The Cervantes Year: Exemplary Tales

“(…) but in some palaces jesters fare better than sensible people.” – Cervantes, ‎Exemplary Novels

The year 2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of both Miguel de Cervantes ‎and William Shakespeare. To many people, Cervantes is remembered only for his ‎masterpiece, Don Quixote. Nevertheless, the story of Cervantes himself is an interesting ‎one, full of twists of fate and gestures of genius.‎

During the time of Cervantes, there was a famous Spanish saying that went: ‘Iglesia, ‎mar o casa real’ (Church, Sea or Royal House), meaning that commoners with no noble ‎titles could only improve their chances in life and their status by joining the clergy, ‎seeking wealth through adventure at the sea, or attaching themselves to some noble ‎house. Cervantes was no exception: In 1571 he joined the Spanish forces that, leading ‎the fleet of the Holy League, fought and defeated the Ottoman Empire’s fleet in the ‎Battle of Lepanto. ‎

Cervantes suffered a serious injury during the Battle, causing him to lose use of his left ‎arm, and earning him the rather cruel and inaccurate nickname of ‘El Manco de ‎Lepanto’ (the one-armed man of Lepanto). To add insult to injury, he was taken captive ‎a few years later on his way back and taken to Algeria, where he spent 5 years in prison. ‎He tried every trick to escape, but he was only released thanks to –indirect- divine ‎intervention: the Trinitarian Order saved Cervantes, a Catholic order that redeemed ‎Christian captives in Muslim lands through offering its own members as ransom. ‎

In addition to his masterpiece (Don Quixote), Cervantes was –in his own words- the ‎first Spanish writer to introduce the novella in Spain after the success that it enjoyed in ‎Italy thanks to Boccaccio. A crucial figure of Spain’s ‘Siglo de Oro’ (Spanish Golden Age), his novellas combine the use of farce, satire and picaresque ‎characters in both realistic and idealized settings dotted with gypsies, picaros, moriscos, witches, and impossible loves.

Below is a selection of quotes from ‎Cervantes’ highly entertaining and highly recommended ‘Novelas Ejemplares’ (Exemplary Novels):‎
‎ ‎
“it seems to me that love’s impulses go unchecked until they meet with reason or ‎disillusionment.”‎
‎ ‎
‎“Hare-hunting is very pleasurable, especially when the hounds are borrowed.”‎
‎ ‎
‎“Good painters imitated nature while bad ones vomited it.”‎
‎ ‎
‎“It suits me better to be a hypocrite than a self-confessed sinner: the illusion of my ‎present good works is gradually erasing my past misdeeds from the memory of those ‎who know me. Indeed, false sanctity harms no one except those who practice it.”



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