Wherein is shown the furthest and highest point which the unexampled courage of Don Quixote reached or could reach; together with the happily achieved adventure of the lions.
[This plaque is on the wall of the Convent of the Discalced Trinitarians on Lope de Vega Street in Madrid. It's near the site of Miguel de Cervantes' home, where he died in 1616. As the plaque says, he lies in the convent's crypt, in accordance with his last wishes, but don't plan on visiting him. Last year a newspaper reporter tried. "We know he's here," a nun told him, "but we don't know exactly where." Whether due to the remodeling of the chapel in the convent or to the amnesia of hundreds of years, Cervantes' remains have been misplaced. I think he would find that funny. Photo by Sue Burke.]
Lions occur frequently in chivalrous tales, including Chapter 21 of Amadis of Gaul. Miguel de Cervantes parodied this episode in Don Quixote de la Mancha. A cart approaches with a mysterious cargo, which turns out to be a pair of lions, and Don Quixote madly challenges them, much as Amadis rashly challenged the knights guarding the cart. Cervantes also parodies the authorial outbursts in Amadis.
By the way, you can get the full text of Ormsby's landmark translation of Don Quixote from Project Gutenburg at:
Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by John Ormsby in 1885. Book II, Chapter XVII [excerpted]:
... Don Quixote put [his helmet] on, and settling himself firmly in his stirrups, easing his sword in the scabbard, and grasping his lance, he cried, "Now, come who will, here am I, ready to try conclusions with Satan himself in person!"
By this time the cart with the flags had come up, unattended by anyone except the carter on a mule, and a man sitting in front. Don Quixote planted himself before it and said, "Whither are you going, brothers? What cart is this? What have you got in it? What flags are those?"
To this the carter replied, "The cart is mine; what is in it is a pair of wild caged lions, which the governor of Oran is sending to court as a present to his Majesty; and the flags are our lord the King's, to show that what is here is his property."
"And are the lions large?" asked Don Quixote.
"So large," replied the man who sat at the door of the cart, "that larger, or as large, have never crossed from Africa to Spain; I am the keeper, and I have brought over others, but never any like these. They are male and female; the male is in that first cage and the female in the one behind, and they are hungry now, for they have eaten nothing today, so let your worship stand aside, for we must make haste to the place where we are to feed them."
Hereupon, smiling slightly, Don Quixote exclaimed, "Lion-whelps to me! To me whelps of lions, and at such a time! Then, by God, those gentlemen who send them here shall see if I am a man to be frightened by lions. Get down, my good fellow, and as you are the keeper open the cages, and turn me out those beasts, and in the midst of this plain I will let them know who Don Quixote of La Mancha is, in spite and in the teeth of the enchanters who send them to me."
... The carter, seeing the determination of this apparition in armour, said to him, "Please your worship, for charity's sake, señor, let me unyoke the mules and place myself in safety along with them before the lions are turned out; for if they kill them I am ruined for life, for all I possess is this cart and mules."
"O man of little faith," replied Don Quixote, "get down and unyoke; you will soon see that you are exerting yourself for nothing, and that you might have spared yourself the trouble."
The carter got down and with all speed unyoked the mules, and the keeper called out at the top of his voice, "I call all here to witness that against my will and under compulsion I open the cages and let the lions loose, and that I warn this gentleman that he will be accountable for all the harm and mischief which these beasts may do, and for my salary and dues as well. You, gentlemen, place yourselves in safety before I open, for I know they will do me no harm."
... Hearing this, Sancho with tears in his eyes entreated him to give up an enterprise compared with which the one of the windmills, and the awful one of the fulling mills, and, in fact, all the feats he had attempted in the whole course of his life, were cakes and fancy bread. "Look ye, señor," said Sancho, "there's no enchantment here, nor anything of the sort, for between the bars and chinks of the cage I have seen the paw of a real lion, and judging by that I reckon the lion such a paw could belong to must be bigger than a mountain."
"Fear at any rate," replied Don Quixote, "will make him look bigger to thee than half the world. Retire, Sancho, and leave me; and if I die here thou knowest our old compact; thou wilt repair to Dulcinea — I say no more." To these he added some further words that banished all hope of his giving up his insane project.
...Sancho was weeping over his master's death, for this time he firmly believed it was in store for him from the claws of the lions; and he cursed his fate and called it an unlucky hour when he thought of taking service with him again; but with all his tears and lamentations he did not forget to thrash Dapple so as to put a good space between himself and the cart. The keeper, seeing that the fugitives were now some distance off, once more entreated and warned him as before; but he replied that he heard him, and that he need not trouble himself with any further warnings or entreaties, as they would be fruitless, and bade him make haste.
During the delay that occurred while the keeper was opening the first cage, Don Quixote was considering whether it would not be well to do battle on foot, instead of on horseback, and finally resolved to fight on foot, fearing that Rocinante might take fright at the sight of the lions; he therefore sprang off his horse, flung his lance aside, braced his buckler on his arm, and drawing his sword, advanced slowly with marvellous intrepidity and resolute courage, to plant himself in front of the cart, commending himself with all his heart to God and to his lady Dulcinea.
