t h e  g r e a t  n o v e l

m i g u e l  d e  c e r v a n t e s 




omewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a nobleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. An occasional stew, beef more often than lamb, hash most nights, eggs and abstinence on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, sometimes squab as a treat on Sundays — these consumed three-fourths of his income. The rest went for a light woolen tunic and velvet breeches and hose of the same material for feast days, while weekdays were honored with dun-colored coarse cloth. He had a housekeeper past forty, a niece not yet twenty, and a man-of-all-work who did everything from saddling the horse to pruning the trees. Our nobleman was approximately fifty years old; his complexion was weathered, his flesh scrawny, his face gaunt, and he was a very early riser and a great lover of the hunt. Some claim that his family name was Quixada, or Quexada, or there is a certain amount of disagreement among the authors who write of this matter, although reliable conjecture seems to indicate that his name was Quexana. But this does not matter very much to our story; in its telling there is absolutely no deviation from the truth.

And so, let it be said that this aforementioned nobleman spent his times of leisure — which meant most of the year — reading books of chivalry with so much devotion and enthusiasm that he forgot almost completely about the hunt and even about the administration of his estate; in his rash curiosity and folly he went so far as to sell acres of arable land in order to buy books of chivalry to read, and he brought as many of them as he could into his house; he thought none was as fine as those composed by the worthy Feliciano de Silva, because the clarity of his prose and complexity of his language seemed to him more valuable than pearls, in particular when he read the declarations and missives of love, where he would often find written: The reason for the unreason to which my reason turns so weakens my reason that with reason I complain of thy beauty. And also when he read: . . . the heavens on high divinely heighten thy divinity with the stars and make thee deserving of the deserts thy greatness deserves.

With these words and phrases the poor gentleman lost his mind, and he spent sleepless nights trying to understand them and extract their meaning, which Aristotle himself, if he came back to life for only that purpose, would not have been able to decipher or understand. Our nobleman was not very happy with the wounds that Don Belianís gave and received, because he imagined that no matter how great the physicians and surgeons who cured him, he would still have his face and entire body covered with scars and marks. But, even so, he praised the author for having concluded his book with the promise of unending adventure, and he often felt the desire to take up his pen and give it the conclusion promised there; and no doubt he would have done so, and even published it, if other greater and more persistent thoughts had not prevented him from doing so. He often had discussions with the village priest — who was a learned man, a graduate of Sigüenza — regarding who had been the greater knight: Palmerín of England or Amadís of Gaul; but Master Nicolás, the village barber, said that none was the equal of the Knight of Phoebus, and if any could be compared to him it was Don Galaor, the brother of Amadís of Gaul, because he was moderate in everything; a knight who was not affected, not as weepy as his brother, and incomparable in questions of courage.

In short, our nobleman became so caught up in reading that he spent his nights reading from dusk till dawn, and his days reading from sunrise to sunset; and so with too little sleep and too much reading his brains dried up, causing him to lose his mind. His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books, enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, wounds, courtings, loves, torments, and other impossible foolishness, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read, that for him no history in the world was truer. He would say that El Cid Ruy Diaz had been a very good knight but could not compare to Amadís, the Knight of the Blazing Sword, who, with a single backstroke, cut two ferocious and colossal giants in half. He was fonder of Bernardo del Carpio because at Roncesvalles he had killed the enchanted Roland by availing himself of the tactic of Hercules when he crushed Antaeus, the son of earth, in his arms. He spoke highly of the giant Morgante because, although he belonged to the race of giants, all of them haughty and lacking in courtesy, he alone was amiable and well behaved. But, more than any of the others, he admired Reinaldos of Montalbán, above all when he saw him emerge from his castle and rob anyone he met, and when he crossed the sea and stole the idol of Mohammed made all of gold, as recounted in his history. He would have traded his housekeeper, and even his niece, for the chance to strike a blow at the traitor Guenelon.

The truth is that when his mind was completely gone, he had the strangest thought any lunatic in the world ever had, which was that it seemed reasonable and necessary to him, both for the sake of his honor and as a service to the nation, to become a knight errant and travel the world with his armor and his horse to seek adventures and engage in everything he had read that knights errant engaged in, righting all manner of wrongs and, by seizing the opportunity and placing himself in danger and ending those wrongs, winning eternal renown and everlasting fame. The poor man imagined himself already wearing the crown, won by the valor of his arm, of the Empire of Trapisonda at the very least; and so it was that with these exceedingly agreeable thoughts, and carried away by the extraordinary pleasure he took in them, he hastened to put into effect what he so fervently desired. And the first thing he did was to attempt to clean some armor that had belonged to his great-grandfathers and, stained with urine and covered with mildew, had spent many long years stored and forgotten in a corner. He did the best he could to clean and repair it, but he saw that it had a great defect, which was that instead of a full sallet helmet with an attached neckguard there was only a simple headpiece; but he compensated for this with his industry, and out of pasteboard he fashioned a kind of half-helmet that, when attached to the headpiece, took on the appearance of the a full sallet. It is true that in order to test if it was strong and could withstand a blow, he took out his sword and struck it twice, and with the first blow he undid in a moment what it had taken him a week to create; he could not help being disappointed at the ease with which he had hacked it to pieces, and to protect against that danger, he made another one, placing strips of iron on the inside so that he was satisfied with its strength and, not wanting to put it to the test again, he designated and accepted it as an extremely fine sallet.

