1. Clay & Skin

2. Gilgamesh

3. Acts of God

4. Genesis


5. Odysseus

6. Men like

7. Socrates

8. Alexander

9. Virgil

10. Paul


11. Krishna

12. Rama

13. Kalidasa

14. Buddha

15. Confucius

16. Lao Tse


17. Quran

18. Beowulf

19. Genji

20. Survival Itself


21. Dante 1

22. Dante 2

 23. Dante 3

 24. Chaucer

25. Journey to the West

26. New World

27. Indians

28. Don Quixote





            Way too much reading


1. Read Damrosch "Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra" and Don Quixote (C360-C447).

2. Skim the page below, and then summarize and reflect on the lesson for an hour in your World Literature Journal.

3. If you are enrolled in this course, go to the Angel web site, take the quiz for this lesson, and submit your final journal to Dr. G.

The life of the Word

We have observed that literature is a basic tool in the formation of cultures, that it creates like-mindedness among individuals who see and/or hear the same texts. Readers of Homer or Paul or Confucius, the Vedas or the Qur'an or Buddhist scriptures acquire common terminology and mythology, similarity of memory, almost common neurology.

When readers get together, the mental bonds of reading can be reinforced through public reading services or discussions, but when texts travel in space and time, their audiences are not limited to social units in the normal geopolitical sense. Readers may be scattered across the globe or through the ages, isolated or even solitary physically but nonetheless mentally connected to other readers distant or deceased. Texts well traveled in space or time thus have power to estrange readers from their immediate neighbors, as illustrated in Don Quixote, absent-minded professors and impractical zealots of all descriptions. Right: the knight errantry of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza continues even today.

People who have only one book tend to believe it absolutely; people who have two books tend to fight over which one is true; but people with thousands of books (that they have actually read) tend to believe little from any one of them. To keep from becoming Quixotic, you can read what everyone else is reading in the community where you happen to live, Harry Potter maybe, or you can read a multitude of books of different kinds so that the power of each one will be canceled out by the others. The latter method is commonly called multicultural education, which may leave the student deferential toward all beliefs and personally persuaded by none. Perhaps if Don Quixote had taken courses in World Literature, instead of reading only antiquated Spanish romances of knight errantry, he would not have seen enemies in windmills and herds of sheep.   

We began the course with Hesiod looking at a potential volcano, which he did not understand, but which he attempted to control by describing it as a Titan in chains bound up underground during the great battle of the gods and giants. Now we end with Don Quixote looking at thirty  windmills, which he does not understand but which he attempts to control by describing them as long armed enemy giants. Is there a difference in the use of imagination? Poetry is as amusing for Cervantes as it is for Hesiod, but has it become mere comical delusion?  

We have seen that texts have power to create cultures. However, time always limits cultural expansion. Because language changes and because technology changes, texts show their age sooner or later. In time readers begin to find them absurd or difficult and eventually unreadable. The style goes out of fashion and then out of usage and then beyond understanding, the meanings of the words gradually lose currency until the language itself is lost, the content becomes unfamiliar and then antique, like knight's armor in an age of gunpowder. Text can be timeless, when it avoids burning or drowning or other kinds of destruction, but the world passes relentlessly away from it.

As a student of the world's early literature, you are now to some extent a living multicultural embodiment of it. What does this transformation do for you? How does it change you? What does it do for the world or for literature? These questions do not appear on the final exam of our course, but they are the final questions. I hope that you have found at least some of the readings in our course amusing and enlightening.


The world is ok now
Cervantes and the art of parody

In dark ages might makes right. There is need of Arthur and the virtuous vigilantes of the round table, for there will be no justice unless the mightiest are just, no code of warfare unless the mightiest follow it, no courtesy unless the mightiest are courteous. It seems doubtful that knights errant ever existed, but because a more or less orderly civilization was built following the lawless chaos of the dark age someone during or after the emergency must have had the courage or good sense to act virtuously "to redress wrongs, aid widows and protect maidens."

These imagined restorers of social order are the wandering knights in shining armor of western European romance, so many of which were studied in libraries a thousand years after the dark age by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) in order to create the ingenious Don Quixote for the amusement of audiences that took themselves to be entirely civilized. One of the sources of the immediate and lasting popularity of Cervantes' novel is the flattering premise that wandering knights are not needed in La Mancha. The chivalric heroes lived on in the literary record and in the imagination of readers, but the culture which books of chivalry had inspired was superseded. To act as a knight errant would now be madness. Below: vigilante justice remains in many areas of the world. Muhammad continues to be a heroic model with cultural relevance long after sixth century western counterparts Arthur and Beowulf have become figures of fantasy. 

