An Understanding of Don Quixote and His Loyal Companion Sancho the Winetaster

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                       6 November 2019

Pope Saint Martin I (d. 654)

Epigraphs

“One has to accept sorrow for it to be of any healing power, and that is the most difficult thing in the world….A priest once said to me, ‘When you understand what accepted sorrow means, you will understand everything. It is the secret of life.’” (Maurice Baring, Darby and Joan (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1935), page 178—italic in the original)

***

“What then is this Sloth which can merit the extremity of divine punishment? Saint Thomas’ answer is both comforting and surprising: tristitia de bono spirituali, sadness in the face of spiritual good. Man is made for joy in the love of God, a love which he expresses in service. If he deliberately turns away from that joy, he is denying the purpose of his existence. The malice of Sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty (though that can be a symptom of it) but in the refusal of joy. It is allied to despair.” (Evelyn Waugh, “Sloth,” in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh (Edited by Donat Gallagher) (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1983), page 573—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

“I grant you [that form of praise],” replied Sancho…. But tell me, sir, in the name of what you love most, is this the wine of Ciudad Real [its famous Valdepeñas wine]?”

What a winetaster you are! [said the candid other Squire.] It comes from nowhere else [i.e., from “the chief city of La Mancha and center of a winegrowing district”], and it’s a few years old, at that!”

Leave it to me,” said Sancho, “and never fear, I’ll show you how much I know about it. Would you believe me, Sir Squire, I have such a great natural instinct in the matter of wines that I have but to smell a vintage and I will tell you the country where it was grown, from what kind of grapes, what it tastes like, and how good it is, and everything that has to do with it. There is nothing unusual about this, however, seeing that on my father’s side were two of the best winetasters La Mancha has known in many a year, in proof of which, listen to the story of what happened to them…And so your Grace may see for yourself whether on not one who comes of that kind of stock has a right to give his opinion in such cases.” (Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de La Mancha (Translated by Samuel Putnam) (New York: The Modern Library, 1949), pages 589-590—my emphasis added—Book II, Chapter 13). Part I was first published in 1605; Part II was first published in 1615, one year before Cervantes’ death.

***

The profound and appreciative author of The Shadow of Cervantes, D. B. Wyndham Lewis,1 modestly allows us to consider, though merely in passing, two of his own brief passages on Miguel Cervantes and Don Quixote. These two passages taken together, in a sort of clarifying counterpoint, will impart some worthy insights to us that will deepen our understanding of Don Quixote, and of a mature life and wider literature, as well.

For, Cervantes, I believe, always deftly manifested in Don Quixote a generous (often ironic and comic) combination of presenting “the way things are” along with “the way things ought to be,” despite the spreading cynicism of the World, despite the discouraging and attendant “tristitia saeculi.”

In the first passage for us to reflect upon, Wyndham Lewis says the following:

We may pause a moment to recognize here a theme of major importance to Cervantes and constantly reiterated. Life is treacherous, hard, cruel unpredictable; life is sometimes almost unbearable; life is an unending battle—militia vita hominis, to echo one of the Fathers. But despair, as revealed truth teaches, is a sin against the Holy Ghost, a vile cowardly collapse, the unforgivable thing. Up! Cries the old soldier in a trumpet-voice to the wavering ranks. Quit you like men! No surrender! Fight on! And Miguel de Cervantes, the much-tried, the realist, the dauntless, has plainly better right to rally his fellow-mortals [as he heroically did at the 1571 Battle of Lepanto] than some rosy optimist of the Victorian breed who never took a blow. (100-101—my emphasis added)

The second passage for our further consideration is also, perhaps, a somewhat surprising insight concerning a pervasive “sorrow” and “sadness” in Don Quixote:

Sadness [Dolor (intimate Sorrow); sed nec Tristia Saeculi nec Tristitia de bono spirituali] is the perpetual undersong of Don Quixote, from the day on which the gentle, fearless dreamer first rides out on his bony steed to right the world’s wrongs singlehanded to the day on which he returns home to acknowledge his folly, restored to reason and soon to embrace death like a valiant disillusioned Christian man. Even the Spain of Philip III, from which not all the chivalrous graces had fled, had no place for an absurd revenant from a long-distant past, now surviving largely in the imaginations of romancers who might almost—if the thought be not treason—be called the sub-Scotts [cf. Sir Walter Scott as author of the Romantic Historical Novels] of their period. Creating an array of medieval puppets sufficiently decorative, Scott patently knew and cared nothing about authentic mechanism [of the Chivalric Tale]. His camp-followers, not to speak of their public, knew if possible less. The romancers due to become Cervantes’ targets, contrariwise knew the mechanism but, as may shortly be perceived, deliberately perverted it. To burlesque their worst [literary] rubbish was therefore not only a brilliant inspiration but a public service. Others than Cervantes were attacking the libros de cabellerías [books of chivalry] from other angles….