Then he went to look at his nag, and though its hooves had more cracks than its master’s pate and it showed more flaws than Gonella’s horse, who tantum pellis et ossa fuit, it seemed to him that Alexander’s Bucephalus and El Cid’s Babieca were not its equal. He spent four days thinking about the name he would give it, for — as he told himself — it was not seemly that the horse of so famous a knight, and a steed so intrinsically excellent, should not have a worthy name; he was looking for the precise name that would declare what the horse had been before its master became a knight errant, and what it was now; for he was determined that if the master was changing his condition the horse too would change its name to one that would win the fame and recognition its new position and profession deserved; and so, after many names that he shaped and discarded, subtracted from and added to, unmade and remade in his memory and imagination, he finally decided to call the horse Rocinante, a name, in his opinion, that was noble, sonorous, and reflective of what it had been when it was a nag, before it was what it was now, which was the foremost nag in all the world.

Having given a name, and one so much to his liking, to his horse, he wanted to give one to himself, and he spent another eight days pondering this ,and at last he called himself Don Quixote, which is why, as has been noted, the authors of this absolutely true history determined that he undoubtedly must have been named Quixada and not Quexada, as others have claimed. In any event, recalling that the valiant Amadís had not been content with simply calling himself Amadís but had added the name of his kingdom and realm in order to bring it fame, and was known as Amadís of Gaul, he too, like a good knight, wanted to add the name of his birthplace to his own, and he called himself Don Quixote of La Mancha, thereby, to his mind, clearly stating his lineage and country and honoring it by making it part of his title.

Having cleaned his armor and made a full helmet out of a simple headpiece, and having given a name to his horse and decided on one for himself, he realized that the only thing left for him to do was to find a lady to love; for the knight errant without a lady love was a tree without leaves or fruit, a body without a soul. He said to himself:

“If I, because of my evil sins, or my good fortune, meet with a giant somewhere, as ordinarily befalls knights errant, and if I unseat him with a single blow, or cut his body in half, in short, if I conquer and defeat him, would it not be good to have someone to whom I could send him so that he might enter and fall to his knees before my sweet lady, and say in the humble voice of surrender: ‘I, lady, am the giant Caraculiambro, lord of the island Malindrania, defeated in singular combat by the never sufficiently praised knight, Don Quixote of La Mancha, who commanded me to appear before thy ladyship, so that thy highness might disposed of me as thou chooseth?”

Oh, how pleased our good knight was when he had made this speech, and even more pleased when he discovered the one he could call his lady! It is believed that in a nearby village there was a very attractive peasant girl with whom he had once been in love, although she, apparently, never knew or noticed. Her name was Aldonza Lorenzo, and he thought it a good idea to call her the lady of his thoughts, and searching for a name that would not differ significantly from his and would suggest and imply that of a princess and great lady, he decided to call her Dulcinea of Toboso, because she came from Toboso; a name, to his mind, that was musical and beautiful and filled with significance, as were all the others he had given to himself and everything pertaining to him.


And so, having completed these preparations, he did not wish to wait any longer to put his thoughts into effect, impelled by the great need in the world that he believed was caused by his delay, for there were evils to undo, wrongs to right, injustices to correct, abuses to ameliorate, and offenses to rectify. And one morning before dawn on a hot day in July, without informing a single person of his intentions, and without anyone seeing him, he armored himself with all his armor and mounted Rocinante, wearing his poorly constructed helmet, and he grasped his shield and took up his lance and through the side door of a corral he rode out into the countryside with great joy and delight at seeing how easily he had given a beginning to his virtuous desire. But as soon as he found himself in the countryside he was assailed by a thought so terrible it almost made him abandon the enterprise he had barely begun; he recalled that he had not been dubbed a knight, and according to the law of chivalry, he could not and must not take up arms against any knight; since this was the case, he would have to bear blank arms, like a novice knight without a device on his shield, until he had earned one through his own efforts. These thoughts made him waver in his purpose, but, his madness being stronger than any other faculty, he resolved to have himself dubbed a knight by the first person he met, in imitation of many others who had done the same, as he had read in the books that had brought him to this state. As for his armor being blank and white, he planned to clean it so much that when the dubbing took place it would be whiter than ermine; he immediately grew serene and continued on his way, following only the path his horse wished to take, believing that the virtue of his adventures lay in doing this.

