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CHAPTER I - 1605

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by [Don_Miguel_de_Cervantes_y_Saavedra ]

2005-01-15  |     |  Submited by Lory Cristea


IN a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to
call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that
keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a
greyhound for coursing. An olla of rather more beef than mutton, a
salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a
pigeon or so extra on Sundays, made away with three-quarters of his
income. The rest of it went in a doublet of fine cloth and velvet
breeches and shoes to match for holidays, while on week-days he made a
brave figure in his best homespun. He had in his house a housekeeper
past forty, a niece under twenty, and a lad for the field and
market-place, who used to saddle the hack as well as handle the
bill-hook. The age of this gentleman of ours was bordering on fifty;
he was of a hardy habit, spare, gaunt-featured, a very early riser and
a great sportsman. They will have it his surname was Quixada or
Quesada (for here there is some difference of opinion among the
authors who write on the subject), although from reasonable
conjectures it seems plain that he was called Quexana. This,
however, is of but little importance to our tale; it will be enough
not to stray a hair's breadth from the truth in the telling of it.
You must know, then, that the above-named gentleman whenever he
was at leisure (which was mostly all the year round) gave himself up
to reading books of chivalry with such ardour and avidity that he
almost entirely neglected the pursuit of his field-sports, and even
the management of his property; and to such a pitch did his
eagerness and infatuation go that he sold many an acre of
tillageland to buy books of chivalry to read, and brought home as many
of them as he could get. But of all there were none he liked so well
as those of the famous Feliciano de Silva's composition, for their
lucidity of style and complicated conceits were as pearls in his
sight, particularly when in his reading he came upon courtships and
cartels, where he often found passages like "the reason of the
unreason with which my reason is afflicted so weakens my reason that
with reason I murmur at your beauty;" or again, "the high heavens,
that of your divinity divinely fortify you with the stars, render
you deserving of the desert your greatness deserves." Over conceits of
this sort the poor gentleman lost his wits, and used to lie awake
striving to understand them and worm the meaning out of them; what
Aristotle himself could not have made out or extracted had he come
to life again for that special purpose. He was not at all easy about
the wounds which Don Belianis gave and took, because it seemed to
him that, great as were the surgeons who had cured him, he must have
had his face and body covered all over with seams and scars. He
commended, however, the author's way of ending his book with the
promise of that interminable adventure, and many a time was he tempted
to take up his pen and finish it properly as is there proposed,
which no doubt he would have done, and made a successful piece of work
of it too, had not greater and more absorbing thoughts prevented him.
Many an argument did he have with the curate of his village (a
learned man, and a graduate of Siguenza) as to which had been the
better knight, Palmerin of England or Amadis of Gaul. Master Nicholas,
the village barber, however, used to say that neither of them came
up to the Knight of Phoebus, and that if there was any that could
compare with him it was Don Galaor, the brother of Amadis of Gaul,
because he had a spirit that was equal to every occasion, and was no
finikin knight, nor lachrymose like his brother, while in the matter
of valour he was not a whit behind him. In short, he became so
absorbed in his books that he spent his nights from sunset to sunrise,
and his days from dawn to dark, poring over them; and what with little
sleep and much reading his brains got so dry that he lost his wits.
His fancy grew full of what he used to read about in his books,
enchantments, quarrels, battles, challenges, wounds, wooings, loves,
agonies, and all sorts of impossible nonsense; and it so possessed his
mind that the whole fabric of invention and fancy he read of was true,
that to him no history in the world had more reality in it. He used to
say the Cid Ruy Diaz was a very good knight, but that he was not to be
compared with the Knight of the Burning Sword who with one back-stroke
cut in half two fierce and monstrous giants. He thought more of
Bernardo del Carpio because at Roncesvalles he slew Roland in spite of
enchantments, availing himself of the artifice of Hercules when he
strangled Antaeus the son of Terra in his arms. He approved highly
of the giant Morgante, because, although of the giant breed which is
always arrogant and ill-conditioned, he alone was affable and
well-bred. But above all he admired Reinaldos of Montalban, especially
when he saw him sallying forth from his castle and robbing everyone he
met, and when beyond the seas he stole that image of Mahomet which, as
his history says, was entirely of gold. To have a bout of kicking at
that traitor of a Ganelon he would have given his housekeeper, and his
niece into the bargain.
In short, his wits being quite gone, he hit upon the strangest
notion that ever madman in this world hit upon, and that was that he