It may be too that Cervantes felt…a nostalgia for that lost aroma, pure and lovely and fragrant, the true quintessence of chivalry, to be found in the thirteenth-century masterpieces like La Queste del Sainct Graal [the Quest of the Holy Grail]….Throughout the Queste runs the golden thread of knightly reverence for womanhood in honour of the Immaculata which…was in truth one of the saving graces of a rough and bloody age.

Then were the natural charities exhaled Afresh from out the blessed love of Mary… (120-121—my emphasis added)

When we now savor the later passage of Don Quixote –in Book II, Chapter XIII—we may winsomely see both the loyalty of Sancho Panza to his master as well as his showing himself to another Squire to be, indeed, a very gifted winetaster rooted, on his father’s side, in vintage-rich and nourishing family traditions!

It is difficult for me to present only selected passages from Chapter XIII of Part II without also adding a consideration and commentary upon this exceptionally charming Chapter. May my few selections somehow inspire the reader’s resolution to read soon and savor the entire chapter (pages 585-590 in the Putnam translation).

Cervantes’ introductory note to Chapter XIII says that it is a Chapter “In which is continued the adventure of the Knight of the Wood [“Knight of the Mirrors”], together with the shrewd, highly original, and amicable conversation that took place between the two squires [Sancho Panza being one of them, the other one being the tall and somewhat rather too comfortable “Squire of the Wood”!].” (585)

But let us now allow the loyal Sancho to speak “as they sat there in the dark” (588):

“There is no road so smooth,” said Sancho, “that it does not have some hole or rut to make you stumble….But if it is true what they say, that company in trouble brings relief, I may take comfort from your Grace, since you serve a master [a lovelorn master] as foolish as my own.”

Foolish but brave,” the one [the Squire] of the Wood corrected him [Sancho], “and more of a rogue than anything else.”

This is not true of my master,” replied Sancho. “I can assure you there is nothing of the rogue about him; he is as open and aboveboard as a wine pitcher and would not harm anyone but does good to all. There is no malice in his make-up, and a child could help him believe it was night at midday. For that reason I love him with all my heart and cannot bring myself to leave him, no matter how many foolish things he does.”….

Sancho kept clearing his throat from time to time, and his saliva seemed rather viscous and dry; seeing which, the woodland squire said to him, “It looks to me as if we have been talking so much that our tongues are cleaving to our palates, but I have a loosener over there [a large bota of wine!], hanging from the bow of my saddle, and a pretty good one it is.” With this, he got up and went over to his horse and came back a moment later with a big flask of wine….

“Would you believe me, Sir Squire, I [said Sancho] have such a great natural instinct in this matter of wines that I have but to smell a vintage and I will tell you the country where it was grown, from what kind of grapes, what it tastes like, and how good it is, and everything that to do with it. There is nothing unusual about this, however, seeing that on my father’s side were two of the best winetasters La Mancha has known in many a year, in proof of which, listen to the story of what happened to them.” (588-589—my emphasis added)

And this is the tale he told!

“The two were given a sample of wine from a certain vat and asked to state its condition and quality and determine whether it was good or bad. One of them tasted it with the tip of his tongue while the other merely brought it up to his nose. The first man said that it tasted of iron, the second that it smelled of Cordovon leather. The owner insisted that the vat was clean and that there could be nothing in the wine to give it the flavor of leather or iron, but, nevertheless, the two famous winetasters stood their ground. Time went by, and when they came to clean out the vat they found in it a small key attached to a leather strap. And so your Grace may see for yourself whether or not one who comes of that kind of stock has a right to give his opinion in such cases.” (589-590—my emphasis added)

And what was the response of the other wine-bibbing Squire to Sancho Panza and his story of such an inherited high standard of taste that has been even biologically transmitted? (A touch of evolutionary “Lysenkoism,” perhaps?)

The Squire of the Wood immediately replies and Sancho, by way of anticipation, then gives to him a loyal rejoinder:

“And for that very reason [sic],…I [said the Squire] maintain that we ought to stop going about in search of adventures. Seeing that we have loaves, let us not go looking for cakes, but return to our cottages, for God will find us there if He so wills.”

I mean to stay with my master,” Sancho replied, “until he reaches Saragossa [up in the North], but after that we shall come to an understanding [about Illusion and Reality].”