And as our new adventurer traveled along, he talked to himself, saying:

“Who can doubt that in times to come, when the true history of my famous deeds comes to light, the wise man who complies them will write, when he begins to recount my first sally so early in the day, in this manner: ‘No sooner had rubicund Apollo spread over the face of the wide and spacious earth the golden strands of his beauteous hair, no sooner had diminutive and bright-hued birds with dulcet tongues greeted in sweet, mellifluous harmony the advent of rosy dawn, who, forsaking the soft couch of her zealous consort, revealed herself to mortals through the doors and balconies of the Manchegan horizon, than the famous knight, Don Quixote of La Mancha, abandoning the downy bed of idleness, mounted his famous steed Rocinante and commenced to ride through the ancient and illustrious countryside of Montiel.’”

And it was true that this was where he was riding. And he continued:

“Fortunate the time and blessed the age when my famous deeds will come to light, worthy of being carved in bronze, sculpted in marble, and painted on tablets as a remembrance in the future. Oh thou, wise enchanter, whoever thou mayest be, whose task it will be to chronicle this wondrous history! I implore thee not to overlook my good Rocinante, my eternal companion on all my travels and peregrinations.”

Then he resumed speaking as if he were truly in love:

“Oh, Princess Dulcinea, mistress of this captive heart! Thou hast done me grievous harm in bidding me farewell and reproving me with the harsh affliction of commanding that I not appear before they sublime beauty. May it please thee, lady, to recall this thy subject heart, which suffers countless trials for the sake of thy love.”

He strung these together with other foolish remarks, all in the manner his books had taught him, and imitating their language as much as he could. As a result, his pace was so slow, and the sun rose so quickly and ardently, that it would have melted his brains if he’d had any.

He rode almost all that day and nothing worthy of note happened to him, which caused him to despair because he wanted an immediate encounter with someone on whom to test the valor of his mighty arm. Some authors say his first adventure was the one in Puerto Lápice; others claim it was the adventure of the windmills; but according to what I have been able to determine with regard to this matter, and what I have discovered written in the annals of La Mancha, the fact is that he rode all that day, and at dusk he and his horse found themselves exhausted and half-dead with hunger; and as he looked all around to see if he could find some castle or a sheepfold with shepherds where he might take shelter and alleviate his great hunger and need, he saw an inn not far from the path he was traveling, and it was as if he had seen a star guiding him not to the portals but to the inner towers of his salvation. He quickened his pace and reached it just as night was falling.

At the door there happened to be two young women, the kind they call ladies of easy virtue, who were on their way to Sevilla with some mule drivers who had decided to stop at the inn that night, and since everything our adventurer thought, saw, or imagined seemed to happen according to what he had read, as soon as he saw the inn it appeared to him to be a castle complete with four towers and spires of gleaming silver, not to mention a drawbridge and deep moat and all the other details depicted on such castles. He rode toward the inn that he thought was a castle, and when he was a short distance away he reined in Rocinante and waited for a dwarf to appear on the parapets and signal with his trumpet that a knight was approaching the castle. But when he saw that there was some delay, and Rocinante was in a hurry to get to the stable, he rode toward the door of the inn and saw the two profligate wenches standing there, and he thought they were two fair damsels or two gracious ladies taking their ease at the entrance to the castle. At that moment a swineherd who was driving his pigs — no excuses, that’s what they’re called — out of some mudholes, blew his horn, a sound that pigs respond to, and it immediately seemed to Don Quixote to be just what he had desired, which was for a dwarf to signal his arrival, and so with extreme joy he rode up to the inn, and the ladies, seeing a man armed in that fashion, and carrying a lance and shield, became frightened and were about to retreat into the inn; but Don Quixote, inferring their fear from their flight, raised the pasteboard visor, revealing his dry, dusty face, and, in a gallant manner and reassuring voice, he said to them:

“Flee not, dear ladies, fear no villainous act from me; for the order of chivalry which I profess does not countenance or permit such deeds to be committed against any person, least of all high-born maidens such as yourselves.”

The wenches looked at him, directing their eyes to his face, hidden by the imitation visor; but when they heard themselves called maidens, something so alien to their profession, they could not control their laughter, which offended Don Quixote, and moved him to say:

“Moderation is becoming in beauteous ladies, and laughter for no reason is foolishness; but I do not say this to cause in you a woeful or dolorous disposition; for mine is none other than to serve you.”