Afghan warrior

Renaissance writers imitated the classics, as in The Lusiads and tens of thousands of other neo-classical poems, but imitation led increasingly to parody, comedy, and burlesque. As feudalism gave way to nation statehood across western Europe during the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, there was growing recognition that past literature is peculiarly historical, that the "Middle Ages" especially were a primitive time now outgrown, and that bookworms may be disoriented by reading about it. The idea arose with censors during the reformation and inquisition and more joyfully later with Cervantes that literature can be a form of demonic possession or mental illness that victimizes host brains. In Cervantes, this is imaged as the malicious work of the evil enchanter who blocks Don Quixote's perception of reality.

Having arrived at this point, we of course are not the end time of literature but only at a new beginning with counter-cultural models of behavior and ideology promoted as suitable for early modern times. These include the new culture of science that tries to overcome enchantment. But to learn of the new fashions, you must take part two of the course.

Above: cartoon by Picasso. What makes Cervantes' humor so effective is his mastery of dialogue from the old romance traditions. Don Quixote speaks the idiom perfectly (especially the terms of insult).  Add squire's talk to the conversation--squires seldom have anything to say in medieval romances--and you have Sancho Panza, the greatest sidekick in literature since Enkidu. A common man, a straight man, would-be king of his own island, Sancho is both an initiate at arms and a surrogate for the reader. blah blah blah When are they ever going to be finished talking?

 after you have read a lot, you too may write like this . . .

commentary from Damrosch
Teacher's Guide to the Longman Anthology

Don Quixote is not the only character infected with the love of chivalric romance, and that is one of the central ironies of the novel. Montaigne’s contemporary, the French Jesuit François de la Noue, warned against the dangerous influence of chivalry books on the general population, suggesting they were as harmful to the young as Machiavelli was to the old. Plus, he added, by the late sixteenth century, the chivalric ethos was dead—everything in books like Amadis was utterly passé. De la Noue notwithstanding, it is clear that as the book-burning in Chapter 6 of Don Quixote suggests, Amadis and other works like it still had plenty of fans in Cervantes’ time, and they occupied a niche in oral culture as well thanks to puppet shows and ballads sung in the plaza. Nor, of course, does Cervantes parody only the chivalric romance. Great fun is had at the expense of the pastoral novel with the episode of Marcela, who remains aloof from and unaffected by the would-be shepherds who fall in love with her and write misogynistic poems about her intransigence. The picaresque novel, which burst onto the literary scene with the anonymous Lazarillo de Torme about an orphan trying to make his way in a hostile world, shows up in the figure of Ginés de Pasamonte, already celebrated as author of a story he candidly admits he can never finish: his own. But other forms of fiction are interrogated, too, and perhaps the question is not so much whether Don Quixote is mad but whether it is possible to imagine a world in which some level of fictive construction does not play a part. As Ariosto’s narrator asks himself in his Orlando furioso or “Mad Orlando,” can one “leave the dance” once it is begun? Can one escape from a world in which, as Erasmus’s Folly insists, to act foolishly is to be human?

In this light, Maria Rosa Menocal’s recent musings in Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2002) on the narrator’s chance encounter with a Morisco in Toledo (Book I, Chapter 9) are especially pertinent. She remarks that in the heyday of the medieval era when Moors still controlled Andalusia, Toledo had been a thriving cultural center, a mecca for writers, artists, and translators who, among other things, translated the great Greek philosophers into Arabic. Cervantes’ Toledo is sadly reduced from what it once was. In its once-thriving Jewish quarter where no Jews have lived for a hundred years—“Or at least no Jews admitting to being Jews, a very different thing” (Menocal, p. 253)—“Cervantes” finds a pile of papers written in Arabic script and looks, as Menocal says, for “an Old Muslim who, like the Old Jews, go around saying they aren’t that at all, that they are New Christians. But who is to believe that? Who in this world ever says that he is what he seems to be? And who seems to be what he no doubt really is?” (p. 254). The intolerances of the early modern world strikingly contrast with the genuine catholicism of the medieval one, and in the new kingdom of Spain, identity itself demands constant sleights of hand. Hence the Morisco who can translate for Cervantes a dangerous Arabic text (that is not Arabic but a medieval version of Castilian transliterated into Arabic script) laughs at the allusion to Dulcinea as “the best hand at salting pork of any woman in all La Mancha.” He laughs, Menocal suggests, because Dulcinea and her family are no doubt old Jews, trying too hard to look like new Christians at a time when Spanish “honor” lay in religion and race alone, when exhaustive genealogies were taken every time someone switched jobs, when—the final blow—four years after the publication of Cide Hamete’s manuscript, all Moors, having already had their books burned and clothes prohibited, were expelled from Spain, with disastrous consequences for the country’s economy and, of course, the Moriscos themselves. It has been standard to read Don Quixote as a fictional work about other fictions. And yet Menocal searchingly asks, “Do we use this great story to forget history or to remember it?” (p. 265)—a remembering that situates Don Quixote within a tragic moment of Spain’s history and that sees “fictional” constructions not only as constitutive of reality but as protection against it. A remembering, too, one might add, that takes into account the fact that the chivalric romance was born in Christianity’s fight against Islam, fought nowhere more doggedly than in the Spain of those most Catholic kings, Isabella and Ferdinand. (On the relevant historical details, see B. W. Ife’s “The Historical and Social Context” in The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes, ed. Anthony J. Cascardi, 2000.) . . .