It is to be observed, that on coming to this passage, the author of this veracious history breaks out into exclamations. "O doughty Don Quixote! High-mettled past extolling! Mirror, wherein all the heroes of the world may see themselves! Second modern Don Manuel de Leon, once the glory and honour of Spanish knighthood! In what words shall I describe this dread exploit, by what language shall I make it credible to ages to come, what eulogies are there unmeet for thee, though they be hyperboles piled on hyperboles! On foot, alone, undaunted, high-souled, with but a simple sword, and that no trenchant blade of the Perrillo brand, a shield, but no bright polished steel one, there stoodst thou, biding and awaiting the two fiercest lions that Africa's forests ever bred! Thy own deeds be thy praise, valiant Manchegan, and here I leave them as they stand, wanting the words wherewith to glorify them!"
Here the author's outburst came to an end, and he proceeded to take up the thread of his story, saying that the keeper, seeing that Don Quixote had taken up his position, and that it was impossible for him to avoid letting out the male without incurring the enmity of the fiery and daring knight, flung open the doors of the first cage, containing, as has been said, the lion, which was now seen to be of enormous size, and grim and hideous mien. The first thing he did was to turn round in the cage in which he lay, and protrude his claws, and stretch himself thoroughly; he next opened his mouth, and yawned very leisurely, and with near two palms' length of tongue that he had thrust forth, he licked the dust out of his eyes and washed his face; having done this, he put his head out of the cage and looked all round with eyes like glowing coals, a spectacle and demeanour to strike terror into temerity itself. Don Quixote merely observed him steadily, longing for him to leap from the cart and come to close quarters with him, where he hoped to hew him in pieces.
So far did his unparalleled madness go; but the noble lion, more courteous than arrogant, not troubling himself about silly bravado, after having looked all round, as has been said, turned about and presented his hind-quarters to Don Quixote, and very coolly and tranquilly lay down again in the cage. Seeing this, Don Quixote ordered the keeper to take a stick to him and provoke him to make him come out.
"That I won't," said the keeper; "for if I anger him, the first he'll tear in pieces will be myself. Be satisfied, sir knight, with what you have done, which leaves nothing more to be said on the score of courage, and do not seek to tempt fortune a second time. The lion has the door open; he is free to come out or not to come out; but as he has not come out so far, he will not come out today. Your worship's great courage has been fully manifested already; no brave champion, so it strikes me, is bound to do more than challenge his enemy and wait for him on the field; if his adversary does not come, on him lies the disgrace, and he who waits for him carries off the crown of victory."
"That is true," said Don Quixote; "close the door, my friend, and let me have, in the best form thou canst, what thou hast seen me do, by way of certificate; to wit, that thou didst open for the lion, that I waited for him, that he did not come out, that I still waited for him, and that still he did not come out, and lay down again. I am not bound to do more; enchantments avaunt, and God uphold the right, the truth, and true chivalry! Close the door as I bade thee, while I make signals to the fugitives that have left us, that they may learn this exploit from thy
The keeper obeyed, and Don Quixote, fixing on the point of his lance the cloth he had wiped his face with..., proceeded to recall the others, who still continued to fly, looking back at every step, all in a body, the gentleman bringing up the rear. Sancho, however, happening to observe the signal of the white cloth, exclaimed, "May I die, if my master has not overcome the wild beasts, for he is calling to us."
They all stopped, and perceived that it was Don Quixote who was making signals, and shaking off their fears to some extent, they approached slowly until they were near enough to hear distinctly Don Quixote's voice calling to them. They returned at length to the cart, and as they came up, Don Quixote said to the carter, "Put your mules to once more, brother, and continue your journey; and do thou, Sancho, give him two gold crowns for himself and the keeper, to compensate for the delay they have incurred through me."
"That will I give with all my heart," said Sancho; "but what has become of the lions? Are they dead or alive?"
The keeper, then, in full detail, and bit by bit, described the end of the contest, exalting to the best of his power and ability the valour of Don Quixote, at the sight of whom the lion quailed, and would not and dared not come out of the cage, although he had held the door open ever so long; and showing how, in consequence of his having represented to the knight that it was tempting God to provoke the lion in order to force him out, which he wished to have done, he very reluctantly, and altogether against his will, had allowed the door to be closed.
"What dost thou think of this, Sancho?" said Don Quixote. "Are there any enchantments that can prevail against true valour? The enchanters may be able to rob me of good fortune, but of fortitude and courage they cannot."
Sancho paid the crowns, the carter put to, the keeper kissed Don Quixote's hands for the bounty bestowed upon him, and promised to give an account of the valiant exploit to the King himself, as soon as he saw him at court.
"Then," said Don Quixote, "if his Majesty should happen to ask who performed it, you must say the Knight of the Lions; for it is my desire that into this the name I have hitherto borne of Knight of the Rueful Countenance be from this time forward changed, altered, transformed, and turned; and in this I follow the ancient usage of knights-errant, who changed their names when they pleased, or when it suited their purpose."...