Some Wonderful Thoughts, Wisdom, and Rules to Live By from Don Quixote of La Mancha (updated 2-18-11)
Don Quixote of La Mancha
DAUNTED by the sheer size of this masterpiece by Cervantes and the odd English it used, I never sat down with Don Quixote to enjoy, for I didn't think enjoyment would result. That was 45 years ago.
About this time last year, I was listening to a murder mystery where the scenes and the murders shifted from Shakespeare's time to the present while our heroine tried to solve them all. The main settings were from certain of Shakespeare's plays, some of which had been lost, but, the narrative finally centered around one particular play based on one of the tales in Don Quixote whose characters in Cervantes' chronicle had counterparts in the main story line. The author spent a lot of time and eloquent words describing Don Quixote and providing historical context, so much so that I determined to "gut" it out and actually read all 1050 pages of it in the version I bought.
I am very happy I did, although it did take me the first 500 or so pages to figure that out. This hub isn't a book report on Don Quixote but a compendium of some of the wit and wisdom it contains that I believe, if people followed, we would all be the better for it. If Don Quixote is about anything to me, it is about Virtue with a capital V and the desire to live a Good life, as defined by Aristotle. I think Aristotle would be proud of Cervantes with what he has depicted.
I said I wasn't going to make this a book report and I am going to stick to that promise. But, I do feel it necessary to at least provide a basic understanding of what the book was about for I found that my preconceptions were way off base.
A Brief Synopsis of Don Quixote
ALONSO Quixano was a well-to-do land owner in La Mancha, Spain in the 1600s, where Cervantes set this story. He was known as Alonso the Good because that was his nature. Alonso was noble, well read, worldly, intelligent, and ... a little mad. Not so you could tell, unless you started talking about knight-errantry or chivalry and the honor, virtue, and duty that is bound up in those ideas. Then, you k know you are dealing with somebody in some other world.
Don Quixote is about Don Quixote setting forth from his home on adventures to do what all knight-errants of his yore did, help the needy, protect the maidens, and set wrongs right. His first sally forth was alone but those that followed was with a fellow villager, a herdsman, a peasant as his squire to whom he promised governorships or dukedoms or other such fanciful prizes as the results of their successful adventures. His name was Sancho Panza, a simple man, filled with an infinite number of sage proverbs which he could string together and let loose like a machine gun, yet who possessed a degree of loyalty not seen today.
While Don Quixote's heart was in the right place, his ability was not and their adventures became a series of comic mishaps of embarrasing failures, thumpings to their bodies, and tricks played by those taking advantage of Quixote's madness or Sancho Panza's gulibility. Don Quixote was so absorbed in his madness that he saw things that weren't there such as castles which were really the inns at which they stayed or the famous windmills which turned into monsters at which he did battle with (tilting at windmills).
Through all of this, Don Quixote maintained to the end a strength of character, a determination to remain virtuous regardless of the challenges or hardships he faced, to show to the world that even mad, how one ought to approach what Aristotle would call a Good life. Sancho Panza grew from a blockhead and simpleton to a wise but still plain sage.
Cervantes uses Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to partly describe his own life, partly to make a commentary on the times, and partly to make a statement the human spirit.
On Knowing Thyself
To Sancho Panza before assuming Governorship of an island:
" ... , consider what you are and try to know yourself, which is the most difficult study in the world. From knowing yourself you will learn not to puff yourself up like the frog that wishes to rival an ox; and when you remember having been a swineherd in your own country, that thought will be in the flushed exaltation of your pride like the peacock's ugly feet."
(a proverb has it that a peacock folds up it's beautiful tail when it sees it's ugly feet.)
"That is true," said Sancho, "but it was when I was a slip of a lad. When I grew up to be a bit more of a man, I grove geese, not hogs. But all this doesn't seem to me to fit the case, for all governors come of royal stock."
And Don Quixote replies, "That is true, wherefore those who are not of noble descent must grace the dignity of the office they bear with mildness and civility, which when accompanied with prudence will enable them to escape the malicious mischief makers from which no estate is exempt.
"Show pride, Sancho, in your humble origins, and do not scorn to say that you spring from labouring men, for when men see that your are not ashamed, none will try to make you so: and consider it more deserving to be humble and virtuous than proud and sinful. Countless are those who, though of low extraction, have risen to the highest posts of Church and State."
"Remember, Sancho, that if you make virtue your rule in life and if you pride yourself on acting always in accordance with such a precept, you will have no cause to envy princes and lords, for blood is inherited, but virtue is acquired, and virtue in itself is worth more than noble birth"
On Law and Justice
DonQuixote gives advice to Sancho as the latter is about to assume governorship of an "island" the Duke has given him.
"Never let arbitrary law rule your judgement; it is the vice of the ignorant who make vain boast of their cleverness"
"Let the tears of the poor find more compassion, but not more justice, from you than the pleadings of the wealthy."
"Be equally anxious to sift out the truth from among the offers and bribes of the rich and the sobs and entreaties of the poor."
"Whenever equity is possible and is called for, let not the whole rigor of law press upon the guilty party, for a rigorous judge has not a better repute than the one who is compassionate."
"If by any chance your scales of justice incline to one side, let pity weigh more with you than gold."
"Don't let passion blind you in another man's case, for the mistakes you will commit are often without remedy and will cost you both reputation and fortune."
"When a beautiful woman appears before you to demand justice, blind your eyes to her tears, deafen your ears to her lamentations, and give deep thought to her claims, otherwise you may risk losing your judgement in her tears and your integrity in her sighs."
"When you punish a man, do not revile him, for the penalty the unhappy man has to suffer is sufficient without the addition of abusive language."
"If you follow these precepts, Sancho, your days will be long and your renown eternal, your rewards will be without number and your happiness unimaginable. ..."
"DO NOTwear your clothes baggy and unbuttoned, Sancho, for a slovenly dress is proof of a careless mind, unless, as in the case of Julius Caesar, it may be attributed to cunning."
"Investigate carefully the income of your office, and if you can afford to give the liveries to your servants, supply them with garments that are decent and durable rather than garish and gaudy; and give what you save in this way to the poor. That is to say, if you have six pages to clothe, clothe three and give what remains to three poor youths. Thus you will have attendants both in Heaven and earth. This original way of giving liveries has never been followed by the vainglorious of this world."