The short of the matter is, the two worthy squires talked so much and drank so much that sleep had to tie their tongues and moderate their thirst [for wine], since to quench the latter was impossible. Clinging to the wine flask [the large bota again!], which was almost empty by now, and with half-chewed morsels of food in their mouths, they both slept peacefully, and we shall leave them there as we go on to relate what took place between the Knight of the Wood and the Knight of the Mournful Countenance [our beloved Don Quixote of La Mancha].” (590—my bold emphasis and italics added)

We have gratefully seen now but an enticing small portion of the sustained resilience of spirit of the inimitable Don Quixote and his loyal companion, Sancho Panza, who is a vivid Raconteur of warmly infectious Loyal Love, and not only for his Knightly Master.

May we also all come to read and to savor slowly (like the balm of good wine—and perhaps again and again) Miguel Cervantes’ masterpiece, Don Quixote: his tonic gift to us and coming from a generous man who died in penury. He was also buried as a lay member (like his wife later) of a religious order—as a Third Order Franciscan—enduringly grateful, as well, to the chivalrous and self-sacrificing order of Trinitarians and Mercidarians who together rescued him from a severe, merciless Turkish captivity in Algiers.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1D.B Wyndham Lewis, The Shadow of Cervantes (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1962), 190 pages. Henceforth all references to this excellent and detailed work will be placed in parentheses above in the main body of this essay. Although we shall not be able to present a fuller depiction of Cervantes’ Captivity by the Turks (especially in Algiers) and his belatedly successful ransom back to Spain (indispensably helped by the chivalrous, self-sacrificing Trinitarian Order), we earnestly recommend to the reader a thorough savoring of Chapter III of Wyndham Lewis’ book..

Cervantes at Lepanto and the Aftermath: In Captivity and with Don Quixote

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                         6 November 2019

Saint Leonard of Limoges (d. 559)

Saint Leonard of Reresby (d. 13th century)

The Death of Professor Josef Pieper (d. 1997)

Epigraphs

There are times when to open Don Quixote after closing Hamlet is like an escape from a clinic into a bracing gale in the High Pyrenees. Has it been said before? It can be said again.” (D.B. Wyndham Lewis, The Shadow of Cervantes (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1962), page 189—my emphasis added)

***

“Truly will Cervantes say as he lays it [his pen] down at last [in 1616], ‘Don Quixote was made for me, and I for him.’….’For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him; his to act and mine to record.’” (The Shadow of Cervantes, 174 and 178—my emphasis added)

***

It may be too that Cervantes felt, as many must feel on skimming one of these dusty folios [of chivalric romances], a nostalgia for that lost aroma, pure and lovely and fragrant, the true quintessence of chivalry, to be found in a thirteenth-century masterpiece like La Quest del Sainct Graal [The Quest for the Holy Grail]. Malory [i.e., Thomas Malory, the late medieval English knight and author] well conveys its [chivalry’s own] exaltation. ‘And when he came to the sacring of the Mass and had gone, he called Galahad, and said to him: Come forth, servant of Jesus Christ, and thou shalt see what thou has most desired to see. And then he began to tremble right hard when the deadly flesh (la mortel char [mortal flesh]) began to behold spiritual things….’ Throughout the Quest runs the golden thread of knightly reverence for womanhood in honour of the Immaculata which is native to the Grail Cycle, Celtic and French, and was in truth one of the saving graces of a rough and bloody age. ‘Then were the natural charities exaled/Afresh from out the blessed love of Mary…,’” (The Shadow of Cervantes, pages 120-121—my emphasis added)

***

“But Hamlet is a pale sceptic feigning madness, whereas the Don’s logic [Don Quixote’s logic] is the sanity of the genuinely and gloriously crazy. Amid the metaphysical gymnastics of the learned [like Hamlet] one may easily lose sight of the key to Cervantes’ achievement. It is that gentility, in the noble obsolete sense, already remarked on. The old soldier Miguel Cervantes, a man with his normal share of sins and weaknesses, much battered by life, finds the springs of mirth in the clash between the ideal and the actual, and his amusement is mixed with tenderness for all his kind. ‘Qui creâsti me, miserere mei!‘….The Don is pre-eminently lovable; the most gallant and courteous of crackpots, endearing even in his rages; perpetually thwacked and tumbled in the mud by a gibing [and often cynical] world; perpetually rising again with his dream unimpaired, heart and courage high, a radiance in his poor crazy eyes; an hildalgo at every turn of fortune, a blood-brother to Parsival [one of the Grail Knights, like Galahad], the pure and guileless Fool.

