elements of precolonial writing with glyphs and European paintings. It is considered the result of a complicated transculturation process.

The Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España or General history of the things of New Spain is an encyclopedic work about the people and culture of the Aztec empire compiled by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan missionary who arrived in Mexico in 1529, eight years after the Spanish conquest by Hernán Cortés.

Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, circa 1499

The General history went through several stages between 1535 and 1585, and between Tlatelolco, Tepepulco, and Mexico City. The communicative interactions between Sahagún and the nahua elders he decided to interrogate were always mediated by a group of literate nahua, proud heirs of the legacy of their own people and proficient participants in the cultural tradition inculcated into them by the Franciscans fathers at the College of the Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco, established by the Spaniards in 1536.

Although Sahagún compiled two substantial náhuatl texts (which became Book VI ‘Rhetorical and moral philosophy’ and Book XII ‘History of the Conquest’ of the Florentine Codex) some years earlier, it was not until 1558 that he was officially commissioned by the Provincial of his order, Fray Francisco de Toral, to undertake a systematic investigation of the native culture by compiling in náhuatl what would be “useful for the indoctrination, the propagation and perpetuation of the Christianization of these natives of this New Spain, and as a help to the workers and ministers who indoctrinate them”

Thus, in 1558 Fray Bernardino settled in the convent of Tepepulco, today Tepeapulco in the state of Hidalgo, where with informants of the indigenous nobility he produced, between 1558 and 1561, his first handwritten works of the General History of the things of New Spain.

General History of the things of New Spain

Tepepulco materials, Náhuatl texts and paintings, were called by the great Mexican scholar Francisco del Paso y Troncoso First memorials. There are 88 folios that Paso y Troncoso selected and ordered from the so-called Códices matritenses (because there are in Madrid, at the Royal Palace Library and the Royal Academy of History) for its 1905 edition, with such a good feel that they are still being edited in the same way.

Between 1565 and 1569, already in the convent of San Francisco de México, Sahagún completes his General history in nine books and four volumes. The following years, 1569-1570, will be the most bitter in the life of Sahagun. The Provincial Chapter of his Order, to which he submits his writings, decides that they are “highly esteemed and should be favored” but, at the same time, he takes away his scribes. He himself, over seventy years old, can no longer write because of the trembling of his hands. And shortly after, the provincial Fray Alonso de Escalona (1570-3) disperses the writings of Fray Bernardino through the Franciscan convents of the Province of Mexico. Despite these obstacles, Sahagun managed, to continue his work.

By 1575 Sahagún recovers his manuscripts and, thanks to the interest shown by Juan de Ovando, president of the Council of the Indies, the new commissioner of the Order, Fray Rodrigo de Sequera, again provides Sahagún with scribes who are compiling the texts in Náhuatl and which dictates the Spanish text of its General history of the things of New Spain, which extracts and comments on the materials provided by the Indian informants.

However, from the year 1577, Philip II and with it the Council of the Indies, already dead Ovando, changed their position regarding the research on indigenous cultures: they were considered dangerous as they spread pagan ideas and encouraged rebel and independence spirit. This change in the treatment of indigenous cultures motivated the order of Philip II to confiscate the book of Sahagún.

It then was taken to Spain by Fray Rodrigo de Sequera. The work was bound in four volumes but later rebound into three. Each volume is arranged in two columns: on the right is the original Náhuatl text, on the left is Sahagún’s Spanish translation. The 2,468 magnificent illustrations, made by the students, are mostly in the left-hand column, where the text is shorter. The illustrations combine the syntactic and symbolic traits of the ancient Nahua tradition of painting-writing with the formal qualities of European Renaissance painting.

Later, the manuscript could have been gifted to Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici by Philip II or just escaped confiscation and were transported to a safe haven in Rome, in the library of this Cardinal, collector of exotic plants, precious stones, and wondrous objects from America, including feather paintings such as are described in detail in the manuscript. When Ferdinando renounced the red hat to succeed his late brother, Francesco I, as Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1587, he took the manuscript with him to Florence. Although he generally kept the existence of the book secret, he allowed it to be consulted for the ceiling frescoes painted by Ludovico Buti in the armory in the Uffizi in 1588. Retained in the Medici guardarobba for most of the grand-ducal period, the book entered the Medicea Laurenziana Library in 1783, and thenceforth has generally been known as the Codex Florentinus, Codice fiorentino, or Florentine Codex.

Therefore, what is commonly referred to as the Florentine Codex is a manuscript that consists of 12 books devoted to different topics, firstly completed around 1579, archived in the Medicea Laurenziana Library of Florence, Italy. Sahagún followed the typology of earlier medieval works in organizing his research into “the divine, human, and natural things” of New Spain and addressing these topics in order.

Book I ‘The Gods’ thus deals with the gods. It describes the principal deities in the Aztec pantheon, listing their distinctive physical features, attire, main functions, and the festivals dedicated to them. To make these gods more comprehensible to European readers, Sahagún sometimes likens them to figures from Greek and Roman mythology. Huitzilopochtli (“Uitzilobuchtli” in the codex) is called “another Hercules,” Tezcatlipoca “another Jupiter.” Huitzilopochtli was the patron god of the Aztecs, who guided them on their pilgrimage from Aztlán, the mythical “white land” of their origins, to the “promised land,” where in 1325 they founded the city of Tenochtitlan. He was the god of war and of the sun, huge, immensely strong, and warlike, and to him was dedicated one of the two shrines of the Templo Mayor (Great Pyramid) of Tenochtitlan. The other shrine was dedicated to Tlaloc, the lord of rain, who lived on the highest mountains where clouds form and was associated with the agricultural world and the fertility of the land. Huitzilopochtli, Tlaloc, and two other major gods are depicted on folio 10r. For Sahagún, religion was the key to Aztec civilization. As he wrote in the prologue to Book I, “in religion and the adoration of their gods, I do not believe that there have ever been idolaters more devoted to their gods, nor at such great cost to themselves as these [people] of New Spain.”

Book II ‘The Ceremonies’ deals with the feasts and sacrifices to the gods, made in accordance with the 20-day ritual calendar. It includes the 20 sacred canticles or hymns to the gods, which Sahagún gathered from oral testimony at an early stage in his research. This book also describes ceremonies involving human sacrifice, which so shocked the Spaniards when they arrived in Mexico. Sacrifices were offered so that the cosmic cycle might continue and the sun rise every morning. In a perennial process of regeneration, it was thought that Aztec gods died and then returned to life stronger than before, and it was their death that was “relived” in the sacrifice. The gods were embodied in the sacrificial victims—their ixiptla (images) or representatives—and received sustenance from human hearts and blood. The illustration at folio 84v depicts the sacrifice of the ixiptla of Tezcatlipoca, god of the night sky and of memory. The victim was to be a fit young man, without physical imperfections, who was granted a year to live at leisure, learning to play the flute and to carry “smoking tubes” in the manner of the chiefs and nobles. He was then carefully dressed and adorned and, after various ceremonies, taken to the foot of the pyramid where he was killed. The sacrificial victims were generally soldiers captured in battle, but they also could be slaves, men found guilty of some crime, or young women or children (offered to the deities of the rain and the waters). In battle, the goal was not to kill the enemy, but to take prisoners, who were grabbed by the hair and destined to be sacrificed. Warfare for the purpose of securing sacrificial victims is depicted in the illustrations on folio 74r and folio 74v of this book.

Book III ‘The Origin of the Gods’ deals with the origin of the gods, in particular Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, and includes appendices on the afterlife and on education. Aztec religion was permeated with stories about the birth, death, and return to life of the gods. This perennial process of regeneration was reflected in ceremonies involving human and other sacrifice and in the architecture of Tenochtitlan. The Templo Mayor (Great Pyramid) was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc and had separate shrines to each of these gods. This dual construction had great significance in Mesoamerican cosmology, symbolizing the two sacred mountains, Tonacatepetl (the Hill of Sustenance), and Coatepec (the Hill of the Snake). The shrine dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain, represented the mountain housing maize and other things that Quetzalcoatl stole from the gods to give to mankind. The shrine dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and of the sun, represented the mountain on which the god was born, already an adult and dressed as a warrior, his mother Coatlicue having generated him after she placed a feather ball in her lap. On the mountain the god defeated his sister Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess, and his 400 brothers who were jealous of his birth. Once dead, they went to form the Milky Way. Among the noteworthy illustrations in Book III is the depiction, on folio 232v, in the appendix on education, of parents taking children to school. The nobles sent their children to the calmecac (row of houses), an extremely strict school reserved for the elite, where they received instructions on how to become “those who command, chiefs and senators and nobles, … those who have military posts.”

Book IV ‘The Art of Divination’ deals with the art of divination, or judicial astrology as practiced by the Aztecs, and in particular with the Tonalpohualli (ritual calendar). The Mesoamericans used two calendars, one solar and the other ritual. The Xiuhpohualli (solar calendar) had a cycle of 365 days divided into 18 months of 20 days each, plus five days considered inauspicious. The ritual calendar consisted of 260 days and was formed by associating the numbers from 1 to 13 with 20 different signs. A table that was principally used by priests in divination is reproduced in striking detail on folios 329r and 329v. Among the other illustrations in Book IV is a gruesome depiction of anthropophagy, or ritual cannibalism, which often was practiced as part of the rite of human sacrifice. Sahagún describes the sacrifice in relation to the festivals of Xipe Tótec, the god of spring and regeneration, and of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and of the sun (folio 268r). Prisoners were taken to the temple of Huitzilopochtli, killed, and their flesh consumed by the notables. By means of this practice, the strength of the enemy was consumed and assumed by their captors, in a kind of communion with the dead person and with the gods.

Book V ‘Omens and Superstitions’ deals with omens, auguries, and superstitions. As in Book IV, on divination, Sahagún cites ancient native traditions gleaned from questionnaires and interactions with Nahua elders. Sahagún’s enduring interest in this subject was scholarly and ethnographic, but fundamentally religious in its motivation. He believed that many of the conversions to Christianity claimed by Catholic priests in Mexico were superficial, and masked lingering adherence to pagan beliefs. As he wrote in the prologue to his work, the “sins of idolatry and idolatrous rites, superstitions and omens, and superstitions and idolatrous ceremonies have not disappeared altogether. In order to preach against these things or even to be aware of their existence, we must be familiar with how they were practiced in pagan times, [because] through our ignorance, they [the Indians] do many idolatrous things without our understanding it.”

Book VI ‘Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy’ is concerned with rhetoric and moral philosophy. It contains texts that Sahagún collected around 1547, in the earliest stage of his research into indigenous culture, from oral recitations by Nahua elders. Known as Huehuetlahtolli (Ancient word), these texts embodied, according to Sahagún, “the rhetoric, moral philosophy, and theology of the Mexican people, in which there are many curious things exhibiting the beauties of the language and very delicate things relating to the moral virtues.” Although he was repelled by Aztec religion, Sahagún was deeply impressed by the wisdom and beauty of the ancient texts, and he quotes at length, for example, a talk delivered by a Nahua father to a daughter who has reached the age of reason. An illustration of parents exhorting their children is at folio 80r. In the original binding, Book VI was the beginning of the second volume. It thus opens with a dedication to Rodrigo de Sequera, commissary general of the Franciscan Order and a great admirer of Sahagún’s work. A similar dedication originally was placed at the beginning of Book I, but it subsequently was torn out and survives only in a later copy of the codex.

Book VII ‘The Sun, Moon, and Stars, and the Binding of the Years’ is about the sun, the moon, and the stars. It contains an account of the creation of the sun and the moon in what the Aztecs called the “fifth age of the world,” which Sahagún drew from ancient poems and legends shared with him by the elders. The illustration at folio 228v depicts the rabbit in the moon. The ancient Mesoamericans claimed that the outline of a rabbit could be seen in a full moon, a visual effect that results from the combination of dark spots caused by the alteration of rises and craters on the moon’s surface, but which they explained mythologically. In the Aztec account, before the creation of the day the gods met at Teotihuacán to create the sun so that it might illuminate the world. For this to happen, someone had to sacrifice himself. The god Tezcuciztecatl (also seen as Tecciztecatl) volunteered, but another god was also required. Everyone else was afraid and no one stepped forward, so they turned to Nanahuatzin, who was covered with pustules, and he accepted gracefully. Both gods prepared themselves for sacrifice by doing penance for four days. Tezcuciztecatl performed self-sacrifice using feathers, gold, and sharp fragments of precious stones and coral, while Nanahuatzin used humble materials and offered up his blood and pus. A large fire was lit and all the gods gathered around it at midnight, but when the moment came for Tezcuciztecatl to throw himself into the fire to be transformed into the sun, he hung back. Nanahuatzin, in contrast, bravely threw himself into the fire and began to shine. Only then did Tezcuciztecatl, who was envious, follow suit to be transformed into a second sun. The gods had not reckoned on there being two lights of equal brightness in the sky, so one of them took a rabbit and hurled it into the second sun to diminish its brightness, which is how it came to be the moon, with the shape of a rabbit visible on its face.

Book VIII ‘Kings and Lords’ is concerned with kings and nobles, forms of government, elections of rulers, and the customs and pastimes of the nobility. In addition to being interested in these topics for their own sake, Sahagún was motivated by linguistic considerations to describe as many aspects of Aztec life as he could. It was only by doing so, he explained, that he could bring “to light all the words of this language with their literal and metaphoric meanings and all their manners of speech and the greater part of their antiquities, good and evil.” Book VIII is rich in illustrations relating to the Aztec way of life. The paintings at folios 219, 261, and 280–81 relate to clothing. They show the loom, how clothing was made, and textile patterns worn by the nobility. The majority of the Aztec population could only wear clothes made from agave yarn, undyed and without adornment, but the nobles wore colored cotton clothes decorated with shell or bone-and-feather patches. The illustration on folio 269r shows the game patolli, described by Sahagún as similar to dice, in which the players gambled jewels and other possessions by letting fall three large beans onto a large cross painted on a mat. The illustration on folio 292v depicts tlachtli, a ball game originally linked to the Mesoamerican view of the cosmos as the product of a clash between opposing but complementary forces, such as life and death, day and night, fertility and barrenness, and light and darkness. The struggle was reproduced in the game, as two teams representing opposing cosmic forces faced each other on a court, striving to bounce a heavy rubber ball as many times as possible against the side walls of the court. According to Sahagún, the game was a diversion of the nobility that had lost its earlier religious significance.

Book IX ‘The merchants’ is about merchants, officials responsible for gold and precious stones, and feather working. The pochteca (merchants) were an important group in Aztec society. They undertook long journeys in search of precious commodities and goods, and they were valued for the information they gathered in the lands they visited, which the Aztecs often used to plan wars of conquest. Pack animals and the wheel were unknown in Mesoamerica, so goods were carried on foot by tlameme (porters), who placed their loads in a cacaxtli (wooden frame), which was supported by a cord that went around the porter’s shoulders and forehead. Folio 316r contains an illustration showing porters with their loads. Arte plumario (feather art) was one of the minor arts practiced in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Feather-art products were reserved for the Aztec elite—the king, nobles, priests, and warriors—who wore items such as cloaks, fans, and headdresses principally for ceremonies. Folio 370r has an illustration showing artisans at work on a headdress. Also discussed in Book IX is smoking, which the Mesoamericans did during banquets and religious ceremonies, using both pipes that were filled with herbs and grasses or by smoking cigars made by rolling up tobacco leaves. Smoking is depicted on folio 336r.

Book X ‘The People, Their Virtues and Vices, and Other Nations’ is about Aztec society and covers such subjects as the virtues and vices of the people, food and drink, the parts of the human body, and illnesses and remedies. In this book, Sahagún describes the process of making chocolate from cacao beans, which is also depicted on folio 71v. The beverage made from pure cacao and spices was considered the greatest delicacy, and was reserved only for the nobles. Book X also discusses agriculture and food preparation. The Aztec economy was based mainly on agriculture. Farming was the responsibility of the commoners, who cultivated land assigned to them and the land of the nobles and rulers. The staple crop was corn, from which the Aztecs made a kind of bread. Preparing food was the task of women, and is depicted on folio 315r. While the commoners had a very simple diet, the elite ate richer and more abundant fare. Sahagún includes a long list of dishes flavored with different sauces. The last chapter in Book X, on “the nations who have come to inhabit this land,” includes two lengthy texts, derived from Sahagún’s questioning of Nahua elders, on the history of Mesoamerica. One tells of Quetzalcoatl and the Toltecs; the other gives an overview of the cultural evolution of the Nahua peoples.

Book XI ‘Natural Things’ the longest in the codex, is a treatise on natural history. Following the traditional division of knowledge common to many European encyclopedic works, the Florentine Codex deals with “all things divine (or rather idolatrous), human and natural of New Spain.” Thus, having dealt with higher beings and humans, Sahagún turns to animals, plants, and all types of minerals. For the discussion of medicinal herbs and minerals, Sahagún drew upon the knowledge of indigenous physicians, creating what the scholar Miguel León-Portilla has called a kind of pre-Hispanic pharmacology. The discussion of animals draws upon Aztec legends about various animals, both real and mythical. The book is an especially important source for understanding how the Mesoamericans used natural resources before the arrival of the Europeans. Many animals raised in Europe, such as cows, pigs, chickens, and horses, were unknown to Mesoamerican peoples. Instead they raised rabbits, xoloitzcuintli (a breed of hairless dog), birds, and, in particular, turkeys. They supplemented their diet with wild boars, deer, tapirs, birds, frogs, ants, crickets, and snakes. Other animals were hunted chiefly for their skins, such as the jaguar and other felines, or for their feathers. Book XI contains numerous illustrations of animals, including mammals (jaguar and armadillo), birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects.

Book XII ‘The conquest of Mexico’ recounts the Spanish conquest of Mexico, which took place between 1519, when Cortés landed on the coast with just over 100 men and a few horses, and 1521, when Tenochtitlan was taken and the Aztecs subjugated. The story is told from the perspective of indigenous elders who were living in Tenochtitlan at the time of the conquest and witnessed firsthand the events described. Sahagún gathered these accounts around 1553–55, when he was working at the College of Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco. The Náhuatl narrative begins with an evocation of the “signs and omens” that were said to have appeared before the arrival of the Spanish and concludes with the surrender of Tenochtitlan after an 80-day siege. By drawing upon primary accounts, Sahagún was able to capture the astonishment felt by the Aztecs and the trauma that followed their defeat at the hands of the Spanish. Among the key factors that determined the Spanish victory were the ruthlessness of the Spanish soldiers and of Cortés in particular, the use of horses and firearms, which the Mesoamericans had never seen, and Cortés’s intuition that the peoples of the Aztec Empire were prepared to join forces with him to shake off Aztec rule. Book XII contains numerous illustrations depicting scenes from the conquest, including the arrival of Cortés, an image of the Templo Mayor (Great Pyramid) in Tenochtitlan, battles between the indigenous people and the Spanish, and destruction of Aztec temples by the Spanish.

Book XII therefore contains the History of the conquest of New Spain, which can be read online in English, Spanish and Náhuatl, in the Early Nahuatl Library of the University of Oregon.

It can be said that there are at least four versions of this Book XII. The first version, with texts in Spanish and Náhuatl, was completed around 1579 and was delivered to Sequera as part of the twelve books later known as the Florentine Codex.

The second version of Book XII was done by Sahagún when, reviewing what he kept of his papers in 1585, he set out to correct and enrich his ancient nahua testimonies about the conquest. At the beginning of what was his new version he wrote down the following:

“When this writing [about the Conquest] was written, which has been over thirty years ago, it was all written in the Mexican language. Those who helped me in this scripture were old principal and very knowledgeable […] who were present in the war when this city was conquered.

In book XII, where it is about this Conquest, several defects were made, and it was that some things were put into the narration of this Conquest that were misplaced, and others were silent, that were poorly silenced. For this cause, this year of one thousand five hundred and eighty-five, I amended this book ”

So we have two editions of Sahagun from this book XII, one from 1579 and another from 1585. There is a third version of this book, only in Spanish, known by the end of the 18th century and named Tolosa Manuscript for having been stored in the Franciscan convent of Tolosa (Navarra). This copy, made around 1580, basically coincides with the Spanish text of Book XII of the Florentine Codex.

In addition, we can even consider a fourth version in Spanish. This is the complete translation of the original Nahuatl text, since Fray Bernardino’s Spanish translations are partial, adding and removing paragraphs throughout the book.

When in 1829 Bustamante began the editions of General history, he included the text of the Tolosa Manuscript as History of the conquest of New Spain, in Spanish, without illustrations and without the corrections made by Sahagún in 1585.

1829 Bustamante

Bustamante himself published in 1840 for the first time the version corrected by Fray Bernardino in 1585, although with a strange title: The Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe de Mexico (full title in Spanish: La aparición de Ntra. Señora de Guadalupe de México. Comprobada con la refutación del argumento negativo que presenta D. Juan Bautista Muñoz, fundándose en el testimonio del P. Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún; o sea, Historial Original de este escritor que altera la publicada en 1829 en el equivocado concepto de ser la única y original de dicho autor).

In later editions various editorial solutions have been given to the existence of different versions of the same work:

So far there are no satisfactory critical editions of the History of the conquest of New Spain, although at least we have the possibility to check online the different versions and get an idea of the evolution of this peculiar book:

  1. General history of the things of New Spain, or Florentine Codex, Book XII, circa 1579 (https://www.wdl.org/es/item/10096/view/3/823/) Text in Spanish and Náhuatl, two columns, with illustrations. The Spanish text does not correspond to a complete translation of the Nahuatl text. (References: CN1, CS1)
  2. History of the Conquest of Mexico, published by Carlos María de Bustamante in Mexico, 1829, separated from the General history of the things of New Spain. It bears the title: “Twelve book of how the Spaniards conquered the city of Mexico”(https://archive.org/details/historiadelaconq00sahaiala/page/viii) Spanish text taken from the Tolosa Manuscript, copy of the 1579 text made around 1580. No illustrations. (Reference: CS2)
  3. The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Mexico. Proven with the refutation of the negative argument presented by Juan Bautista Muñoz, based on the testimony of Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún; that is, Original History of this writer that alters the one published in 1829 in the wrong concept of being the only and original of said author, Mexico, 1840 (http://bdh-rd.bne.es/viewer.vm?id=0000123164&page=1) Contains the Spanish text of the latest version of Sahagún, written in 1585, of the History of the Conquest of Mexico. (Reference: CS3)
  4. General history of the things of New Spain, prepared by Joaquín Ramírez Cabañas, with a preliminary study by Wigberto Jiménez Moreno, in five volumes, Mexico, 1938. Volume IV contains Book XII that deals with the Conquest of Mexico (https://archive.org/details/b29827620_0004/page/14) Includes the Spanish text of the Tolosa Manuscript and, in notes, the variants of the Sahagún text of 1585. It also includes a full Spanish translation of the Náhuatl text in the Florentine Codex. No illustrations. (References: CS1, CS2, CS3, CS4)
  5. History of the conquest of New Spain (Book XII of General history), which can be read in the online version in English, Spanish and Náhuatl of the Early Nahuatl Library of the University of Oregon, 2000-2018 (https://enl.uoregon.edu/fcbk12ch01/elements/fcbk12ch01f01r/00) Contains the illustrations of the Florentine Codex and the texts in Spanish, Náhuatl, with the Spanish text translated into English, and the Náhuatl text translated into English. (References: CN1, CS1, CS4, CE1, CE2)

Other references:

Wolf, Gerhard, Joseph Connors, and Louis A Waldman, ed. 2012. Colors Between Two Worlds: The Florentine Codex of Bernardino de Sahagún. Florence: Villa I Tatti.

Cortés, Velázquez and Charles V, by J. H. Elliott

Introductory Essay by J. H. Elliott to Letters from Mexico. Translated, edited, and with a new introduction by Anthony Pagden. Revised edition published by Yale University Press in 1986.

Cortés, Velázquez and Charles V{1}

When Cortés landed on the coast of Mexico on April 22, 1519, he was on the point of committing himself to an enterprise of un­known proportions against an enemy of unknown character and strength. After the meeting with the Totonac chief Tentlil on Eas­ter Sunday he knew at least that, somewhere in the interior, there lived a powerful ruler called Motecuçoma, whose dominion in­cluded the peoples of the coastal plain. But this fact of Motecuçoma’s existence was the fact he most needed to know. From Easter Sunday, 1519, a single, supreme objective established itself clearly in his mind. He must reach Motecuçoma and somehow induce him to acknowledge the supreme overlordship of Juana and her son Charles, the sovereign rulers of Castile.

Although everything else was surrounded by innumerable uncertainties, the central objective of Cortés’s Mexican strategy was therefore clearly defined, and he pursued it undeviatingly until it was triumphantly attained. The march into the interior, the entry down the causeway into Tenochtitlan on November 8, the taking of Motecuçoma into custody on the fourteenth, and the “volun­tary” donation of Motecuçoma’s empire to Charles—these repre­sented the critical moments in an exceptionally hazardous but care­ fully calculated military and political exercise, which worked with greater precision than even Cortés himself could have dared to hope. Within nine months of landing, he had made himself master of Motecuçoma’s empire in the name of the sovereigns of Castile.

The magnitude and the brilliance of this achievement can all too easily obscure the fact that Motecuçoma was in some respects the least dangerous of the enemies whom Cortés had to face, and that he had more to fear from some of his own countrymen than from the emperor of the Mexica. From the moment of his hasty departure from Santiago, in Cuba, he found himself in a highly equivocal position, both in relation to his immediate superiors and to the Spanish Crown.

Technically, Cortés was commanding an expedition on be­half of the governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez, who himself was merely the deputy of the hereditary admiral of the Indies, Diego Colón (Columbus). Velázquez, however, was an ambitious man, eager to conquer new lands in his own right. To do this, he must somehow break free from Colón’s jurisdiction, and obtain from the Crown his own license to explore, conquer and colonize. In the two or three years before the dispatch of Cortés, he had made a number of moves directed toward this end. In 1517 and 1518 he had sent out the exploring and trading expeditions of Hernández de Córdoba and Juan de Grijalva; and for the second of these expedi­tions he had taken care to obtain authorization from the Hieronymite governors of Hispaniola, who were the Crown’s direct repre­sentatives in the Indies, and were independent of Diego Colón. He had also dispatched, in succession, two personal agents to the Span­ish Court—Gónzalo de Guzmán, and his chaplain, Benito Martín —to urge the Crown to grant him the title of adelantado of Yuca­tán, with the right to conquer and settle the newly discovered lands.

Apart from some further lucrative trading, Velázquez’s principal purpose in dispatching Cortés in the wake of the two pre­vious expeditions of Hernández de Córdoba and Grijalva seems to have been to keep his claims alive during the period when he was impatiently awaiting the outcome of his initiative at Court. This would explain the nature of his instructions for Cortés, dated Octo­ ber 23, 1518.{2} The purpose of Cortés’s expedition, according to these instructions, was to go in search of Grijalva’s fleet (of whose return to Cuba Velázquez was still unaware) and of any Christians held captive in Yucatán. Cortés was also authorized to explore and to trade, but had no permission to colonize. The reason for this was that Velázquez himself was still awaiting such authorization from Spain, and had no legal authority to confer a right that was not yet his.

Recent changes in Spain, however, made it reasonably cer­tain that Velázquez would soon secure his title of adelantado, and the rights of conquest and jurisdiction for which he was petition­ing. Ferdinand the Catholic had died in 1516, and in September, 1517, Charles of Ghent arrived in Castile from Flanders to take up his Spanish inheritance. Charles’s arrival in the peninsula was fol­lowed by a purge of the officials who had governed Spain and the Indies during the regency of Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros. Among the councilors and officials who acquired, or returned to, favor with the coming of the new regime was the formidable figure of the bishop of Burgos, Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, the councilor prin­cipally responsible for the affairs of the Indies during the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella. Fonseca had always had fierce enemies and devoted partisans; and among the latter was Diego Velázquez, who was married to Fonseca’s niece.{3} There was every reason, then, to assume that he would use all his newly recovered influence to sup­port the pretensions of Velázquez.

Cortés, who kept himself well informed of what went on at Court, must have been well aware that, with the return to power of Fonseca, the tide of events in Spain was moving in Velázquez’s favor. If he were ever to be a great conqueror in his own right, it was therefore essential for him to act with speed, and to obtain as much freedom for maneuver as possible. Cortés, who had been quick to learn the tragic lessons of the Spanish Caribbean, had grasped the crucial fact that the key to empire was settlement. It was exactly this which Velázquez’s instructions denied him. But Cortés was skillful enough to secure the insertion of a clause which gave him a certain amount of latitude. Velázquez admitted that it was impossible to foresee all eventualities; and he authorized Cortés, in the event of unexpected emergencies, to take such meas­ures as would conform most closely to “the service of God and their highnesses.”{4} Clearly, Velázquez did not know his man. Cortés had his own ideas about God’s service, and Their High­nesses’, and they were not quite the same as those of the governor of Cuba. Thanks to Article 27, he was now empowered to take such measures as he might consider necessary, and which were not specifically covered by his instructions. But this useful legal weapon, which he had devised to justify an unauthorized act of settlement, would be rendered useless if Velázquez should receive permission to conquer and settle while Cortés was still in Cuba. Hence the indecent haste of his departure from Santiago. On no account must he still be accessible when Velázquez’s warrant arrived from Spain.

In sailing so precipitately from Santiago, Cortés had there­fore defied his own immediate superior, Velázquez, and had poten­tially antagonized Velázquez’s powerful friends at Court. He knew well enough the grave risks he was running. But to Cortés and his friends—Puertocarrero, the Alvarado brothers, Gonzalo de Sandoval—the risks paled before the attractions of the anticipated prize. Nothing could more quickly obliterate the stigma of treachery and rebellion than a brilliant military success and the acquisition of fab­ulous riches. If new peoples were won for the Faith, and rich new lands won for the Crown, there was reason to hope that the original defiance of Velázquez would be regarded as no more than a pecca­dillo, and that Velázquez’s friends and protectors would be silenced by a fait accompli.

The king was the fountainhead of justice. It rested with him to punish the wicked, reward the good, and forgive the occasional act of insubordination—especially when the act was committed, as it would be this time, in the king’s own interest and for the greater glory of God. It was well known that God had specifically en­trusted the sovereigns of Castile with the task of winning for the Church the peoples of the newly discovered Indies, and that this divine mission had been confirmed by decision of the papacy. Cortés, therefore, would from the first act in the name of the king, in order to further this providential mission; and then, insofar as he had offended against the letter of the law, would throw himself on his mercy. This meant that, from the moment of his departure from Cuba, Cortés totally ignored any claims to jurisdiction of Veláz­quez or Colón and behaved as if he were directly subordinate to the Crown alone. Any Indians he met as he cruised along the Mexican coast were regarded as being already the vassals of the Crown of Castile,{5} by virtue of the papal donation. Similarly, he took formal possession of the land at the Tabasco River in the name of the Crown, in spite of—or, more accurately, precisely because of—the inconvenient fact that Grijalva had already taken formal possession at the same spot, on behalf of the governor of Cuba.

That Cortés and his close associates were banking on even­tual vindication by the Crown is further suggested by the jocular exchange on board ship just before the landing at San Juan de Ulúa, as reported by Bernal Diaz.{6} Alonso Hernández de Puertocarrero came up to Cortés, quoting a snatch from one of the romances in the Castilian romancero general:

Look on France, Montesinos,
Look on Paris, the city,
Look on the waters of the Duero,
Flowing down into the sea.

The lines came from the ballad of Montesinos, who was exiled from court because of a false accusation by his mortal enemy, Tomillas. Montesinos, the innocent exile, was seeking permission from his fa­ther to return to court in disguise and take service with the king, in order to avenge his wrong. If Montesinos was Cortés, then Tomil­las, his enemy, was Velázquez; and Cortés could hope to resolve his difficulties, as Montesinos resolved his, by taking service under the king. “He who takes the king’s pay,” continued the ballad, “can avenge himself of everything.” Cortés promptly responded in kind, with a quotation from another ballad about another exile: “God give us the same good fortune in fighting as he gave to the Paladin Roland.”