The language, which the ladies did not understand, and the bizarre appearance of our knight, intensified their laughter, and his annoyance increased, and he would have gone even further if at that moment the innkeeper had not come out, a man who was very fat and therefore very peaceable, and when he saw that grotesque figure armed with arms as incongruous as his bridle, lance, shield, and corselet, he was ready to join the maidens in their displays of hilarity. But fearing the countless difficulties that might ensue, he decided to speak to him politely, and so he said:

“If, sir, your grace seeks lodging, except for a bed (because there is none in this inn), a great abundance of everything else will be found here.”

Don Quixote, seeing the humility of the steward of the castle-fortress, which is what he thought the innkeeper and the inn were, replied:

       “For me, good castellan, anything will do, for

my trappings are my weapons,

and combat is my rest, etc.”

The host believed he had called him castellan because he thought him an upright Castillian, though he was an Andalusian from the Sanlácar coast, no less a thief than Cacus and as malicious as an apprentice page, and so he responded: “In that case, your grace’s beds must be bare rocks, and your sleep, a constant vigil; and this being true, you can certainly dismount, certain of finding in this poor hovel more than enough reason and reasons not to sleep in an entire year, let alone a single night.”

And saying this, he went to hold the stirrup for Don Quixote, who dismounted with extreme difficulty and travail, like a man who had not broken his fast all day long.

Then he told his host to take great care with his horse, because it was the best mount that walked this earth. The innkeeper looked at the horse and did not think it as good as Don Quixote said, or even half as good, and after leading it to the stable, he came back to see what his guest might desire, and the maidens, who by this time had made peace with him, were divesting him of his armor; although they had removed his breastplate and back piece, they never knew how or were able to disconnect the gorget or remove the counterfeit helmet, which was tied on with green cords that would have to be cut because they could not undo the knots; but he absolutely refused to consent to this, and so he spent all that night wearing the helmet, and was the most comical and curious figure that anyone could imagine; and as they were disarming him, and since he imagined that those well-worn and much-used women were illustrious ladies and damsels from the castle, he said to them with a good deal of grace and verve:

“Never was a knight

so well served by ladies

as was Don Quixote

when he first sallied forth:

fair damsels tended to him;

princesses cared for his horse,

or Rocinante, for this is the name, noble ladies, of my steed, and Don Quixote of La Mancha is mine; and although I did not wish to disclose my name until the great feats performed in your service and for your benefit would reveal it, perforce the adaptation of this ancient ballad of Lancelot to our present purpose has been the cause of your learning my name before the time was ripe; but the day will come when your highnesses will command and I shall obey and the valor of this my arm will betoken the desire I have to serve you.”

The wenches, unaccustomed to hearing such high-flown rhetoric, did not say a word in response; they only asked if he wanted something to eat.

“I would consume any fare,” replied Don Quixote, “because, as I understand it, that would be most beneficial now.”

It happened to be a Friday, and in all the inn there was nothing but a few pieces of a fish that in Castilla is called cod, and in Andalucía codfish, and in other places salt cod, and elsewhere, smoked cod. They asked if his grace would like a little smoked cod, for there was no other fish to serve him.

“Since many little cod,” replied Don Quixote, “all together make one large one, it does not matter to me if you give me eight reales in coins or in a single piece of eight. Moreover, it well might be that these little cod are like veal, which is better than beef, and kid, which is better than goat. But, in any case, bring it soon, for the toil and weight of arms cannot be borne if one does not control the stomach.”

They set the table at the door to the inn, to take advantage of the cooler air, and the host brought him a portion of cod that was badly prepared and cooked even worse, and bread as black and grimy as his armor; but it was a cause for great laughter to see him eat, because, since he was wearing his helmet and holding up the visor with both hands, he could not put anything in his mouth unless someone placed it there for him, and so one of the ladies performed that task. But when it was time to give him something to drink it was impossible, and would have remained impossible, if the innkeeper had not hollowed out a reed, placing one end in the gentleman’s mouth and pouring some wine in the other; and all of this Don Quixote accepted with patience in order not to have the cords of his helmet cut. At this moment a gelder of hogs happened to arrive at the inn, and as he arrived he blew on his reed pipe four or five times, which confirmed for Don Quixote that he was in a famous castle where they were entertaining him with music, and that the cod was trout, the bread soft and white, the prostitutes ladies, the innkeeper the castellan of the castle, and that his decision to sally forth had been a good one. But what troubled him most was not being dubbed a knight, for it seemed to him that he could not legitimately engage in any adventure if he did not receive the order of knighthood.