fancied it was right and requisite, as well for the support of his own
honour as for the service of his country, that he should make a
knight-errant of himself, roaming the world over in full armour and on
horseback in quest of adventures, and putting in practice himself
all that he had read of as being the usual practices of
knights-errant; righting every kind of wrong, and exposing himself
to peril and danger from which, in the issue, he was to reap eternal
renown and fame. Already the poor man saw himself crowned by the might
of his arm Emperor of Trebizond at least; and so, led away by the
intense enjoyment he found in these pleasant fancies, he set himself
forthwith to put his scheme into execution.
The first thing he did was to clean up some armour that had belonged
to his great-grandfather, and had been for ages lying forgotten in a
corner eaten with rust and covered with mildew. He scoured and
polished it as best he could, but he perceived one great defect in it,
that it had no closed helmet, nothing but a simple morion. This
deficiency, however, his ingenuity supplied, for he contrived a kind
of half-helmet of pasteboard which, fitted on to the morion, looked
like a whole one. It is true that, in order to see if it was strong
and fit to stand a cut, he drew his sword and gave it a couple of
slashes, the first of which undid in an instant what had taken him a
week to do. The ease with which he had knocked it to pieces
disconcerted him somewhat, and to guard against that danger he set
to work again, fixing bars of iron on the inside until he was
satisfied with its strength; and then, not caring to try any more
experiments with it, he passed it and adopted it as a helmet of the
most perfect construction.
He next proceeded to inspect his hack, which, with more quartos than
a real and more blemishes than the steed of Gonela, that "tantum
pellis et ossa fuit," surpassed in his eyes the Bucephalus of
Alexander or the Babieca of the Cid. Four days were spent in
thinking what name to give him, because (as he said to himself) it was
not right that a horse belonging to a knight so famous, and one with
such merits of his own, should be without some distinctive name, and
he strove to adapt it so as to indicate what he had been before
belonging to a knight-errant, and what he then was; for it was only
reasonable that, his master taking a new character, he should take a
new name, and that it should be a distinguished and full-sounding one,
befitting the new order and calling he was about to follow. And so,
after having composed, struck out, rejected, added to, unmade, and
remade a multitude of names out of his memory and fancy, he decided
upon calling him Rocinante, a name, to his thinking, lofty,
sonorous, and significant of his condition as a hack before he
became what he now was, the first and foremost of all the hacks in the
Having got a name for his horse so much to his taste, he was anxious
to get one for himself, and he was eight days more pondering over this
point, till at last he made up his mind to call himself "Don Quixote,"
whence, as has been already said, the authors of this veracious
history have inferred that his name must have been beyond a doubt
Quixada, and not Quesada as others would have it. Recollecting,
however, that the valiant Amadis was not content to call himself
curtly Amadis and nothing more, but added the name of his kingdom
and country to make it famous, and called himself Amadis of Gaul,
he, like a good knight, resolved to add on the name of his, and to
style himself Don Quixote of La Mancha, whereby, he considered, he
described accurately his origin and country, and did honour to it in
taking his surname from it.
So then, his armour being furbished, his morion turned into a
helmet, his hack christened, and he himself confirmed, he came to
the conclusion that nothing more was needed now but to look out for
a lady to be in love with; for a knight-errant without love was like a
tree without leaves or fruit, or a body without a soul. As he said
to himself, "If, for my sins, or by my good fortune, I come across
some giant hereabouts, a common occurrence with knights-errant, and
overthrow him in one onslaught, or cleave him asunder to the waist,
or, in short, vanquish and subdue him, will it not be well to have
some one I may send him to as a present, that he may come in and
fall on his knees before my sweet lady, and in a humble, submissive
voice say, 'I am the giant Caraculiambro, lord of the island of
Malindrania, vanquished in single combat by the never sufficiently
extolled knight Don Quixote of La Mancha, who has commanded me to
present myself before your Grace, that your Highness dispose of me
at your pleasure'?" Oh, how our good gentleman enjoyed the delivery of
this speech, especially when he had thought of some one to call his
Lady! There was, so the story goes, in a village near his own a very
good-looking farm-girl with whom he had been at one time in love,
though, so far as is known, she never knew it nor gave a thought to
the matter. Her name was Aldonza Lorenzo, and upon her he thought
fit to confer the title of Lady of his Thoughts; and after some search
for a name which should not be out of harmony with her own, and should
suggest and indicate that of a princess and great lady, he decided
upon calling her Dulcinea del Toboso -she being of El Toboso- a
name, to his mind, musical, uncommon, and significant, like all
those he had already bestowed upon himself and the things belonging to

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