Success in arms, and resort to the highest authority of all, that of the king himself—these were the aims of Cortés and his fel­low conspirators as they prepared in April, 1519, to compound their defiance of Velázquez by a landing which would mark the real beginning of their attempt to conquer an empire. They were concerned, like all conquistadors, with fame, riches and honor. But behind the willful defiance of the governor of Cuba there existed, at least in Cortés’s mind, a philosophy of conquest and colonization which made his action something more than an attempt at self- aggrandizement at the expense of Velázquez. He entertained, like so many Castilians of his generation, an exalted view of the royal serv­ice, and of Castile’s divinely appointed mission. Both the divine and the royal favor would shine on those who cast down idols, extir­ pated pagan superstitions, and won new lands and peoples for God and Castile. But there was a wrong way, as well as a right way, of going about this great work. In the Antilles, the Castilians had gone about it the wrong way, with disastrous consequences. Cortés had seen with his own eyes how captains and soldiers whose sole con­cern was the quest for gold and the capture of slaves and booty had destroyed the islands and peoples discovered by Columbus only a generation ago. The extension to the New World of a style of war­ fare reminiscent of the war against the Moors in medieval Spain had made a desert of a paradise and had left even the Spaniards them­ selves shiftless and discontented. The failure of Grijalva’s expedi­tion had only served to drive home the lesson already learned by Cortés—that conquest, to achieve any long-term success, required intelligent colonization. Whether Velázquez had learned the same lesson seems doubtful; and Cortés could always point to the ab­sence from his instructions of any order to colonize, to prove that he had not. But in any event Velázquez would be given no oppor­tunity to put the question to the test. Cortés would conquer Mex­ico, and not only conquer it but settle it as well.

It was, then, with the intention of establishing a permanent settlement that Cortés dropped anchor in the harbor of San Juan de Ulúa on April 21, 1519. But some careful preliminary maneuvers were needed before he could openly flout Velázquez’s orders by formally founding a town. There was a strong faction of Veláz­quez’s partisans in the expedition, headed by Francisco de Montejo and Juan Velázquez de Leon. This faction had first to be neutral­ized, and the rank and file of the army be induced to support Cortés. The first months on Mexican soil were therefore taken up, not only with reconnaissance surveys designed to discover the na­ture of Motecuçoma’s empire and the extent of his power, but also with attempts to detach the soldiers from their adherence to Veláz­quez’s men. This was done with considerable skill, by playing on their desire for gold and land. Bernal Díaz’s account{7} suggests how cleverly Cortés forced the Velázquez faction into the open with a demand that the expedition should return to Cuba—a demand with which Cortés seemed ready to comply. At this point the troops, whose expectations had been aroused and now looked like being dashed, came out with what seemed to be a spontaneous demand that the expedition should continue.

Cortés had been given his cue, and the Velázquez faction had been outmaneuvered. But although the practical difficulties in the way of settlement had been overcome, there still remained the problem of finding some legal justification for disregard of Veláz­quez’s orders. It was at this point that Cortés’s knowledge of Castilian law came into its own. That great medieval compilation, the Siete Partidas of Alfonso X, dating from 1256-1263, presented a cogent picture of the organic unity that should naturally prevail between the king and his subjects, bound together in mutual concern for the upholding of the commonweal against selfish private interest. In the context of events in the New World in 1519, Veláz­quez and his friends could be depicted as self-interested officials, moved by greed and ambition, while Cortés and his army repre­sented the true community, motivated by concern for the com­monweal and the desire to serve God and the king. Whereas the private interest of Velázquez busied itself solely with trade and barter, which would fill his own capacious pockets, the common­ weal demanded an expedition of conquest and colonization, which would promote the true interests of the realm.

It was in pursuance of this simple but time-honored political philosophy that the remarkable events of June and July, 1519, were enacted. According to the Siete Partidas, the laws could only be set aside by the demand of all the good men of the land. On the soil of Mexico, these were clearly the rank and file of Cortés’s army, and it was in deference to their demand that he now set aside his instruc­tions. They were united in agreeing that the expedition should not return to Cuba but should remain to attempt the conquest of Motecuçoma’s empire; and they formally constituted themselves a com­munity—the Villa Rica de Vera Cruz—in order to ensure that the king’s interests were upheld. As a municipality, they then proceeded to appoint the usual municipal officials, the alcaldes and regidores. From this point, Velázquez’s instructions were regarded as inoperative, and the authority conferred by them on Cortés was deemed to have lapsed. Supreme jurisdiction in Mexico now resided in the municipality of Vera Cruz, and the charade was duly com­pleted when the municipality, acting on behalf of Charles and Juana, appointed Cortés alcalde mayor and justicia of Vera Cruz, and captain of the royal army.

The effect of this brilliant legalistic maneuver was to free Cortés from his obligations to his immediate superior, Velázquez, and to make him directly dependent on the king. But what seemed plausible enough in Mexico was bound to seem highly implausible in Cuba and at the Spanish Court. Clearly it was essential to win support in Spain for an action which Fonseca and his friends would certainly represent to the king as an act of open rebellion; and this became all the more urgent with the arrival at San Juan de Ulúa on July 1 of a ship commanded by Francisco de Saucedo bearing the not unexpected news that Velázquez, by royal decree of Novem­ber 13, 1518, had been appointed adelantado of Yucatán, and had been granted the right to conquer and settle. Now that Velázquez had obtained his authorization, Cortés’s action seemed to lack even the shadow of legality.

Everything now depended on the successful presentation of his case at Court, where the Fonseca group would certainly do all in its power to destroy him. If possible, Charles and his advisers must be reached and won over before they had time to learn from Velázquez himself of Cortés’s act of rebellion. For this purpose, Puertocarrero and Montejo, who had been detached from the Ve­lázquez faction, were appointed procuradores, or representatives, of Vera Cruz, with full powers to present the municipality’s case to the king in person. To assist them in their mission, they were to take with them, as a gift for the king, all the gold and jewels brought to Cortés by Motecuçoma’s envoys, together with the tra­ditional royal fifth of all the booty so far acquired. They took with them, too, such documentation as was needed to justify their cause. This documentation included the “lost” First Letter of Relation of Cortés—unless, as is perfectly conceivable, he never wrote such a letter, for it would necessarily have involved a number of personal explanations which could well have offered embarrassing hostages to fortune.

The most important document carried to Spain by Puertocarrero and Montejo was the letter from the new municipality of Vera Cruz, addressed to Charles and Juana. This letter, which customarily replaces Cortés’s “missing” First Letter, bears all the stamp of his personality, and was no doubt written largely to his dictation. It should therefore be read, as it was written, not as an accurate historical narrative but as a brilliant piece of special pleading, designed to justify an act of rebellion and to press the claims of Cortés against those of the governor of Cuba.

For all Cortés’s eager insistence that he was providing a “true” relation,{8} he displayed a masterly capacity for suppression of evidence and ingenious distortion. Great care was taken to play down the expeditions of Hernández de Córdoba and Grijalva, and the awkward fact that the latter had taken formal possession of the land was quietly ignored. The letter also missed no opportunity to blacken the reputation of Velázquez—”moved more by cupidity than any other passion” {9} —and to suggest that his financial contribution to the expedition was insignificant. The persistent denigration of Velázquez only served to emphasize, by contrast, the loyalty and the high ideals of Cortés himself, as a man passionately determined to serve God and the king by extirpating idolatry, converting the heathen and conquering rich new lands for the Crown of Castile. At the same time, Cortés was careful to imply that he broke with Velázquez’s instructions only under pressure from the popular will, as represented by the army. It was the soldiers, eager to convert a trading expedition into a military and colonizing enterprise, who had demanded a change of plan; and Cortés, after due deliberation, had accepted their demand as conducive to the royal interest.

Having offered this tendentious explanation of the founding of Vera Cruz, the letter then dwelt at some length on the alleged riches of the country and on the abominable customs of its inhabitants. The object of this was to appeal both to Charles’s cupidity— an appeal skillfully reinforced by the gift of Motecuçoma’s treasures—and to his sense of religious obligation, as a ruler specially entrusted by God and the Pope with the duty of winning new peoples to the Faith. But the letter’s real climax came only after the description of Mexico and the Mexicans, and consisted of a direct appeal to Charles and Juana “on no account to give or grant concessions to Diego Velázquez … or judicial powers; and if any shall have been given him, that they be revoked.” {10} Since the arrival of Saucedo, Cortés was perfectly well aware that Velázquez’s commission had in fact already arrived. Ignorance, however, was the better policy; and Cortés drove home his request with a final denunciation of the governor of Cuba as a man of such patent wickedness as to make him totally unfitted to receive the least token of royal favor.

The first letter from Mexico, then, was essentially a political document, speaking for Cortés in the name of his army, and designed to appeal directly to the Crown over the heads of Velázquez and his friends in the Council of the Indies. Cortés was now involved in a desperate race against time. Montejo and Puertocarrero left for Spain on July 26, 1519, with their bundle of letters and the gold; and unless, or until, they could persuade Charles to sanction retrospectively the behavior of Cortés and his men, Cortés was technically a traitor, liable to arrest and persecution at the hands of an irate governor of Cuba, fully empowered to act in the royal name. The danger was acute, and the blow could fall at any time, perhaps even from within Mexico itself. For there was still a strong group of Velázquez partisans in the expedition, and these men would do all they could to sabotage Cortés’s plans. But Cortés, who had his spies posted, was well aware of the dangers. The friends of the governor of Cuba appear to have been plotting to send him warning of the mission of Montejo and Puertocarrero, so that he could intercept their ship. The plot was discovered, the conspirators arrested, and two of them, Juan Escudero and Diego Cermeño, put to death.{11}

This abortive conspiracy seems to have convinced Cortés that it was not enough simply to cut the bonds of legality that tied him to Cuba. He must also cut the physical links. This was probably the major consideration in his famous decision to scuttle or beach his ships, although their destruction would have the added advantage of enabling him to add their crews to his tiny army. Once the ships were destroyed, all contact with Cuba was broken. A garrison was left at Vera Cruz under the command of Juan de Escalante, and the army began its march from Cempoal into the interior on August 16, knowing that it had openly defied the governor of Cuba and that there could be no turning back.

As long as Cortés could command the loyalties of his army —and this would ultimately depend on his ability to capture and distribute the fabulous riches of Motecuçoma’s empire—he was now reasonably safe from subversion within the ranks. But he was a good deal less safe in the rear than he had anticipated. Montejo and Puertocarrero had received strict instructions to avoid Cuba and make straight for Spain, but Montejo had other ideas. Needing provisions—or perhaps prudently hedging his bets—he chose to put in on the west of the island to make a brief visit to his estate. He arrived on August 23, left letters for a friend, and, on his last night, displayed the Mexican treasures to his major-domo before sailing again on the twenty-sixth. The major-domo duly informed Velázquez, who immediately dispatched two ships in pursuit of the procuradores. But their pilot, Alaminos, took the ship by a new route through the Bahamas Straits, and Montejo and Puertocarrero made their escape into the Atlantic and thence to Seville.

Thwarted of his prey, Velázquez made two moves which were to be crucial for the future course of events. Gonzalo de Guzmán, who had already acted on his behalf at the Spanish Court, was sent back to Spain again in mid-October to counter the activities of the Vera Cruz procuradores, and to convince the Crown and the Council of the Indies that Cortés was a traitor and should be treated as such. Simultaneously, Velázquez began to organize an army to be sent to Mexico against Cortés. News of these preparations greatly alarmed the judges of the highest tribunal in the Indies, the Audiencia of Santo Domingo. Conflicts among rival bands of conquistadors were all too common an occurrence, and the Audiencia was anxious to prevent still more shedding of blood. It therefore sent the licenciado Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon to halt the preparations, but Velázquez was in no mood to listen to the Audiencia, and the expedition was already preparing to sail by the time of the licenciado’s arrival.

At a time when a smallpox epidemic was raging in Cuba, Velázquez felt unable to lead his army in person, and handed over the command to one of his more reliable but less intelligent friends, Pánfilo de Narváez. The army, twice the size of that of Cortés, set sail from Cuba on March 5, 1520, accompanied by Vázquez de Ayllón, who clearly felt that, having failed to prevent it from sailing, the least he could do was to act as a witness and perhaps as an umpire. He was rewarded for his pains by being placed under arrest when Narváez landed at San Juan de Ulúa on April 20.

During the autumn and winter of 1519, therefore, at the time when Cortés was securing the submission of Motecuçoma and had established himself precariously in Tenochtitlan, he was faced with the prospect of a military confrontation with his immediate superior, the governor of Cuba, who himself was acting in defiance of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo. The outcome was likely to be determined on the battlefield, in an internecine struggle of Spaniard against Spaniard, which could well jeopardize and even destroy Cortés’s uncertain hold over the Aztec empire. But in the Spanish monarchy of the sixteenth century a military solution could never be final. Legality was paramount, and the key to legality lay with the king.

Everything therefore turned on the success of Montejo and Puertocarrero in Spain. They duly reached Seville at the beginning of November, 1519, only to find their country on the verge of revolt. Charles had been elected Holy Roman Emperor on June 28. Once elected, his immediate aim was to extract the largest possible subsidies from the Cortés of the various Spanish kingdoms, and then to leave for Germany. When the procuradores arrived in Seville, the emperor was still in Barcelona, heavily preoccupied with plans for his departure; and the Castilian cities were beginning to voice their dissatisfaction at the prospect of heavy new fiscal demands and an absentee king.

At this particular moment the chances of winning the emperor’s support for a still-unknown adventurer on the other side of the world hardly looked very promising. It was also unfortunate for the procuradores that Velázquez’s chaplain, Benito Martín, happened to be in Seville at the time of their arrival. Martín persuaded the officials of the Casa de la Contratación to embargo their ships, together with the Mexican treasure, and so deprived them of their most powerful argument, gold. In spite of this, Montejo and Puertocarrero set out for Barcelona, accompanied by the most faithful of Cortés’s agents in Spain, his own father, Martín Cortés de Monroy. They reached Barcelona near the end of January, 1520, only to find that the emperor had already left for Burgos. But their visit to Barcelona at least enabled them to make a number of influential contacts, and they were lucky to find there Francisco Nuñez, a royal official and a cousin of Cortés, who agreed to act as his legal representative. From Barcelona they moved across Spain in the tracks of the emperor, finally catching up with him at Tordesillas, near Valladolid, early in March. Here, seven months after leaving Vera Cruz, they could at last petition the emperor in person to confirm Cortés in his position as captain general and justicia mayor.

Their petition was fiercely contested, not only by Velázquez’s agent, Gonzalo de Guzmán, but also by his patron, the bishop of Burgos. Fonseca’s position, however, was not quite as strong as it had been. Charles’s Flemish advisers were falling out with Fonseca and his friends, whose collective reputation in the affairs of the Indies had been tarnished by the denunciations made before the emperor in December by that zealous apostle of Indian liberty, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Above all, there was Motecuçoma’s treasure to speak on behalf of Cortés. The precious gold objects and the delicate featherwork had created a sensation in Seville, and such treasures could hardly be left indefinitely impounded in the hands of the officials of the House of Trade. On the emperor’s orders, the treasure was dispatched from Seville and reached him early in April, although Cortés’s friends were able to allege that not everything was there, and that Fonseca had deliberately held some of it back. As was to be expected, the treasure powerfully reinforced the arguments of Montejo and Puertocarrero, who put their case again at Coruña, just before Charles was due to sail. The emperor deferred his decision, but declined to follow Fonseca’s advice and declare Cortés a rebel. This at least was an encouraging start, and the procuradores gained another victory when a royal decree, dated May 10, 1520, ordered the officials in Seville to return their confiscated funds.

When Charles sailed for Germany on May 20, therefore, Cortés’s friends could claim at least a partial success. Their gold, too, would now come into its own. But there was still a very long way to go, and the political climate was menacing. Castile was now in open revolt. Fonseca remained a highly influential figure, and his brother was the royalist army commander. In these circumstances, it was easy enough to tar Cortés with the same brush of rebellion as the Comuneros of Castile. Both in the Indies and in Castile, the emperor was faced with treason and revolt. Could the rebellions be crushed, and the emperor’s authority be preserved? As far as Mexico was concerned, Fonseca pinned his hopes on the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez. But in fact, a few days after Charles left for Germany, the fate of Narváez had been decided. Cortés, marching back to the coast from Tenochtitlan, outmaneuvered, defeated and captured him on May 27.

Narváez’s defeat left the governor of Cuba a ruined and broken man. Cortés had defeated Velázquez—geographically his nearest enemy—but he was still without news from the Spanish Court. Moreover, his march to the coast to defeat Narváez had fatally weakened the Spanish position in Tenochtitlan. When Cortés got back to the capital on June 25 it was already too late. The behavior of Alvarado and his men in Tenochtitlan during Cortés’s absence had precipitated an Indian uprising, and neither Cortés’s troops, nor the diminished authority of Motecuçoma, proved sufficient to quell the revolt. Motecuçoma, rejected by his own subjects, died his strange death on June 30. During the course of the same night, the noche triste, the Spaniards made their famous retreat from Tenochtitlan. Cortés might have defeated the governor of Cuba, but he had also lost the empire he had promised to Charles.

It was during the autumn months of 1520, while Cortés was preparing for the siege and reconquest of Tenochtitlan, that he wrote the Second Letter. This letter, like its predecessor from Vera Cruz, is both more and less than a straightforward narrative of events, for it, too, has an essentially political purpose. Cortés, when writing it, was influenced by three major considerations. In the first place, he still did not know what decision, if any, had been reached in Spain on his plea for retrospective authorization of his unconventional proceedings. In the second place, he had by now heard the news of Charles’s election to the imperial throne. Finally, he had won a new empire for Charles and had proceeded to lose it. His letter, therefore, had to be so angled as to suggest that, at the most, he had suffered no more than a temporary setback (attributable to other men’s crimes), and that he would soon be in a position to render the most signal new services to a king who had now become the mightiest monarch in the world.

With these considerations in mind, Cortés carefully contrived his letter to convey a predominantly “imperial” theme. Its opening paragraph contained a graceful allusion to Charles’s new empire in Germany, which was skillfully coupled with a reference to a second empire across the Atlantic, to which he could claim an equal title.{12} This reference set the tone for the document as a whole. The fact that Cortés was no longer at this moment the effective master of the Mexican empire was no doubt inconvenient, but could be played down as far as possible. For the thesis of the letter was that Charles was already the legal emperor of this great new empire, and that Cortés would soon recover for him what was rightfully his.

The entire story of the march to Tenochtitlan and the imprisonment of Motecuçoma was related in such a way as to support this general thesis. Motecuçoma, by his speeches and his actions, was portrayed as a man who voluntarily recognized the sovereignty of Charles V, and voluntarily surrendered his empire into his hands. Whether Motecuçoma did indeed speak anything like the words which Cortés attributes to him will probably never be known for certain. Some passages in his two speeches contain so many Christian overtones as to be unbelievable coming from a pagan Aztec. Others, and in particular the identification of the Spaniards with the former rulers of Mexico wrongly banished from their land, may be an ingenious fabrication by Cortés, or may conceivably reflect certain beliefs and legends, which Motecuçoma himself may or may not have accepted. Whatever its origins, the story of the expected return of lords from the east was essential to Cortés’s grand design, for it enabled him to allege and explain a “voluntary” submission of Motecuçoma, and the “legal” transfer of his empire—an empire far removed from the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo and from the Caribbean world of Diego Colón and Velázquez—to its rightful ruler, Charles V .

Motecuçoma’s death at the hands of his own subjects left Charles the undisputed master of the field. It was unfortunate that the Mexicans were now in open rebellion—a situation which could only be ascribed to the nefarious activities of the governor of Cuba, acting through his agent Pánfilo de Narváez. But although Narváez’s invasion had nearly brought disaster, the tide had now been turned, because God was on the emperor’s side. With divine help, and through the agency of that most loyal of lieutenants, Hernan Cortés, the land would soon be recovered; and what better name could be bestowed upon it than that of New Spain?{13}

It is clear that this entire letter was superbly designed to appeal directly to Charles over the heads of Fonseca and his friends in the Council of the Indies and the imperial entourage. But Fonseca was still far from ready to admit defeat. It was always possible that Cortés would suffer the fate of other conquistadors, and be unseated by conspirators among his own men. The abortive plot of Antonio de Villafaña during the siege of Tenochtitlan{14} showed that Velázquez still had his friends, and that this was by no means an unreasonable hope. There was a chance, too, that Fonseca could rid himself of Cortés by more subtle means. With Narváez’s defeat, military overthrow had become unlikely; but as long as Charles V declined to pronounce on Cortés’s status, he remained intensely vulnerable to legal action.

When news of Narváez’s defeat reached Spain, Fonseca persuaded Adrian of Utrecht, who headed the regency government during Charles’s absence in Germany, to appoint a royal official to intervene in Mexico. The chosen official was Cristóbal de Tapia, a royal inspector in Hispaniola. He received his commission in April, 1521—the month when the Castilian Comuneros were defeated and crushed at Villalar—and he was apparently ordered to take over the government of New Spain, and, if possible, to arrest Cortés and ship him home. Tapia landed at Vera Cruz on December 4, 1521, four months after Cortés’s army had captured Tenochtitlan. The Aztec empire had been destroyed; but, for all his success, Cortés was in a delicate position. To defy Tapia, who had come to New Spain as the legally appointed representative of the royal authority, would be the height of imprudence, and yet to surrender the empire into his hands would be intolerable.

Once again, however, as the Third Letter makes clear, Cortés showed himself equal to the occasion. Carefully avoiding a personal meeting with Tapia, who would at once have presented him with a royal warrant, he sent a Franciscan, Fray Pedro de Melgarejo, to greet Tapia, and no doubt to pass him an appropriate bribe. At the same time, he had recourse to the device which he had already employed at the beginning of the conquest, and arranged another “spontaneous” assertion of the popular will. The representatives of the various municipalities of New Spain, usefully reinforced for the occasion by the rapid founding of the new town of Medellin, met Tapia at Cempoal on December 24, 1521, and went through the time-honored Castilian procedure followed by those who were prepared to obey but not to comply. With honor thus satisfied on both sides, Tapia took the next ship back to Hispaniola, a wiser, and no doubt a richer, man.

Tapia’s intervention provided Cortés, in his Third Letter of May 15, 1522, with a diabolus ex machina, equivalent to Narváez in the Second Letter. While the letter related in great detail the siege and capture of Tenochtitlan, it also enabled him to smear by implication all those royal officials who placed their own interest before the emperor’s. It was scarcely necessary to contrast their conduct with that of Cortés, who had not only conquered an empire for Charles, but was now offering him yet another vision of fabulous riches—a vision, this time, of the Spice Islands of the Pacific and the world of Cathay.{15}

It must have been bitterly frustrating for Cortés that, in spite of all these services, no word of royal approval had yet been received. This could only be explained, he concluded, by the machinations of his enemies, who were concealing the truth from the emperor. Nor could there any longer be real doubt that the chief among these enemies was Fonseca, the bishop of Burgos. It was Fonseca who had been responsible for the unwelcome intervention of Tapia. It was Fonseca, too, who was responsible in 1523 for a further challenge to Cortés’s position—the intervention of Juan de Garay.

In 1521 Garay, the governor of Jamaica, obtained from Fonseca a warrant authorizing him to conquer and colonize the Panuco region, to the north of Vera Cruz. He landed at Panuco in July, 1523, with an army of four hundred infantry and 120 cavalry. This could easily have been another Narváez affair, and Cortés at once recalled his captains, now dispersed over Mexico, to meet the new challenge to his authority. It was this challenge which he described in the opening pages of his Fourth Letter of October 15, 1524, where for the first time Fonseca is mentioned by name.{16} Tapia and Garay, like Narváez in the Second Letter, are portrayed as self-interested men whose ill-chosen and ill-timed intervention in the affairs of New Spain placed the imperial authority and the achievements of Cortés at risk. Cortés himself emerges, not for the first time, as the loyalist, confronted by a quartet of enemies—Fonseca, Diego Colón, Velázquez and Garay—united in their sinister machinations to accomplish his ruin.

By the time this letter was written, however, Cortés’s battle for recognition had long since been won. During the course of 1521 the balance of power in the emperor’s councils had perceptibly shifted. This year, which saw the defeat of the Comuneros, saw also the siege and capture of Tenochtitlan. If Fonseca’s brother had emerged victorious in Castile, Fonseca’s enemy had emerged victorious in New Spain; and as more and more wealth flowed in from Mexico, something of the significance of Cortés’s achievement began to be realized. His agents were lobbying hard in the regency council of Adrian of Utrecht, and duly convinced the regent that the bishop of Burgos had done the emperor an ill service in persistently supporting the governor of Cuba. He therefore deprived Fonseca of jurisdiction in the suit between Cortés and Velázquez, instituted to determine which of the two could rightfully lay claim to the spoils of New Spain.

Charles V returned to Spain in July, 1522, and received Cortés’s representatives in audience the following month. After hearing their arguments, he confirmed Adrian’s decision, but appointed a new tribunal to receive representations from both parties and to reach a final verdict. This tribunal, which included among its members the grand chancellor Gattinara, eventually decided in Cortés’s favor. It was left open to Velázquez to sue Cortés for debts, but it was ruled that Velázquez’s financial contribution to the original expedition, even if it were larger than that of Cortés, did not entitle him to claim credit for the conquest of Mexico.

The tribunal’s recommendations were accepted by the emperor and embodied in a decree dated October 15, 1522, which named Cortés governor and captain general of New Spain.{17} At last, some three and a half years after his original act of insubordination, Cortés had received the vindication for which he and his agents had worked so hard. The original strategy, so tenaciously pursued, of appealing directly to the sovereign over the heads of his officials, had yielded its expected dividend. Cortés was no longer a rebel— another Comunero—but the emperor’s official governor of the newly conquered realm of New Spain.

The news, however, still had to reach Cortés. It was conveyed to Mexico by his brother-in-law Francisco de las Casas, and his cousin, Rodrigo de Paz, who in due course secured appointment as Cortés’s personal secretary and major-domo. When Garay landed in July, 1523, it had not yet come, but it arrived in September, just in time to give a decisive turn to events. Cortés at once had the contents of the emperor’s decree publicly announced in Mexico City—now rising on the ruins of Tenochtitlan—along with those of another imperial decree forbidding Garay to interfere in the affairs of New Spain. Copies of the decrees were also dispatched to Garay, who saw that he was beaten and gave up without a fight. He duly traveled to Mexico City to visit Cortés, and died there suddenly on December 27.

One after another, then, Cortés’s opponents and rivals, from Velázquez to Garay, had been worsted in the intricate political game which Cortés had played with such skill since the moment he first took ship for Mexico. It was a game whose ground rules he had studied closely, and which he had fought with every weapon at his command. Events in Mexico itself were crucial, because success in Mexico was the prerequisite for success at Court. However skillful the maneuvers of Cortés’s relatives and agents at home in Spain, their chances of success ultimately turned on Cortés’s ability to conquer Motecuçoma’s empire and to replenish the imperial coffers with Mexican gold. But Cortés knew well enough that victory in Mexico would be nothing without victory at Court, and the entire presentation of his case through his letters to the emperor was most cunningly designed to bring this about.

He achieved what he intended to achieve; and yet, in the end, his very success proved his own undoing. By consistently emphasizing his own absolute loyalty to the emperor, he had delivered himself into the emperor’s hands. His acutely sensitive political antennae, which had told him that he must win at Court if he were to win at all, failed him at the very moment of success. For if the Court could make a man, it could also unmake him; and there were reasons enough for unmaking Cortés.

When Fonseca fought his protracted battle with Cortés, he may to some extent have been motivated by personal animosity, but at the same time he was profoundly conscious of his position as the Crown’s principal minister in the government of the Indies. It was the policy of the Castilian Crown, firmly laid down in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, that no subject should be permitted to grow overmighty, and that acts of insubordination should be promptly punished without fear or favor. In persecuting Cortés, Fonseca was doing his duty, even if he did it with some personal relish. But Cortés, in the end, proved too strong for him. The intuitive political genius outmaneuvered and outclassed the bureaucratic mind.

The bureaucratic mind, however, is distinguished by its tenacity; and even if Fonseca himself had failed, his successors in the government of the Indies could hardly afford to let Cortés get away with his success. If the Crown’s authority were to be effectively established on the far shores of the Atlantic, acts of private initiative must at all costs be curbed. It was symptomatic of the Court’s concern at the very magnitude of Cortés’s success that the decree of October 15, 1522, appointing him governor of New Spain, should be accompanied by another, appointing four royal officials to assist him in government.{18} Already the bureaucrats were preparing to wrest power from the military in New Spain.

The four officials—Alonso de Estrada, Gonzalo de Salazar, Rodrigo de Albornoz and Pedro Almíndez Chirinos—duly arrived in Mexico in 1524. In the course of this same year, Cortés’s two great enemies, Velázquez and Fonseca, both died: Velázquez in June and Fonseca in October. But each in his way secured a posthumous revenge.

Once central Mexico had been conquered, Cortés turned his attention to the west and the south. As part of the project for southward expansion, Pedro de Alvarado was dispatched in 1523 to conquer Guatemala, while another of Cortés’s captains, Cristóbal de Olid, was given the task of occupying Honduras. Olid, a former partisan of Velázquez, left Mexico for Havana in January, 1524, to collect reinforcements. In Cuba he met Velázquez, now approaching the end of his life, and was persuaded to defy Cortés, as Cortés himself had once defied the governor of Cuba. Once Olid reached Honduras and had taken possession, he disavowed Cortés’s authority. Velázquez had obtained his revenge at last.

The terrible news of Olid’s treachery helps to account for the bitterness of Cortés’s Fourth Letter. Having at last, after years of waiting, secured the authority that he regarded as rightfully his, he found himself betrayed by one of his own captains, at the prompting of his old enemy, Diego Velázquez. The irony of the situation rubbed salt in the wound. But his fresh denunciations of the archvillain, Velázquez, were this time accompanied by a highly imprudent threat to send a force to Cuba and arrest Velázquez for trial in Spain.{19} Nothing could have been better calculated to alarm the already nervous members of the Council of the Indies. Cortés’s proposal to take the law into his own hands, and pursue a personal vendetta in the royal name, could only be regarded as conclusive evidence of the dangers in leaving Cortés in untrammeled exercise of his powers. The emperor’s reaction was predictable enough. A special juez de residencia, Ponce de León, was appointed in November, 1525, to visit New Spain and conduct a full inquiry into Cortés’s activities.

The threat to arrest the governor of Cuba was not the only misjudgment made by Cortés after receiving the news of Olid’s treachery. Francisco de las Casas was sent to bargain with Olid, who promptly took him into custody. Cortés, in exasperation, then decided to lead a force to Honduras under his own command to deal with his insubordinate captain. The Honduras expedition, which provides the theme of the Fifth Letter, was an extraordinary saga of heroism and suffering. Cortés emerged from it alive, but a different, and in some ways a broken, man. A heightened religious intensity pervades the letter, as if Cortés had suddenly been made aware of man’s weakness in face of the inscrutable ways of a Providence that had seemed for so long to be on his side. The Cortés who staggered ashore at Vera Cruz on May 24, 1526, so thin and weak that people had difficulty in recognizing him, contrasted strangely with the arrogant royal governor who had set out as if on a triumphal procession a year and a half before.