And so, troubled by this thought, he hurried through the scant meal served at the inn, and when it was finished, he called to the innkeeper and, going into the stable with him, he kneeled before him and said:

“Never will I rise up from this place, valiant knight, until thy courtesy grants me a boon I wish to ask of thee, one that will redound to thy glory and to the benefit of all humankind.”

The innkeeper, seeing his guest at his feet and hearing these words, looked at him and was perplexed, not knowing what to do or say, and he insisted that he get up, but Don Quixote refused until the innkeeper declared that he would grant the boon asked of him.

“I expected no less of they great magnificence, my lord,” replied Don Quixote. “And so I shall tell thee the boon that I would ask of thee and that thy generosity has granted me, and it is that on the morrow thou wilt dub me a knight, and that this night in the chapel of thy castle I shall keep vigil over my armor; and that on the morrow, as I have said, what I fervently desire will be accomplished so that I can, as I needs must do, travel the four corners of the earth in search of adventures on behalf of those in need, this being the office of chivalry and knights errant, for I am one of them and my desire is disposed of such deeds.”

The innkeeper, as we have said, was rather sly and already had some inkling of his guest’s madness, which was confirmed when he heard him say these words, and in order to have something to laugh about that night, he proposed to humor him; and so he told him that his desire and request were exemplary and his purpose right and proper in knights who were as illustrious as he appeared to be and as his gallant presence demonstrated; and that he himself, in the years of his youth, had dedicated himself to that honorable profession, traveling through many parts of the world in search of adventures, to wit the Percheles in Málaga, the Islas of Riarán, the Compás in Sevilla, the Azoguejo of Segovia, the Olivera of Valencia, the Rondilla in Granada, the coast of Sanlúcar, the Potro in Córdoba, the Ventillas in Toledo, and many other places where he had exercised the lightfootedness of his feet and the lightfingeredness of his hands, committing countless wrongs, bedding many widows, undoing a few maidens, deceiving several orphans, and, finally, becoming known in every court and tribunal in almost all of Spain; in recent years, he had retired to this castle, where he lived on his property and that of others, welcoming all knights of whatever category and condition simply because of the great fondness he felt for them, so that they might share with him their goods as recompense for his virtuous desires.

He also said that in his castle there was no chapel where Don Quixote could stand vigil over his arms, for it had been demolished in order to rebuild it; but, in urgent cases, he knew that vigils could be kept anywhere, and on this night he could stand vigil in a courtyard of the castle; in the morning, God willing, the necessary ceremonies would be performed, and he would be dubbed a knight, and so much of a knight there could be no greater in all the world.

He asked if he had any money; Don Quixote replied that he did not have a copper blanca, because he had never read in the histories of knights errant that any of them ever carried money. To this the innkeeper replied that he was deceived, for if this was not written in the histories, it was because it had not seemed necessary to the authors to write down something as obvious and necessary as carrying money and clean shirts, and if they had not, this was no reason to think the knights did not carry them; and so, it should be taken as true and beyond dispute that all the knights errant who fill so many books to overflowing carried well-provisioned purses for whatever might befall them; by the same token they carried shirts and a small chest stocked with unguents to cure the wounds they received, for in the fields and clearings where they engaged in combat and were wounded there was not always someone who could cure them, unless they had for a friend some wise enchanter who instantly came to their aid, bringing through the air, on a cloud, a damsel or a dwarf bearing a flask of water of such great power that, by swallowing a single drop, the knights were so completely healed of their injuries and wounds that it was as if no harm had befallen them. But in the event such was not the case, the knights of yore deemed it proper for their squires to be provisioned with money and other necessities, such as linen bandages and unguents to heal their wounds; and if it happened that these knights had no squire — which was a rare and uncommon thing — they themselves carried everything in saddlebags so finely made they could barely be seen on the haunches of their horse, as if they were something of greater significance because, except in cases like these, carrying saddlebags was not well favored by knights errant; for this reason he advised, for he could still give him orders as if he were his godson, since that is what he would soon be, that from now on he not ride forth without money and the provisions he had described, and then he would see how useful and necessary they would be when he least expected it.

Don Quixote promised to do as he advised with great alacrity, and so it was arranged that he would stand vigil over his arms in a large corral to one side of the inn; and Don Quixote, gathering all his armor together, placed it on a trough that was next to a well, and grasping his shield, he took up his lance and with noble countenance began to pace back and forth in front of the trough, and as he began his pacing, night began to fall.