Cervantes did not receive an extensive, formal, humanistic education (although he did briefly study in Madrid with the Spanish humanist Juan Lopez de Hoyos). Cervantes was in some sense too late to be humanism’s beneficiary, born in the wrong country and possibly of the wrong class (his father may have been a hidalgo, like Alonso Quixano, but he had no money to send his fourth child to school). Yet are we to take him at his word that the classical authorities meant little to him? As the prologue states, as far as books of chivalry go, “Aristotle never dreamed of [them], St. Basil never mentioned [them] and Cicero never came across [them]”: ergo, all that Cervantes should do is to “try to ensure that the melancholy man is moved to laughter when he reads [this] history, the jovial man laughs even more, the simpleton is not discouraged, the judicious marvel at its inventiveness, the serious-minded do not scorn it nor the wise fail to praise it.” Such lines seem to belittle the knowledge Cervantes did have of the traditions that preceded him, while at the same time he was conscious, arguably proud, of the fact that he was doing something radically new. (And critics from Georg Lukacs to Michael McKeon have credited him with the birth of the modern novel; see Lukacs’ Theory of the Novel, 1971, and McKeon’s Origins of the English Novel 1600–1740, 1987.) But Cervantes also realized that he had the weight of neither time-honored tradition nor extensive classical learning on his side—and students will thankfully realize that Don Quixote necessitates far fewer footnotes than the average Renaissance text). You can thus ask, what profit do we gain in reading Don Quixote—the book that, as Lord Byron claimed, ruined Spanish feeling for chivalry, or as Menendez y Pelayo claimed, represented the last book of chivalry, the culmination and most perfect example of a long tradition?


Lesson Summary: Don Quixote fights and loves, but does not win or reproduce. Texts age: there are limits to their cultural expansion. After a text grows old and begins to die scholars, comedians and other parasites come along to feast on the remains. 

Suggested journal topics
and optional readings

1. Who is Don Quixote: Is Don Quixote a heroic figure? Is he a romantic one? Or is this novel satiric or counter-cultural, intending to ridicule or subvert heroic or romantic models? Maybe he is not crazy in his refusal to see things as they are--maybe he is so dedicated to the greater good that he refuses to compromise his ideals?

2. Fame and popularity : What do you think accounts for the fame and continued popularity of Cervantes?

Can you think of any literature more recent than Cervantes which reminds you of Cervantes?

3. Compare and contrast (a few examples: you will think of others).

Don Quixote and Gilgamesh  

Don Quixote and The Journey to the West  

Don Quixote and The Knight of the Cart

Don Quixote and The Tale of Genji

4. Online: English translations of Don Quixote are available at Project Gutenberg and Penn State (John Ormsby) and at Bartleby (Harvard Classics).

Biography of Cervantes from Catholic Encyclopedia

Engravings for Don Quixote by Gustav Doré

Leadership lessons of Don Quixote

Timeline for Don Quixote

Virtual museum for Don Quixote

5. Men's literature/women's literature: is Don Quixote men's literature? is all of the heroic tradition men's literature? Is romance women's literature? 

6. Literature and cult formation: Cervantes' treatment of literature as propaganda or mind-control is reminiscent of themes raised earlier in the course. Is Cervantes simply exposing and exploding the instructions of past literature or is he propagating a new set of instructions or models for behavior? Can readers become as infatuuated with Don Quixote as with the heroes of old romance?

Below: Dulcinea del Toboso (Don Quixote's idealization of Aldonza Lorenzo) sculpted by Federico Coullaut-Valera 1956-1957, Madrid.

Instructor: gutchess@englishare.net 
Copyright © 2009