This year, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of the demise of Spain’s most renowned author.
Born on September 9, 1547, in Alcalá de Henares, a few miles outside of Madrid, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra showed a keen intelligence, and a prodigious memory of events, all necessary for the great novel he was to write later in his life.
Endowed with all kinds of difficulties in his early stages of life, he participated in the famous battle of Lepanto, losing the use of his left hand, thus earning the name of ‘El Manco de Lepanto’, (the Crippled of Lepanto), a name he carried with him with great honor.
While serving in the military, Cervantes was captured by Arabs, and served five years in a prison, an event that he would include in his great novel, “Don Quijote de la Mancha,” that first appeared in 1605 (part I) and in 1615 (part II), and is now considered the greatest work of fiction, earning worldwide acclaim for its character development, all taken from the reality of the life Cervantes himself experienced, and for the multiple themes, all reflecting elements of human life.
The plot of this novel centers around an aging gentleman whose pastime is spent reading novels of chivalry, those that related knights in pursuit of justice, courtesies, respect for all human kind, as well as righting all wrongs in society. In so doing, he loses his sense of reality and became a knight errant, in an era when knights were no longer visible. He converted a rustic maid into the lady of his dreams, Dulcinea del Toboso, and invited a simple man Sancho Panza to be his squire, promising him to make him governor of one of the many islands he would conquer.
Thus Don Quijote was born not only in fiction, but also in reality, as his ideas of justice, fairness, courtesies, and a desire to transform society is still residing among many individuals throughout the centuries. The main themes of this novel are centered on man’s desire for a better society, thus visualizing and desiring a better existence via life imitating fiction, and as Don Quijote and Sancho entered in multiple episodes, as both intended to bring some form of justice in a world sometimes devoid of it, others within their circle of action tended to imitate them.
Don Quijote viewed reality from different lenses, preferring to uplift it beyond its mere dull existence. Thus, the eternal theme of absolute reality versus relative reality underlines the main theme of: What is Truth and where does one find? Within Don Quijote’s human elements exists traits of a true knight, such as courage, respect, chivalry, honesty, truth, and above all a constant fight for justice. Don Quijote viewed life not as it was, but as it should be.
It is believed that the first European Spanish who first settled Texas during the early part of the 18th Century were well aware and had read this immortal novel “Don Quijote de la Mancha” and were so moved, and energized by its content that it propelled them to ventured into new found lands such as Texas with the courage of a true knight such as the one portrayed by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in his novel, at the same time establishing many of the positive qualities modern day Hispanics displayed in their daily lives in this state.