Yet, from the moment of its conception, the Honduras expedition seemed such a wild undertaking that it is questionable whether Cortés had not already lost his touch. The long years of waiting for the emperor’s approval had imposed an intolerable strain upon him, perhaps sufficient in itself to affect his judgment. But it is just as likely that the unwelcome presence of royal officials also played a significant part. As soon as the bureaucrats began to arrive in any number, Cortés would cease to be the real ruler of New Spain. Already by the autumn of 1524 he was beginning to feel hemmed in, and the decision to leave for Honduras may well have been prompted by an impulsive desire to escape into a world where he could again enjoy the delights of supreme command.

Whatever the balance of motives, Cortés’s decision proved to be the most disastrous of his life. No one else in New Spain enjoyed even a shadow of his personal authority, and his departure was the signal for anarchy. As soon as his back was turned, his enemies came out into the open, and the old faction feuds reasserted themselves in a vicious quarrel over the spoils of conquest. The old Velázquez faction, which had felt cheated in the distribution of booty and land, turned for leadership to Gonzalo de Salazar. The followers of Cortés, for their part, grouped themselves around the person of his major-domo, Rodrigo de Paz. There was virtual civil war in Mexico in 1525, and Paz was captured, tortured and killed. But the unexpected news of Cortés’s survival, and of his imminent return to New Spain, encouraged his followers to launch a counter-offensive; and when Cortes made his triumphal entry into Mexico City in June, 1526, he returned to a capital once again controlled by his own partisans.

But the triumph of 1526 was ephemeral. The violent faction feuds in New Spain merely confirmed the determination of the Council of the Indies to bring it under the effective control of the Crown. A few days after Cortés’s return to the capital, Ponce de León arrived to conduct his residencia, and suspended him from his office of governor. The net was slowly closing on Cortés, and each new official pulled it a little tighter around him. Fonseca’s hand stretched beyond the grave.

Embittered by the apparent neglect of his services, Cortés de­cided to seek redress, as he had always attempted to seek it, with the emperor in person. He left Mexico for Spain in March, 1528, and was duly accorded a magnificent reception at Court. He was raised to the nobility with the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, and the emperor confirmed him in the possession of numerous vassals and vast estates. But he did not reappoint him to the governorship of New Spain. When he returned to Mexico in 1530 he returned with no office or special authority, and he found that the royal offi­cials assiduously kept him at arm’s length. In the Spanish-style bureaucratic state that was being constructed on the ruins of Motecuçoma’s empire, there was no place for the conqueror of Mexico. In 1540 he retired to Spain, where he lived out the remaining seven years of his life, a disappointed and disillusioned man. He had played the game according to the rules, but these had been laid down by the Spanish Crown. And Cortés, who had devoted such time and thought to their study, had overlooked the most important fact of all: that those who devise the rules are likely, in the last round, to win the match.

J. H. Elliott


In the following notes Cedulario refers to Cedulario Cortesiano, compilación de Beatriz Arteaga Garaz y Guadalupe Pérez San Vicente. Publicaciones de la Sociedad de Estudios Cortesianos No. I, Mexico, 1949.

Below, p. number refers to pages in the book Letters from Mexico. Translated, edited, and with a new introduction by Anthony Pagden. Revised edition published by Yale University Press in 1986.

{1} This brief survey has drawn heavily on the illuminating studies of Cortés and his ideas by Victor Frankl: “Hernán Cortés y la tradición de las Siete Partidas”; “Die Begriffe des Mexicanischen Kaisertums und der Weltmonarchie in den ‘Cartas de Relacion’ des Hernán Cortés”; “Imperio particular e imperio universal en las cartas de relacion de Hernán Cortés.” Frankl’s critical reassessment of Cortés as a reliable source for his own exploits is to some extent inspired by Eulalia Guzmán, Relaciones de Hernán Cortés a Carlos V sobre la invasión de Anáhuac, an annotated edition of the first two letters which is often shrewd and penetrating in its judgments but is vitiated by the author’s antipathy toward Cortés. The most interesting and suggestive attempt so far made to reconstruct the political scene in Spain and the Indies in the first decades of the sixteenth century is to be found in the massively ambitious biography of Las Casas by Manuel Giménez Fernández, to which his Hernán Cortés y su Revolución Comunera en la Nueva España may be regarded as a useful pendant. In addition to these works, I have also made use of the following: Robert S. Chamberlain, “La controversia entre Cortés y Velázquez sobre la gobernación de la Nueva España, 1519-1522,” and his “Two unpublished documents of Hernán Cortés and New Spain, 1519 and 1524”; Richard Konetzke, “Hernán Cortés como poblador de la Nueva España”; José Valero Silva, El Legalismo de Hernán Cortés como instrumento de su Conquista; H. R. Wagner, The Rise of Fernando Cortés.

{2} Cedulario, doc. 1.

{3} The relationship is reported by Francisco López de Gómara, Cortés, The Life of the Conqueror by His Secretary, p. 327. Giménez Fernández, Hernán Cortés, p. 53, suggests that the “niece” was a daughter.

{4} Clause 27, Cedulario, p. 30.

{5} Below, p. 452, n. 15.

{6} Chap. 36. Frankl, in “Hernán Cortés y la tradición de las Siete Partidas,” was the first to appreciate the cryptic references in the exchange.

{7} Chap. 41.

{8} Below, p. 18.

{9} Below, p. 5.

{10} Below, p. 37.

{11} Below, p. 51.

{12} Below, p. 48.

{13} Below, p. 158.

{14} Below, pp. 277-278.

{15} Below, pp. 267, 327, 444.

{16} Below, p. 289.

{17} Cedulario, doc. 2.

{18} Cedulario, doc. 3.

{19} Below, p. 332.

Charles V / Carlos V

2000 International Congress. Carlos V y la quiebra del humanismo político en Europa (1530-1558): Madrid, 3-6 July 2000

The idea of Empire and humanism / La idea del imperio y el humanismo 


Empire and political relationships / Imperio y relaciones políticas 

Charles V and the Low Countries / Carlos V y los Países Bajos 

Charles V and the moriscos / Carlos V y los moriscos 


Institutions and power elites / Instituciones y élites de poder 


Art and culture / Arte y cultura 


The Indies during the reign of Charles V / Las Indias durante el reinado de Carlos V

Religiousness and Inquisition / Religiosidad e Inquisición

Economical and financial aspects / Aspectos económicos y financieros

Trescientos Clásicos de Historia (2014-2018)

Trescientos Clásicos de Historia es una colección de textos en español, de acceso libre online, de varios tiempos y países diversos seleccionados, reeditados y presentados por Javier Martínez en su página web: http://clasicoshistoria.blogspot.com/

Además, Javier Martínez ha realizado una publicación titulada Trescientos Clásicos de Historia (2014-2018) que presenta las obras disponibles en su colección web. Enhorabuena!

Gracias a su excepcional trabajo, podemos acceder a un gran número de obras ordenadas cronológicamente y en tres formatos (pdf, epub, mobi):

Ab initio…
Códigos de Mesopotamia (siglos XXI a XII a. de C.)
Sagrada Biblia (s. X a. de C. al s. I de C.)

Siglos VIII-VII a. de C.

Hesíodo: Teogonía. Los trabajos y los días
Homero: La Ilíada
Homero: La Odisea

Siglos VI-V a. de C.
Textos reales persas de Darío I y de sus sucesores (s. VI-V a. de C.)
Los filósofos presocráticos. Fragmentos y referencias (siglos VI-V a. de C.)
Heródoto de Halicarnaso (c. 484-426 a. de C.): Los nueve libros de la Historia
Tucídides (c. 460-396 a. de C.): Historia de la Guerra del Peloponeso

Siglo IV a. de C.
Jenofonte de Atenas (c. 431-354 a. de C.): Anábasis
Hannón de Cartago, Periplo (?)
Platón (427-347 a. de C.), La república
Platón (c. 427-347 a. de C.): Critias o la Atlántida, con un fragmento del Timeo
Platón (c. 427-347 a. de C.), Las Leyes
Aristóteles (384-322 a. de C.): Política

Siglo II a. de C.
Polibio de Megalópolis (c. 210-127 a. de C.): Historia Universal bajo la República Romana

Siglo I a. de C.
Marco Tulio Cicerón (106-43 a. de C.): El sueño de Escipión (53 a. de C.)
Cayo Julio César (100-44 a. de C.): La guerra de las Galias (52 a. de C.)
Cayo Julio César (100-44 a. de C.): Comentarios de la Guerra Civil (47 a. de C.)
Cayo Salustio Crispo (86-35 a. de C.): La conjuración de Catilina (46 a. de C.)
Cayo Salustio Crispo (86-35 a. de C.): La guerra de Yugurta (40 a. de C.)
Cornelio Nepote (c. 100-28 a. de C.): Vidas de los varones ilustres (35 a. de C.)

Siglo I
Octavio César Augusto (63 a. de C.-14 de C.): Hechos del divino Augusto
Tito Livio (c. 64 a. de C.-17 de C.): Historia de Roma desde su fundación
Estrabón (c. 64 a. de C.-24 de C.): Iberia, libro III de la Geografía
Cayo Veleyo Patérculo (c. 19 a. de C.-31): Historia Romana (29 de C.)
Pomponio Mela: Corografía (44 de C.)
Quinto Curcio Rufo: Historia de Alejandro Magno
Flavio Josefo (c. 37-100 de C.): Las guerras de los judíos
Flavio Josefo,(c. 37-100 de C.): Contra Apión. Sobre la antigüedad del pueblo judío
Cayo Cornelio Tácito (c. 55-120): La vida de Julio Agrícola (97)
Cayo Cornelio Tácito (c. 55-120): La Germania (98)

Siglo II
Plutarco (c. 46-120): Vidas paralelas
Cayo Cornelio Tácito (c. 55-120): Anales
Cayo Cornelio Tácito (c. 55-120): Historias
Cayo Suetonio Tranquilo (c. 70-126): Vidas de los doce Césares
Apiano de Alejandría (c. 95-165): Las guerras ibéricas

Siglo III
Diógenes Laercio: Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres

Siglo IV
Rufo Festo Avieno: Ora Marítima
Atanasio de Alejandría (296-373): Vida de Antonio (357)
Egeria: Itinerario
Eutropio (c. 320-390): Breviario de historia romana (369)
Sexto Aurelio Víctor (c. 330-390), atribuido: Sobre los varones ilustres de la ciudad de Roma
Amiano Marcelino (c. 332-398): Historia del Imperio Romano del 350 al 378

Siglo V

Aurelio Prudencio Clemente (348-c. 413): Peristephanon o Libro de las Coronas
Paulo Orosio (c. 383-c. 420): Historias contra los paganos (416) 
Idacio (c. 400-469): Cronicón
Prisco de Panio (c. 410-472): Embajada de Maximino a la corte de Atila (449)

Siglo VI
Anónimo: Crónica Cesaraugustana
Jordanes: Origen y gestas de los godos (551)
Procopio de Cesárea (c. 500-560): Historia secreta
Martín de Braga (?-579): Sobre la corrección de las supersticiones rústicas (574)
Concilio III de Toledo (589)
Gregorio Magno (540-604): Vida de san Benito abad (594)

Siglo VII
Juan de Biclaro (c. 540-621): Crónica Biclarense
Isidoro de Sevilla (c. 556-636): Crónica Universal
Mahoma (571-632): El Corán
Braulio de Zaragoza (c. 590-651): Vida de san Millán
Libro de los Jueces o Fuero Juzgo (654)
Anónimo: Catálogo de los reyes visigodos (s. VII)

Siglo VIII
Anónimo: Crónicas mozárabes del siglo VIII (743-754)

Siglo IX
Eginardo (770-840): Vida del emperador Carlomagno
Paulo Álvaro (c. 800-861): Vida y pasión del glorioso mártir Eulogio (860)
Anónimo: Crónica de Alfonso III (c. 880)
Anónimo: Crónica Albeldense (881-883)

Siglo X
Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Razi (888-955): Crónica del moro Rasis 
Anónimo: Genealogías pirenaicas del Códice de Roda
Ibn al-Qutiyya (Abenalcotía el Cordobés): Historia de la conquista de Al-Ándalus (s. X)
Muḥammad al-Jušanī (+ 971): Historia de los jueces de Córdoba
Juan de Gorze: Embajada del emperador de Alemania Otón I al califa de Córdoba Abderrahmán III (s. X)
Liutprando de Cremona (c. 922-972): Informe de su embajada a Constantinopla (969)
Sampiro (c. 956-1041): Crónica (999)

Siglo XI
Anónimo: Ajbar Machmuâ
Sancho Ramírez (1043-1094): El primitivo Fuero de Jaca (1063)
Guillermo de Poitiers (c. 1020-1090): Los hechos de Guillermo, duque de los normandos y rey de los anglos

Siglo XII
Anónimo: Historia Silense, también llamada Legionense
Anónimo: Guía de Peregrinos (1135-1140)
Anónimo: Crónica de Turpín
Godofredo de Monmouth (c. 1100-1155): Historia de los reyes de Britania
Hildegarda de Bingen (1098-1179): Causas y remedios. Libro de medicina compleja
Abū Abd Allāh Muhammad al-Idrīsī (1100-1165): Descripción de la Península Ibérica

Siglo XIII
Anónimo: Liber Regum (1194-1209)
Juan I de Inglaterra (1166-1216): Carta Magna (1215)
Jiménez de Rada, Rodrigo (1170-1247): Historia de las cosas de España (1243) Versión de Hinojosa (s. XIV)
Jaime I el Conquistador (1213-1276): Libro de sus hechos
Alfonso X el Sabio (1221-1284): Estoria de Espanna
Anónimo: Anales Toledanos
Anónimo: Las sagas de los Groenlandeses y de Eirik el Rojo

Siglo XIV
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321): La monarquía (1312)
Ibn Idari Al Marrakusi: Historias de Al-Ándalus, de Al-Bayan al-Mughrib (1312)
John de Mandeville: Libro de las maravillas del mundo
Ibn Battuta (1304-1369): Viaje por Andalucía en el siglo XIV
Anónimo: Crónica de San Juan de la Peña (c. 1372)

Siglo XV
Ahmad Ibn-Fath Ibn-Abirrabía: De la descripción del modo de visitar el templo de Meca (s. XV)
Hernando del Pulgar (1436-1493): Claros varones de Castilla (1486)
Cristóbal Colón (c. 1436-1506): La Carta de 1493


Cristóbal Colón (c. 1436-1506): Los cuatro viajes del almirante y su testamento
Andrés Bernáldez (c. 1450-1513): Historia de los Reyes Católicos Don Fernando y Doña Isabel
Nicolás Maquiavelo (1469-1527): El Príncipe (1513)
Tomás Moro (1478-1535): Utopía (1516)
Cortés, Hernán (1482-1547): Cartas de relación… de la Nueva España (1526)
Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540): Tratado del socorro de los pobres (1526)
Alfonso de Valdés (1490-1532): Diálogo de las cosas acaecidas en Roma (1527)
Francisco de Vitoria (1483-1546): Relecciones sobre las potestades civil y ecles., Indias y guerra (1528-39)
Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478-1557): Relación de lo sucedido en la prisión del rey de Francia (1533)
Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540): Diálogos o Linguæ Latinæ Exercitatio (1539)
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (1490-1559): Naufragios y Comentarios (1542-55)
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1490-1573): Demócrates segundo, o de las justas causas de la guerra… (1543)
Juan de Oznaya: Historia de la guerra de Lombardía, batalla de Pavía y prisión del rey Francisco... (1544)
Luis de Ávila y Zúñiga (1504-1573): Comentario de la Guerra de Alemania hecha por Carlos V (1549)
Carlos V (1500-1558): Memorias (1550)
Soto, Sepúlveda, Las Casas: Controversia de Valladolid (1550)

Bartolomé de Las Casas (c. 1474-1566): Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (1552)
Francisco López de Gómara (1511-66): Hispania Victrix. Historia gral. de Indias y conquista de Méjico (1552)
Fray Toribio de Benavente Motolinía (1482-1569): Historia de los indios de la Nueva España
Bernal Díaz del Castillo (c. 1495-1584): Verdadera historia de… la conquista de la Nueva España
Luis Gonçalves da Câmara (1519-1575): Autobiografía de Ignacio de Loyola (1553-55)
Felipe II rey de Inglaterra. Documentos (1554-1557)
Melchor Cano (1509-1560), Consulta y Parecer sobre la guerra al Papa (1556)
Jerónimo Zurita (1512-1580): Anales de la Corona de Aragón (1562)
Teresa de Jesús (1515-1582): Libro de la Vida (1562)
Gonzalo de Illescas (1521-1574): Jornada de Carlos V a Túnez (1573)
Miguel Serviá († 1574): Relación de los sucesos del armada de la Santa Liga y…  Batalla de Lepanto
Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (1503-1575): Guerra de Granada (c. 1574)
Ambrosio de Morales (1513-1591): Crónica general de España (1574-86)
Juan Huarte de San Juan (1529-1588): Examen de ingenios para las ciencias (1575) 
Felipe II (1527-1598): Cartas a sus hijas desde Portugal (1581-1583)
Alonso Sánchez (1545-1593); José de Acosta (1540-1600): Debate sobre la guerra contra China (1583-88)
Enrique Cock (c. 1540-1598), Anales del año ochenta y cinco (1586)
José de Acosta (1540-1600): Peregrinación de Bartolomé Lorenzo (1586)
Pedro de Rivadeneira (1526-1611): Historia eclesiástica del cisma de Inglaterra (1588)
Jerónimo de Blancas († 1590): Comentarios de las cosas de Aragón (1588)
José de Acosta (1540-1600): Historia natural y moral de las Indias (1590)
Enrique Cock (c. 1540-1598): Jornada de Tarazona hecha por Felipe II en 1592
Juan de Mariana (1536-1624): Del rey y de la institución de la dignidad real (1598) 

Juan de Mariana (1536-1624): Historia General de España (1601)
Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639): La ciudad del sol (1602)
Lupercio Leonardo Argensola (1559-1613): Información de los sucesos del reino de Aragón (1604)
Jerónimo de Pasamonte, (1553–1626?), Vida y trabajos (1605)
Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645): España defendida y los tiempos de ahora (1609)
Juan de Mariana (1536-1624): Tratado y discurso sobre la moneda de vellón (1609)
Juan de Mariana (1536-1624): Tratado sobre los juegos públicos (1609)
Pedro Ordóñez de Ceballos (c. 1550-1635), Viaje del mundo (1614)
Francisco de Moncada (1586-1635): Expedición de catalanes y aragoneses al Oriente (1620)
Catalina de Erauso (c. 1585-1650): Historia de la monja alférez (1624)
Francis Bacon (1561-1626): La Nueva Atlántida (1627)
Alonso de Contreras (1582-1641): Discurso de su vida (1630)
Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658): El Político Don Fernando el Católico (1640)
Diego de Saavedra Fajardo (1584-1648): Idea de un príncipe político cristiano… en cien empresas (1640)
Fco. Manuel de Melo (1608-1666): Historia de los movimientos y separación de Cataluña (1645)

Jerónimo de San José (1589-1669): Genio de la Historia (1651)
Baltasar Gracián (1601-58): El Criticón (1651-57)
Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (1600-1659): De la naturaleza del indio (c. 1653)
Jusepe Martínez (c. 1600-1682): Discursos practicables del nobilísimo arte de la pintura (1672)
Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704): Discurso sobre la historia universal (1681)
Sebastián Fernández de Medrano (1646-1705): Breve descripción del Mundo (1686) 
John Locke (1634-1704): Segundo tratado sobre el gobierno civil (1690)

1701-1750François Fénelon (1651-1715): Carta a Luis XIV y otros escritos políticos (1693-1702)
Real Academia Española: Diccionario de Autoridades (1726-1739)
Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (1676-1764): Historia, patrias, naciones y España (1726-39)
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745): Una modesta proposición (1729)
Henry St. John, vizconde de Bolingbroke (1678-1751): Idea de un rey patriota (1738)
José del Campillo (1693-1743): Lo que hay de más y de menos en España (1742)
Diego de Torres Villarroel (1694-1770): Vida, ascendencia, nacimiento, crianza y aventuras (1742-58)
Enrique Flórez (1702-1773): De la Crónica de los reyes visigodos (1747)
Montesquieu (1689-1755): El espíritu de las leyes (1748)
1751-1775Pedro Rodríguez Campomanes (1723-1802): El Periplo de Hannón ilustrado (1756)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778): El contrato social (1762)
Voltaire, François Marie Arouet (1694-1778): Tratado sobre la tolerancia (1763)
Voltaire, François Marie Arouet (1694-1778): La filosofía de la Historia (1765)
José Cadalso (1741-1782): Cartas marruecas (1768)

Nicolás Masson de Morvilliers (1740-1789): España, en la Encyclopédie méthodique (1782-1792)
Juan Pablo Forner (1756-1797): Oración apologética por la España y su mérito literario (1786)
Josefa Amar y Borbón (1753-1833): Discurso sobre la educación de las mujeres y otros escritos (1786-90)
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), J. Madison (1751-1836) y J. Jay (1745-1829): El Federalista (1787-1788)
Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès (1748-1836): ¿Qué es el Tercer Estado? (1789)
Edmund Burke (1729-1797): Reflexiones sobre la revolución de Francia (1790)
Nicolás de Condorcet (1743-1794): Compendio de La Riqueza de las Naciones de Adam Smith (1790)
León de Arroyal (1755-1813): Pan y toros. Oración apologética en defensa… de España (1793)
Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744-1811): Informe sobre la Ley Agraria (1794)
François-Noël Graco Babeuf (1760-1797), Del Tribuno del Pueblo y otros escritos (1795-97)
Ignacio del Asso (1742-1814): Historia de la Economía Política de Aragón (1798)

Isidoro de Antillón (1778-1814): Disertación sobre el origen de la esclavitud (1802)
Manuel José Quintana (1772-1857): Vidas de los españoles célebres (1807-33)
Antonio de Capmany (1742-1813): Centinela contra franceses (1808)
Justo Pastor Pérez: Diccionario razonado manual para inteligencia de ciertos escritores (1811)
Bartolomé José Gallardo (1776-1852): Diccionario crítico-burlesco del que se titula… (1811)
Félix José Reinoso (1772-1841): Examen de los delitos de infidelidad a la patria (1816)
Martín Fernández de Navarrete (1765-1844): Vida de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1819)

Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877): Historia de la Revolución Francesa (1827)
Agustín Alcaide Ibieca (1778-1846): Historia de los dos Sitios de Zaragoza (1830)
José María Blanco White (1775-1841): Autobiografía (1832)
Charles Fourier (1772-1837): El Falansterio
Conde de Toreno (1786-1843): Historia del levantamiento, guerra y revolución de España (1835)
José Mor de Fuentes (1762-1848): Bosquejillo de la vida y escritos, delineado por él mismo (1836)
Mariano José de Larra (1809-1837): Artículos (1828-1837)
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859): Sobre la democracia en América (1835-40)
José de Espronceda (1808-1842): El ministerio Mendizábal y otros escritos políticos (1836-41)
Sebastián Miñano (1779-1845): Diccionario biográfico de la Revolución Francesa (1840)
Étienne Cabet (1788-1856): Viaje por Icaria (1842)
George Borrow (1803-1881): La Biblia en España (1843)
Pascual Madoz (1806-1870): Diccionario geográfico-estadístico-histórico de España… (1845-1850)
Antonio Alcalá Galiano (1789-1865), Memorias (1847-49)
Karl Marx (1818-1883) y Friedrich Engels (1820-1895): Manifiesto del partido comunista (1848)
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862): La desobediencia civil (1848)
Lucas Alamán (1792-1853): Historia de Méjico… hasta la época presente (1849-52)


Modesto Lafuente (1806-1866): Historia General de España (1850-1866)
Francisco Pi y Margall (1824-1901): La reacción y la revolución (1855)
Jerónimo Borao (1821-1878): Historia del alzamiento de Zaragoza en 1854 (1855)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882): El origen de las especies (1859)
Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (1833-1891): Diario de un testigo de la Guerra de África (1859)
Jerónimo Borao (1821-1878): La imprenta en Zaragoza (1860)
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865): El principio federativo (1863)
Louis-Prosper Gachard (1800-1885): Don Carlos y Felipe II (1863)
José Godoy Alcántara, (1825-1875): Historia crítica de los falsos cronicones (1868)
Serguéi Necháiev (1847-1882): Catecismo del revolucionario (1868)
Roque Barcia (1821-1885): La federación española (1869) 
Antonio Cánovas del Castillo (1828-1897): Discursos del Ateneo (1870-90)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882): El origen del hombre (1871)
Benito Pérez Galdós (1843-1920): Episodios Nacionales (1873-1912)
Francisco Pi y Margall (1824-1901): La República de 1873. Apuntes para escribir su historia (1874)

Francisco Pi y Margall (1824-1901): Las Nacionalidades (1876)
Joaquin Pedro de Oliveira Martins (1845-1894): Historia de la civilización ibérica (1879)
Francisco Navarro Villoslada (1818-1895): Amaya o los vascos en el siglo VIII (1879)
Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo (1856-1912): Historia de los heterodoxos españoles (1880-1882)
Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (1833-1891): Historietas nacionales (1881)
Ernest Renan (1823-1892): ¿Qué es una nación? (1882)
José María Pereda (1833-1906): Pedro Sánchez (1883)
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903): El individuo contra el Estado (1884)
Antonio María Fabié (1832-99): Cartas de Felipe II a las infantas sus hijas, publicadas por Gachard (1884)
Edmundo de Amicis (1846-1908): Corazón. Historia de un niño (1887)
Juan Valera (1825-1905): Continuación de la Historia de España de Lafuente (con Borrego y Pirala)
Lucas Mallada (1841-1921): Los males de la patria y la futura revolución española (1890)
León XIII (1810-1903): Rerum novarum (1891)
William Morris (1834-1896): Noticias de Ninguna Parte (1891)
James George Frazer (1854-1941): La rama dorada. Estudio sobre magia y religión (1890-1922)
Charles F. Lummis (1859-1928): Los exploradores españoles del siglo XVI (1893)
Julián Ribera (1858-1934): La enseñanza entre los musulmanes españoles (1893)
Julián Ribera (1858-1934): Bibliófilos y bibliotecas en la España musulmana (1896)
Francisco Javier Simonet (1829-1897): Historia de los mozárabes de España (1897)
Ángel Ganivet (1865-1898): Idearium español (1897)
Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916) y Darío de Regoyos (1857-1913), España Negra (1899)
Josep Pijoan (1880-1963): Pancatalanismo (1899)
Piotr Kropotkin (1842-1921): Memorias de un revolucionario (1899)
Rafael Altamira (1866-1951): Historia de España y de la civilización española (1900)
Julián Ribera (1858-1934): La supresión de los exámenes (1900)


Joaquín Costa (1846-1911): Oligarquía y caciquismo (1901)
Andrés Giménez Soler (1869-1938): Don Jaime de Aragón último conde de Urgel (1901)
Pompeyo Gener (1850-1920): Cosas de España. Herejías y El renacimiento de Cataluña (1903)
Prat de la Riba, Enrich (1870-1917): La nacionalidad catalana (1906)
Georges Sorel (1847-1922): Reflexiones sobre la violencia (1908)
Antonio Royo Villanova (1869-1958): El problema catalán y otros textos sobre el nacionalismo (1908-1932)
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936): La esfera y la cruz (1909)
Ángel Ossorio (1873-1946): Historia del pensamiento político catalán durante la guerra… (1913)
Julián Juderías (1877-1918): La leyenda negra y la verdad histórica (1914) 
Lenin (Vladimir Illich 1870-1924): La Gran Guerra y la Revolución. Textos 1914-1917
Rafael Altamira (1866-1951): Filosofía de la historia y teoría de la civilización (1915)
Rafael Altamira (1866-1951): Psicología del pueblo español (1917)
José Echegaray (1832-1916): Recuerdos (1917)
Antonio Rovira y Virgili (1882-1949): El nacionalismo catalán (1917)
José García Mercadal (1883-1975): España vista por los extranjeros (1917)
John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946): Las consecuencias económicas de la paz (1919)
John Reed (1887-1920): Diez días que estremecieron al mundo (1919)
Miguel Asín Palacios (1871-1944): La escatología musulmana en la Divina Comedia (1919)
José Gutiérrez-Solana (1886-1945): La España negra (1920)
Zacarías García Villada (1879-1936): Metodología y crítica histórica (1921)
José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955): España invertebrada (1921)
Howard Carter (1874-1939): La tumba de Tutankhamon (1923)
Zacarías García Villada (1879-1936): Paleografía Española (1923)
Ángel Pestaña (1886-1937): Setenta días en Rusia. Lo que yo vi (1924)
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945): Mi lucha (1925)

Claudio Sánchez Albornoz (1893-1984): Una ciudad de la España cristiana hace mil años (1926)
Conde de Romanones (1863-1950): Historia de una vida 1868-1912 (1928) 
Andrés Giménez Soler (1869-1938): La Edad Media en la Corona de Aragón (1930)
José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955): La rebelión de las masas (1930)
Las sublevaciones de Jaca y Cuatro Vientos, en el diario ABC (1930)
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936): Artículos republicanos (1931-1936)
Luis Astrana Marín (1889-1959): Gobernará Lerroux (1932)
Enrique de Jesús Ochoa (1899-1977): Los Cristeros del Volcán de Colima (1933)
Ramiro de Maeztu (1874-1936): Defensa de la Hispanidad (1934)
Isidro Gomá y Tomás (1869-1940): Apología de la Hispanidad (1934)
José García Mercadal (1883-1975): Estudiantes, sopistas y pícaros (1934)
¿Qué va a pasar en España? Dossier en el diario Ahora del 16 de febrero de 1934
Manuel Chaves Nogales (1897-1944): Crónicas de la Revolución de Asturias (1934)
Zacarías García Villada (1879-1936): El destino de España en la historia universal (1935)
Anton Makarenko (1888-1939): Poema pedagógico (1935)
Joaquín Maurín (1896-1973): Hacia la segunda revolución y otros textos (1935)
José Antonio Primo de Rivera (1903-1936): Discursos y otros textos (1933-36)
El orden público en las Cortes de 1936
Indalecio Prieto (1883-1962): Artículos de guerra. Artículos publicados en el verano de 1936
Francisco Franco (1892-1975): Discursos y declaraciones en la Guerra Civil
Pío XI (1857-1939): Ante la situación social y política (1926-1937)
Antonio Tovar (1911-1985): El Imperio de España (1936-40)
Ramón Menéndez Pidal (1869-1968): Idea imperial de Carlos V (1937)
Iósif Stalin (1878-1953) y otros: Historia del Partido comunista (bolchevique) de la U.R.S.S. (1938)
Zacarías de Vizcarra (1879-1963): Origen del nombre, concepto y fiesta de la Hispanidad (1944)


Mao Zedong (1893-1976): Citas del Presidente o El pequeño libro rojo (1964)
Bartolomé (1929-2018) y Lucile Bennassar: Seis renegados ante la Inquisición (1989)

De multis grandis acervus erit
Enrique Flórez et al.: España Sagrada. Teatro geográfico-histórico de la Iglesia de España (1747-1879)
Medio siglo de legislación autoritaria en España (1923-1976)
Constituciones y leyes fundamentales de la España contemporánea (1808-2011)
Textos de Historia de España
Tratados internacionales del siglo XVII. El fin de la hegemonía hispánica
Trescientos Clásicos de Historia (2014-2018)

Don Quixote, Mirror of the Spanish Nation

by Gustavo Bueno (España no es un mito. Madrid: Temas de Hoy, 2005. Pages 241-290)

Translated by Brendan Burke
© 2010 FGB · Oviedo


Against the interpretation of Don Quixote as a symbol of universal solidarity, tolerance, and peace

2005. All of Spain celebrates the fourth centennial of the publication of Don Quixote (the printing itself had already been completed by December 1604). This celebration clearly supports the thesis I have maintained throughout this book – that all regions and “cultures” of Spain together share a common Spanish culture.{1}Hundreds of conferences spring up in every city and capital of each autonomous region, be they “historical” or regions “without history”: we see contests, new editions, public readings (both collective and individual), expositions, workshops, and interpretations of all kinds – psychiatric interpretations (Cervantes may have admirably described “Capgras syndrome”), ethical interpretations (Don Quixote is fortitude and generosity), and moral interpretations (Don Quixote symbolizes, in modern times, the virtues of the knight estate in the feudal period). And the readings go on – Don Quixote becomes the symbol of strictly literary values (the modern novel), or of values with political implications (European values, perhaps?), or even further, of universal values that convert him into a symbol of Man itself, of human rights, of tolerance, or of peace: “Don Quixote is part of the World’s Heritage.”

