Thursday, January 29, 2009

Quixote vs. Amadis

[Photo: Tilework depiction of Don Quixote from the Plaza de España Monument, built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition in Parque María Louisa, Seville.]


Don Quijote de La Mancha is a lot funnier if you read Amadís de Gaula first. Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in 1605 as a satire of books of chivalry (among other targets), and Amadís set the style for the genre.

Knighthood is a job for strong, handsome, healthy young men, but Don Quixote was a skinny old man. Knights-errant had vanished from Spanish society long ago, if they had ever really existed (they didn't), along with their noble codes of conduct.

A squire, according to the books, should be a noble youth who serves his knight for fame and glory, but Don Quixote's squire, Sancho Panza, was a poor, illiterate peasant who was in it for the money.

A knight's lady-love should be a noblewoman, preferably a princess who will confer a kingdom or empire to her knight upon marriage. Don Quixote pledged himself to "Dulcinea," a poor servant who was far from the most beautiful woman in the world nor the most chaste, to put it kindly.

Chivalric tales take place in lush, idealized settings, but La Mancha was impoverished and dusty. The geography refused to cooperate when Don Quixote tried to recreate some of the specific adventures of the novels.

Knights in the novels speak in mannered, lofty speech, but try as he might, Don Quixote couldn't master it and confused the people he spoke with.

Mundane concerns like money never enter into chivalric tales, but Don Quixote discovered to his disappointment that he had to use it. In fact, people defecate in Don Quixote. Turds in Amadís? Unimaginable.

Chivalric tales take place among nobles. Peasants and base servants appear only in the background, if at all. But Don Quixote found himself dealing with vulgar innkeepers and even lower elements of society, although he imagined them to be castellans, lords, and ladies.

Like the knights-errant in well paced tales, Don Quixote expected to encounter adventures at every turn in the road, including battles with fantastic beings like giants, which are common in chivalric novels. Instead he found windmills....


Note: Quixote, Quijote? Quijote is the modern Spanish spelling, Quixote the 16th-century Spanish spelling. English adapted the original spelling and has stuck with it.


  1. I read Don Quijote (in Spanish, yet) years ago when I was in college. I wish that I'd had your translation of Amadis to read at that point instead of just a summary of the work!

  2. You can still re-read Don Quijote. It will be even better now.