“Life had treated his [Don Quixote’s] creator little less roughly. Its [life’s] buffets could not impair an inviolable sweetness of nature and an unquenchable valiance of spirit, based on eternal verities, which stamp Miguel Cervantes as being all that has ever been meant by the word ‘gentleman’. Nobody could teach him anything about the bitterness of this world. In his seventieth year, just able to pen his very last piece of writing, he takes leave of it as such a man would.—’Farewell, graces; farewell, elegances; farewell, my jovial friends, for now I find myself facing death and desiring to see you soon, happy in the other life.’ Thus in his own story as in that of his Don, Cervantes offers a cordial to a fainthearted posterity on the brink of a new Dark Age.

Untainted by what is known as the Pelagian [Heresy] or British heresy, the dogma of the Fundamentally Decent Fellow in no need of any divine grace, he recognizes a spark of goodness in the worst of us. It has often been observed that of the nearly seven hundred characters in his enormous comedy [Don Quixote] not a single one is wholly bad….” (The Shadow of Cervantes, pages 22-23—my emphasis added)

***

In his mid-sixties late in his life, Miguel Cervantes—the beloved author of Don Quixote—wrote the following brief and vivid description of himself and his earlier life, especially about his military service and combative presence at the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571— as well as its aftermath, to include his Turkish captivity and ransom. Cervantes wrote his modest self-description in a third-person narrative:

He is commonly called Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. He was a soldier for many years and a captive for five and a half, an experience that taught him patience in adversity. In the naval battle of Lepanto [7 October 1571] he lost his left hand as the result of a harquebus shot, a wound which, however unsightly it may appear, he looks upon as beautiful, for the reason that it was received on the most memorable and sublime occasion that past ages have known or those to come may hope to know; for he was fighting beneath the victorious banner of the son [Don John of Austria] of that thunderbolt of war, [Emperor] Charles V of blessed memory.1

Cervantes became a soldier at twenty-two years of age, in 1569, two years before Lepanto. He first enlisted in an infantry regiment where a few years later at Lepanto “his conduct in battle won encomiums from his officers, followed by extra pay and the ultimate offer of a commission [as an officer].”2 Moreover:

His motive for enlisting was not (as some troglodytes have surmised) dissatisfaction with Aquaviva’s service [with “the young prelate-diplomat Guilio de Aquaviva”(68)]. His patron, now a cardinal, was one of the most agreeable and cultivated of patricians, on the easiest terms with his entourage….We have to look elsewhere for the spring of his impulse to arms. It is not far to seek. He was fired with a chivalrous ardency of which the first volunteers of 1914 [at the outset of World War I] knew something, though in Cervantes’s case the motive was a nobler one than patriotism.

In 1570 the fate of all our civilization was at stake. A divided Christendom saw its doom advancing from the East like a thunder-cloud and heard a loud trumpet calling from Rome. The peril was nothing new. (71—my emphasis added)

Wyndham Lewis proceeds to give some apt details concerning these earlier and current perils:

Forty years previously [in 1530 or so] the Emperor Charles V, quoting the late fall of Byzantium [in 1453] and the current perfidy of [King] François I of France, Mahound’s ally, had predicted that without Almighty God’s intervention the Turk would before long be master of Europe. By the autumn of 1569 the process was seen to be actually taking shape. Sultan Selim II was now ready to take Cyprus from the Venetians as a preliminary to more far-reaching operations. Though a sot steeped in monstrous vices, the son of Suleiman the Magnificent was advantaged by inherited Oriental skill in exploiting the divisions of the Christian world, by vast resources, first-class armaments, and very capable commanders. (71—my emphasis added)

(Who, after reading this paragraph, does not also think of the strategic and moral situation today? Even the political divisions and the perfidy?! And not only in Europe.)

We shall now more closely follow and selectively quote Wyndham Lewis’ own compact and eloquent presentation of the history: especially the envious and fearful political factions and their resentfully stubborn divisions. We may thereby better follow the 7 October Lepanto battle itself and its discouraging aftermath:

Charles IX of France and Catherine de’ Medici, embroiled with [Admiral] Coligny and his Huguenots [Calvinists], were disinclined in any case to fall foul of the Turk. At Vienna Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, a genial nonentity, was sulking over the recent title of Grand Duke conferred by the Holy See on Cosimo of Florence, the first to suggest a league against Islam, and took no action. Elizabeth Tudor, recently excommunicated, was hardly likely to respond to any papal call; in fact her record as a businesswoman moved Selim’ Grand Vizier to assure the Emperor’s ambassador laughingly that after the first Turkish victory she and the English nobility would turn Mahometan overnight. Young Sebastian I of Portugal would have been eager to respond, but a severe recent plague-epidemic had put out of action his army, his galleys, and his munition factories alike. As for the Venetians, who had a reputation for neutrality [sic] in previous clashes with the Turk, they were in a chaotic state of alarm and shifting policy. At the Vatican conference on July 1, 1570, attended by representatives of the Holy See, Spain, and Venice, there was considerable wrangling over expenses as well. (72—my emphasis added)