These political interpretations of Don Quixote as a tolerant pacifist have become particularly popular among socialist leaders from that “village” of Alonso Quijano, the “Knight of La Mancha” as he is more commonly known. This village has now been transformed into an autonomous region, Castilla-La Mancha – one with the legal capacity to enact a law which, considering that “Don Quixote is a symbol of humanity and a cultural myth that La Mancha feels honored to call its own”, seeks to create a “network of solidarity which, basing itself in the value of a common language, will work to achieve the equality and development of all its towns, fundamentally through education and culture” in order “to contribute to the social, cultural, and economic development of Castilla-La Mancha…with the goal of promoting and spreading the universal values of justice, liberty, and solidarity which Quixote symbolizes.”{2}

José Bono, the president of Castilla-La Mancha during the enactment of this law, was named Minister of Defense after the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004: a position which, within democracies of pacifist ideology, replaces the previous position of Minister of War, even though both the current democratic Minister of Defense and the past non-democratic Minister of War dealt with the same things: cannons, missiles, battleships, helicopters, and more generally, in an industrial society, with firearms (by no means with lances, nor swords, nor Mambrino’s helmet). Bono’s pacifism, so unlike Quixote’s, has led him so far as to ask that the word “war” be removed from the 1978 Spanish constitution. He has yet to ask for the dissolution of the Army (perhaps in order to justify the intervention of the Spanish Army in Afghanistan), although it does seem that by removing the troops from Iraq, the Socialist government would like to transform the Corps into a sort of Firefighters without Borders, ready to deploy off to Afghanistan to keep an eye on any fires that might break out by chance during the electoral period in this new, projected democracy.

In any case I don’t think it’s necessary to get into the debate about the political reach that these projects of justice, perpetual peace, dialogue, tolerance, and solidarity might have – projects propagated by fundamentalist, democratic governments that commemorate Don Quixote and represent him in their own image and likeness. I do, however, see it necessary to conclude that if they want to keep maintaining their pacifism and universal solidarity, then they must back off their devotion to Don Quixote, for in no way can Don Quixote be taken as a symbol of solidarity, peace, and tolerance. Let them continue their pacifist and anti-military politics, but no longer by taking the name of Don Quixote in vain.

If Don Quixote is the symbol of something, he is neither the symbol of “universal solidarity” nor of “tolerance”. For what solidarity did Don Quixote show towards the guards watching over the chain-gang of galley slaves? His solidarity with the convicts implies a lack of solidarity with the guards, and cannot therefore be called universal. If Don Quixote is the symbol of something, he is the symbol of weapons, of intolerance – an intolerance so great that he cannot stand it when Master Pedro puts on a puppet show of the story Melisendra, who is about to be captured by a Moor king. This is unacceptable for Don Quixote and so he draws his sword, leaps in front of the stage, and demolishes the puppeteer’s entire show. And who can conceive of an unarmed Don Quixote? It’s true that in the final chapter he hangs up his armor, just as a monk hangs up his habits; however, for the priest or monk this implies the rebirth toward a new life, one in which his mistress is elevated to the status of wife, while for Don Quixote hanging up his armor signifies the step which will immediately lead him to his death.


Don Quixote is not a tautegorical symbol

Don Quixote is a symbol, or at least can be interpreted as one if we admit Schelling’s disputed distinction between tautegorical and allegorical symbols.{3}

Don Quixote has been represented (and still continues to be represented, without calling it “representation”) as a tautegorical symbol – one that expresses the same thing as itself. Those who see El Quixote as a strictly literary work, immanent – without references beyond its own imaginary figures – interpret it as a tautegorical symbol, or as a collection of tautegorical symbols. These imaginary figures would exhaust themselves as they inhabit a social imaginary. This social imaginary, however, isn’t made up by representations or “mental images” (images that compose those “mentalities” studied by “Marxist historians” who some years ago embraced the so-called History of Mentalities), but instead by real physical images – ones painted, for instance, in the 17th and 18th centuries by Antonio Carnicero, José del Castillo, Bernardo Barranco, José Brunete, Gerónimo Gil, or Gregorio Ferro. (Not to mention those painted in the 19th by José Moreno Carbonero, Ramón Puiggarí, Gustave Doré, Ricardo Balaca or Luis Pellicer, or even in the 20th by Daniel Urrabieta Vierge, Joaquín Vaquero, Dalí, or Saura…and not counting the innumerable drawings of Quixote for both adults and children in comics, movies, and theatrical representations).

Moderately widening the field of “tautegorical literary immanence”, we could also include the usual interpretation of Quixote as a literary work itself addressing other literary works – books of chivalry. This address, of course, would be directed toward those chivalrous errant knights in print, not those in real life, like Hernán Cortés or Don Juan de Austria, under whose flags Cervantes himself fought.

These tautegorical interpretations could even be supported by the speech that the innkeeper delivers against the priest, who attacks those books as being full of lies, absurdities, and nonsense, and for destroying interest in real historical figures, such as Gozalo Hernández de Córdoba or Diego García de Paredes: “A fig for the Great Captain and another for that Diego García character,” exclaims the innkeeper, through whom some believe Cervantes himself to be speaking.{4}

I don’t deny that these literary interpretations of the immanence of Quixote make sense; what I do question is the legitimacy of considering tautegorical symbols as symbols – at the very most, these tautegorical symbols constitute a limited case of the idea of the symbol, a limit in which the symbol ceases to be a symbol, just as a causa sui ceases to be a cause. For a symbol, as an alotetic figure, precisely expresses references distinct from the actual body of the symbol.{5} It does so because the references of the symbol must also be corporeal: each part of the fragmented ring handed to the main participants of the ceremony is a symbol of the other part; the Nicene Creed is a “Symbol of Faith” because each group of faithful that recites their verses refers to those that recite successive ones, and so the community of faithful forms a living community, one which is a real part of the active church.

Accordingly, Don Quixote is not a tautegorical symbol in the most literal sense, the sense in which Magistral de Pas understood the verse “and the Word became flesh.” “Did Don Fermín believe in this verse?”{6}Strictly speaking (and according to Clarín), Don Fermín believed in the red letters written on a panel on an altar that read, “et verbum caro factum est.” Figures, interpreted as strict, allegorical symbols, refer us beyond the literature and to real figures in civil, political, or social history.

Gustave Dor�, Don Quixote


Don Quixote: a clinical history?

Some critics suggest that Cervantes, through the figure of Alonso Quijano, meant to represent some actual individual, one he might have met directly or through some friend or writer. Accordingly, the real reference of Don Quixote would be Alonso Quijano – an individual made of flesh and blood, but affected by a specific type of insanity that Cervantes intuitively managed to discover and identify without being a doctor or a psychiatrist. In 1943, Menéndez Pidal discovered the figure of Bartolo in the comic sketch Entremeses de los Romances; Bartolo was a poor laborer who went mad for having read too many romances. Cervantes may have been inspired by him, or perhaps by Don Rodrigo Pacheco, a marquis from Argamasilla de Alba, who also went mad reading books of chivalry.

Psychiatrists have, naturally, tended to interpret Don Quixote from categories typical of their trade. In the 19th century, Dr. Esquirol interpreted Don Quixote as a model of monomania (a term of his own invention). More recently, Dr. Francisco Alonso-Fernández has published an interpretation of Don Quixote in which the novel is considered as a sort of clinical history of a patient suffering from a disorder that Cervantes managed to establish. In this interpretation, Cervantes very closely approximates what is today known as delusional autometamorphosis, a syndrome related to other delusional syndromes such as Capgras or Fregoli. In consequence, Alonso-Fernández proposes that Alonso Quijano – not Don Quixote – should be considered the authentic protagonist of the novel. As he argues, it was in effect Alonso Quijano who suffered from the delusional disorder that identified him with Don Quixote, who only existed in his mind; again, it was Alonso Quijano who managed to recover from the disorder, thanks to the care of the graduate Carrasco, the priest, the barber, and “a fever that kept him in bed for six days.”{7} Alonso-Fernández stresses that this incident did not pass unnoticed to “the perceptive clinical eye of the eminent doctor Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.”{8}

I must thank my dear friend Dr. Alonso for his demonstration that Alonso Quijano suffered from a disorder that Cervantes was able to describe with impressive precision. Such a demonstration, of course, can only be explained if we admit that Cervantes had known and differentiated other specific cases – as he may have done with the insanity of the lawyer of glass in his short story of the same name, El Licenciado Vidriera. In any case, however, neither Don Quixote nor the lawyer Vidriera are purely “literary creations”.

Are we so then to accept that Cervantes proposed the “clinical description” of a specific type of disorder as his literary objective?

Not necessarily, as it could be the case that Cervantes was using his description of a specific type of disorder as the symbol of another reference: the reality of certain people in Spain (not Spain itself, as many argue), a reality in which men, according to many accounts, had gone mad either because they went to America (as some say) or because they stopped going (as I, and others, say). The former argue that they went mad because they went to America in search of El Dorado or because, recalling a book of chivalry (Las Sergas de Esplandián), they named California after an imaginary kingdom of Amazons, or Patagonia after the tribes of monstrous savages in another book, El Primaleón. Even further, it would be possible to extend the symbolism of Don Quixote’s madness to places found in Spain, and not in America, Italy, or Flanders – to anywhere in La Mancha, or to anywhere in Spain or Portugal where Christian parishioners, while present in churches witnessing the transformation of the Eucharist bread and wine actually saw the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Don Quixote, slashing the wine skins in the inn, believes he sees spilled blood where there is only wine: is Cervantes here trying to describe a type of disorder similar to that of someone who, upon hearing the consecration, prepares to drink wine that has been turned into blood?

It’s one thing that Don Quixote displays certain disorders that, far from being merely literary, have a clinical consistency (which would obviously oblige us to consider Don Quixote as an alotetic figure, not a tautegorical one); it’s another thing altogether to claim that Cervantes not only proposed to make (finis operantis) but indeed had made (finis operis) as his literary goal the early description of a delusional disorder suffered by a certain Alonso Quijano. For is not Alonso Quijano himself a literary figure? Even further, does not Cervantes also use the disorder systematized in Don Quixote as a symbol of other actual figures who themselves weren’t considered victims of Capgras or Fregoli delusions? Perhaps the fever in Don Quixote’s final days (even while admitting the diagnosis of Cervantes’s clinical eye) could also symbolize Spain’s fever during years of profound crisis?

Interpreted as allegorical symbols, Don Quixote’s disorders would then refer, not to actual lunatics that a psychiatrist might see in a hospital or clinic, but to real historical figures who might pass as extraordinary or even heroic. Another matter is to identify these figures and determine the possible reach that the use of delusional symbols as symbols of themselves might have.


The individual and the pair of individuals

A human figure, such as Don Quixote, never exists in isolation: one person always implies others who relate to one another in either peaceful or hostile coexistence. In other words, an individual in and of itself is an absurdity, a metaphysical entity, and as such the attempt to interpret Don Quixote as a symbol of some isolated individual, whether sane or mad, is mere metaphysics – an individual in itself cannot exist because existence is co-existence.

Not even a king or emperor may be considered an individual, in the sense of an isolated being. Therefore, Aristotle’s famous classification of political societies into three usual groups – monarchies, aristocracies, and republics – is a classification better suited to political-science fiction, even though it continues to be our reference to this day. According to Aristotelian criteria either one commands, or some command, or all (the majority) command. But these criteria don’t help us distinguish monarchies from aristocracies, for the simple reason that “one” cannot command because “one” does not exist: even the most absolute monarch does not command alone, but as the head of a group.

Two is the numerical minimum of people to coexist; perhaps for that the interpretations of human relations from a dualist viewpoint (one based on pairs of individuals) reach nearly universal consensus (especially pairs made up by opposite individuals – either in their grammatical gender or according to other criteria of opposition: tall/short, clever/dumb, old/young, fat/thin, etc.).{9} In this viewpoint, people are never alone but are rather paired up with others who oppose them by their different and contradictory attributes. And so if the elements of a pair are considered “equal”, then the opposition between them must emerge from their own coexistence, which is the case, for example, with enantiomorphic objects in which opposing (equal but incongruent) figures appear, such as the incongruity of our two hands – they are equal, but opposing (left and right). Adam and Eve are the prototype of the first pair – opposite in gender, but accompanied by a variety of other opposing pairs; the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) were seen in the Battle of Lake Regillus mounting their white horses and fighting between themselves.{10}

Don Quixote, from this dualist viewpoint of coexistence, has always been considered in relation to Sancho. The pair “Don Quixote and Sancho” and the most peculiar set of oppositions established between them (lord/servant, knight/squire, tall/short, thin/fat, idealist/realist…) have often been considered as the originals for later reproductions in other famous literary pairs, from Sherlock Holmes and Watson to Asterix and Obelix (who break down some of the oppositions of attributes, oppositions considered characteristic: the leptosomatic opposition of tall and thin, and the pyknic one of short and fat).

There are, however, very serious reasons to conclude that these dualist viewpoints are only a fragment of a more complicated structure. Adam and Eve, for example, are only a fragment of a society they make up together with their sons Cain, Abel, and Seth. Don Quixote and Sancho are usually thought of in terms of abstract oppositions like idealism and realism or utopic and pragmatic. But these oppositions fall apart immediately: they suppose that idealism is some sort of personal disposition geared to transcend the immediate horizon of the facts of life, and thereby impulses people toward altruism or glory. Sancho, then, does not oppose Don Quixote because he too (from the beginning, not only in the second part, as some critics contend) is quixoticized. Getting himself into all sorts of dangers,he accompanies Don Quixote not only to acquire riches (which itself would be enough, given that someone who wants to acquire riches by putting his life in danger is no longer a pragmatic realist in the traditional sense) but also to help his wife Teresa Cascajo ascend the social ladder. Sancho is not the sort of villain Spaniard that so many villainous historians imagine him to be in their assumption that his and others only motivation for signing up for the infantry or navy was the satisfaction of their hunger (I have in mind Alfredo Landa’s film La Marrana).

It is of great importance here to warn of the incompatibility between these dualist structures and the principles of philosophical materialism, insofar as the latter implies the Platonic principle of symploke.{11} In his Sophist, Plato established the two premises which must be presupposed in every rational process: the first is a principle of connection between some things and others – “if everything were disconnected from everything else, rational discourse would be impossible” – and the second is a principle of disconnection between some things and others – “if everything were connected to everything else, rational discourse would be impossible.” Therefore, if we want to rationally approach reality, we must suppose that neither everything is causally connected to everything else, nor is everything disconnected from everything else; that is, we must suppose that things are interwoven (in symploke) with other things, but not with everything.

But when we apply the dualist structure to a given social group (the circle of individual human beings, for example), we find that reality is presented to us as a plurality of pairs disconnected from each other (since we suppose that the terms of each pair refer integrally to one another). In effect, the connection of the terms of each pair is completed internally, whether each individual is considered to be correlated or conjugated with the other. Each “isolated pair” introduces a reciprocal dependency between its terms, one that permits the pair to be treated as a “monist” unity, a dipole, whether their relationship be harmonious or discordant. As such, global reality is seen as a multiplicity composed of infinite pairs whose interactions are merely random. In the case where the dualist viewpoint is applied to a unique pair – coextensive with “reality itself” (in Manichaeism with Ormus and Ahriman, in Gnosticism with the dyad Abyzou/Aletheia, or in Taoism with the Yin and the Yang) – this “cosmic dualism” practically becomes a monism, even without having to consider the possibility that one of the dualist terms would end up defeating or absorbing the other. It would be sufficient for them to remain eternally different, even while complementing or separating each other, until death (“one of those two Spains will freeze your heart”).{12}



The most basic structure compatible with the principle of symploke of philosophical materialism is the ternary structure. In a triad (A, B, C), each member is involved with the others, but at the same time it is possible to recognize binary coalitions ([A, B], [A, C], [B, C]) in which the third member, while segregated, still remains associated with the others. The organization of any field constituted by individuals also contains the possibility for each triad to be involved with other triads through some common unity, thus giving rise to enneads (3 x 3), dozens (3 x 4), and so on. In these pluralities organized in triads, enneads, and dozens, the principle of symploke is adequately satisfied. Both the connection (not total) of some things with others, and the disconnection (or discontinuity) of some things with others (which will follow their own course), can be affirmed from this plurality.

This conception of reality (or of its regions) as organized in triplets is just as old as conceptions organized dualistically. Dumézil argued years ago that it was present in the famous trinities of the Indo-European gods: Zeus, Heracles, and Pluto, or Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus, or the Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Minerva, and Juno, or its Germanic transformation in Odin, Thor, and Freyja.

In Christianity, and more specifically in the Catholic tradition (to which Don Quixote undoubtedly belongs), the fundamental triad is represented in the dogma of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Father and the Son together (in this final aspect Roman Catholics differ from Greek Orthodox, for whom the Holy Spirit is some sort of emanation from the Father, without the participation of the Son).

This Catholic trinity, however, needn’t necessarily be interpreted as just a particular case of other Indo-European trinities. In Roman Christianity the dogma of the Trinity developed gradually, and the appeal to the Holy Spirit was probably related to the constitution of the Universal church itself, one which had no parallel in its social structure with the known social structures of the Greeks (such as the family or the state). Albeit heretically, Sabellius held that the Holy Spirit represented the Church as a feminine entity (“the Holy Mother Church”). In addition, in some Germanic trinities one of the members is feminine – Odin, Thor, and Freyja. This may be due, however, due to contamination from Christianity, with the Germanic liturgy reflecting a Christian one: “In the name of Odin, Thor, and Freyja.” In either case, it’s obvious that both the trinity of Gaeta and Our Lady of the Rock of France, to whom Sancho entrusts Don Quixote as they descend from the Cave of Montesinos (II,22), are manifestations of the genuine Trinity of Catholicism (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

The Triads of Don Quixote


The Triads of Don Quixote

Let us leave aside the dualist organization that imposes upon us the association in pairs between Don Quixote and Sancho, even if such an association may be very fundamental (in which the two are sometimes explained by their complementarity and at other times for their conjugation: Don Quixote maintains the unity between the different episodes of his quest through Sancho, who maintains the unity between the episodes of his quest through Don Quixote). Leaving that organization aside, the tripartite restructuring becomes patently obvious, even if Cervantes wasn’t aware of it. (The case would be even more interesting if this were an objective structure that imposed itself independently of the author’s will).

What is sure is that Don Quixote always appears as a member of the trinity that he makes up with Sancho and Dulcinea. Of course this doesn’t mean that the members of this trinity are not involved at the same time with other different trinities: Don Quixote, for instance, always forms a triangle with his housekeeper and his niece (II, 6); Sancho always appears involved with his wife, Teresa Cascajo, and his daughter, or with the priest and the barber (I, 26); Dulcinea, in her most real role as a peasant girl, comes towards Sancho on a jackass, along with two other peasant girls: “And events fell out so well for [Sancho] that when he got up to climb on his dun he saw three peasant girls coming towards him from El Toboso on three jackasses, or she-asses, because the author isn’t explicit on this point.” And a little later, when Sancho tells Don Quixote that he has seen Dulcinea: “They emerged from the wood and saw the three peasant girls not far away. Don Quixote surveyed the road to El Toboso, and since all he could see was these three peasants he became alarmed and asked Sancho if the ladies had been outside the city when he’d left them.”{13}

In any case, the basic trinity around which Don Quixote seems to move throughout the book is the one he makes up with Sancho and Dulcinea. Facing the Catholic Trinity (as my hypothesis obliges), it must be conceded that Don Quixote corresponds to the role of Father, Sancho to that of Son (just as his sire Don Quixote calls him time and time again), and regarding Dulcinea, she must be put in correspondence with the Holy Spirit, which Sabellius interpreted as a feminine entity, as the Mother Church. As an ideal figure, how can it be ignored that she comes from both the Father (Don Quixote) and the Son (Sancho)?

Don Quixote, of course, conceives the figure of Dulcinea. Although her real name was Aldonza Lorenzo, the young peasant daughter of Lorenzo Corchuelo and Aldonza Nogales, quite good-looking (I, 25) and of whom Don Quixote was in love for a time, she was nonetheless born as Dulcinea by Don Quixote’s “decree”, when it seemed right to him to give her the title of “Mistress of His Thoughts.” But Sancho too contributed to the birth and reinforcement of the figure of Dulcinea, an upright and polite girl, “not at all priggish” and “a real courtly lass”: “And now I can say, Sir Knight of the Sorry Face, that not only is it very right and proper for you to get up to your mad tricks for her sake – you’ve got every reason to give way to despair and hang yourself, too, and nobody who knows about it will say you weren’t justified, even if it does send you to the devil.”{14}

This figure thus conceived would have remained as the shadow of a merely imagined memory if it had not been for Sancho’s diligence to find la señora Dulcinea, that is, to establish the link between the figure of the memory and some real counterpart, a link that must be reestablished, if not with the brave Aldonza, then with the moon-faced, flat-nosed peasant (II, 10). And so it turns out to be Sancho, not Don Quixote’s infirm and delirious mind, who bows and pretends to salute Dulcinea, who takes the figure of the moon-faced, flat-nosed peasant. Don Quixote, on his knees next to Sancho, also looks with “clouded vision and bulging eyes” at a peasant who Sancho called queen and duchess. The peasant, who had made the figure of Dulcinea, prods her poultry with a nail that she was carrying and the poultry breaks into a canter across the field, dumping Lady Dulcinea among the daisies. “Don Quixote rushed to pick her up and Sancho hurried to put the pack-saddle…Don Quixote went to lift his enchanted lady in his arms and place her on the ass; but the lady saved him the trouble by jumping to her feet, taking a couple of strides backwards, bounding up to the ass, bringing both hands down on its rump and vaulting, as swift as a falcon, on to the pack-saddle.” Sancho said to Don Quixote, “Our lady and mistress is nimbler than a hobby-hawk, and she could teach the best rider from Cordova or Mexico how to jump on to a horse Arab-style!…And her maids aren’t being outdone, they’re going like the wind, too!”

Is it not obvious here that Cervantes is trying to linger in the description of the poetic vision of the peasant that Sancho offers to Don Quixote by drawing attention to her agility while concealing the moon face and flat nose that Don Quixote also sees? In either case, the transfiguration of the peasant’s figure into Dulcinea cannot be attributed to the endogenetic psychological process of a madman in the midst of a delirious hallucination. Don Quixote does not see Dulcinea, but rather, reinforced by Sancho, sees an agile peasant girl (moon-faced and flat-nosed). In no way, therefore, does he suffer from some hallucination: “Because I would have you know, Sancho, that when I went to replace Dulcinea on her palfrey (as you call it, although I thought it was a donkey), I was half suffocated by a blast of raw garlic that poisoned my very soul.” Cervantes seems to take great care here in stressing that if Don Quixote relates this peasant with Dulcinea it’s because of Sancho. Dulcinea is seen here as a matter of faith, not as a hallucination – faith in the “relevant authority” of Sancho, whose word Don Quixote trusts and believes. Seeing these three villagers (announced as Dulcinea and her duchesses) come out of the wood, Don Quixote says:

“All I can see, Sancho, ” said Don Quixote, “is three peasant girls on three donkeys.”
“God save my soul from damnation!” Sancho replied. “Is it possible for three palfreys or whatever they’re called, as white as the driven snow, to seem to you like donkeys? Good Lord, I’d pull out every single hair on my chin if that was true!”
“Well, I am telling you, friend Sancho, ” said Don Quixote, “that it is as true that they are asses, or maybe she-asses, as it is that I am Don Quixote and you are Sancho Panza; or at least this is how it seems to me.”

Don Quixote’s resistance to see the miracle of the peasant girl’s transfiguration into Dulcinea – a miracle which he must believe for his faith in Sancho’s authority (who on other occasions shows himself so critical of his master’s hallucinations: the windmills, the flock of sheep…) – receives a “theological” explanation: Don Quixote says, “If I don’t see Dulcinea in the figure of this peasant, it’s not because it isn’t her, but because the malicious enchanter is hounding me, and has placed clouds and cataracts over my eyes, and for them alone and not for other eyes has altered and transformed your [Dulcinea’s] face of peerless beauty into that of some poor peasant wretch.” If psychiatrists insist on seeing delirium here, they will have to add that they are not dealing with a hallucinatory delirium (that of seeing a peasant girl as Dulcinea), but instead a delirium of “theological rationalization” meant to explain why this peasant that I see here is not the Dulcinea that Sancho sees there. Psychiatrists might also recognize this same delirium of theological rationalization in Saint Thomas, when he tries to explain why the piece of bread and cup of wine that the priest holds at the altar are in reality the miraculous transmutation of the invisible, intangible body of Christ. And what psychiatrist would dare diagnose Saint Thomas Aquinius as a madman?

Don Quixote’s madness is seen both in his behavior toward Aldonza Lorenzo and the anonymous peasant as well as, most obviously, in his behavior toward the dukes, who themselves are responsible for all the “deliriums” (in reality, the ploys) that Don Quixote and Sancho experience in their company (including the scenes of Clavileño or the island of Barataria). This madness is not only a psychological process that would have affected Alonso Quijano. It is also (and primarily) a social process triggered by the people who surround Don Quixote and who act as Cartesian evil geniuses, deceiving him even while trying to help or even entertain him. These evil geniuses act on Don Quixote, but as counter-figures of those that act through Mephistopheles when he goes to present himself before Faust: “Part of that power which would do evil constantly and constantly does good.” 

As such, it’s untenable to attribute madness and delirium to Don Quixote while reserving prudence and common sense for Sancho. If Don Quixote is mad because he takes off on wild adventures, so too is Sancho, who accompanies him not only on the first nor on the second outing, but also on the third: “’Look, Teresa’, Sancho replied. ‘I’m happy because I’ve made up my mind to go back into service with my master Don Quixote, who’s riding off in search of adventures for a third time, and I’m going with him again, because my needs force me to.’”{15}

Don Quixote, Cave of Montesinos


The stage of El Quixote contains three types of references: circular, radial, and angular

From the general presupposition that a singular person always implies a plurality of people, I have tried to outline the structure of this plurality, the one in which the characters of Don Quixote operate. 

Rejecting both monist structures (that attribute to a person the original situation of an absolute, solitary person, in the “sublime solitude” of the neo-Platonic God, “alone with the Alone”) and binary structures (dualist, dioscuric, or Manichean) together as metaphysical, I have found it convenient to operate with interwoven tripartite structures in my interpretation of Don Quixote. Furthermore, these trinitary structures can give rise to other, more complex structures such as enneads or dozens, which are found in the novel in the form of the remembrance of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, the twelve apostles, or the twelve Knights of the Round Table.

The hermeneutic discipline that imposes this structural postulation is quite clear: to systematically avoid treating Don Quixote (or any other character) as if he were (even in his soliloquies) an ab-solute character, or a character attached to his complement, albeit in a Manichean way (the same way that inspired those famous verses of Antonio Machado – his talent offered little more – that the “Spanish Left” took as emblem for decades: “Little Spaniard just now coming into this world, may God keep you. One of those two Spains will freeze your heart”).{16} I would like to systematically induce the investigation into the different connections between the characters of Quixote, without having to leave the novel itself or look beyond its immanence for references outside the text and its scenes (references that nonetheless must be found at the proper time).

As has been said many times, Don Quixote is a novel written from a theatrical point of view (Diaz Plaja observed that Quixote is the only novel whose central character is always dressed up). Herein lies its potential to be made into sculptural or pictorial representations, and later into cinematographic and televised ones. Cervantes offers us characters in well-defined scenes. Various characters are always moving in these scenes, at least in principle (there are, of course, exceptions with a single character speaking in a monologue or two speaking in dialogue); the triangle is the elemental structure of the theater as well.

A theater stage (much like that of Cervantes’s great novel) cannot be restricted to the limits of its own physical space. It is a place in which individual actors, by putting on their masks (per-sonarepros-opon), begin to act as people and therefore it is a part of a circle of human beings, a part of anthropological space.

Beyond the circular dimensions (the relationships of people with other people) – those in which personae move and in which drama, comedy, and tragedy develop – a cosmic dimension also corresponds to the stage. In this dimension geographical and historical references external to the immanence of the stage are both included in and internally involved with the stage (I call these radial references – this network of relationships and interactions that human beings maintain with the impersonal things which surround them).{17} As I will try to demonstrate in what follows, it would be impossible to try to understand the philosophy of Don Quixote – a philosophy that remains hidden or buried beneath literary and cinematographic images – on the fringes of these references.

Finally, in addition to references and figures contained within both the circle of human persons and the radial region of space, the stage also contains figures and references that extend beyond this circle and region. For although they are personal (a condition very similar to human beings, in that they have appetites, knowledge, and feelings) they are not of human nature (I call these references angular – a region of anthropological space that includes certain numinous animals, demons, angels, devils, etc…).

In Quixote there are various angular references to devils, omen-bearing birds (like the countless huge ravens and rooks that flew out from the undergrowth covering the Cave of Montesinos), and some monkey that speaks “in the style of the devil.”{18} Further references are made to giants, like the giant Morgante (affable and polite) who was one of the three to face Roldán in Amadís, or the giant Caraculiambro, lord of the island of Malindrania, who Don Quixote hopes to vanquish in battle in order to send him to present himself to Quixote’s sweet mistress. And, of course, we must count others among these non-human beings: the Trinity of Gaeta already cited, or those of Our Lady of the Rock of France – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to whom Sancho entrusts Don Quixote as they descend from the Cave of Montesinos. (Nonetheless, it’s always important to keep in mind that Cervantes insists time and time again that he doesn’t want to get caught up in matters reserved for the Catholic faith.)

Let’s translate all of this into our language: Cervantes affirms that he always wants to remain in the human (circular), cosmic (radial), and religious (angular) stage. (Focusing on the unique rhythm that he seems to attribute to finite and immanent matters, he seems to set aside the indefinite and transcendent rhythm of matters that would concern the Catholic Church.)

Martin Wadlseem�ller map, 1507


The stage of Don Quixote does not refer to “anthropological space” in general, but rather to the Spanish Empire

How then are we to determine the references (beyond the novel’s stage) of the human personae, the radialcontents, or the angular entities that all figure in the “immanence” of this stage?

It could be said that such references aren’t defined in Quixote, which is another way to say they don’t exist, or at least that they don’t exist as definite references. Accordingly, the circular references of Don Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea would have to refer to “Humanity” in general (figures of humanity that we could find in any place or time), and this is where some place the universality commonly attributed to Cervantes’s work. Likewise, any of the contents of the cosmic, geographical, or historical world could be taken as the novel’s radial references; and, of course, any references that gathered the adequate characters in any time and place would be valid as angular references for the book. In other words, the references of Don Quixotewould be panchronic and pantopic, expressed positively; expressed equally but negatively, they would be uchronic and utopic – therein lies the root of its universality.

Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the possibility of these “universalist” interpretations (the foundation of ethical and psychological interpretations which direct their interpretations toward the characters of Quixoteand their idealism or realism, their fortitude or avarices, and so many other characteristics common to the “human condition”), I prefer to limit myself to the very precise (and far from scarce) historical and geographical interpretations of Don Quixote which I consider sufficient (if not necessary) conditions in order to penetrate its meaning.

