Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) has been in the news a lot lately… considering he lived over four centuries ago! First, in late January, Spanish researches reported unearthing a coffin in the Madrid convent where Cervantes was purportedly buried in the early seventeenth century; the coffin contained bone fragments and was marked “M.C.”, leading the team of researches to conclude that the artifact just may contain the remains of Spain’s most illustrious novelist. Secondly, this year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second book of Don Quijote de la Mancha (the first volume appeared in 1605; the second in 1615). This remarkable piece of literature is not only the author’s masterpiece, but it is widely considered to be the first “modern” novel. Given these events, my Twitter feed has been flooded with Cervantes-related headlines lately – especially given that I follow the Instituto Cervantes, the culture section of El Pais, and the Spanish National Library, to name a few. In this post I’ll include a few of my favorite “Cervantes Finds” of the month, most notably the incredibly well-done Interactive 1st edition of Don Quijote de la Mancha from the Biblioteca Nacional de España (Spanish National Library). #DigitalHumanities ftw!
First, I’m always a sucker for illustrations, so the below diagram of Cervantes is a perfect new “poster” for my office. The title “Secuelas para identificar a Cervantes” refers to the scars and physical features of the author that may be evident upon examining the exhumed body found in Madrid, should “M.C.” prove to be the creator of Don Quijote. For example, Cervantes was wounded in battle, and lesions to the left arm and chest may have left perdurable evidence. Moreover, as this visual points out, Cervantes only had six remaining teeth (in quite poor condition), and a distinctly disfigured spinal column.The second piece of internet-based Cervantes memorabilia that I found is an Interactive version of the novel, Don Quijote de la Mancha: El Quijote interactivo. While many of my colleagues who specialize in Golden Age (Siglo de Oro) Literature are likely familiar with this resources, I had not seen it before. The Spanish National Library has digitized a first edition of the novel, from 1605, so readers can browse the digital pages as if they had a printed copy of the text in their fingertips. I highly recommend watching the short video below before checking out the digital text – it does a great job of highlighting features that you may overlook. For example, you can choose to read the original text in centuries-old Spanish script, or you can opt to view a modernized version with updated Spanish spelling and typography. The modern version would be especially useful for teaching a course on the Quijote. The text is also searchable, and you can share or email select pages, chapters, or the entire book.
Finally, after toying with this Interactive version of The Quijote, I decided to revisit my favorite edition of the novel – one that that adorns my home office, but that I have rarely picked up to read – a 2004 edition of the novel illustrated by Salvador Dalí. I’ve written several posts about Dali already, but I have yet to talk about his illustrations of the Quijote. Dalí originally illustrated the text in 1946, and Editorial Planeta released a new edition about ten years ago. Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog showcases some of the most notable images from Dali’s original illustrations of Don Quijote. You can still find a few original 1946 editions of the novel, though they will cost you a few hundred dollars.
I appreciate that Martín de Riquer’s Introduction to this new collector’s edition is so thorough. It includes a biography of Cervantes, an examination of the style and purpose of El Quijote in its epoch, and an analysis of the “locura” (madness; insanity) of the titular (anti)hero. In discussing Quijote’s “locura,” Riquer emphasizes the way in which Don Quijote’s excessive and obsessive reading of the tales of Knights-errant contributed to and even provoked his mental instability (XXVIII-XXIX). I cannot help but draw parallels between today’s “reading” material – “fantastic” listicles, tweets, and mindless sensations like #TheDress – and our own mental stability in the digital age. How can we avoid becoming so consumed by our digital worlds and selves that we begin to lose our connection to reality, our sanity? It seems to me that the questions and themes dramatized by Cervantes via Don Quijote over four centuries ago are as relevant today as they were in their own time.
I was lucky to receive a copy of this edition back in 2005, just after it was released, and I see that today it can be quite difficult – and expensive – to come by. That’s as good a reason as any to post a gratuitous Spanish-professor selfie on my blog, right?
Have you read or taught Don Quijote de la Mancha? Which episodes of the novel are your most/least favorites? Are you familiar with any of Cervantes’ other numerous novelas?
Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. Don Quijote de la Mancha. Ed. Martin de Riquer. Illustrations by Salvador Dali. Editorial Planeta, 2004.