Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes, the famous author of The Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote of La Mancha, was born in 1547, the son of a deaf and poor surgeon in Alacalá de Henares, in the old kingdom of Toledo, Spain. As a young man, he was employed as a household servant of Cardinal Giulio Acquaviva. He travelled with the cardinal to Italy in 1567, where he visited Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice and Naples, which were the centres of Renaissance culture at that time. His life work shows the extent to which he was deeply impressed.

In 1570, Cervantes enlisted as a soldier to fight the Turks. He fought bravely in several battles and was wounded and permanently maimed in the left hand. The ship on which he returned to Spain in 1575 was captured by pirates, and Cervantes was taken to Algiers, where he remained a prisoner for five years. At least twice he tried to escape, but was betrayed by renegade Christians. Finally in October 1580, he was ransomed from the pirates by his family who had to make great sacrifices to meet the price.

Back in Spain, Cervantes was appointed to a post of commissary deputy, procuring wheat for the invincible armada. However, he was soon excommunicated and imprisoned for the misconduct of one of his subordinates and for embezzlements by his insurers. While in prison in Seville, Cervantes conceived and outlined his masterpiece Don Quixote, the first part of which was published in 1605.

Cervantes began writing Don Quixote as a satire on the romances of chivalry which at that time had become rather foolish fashion in Spain. The comic instances of Don Quixote on his scrawny steed Rocinante jousting at windmills, while his faithful squire Sancho Panza sadly shakes his head in disbelief, are known the world over, whether a person has read the book or not. As the story of La Mancha unfolded, however, Cervantes gave his work a greater purpose. By the time the second part of the novel was published in 1615, Don Quixote was no longer a poor pitiable gentleman gone mad, but a wise and prudent hero who taught with word and deed a love for the highest ideals of humanity.

Miguel de Cervantes is sometimes referred to as the father of the realistic modern novel. He died in poverty in Madrid on April 22, 1616, but his work lives on, loved by young and old of all lands.

Cervantes is the most important and celebrated figure in Spanish literature. While he is best known for being the author of Don Quixote, he also was noted for his short story collection Novelas exemplares (Exemplary Stories), 1613 and several plays and poems.

Many quotes are attributed to Cervantes — some wise, some not so wise. They include the following on the “wise side”: “Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory. And another: “He who loses wealth loses much; he who loses a friend loses more; but he that loses his courage loses all.”