In short, it seems to me (and many other critics) that the stage of Don Quixote, as far as it is a symbol, refers to very precise historical and geographical references. Undoubtedly, these references can be put to the side if one remains in humanist, ethical, or psychological interpretations of the novel. However, once we reinterpret the many historical and geographical references that appear throughout Quixote, then political interpretations of it impose themselves – interpretations which, in one way or another, revolve around the meaning of the Spanish Empire, of the fecho del Imperio, to use formula that Alfonso X (“the Wise”) used four centuries earlier.{19}

According to these political interpretations, Cervantes offers in his stage an interpretation of the Spanish Empire as the first “generating empire” that reached it peak throughout the 15th and 16th centuries (the English and Dutch Empires would have been raised from the Spanish Empire, initially as its predators).{20}In this interpretation, the Spanish Empire would have reached its highest peaks in 1521 with the conquest of Mexico, and later of Peru and Flanders, and above all in 1571 in Lepanto, where the Ottoman Empire, which was seriously threatening Europe, was halted. Cervantes took part in this battle under the command of Don Juan de Austria and there he lost use of his left arm, which served as a lifelong memory of the reality of the Muslim offensive. In addition to this loss, he was taken prisoner by the Moors and held captive for five years in Algiers until he was set free by a paid ransom.

(A certain minister who fills Zapatero’s government quota, whose name I cannot quite recall, shines with the patent ignorance common to the naive pacifism of her group, declaring in El País on May 19, 2004: “I also think that our projects in the Mediterranean are important. If many of us have refused to take part in the atrocity of this war [Iraq] it’s because an old relationship with the Arab world is still alive…Cervantes, to take just a single example, was in Algiers, in Oran…We have to be aware of our history to know who we are.”)

However, in 1588, the date of the Spanish Armada’s main defeat (although not of its destruction nor or a defeat of the still fearsome power that Spain represented for England, Holland, and France), an inflection takes place in the course of history. Spain hasn’t entered into a decrepit situation, as it will still remain a great world power for two more centuries (the 17th and 18th). However, its ascending course has slowed down, chiefly due to the other empires rising out of its shadow. This is when Cervantes would have begun his meditation on the Catholic (Universal) Empire – a meditation that would lead him to write his great work Don Quixote de la Mancha.

As I understand it, this meditation on the Spanish empire is a task whose philosophical importance has a much further reach than the humanist meditation on the human condition, which may seem to be a much more profound meditation, but in reality is but a uniform, abstract, and empty monotony. The meditation on “Man” or the “human condition” presents itself, in effect, as a metaphysical meditation to anyone who understands that “Man” (Mankind, humanity, or the human condition) doesn’t exist outside of universal empires and that only from universal empires (that are a part of humanity, but not its whole) is it possible to make contact with this alleged “human condition.”

For a human, taken in general, is but a mere formality whose material content can only be acquired from its determinations, not in some historically universal sense, but rather through the different determinations or “modes of man” that have taken shape throughout the succession of the main Empires: from the Persian Empire to Alexander, from the Roman Empire of Augustus to Constantine and his successors – the Spanish, the English, and the Soviet. Only from the continental shelves formed by these universal empires can we begin to approach the depths of what we call the human condition, not as something invariable (except in its genetic structure common with primates) but as something ever-changing and given in the course of history. From my position, the bases of these universal empires are the most positive criteria available in order to differentiate anthropological analyses (ethological, psychological) from philosophical-historical analyses of the human condition.

In other words, the interpretation of Don Quixote as a universal figure, in the sense of being human (and what, I ask, do the so-called “values” of Don Quixote have to do with the values of a Muslim, since they too are human values?), is an empty meditation that relapses into pure psychologism.

Once we decide to develop extensively these political and historical-philosophical interpretations of Quixote, the first thing to do is to clear up the question of the extra-literary references that the stage of Don Quixote offers us, the stage through which the trinity of Don Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea is constantly passing.

The Spanish Empire


The references of the characters of the fundamental trinity in Don Quixote

We must first ask ourselves how to determine the external references of the figures that appear on the stage of Don Quixote.

I will take as criterion the words pronounced from the novel’s own literary immanence, the words of one of the most significant characters who surrounds the Knight of the Sad Face: Sanson Carrasco, the “famous jester” who, embracing Don Quixote and with his voice raised, proclaimed:

“O flower of knight-errantry! O resplendent light of arms! O honour and mirror of the Spanish nation!”{21}

According to the graduate’s words (which Cervantes may very well be speaking himself), Don Quixote refers unequivocally to “the Spanish nation”. For our purposes, this has a far-reaching political meaning, demonstrating not only that the Spanish nation is already recognized in the 16th century (much earlier than the English or French, let alone the Catalonian or Basque nation), but also offering the extra-literary reference that Cervantes attributed to the figure of Don Quixote.

It’s true that the Spanish nation reflected by Don Quixote (according to the graduate Carrasco) is not a political nation in the sense that can be seen in the Battle of Valmy, as I have already noted.{22} The Spanish nation to which the graduate Carrasco refers is not a political nation that would have risen up from the ruins of the Ancient Regime, but neither is it a merely ethnic nation that either lives on the fringes of some empire or integrated with other nations in the Spanish empire. Carrasco’s Spanish nation is a historical nation whose extension matches that of the Iberian Peninsula. (When Carrasco pronounces his imprecation, Portugal makes up part of the Spanish empire – on July 26, 1582, Cervantes himself took part in a naval combat on the Azorean island of San Miguel, fighting against French mercenaries who supported Don Antonio’s aspirations to convert himself into King of Portugal). The unity and consistency of this Spanish nation could be understood beyond the then-hegemonic and visible Empire; it could be understood from France, Italy, England, and from America.

To what then does Sancho refer? He too is given to us from the same stage: a peasant from La Mancha, the head of a family made up by his wife and two children. As such, he represents any of the workers who live on the Iberian Peninsula and who are dedicated with their wives to keep their family going. Sancho, gifted with great intelligence (and not only manual intelligence, but also verbal and even literary), gets along perfectly with other peasants and people of his social status. And like them (or many of them), the well-fed Sancho (he is not a pariah from India, condemned to live a life of misery in his assigned station, even if in the presence of the “Whole”) is willing to leave his home and serve a knight who can expand his horizons, regardless of the risks that such an adventure may have in store for him.

And Dulcinea? In the words of Ludwig Pfandl nearly a century ago, “Dulcinea is nothing other than the incarnation of the monarchy, of nationality, of faith. The one-armed man [Quixote] strives for her, fighting against the windmills.”{23}

But if I were to accept Pfandl’s interpretation, wouldn’t then Dulcinea’s reference get confused with the reference that Carrasco saves for Don Quixote, the “Spanish nation”?

In some general way, yes, much as Sancho too (such as I have presented him) must refer to this same Spanish nation which now seems consolidated into, or existing as, a historical nation, regardless of the deep crisis that it is suffering after the defeat of its Armada. However, although the circumstantial reference of Don Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea may be the same – Spain – the perspectives from which each of these characters of the trinity refers to Spain are nonetheless distinct to each other. 

The battle of Lepanto, 1571


Historical spread of the trinity of Don Quixote: past, present, and future

Perhaps Don Quixote refers to Spain from the perspective of the past, Sancho from the perspective of the present, and Dulcinea from the perspective of the future (and for that Dulcinea is a matter of faith, not of actual evidence).

These three perspectives are necessarily involved with each other, just as the trinity of Quixote are involved with each other. In other words, if each person in this stage trinity – Don Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea – refers to a Spain that has entered into a profound crisis, it’s because each person refers to it through or by the mediation of the others. Don Quixote is seen from a past that, even during the time on the stage, is still close (the time in which Spanish knights used lances and swords instead of harquebuses and cannons), and Sancho is seen from the present in a village that lives thanks to the fruits that the land, which must keep producing in every moment, gives after hard labor. Dulcinea represents the future, as a symbol of the mother-Spain, but I take this reference literally, which has little to do with a reference in the sense of an “ideal figure” of an “eternal femininity” and more to do with the representation of a mother able to give birth to children that as rural workers or soldiers will make the future of Spain possible.

With that said, in a historical time like that which corresponds to Spain, the present, past, and future are not mere points on a line that represents astronomical time. The time of Spain as an emerging generating Empire that is beginning to show the deep wounds that its enemies, the European predatory empires, are inflicting upon it, this time is historical time – a flowing, constantly interacting collection of millions of people, each one used to eating daily and in constant agitation and interaction. This flowing collection, this oceanic river of people who make history and are swept away by it, can be classified in three classes or circles of people theoretically well-defined:

First, there is the circle made up by people who mutually influence one another, supporting or destroying one another during the course of their lives – a circle whose diameter can be estimated as a hundred years – the years which correspond to what I call the historical present (which is not, of course, the instantaneous, adimensional present corresponding to a flowing point on the time line).

Second, there is the circle (of finite, but indeterminate diameter) made up by people who influence the people of the present for better or worse and whom we take as references, molding them nearly completely, but without us being able to influence them in any way, neither profoundly nor superficially, because they have died. This is the constituent circle of a historical past, the circle of the dead, those who increasingly tell the living what to do.

Finally, there is the circle (of indefinite diameter) made up by the people influenced by those who are living in the present, with the latter nearly molding the former entirely by marking their paths, but without the former being able to influence those who are living in the present, because they don’t exist yet. This is the circle of the historical future.

We have been supposing – or if it’s preferred, we depart from the supposition – that the references of the symbolic (allegorical) characters that Cervantes offers us on the stage of his most capital work must be placed in Spain. Spain, however, is a historical process. So to affirm that Spain is the place in which the references of the stage characters – Don Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea – must be placed is still not saying much.

To begin, we must determine the parameters of the present, the present in which our stage is situated, and with that perspective as a platform we can look toward both the past and the future. Undoubtedly these parameters must be obtained following the method of analysis of the literary immanence – the immanence of the stage itself, the stage on which the characters act. These indications are various and concordant and lead us to fix the date in which the characters act – the time “of the great Philip III”. Even more precisely, there is the letter that Sancho, as governor of the island of Barataria, writes to his wife Teresa Panza, dated July 20, 1614. It must be concluded then that Don Quixote took off in search of Dulcinea in those days.

This doesn’t mean though that Cervantes wanted to offer a stage which refers to the Spain of his present – a present that covers (if I maintain my hypothesis) a circle with a hundred-year diameter and which could go from 1616 – the year of his death – back to 1516, the year in which Ferdinand the Catholic died. The central point of his diameter is found very close to 1571 – the date of the battle of Lepanto, in which the twenty-four year old Cervantes took glorious part.

Cervantes didn’t propose to make a chronicle of the present in which I suppose he situated his stage. From his present, of course, Cervantes summons a stage whose reference is Spain, but not exactly the Spain of the Middle Ages (as Hegel thought when he interpreted Don Quixote as a symbol of the transition from the feudal to the modern period). Don Quixote crosses a now unified peninsula without interior borders between the Christian kingdoms and even more, without borders with the Moor kingdoms: the Spain that Don Quixote crosses is subsequent to the capture of Granada in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs. This, therefore, is the “literary stage” (not the historical stage) of Don Quixote.

Nevertheless, Don Quixote does not yet walk across a modern Spain (Cervantes’s Spain – where the smell and noise of gunpowder were well-known, where galleons came and went to America – a Spain to which there is practically no reference in the book). In the first chapter of the book, Cervantes takes great care to tell us that the first thing Don Quixote did before leaving his house “was to clean a suit of armour that had belonged to his forefathers and that, covered in rust and mould, had been standing forgotten in a corner for centuries.”{24} Next, Alonso Quijano (who lives in the present) dressed up as Don Quixote, a knight from the past. However, this past, as is natural for every historical past, continued to heavily influence the present, for the “dead increasingly tell the living what to do”.

Nonetheless, as I have said above, Don Quixote and his group don’t operate in a medieval period, but rather in a modern one. There are no longer Moor kings in Spain. Some Moriscos that were expelled even return to Spain, and meet with Sancho: 

“You don’t mean to tell me, brother Sancho Panza, that you can’t recognize your neighbour Ricote the Morisco, the village shopkeeper?”{25}

From the 1614 stage (the date of Sancho’s letter to his wife), it seems obvious that Cervantes wants to refer to the Spain of the previous century – to the Spain of 1514 that, while no longer medieval, hasn’t yet seen the arrival of Carlos I to the throne, nor above all, Hernán Cortés’s entrance in New Spain in Mexico. It seems as if Cervantes had deliberately wanted to return to a previous Iberian Spain, perhaps not before the discovery of America, but as least earlier than the massive Spanish entrance in the New World (Peru, Mexico…) and the repercussions that such an entrance would have in Spain itself.

The Spain that Cervantes sees from his novel’s stage is a Spain that neither appears as involved in the New World nor in the old continent (in Flanders, Italy, Constantinople, Africa). As such it isn’t a Spain contemplated on the scale of a coeval political society, although the stage is placed in that political society which acts as its platform. It’s as if Cervantes wanted to illuminate the references he saw from his stage; politically speaking, this is not anachronistic but simply abstract. It’s as if he wanted to illuminate with an ultraviolet light capable of revealing a civil society that continued to exist and move at its own pace in the background of the political society – a civil society with priests and barbers, dukes and puppeteers: archaic but recognizable knights-errant who, through the tricks of illumination, show up with a certain intemporal air.

This intemporal air comes from a society that, like the Spanish, has already matured as the first historical nation. Nonetheless, it still needs the care of knights armed with lances and swords, even in those moments when it is abstracted from its imminent political responsibilities (those which oblige the mobilization of armies with firearms – today we would say missiles with nuclear heads). For the interior, “intemporal” peace in which this society lives, the peace that knights believe themselves capable of finding if they dress up as shepherds, has nothing to do with celestial peace, given that bandits, murderers, thieves, liars, cheaters, and heartless, cruel scum will continue to rob, murder, steal, lie, cheat, and deceive.

When we want to come to some political interpretation of Don Quixote, how can we not take seriously this “intemporal Spain” that Cervantes would have artificially illuminated with the ultraviolet light presented above? When we try to interpret the novel from political categories, should we not recognize as Cervantes’s most significant allegorical device this “Spanish nation” that he recognized and suspended in an ultraviolet, intemporal atmosphere?

Seen as such, it seems to me that any attempt to interpret the stage of Quixote directly through immediate reference to the historical figures of its present (figures like Carlos I, Hernán Cortés, the Great Captain, or Diego García de Paredes) must be considered elementary and naïve (“A fig for the Great Captain and another for that Diego García character,” replies the innkeeper to the priest).{26}

The stage of Don Quixote refers to Spain, to the historical Spain, and to its political empire. It does so not in an immediate way, but rather through the use of an intemporal Spain, one not unreal but seen simply under an ultraviolet light in which a civil society, set in the historical time that the Iberian peninsula lives, lives according to its own rhythm.


Two types of philosophical-political interpretations of Don Quixote:
catastrophist and revulsive

Difficulties spring up now when we interpret the figures of Don Quixote; even supposing that their condition as allegorical symbols with ambiguous references (that play a double role in political and civil society) is admitted, as I have suggested, difficulties remain. 

There are many interpretations formulated on diverse scales. The first thing that matters to us, from the historical-philosophical-political perspective that I support, is to classify these diverse interpretations in two large groups: catastrophist interpretations (or defeatist as we could also call them) and non-catastrophistinterpretations (or simply critical, or revulsive, insomuch as they interpret Don Quixote not so much as an expression of an irreversible political defeatism which could only seek refuge in a pacifist gospel – one typical of the “extravagant left” – but more as the offering of a revulsion that ends up putting weapons as the necessary (but not sufficient) condition to overcome decadence or defeat.{27}

Gustave Dor�, Don Quixote


Catastrophist interpretations of Don Quixote

Albeit briefly, let’s examine some interpretations of the meaning of Don Quixote belonging to the group we have labeled as “catastrophist” and in whose stock a certain “pacifist naivete” is found.{28}

According to these interpretations, Cervantes, in his fundamental work, would have supplied the most ruthless and defeatist vision of Imperial Spain that could ever have been offered up. As clever psychological critics say, Cervantes – resentful, skeptical, on the border of nihilism and disappointed by the innumerable failures that his life handed him (mutilation, captivity, prison, failure, and rejection – especially in his request to move to America, a right he felt he deserved as a hero in Lepanto) – this Cervantes would have eliminated from his brilliant novel any reference to the Indies, as well as any to Europe. The madness of the real Spanish knights (Carlos I, Hernán Cortés, don Juan de Austria) – those who supposedly ended up ruining the country – would then be alluded to allegorically by the heroes of the chivalry books that inspired the conquistadors to go to the Indies in search of El Dorado, California, or Patagonia: “To the people of Hernán Cortés,” Américo Castro says, “their triumphant arrival in Mexico seemed to be an episode from Amadís or some sort of spell”; those same books inspired them to go to England or Flanders with a squadron so archaic and “invincible” that, like Don Quixote’s own lance, was shattered in the first assault.{29}

And so if the graduate Sanson Carrasco said to Don Quixote that he was “the honour and mirror of the Spanish nation”, it’s easy to understand what he meant. For what is it that this mirror reflected? A deformed knight who goes on delirious and ridiculous adventures from which he returns defeated time and time again. Isn’t this the reflection of the Spanish nation?

Accordingly, Cervantes must be placed among those men inside the Spanish nation (not outside) who have most contributed to the development of the Black Legend (although others have done so in a much more subtle and cowardly way).{30} Bartolomé de las Casas and Antonio Peréz head this list of men, a list rounded off by the latest winner of the Cervantes Award, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, who in 1992 wrote a book entitled Esas Yndias Equivocadas y Malditas (Those Damned, Mistaken Indies) that was awarded the National Award for Literature under the socialist government. Nonetheless, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) himself must be the central figure of this list. Cervantes, with his Don Quixote, would have made a brilliant and hidden framing of the Black Legend to use against Spain while also contributing to its diffusion throughout Europe. Montesquieu would have already advised of it: “The most important book that the Spanish have is nothing other than a critique of other Spanish books.”{31}

In short, no Spaniard who maintains even an atom of national pride could see himself reflected in Don Quixote’s mirror. Only a group of people as “inflated with pride” and “charged with rights” as Spaniards (as Prat de la Riba, from Catalonia, was already saying in 1898), could identify themselves with some of the abstract qualities of the Knight of the Sad Face. Folch y Torres, another separatist who took great delight in Don Quixote’s failures (particularly insofar as these failures represented Spain’s), went so far as saying, in the same year (1898) in which “Castilian Quixotes were so crazy to declare war against the United States” (in the course of the conflicts with Cuba and the Philippines): “Let the Castilians keep their Don Quixote, for whatever he’s worth.”{32}

What’s more, this defeatist interpretation taken from Don Quixote and therefore from the interior of the Spanish empire, whereby both are the work of a megalomaniacal, cruel delirium, would not only have framed the Black Legend, but also would have fueled it as it was promoted from abroad by enemy powers (France, England, Holland) – those predatory empires and scavenging pirates that fed themselves from their infancy to their youth on the offal they went ripping off from Spain. Some suggest (recently Javier Neira) that Don Quixote‘s rapid and extraordinary success in Europe could have been due in large part to precisely its capacity to serve as fuel for the hate and disdain that Spain’s enemies wanted to direct at it.

In this defeatist interpretation, must we then follow the path that Ramiro de Maetzu himself initiated when he advised to temper the cult of Don Quixote not only in schools, but also in the Spanish national ideology?

If Don Quixote is a mad and ridiculous Spanish antihero, a mere parody and counterfigure of the real man and the real modern knight, then why is there this determination to keep him as a national emblem by celebrating his anniversaries and centennaries with such uncommon pomp? Only the enemies of Spain – internal enemies above all, like Catalonian, Basque, or Galician separatists – could delight in the adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

It would still be possible to try to restore a less depressing symbolism of Don Quixote, even while recognizing his incessant defeats. We could do so by situating ourselves in the positions of the most extreme pacifism, whether it be the one defended by the extravagant left, so close to the evangelical pacifism of the current Popes (whose “Kingdom is not of this world” – thus its “extra-vagance”) or that pacifism defended by the digressive left which proclaims perpetual peace on earth and the Alliance of Civilizations. For these radical pacifists the adventures of Don Quixote could serve as an illustration, a reductio ad absurdum either in fact or in counterexample, of the uselessness of war and the stupidity of violence and the use of weapons.

Wanting to save Cervantes, the more audacious critics in this line might even dare to say that Cervantes, with his Don Quixote, has given to Spain and to the world in general an “ethical lesson” that teaches us of the uselessness of weapons and violence.

Along this line, these naive critics could see in Cervantes a convinced pacifist who tries to demonstrate the importance of evangelical peace, tolerance, and dialogue along a path of reductio ad absurdum of counterexamples – weapons that turn out to be useless, regardless of the bearer’s force of spirit.

Nevertheless, those who believe themselves capable of taking similar conclusions, “morals”, from the Don Quixote’s failures are unforgivably confused between the weapons of Don Quixote and weapons in general. This conclusion or moral is taken from the fallacious (petitio principii) premise that Don Quixote’s weapons represent weapons in general. What if Don Quixote, through his peculiar and cryptic way of speaking, were insisting on the essential difference between firearms (those with which the victory of Lepanto was obtained) and the ancient knights’ bladed weapons? According to this interpretation, Don Quixote’s failures with his rusty blades would immediately convert into an apology of the firearms that begin modern war, as seen in those first battles which Cervantes himself attended on various occasions (Lepanto, Navarino, Tunisia, La Goleta, San Miguel de las Azores).

Nevertheless, it is necessary to affirm that in any case the catastrophist interpretations of Quixote would affect Cervantes rather than Don Quixote. According to Unamuno’s thesis, a resentful and skeptical Cervantes behaved as a wretch with Don Quixote, trying time and time again to project him as ridiculous. He didn’t achieve his goal, however, and that is best evidenced by the universal admiration which Don Quixote arouses, which is not due (except for psychiatrists) to him being a paranoid madman. For as many times as Don Quixote falls down and gets beat up, so too does he pick himself up and recover; in this way, he represents the fortitude, firmness, and generosity of a knight who lives not in a fantasy world, but in the real, miserable world where he doesn’t give up when faced with misfortune.{33}

Furthermore, in no way is it clear that Cervantes held the nihilist, resentful attitude toward the Spanish empire which Unamuno attributed to him. Cervantes always maintained the pride of a combatant soldier in Lepanto, where the Holy League headed by the Spanish Empire stopped the influx of the Ottoman Empire, “the greatest occasion that the centuries saw,” as Cervantes said. In Don Quixote itself, we can also note that Cervantes approved of the Spanish policy to expel the moriscos and that he always showed himself to be a convinced subject of the Catholic Hispanic Monarchy.

In sketching his hero, Cervantes did not use the wide, elementary strokes with which King Arthur and Amadís de Gaul had been drawn throughout the centuries. Cervantes’s method was subtler. His results were without a doubt more ambiguous because of that – so ambiguous that they allowed the enemies of Spain to transform him into a pretext for derision of its history and its people.

Picasso, Don Quixote, 1955


Don Quixote as a revulsion

Now let’s examine some of the critical interpretations of Don Quixote that can be grouped together as revulsive.

According to these interpretations, before anything else one can find in Don Quixote a devastating criticism directed against all those Spaniards who, after having participated in the most glorious battles – those “events of weapons” in which the Spanish Empire was forged – had returned to their homes or to the court as satiate hidalgos and knights ready to live off the rent in some intemporal world, content with the memories of their glory days. They lived forgetful of the fact that the same Empire which protected their welfare, their happiness – their more or less placid and pacific life – was being attacked on all sides and starting to show alarming signs of leak after the defeat of its Armada.

After the first great push of the Empire (which is now starting to collapse), this mass of satiate people is in danger of producing the “I wan’t but can’t” of some strained knight, a knight for whom nothing is left but to wait, to wait for ridicule in trying to take up the rusty armor of his great grandparents, or the paralytic boats of the invincible Spanish Armada.

The lances and swords of his grandparents, or the bacinelmet Don Quixote himself makes, can then be seen as allegories through which Cervantes, without even needing to be aware of it, meant to represent the Spain that resulted from the ultraviolet light he used. According to this, Cervantes, with his Don Quixote, could have attempted or (if what he had attempted was to unleash his skepticism bordering on nihilism) at least could have succeeded in exercising the role of an agent of a revulsion before the government of the successive kings of Catholic majesties – Carlos I and even Felipe II, in the times of Lepanto. 

What Cervantes would be saying to his compatriots is that with rusty lances and swords, with paralytic boats, with solitary adventures, or less still, dressed up as bucolic and pacific pastors, that with all of this the Spanish people would be destined to failure because the Empire that protected them and the one in which they lived was being seriously threatened by neighboring ones. Nonetheless, Cervantes would also be seeing – albeit with skepticism – that it was still possible to overcome the depression that without a doubt appeared in some of the characters – among them Alonso Quijano transformed as Don Quixote. As such, Cervantes seems to want to stress in every moment that his characters effectively have the necessary energy – even if it had to be expressed in the form of madness.

According to this interpretation, Don Quixote’s message would not then be a defeatist message, but rather a revulsive one. Such a revulsion would be destined to remove satiate Spaniards from their daydreams – those who thought they could live satisfied after the victorious battle, savoring the peace of victory or simply enjoying their “welfare state” (as Spaniards will say centuries later) provided by a new order. But this new order which Spaniards had succeeded in imposing on their old enemies came from beyond their borders – from the same America that Cervantes himself eliminates from Quixote. This perspective provides an explanation of why nothing is said in Don Quixote about everything that surrounds the peninsular enclosure with its adjacent islands and territories, of why nothing is said about America, Europe, Asia, or Africa.

As such, Don Quixote, along with his follies, would be offering some hints of the path it would be necessary to follow. The first of these, before any other, would be to travel and explore the lands of the Spanish nation: Cervantes takes care that Don Quixote de La Mancha leaves his village in the fields of Montiel and crosses the Sierra Morena. He even takes care to make him arrive at the beach of Barcelona (the same beach, it seems, in which Cervantes saw how the boat carrying his patron the Count of Lemos took off to sea towards Italy, without Cervantes being able to catch it for a final chance).

Don Quixote doesn’t cross peninsular Spain simply for fun in a “deserved rest”, nor to privately insult his people, but rather to make some sort of effort without resting (“My arms are my bed-hangings/ And my rest’s the bloody fray.”), intervening in his people’s lives, taking an attitude of intolerance in the face of the intolerable (with Master Pedro’s altarpiece, for example).{34} Or he could even be seen as inducing these lives to the fabrication of arms – not bacinelmets, but new weapons: firearms (today we would say hydrogen bombs) necessary to maintain the war that those nations hounding the Spanish will indubitably unleash if Spain doesn’t submit to them.

For Don Quixote doesn’t believe in universal harmony, nor in perpetual peace, nor in the Alliance of Civilizations. Don Quixote lives in a cosmos whose order is nothing but appearance, one that covers the profound convulsions that its parts experience, parts that never adjust to one another: “May God send a remedy,” he says in Chapter 29 of the enchanted boat, “for everything in this world is trickery, stage machinery, every part of it working against every other part. I have done all I can.”

Quixote so offers a precise message not to men (“Man” in general), but to Spanish men: an apology of arms. “War and arms are one.”{35} Let them be then, those who direct messages of hope for perpetual peace to Man in general, or to mankind, or to Humanity, because these messages will be inoffensive if we keep in mind that their recipient (humanity) doesn’t exist. A message of perpetual peace and disarmament directed to the Spanish nation would be lethal, however. It could only be understood as a message sent to Spain by its enemies, hoping that once Spain had disarmed herself, they could then go in and split her up.

In any case, it’s not necessary to suppose that Cervantes, as a finis operantis of his master work, deliberately proposed to offer a parody that would serve as a revulsion to those court favorites of the monarchy, knights of the Court, dukes, priests, or barbers in order to make them see through the adventures of a grotesque knight where their complacency, their welfare, and even their literary taste for knights-errant or the pastoral life could lead them.

It’s sufficient to admit the possibility that Cervantes could have immediately perceived a particular kind of madness in the hidalgo whom he called Alonso Quijano and who was driven mad by reading chivalry books. Cervantes undoubtedly found an interest in both his condition as madman and, even more so, in the nature of his madness; there is very little in common between the madness of the licenciado Vidreiera and Don Quixote’s madness, although the differences between the two end up grossly erased when they are considered only in their common denomination as “madmen”. The madness of the latter resembled enthusiastic knights of the court such as Amadís or Palmerín, and even Hernán Cortés and the Great Captain, although Cervantes may have wanted to separate these last two, diverting attention towards the first two so as not to raise uncomfortable or dangerous suspicions or divert the direction of his reductio ad absurdum demonstration.

To summarize – in this nobleman gone mad by books of chivalry and converted into a knight – “a knight armed with derision” – Cervantes could have sensed the ridiculousness of those happy and complacent knights who fueled themselves on old stories. Even further, it can be conceded that this allegory – suggested from the beginning, but in chiaroscuro – became a constant stimulus for the author and gained momentum as it went, driving the author to dedicate himself with greater fervor to the development of such an ambiguous character, one so ambiguous that it became inexhaustible – a character that promised so much, even from its initial, simple definition.

The hectic development of his brilliant invention – that is, the discovery of “a nobleman from La Mancha mad for his effort to turn himself into a knight-errant” – could be, of course, the river bed that gathered the powerful current pouring into Cervantes. This current undoubtedly had been around some years before Don Quixote came to be, gathering resentments, let-downs, and slights towards knights, court favorites or satisfied dukes: all those national heroes who, living in a fully “welfare state”, took joy remembering their own or others’ heroic memories while chatting away on their hunts or in their salons, be it in Madrid, Valladolid, or in Villanueva de los Infantes.

Only in the course of developing Don Quixote’s initially ambiguous figure would Cervantes have become aware of the political and philosophical strength of the allegory provided by his specific, “knightly” madness. For although Don Quixote’s ambiguity was never abandoned and must be considered as central to his character, it was only during the development of his adventures that this ambiguity was filled with contents, whether of a psychological-psychiatric or a ethical-political nature. 

Alonso Quijano is a madman, and while Don Quixote channels his madness through generally violent means, they are nonetheless filled with strength and generosity. In addition, the hero – a madman in his acts and exploits – is a judicious and ingenious hero in his speech, so unlike a madman. But Cervantes thinks that discourses conform and give sense to acts (to such a point that the latter can be erased and transformed by the former). Given this belief and due to the objective force of the main character and those around him, Cervantes would have seen himself obliged to attribute Don Quixote’s constant failures less to his madness, and more to the instruments which this madness used – archaic weapons, starving knights, and ridiculous bacinelmets.

Accordingly, little by little Quixote would have become a work that objectively (according to its finis operis) began to assume (simply by Cervantes’s skeptical filter) the function of a revulsion directed at those same courtesan or village knights, dukes, and graduates who Cervantes knew and who ridiculed Don Quixote’s projects in Part Two. It’s as if Cervantes, developing the virtuosities of Quixote’s character, had come to reach a disposition of spirit that would have made him capable to say to his compatriots: “See how, from the complacent and satisfied magma of national heroes, idle, knights, villains, scribes and legists, priests, and barbers, see how the figures of Don Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea have emerged and how their rank elevates them immediately above the vulgar crowded atmosphere.”

Why then are these triadic figures laughable, especially the figure of Don Quixote? Not for his efforts, strength, fortitude, or generosity, but rather because he uses laughable instruments or proposes laughable goals: broken lances, bacinelmets, windmills, flocks of goats, even the governance of an island. But he does so always maintaining that forceful, firm, and generous energy inherited from his lineage.

