Thursday, March 26, 2009


The great Spanish, poet, and dramatist, Miguel de Cervantes was born at Alcala de Henares. He was educated under the famous humanist Juan Lopez de Hoyos. On the arrival of Cardinal Giulio Acquaviva in Madrid (1568), Cervantes was appointed to an office in the Papal numcio’s household to console Philip II on the loss of his son Don Carlos. In this post, he accompanied his master to Rome.

Leaving this service in 1570, Cervantes spent the next five years as a soldier. In the naval Battle of Lepanto (1571), his left hand was permanently injured, earning him the nickname of el manco de Lepanto. He continued fighting against the Turks until 1575, when he sailed from Naples to Spain, but he was captured at sea by pirates. After his release in 1582, he returned to Madrid, where he settled down to a career of writing.

Cervantes’ best-known poetical work is the Galatea, a pastoral narrative tale, first published in 1585. Although the proof Cervantes has overshadowed his poetry, of which he was so proud, there are verses of great beauty in the Galatea, and in El Viage al Parnaso.

As a dramatist Cervantes worked hard, though unsuccessfully, and only he himself thought highly of his plays. In the Adjunto al Parnaso he enumerates the best among the number, El Trato de Arget, La Numania, and La Conjusa, of which the last named is perhaps the best.

It is, however, as a novelist that Cervantes has become immortal. Successive writers have endeavored to discover in Don Quixote a great philosophical satire, but the truth of Cervantes’ own assurance is now generally admitted. His sole desire was to write an amusing book to give the coup de grace to the absurd books of chivalry imitating Amadis that had done so much to give a bad name to Spanish literature. The book must have been started later than 1591, but the suggestion that he wrote it in a jail in Argamasilla de Alba rests on interpretation of a remark made by Cervantes in the prologue, In any case, it was famous in manuscript form for some time before a license was granted in 1604 to print the first part.

The book seems to have been first sold at the beginning of the year 1605. Lope de Vega wrote slightingly of it shortly before: but the public read it with avidity. Five (or six, if there really was a Barcelona edition of 1605) editions appeared before the end of 1605.

In 1613, Cervantes issued his twelve Novelas Exemplares, short stories written at considerable intervals. Abounding in wit and vivacity, rivaling even Don Quixote itself, they have maintained their popularity to the present day. Cervantes’ last work was Los Trabajos de Persilesy Sigismunda, written in 1616, and dedicated to the Count de Lemos, was signed four days before the author’s death.

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