Despite all of these varied, and often paralyzing, disputations, an unlikely but good surprise was to come from a gifted man of 23, which was also then the closely proximate age of young soldier Cervantes himself:

Laughing in the sun, Mustafa Pasha took Cyprus in September of that year [September 1570], except for the [Venetian Christian] garrison of Famagusta, which held out gallantly and might have been relieved under Colonna, but for the quarrels of the Venetians and the Genoese under his command. At the last moment a leader emerged: a man, as Pius V quoted thankfully later from the Gospel, sent by God, whose name was John [Juan]; twenty-three-years-old John of Austria, natural son of the Emperor Charles V by Barbara Blomberg, a soldier with a fearlessness matching his looks and his brains. Under his command as generalissimo of the forces of the Holy League some two hundred galleys and caravels sailed from Messina [in northeastern Sicily] to meet the Turk on September 15 and 16 [1571]. Among the troops aboard the Marquesa galley in Giovanni Andrea Doria’s squadron was Miguel de Cervantes. Don John engaged the Turk, coming from Cyprus and Crete, at Lepanto, in the gulf of Patras, 150 miles north-east of Athens, and after a day’s fierce battle [on 7 October] sent him reeling to the ropes [but not knocked out]. (72-73—my emphasis added)

We now hear about the moral and spiritual preparations for the momentous naval battle:

As befitted men sworn to save Christendom or perish, the entire army and fleet from Don John down to the smallest cabin-boy went to Confession and received the Blessed Sacrament at Messina before sailing, fortified likewise by a special indulgence dispensed by a papal legate and equal to that granted for the Crusades. (73—my emphasis added)

At the end of the day of 7 October 1571, “Uluch Ali turned with what survived of the Turkish fleet and fled” (74) and

Away in Rome that same evening St Pius V turned from the open window of his study to praise God for the great victory just won a thousand miles away…commemorated in the Roman Calendar thence-forward by Rosary Sunday….The great ode of Fernando de Herrera called Song of Praise to the Divine Majesty for the Victory of Señor Don Juan [John] is at once a silver fanfare and a humble breast-beating….“Blessed be Your clemency, Lord, for that [because] despite suffering our injuries, despite our punishable crime, You have broken the ruthless yoke of the enemy’s ancient pride.”….

On that day, away on the extreme left wing in the Marquesa galley under the immediate command of Francisco de San Petro, Miguel de Cervantes acquitted himself, as his officers testified, most valorously before being put out of action. When the Christian fleet sighted the Turk he was half prostrate with fever and ordered below. Appearing on deck as battle was joined, vowing that he would rather die in action for God than skulk under cover, and begging for a post of danger, he was given command of twelve men in a longboat from the San Petro galley and sent to an exposed position. Here, later in the day, he was knocked out in heavy fighting by three gunshot wounds; two in the chest, one in the left hand. On Don John’s triumphal return to Messina amid the banging of cannon and the pealing of bells Cervantes went into the hospital with the other wounded. Three months later he was still under the surgeon….How any soldier of the period survived even an ordinary bullet-wound is at times a matter for wonderment. (74-75—my emphasis added)

Soon after this admirable description of a “tough age” (74), Wyndham Lewis speaks to us of the combat-presence there of the future Saint Camillus de Lellis:

Cervantes never apparently encountered at Lepanto, or in Corfu, or in any subsequent campaign against the Turk, the big, cursing, brawling Italian soldier, later canonized as St Camillo de Lellis, who launched the first field-ambulance service of nursing brothers, with the Red Cross badge, in 1582. Nor can he [Cervantes] have seen, like de Lellis, his comrades reduced by hunger in one crisis to devouring dead Turks’ livers. He would certainly have enshrined such a recollection in the Captive’s story [in Don Quixote—Part I].