Let’s substitute broken lances for cannons, starving horses for armed light boats, knights-errant for companies or battalions (individual violence redress wrongs but rather unleashes new ones), windmills for giant Englishmen or Frenchmen who are attacking us; let’s substitute the squire Sancho for millions of workers who leave their homes to accompany knights in the fight against real enemies; and let’s substitute Dulcinea for the thousands of women who bring into the world new workers and soldiers.

Cervantes could catch glimpses of this allegory as his story moved forward. The important thing is that Cervantes saw such an allegory, because only then can his disposition be understood to lead Don Quixote, in a given moment in his career, to hang up his arms and so decree his death. For it cannot be forgotten that the final and most profound lesson of Don Quixote that Cervantes seems to want to offer us is this: that although the projects undertaken by Don Quixote and the armed knights he represents seem follies, the only alternative is death. One must hang up ones arms in order to renounce these follies, to be cured of them after a great fever – but with this comes death (which is what the dimwitted pacifist does not see). After hanging up his arms and entering seclusion, Don Quixote physically dies in the body of Alonso Quijano, and so symbolizes Spain’s death, for hanging up her own arms.


“Words of such good sense that they dissipate the effect of his deeds.”

The faculty to give intelligent and ingenious discourses – that is, the faculty of the learned, those who dominate the letters of the law – is a faculty that Cervantes attributes to Don Quixote directly in his speech, and not abstractly, as if readers would have to take Cervantes word for it. He makes Don Quixote give intelligent and ingenious discourses that prove this faculty and appear all the more strong while his actions, weapons, and deeds appear to us all the more weak and disjointed.

Of course, it cannot be affirmed that Don Quixote lacks discourse in his madness, just as he doesn’t lack weapons. But neither can it be affirmed (with Don Diego Miranda, see below) that Don Quixote’s “incongruence” (madness or nonsense) is found only in the field of the coordination of his discourses and actions. As such, Don Quixote’s incongruence is evident in his own discourse, which is what makes him mad and degenerates him (a form of madness also present in Bartolo’s entremes, according to Menéndez Pidal). This goes in spite of the difficulty in determining the line of demarcation between a sane discourse and a degenerated one.

When trying to establish this dividing line, it must be kept in mind that the “sane part” of Don Quixote’s discourse would have been shared by Cervantes himself. Or, if you like, that Cervantes would be expressing his own thought through Don Quixote’s discourse, and that discourse does not, in total, only oppose actions – deeds, as far as they are actions – but also the judgment of the facts of experience, which themselves are not so much actions as perceptions – without denying that at the same time these perceptions are “trimmed” by some virtual or previous action so as to be integrated in the discourse. 

Cervantes (if indeed it is Cervantes who is speaking in II,18 through Diego de Miranda) doesn’t seem to diagnose any disjunction in Don Quixote’s discourse. Rather, he seems to put Quixote’s madness in the incongruence between his speech – itself sane – and his actions: between his “words” and his “deeds” as others might say. When Don Lorenzo, poet and Don Diego’s son, asks his father’s opinion about the knight he has invited home (“Mother and I are astonished at his name, his appearance, and his claim to be a knight errant”) Don Diego responds:

—I really don’t know what to say, my son. All I do know is that I’ve seen him perform the actions of the greatest madman in the world, and heard him speak words of such good sense that they dissipate the effects of his deeds. (my italics)

It isn’t then that the deeds dissipate the effect of his words; instead, the situation is much more interesting: they are the words that dissipate the effect of his deeds according to Don Diego.

According to this diagnosis, Don Diego seems to place Don Quixote’s incongruence in a different place (where speech and deed contrast each other) than where his poet son Don Lorenzo had seemed to put it initially (where speech and deed contrast without distinction: where, by extension, Don Quixote’s global behavior, coherent in itself, contrasts his personal expression – not only verbal – of those same things: “his name, his appearance, and his claim to be a knight-errant”).

It seems proper then to test different criteria for the division between coherent and incoherent discourse. The one which seems to me the most plausible is based on a distinction between doctrinal discourse (necessarily abstract, political, and philosophical) and the judgment to apply the discourse to the concrete circumstances of the moment – a judgment where prudence and discretion must intervene, not only the wisdom of principles nor the science of the conclusions (the coherence) of the doctrine. It would seem proper to match the doctrinal discourse with the “representative register of language”, while judgment would be more akin to the register of expressive or appellate language targeting concrete people.

For example, in II, 29 (where Cervantes offers the famous adventure of the enchanted boat), it seems that Don Quixote possesses a solid science in his discourse about the Sphere, in that he uses concepts Sancho knows nothing of: colures, lines, parallels, zodiacs, ecliptics, poles, solstices, equinoxes, planets, signs, points, and measurements. The discourse is broken, however – just as the lance would break – when applied to concrete circumstances, in which good judgment – or the faculty to judge, to subsume the particular into the universal, and vice-versa – must be exercised uprightly. While being carried away by the Ebro’s current, Don Quixote begins to calculate how many parallels the boat must cross; he begins to interpret watermills as a castle in which a distressed infanta or princess shall be found. Sancho here keeps his good sense, but so too does the “wretch” or the millers who saw “a boat approaching down the river and [realized] that it was going to be sucked into the mill-race…[those] who heard but couldn’t understand [Don Quixote’s] nonsense, and held out their poles to stop the boat, but now entering the mill-race.”{36}

It seems indispensable to indicate here that Don Quixote’s madness – defined as the rupture of his sense – is such that it allows doctrinal, “academic” discourse (scientific, philosophical, or political) to remain intact. It is not a common madness such as a schizophrenic suffering from confusion and mental chaos. Don Quixote’s madness is but a particular case of the same rupture of sense that most wise men suffer – politicians and scientists, for example – when they have a firmly established doctrine or diagnosis and try to apply it to a concrete case. If the case resists, they blame the case, not the doctrine (“the cadaver is lying”).

A different matter is the origin of this disagreement between doctrine and deed. Is it due simply to the politician or scientist’s dogmatic obstinacy (he who, as an example, proposes the certainty of the big bang theory, setting aside the facts against it)? Or is it that the facts are disrupted from the outside (from the palace of the dukes, for example), so that they seem different than they ought to? In days very close to when Cervantes was writing Quixote, Descartes judged that “perhaps this stove is an illusion brought about by some evil deceptive genius”, and thus faced the same charmer as Don Quixote.

For Don Quixote also recurs to the enchantment of a malin génie to explain the lack of adjustment between sane doctrines and the facts of experience. At times, Sancho himself even loses his good sense, as happened in the episode of the wine skins slashed by Don Quixote (I, 35) which he took to be giants and the spilled wine their blood. Who doesn’t associate this enchantment of the transformation of wine into blood with the debates of the 17th century between followers of Galileo, Gassendi, and Descartes, regarding Christ’s actual presence in the Eucharist and Eucharistic transubstantiation? But if we take St. Thomas’s doctrine as a prototype of rational, theological discourse, nearly perfect within the principles of hylomorphic creationism, what does it have to do with the madness of seeing Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine?

The difficulty doesn’t so much appear in the field of St. Thomas’s doctrinal theological discourse as it does in the concrete judgment as to whether this piece of wheat bread – the sacred wafer – is Christ’s body, and if this sacred grape wine is Christ’s blood. Such a judgment can only be assented to by appealing to divine action, to a miracle that is in some way the work of enchantment. An enchantment that, as in Don Quixote’s case, transforms wine into blood and bread into flesh. (This enchantment became much more difficult to accept as hylomorphism was being replaced by atomism; so much so that it has been argued – Pietro Redondi – that his defense of the atomistic doctrine and not his heliocentrism would have then been the motive for Galileo’s persecution).

Don Quixote, The discourse about arms and letters


The discourse about arms and letters

Let us now analyze one of Don Quixote’s most famous – and also most rational and sane – discourses; one in which, as I have insinuated, Cervantes is manifesting his own thought: the “Curious discourse about arms and letters” (I, end of 37 and 38). 

In itself, this discourse doesn’t contain any disjuncture. Nor do the arms alluded to, precisely because they are just that – “alluded arms” (drawn, painted arms) and not “used arms” (live, real arms). As far as I can see, there are no inconsistencies in the discourse itself, but rather appear in its application – for example, in the obvious lack of judgment by taking windmill blades to be giant’s arms. 

And what is the substance of this perfect discourse about arms and letters? Which is to say, against whom is it directed?

These days, a “fundamentalist pacifism syndrome” is intensely shaking citizens and faithful alike (others, situated on the “left” but with clerical traces, would say: “is intensely shaking the consciences…”). Both groups exalt Don Quixote on his fourth centenary and hope to lift his figure up as another emblem of redeeming pacifism. For doesn’t Don Quixote say that “the goal that arms have before them. . .is peace”? Perhaps Don Quixote, without explicitly citing it in his discourse, is reminding us of Saint Luke, when he says in his gospel (those words which signal the start the canticle of mass): “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will”. 

And what’s more, there are some – Bataillon and many others – who see Cervantes as another one of those Spaniards impregnated by Erasmus (which Spanish siglo de oro writers would deserve to be cited by these erudite sectarians without them seeing some idea of Erasmus reproduced in their discourse?). These scholars will here read Don Quixote’s curious discourse as a version of the doctrine of Erasmusian evangelical pacifism.

Erasmus was the great pacifist flag bearer of his day, a day in which Vitoria and other theologians argued in Spain in favor of war, of “just” war. But Erasmus didn’t like Spain because Jewish people were excessively tolerated there. Apart from that, Erasmus’s pacifism wasn’t really a purely evangelical pacifism, as it was interwoven with the worldly interests of the century. Erasmus said himself to be neutral: Francis, king of France, wanted peace just as his cousin Charles did – that’s why Francis would say, “My cousin and I are always in agreement: we both want Milan.”

But Don Quixote’s discourse about arms and letters isn’t a pacifist discourse, nor much less is it an Erasmusian discourse. On the whole it could be interpreted as a speech against Erasmus (except if one assumes – and it is a lot to assume – that Cervantes praises Don Quixote’s madness when he takes up his weapons). And this is because the doctrine Don Quixote expounds is, neither more nor less, not Erasmus’s doctrine, but Aristotle’s. 

In his 1529 Complaint of Peace, Erasmus of course defends peace, attacking arms to the benefit of letters – divine letters, above all: the peace of Erasmus is the peace of the Gospel. 

In what way is a man different from an animal? According to Erasmus, a man, in spite of his intelligence, behaves more bestially than beasts themselves in their relations with others of the same species. Erasmus, inventing some sort of ethology – human ethology above all – says, “Among the most savage of beasts I find more hospitality than among men.” Animals live in a quasi-civil concord. Elephants often behave as brothers one to another. Lions show no fierceness to other lions. Serpents don’t bite serpents. The word “man” ought to be enough to establish unity among men. And although nature had crushed them or made them fall, wasn’t Christ enough for them? Christ is the beginning of peace. He isn’t announced with bellicose trumpets. In spite of their intelligence, why then do men permanently start wars? Perhaps for their original sin? But Erasmus, just as Augustine, seems to be saying that if intelligence or reason had not been cut short in man by his original sin, then he would stop developing weapons because of his rationality

Some have signaled a possible relationship between Erasmus’s Complaint of Peace, in which he denounces the ambition of bellicose princes, and Vitoria’s program, De iuri belli. Manuel de Montoliu defends this relationship.{37} To my eyes, such an remark is only the product of Erasmusmania. Vitoria isn’t a pacifist as Erasmus is – his position on just war is precisely the opposite of Erasmus’s.

But while Erasmus affirmed that humans, precisely on the basis of their rationality, ought to stop developing weapons, Don Quixote begins by vindicating the rational condition of weapons. Man is a rational animal, and so to must be weapons, as inventions of man. Don Quixote’s conclusion becomes even more important when we realize that his weapons are not machine-arms (arms of discharge – arrows, bolts, firearms, grenades; much less automatic arms, such as a smart bomb) but rather instrument-arms (wielding arms, such as swords or lances).

It’s hard to imagine Don Quixote handling a bow or harquebus. As a good knight-errant, he only uses instrument-arms, arms which receive their impulse directly from the knight’s body in such a way that the knight himself makes direct contact with his enemy’s body. He can perceive his opponent’s immediate reactions in hand to hand combat. Ethologists today take this criterion as the basis to distinguish between aggressive animal conduct (which acts directly against the enemy’s body) and aggressive human conduct, in which the human creates a larger and larger disconnection between the aggressor and the victim. Lorenz spoke of “a suppression of aggressive instincts” derived from this disconnection, which is seen in its first degrees in chimpanzees or other animals that throw stones, but that don’t actually fire them; the acceleration that a stone launched from the hand undergoes is taken from the hand that throws it (leaving aside gravity’s effects or the acceleration of a stone launched by a catapult).

But this distinction between instrument-arms (whose energy proceeds from the organism, which uses instruments as if they were its own organs: claws, fangs, and fists) and machine-arms does not permit classifying instrument-arms as irrational, animal arms. Simply put, “organic arms” are not arms, but rather an animal’s attack or defense organs (or even a plant’s, through thorns and poison). But instrument arms are weapons strictly speaking, normalized tools, the contents of human culture. They are therefore rational, as Don Quixote says.

Consequently, neither weapons nor war come from irrational animals. War is not a question of some brute force rooted in the body. It requires spirit, ingenuity:

“It is no longer possible to doubt that this profession of mine surpasses all those ever invented by mankind, and that it should be held in even higher esteem for being exposed to more dangers. Away with anyone who gives letters [the letters of the learned, or law-makers, of the Rechtsstaat] the preference over arms, for I say to him, whoever he may be, that he does not know what he is talking about. The argument that such people usually adduce and depend upon is that brain-work is superior to physical work, and that the exercise of arms involves the body alone, as if it were the business of market-porters, which needs nothing more than brute strength; or as if acts of fortitude requiring a keen intelligence were not involved in what we fighters call soldiership; or as if the warrior who is in charge of an army or the defence of a besieged city did not labour with his mind as much as with his body.”{38}

And he goes on to say even more: arms have a superior goal than letters (“and I do not now refer to sacred letters, whose goal is to conduct souls to heaven…”), for while letters (those revolving around ethical, moral, political, or judicial norms) work “to interpret and enforce the law”, this goal is not as praiseworthy as that which “arms have before them, which is peace…This peace is the true goal of war; and war and arms are all one.”

Now, this famous proposition – “Peace is the goal of war” – proceeds, as known, from Aristotle (Politics, 1334 a15). There are, however, two main ways to interpret it:

1. Universal and perpetual peace is the aim of each and every war – a peace therefore understood to be everlasting and mutual among opponents.

2. Peace is not the universal and undifferentiated aim of all wars, but rather the particular and specific aim of each war: those who are in war are looking for peace, but it is the peace of their victory. Those who take part in war collaborate in creating disorder; the aim of war is to reestablish order, but such as it is understood by the victor. As such, the goal of war is peace, the peace of victory and of the victorious and stable order that victory manages to establish.

The first interpretation of Aristotle’s proposition is clearly metahistorical, if not to say metaphysical. If peace were the universal law of mankind, then the only way to explain wars historically would be to suppose that humans – rational animals – have started wars because of their irrationality. The history of mankind, then, would have to be the history of nonsense.

The second interpretation, however, can have a positive historical meaning if we consider that humanity as such does not have an existence, but rather is originally distributed in parts that aren’t necessarily compatible or congruent among one another. War then must be the extreme form of the ordinary relationship between these parts. 

Based on this supposition, when I talk about peace as the aim of war, I am referring to real war, to each war in particular. Only now does talk of war have a political and historical sense, not a metahistorical or metaphysical one. Talking about peace as the aim of war is talking about political peace, whether it be the Pax Romana, the Pax Hispanica, or even the Pax Sovietica (of which Stalin proclaimed himself leader in 1950). War aspires to peace with the objective of establishing the unstable order that war itself has compromised, tailoring that order according to the victor’s wishes.

That Aristotle understood his proposition on peace as war’s aim in this positive sense is backed up by another passage of his. In effect, a little earlier than the previously-cited passage (Politics 1333), Aristotle relates the work-leisure comparison with the war-peace comparison, saying, “The aim of war is peace, as the aim of work is leisure.” This is why war, as a rational activity with peace or the just order obtained after victory as its aim, implies a rational order and rational operations which lead up to that order. Accordingly, war cannot aim to enslave men who don’t deserve it, nor much less can it aim for their extermination. The peace to which war aspires must have one of the following aims:

a. Either avoid being enslaved by others (the aim of defensive wars),

b. Or to achieve hegemony over others, not to simply dominate them, but to provide them with better goods than they currently have (the aim of so-called civilizing or liberating wars),

c. Or to govern those who deserve to be governed, even as slaves. (Vitoria, even Sepulveda, assumes this third aim as the aim of a just war, if it proposes to tutor and educate people incapable of educating themselves, in order to help them develop their own capacities).{39}

To conclude, it doesn’t seem possible to affirm that in Don Quixote’s famous discourse he is preaching a political pacifism and a summons against arms in favor of letters. Perhaps he is painting the horizon for a Golden Age, one which he doesn’t identify with evangelical peace and which he invokes on other occasions. All in all, Don Quixote is defending an order – a peace – to be maintained by just and fair laws themselves only effective with the force of arms. This is the foundation of the superiority of arms over letters which Don Quixote (Cervantes) expounds in this famous discourse – a superiority over human letters, over human learning (he doesn’t want to speak about divine letters), over the learning of lawyers, that is, over the letters of the law.

Using a concept created two centuries later by some German lawyers (Robert von Mohl, for instance) – the concept of Rechtstaat, which is here translated (into Spanish) as a state of law, or rule of law – I can only conclude that for Don Quixote, the “state of law” – of the learnèd, of lawyers – lacks force in and of itself. Any force that it may have comes from the arms capable of enforcing judges’ sentences. These arms make it possible for the order represented by the laws to prevail over other opposing or alternative orders.

For his part, Don Quixote considers himself far removed from any justice tribunal: “Where have you ever seen or read of a knight errant standing trial, whatever outrages he is accused of?”{40} Don Quixote, as a sovereign knight errant, assumes the traditional position of sovereign, be it of the Church, invested with its own right, or of the Crown, either in absolute monarchies or residually, in constitutional ones: “The person of the King is inviolable and not subject to responsibility.”{41} But he also assumes the position that always corresponds to the effective political sovereignty – that of an Empire (as the USA currently may be) which no international tribunal of justice (whether real or on paper, as those today) can judge, because imposing its sentences is only possible if the Empire were to enforce them upon itself.

The order represented by the laws presiding over a nation such as the Spanish nation can only be maintained by the force of arms. These arms created that nation and sustain it from below and are the same as those carried by Don Quixote – not alone, but together with Sancho and Dulcinea – from which new soldiers and lawyers can issue.

A weak or disarmed nation can only assume the order that other, better armed nations or empires impose. As such, arms must be considered superior and more rational than laws, than human learning:

“It is no longer possible to doubt that this profession of mine surpasses all those ever invented by mankind, and that it should be held in even higher esteem for being exposed to more dangers. Away with anyone who gives letters [the letters of the learned, or the law-makers, of the Rechtsstaat] the preference over arms, for I say to him, whoever he may be, that he does not know what he is talking about. The argument that such people usually adduce and depend upon is that brain-work is superior to physical work, and that the exercise of arms involves the body alone, as if it were the business of market-porters, which needs nothing more than brute strength; or as if acts of fortitude requiring a keen intelligence were not involved in what we fighters call soldiership; or as if the warrior who is in charge of an army or the defense of a besieged city did not labor with his mind as much as with his body.”

Arms, in short, have a superior goal to that of letters (“and I do not now refer to sacred letters, whose goal is to carry souls to heaven”). While the goal of letters is to interpret and enforce the law, it is not as praiseworthy as that which arms have before them, which is peace…This peace is the true goal of war; and war and arms are all one.

Don Quixote obliges us to affirm – such is my interpretation – that if Spain exists, that if Spain can resist its threats, that if Spain is a nation and wants to keep being one, then none of this can come from nor be maintained by letters or laws or the rule of law. Arms are necessary. It is necessary to be prepared for war understanding that, as Don Quixote says, “War and arms are all one.” 

Don Quixote, Mirror of the Spanish Nation


{1} Bueno, Gustavo. España no es un mito. Madrid: Temas de Hoy, 2005. This excerpt is found on pages 241-290.

{2} Article 1 of La ley 16/2002 del IV centenario de la publicatión de El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha.

{3} Crediting Coleridge for use of the term, Schelling defended that mythology was not allegorical, but rather tautegorical. See Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Einleitung in die Philosophie der Myhtologie, in Schelling, Schellings Werke, Vol. 6 (Eight Lecture): p.197 and following.

{4} I have used the English translation of Don Quixote by John Rutherford (London: Penguin, 2003). This quote is found on 292. Translator’s note.

{5} A symbol or sign which refers to something else (not itself), from the Greek allos αλλοξ. For a more extensive definition (in Spanish), see http://symploke.trujaman.org/index.php?title=Alot%E9ticoTranslator’s note.

{6} Leopoldo Alas “Clarín”, La Regenta (1884-85). English translation by A. Lane (1984).

{7} Rutherford 975.

{8} Francisco Alonso-Fernández. El Quijote y su laberinto vital. Barcelona: Anthropos, 2005.

{9} The opposition in grammatical gender (ella) is, of course, a differentiation that does not exist in English. Translator’s note.

{10} This refers to the legendary Roman victory in which these two mythical twins fought at the head of the Roman army. Translator’s note.

{11} Philosophical materialism is a philosophical system launched with Gustavo Bueno’s Ensayos Materialistas (Taurus, 1973). For an English overview of the essentials of the system and an associated bibliography, see General view of philosophical materialismTranslator’s note.

{12} See note 16.

{13} Rutherford 546-7.

{14} Ibid., 215.

{15} Ibid., 515.

{16} Robert Bly’s translation of an untitled Machado poem.

{17} For a brief account in English of the terminology of Gustavo Bueno’s philosophical anthropology and its description of “anthropological space”, see Philosophical materialism through materialist anthropologyTranslator’s note.

{18} Rutherford 660.

{19} For the author’s discussion of the Spanish Empire, see Gustavo Bueno, España frente a Europa. Barcelona: Alba, 1999. The capital letters used throughout the text (“Empire”) serve to signify a particular stage of imperial states in which the idea of empire itself reaches a philosophical meaning. Within Bueno’s theory of empire, this idea looks to cover all political societies, and so become universal. The often violent interplay among these Empires gives content to “universal history”. Translator’s note.

{20} A generating empire imposes itself on other societies in order to transform them into political societies that it considers virtuous. For a more extensive definition (in Spanish), see http://www.filosofia.org/filomat/df584.htm Translator’s note.

{21} Rutherford 529.

{22} See page 88 of España no es un mito.

{23} Pfandl, Ludwig. Cultura y costumbres del pueblo español de los siglos XVI y XVII. Barcelona: Araluce, 1942 (1929), p. 312.

{24} Rutherford 27.

{25} Ibid., 825.

{26} Ibid., 292.

{27} The concept of the extravagant left is part of a classification of the different generations of the political left. See Gustavo Bueno, El mito de la Izquierda. Barcelona: Ediciones B, 2003. Translator’s note.

{28} I have offered “naivete” as a translation for panfilismo, which Bueno takes from Greek and would translate literally as “lover of all”. Translator’s note.

{29} Americo Castro, La realidad histórica de España. México D.F.: Porrúa, 1973, page 58.

{30} The Black Legend refers to a tendency during the early modern period (1453-1789) to demonize the Spanish as cruel, intolerant, and fanatical. Translator’s note.

{31} Montesquieu, Persian Letters, Letter 78.

{32} Folch y Torres, La Tralla. As quoted in Carlos Alvar (ed.), Gran Enciclopedia Cervantina, vol. III. Madrid: Editorial Castalia, 2006, page 2083.

{33} Such virtues call Spinoza to mind. For a reinterpretation of his virtues as understood in philosophical materialism, see Gustavo Bueno, El sentido de la vida (Oviedo: Pentalfa, 1996). Translator’s note.


{34} Rutherford 33.

{35} Ibid., 355.

{36} Ibid., 28.

{37} Manuel de Montoliú, El alma de Espana y sus reflejos en la literatura del siglo de oro. Editorial Cervantes, 1942: 632-3.

{38} Rutherford 354.

{39} For more regarding this, see Gustavo Bueno, La vuelta a la caverna. Terrorismo, guerra y globalización, I, 4: «La Paz como objetivo final de la Guerra». For more about the polemic between Sepúlveda, Vitoria, and Las Casas, see Pedro Insua’s analysis, «Quiasmo sobre ‘Salamanca y el Nuevo Mundo’»El Catoblepas, n. 15, May 2003 [http://www.nodulo.org/ec/2003/n015p12.htm].

{40} Rutherford 79.

{41} Article 56.3 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution.

500 anniversary of the first voyage around the world

The first circumnavigation of Earth was the Magellan–Elcano expedition, which sailed from Seville, Spain, in 1519 and returned in 1522, after crossing the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

The first voyage around the world was that of the ship Victoria, between 1519 and 1522, known as the Magellan–Elcano expedition. It was a Castilian (Spanish) voyage of discovery, led initially by the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan between 1519 and 1521, and then by the spanish Juan Sebastián Elcano from 1521 to 1522. The voyage started in Seville, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and after several stopovers rounded the southern tip of South America where the expedition discovered the Strait of Magellan, named after the fleet’s captain. It then continued across the Pacific discovering a number of islands on its way, including Guam before arriving in the Philippines. After Magellan’s death in the Philippines in 1521, Elcano took command of the expedition and continued the journey across the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope, north along the Atlantic Ocean, and back to Spain in 1522. Elcano and a small group of 18 men were actually the only members of the expedition to make the full circumnavigation.

In 1577, Elizabeth I sent Francis Drake to start an expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. Drake set out from Plymouth, England in November 1577, aboard Pelican, which Drake renamed Golden Hind mid-voyage. In September 1578, he passed through the southern tip of South America, named Drake Passage, which connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean. In June 1579, Drake landed somewhere north of Spain’s northern-most claim in Alta California, which is known as Drakes Bay, California. Drake completed the second circumnavigation of the world in September 1580, becoming the first commander to lead an entire circumnavigation.

Magellan’s Cross (Spanish: Cruz de Magallanes) is a Christian cross planted by Portuguese and Spanish explorers upon arriving in Cebu in the Philippines in 1521:

Version in English of Magellan’s voyage around the world by Antonio Pigafetta, Italian explorer from the Republic of Venice, whose surviving journal is the source for much of what is known about Magellan and Elcano’s voyage:

In 2016, the Instituto Andaluz de Patrimonio Histórico, published a webpage and an illustrated book titled Cuaderno de Paseo por la Sevilla de Magallanes with a very complete narrative about the first circumnavigation of Earth (in Spanish):

Tres años de viaje y una travesía que se ha cifrado entre unos 72.000 y 78.000 kilómetros, tal es la impresionante magnitud de la expedición iniciada por las cinco naves de Magallanes y concluida por la única nao superviviente capitaneada por Juan Sebastián Elcano.

El lunes 10 de agosto de 1519, por la mañana… salimos de Sevilla… el 20 de setiembre zarpamos de Sanlúcar de Barrameda con rumbo al Sudoeste, y el 26 llegamos a una de las islas Canarias…”, relata Antonio Pigafetta en su apasionante crónica de la expedición.

5th centenary of the arrival of Hernan Cortes to the Mexica empire

In February 2019 we will commemorate the arrival of Hernan Cortes to the Mexica empire. By any consideration, this is one of the most amazing journey of a man in history. It is a journey into a past most Mexicans would rather forget, and I respect that. However it is history, and truly an epic one that brings us to what we all are.

In only two years, Hernan Cortes brought about the downfall of an efficient military civilisation through a combination of diplomacy, warfare, tactics, luck and sheer force of personality. The conquest of the Aztecs is more complicated than the simple myth of European superiority, but it remains an incredible achievement in military history.

In 1966, the historian J.H. Elliott wrote a paper titled The mental world of Hernán Cortés in which he emphasizes the need to

set Cortes very firmly into the context of the society from which he sprang, the society of late medieval and early Renaissance Spain, for he at once mirrors the ideals and aspirations of that society, and shares the pattern of its development.

Hernan Cortes reported his campaigns in five letters to Charles V, the Spanish king. They are called ‘letter of relation’ and can be read in English trough this link.

In Spanish can be read online here: Cortés, Hernán. Cartas y relaciones de Hernan Cortés al emperador Carlos V. Edited by Pascual de Gayangos. Paris: A. Chaix, 1866.

In addition to his descriptions of the Valley of Mexico and Tenochtitlan, his explanations for the actions he took, and his military and administrative directives, have been subjected for years to the close critical scrutiny.

Charles Robinson wrote in his book The Spanish Invasion of Mexico 1519-1521, first published in 2004:

In the spring of 1519, some 600 adventurers led by Hernan Cortes, a failed law student-turned planter and speculator, embarked on the conquest of a ruthless and predatory empire with an army numbering in the tens of thousands. The Spanish conquest of Mexico was the greatest military expedition in history, and in achieving it, Cortes proved himself one of the foremost generals of all time.

The Conquest completely changed the history of the world. The establishment of a European power on the mainland of the western hemisphere opened the door for a complete European hegemony, ultimately leading to the establishment of independent states. Whether this was for better or worse is a question for the philosophers. The fact is that it did happen, and now, some 500 years later, a western hemisphere nation is the dominant power in the world.

And while the United States may be the cultural heir to Great Britain, to a large extent it has inherited civilizing influences from Spain, too: fully one-third of the nation was once a part of “New Spain”, as the Spaniards came to call Mexico. San Antonio, Texas, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Monterey, California, were all seats of Spanish government until 1821, and of Mexican government until even later, and Spanish and English are spoken side by side throughout the American southwest. This is the legacy of Hernan Cortes and his conquistadors.

Reading through Graham Hancock’s account of Cortes and his small group of Conquistadors against the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan (War God 3: Night of Sorrows, 2017), one is struck by how similar is some of this epic to Alexander the Great and his conquests: the heroic speeches and encouragement; the god-like self-confidence; the military brilliance – almost beyond reality – with small armies of battle-hardened troops conquering masses of enemy, generally with little loss on the side of the victors.

Brian Bosworth in A Tale of Two Empires: Hernan Cortes and Alexander the Great has drawn parallels between these two scenarios: the wars of Conquistadors, on the one hand, and the Macedonians, on the other.

Read it in this link to chapter two of the book Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction, edited by A. B. Bosworth and E. J. Baynham.

Hernan Cortes’ journey from Veracruz to Tenochtitlan was a winding route through tropical and mountainous terrain that took the Spaniards across more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) and changed the course of history.

Cortes’s route from Vera Cruz to Tenochtitlan

10 February 1519: Hernan Cortes sails for Mexico

The expedition set out from Santiago, Cuba, on 18 November 1518 to conquer the interior of Mexico. Sailing around Cuba, he finished fitting out at Trinidad and San Cristobal de la Habana. On 10 February 1519, Cortes traveled to Mexico with 11 ships, 508 soldiers, about 100 sailors, six cannons, and 16 horses.

17 February 1519: The expedition reached the coast of Yucatan

Hernan Cortes expedition arrived on the island of Cozumel. He needed that island because it had the closest known harbor to Fernandina, or Cuba, which was on the way to Yucatan. Earlier Spanish expeditions had talked of some Christians stranded on the island, so saving those Christians was one of the orders Cortes had received from the Cuban governor Diego Velazquez.

14 March 2019: Departure from Cozumel

After sailing around Yucatan, Cortes lands in Tabasco on March 22-23, meeting resistance from the natives. On March 25, Annunciation Day, Cortes takes the town of Potonchan; Malinche/Doña Marina joins the expedition. On April 18, Palm Sunday, expedition departs from Tabasco. On April 21, Maundy Thursday, fleet arrives off San Juan Ulua, outside modern harbor of Veracruz.