The innkeeper told everyone in the inn about the lunacy of his guest, about his standing vigil over his armor and his expectation that he would be dubbed a knight. They marveled at so strange a form of madness and went to watch him from a distance, and saw that with a serene expression he sometimes paced back and forth; at other times, leaning on his lance, he turned his eyes to his armor and did not turn them away again for a very long time. Night had fallen; but the moon was so bright it could compete with the orb whose light it reflected, and therefore everything the new knight did was seen clearly by everyone. Just then it occurred to one of the mule drivers in the inn to water his pack of mules, and for this it was necessary to move Don Quixote’s armor, which was on the trough; our knight, seeing them approach, said in a booming voice:

“Oh thou, whosoever thou art, rash knight, who cometh to touch the armor of the most valiant knight who e’er girded on a sword! Lookest thou to what thou doest and touch it not, if thou wanteth not to leave thy life in payment for thy audacity.”

The muleteer cared nothing for these words — it would have been better for him if he had, for it meant caring for his health —; instead, picking the armor up by the straps, he threw it a good distance away. And seeing this, Don Quixote lifted his eyes to heaven and, turning his thoughts — or so it seemed to him — to his lady Dulcinea, he said:

“Help me, my lady, in this the first affront aimed at this thy servant’s bosom; in this my first challenge let not thy grace and protection fail me.”

And saying these and other similar phrases, and dropping his shield, he raised his lance in both hands and gave the mule driver so heavy a blow on the head that he knocked him to the ground, and the man was so badly battered that if the first blow had been followed by a second, he would have had no need for a physician to care for his wounds. Having done this, Don Quixote picked up his armor and began to pace again with the same tranquility as before. A short time later, unaware of what had happened — for the first mule driver was still in a daze — a second approached, also intending to water his mules, and when he began to remove the armor to allow access to the trough, without saying a word or asking for anyone’s favor, Don Quixote again dropped his shield and again raised his lance, and did not shatter it but instead broke the head of the second mule driver into more than three pieces because he cracked his skull in at least four places. When they heard the noise, all the people in the inn hurried over, among them the innkeeper. When he saw this, Don Quixote took up his shield, placed his hand on his sword, and said:

“Oh beauteous lady, strength and vigor of my submissive heart! This is the moment when thou needs must turn the eyes of thy grandeur toward this thy captive knight, who awaits so great an adventure.”

And with this he acquired, it seemed to him, so much courage, that if all the mule drivers in the world had charged him he would not have taken one step backward. The wounded men’s companions, seeing their friends on the ground, began to hurl stones at Don Quixote from a distance, and he did what he could to deflect them with his shield, not daring to move away from the trough and leave his armor unprotected. The innkeeper shouted at them to stop because he had already told them he was crazy, and that being crazy he would be absolved even if he killed them all. Don Quixote shouted even louder, calling them perfidious traitors, and saying that the lord of the castle was a varlet and a discourteous knight for allowing knights errant to be so badly treated, and that if he had already received the order of chivalry he would enlighten him as to the full extent of his treachery.

“But you, filthy and lowborn rabble, I care nothing for you; throw, approach, come, offend me all you can; for you will soon see how perforce you will pay for your rash insolence.”

He said this with so much boldness and so much courage that he instilled a terrible fear in his attackers; and because of this and the persuasive arguments of the innkeeper, they stopped throwing stones at him, and he allowed the wounded men to withdraw, and resumed standing vigil over his armor with the same serenity and tranquility as before.

The innkeeper did not think very highly of his guest’s antics, and he decided to cut matters short and give him the accursed order of chivalry then and there, before another misfortune occurred. And so he approached and begged his pardon for the impudence these lowborn knaves had shown, saying he had known nothing about it, but that they had been rightfully punished for their audacity. He said he had already told him there was no chapel in the castle, nor was one necessary for what remained to be done, because according to his understanding of the ceremonies of the order, the entire essence of being dubbed a knight consisted in being struck on the neck and shoulders, and that could be accomplished in the middle of a field, and he had already fulfilled everything with regard to keeping a vigil over his armor, for just two hours of vigil satisfied the requirements, and he had spent more than four. Don Quixote believed everything and said he was prepared to obey him, and that he should conclude matters with as much haste as possible, because if he was attacked again and had already been dubbed a knight, he did not intend to leave a single person alive in the castle except for those the castellan ordered him to spare, which he would do out of respect for him.

Forewarned and fearful, the castellan immediately brought the book in which he kept a record of the feed and straw he supplied to the mule drivers, and with a candle end that a servant boy brought to him, and the two aforementioned damsels, he approached the spot where Don Quixote stood and ordered him to kneel; and reading from his book as if he were murmuring a devout prayer, he raised his hand and struck him on the back of the neck, and after that, with his own sword, he delivered a gallant blow to his shoulders, always murmuring between his teeth as if he were praying. Having done this, he ordered one of the ladies to gird on his sword, and she did so with a good deal of refinement and discretion, and a good deal was needed for them not to burst into laughter at each moment of the ceremony, but the great feats they had seen performed by the new knight kept their laughter in check. As she girded on his sword, the good lady said:

“May God make your grace a very fortunate knight and give you good fortune in your fights.”