As for Lepanto, he [Cervantes] will never be able to forget it, and why should he? Did not Don John in person recommend him for a commission [as an officer] not long afterward? (75-76—my emphasis added)

Now we dare to approach some of the discouraging strategic aftermath of the tactical victory at Lepanto, and we now propose to consider the extent to which it was also a strategic victory. It is not long until Miguel Cervantes and his meritorious brother Rodrigo are also to be captured by the Turks:

And the Cervantes brothers returned with their regiment to resume garrison-duty in Naples, surely as dashed in spirit as their Commander-in-chief [John of Austria]. Worse was imminent. Before long all the heroism and glory of Lepanto were seen to be wasted. That swinging blow to the Turk was not to be followed by a knockout. In March 1573 the Venetians ratted [deserted]. On the day when their minister in Rome was pledging renewed loyalty to the [Holy] League [against the Turk] their minister in Constantinople was signing a treaty giving up Cyprus, returning the Albanian port of Sofoto—the only Venetian capture from the Turk so far—and engaging the Sublime Porte 300,000 ducats’ compensation. This act of treachery has been ascribed solely to terror. It might indeed be said in the Venetians’ behalf that the Turk’s first Christian objective had always been Venice; moreover it would take the Venetians some time to forget the fate of Marcantonio Bragadino after the storming of Famagusta [in Cyprus] on the eve of Lepanto; the fiendish torturing and flaying alive of their envoy, arrested during the negotiations for a capitulation, the stuffing of the disembowelled corpse with straw, and its final derisive hoisting to the yardarm of the Turkish admiral’s galley. Nevertheless the Venetian double-dealing and surrender shocked all Catholic Europe from the Holy See down. Pius V had died just in time to be spared seeing his hopes destroyed by this perfidy. His successor, Gregory XIII, minced no words. The Venetians had mortally wounded the League which had been formed to save them, and the blow fell of course most heavily on Don John of Austria, who, it now seemed, had swiped the Turk in vain. He, too, spoke his bitter mind. (77—my emphasis added)

Now we consider the beginning of another surprise and consequently bitter challenge: the capture and protracted retention in Algeria of the Cervantes brothers cruelly held by the Turk:

Miguel de Cervantes began bestirring himself vigorously [in the early autumn of 1575]….Backed by his commanding officer he was at length granted leave by G.H.Q. [General Headquarters] to return to Spain and apply for a captain’s commission in one of the new infantry regiments being raised for foreign service. A couple of letters of recommendation signed by Don John and the Viceroy in person accompanied the grant and testify to Cervantes’ standing in his superiors’ eyes. On September 20, 1575, we find him at Naples accompanied by his meritorious [elder] brother Rodrigo and, one may imagine, in the highest spirits, boarding the Sol galley, one of the flotilla bound for Spain under Captain Sandro de Leiva.

He must have been still in high feather when six days later, off the Provençal coast near Les Saintes Maries, three fast Turkish galleys captained by an Albanian renegade swooped of the Sol, which had been temporarily separated from the rest, and after a brisk hand-to-hand fight [the Turk] fled from the onrush of Leiva’s [Christian] main flotilla, carrying with them to Algiers a score of Spanish prisoners, the two brothers Cervantes among them. Those precious letters [of recommendation] carried by Miguel were shortly to prove no blessing. (79-80—my emphasis added)

For, in Algeria, as we are soon to be told in Chapter 3, the situation was cruelly bleak:

The sight everywhere of ragged Christian captives chained for transit or working under the lash—all these tokens, like a bad dream, of the presence and power of Mahound must have chilled even the stout blood of Miguel de Cervantes as he tramped that October day [in 1575], hustled by guards and linked to his fellow-prisoners, from quay to gaol [from the wharf to his jail]. (81—my emphasis added)

It is so that Wyndham Lewis’ Chapter 3—“Nor Iron Bars a Cage” (81-117)—will thoroughly and quite vividly present to the reader what Cervantes himself largely had to endure during his long captivity (and his several resourcefully attempted escapes) until his eventual ransom, which was achieved with the indispensable help of the chivalric order of the Trinitarians.

And yet, despite his cumulative suffering, Miguel Cervantes’ later writing in Don Quixote is so warm and generous—and so graciously forgiving and splendidly magnanimous.

We may recall now afresh what Cervantes intimately wrote near the end of his life: “Don Quixote was made for me and I for him….For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him; his to act and mine to record.”

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1 See Samuel Putnam’s edition and translation of Cervantes’ Prologue to his own Exemplary Novels, in The Portable Cervantes (New York: The Viking Press, 1951), page 706.

2D.B Wyndham Lewis, The Shadow of Cervantes (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1962), page 70. Henceforth all references to this excellent and detailed work of some 190 pages will be placed in parentheses above in the main body of this essay. Our focus in this essay will be on two of the five chapters of this book: Chapter II—“Drum, Trumpet, and the Turk”; and Chapter III—“Nor Iron Bars a Cage.” Although we shall not be able to present a fuller depiction of Cervantes’ Captivity by the Turks (especially in Algiers) and his belatedly successful ransom back to Spain (indispensably helped by the chivalrous, self-sacrificing Trinitarian Order), we earnestly recommend to the reader a thorough savoring of Chapter III.