22 April 1519: Cortes disembarked on the sand-banks of Veracruz on Good Friday

Castilians found Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz.

8 August 1519: Beginning of the march to Tenochtitlan

Having skirmished their way along the coast, and met with Montezuma’s emissaries, Cortes and the conquistadors set out for Tenochtitlan from their settlement of Vera Cruz. During his march to the Aztec capital, Cortes gathers valuable allies among enemies of Montezuma.

23 September 1519: Alliance is forged

After several weeks of outright confrontation, the conquistadors make peace with the Aztecs’ Tlaxcalan enemies and they enter the city of Tlaxcala, marking the beginning of the alliance between them.

8 November 1519, Cortés faces Montezuma

Cortes faces Montezuma on the great causeway leading to Tenochtitlan. Less than a week later, he seizes the Aztec ruler and takes control of the city.

30 June 1520: Spaniards flee Tenochtitlan

The Spaniards and their allies flee Tenochtitlan on the Night of Tears. Having lost more than half their company, they rally at Tlacopan before retreating to Tlaxcala.

28 April 1521: Start of the battle for Tenochtitlan

Having fought their way back to the lake, the conquistadors launch their brigantines, besiege the city, and the great battle for Tenochtitlan begins.

13 August 1521: Aztecs surrender

After months of fierce fighting, which leaves Tenochtitlan in ruins, the last tlatoani Cuauhtemoc is captured in a canoe on the lake and the Aztecs finally surrender.

This 2016 Mexican documentary Hernan Cortes, un hombre entre Dios y el Diablo, from Fernando González Sitges, won the prize Premio Nacional de Periodismo from Club de Periodistas de México, and was showed at Festival Internacional de Cine de Guadalajara.

Note written on 31 January 2019:

Hernan Cortes’ misfortunes continue five hundred years later. No official commemoration in Mexico or Spain planned. Both current administrations would rather forget all about Hernan Cortes and his legacy. What a pity! In Mexico, instead, new populism is trying to celebrate indigenous fight against invaders. They are planning a huge celebration by 2025 to commemorate the founding of the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. In Spain, politicians are ashamed of brutality shown by conquerors five hundred years ago. Really we can not do better? Yes, both worlds.

«Entra el editor y dice»: ecdótica y acotaciones teatrales (siglos XVI y XVII)

Lectura online en pdf de «Entra el editor y dice»: ecdótica y acotaciones teatrales (siglos XVI y XVII)

La edición de las didascalias escénicas es uno de los pasos más delicados de la labor del crítico textual, sobre todo en el caso de las acotaciones del teatro de los siglos XVI y XVII, cuyos textos nos han llegado de manera azarosa en versiones manipuladas por compañías de actores. Este volumen aborda la ecdótica de las didascalias desde distintas perspectivas: la semiótica, la estemmática, la transmisión manuscrita e impresa, la evolución de la escritura dramatúrgica, la historia del teatro, la praxis editorial pasada y presente, la traducción y la mirada comparatista hacia textos del Siglo de Oro español y los teatros nacionales inglés, francés, portugués y holandés.

a cura di
Luigi Giuliani
Università degli Studi di Perugia, Italia
Victoria Pineda
Universidad de Extremadura, España

Copiado de la página web: http://edizionicafoscari.unive.it/it/edizioni/libri/978-88-6969-305-2/

The Genesis of Don Quixote, by Ramón Menéndez Pidal

Ramón Menéndez Pidal was born in 1869 and died in 1968, so 2018 is the 50th anniversary of his death and 2019 the 150th anniversary of his birth. To commemorate these events, the Fundación Ramón Menéndez Pidal celebrates the ‘Bienio Pidalino’.

What follows is Ramón Menéndez Pidal, “The Genesis of Don Quixote,” from The Anatomy of Don Quixote: A Symposium, edited by M. J. Bernardete and Ángel Flores. First published in English by Dragon Press, 1932. Copyright 1924 by Ramón Menéndez Pidal; currently, this essay appears in Cervantes across the Centuries, edited by Angel Flores and M. J. Bernardete 1948, 1969 by Gordian Press, NY.
The origin of this article was a speech in Ateneo de Madrid in 1920, later published in Ramón Menéndez Pidal, «Un aspecto en la elaboración del Quijote», in De Cervantes y Lope de Vega, 1.ª ed., Buenos Aires, Espasa Calpe Argentina, 1940, pp. 9-56 (see online version in Spanish)

From the twelfth century onward, France, relying primarily on Bretonian legends, had set the model for the versified romance of chivalry, the taste for which spread throughout Europe, thanks to the charm of works such as Tristan, Lancelot, Perceval, and, Merlin, by Chrétien de Troyes or Robert de Boron, and to that of a body of prose literature that made its appearance in the first half of the thirteenth century. Heroic verse, which reflected traditional, political, and martial ideas and was characterized by domestic austerity and the absence of love as a poetic theme, was now succeeded by a new kind of narrative poetry, which, like the lyric, assumed the essential character of love poetry, with its scenes unfolding in a courtly, elegant world far removed from the stern feudalism of the epic.

The several and new emotions that enriched these poems of adventure were embellished by very diverse means. Through the famous works of Béroul, Chrétien, and Thomas, France was especially smitten by the poetry of fatal and turbulent love, whose poisoned shafts struck the breast of Tristan. Germany, in the poem by Wolfram von Eschenbach, contemplated the battles of inner purification fought in Parsifal’s soul, winning for him the kingdom of the mystical city of the Holy Grail. Spain refined the legends of Bretonian inspiration into the anonymous Amadís, inventing the innocent first love of the Doncel del Mar and Lady Oriana, which was destined to last from childhood until death “in such a manner that never for a single hour did they cease to love one another,” despite the temptations and hardships that relentlessly conspired against them.

Amadís, whose stout heart beats comfortably only at the shock of danger and in the midst of battles against deadly attacks, nevertheless trembles and turns into a coward in the presence of his lady, at whom he hardly dares to gaze. He goes numb upon merely hearing Oriana’s name, and he would actually fall off his horse were it not for his faithful squire Gandalín, who steadies and supports him. The romance of chivalry inherits this trait from the love poems. But because the latter originate immediately after the epic, it is not surprising that they, like the later romances of chivalry, have certain points of contact with the ancient heroic poems. Like heroic poetry, the romances of chivalry conceive their heroes within very similar ideals of chivalric perfection, placing them in a world made up of only two bands, one of the noble personages, the other of the wicked, who are locked in eternal antagonism with one another. Moreover, the struggle between them is settled in battles that use formulas and narrative techniques found both in the romances of chivalry and epic poetry.

Apart from the inspiration of love, other very profound differences in the conception of poetic life nevertheless separate the new literary productions from the old. In the romances of chivalry the struggle between the two forces previously mentioned is not carried out in an organized fashion, as in the epic—where the contest is generally played out before the king and his court—nor does it extend to entire nations. It is instead a purely personal struggle. The life of the ancient vassals, set in the midst of a powerful family group, faithful to or rebellious against their lord, abandons its national and political dimensions to assume a human and merely individual quality with the advent of the new knights-errant, who wander about alone in search of adventures, stimulated by whim and chance. The horrible revenges based on inherited enmities that characterized the epic are now replaced by what the Amadís calls “glorious vengeances,” which the knight executes in the name of justice as if following a professional protocol without himself being personally involved in the wrong he seeks to redress. The knight-errant fights as if to the death for any reason, whether it be to prevent the harmful enchantments of Archelaus or merely to compel a strange knight to declare his secret name. Heroic action is replaced in the romances of chivalry by actions that are arbitrary and more than human, both in the brutal acts of violence of the evil knight and in the lance thrusts of the good ones, which always cut through perversity’s strongest coats of mail. The epics’ heroic deeds unfold slowly in the middle of the life of societies of great historical density; meanwhile, the adventures of the romance of chivalry take place brusquely and swiftly against a lonely landscape, typically in a vast forest where the laments of the aggrieved go unheeded until the avenging knight hears them. If there arises on the edge of the forest a wellturreted castle inhabited by some powerful lord, or by a giant or an enchanter, be he evil or kindly, it is only for the purpose of initiating further complicated adventures which the good knight untangles and resolves with the blows of his invincible arm. If farther on a king’s court is occasionally found, it is only because the valiant knight-errant, who all by himself is more powerful than the entire kingdom, is awaited. How far removed is all this from the Poem of Mío Cid! The Corpes Woods, where the Cid’s daughters are ravaged, is not the center of the heroic life. The greatest of affronts committed against the hero in the oak woods is not immediately avenged on the spot, as a romance of chivalry would demand, but rather at the court of Toledo and under its authority. However, the romance of chivalry is actually not very far removed from the later epic—the new decadent epic of the Cid—in which the vassal repudiates his king and the entire nation and goes on to fight alone.

In Spain, this medieval romance had a very late revival. Around 1492 Garci Ordoñez de Montalbo adapted and expanded the old Amadís with such timeliness and good fortune—typical at the time of all Spanish endeavors—that the work, which for two centuries had been confined to the Peninsula, now sallied forth brilliantly and impetuously into the realm of universal literature, being translated and meriting repeated editions in a great many foreign languages. The romance of chivalry, which during the Middle Ages had scarcely produced any original works in Spain and which in France was completely forgotten, enjoyed in the plenitude of the Renaissance a profuse flowering which spread from the Peninsula throughout Europe. There came forth an entire series of sequels to the Amadís which recounted the lives of the sons and grandsons—Esplandianes, Lisuartes, Floriseles— of the fortunate Doncel del Mar. Additional series of Palmerines, Primaleones, and a hundred other knights, who came from the strangest and most archaic realms of fiction, entertained the spirits of those generations that deserved the more refined art of Bembo, Garcilaso, Ronsard, and Sidney. The last highly successful romance of chivalry, the one that survived the longest, was Diego Ortún ̃ez de Calahorra’s El Caballero del Febo (1562), whose adventures furnished plots to the courtly theater of Queen Elizabeth of England and inspired Henry Pettowe and perhaps even Shakespeare himself.

With some basis in fact, but also considerable exaggeration— justified by the exuberance of popular opinion on the matter— it has been claimed that chivalric and adventurous ideals were at odds with the Spanish character and spirit. For some, an unfathomable abyss existed between the Spanish epics (like the Poem of Mío Cid) and the romances of chivalry which, some had asserted, never enjoyed real popularity among us. It is true that the romance of chivalry is not derived from the ancient Spanish epic, but it is nevertheless linked to it, even if only by a tenuous thread. It is also true that it is primarily a reflection of foreign models, but this fact neither cancels out its popularity nor stands in the way of the intimate Spanishness of the Amadís, which was a happy adaptation to the Spanish spirit of a French trend. And if chivalric literature captivated the Spanish public from the remote times of King Don Pedro to those of Philip III, filling bulky tomes for the more cultured classes; if it descended the social scale in the form of cheaply produced broadsides for the humble classes and invaded even the beautiful ballads of the Romancero; if it inspired the national Hispano-Portuguese theater; if it found its way into seigneurial events and public fiestas; if its lengthy tales provided absorbing reading, capable of filling with bitter remorse the conscience of the old Chancellor Ayala, Juan de Valdés, or Santa Teresa, and of worrying the solicitors in the Cortes of the kingdom as well as the moralists Luis Vives and Fray Luis de Granada, then we must concede that this literary genre was not only popular but exceedingly so. The romances of chivalry did not triumph, as some believe, because they were the only narrative works of fiction available in the sixteenth century, but rather because they practically had no competition, as their adventures had long beforehand captured the Spanish imagination. These works spawned continuations and sequels because readers’ imaginations wanted to prolong the pleasure of living vicariously the life of exciting adventure with its victorious, avenging great deeds.

This literature was not dying of old age even as late as 1602, when Don Juan de Silva, Lord of Cañadahermosa, published his Crónica de don Policisne de Boecia. Then came the well-known moment when Cervantes decided to better the reading habits and morals of his homeland by discrediting the romances of chivalry.

Don Quixote is thus born with a special literary purpose, stated repeatedly by the author, according to which it may be believed that the novel bears only a negative relationship to such books and to the chivalric spirit that informs them. Lord Byron (in his Don Juan) thinks that Cervantes destroyed the Spanish feeling for chivalry and that he was thus responsible for his country’s ruin. Likewise, León Gautier (upon dedicating his monumental volume on the chivalric life to Cervantes himself), bitterly lamented the fact that ancient chivalry—his love of loves—was ridiculed and put to death by the great novelist. To forgive Cervantes for the imperishable yet demolishing pages of Don Quixote, Gautier was forced to evoke the heroic soldier of Lepanto, preferring the man over the book. Menéndez y Pelayo, at the opposite pole, maintained that Cervantes did not write a work antithetical to chivalry nor one of dry and prosaic negation but, rather, a work of purification and perfection: He came not to kill an ideal but to transfigure and exalt it. All the poetic, noble and human elements of chivalry were incorporated into the new work with the loftiest of meanings. In this way, Don Quixote was considered to be the last of the romances of chivalry, the definitive and most perfect one.

Between this latter point of view, which in itself seems paradoxical, and the other, more generally accepted one, we shall endeavor to develop our own judgment concerning the fundamental meaning of Don Quixote by taking a genetic approach.

Regarding the introduction of a comic dimension into a heroic domain, Don Quixote appears as the last exemplar of a series. This intertwining of the comic and the heroic had existed in literature for many centuries, since the very time of the epic’s splendor. It is sufficient to recall, as the most notable instance, the epic poem Pèlerinage de Charle Magne. The Renaissance stressed this way of understanding heroic poetry, because in that period, which contemplated serene classical beauty with great seriousness, the characters of the chansons de geste must have been seen as extremely simple poetic fictions, as monotonous in their turns of thought as in the wild blows of their swords. Spirits nourished by the ideas of Roman antiquity understood much less the empire of Charlemagne than that of Augustus, and they were unable to truly appreciate the simple grandeur of the medieval epic. Thus the Italian Renaissance, from the end of the fifteenth century, finding itself with Pulci and Boiardo confronting Carolingian and Bretonian poetic material that the northern Italian tradition transmitted to it, could not take that tradition seriously. By making Roland fall in love, Boiardo amused himself by presenting the unconquerable paladin as an awkward and timid lover, a stupid fellow, a babbione ever deceived by Angelica. Later, Ariosto (1516–32) continued this ridicule of the hero, making him a spurned lover, and exaggerating the furious madness of his jealousy to tragicomic proportions. With regard to these culminating scenes, the poet, whimsically and with a barely veiled smile, intertwines the knights of Charlemagne with those of Marsilio in a tangle of adventures—adventures replete with love affairs, battles, and enchantments, each one being interrupted and overtaken by the following one, like the calm waves of the sea, always continuous, always monotonous, foaming forever with playful novelty.

Almost a century after Ariosto, Cervantes took up chivalric adventures from a comic point of view. The Spanish author knew and admired Boiardo as well as Ariosto. He frequently imitated the Orlando Furioso, and Don Quijote even prided himself in being able to sing some stanzas of the poem. Still, face to face with his much admired predecessors, Cervantes achieved a strange kind of originality. While Pulci, Boiardo, and Ariosto carried forward the narration of the old poems with mocking humorism, Cervantes, on aiming to satirize the tales of chivalry in prose, did not set out to write a poem but rather a novel which took him into an artistic realm very different from that of the Italians. That is, Cervantes did not seek the initial source of his inspiration in their works, lofty as they were with artifices and the exquisiteness of monumental endeavors; instead, following the instincts of his Spanish nation, he sought inspiration in a simpler, more popular kind of literature.

Along with the comic scenes of the old French epic and the unbelievable narration of chivalric fiction created by Boiardo and Ariosto, there had long existed, in works of a lesser literary magnitude, another more openly hostile way of looking at chivalry: that of embodying its ideals in a poor madman whose fantasies are dashed to pieces against hard reality. For example, in the second half of the fourteenth century, I find in the work of the Italian novelist Franco Sacchetti a figure of the most exact quixotic appearance. In Agnolo di Ser Gherardo, Sacchetti created an extravagant personality, afflicted with a chivalric monomania in spite of his seventy years of age, who, mounted on a tall, lean horse that was the very image of hunger itself, goes from Florence to a nearby town to attend jousting matches. As his assistants help him put on his helmet and give him his lance, mischievous wags place a thistle under the tail of his nag, which begins to run, leaping and bucking, and does not stop until galloping all the way to Florence. There, amid general laughter, a woman takes in the battered equestrian, puts him into bed to cure him of the blows caused by his helmet and armor, and upbraids him for his foolish chivalric madness. Not only the comic structure but also the narrative details are similar to those in Don Quixote. Who can forget the old Manchegan hidalgo atop his lean Rocinante on the beach at Barcelona, where he, too, has gone to participate in certain jousts, and by his strange bearing arouses wonder in the merrymakers who surround him? Who does not remember the boys who place a bundle of gorse beneath his horse’s tail, producing the beast’s bucking that sends Don Quijote crashing to the ground?

Cervantes must have known Sacchetti’s story or a similar one, either in manuscript or in its oral telling, although he must have come to it late, only upon writing part II of the novel, where he exploits it. He also must have been familiar with some of the various stories then in circulation about comic delusions suffered by readers of books of chivalry, like the one about the student at the University of Salamanca who, because of these books, abandoned his studies and one day interrupted the solitude of his reading with loud shouts and sword thrusts in the air in defense of one of the characters in the novel he was reading; to such a point it had saturated his brain.

While Cervantes must have known stories of this sort, perhaps not knowing or remembering them until after beginning Don Quixote, it is certain that he conceived the first episodes of the novel as a response to the stimulus of a work of another type, a contemptible “Entremés de los Romances” (“Interlude of the Ballads”) whose importance, in my opinion, has not yet been understood by the critics.1 Adolfo de Castro happened to exhume this sorry theatrical composition, stating that Cervantes himself was its author and thereby attracting to himself the most justifiable and widespread disgrace among critics. Nevertheless, his foolish affirmation ought not to prevent us from examining the question without prejudice.

The “Entremés” must have been written about 1591 or shortly afterward. Its intention was to make fun of the extraordinary vogue of the Romanceros, the volumes of which had been published without pause for half a century, especially the Flor de Romances, which was reprinted and augmented from 1591 to 1597.

This “Entremés” introduces us to a poor peasant, Bartolo, who from “reading the ballads so much” goes crazy, as Don Quijote did from reading the books of chivalry. Bartolo insists on ridiculously imitating the knights in the ballads. His ravings bear the most striking resemblance to those of Don Quijote during his first adventure, that of the Toledan merchants. Having become a soldier in his madness, Bartolo believes himself to be the Almoradí or the Tarfe of the Morisco ballads, and he attempts to defend a shepherdess who is being harassed by her shepherd boyfriend. But the latter takes Bartolo’s lance and mauls him with it, leaving him flattened on the ground. In like manner, Don Quijote is beaten with his own lance by one of the merchant’s muleteers. Unable to get up, Bartolo consoles himself by thinking that not he but rather his horse was to blame for his misfortune. Don Quijote says the same thing, without being able to raise himself from the ground: “It is not through my fault that I lie here, but through that of my horse.” Resemblances increase when Bartolo, recalling the well-known “Ballad of the Marqués de Mantua,” now believes himself to be the enamored Valdovinos, who lies wounded in the deserted woods and exclaims: “Where art thou, my lovely lady/Feel’st thou not my cruel pain?” Don Quijote likewise believes himself to be Valdovinos, and he bursts forth reciting these same verses. Meanwhile, members of Bartolo’s family arrive, and he now thinks that it is the Marqués himself arriving; thus he greets them with more verses from the ballad: “O noble Marquis of Mantua/My uncle and carnal lord!” These are verses that Don Quijote also repeats when a peasant from his own town approaches him.

The “Entremés” goes on stringing together parts of the ballad, first in the mouth of Bartolo, then in those of the other characters who, humoring the madman, give themselves over to a foolish parody concerning the very famous history of the Marqués de Mantua. As would have been expected, Cervantes rejected such a grotesque parody, and he reduced it to a short narrative in which he says that Don Quijote only replied to all of his neighbor’s questions with verses from this ballad, recounting Valdovinos’s misfortunes as his own. In this short sequence, early in his novel, Cervantes allows himself to be swayed by the parodic system of the “Entremés.” He recalls that the Marqués, on approaching the wounded knight,

From his head and face his helmet
And his beaver first he drew;
Then with gore beheld him cover’d,
All of one ensanguin’d hue.
With his handkerchief he wipes him;
When his face from blood was clean,
Then, alas! too true the story,
Then too plain the truth was seen.

Cervantes tells us that, upon approaching Don Quijote, the peasant, “taking off the visor of his helmet…  wiped off the dust that covered his face, and presently recognized the gentleman and said to him…” Created by Cervantes without any burlesque intent, this parody is a significant vestige of his unconscious imitation of the ballads, as suggested by the “Entremés.”

Bartolo and Don Quijote are carried away in the same fashion to their respective villages, and while on the road the madness of both takes a violent leap from the ballad of the Marqués de Mantua to those on Morisco themes. Bartolo now imagines that he is the mayor of Baza, who laments with his friend Abencerraje the unfaithfulness of his beloved Zaida, and Don Quijote fancies that he is Abencerraje’s captive, who tells the mayor of Antequera about his loves. Both madmen finally reach their homes, and once in bed, they fall asleep. But in a short time both are back to alarming their concerned relatives, disturbing them with new follies: Bartolo ranting about the burning of Troy and Don Quijote about the tournaments of the twelve peers.

“May the devil take the ballads which have put you in such a plight!” says Bartolo’s neighbor. “May a hearty curse… light upon those books of chivalry that have put you in this pickle,” says Don Quijote’s housekeeper when he reaches home. The “Entremés” aims to make sport of imprudent readers of the ballads and treads its ground firmly when it makes Bartolo believe that he is a character drawn from them. Cervantes wants to censure the reading of chivalric romances, and he is very much out of his element when he repeatedly makes Don Quijote rave about the same ballad characters as Bartolo. It can be readily seen that the first idea of the madman who dreams that he is Valdovinos belongs to the “Entremés,” and that only thanks to its general, undue influence is it found in Cervantes’ novel. If we should claim for an instant that the “Entremés” was written after the novel and created in imitation of Don Quixote, we would be forced to confront the fact that it reaches into the very foundation of both works.

We should still add yet another substantial consideration on behalf of the precedence of the “Entremés.” A madman in whose head his own personality dissolves in order to be substituted by that of a famous personage is the crass and sole type of lunacy that governs the “Entremés,” which is mindful only of provoking the spectators’ laughter. But in Don Quixote this kind of madness only appears in the first adventure, in the fifth and seventh chapters about which we have been speaking. It is, moreover, a madness that is at odds with the one that always afflicts Don Quijote, whose personality remains on every other occasion steadfast and firm in the presence of those heroes who are the cause of his insanity. One must consider, then, in examining the foundations of that which is quixotically comic in the adventure of the Toledan merchants, that Cervantes did not conceive the episode by freely mixing the resources of his own fantasy, but that his imagination was constrained and limited by the indelible recollection of the “Entremés de los Romances,” which had left a strong comic impression in his mind. This tenacious, immoderate impression not only imposed on Cervantes an unconscious and incomprehensible substitution by the ballads of the Romancero tradition of the books of chivalry as the cause of Don Quijote’s madness, but rather, and in addition, implied a form of madness and a parodic procedure that were quite foreign to the untrammeled imagination of the novelist.

This is the fundamental element in the genesis of Don Quixote. Cervantes discovered a productive kind of humor in the “Entremés,” which poked fun at the mental derangement caused by the injudicious reading of the Romancero. This literary satire seemed to him an excellent theme. But he shifted it away from the ballads— an admirable poetic form—in order to transfer it to a literary genre despised by many, that of the romances of chivalry, which at the same time were as popular as the Romancero. There were authors, too, who, like Lorenzo de Sepúlveda, wished to apply a corrective to the influence of the old ballads, so “full of many lies and very little merit,” but Cervantes was not to proceed either in the manner of Sepúlveda or of that of the writer of the “Entremés.”

As soon as Don Quijote arrives home and goes to sleep, resting from the madness of having been the Valdovinos of the ballad, the priest and the barber proceed to the scrutiny of the deranged hidalgo’s library. In it, besides the great profusion of romances of chivalry, there are the Dianas, the Galatea, and other pastoral romances. There are heroic poems in the Italian style and the Tesoro de varias poesías, but we notice with surprise that there are none of the many Cancioneros, Silvas, Flores de Romances, or other Romanceros that had been published over the previous half century.2 To Cervantes, the brief poems contained in these collections were, so to speak, the poetic output of the entire Spanish people. They could not be the cause of the madness of the very noble knight of La Mancha, nor should they be subjected to the judgment of the priest and the barber. What really drove Don Quijote insane were those bulky old books of chivalry which were condemned to the fire, like the unwieldy Don Florisel de Niquea and that fat barrel of a tome, Don Olivante de Laura. Still, the first instance of Don Quijote’s immortal madness was not provoked by any of these but rather by a thin, cheaply produced broadside containing the “Romance del Marqués de Mantua,” which does not figure in any way in the witty and grand scrutiny because it entered not into Cervantes’ plans but rather into those of the mediocre author of the “Entremés.”

Solely through the immediate influence of the “Entremés” are we able to discover that the ballads, not the romances of chivalry, lie at the heart of Don Quixote. And this is not only the case in the adventure of the Toledan merchants but also in other events of chapter 2. At dusk on that hot July day which saw Don Quijote’s first longed-for sally through the Montiel plain, when he arrives at the inn where he is to be dubbed a knight, is he contented with the poor lodging that the innkeeper offers him, recalling the words of the mysterious ballad La Constaneira: “My only gear is arms,/My only rest, the fray”? And when the inn’s female attendants help him remove his armor, he goes on with his insanity by garbling lines from the ballad of Lancelot:

Oh, never, surely, was there a knight
So served by hand of dame,
As served was he, Don Quijote hight,
When from his town he came.

But all this changes completely as soon as Cervantes puts the “Entremés” behind him.

When a superior work of literature is in question, the study of the literary sources of an author, which is always an excellent way of understanding the sum of human culture of which the poet forms a part, should not be undertaken for the purpose of determining what that work takes from them in order to subtract from its originality. (That could only be done by those who do not understand what truly constitutes artistic invention.) On the contrary, the study of sources should serve to show how a poet’s conception rises above those sources, how it frees itself, and evaluates and transcends them.

Paradoxically, Cervantes is more original than ever precisely when he follows the “Entremés” most closely. Of that fresh, keen, and profound comic delicacy which makes the episode of the Toledan merchants one of the best in the novel, not a single element is derived from the “Entremés,” which imposed on Cervantes’ imagination only sporadically the most peripheral details of the adventure. The grotesque and clownish Bartolo resembles Don Quijote from the outset only in the crass materiality of some of his actions. To make use of the “Entremés” in the first chapters of Don Quixote, a gigantic creative effort was needed; this fact is forgotten by many eminent critics who are reluctant to believe that Cervantes’ (or Dante’s) inventive genius could have had more sources of inspiration than those commonly attributed to them. After providing Cervantes with a point of departure, the “Entremés” did not help but rather became a hindrance because it obligated him to carry out a corrective procedure that we are able to observe only partially and that to some degree was carried out not at the time of the work’s gestation but in the course of its execution.

Several inconsistencies in the sequence of the episodes and their relationship to one another can easily be observed in Don Quixote. This phenomenon has stimulated some critics to speak of Cervantes’ creative haste in writing his work, while others believe such a view to be merely a common misconception because it is known that Cervantes corrected and produced more than one draft of his writings. It should be clear that there are traces of every possible cause in the lapses that have been noted in the novel; there are cases of evident carelessness, half-made corrections, and bold displays of willful incongruities and absurdities. Forever changing direction because of the hero’s deranged imagination, the overall plan of the plot of Don Quixote received less attention than that which the author devoted to the Exemplary Novels. Cervantes wanted to allow the action to be fraught with all the trifling inconsistencies of improvisation, very much in the Spanish style. But that improvisation in no way presupposes indifference but rather gives a keen, lively, and profound impression that refuses to be bogged down by useless detail. Cervantes’ art is not a careless one because he happens to draw liberally from popular fiction; he knows how to carve out of that raw material facets of extraordinary poetic brilliance. It is not a careless art made simply to satisfy the shallow joviality of those who say: “Let us have more quixotic stunts, let Don Quijote attack and let Sancho comment, come what may, and with this we will be quite content!” Cervantes was perfectly aware that he was infusing his work with lasting human value. He writes, in the prologue to part II, that he believes “that there is not going to be… a language into which it will not be translated.” Yet in contrast to the carelessness we observe in some details, how much meditation is evident in the distillation of the quixotic type! What an intimate and prolonged cohabitation between the artist and his creation!

Our point of departure is that Cervantes’ fantasy did not conceive the type spontaneously but rather that it was in a certain fashion held in check by the outline of the “Entremés.” He did not create his protagonist according to a plan well defined at the outset; he worked instead from a somewhat imprecise and synthetic vision. Only during the development of the work did he, at times groping tentatively, draw forth and call to life all the complicated grandeur that was latent in his brilliant initial conception. One can easily understand how felicitously the gradual development of an idea may be in a long novel of adventures. Far from being a wearying repetition of the original type of the hero, Don Quijote’s adventures are a never-ending series of revelations, even for the artist himself, and they are therefore ever more gratifying to the reader. The character of the protagonist is not perfectly and completely revealed until the very end of the novel.

Don Quijote’s particular madness on his first sally, imagining himself at one time to be Valdovinos laying wounded on the ground, believing himself immediately thereafter to be Abindarráez the prisoner, and next Reinaldos, indignant with Don Roldán, was, as we have already indicated, very damaging to the personality of the ingenious hidalgo. Cervantes abandoned this course completely after he had exhausted the “Entremés,” his first source of inspiration. From then on Don Quijote would always and only be Don Quijote.

His character immediately receives firm support. In that same seventh chapter in which his delusions about his identity come to an end, Sancho enters the scene. He, too, comes from popular literature. An old proverb goes: “There goes Sancho with his donkey.” And here comes Sancho, inexhaustible reciter of proverbs, like an archaic type of squire who had first appeared in the fourteenth century in the oldest known romance of chivalry, El Caballero Cifar. In the very first conversations that Don Quijote holds with his squire there is already an anticipation of the hidalgo’s axiomatic mental habits that later will give weight to his madness and soon afterward, in the eleventh chapter, blossom forth in the eloquent speech on the Golden Age. Master and squire will continue to gradually complement (and complete) one another in such a way “that the madness of the master without the servant’s gaffes would not be worth a penny.” Rubió rightly adds that when Don Quijote is left alone in the Sierra Morena and at the home of the Duke and Duchess, which are the only two occasions on which the genial pair is separated, we feel for Sancho the same yearnings that the knight experiences in his own golden heart.