Don Quixote asked her name, so that he might know from that day forth to whom he was obliged for the benison he had received, for he desired to offer her some part of the honor he would gain by the valor of his arm. She answered very humbly that her name was Tolosa, and that she was the daughter of a cobbler from Toledo who lived near the Sancho Bienaya market, and no matter where she might be she would be his servant and consider him her master. Don Quixote replied that for the sake of his love would she have the kindness to henceforth ennoble herself and call herself Doña Tolosa. She promised she would, and the other girl accoutered him with his knightly spurs, and he had almost the same conversation with her as with the one who girded on his sword. He asked her name, and she said she was called Molinera, the miller’s girl, and that she was the daughter of an honorable miller from Antequera, and Don Quixote also implored her to ennoble herself and call herself Doña Molinera, offering her more services and good turns.

And so, having performed at a galloping pace those never-before-seen ceremonies, in less than an hour Don Quixote found himself a knight, ready to sally forth in search of adventures, and he saddled Rocinante and mounted him, and, embracing his host, he said such strange things to him, thanking him for the boon of having dubbed him a knight, that it is not possible to adequately recount them. The innkeeper, in order to get him out of the inn, replied with words no less rhetorical but much more brief, and without asking him to pay for the cost of his lodging, he let him leave at an early hour.



Translator’s Notes :

a learned man, a graduate of Sigüenza : The allusion is ironic: Sigüenza was a minor university, and its graduates had the reputation of not being very well educated.

El Cid Ruy Diaz : A historical figure (eleventh century) who has passed into legend and literature.

Bernardo del Carpio : A legendary hero, the subject of ballads as well as poems and plays.

Roncesvalles : The site in the Pyrenees, called Roncesvaux in French, where Charlemagne’s army fought the Saracens in 778.

Reinaldos of Montalbán : A hero of the French chansons de geste; in some Spanish versions, he takes part in the battle of Roncesvalles.

Guenelon : The traitor responsible for the defeat of Charlemagne’s army at Roncesvalles.

Gonella’s horse : Pietro Gonella, the jester at the court of Ferrara, had a horse famous for being skinny.

Rocinante : Rocín means “nag”; ante means “before,” both temporally and spatially.

Don Quixote : Quixote means the section of armor that covers the thigh.

Don Quixote of La Mancha : La Mancha was not one of the noble medieval kingdoms associated with knighthood.

Aldonza : Aldonza, considered to be a common, rustic name, had comic connotations.

Montiel : A town in La Mancha.

my trappings are my weapons, / and combat is my rest, etc.” : These lines are from a well-known ballad; the innkeeper’s response quotes the next two lines.

though he was an Andalusian from the Sanlúcar coast : In Cervantes’ time, this was known as a gathering place for criminals.

“Never was a knight / so well served by ladies…; / princesses cared for his horse : Don Quixote paraphrases a ballad about Lancelot.

the Percheles in Málaga, the Islas of Riarán, … the Potro in Córdoba, the Ventillas in Toledo : These were all famous underworld haunts.



In the Author’s Prologue to what is now called Part I of DON QUIXOTE (Part II appeared ten years alter, in 1615, following the publication of a continuation of the knight’s adventures that had not been written by Cervantes), Cervantes said this about his book and the need to write a preface for it:

I wanted only to offer it [the novel] to you plain and bare, unadorned by a prologue or the endless catalogue of sonnets, epigrams, and laudatory poems that are usually placed at the beginning of books. For I can tell you that although it cost me some effort to compose, none seemed greater than creating the preface you are now reading. I picked up my pen many times to write it, and many times I put it down again because I did not know what to write; and once, when I was baffled, with the paper in front of me, my pen behind my ear, my elbow propped on the writing table and my cheek resting in my hand, pondering what I would say, a friend of mine … came in, and seeing me so perplexed he asked the reason, and I … said I was thinking about the prologue I had to write for the history of Don Quixote….

I am not presumptuous or arrogant enough to compare myself to Miguel de Cervantes, but his (fictional) difficulty was certainly my (factual) one as I contemplated the prospect of writing even a few lines about the wonderfully utopian task of translating the first — and probably the greatest — modern novel. Substitute keyboard and monitor for pen and paper, and my dilemma and posture are the same; the dear friend who helped to solve the problem is really Cervantes himself, an embodied spirit who emerged out of the shadows and off the pages when I realized I could begin this essay by quoting some sentences from his prologue.