Cervantes’ Picaresque Tale About Criminal and Moral Disorder in Seville’s Underground

Dr. Robert Hickson                                       24 October 2019 Saint Raphael the Archangel

Epigraphs

“He is commonly called Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. He was a soldier for many years and a captive for five and a half, an experience that taught him patience in adversity. In the naval battle of Lepanto [1571 A.D.] he lost his left hand as the result of a harquebus shot, a wound which, however unsightly it may appear, he looks upon as beautiful, for the reason that it was received on the most memorable and sublime occasion that past ages have known or those to come may hope to know; for he was fighting beneath the victorious banner of the son [Don John of Austria] of that thunderbolt of war, [Emperor] Charles V of blessed memory.” (Cervantes Self-Description as found in the Prologue to his Two Exemplary Novels—in Samuel Putnam, The Portable Cervantes (1951), page 706.)

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“And, finally, he [Rinconete] was astounded by the careless manner in which justice was administered in that famous city of Seville, with people so pernicious as these [in Monipodio’s covert academy and picaresque brotherhood of thieves] and possessed of such unnatural instincts carrying on their pursuits almost openly.” (Cervantes, Rinconete and Cortadillo, in The Portable Cervantes (1951), page 758.)

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During the recurrent disturbances and prevarications coming from Rome outside (and sometimes even within) the 6-27 October 2019 Amazonian Synod, I consolingly thought to turn to Cervantes and his Picaresque Tales, especially one of them: Rinconete and Cortadillo,1 a generous and forgiving tale which was set mostly in Seville, Spain in early seventeenth century. Characteristically, as with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Cervantes vividly and magnanimously depicts both life as it is and life as it ought to be.

Let us therefore now consider the refreshing three-page ending of Cervantes’ Picaresque Tale as he deftly shows us the more mature second thoughts of his two young now experienced protagonists: those two young and very resourceful teenage rascals once known as Pedro de Rincón and Diego Cortado, the younger one of the two inimitable homeless rogues.

“Then turn on,” Monipodio directed him [Rinconete], “to where it says ‘Memorandum of Common Outrages.‘”

Rinconete [who was not illiterate] turned the leaves until he came to this inscription [concerning “Outrages”]….

“Don’t mention the house,” said Monipodio, “for I know where it is.”….

“Don’t read that [passage] either,” Monipodio admonished him; “the house and the address do not matter. It is enough to commit the offense without speaking of it in public, for it is a great burden upon the conscience. I would rather nail up a hundred horns [of infidelity or alleged cuckoldry] and as many sanbenitos [penitential garments], providing I was paid for it, than mention the [true] fact a single time even to the mother who bore me.”….“Give me the book, lad. I know there’s nothing else [to consider]. Business [the brotherhood’s thievery] is a bit slack just now, but times will change, and it may be we shall have more to do than we can take care of. There’s not a leaf stirs without God’s will, and we cannot force people to avenge themselves [by retaining our services], especially seeing that everyone is now so brave in his own behalf that he doesn’t want to pay for having something done that he can just as well do with his own hands.”

That is the way it is,” said Repolido….

What is to be done,” said Monipodio, “is this. You are all to go to your posts and stay there until Sunday, when we will meet in this same place and divide everything that has fallen into our hands, without cheating anyone. Rinconete the Good and Cortadillo [who earlier had also been called “Cortadillo the Good”] will have for their district until the end of the week that part of the suburbs [of Seville] that lies between the golden Tower and the Castle Postern. There they will have no trouble working their tricks, for I have seen others who were not nearly so clever come back every day with more than twenty reales in small change, not to speak of the silver, and all this with only one deck and with four cards missing. Ganchhuelo,” he [i.e., Chief Monipodio] went on, addressing the youths, “will show you the lay of the land, and even though you go as far as San Sebastian and San Telmo, it will not make much difference, although it is only right that no one [not even those clever two young and sympathetic rogues] should trespass on another’s territory.”

The pair kissed his hand in return for the favor he had done them and [they] promised to fulfill their [admittedly picaresque] tasks faithfully and well, with all diligence and discretion. (754-756—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

After this preparatory sample of the life of our two young rogues, we shall now more understandably be able to consider the specific “honors” that Rinconete and Cortadillo received from Monipodio—although the two lads will soon thereafter also mature a little more and then experience some quite resonant disillusionments:

Monipodio then took out from the hood of his cloak a folded sheet of paper containing a list of members [in the brotherhood] and directed Rinconete to put down his own name and that of Cortadillo; but since they had no ink there, he told them they might take the paper with them and attend to the matter in the first apothecary’s shop to which they came. The entry was to read: “Rinconete and Cortadillo, full members; apprenticeship, none; Rinconete, card sharper; Cortadillo, sneak thief.” They also were to note the day, month, and year, but were to say nothing about their parents or place of origin….