As soon as he put an end to the adventure suggested by the “Entremés de los romances,” Cervantes clearly understood that the kind of humor produced by the collision of a half-witted fantasy with cruel reality, which was consequent with the popular art of Sacchetti or the author of the “Entremés,” could not reach humoristic perfection by being based on the heroic and national ideals of the ballads. It is true that the Romancero and the romances of chivalry were half brothers as offspring of the medieval epic, but the Romancero, as a legitimate child, remained within the patrimonial legacy of the heroic world, while the bastard child (the romances of chivalry) went in search of adventures and lost its wits by pursuing them. Cervantes venerated the world of the epic, and as soon as he saw himself free from the influence of the “Entremés” he withdrew Don Quijote’s madness from the verses of the Romancero and made it take refuge, as if in its own castle, in the fantastic chivalric deeds of the prose romances. These, then, in the mind of Don Quijote, are elevated to the level of heroic fictions. The hidalgo claims to know that in the armory of the kings of Spain, next to the saddle of the Cid’s horse Babieca, stands the enormous peg, big as a wagon tongue, with which the valiant Pierres guided his wooden horse through the air. And he even places the world of the romances of chivalry above that of the epic, holding the Knight of the Blazing Sword in higher esteem than the Cid himself. Scandalized by this nonsense, the canon, on the contrary, discriminates between the epic heroes and the phantoms of chivalry, and he connects the former in a general way with historical personages. He had never seen in the Armory in Madrid the peg belonging to Pierres, but he believes in the authenticity of Babieca’s saddle (which archaeological scholarship has now banished from the royal collection), and he counsels Don Quijote to stop reading about the fanciful deeds of Felixmarte de Hircania and the Emperors of Trebizond and to pay heed to the (real) ones of Viriatus, Caesar, Alexander, Fernán González, and the Cid.

Without uncertainty we may say that Cervantes definitely understood that his Don Quijote could not continue reliving the episodes of the Romancero, of which the Spanish imagination was so notably fond, and that he knew that the comic force of his book would have to rely solely on the clash between the knighterrant’s asocial perfection and the life of society tightly organized and structured by the powerful institutions of the state. Don Quijote not only stops believing himself to be a character drawn from balladry; he also ceases to apply to himself the ballads’ verses. He only appropriates later a certain famous vow from the Marqués de Mantua ballad (“My arms are my only gear; my only rest, the fray!”) as indelible memories of the first manifestation of his madness as influenced by the “Entremés.” Apart from this, it seems as if Cervantes instinctively wished to remove himself as far as possible from the wrong road along which he had initially embarked, and in all the rest of the part I of Don Quixote he makes but few allusions to the ballads in spite of the fact that they were then in fashion and even used in ordinary conversation. Don Quijote cites only the ballad about Lancelot and the one about the Cid being excommunicated by the Pope, treating them as historical matters. By contrast, in part II of the novel, written when Cervantes was already free from the objectionable “Entremés,” the resonance of the Romancero tradition occurs twice as often as it appears in the first part and, as we shall see, it is much more fully developed there than in part I.

Even when Cervantes expressly avoided making reference to the Romancero in part I, he had it very much in mind and made use of it for his own personal inspiration. When he wanted to enliven part I of Don Quixote, crafting the plot with care and making the greatest effort that a novelist could make according to the art then in fashion, he created the series of episodes in the Sierra Morena. There came to his mind a ballad worthy of imitation, although its thrust was quite different from that which held sway in the parodic “Entremés.” It is the figure of Cardenio, taken bodily from a ballad by Juan del Encina that circulated along with the traditional ones in Cancioneros and broadsides. Rejected by his beloved, this Cardenio, leaving his dead mule behind, penetrates into the most rugged and remote part of the Sierra, and leaps from hedge to hedge amid brambles and thickets. Then, surrounded and pitied by the shepherds he encounters, he weeps, gives signs of madness, becomes speechless, and fixes his eyes on the ground:

A sorrowing knight presses
into the forges of a dark mountain
His steed, dead, he forsakes,
and scales the cliffs alone.
Deeper and deeper,
from bush to bush,
into the thickest of the forest
he penetrates.
With eyes downcast,
he does not stop lamenting.
His beloved has scorned him,
and never before has he felt such pain.
“Who hath brought thee here, Sir Knight,
into this dark forest?”
“Alas, shepherd, only my misfortune!”

Cervantes’ learned critics have failed to see the correspondence between this ballad and Cardenio’s actions, but it is clear to us, and it reveals how in the mind of Cervantes his inspiration in romance has shifted its focus.

Once Cervantes modified the relationship between the hidalgo’s madness and the Romancero, he was easily able to lead the protagonist to his perfection. Ever since his first sally, Don Quijote had proposed to right wrongs and punish the proud, but in this respect he does not yet differ greatly from the grotesque Bartolo, who confronted the shepherd pursuing the shepherdess. Only in the seventh chapter, cited earlier, in which the influence of the “Entremés” comes to its end, does the hidalgo elevate his madness to a comprehensive reflection, expressing the need for knighterrantry to be, through him, revived in the world. He is thus invested with a mission and this fleeting phrase signals the moment of genius of Cervantes’ conceptualization. For it is then that the author begins to look upon the madman’s fantasies as an ideal deserving of respect; it is then that he decides to depict him as grand in his purposes but inadequate in their execution. Perhaps the initial, flawed introduction of the Romancero into the novel helped Cervantes to rescue the heroic element still present in the romances of chivalry. These elements coincided with the epic, as we have noted, in the ideal of chivalric perfection. Don Quijote gradually fulfills in himself both the ideals of the epic and those of the romances of chivalry. He is steadfast in his love of glory and tenacious in his struggles in the face of danger; he displays a loyalty to which all ingratitude is foreign, and he will not tell a lie, even though he be shot for it. He interprets and applies the law correctly, aids all those in need, defends those not present, is liberal and generous, eloquent, and even listens to omens, daring to challenge those which are adverse to him, as did the ancient Spanish heroes. The romances of chivalry had added a further perfection to the epic ideal: that of being in love. Dulcinea rises up before Don Quijote because the “knight-errant without a beloved was a tree without either fruit or leaves, a body without a soul.” Thus, from the intricate adventures of the romances of chivalry, Don Quijote’s confused mind derived a pure heroic ideal that came down from the same stock as that of the ancient epic.

“Poor Don Quijote!” exclaims Paulin Paris, considering the superior beauty of the French poems of chivalry from which the romances of chivalry took their inspiration. “Poor Don Quijote! The romances responsible for your madness were nothing more than long colorless paraphrases. What would have become of you if you had read the French originals?” But no, if Don Quijote had read only Tristan and Lancelot with “that recounting, so sweet and smooth, of his brave and amorous deeds,” he would have been an ordinary madman, fortunate only in tragic loves. The parody would have come to an end and exhausted itself after a few scenes verging on buffoonery in which the knight of la Mancha would win Dulcinea, the “Tobosan dove,” by the might of his arm, realizing an accomplishment that Cervantes often had in mind and that he had announced in the introductory verses of Urganda’s prophecy. The French poems might well have maddened Don Quijote more, but only the happy Spanish adaptation of the Amadís could lend a superior nobility to his madness. After much racking of his brains in long meditations, Don Quijote decides to imitate not the madness of Orlando Furioso but rather the penitence of the knight from Gaul on the Pen ̃a Pobre. “And now,” he exclaims, “oh famous deeds of the great Amadís, come to my remembrance, and instruct me in the means by which I may begin to imitate you!” This is the moment in which his madness offers a glimpse of all the moral grandeur of which he is capable.

From that time onward, the gradual refinement of the quixotic type is assured. If before that moment the fidelity and veneration that Don Quijote feels for Dulcinea reveal some vacillation and serious lapses of reverence (part I, chapters 21, 25, 26), from now on the figure of the faithful lover is definitively established, especially in chapter 30 in which the knight-errant slights the Princess Micomicona. Recall the subsequent chapter in which Sancho, telling of his mission to El Toboso and its message, describes Dulcinea as a mannish country wench winnowing reddish wheat; the more the squire seeks to undo all the illusions of Don Quijote, the more successfully the knight-errant reconstructs them with delicate and untiring care.

This stubborn restoration of the ideal of the beloved is likewise treated a little earlier, in chapter 25. Yet how much more infelicitously, because of the vacillation and irreverence already mentioned! And still the progression continues. The peasant girl Aldonza, who had a better hand for salting pork than any other woman in all of La Mancha, with whom Sancho is acquainted, and whom Don Quijote has looked upon occasionally in respectful silence, disappears in part II of the novel and is converted into an ideal lady whom her knight has never seen, being in love with her solely on the basis of hearsay.

In like manner, the novel’s comic disposition, which at first manifested itself in confused fashion, gradually reaches its highest inner perfection. At the end of part I Don Quijote can say: “ever since becoming a knight-errant, I am brave, courteous, bountiful, well-bred, generous, civil, bold, affable, patient, and a sufferer of hardships, imprisonments and enchantments.” He has distanced himself from the allures of love and violence that the anarchical and fantastic world of chivalry offered in order to accept only harsh sacrifices, always placing before his imagination “the goodness of Amadís, the flower and mirror of knights-errant.” Firm in the idea that chivalry is a religion, he ennobles all his ridiculous life with profound mystical sentiment. He ascends to the purest sources of the heroic and, with the corporeal indifference of a martyr, he endures the greatest pains “as if he were not a man of flesh, but a statue of stone.” He is sustained by the most steadfast faith: “Get upon thy ass, good Sancho, and follow me once more; for God, who provides for every creature, will not fail us, especially since we have set about a work so much to His service; thou seest that He even provides for the little flying insects of the air, the wormlings in the earth, and the spawnings in the water. In His infinite mercy, He makes His sun shine on the righteous and on the unjust, and the rains fall upon the good and the malevolent.” Don Quijote always places his hopes in God, even though he always finds his expectations frustrated. He wishes to “improve this depraved age of ours” and to restore to it the purity of chivalry though the whole world be ungrateful to him for it. He seeks all about himself to entrust his downtrodden honor to those who show him the most sympathy: “I have redressed grievances, and righted the injured, chastised the insolent, vanquished giants, and trod elves and hobgoblins under my feet!… My intentions are all directed toward virtuous ends and to do no man wrong, but good to the entire world. And now let your Graces judge, most excellent Duke and Duchess, whether a person who makes it his only endeavor to practice all this, deserves to be upbraided as a fool!” It is all in vain. The Duke and Duchess, to whom he appeals in his sadness, are at that very moment playing a vicious trick on him in order to ridicule his misguided ideals. The most holy hopes of heaven and earth are frustrated. Is it because they are impossible? It does not matter. The hero’s noble madness assumes a bitter, tragicomic meaning. It is a madness sustained by an ideal which, although never realized, is deserving of humankind’s warmest sympathy.

At times we let ourselves be overwhelmed with the hidalgo’s comic aspect and think like his niece: “You should know so much, sir uncle, as to be able, if there were occasion, to get up into a pulpit and go to preach in the streets, and yet be so strangely mistaken, so grossly blind of understanding, as to fancy that a man of your years and infirmity can be strong and valiant; that you can set everything right, and force stubborn malice to bend, when you yourself stoop beneath the burden of age; and, what is yet more odd, that you carry yourself like a knight, when it is well known that you are none! For, though some gentlemen may be knights, a poor gentleman can hardly be so.” Nevertheless, when all is said and done, we believe that the ideal force of Don Quijote overcomes his abandonment of reason as well as all the other limitations imposed by reality. Being poor, he amazes us with his generosity; being weak and sickly, he is a hero possessed of unyielding courage in the face of misfortune; being old, he yet moves us with his absurd, mad first love; being crazy, his words and actions always stir vital chords in the enthusiastic heart.

Nine years after the publication of part I of Don Quixote there appeared an imitation which is of keen interest to us. Avellaneda seems to have written another Don Quixote solely to give us a tangible measure of Cervantes’ own value. The outstanding characteristics and qualities of the comic type are in Avellaneda, but they miss the mark of genius. This judgment can never be sufficiently emphasized if we are to avoid inadequate assessments of the novel. Every appreciation of Don Quixote which can be likewise applied to Avellaneda contains nothing unique to Cervantes. Avellaneda’s Don Quixote can be used as another touchstone for measurement.

From the point of view of the issues under consideration here, Avellaneda dwelt on both the hero’s delusions in which he assumed other identities as well as his ravings over the ballads; far from understanding how much harm they did to his hero, Avellaneda thus tediously insisted on the vulgar madness of the “Entremés” and Don Quixote’s early chapters. Avellaneda’s Don Quijote, wounded and defeated by a melon dealer, begins to recite the ballad of King Don Sancho, believing himself wounded by Vellido Dolfos, and he orders Sancho Panza to call himself Diego Ordón ̃ez and to go challenge the people of Zamora and the venerable old Arias Gonzalo. Again, Avellaneda “strings together a thousand beginnings of old ballads without rhyme or reason,” just like the Bartolo of the “Entremés.” Mounting his horse, he recites the beginning of the ballad “Ya cabalga Calaínos.” Upon entering Zaragoza he speaks as if he were Achilles; he later takes himself to be Bernardo del Carpio; in Siguenza he believes himself to be Ferdinand the Catholic; in the Prado of Madrid he imagines himself to be the Cid Rui Díaz; still later he says that he is Fernán González and stuffs his speeches with irrelevant ballad verses. This fool who, puffed up with vanity and boasting, appropriates the identities of heroes and kings, makes us appreciate all the more the vigorous personality of Cervantes’ Don Quijote, from whose mouth discretion and madness flow in gentle alternation. It is instructive to observe how, in the hands of Avellaneda, the same popular theme of the madman enamored of chivalry is punished by reality and ends in failure. Meanwhile, Cervantes, using that very same idea, tapped a powerful source of inspiration. Avellaneda’s gifts as a narrator are not accompanied by a profound poetic genius, and so his Don Quijote does not resemble the real one at all. In the false Don Quixote the worst kind of literary coarseness is shockingly combined with a pleasing form, at times in a solemn and labored way, just as immorality can coexist with superficial devotion to the rosary, self-flagellation, and hair shirts — all so far removed from the mystical religiosity of the real Don Quixote. The structure that Cervantes erects upon a popular idea is so much his own that, even after it has been assembled, it cannot be copied by the likes of an Avellaneda.

But a fact that cannot be denied is that Avellaneda’s work served as one of Cervantes’ sources of inspiration when he wrote part II of his novel. I believe that Cervantes had some fairly definite information about his competitor’s work before writing chapter 59, in which he refers expressly to it, and which marks the moment when it appeared in print. What is certain is that he wanted to derive the most reasonable profit from Avellaneda’s envy, that is, to have his work resemble in no way his resentful rival. It would appear as if in Avellaneda he saw clearer than ever the dangers of triteness and coarseness that the story contained, and that he struggled all the harder to eliminate them upon writing part II of Don Quixote. He no longer thought of drawing those two or three crude pictures elaborated in part I, even though they were far removed from the coarseness of his imitator. The superiority of part II of Don Quixote, unquestionable for me as for most people, may be attributed in great measure to Avellaneda. There are sources of literary inspiration that operate by rejection, and they may be as important as, or more so than, those that are mobilized by attraction.

The blundering way in which Avellaneda takes hold of the ballads contrasts strongly with the new use which Cervantes makes of them in part II. Having now forgotten his aversion to the “Entremés,” he again begins to use the ballads in profusion, but now, of course, never to impair the personality of the hero in the form of impertinent nonsense, as did the author of the “Entremés” and Avellaneda. The ballads reappear in order to render Cervantes’ prose agreeable with poetic reminiscences that at that time were remembered by all, and which everybody used in polite conversation: The novelty now is that this poetic resonance appears not only in the mouth of Don Quijote and in those of the more educated characters but, rather, principally, in the mouth of Sancho. The Sancho of the proverbs is now, at times, the Sancho of the ballads.

This evolution can be observed from the very beginning of part II of Don Quixote when, in chapter 5, Sancho refers to a ballad for the first time. It is the one concerning the Infanta don ̃a Urraca’s self-assuredness. It is true that this chapter is jokingly labeled apocryphal by Cide Hamete’s translator on account of containing “judgments that exceed Sancho’s capacity.” But its intimate authenticity is guaranteed by the dialogue that Don Quijote later has with his squire: “ ‘Truly, Sancho, every day thy simplicity lessens, and thy sense improves!’ ‘And there is good reason why!’ quoth Sancho, ‘Some of your worship’s wit must needs stick to me.’ ” Without doubt, Sancho is improving and being refined, too, at the same time that Don Quijote and Dulcinea are undergoing their own evolution. Avellanedas’s Sancho, gluttonous, brutal, and clownish to the point of not even understanding the proverbs that he chaotically heaps up pell-mell, rises up between the primitive Sancho of part I and the new Sancho of Cervantes’ part II. He makes us appreciate in all his perfection the Sancho of poor and kind heart, a faithful spirit who is skeptical of everything and believes in everything, and in whom prudence in abundance shows through his coarse shell of craftiness, achieving the keenest kind of folk wisdom as governor in decisions comparable to those of Solomon and Peter the Cruel.

The Sancho of part II of Don Quixote recalls verses from the Romancero several times in his conversation: “Aqúı morirás, traidor, enemigo de don ̃a Sancha,” “Mensajero, sois amigo,” “no diga la tal palabra,” or he alludes to the ballad of the Conde Dirlos, to that of Calaínos, to that of the Penitencia del rey Rodrigo, or to that of Lanzarote about which, as he declares, he learned by hearing them from his master.

Moreover, Cervantes used the Romancero not only for its phraseology but also for the very invention of the novel, although in a very different way than he had used it in the adventure of the Toledan merchants. In this as in everything else, one sees the superiority of part II of Don Quixote over part I. Savi López, an adherent to the opposite opinion, affirms that part I is predominantly comical, while in part II the grotesque dominates. But I believe in fact that quite the opposite is true. Limiting ourselvesto the special point that we are considering, the grotesque elements that appear in the adventure of the ballad of the Marqués de Mantua are completely absent from the episode that has its inspiration in the Montesinos ballads and succeeds because of its delicate comic sentiment.

While in part I of the novel, only a single adventure contains a resonance of the Romancero, in part II several adventures do so.

When Don Quijote enters El Toboso on that mournful night, looking in the darkness for the ideal palace of his Dulcinea, he hears a farmhand approaching, who, on his way to work before dawn, sings this ballad: “Ill you far’d at Roncesvalles,/Frenchmen…” His song, like an evil omen, startles and disturbs the mind of the knight-errant.

Later, the ballad of the undauntable Don Manuel de León, who enters a lion’s den for the purpose of retrieving a lady’s glove, is invoked for the great adventure of the lions. There the so frequently audacious madness of Don Quijote borders on extremes that approximate more the epic than the comic mode. The victory won before the lion which turns his hindside to the knight is ridiculous, but the valor of the Manchegan hero, comparable to that of Don Manuel de León, is realized not solely in his imagination as on other occasions; it is, instead, actually materialized in the midst of the fear of all those who witness his boldness in the presence of the savage beast, free to attack. He rightly feels himself strong: “No, these magicians may well rob me of success, but they can never take from me my strength and courage of mind!” He is so beside himself that he sends Sancho to remunerate the lion keeper with two crowns of gold; it is the first time that history records that Don Quijote has given a gratuity! Generosity, an essentially chivalric virtue, stands out only in part II of the novel. Is it not evident that here the hidalgo’s comic success far surpasses the repeated beatings by which the adventures of the first part are resolved?

Nor is there in part I as rich a development of the frequent quixotic delusions as appear in part II, in the adventure, for example, of Maese Pedro’s puppet show, so wisely and admirably commented upon by José Ortega y Gasset. Here we are interested in remarking only on one thing: Delusion in the presence of a theatrical spectacle was a common theme of popular anecdotes old and new, and it had already been incorporated in the quixotic fable by Avellaneda, when his Don Quijote, taking for reality the performance of Lope de Vega’s play, El testimonio vengado, leaps into the actors’ midst to defend the unprotected queen of Navarre. As if he had seen here an excellent theme poorly developed and now wished to use it, Cervantes even gave his competitor the advantage of being first! Hence he described the madman’s exaltation not before a performance of actors but of puppets, and the topic was not an original and cleverly dramatized action but a well-known ballad adventure familiar to young and old. The ballad recounts how the forgetful Don Gaiferos recovered his wife Melisendra from captivity. Cervantes’ success here is one of stylistic and psychological refinement. The picturesque narration by the boy who explains the action of the figures onstage is animated with such descriptive force that he brings to life that poor world of balladry and puppetry.

Nevertheless, Don Quijote listens and watches everything with cool sanity, even commenting upon the archaeological accuracy of the representation. But when the boy’s words project real emotion and anguish over the danger in which the fleeing lovers find themselves, the flash of chivalric obsession suddenly flares in Don Quijote’s mind and he hurls himself into the midst of the adventure to destroy with his sword the stage upon which the Moors of Sansuen ̃a ride at full speed in pursuit of the lovers. Reality soon again takes possession of the deluded knight and imprisons him in its powerful bonds; Don Quijote now agrees to the undeceived appraisal and payment for the broken clay figures. But in the presence of the most fleeting recollection of the dangerous adventure, his fragile and inconsistent imagination again goes wild and he once again escapes to live, as if it were reality, in the world of the ideal that is his and from which he sorrowfully feels banished.

The perfection so often attained in the real adventures was nevertheless not enough for the novel. Cervantes sought a type of adventure that could rise above the realm of the ordinary, “of the possible and verisimilar,” in which other adventures, craftedaccording to the aesthetic doctrines that he followed, could develop. He wanted a fantastic adventure that could serve as a sort of nucleus for part II, and he created it in the Cave of Montesinos, the visit to which he announces with solemn anticipation, relating it to subsequent adventures right up to the very end of the novel. Just as in the profoundly humorous episode of the galley slaves, where he had coupled his chivalrous hidalgo with the heroes of the picaresque novel, he wished now to associate him with the true and venerated heroes of medieval fiction. He did not seek them out in any book of chivalry. Once more, his mind turned to the ballads, although not, as we might suppose, to those of Spanish themes, but rather to the Carolingian.

Through an extravagant allusion, Don Quijote appears among Charlemagne’s knights for a second time in an adventure derived from the ballads. But this time he appears more nobly and rationally, so to speak, than in the adventure of the Toledan merchants. The ballads had given those first chapters the appearance of a caricatural parody. Now in part II they provide the best moment of the burlesque ideal, in which it seems as if Cervantes were making amends for having earlier allowed himself to be too greatly influenced by the “Entremés.”

If in Italy and Spain the Carolingian heroes had second homelands, conquered for them by Charlemagne’s campaigns in both countries, they had multiplied in our own with new characters such as Durandarte and Montesinos. La Mancha, at the time a frontier between Christendom and Muslims and a bulwark that the three powerful military orders defended, had made itself worthy of being inhabited by poetic figures prouder and more gallant than, though not as universally admired as, that of their belated compatriot, Don Quijote. A certain castle in ruins, with its fountain which stood on a rocky outcrop in the middle of one of the lagoons of Ruidera where the river Guadiana has its source, was singled out by Manchegan tradition as the wonderful castle of which the ballad sang: “The castle called Roca/And the fountain called Frida.” Silver battlements had been erected there on a foundation of gold, as the ballad states, studded with sapphires that shone in the dark of night like suns. In that castle had lived the maid Rosaflorida, disdainful of all suitors until she burned with love for the French Montesinos and, bringing him there, strew his path with pearls and precious stones. About the nearby cave, named for the same Montesinos, they told such marvelous things through all that realm that Don Quijote’s curiosity was aroused. This was a great good fortune for the Guadiana, a hapless river in which the poets of the Golden Age, who lavished their efforts on the Duero, the Tagus, and the Henares, could find not a single nymph, except perchance one who had been turned into a frog in its muddy pools! Don Quijote found in the medieval Rosaflorida the nymph who would endow those marshlands with poetry, converting them into the enchanted fortress of the chivalry of long ago. The lagoon and cave, along with the dusty roads, the burning hot oak groves, and all the monotony of the vast, disconsolate horizon of La Mancha, were exalted to the dignity of a landscape that was poetical, familiar, and pleasing to humankind—no less so than the sacred olive groves of Attica and the luxuriant groves of the Cephisus, which were never penetrated by the summer sun or the winds of winter but indeed were frequented by the choruses of muses and bacchantes and by Aphrodite, driver of the golden chariot.

The exceptional quality in this adventure of Montesinos’s cave, so insistently called to the attention of his readers by Cervantes, is that, for me, Don Quijote’s heroic ideal does not manifest itself, as usual, in conflict with reality but, rather, finds itself emancipated, free from annoying and painful contact with it. Don Quijote descends to the bottom of the cave and, slackening the rope held by Sancho and the guide—the only link that connects him to the outer world—finds himself removed from it, alone in the midst of the cold, cavernous darkness. The cave is then illuminated by the light of the Manchegan hidalgo’s imagination, as noble as it is unbalanced, and he finally finds himself among the heroes of the old ballads. He discourses amid the gloomy shades of Durandarte and Balerma, comic–heroic figures shrouded in a warped ideal. He appeases his mind with the placid and pitiful appearance of the enchanted Dulcinea, and in that mansion of ancient chivalry, where the lugubrious and the comic are powerfully blended in a fantastic picture of incomparable beauty and humorism, the eager spirit of the hidalgo realizes its supreme aspiration, the crowning of his effort through the mouths of the admired masters. Montesinos himself extols the restorer of knight-errantry and entrusts to him the important mission of revealing to the world the mysteries of the ancient heroic life and that of disenchanting the ancient paladins and the new Dulcinea. The novel’s entire machinery, built on the opposition between fantasy and reality, is suspended on this sole occasion.

Upon reaching the summit of his exaltation, the hero nevertheless also reaches the edge of the abyss. When Don Quijote, hanging onto the rope, returns to the land of mortals and relates the supreme success that he has achieved, he encounters more than ever in his faithful Sancho a bold, impudent skepticism, and finally he, too, falls into doubt. That firm soul, who always restored his idealism so energetically whenever it was crushed by the vicious blows of reality, does not know how to defend himself against doubt in this glorious adventure devoid of torments. In vain he tries to put his uncertainty at rest by questioning the soothsayers as to whether his experiences with the ballad heroes in the enchanted cave had been a dream or the truth. The ambiguous clichés of the replies obtained from such oracles gradually filter into his heart, and dejection holds sway over him. The hour of being reduced to ordinary thinking has arrived. The hero is convinced that he will not attain the promise of Montesinos, that he will not see Dulcinea in all the days of his life, and he dies of sorrow… and of sanity. He has recovered his reason but lost the ideal by which he lived and breathed, so nothing is left for him but to die.

In Sophocles’ tragedy, the offended Minerva sets in motion in Ajax’s mind the whirlwind of a chimera, and the maddened hero attacks a flock of sheep, believing that he is beheading the Atrides who have wronged him. On recovering from his delirium and seeing himself surrounded by dead animals, he realizes that spilled blood is a dishonor to his invincible courage and to all his achievements, and he runs himself through with his own sword. His madness is divine because it is a punishment of the gods, while that of Don Quijote is a divine creation of his ailing soul.

The hero of Salamis takes his own life upon feeling himself ludicrous in the face of the reality that he contemplates. He kills himself out of shame. The Manchegan hero dies of the sadness of life upon discovering that reality is inferior to him and upon seeing that the Dulcinea to whom he gave his being is fading away forever into the world of impossible enchantment.

Is this novel of a madman one more book of chivalry, the last, the definitive and perfect one, as some say? Or, is it the ruination of chivalry and heroism, as others contend? It was not when writing Don Quixote that Cervantes attempted to produce a modern romance of chivalry, but afterward, when he composed his last, and for him, his most valuable work, The Trials of Persiles and Segismunda. This the good canon seems to announce in chapter 47 of part I when, cursing the books that have caused the Manchegan hidalgo’s madness, he nevertheless finds in them something good, and this is “the subject that they furnished to a man of understanding with which to exercise his parts, because they allowed a large scope for the pen to expand upon without restriction, describing shipwrecks, storms, skirmishes and battles.” All this is found in Persiles, the real novel of adventures, not only because of the influence of the Byzantine novel but also because of the romances of chivalry. The latter are influential even through their conventional episodes, as when Periandro, at the head of the company of fishermen, goes out to sea righting wrongs—a seafaring Amadís, created by the author of Don Quixote.

As for Don Quixote, we cannot help considering it simply and plainly as antagonistic to the romances of chivalry, which it tries to condemn to oblivion by satirizing not only their unpolished and careless composition but also their subject matter, a blend of childish fantasy, unbelievable deeds, and elemental passions.

Yet on the other hand, because these books, far from being essentially exotic to the Spanish people, are deeply saturated with that part of their spirit that consists of the exaltation of the universal feelings of selfless generosity and of honor, Cervantes’ satire does not seek to damage the reputation of the eternal ideal of chivalric nobility. When he observes the ideal come to naught by its collision with daily life, he does not blame the ideal as much as he does reality itself for not turning out to be exactly as the heroic spirit would want it. Far from wishing to destroy that world adorned by the purest moral feelings, Cervantes holds it up for our respect and sympathy, showing us its ruins, bathed in a light of supreme hope, as a lofty refuge for the soul. Dulcinea del Toboso will always be the most beautiful woman in the world, as her unfortunate knight proclaims, even when he falls vanquished to the ground and begs his opponent to slay him.

In short, far from combating the spirit and fictions of heroic poetry, Cervantes received from the Romancero the first impulse to portray Don Quijote’s ideal madness, and he sought in the Romancero a great portion of the work’s inspiration and embellishments. Thus, popular heroic poetry was present at the creation that destroyed the molds in which the romances of chivalry were cast, removing its fictions from the world of chimeras to bring them to contend with the world of mundane reality. Thus Cervantes forged the first and inimitable prototype to which every modern novel, in close concert or somewhat distantly, is ultimately subordinated.


1. An entremés, literally a dish served between main courses of a meal, was a brief, one-act skit, a comic interlude performed in the interval between the acts of a play. Romance is the Spanish for ballad, a narrative poem in popular meter and rhyme. The first romances were derived from the epic poems, such as the Poem of Mío Cid, but as time went on they acquired a variety of themes, including the wars against the Moors and topics derived from the romances of chivalry. Romancero is the sum of all the romances and also a compendium or anthology of them. These popular, anonymous ballads enjoyed a great revival in the sixteenth century among cultivated poets, and they became a standard form in Spanish poetry that has endured up to the present. Menéndez Pidal was the foremost expert on the romances, which he placed at the core of Spanish literary history.

2. Cancioneros were anthologies of poetry in the courtly love tradition with much circulation in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

‘Du nom au genre. Lope de Vega, la tragedia et son public’ by Florence D’Artois

Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez présente le livre de Florence D’Artois Du nom au genre. Lope de Vega, la tragedia et son public, 2017, available online

À une époque où toutes les pièces étaient normalement désignées par une étiquette hypergénérique, celle de come­dia, Lope de Vega (1562-1635) a écrit six pièces qu’il a appelées tragedias et une trentaine de tragicomedias. Or la tragédie en Espagne était peu représentée hors du cadre des théâtres commerciaux, les corrales de comedias. Dans ces conditions, comment une idée de la tragédie suffisamment consistante pour être mobilisée dans les mécanismes de composition et de réception du théâtre de Lope a-t-elle pu se former ?

Cet ouvrage explore d’abord la formation de compétences génériques du public du corral, à partir de deux ensembles en amont de la tragédie lopesque : les œuvres tragiques écrites entre 1575 et 1585 et les comedias tragiques écrites au tournant du siècle. Il revient ensuite à la tragédie lopesque proprement dite, analysant la formule que Lope instrumentalise à l’envi pour séduire divers types de public, en jouant de la plasticité d’une forme qui se laisse adapter ad hoc.

Lope de Vega (1562-1635) wrote six works which he called tragedias and some thirty other tragicomedias, at a time when custom demanded that all works be assigned a super-generic label, namely comedia. Tragedy in Spain was known for a genre foreign to the world of commercial theatres—the corrales de comedias. In such conditions, how could a notion of tragedy be formed that was solid enough to operate in the mechanics of composition and reception of Lope’s plays?

This book begins by exploring the emergence of an ability to appreciate genre among the audiences of the corral based on two groups of plays: tragic plays written between 1575 and 1585 and tragic comedias written at the turn of the century. Here the book returns to Lope’s tragedies proper, a tragic formula that Lope utilised effortlessly to seduce various types of audience, manipulating plasticity in a way that can readily be adapted ad hoc.

© Casa de Velázquez, 2017