I have never kept a translating journal, although I admire those I have read. William Weaver, for example, while he was translating THE NAME OF THE ROSE, wrote a fascinating and valuable diary that documents everything from the backache that kept him from sitting at his desk to the hours spent deciding how to render a single word or phrase (an excruciating process that only another translator can appreciate fully). Keeping records of any kind is not something I do easily, and after six or seven hours of translating at the computer, the idea of writing about what I have written looms insurmountably, as does the kind of self-scrutiny required: The actuality of the translation is in the translation, and having to articulate how and why I have just articulated the text seems cruelly redundant. Yet I did keep daily notes, for a few days. I hesitated over spelling, for instance, and finally opted for an x, and a j, in Quixote (I wanted the connection to the English “Quixotic” to be immediately apparent); I worried about footnotes, and decided that I had to put some in, though I had never used them before in a translation (I did not want the reader to be put off by references that may now be obscure, or to miss the layers of intention and meaning they created) ; and I recorded the rush of exhilaration and terror I felt, for perfectly predictable and transparent reasons, at undertaking the project.

Every translator has to live with the kind of critic and reviewer whom Gregory Rabassa has called “Professor Horrendo” — that intrepid leader of the translation police who is ready to pounce on an infelicitous phrase or misinterpreted word in a book that can be hundreds of pages long. I had two or three soul-searing nightmares about academic hordes, with Hispanists in the vanguard, laying waste to my translation of the work that is not only the great monument of literature in Spanish, but a pillar of the entire Western literary tradition. Only the knowledge that I was not a young translator just starting out gave me the courage to go on — that, and the determination not to allow self-censoring apprehension to keep me from an enterprise that was surely the dream of every person who translates from Spanish.

Shortly before I began work, while I was wrestling with the question of what kind of voice would be most appropriate for the translation of a book written some four hundred years ago, I mentioned my fears to Julián Ríos, the Spanish writer (I have translated two of his novels, LOVES THAT BIND and MONSTRUARY). His reply was simple and profound and immensely liberating. He told me not to be afraid; Cervantes, he said, was our [the Spanish-speaking world’s] most modern writer, and what I had to do was to translate him the way I translated everyone else. It was a revelation. Julián’s characterization desacralized the project and allowed me, finally, to confront the text and find the voice in English. This is the essential problem in translation, for me at least. Compared to it, lexical difficulties shrink and wither away.

I believe that my primary obligation as a literary translator is to recreate for the reader in English the experience of the reader in Spanish. When Cervantes wrote DON QUIXOTE, it was not yet a seminally masterpiece of European literature; or the book that crystallized forever the making of literature out of life and literature; or explored in typically ironic fashion, and for the first time, the blurred and shifting frontiers between fact and fiction, imagination and history, perception and physical reality; or set the stage for all Hispanic studies and all serious discussions of the history and nature of the novel in Europe. When Cervantes wrote DON QUIXOTE his language was not archaic or quaint. He wrote in a crackling, up-to-date Spanish that was an intrinsic part of his time (this is instantly apparent when he has Don Quixote, in transports of knightly madness, speak in the old-fashioned idiom of the novels of chivalry), a modern language that both reflected and helped to shape the way people experienced the world. This meant that I did not need to find a special, somehow-seventeenth-century voice, but could translate his astonishingly fine writing into contemporary English.

And his writing is a marvel: It gives off sparks and flows like honey. Cervantes’ style is so artful it seems absolutely natural and inevitable; his irony is sweet-natured, his sensibility sophisticated, compassionate, and humorous. If my translation works at all, the contemporary reader should keep turning the pages, smiling a good deal, periodically bursting into laughter, and anticipating with some eagerness the next synonym, the next mind-bending coincidence, the next variation on the structure of Don Quixote’s adventures, the next incomparable conversation between the knight and his squire. To quote again from Cervantes’ prologue: “I do not want to charge you too much for the service I have performed in introducing you to so noble and honorable a knight; but I do want you to thank me for allowing you to make the acquaintance of the famous Sancho Panza, his squire….”

I began the work in February 2001. What you have in hand is a first revision; I cannot predict how many more there will be, but “final” versions are determined more by a publisher’s due date than by any sense on my part that the work is actually finished. I hope you find it deeply amusing and truly compelling. If not, you can be certain the fault is mine.

                                        —Edith Grossman


The preceding chapters are from the forthcoming translation of Don Quixote,
by Miguel Cervantes, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman,
to be published in 2003 by ECCO, An Imprint of HarperCollins.

Published with permission of Ecco Press/HarperCollins. These chapters and notes and the

Translator’s Note appeared in

Conjunctions 38, Spring 2002



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