He [Monipodio] embraced Rinconete and Cortadillo and dismissed them with his blessing, charging them that they should never have any permanent lodging or stopping place, as that was best for all concerned. Ganchuelo went with them to show them their post, and took occasion to remind them once again that they should not fail to put in an appearance on Sunday, since he believed that Monipodio intended to give [the two of] them a lecture on the things that had to do with their trade. He then went away, leaving the two lads quite astonished at all they had seen. (756-757—my emphasis added)

With this implicit transition, we shall now witness our two picaros‘ critical observations of the Seville underground and the varied brotherhood of thieves (and helpers) amidst all their fresh adventures and abiding astonishment. (We also think of the Rome-Vatican underground today and its own networked and privileged brotherhoods—and their very effective demoralizations, as it seems.)

In support of this view, let us consider how the talented Rinconete expresses his new and more distant (even somewhat derisive) reflections about his own challenging and morally compromising way of life. For, Cervantes, through his tale’s narrator, refreshingly says to us the following, while also showing us the illusions:

Although a mere boy [of some fifteen or sixteen years of age], Rinconete had a naturally keen mind, and having accompanied his father in selling papal bulls [in Latin], he knew something about the proper use of language [to reveal, not to conceal, reality!]. He had to laugh loudly as he thought of some of the words [malapropisms or solecisms] that Monipodio and the rest of that foolish community had employed [e.g., “to keep my promise and follow destructions,” instead of to “follow instructions”! (751)]. In place of per modum suffragii [about spiritual intercession] Monipodio had said per modo de naufragio (“by way of shipwreck”)….Then there was [the prostitute] Chubby Face’s remark…(He [Rinconete] was especially amused by her [Chubby’s] hope that the labor she had expended in earning the twenty-four reales would be counted by heaven against her sins.) (757-758—my emphasis added)

But, the final two paragraphs of the Picaresque Tale (758-759) are most important:

Above all, he marveled at the absolute assurance they all felt of going to Heaven when they died so long as they did not fail in their devotions, and this in spite of all the thefts, murders, and other offenses of which they were guilty in the sight of God. He laughed also as he thought of the old woman, Pipota, who leaving the stolen hamper at home, went off to place her wax candles in from of the [sacred] images; by doing so she doubtless was convinced that she would go to Heaven fully clothed and with her shoes on. He was no less astonished at the obedience and respect they all showed Monipodio, that coarse, unscrupulous barbarian. He recalled what he had read in the latter’s memorandum book of the practices in which they were all engaged. And, finally, he was astounded by the careless manner in which justice was administered in that famous city of Seville, with people so pernicious as these and possessed of such unnatural instincts carrying on their pursuits almost openly.

He made up his [perceptively keen] mind to persuade his companion [the younger rascal, Cortadillo] that they should not continue long in this desperate and evil way of life, one so free and dissolute and marked by such uncertainly. But in spite of it all, being young and inexperienced, he did continue it for a number of months, and in the course of that time had certain adventures which it would take too long to set down here. Accordingly, we must wait for another occasion to hear the story of his life and the strange things that happened to him, as well as to his teacher Monipodio, along with other events having to do with the members of that infamous academy, all of which should be very edifying and well might serve as an example and a warning to those who read. (757-759—my emphasis added)

The magnanimous Miguel Cervantes has so much more to teach us still, and not only about the generous forgiveness and affectionately chivalrous illusions of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Moreover, my Special Forces Team-Sergeant in the late 1960s once very memorably said to me: “Sir, no one is completely useless; you can always serve as a bad example.”

Meditating on Cervantes’ final two paragraphs above (758-759) has somehow also reminded me of the recent Amazonian Synod in Rome and its often covert preparations and some dubious fruits and prevarications. However, what has been going on in Rome is not a Picaresque Tale, much less a tale in the spirit of Miguel Cervantes.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Samuel Putnam, The Portable Cervantes (Don Quixote, “Rinconete and Cortadillo,” et al.)—Translated and Edited, with an Introduction and Notes by Samuel Putnam—(New York: The Viking Press, 1951), 854 pages. The text of “Rinconete and Cortadillo” will be found on pages 709-759, from which text all further references will be made and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this essay. This Picaresque Tale is sometimes called the first of Cervantes’ two “Exemplary Novels,” the second one being entitled “Man of Glass” (760-796).