Illustration for Don Quixote (Salvador Dali)

Illustration for Don Quixote (Salvador Dali)

Ever since Cervantes’ masterpiece was published, so many things were said that there is probably nothing new for us to say. But academic “verbalism” makes us to read it again and again and to say something about it. And fortunately it does so. This essay is going to propose a theological reading attempt —which has been attempted—, an analogy —which has also already been proposed— and a modest opinion —hopefully not opined yet.

What kinds of readings are possible?

Is Cervantes’ Don Quixote simply a satire on the harmful effects of bad literature or is it more than that? Although in prologue he depicted his aim as “fixed on the destruction of that ill-founded edifice of the books of chivalry”, nevertheless, thanks to his masterpiece, Cervantes had “mortally” gone beyond his aim. Despite all the differences between them, all the critics agree on only one issue that Don Quixote is the first ‘modern’ novel. Here is where the differences start to appear. For instance, Welsh mentions literary realism: “Don Quixote was seen to be not simply a satire on chivalric romance but an alternative narrative of the kinds of things that really might happen if an elderly gentleman set himself up as a knight errant in the modern world.” However, according as she likes, another one can read it as a fantastic novel. It also provides infinite opportunities to read to all the critics who want to read it through their own methods of criticism: For instance, to Marxists “master and servant dialectic”, to feminists “Dulcinea’s impossible femaleness” or “Don Quixote’s ridiculous moralism” and to theological critics almost a saint.

Among all the theological commentaries, the most extreme commentary is probably Unamuno’s. In translator’s introduction of Unamuno’s Treatise on Love of God, Nelson R. Orringer says that “Unamuno holds that Don Quixote should be ‘the national Bible of the patriotic religion of Spain’”. Due to the fact that author of this essay is not a Spanish, although he cannot read the book as Bible, fortunately the book provides sufficient materials for theological readings also for non-native readers. As a matter of fact, this essay will not try to comment any theological statements or behaviours which are consistently repeated throughout the book[1], its method will be comparison, analogy and roughly symbolic interpretations.

Don Quixote: an exemplar of Christian faith or an imitation of Christ?

If it is necessary to describe Don Quixote with his the unique feature, he can certainly be characterized by his madness. In accordance with theological approach announced in the introduction, a “reasonable” description of his madness is found in Paulson’s Don Quixote in England: “The madman can become God’s fool and an ideal of honour or simplicity against which the real world is measured and found wanting.” As he establishes a correlation between Don Quixote and Erasmus’s Praise of Folly, Paulson says that “From Erasmus, Cervantes takes the idea that folly can be higher wisdom; he follows Erasmus in contrasting simple Christian “folly” with scholastic reasoning, which seen from direction is transcendence.” Quixotic madness is originated from a preferred foolishness which belongs only to God: “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (King James Version Corinthians 1:25). Although he is obviously conscious of what people think about him and especially about his madness, nevertheless he pays no attention to these estimations: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness” (Corinthians 3:19). Last but not least, his madness is a kind of accepted foolishness: “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised” (Corinthians 4:10).

The fact is that, Don Quixote’s thorough faith in God is witnessed by all the readers. The question is that, thanks to his faith in God and his becoming “God’s fool”, will he merely be canonized as a saint, or is he Christ, in and of himself? Although literature history was full of examples of the analogies between Don Quixote and Christ, the most obvious and listed version of these is Rodó’s; if it is quoted as summarized:  Christ attributed his ancestry to virtuous king and was of the blood of David. Don Quixote says to Sancho that “the sage who shall write my history will so clear up my ancestry and pedigree that I may find myself fifth or sixth in descent from a king”. Christ was born in a humble village which his cradle raised from darkness. Don Quixote was also of a village called Argamasilla which lives in the memory of the world, only through his name. Jesus himself was called “the Galilean” and the Knight also added to his name “la Mancha”, due to their regions’ name. Prior to getting to work on redemption of humankind, Christ wanted to be consecrated by hands of John the Baptist. Don Quixote wanted to be dubbed knight by “Castellan”. Christ spent forty days and forty nights in seclusion of the desert. In his penance, Don Quixote spent many days in Sierra Morena. There were harlots at Jesus’ side and they were purified by his charity. Maritornes and party girls were transfigured by Don Quixote’s gentleness. Jesus said: “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice”. By way of unheard-of fearlessness, Don Quixote broke the chain of galley slaves. Christ attracted and retained his cohort with the promise of the kingdom of heaven. Don Quixote attracted his cohort (which consists of only one man who represents the humming human choir) with the promise of being the governor of the island. Jesus healed the sick. Don Quixote helped people who were aggrieved and poverty stricken. Christ conjured the souls of damned. Don Quixote was preoccupied with enchantments of remedy. Nor Jesus was wanted be recognized as Messiah by common sense, neither Don Quixote as knight-errant. Jesus was mocked and ridiculed due to his messianism; as Don Quixote’s chivalry. Mother and brothers of Jesus sought to discourage him and he had to say: “I have no mother or brothers”. Don Quixote was opposed and obstructed by his housekeeper and his niece in his own home. Jesus overthrew the tables of the merchants and the chairs of the salesmen of doves. Don Quixote ruined the scene of the puppeteer. Jesus made priests of Jerusalem indignant because he was celebrated by the masses as Christ. Don Quixote made an arrogant and silly priest indignant because he was celebrated in house of the Dukes. Both of them suffered persecution later than celebrations; they were both jeered and received with ignominy. Jesus was denied by Peter. Don Quixote was denied by Sancho. Jesus was exposed by the label of “This is the King of the Jews”. Don Quixote was exposed by a parchment stitched on his back “This is Don Quixote of La Mancha”. Samson Carrasco was the Judas given to Don Quixote. A tax collector, Saint Mathew, wrote the Gospel of Christ, and another tax collector, Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote’s gospel.

Good grief! Why did not Christ die?

All things considered, it is clearly seen that on the basis of such an analogy between Christ and Don Quixote, two distinctive readings are possible: naive (romantic) or cynic. In point of fact, even though Unamuno deserves this appointment, for the sake of the quotation below, I am appointing José Ortega y Gasset as the representative of the romantics: “One could write the Names of Don Quixote, because in a certain way, Don Quixote is the sad parody of a more divine and serene Christ: he is a Gothic Christ, torn by modern anguish; a ridiculous Christ of our own neighbourhood, created by a sorrowful imagination, which lost its innocence and its will and is striving to replace them.” Opposite to this aspect, other one can be placed that Christ fought a pointless fight based on his very own individual delusions renounced by him on his deathbed. Even though he was under coercion, Don Quixote accepted worldly reality and rejected the Bible and tradition: “Good news for you, good sirs, that I am no longer Don Quixote of La Mancha, but Alonso Quixano, whose way of life won for him the name of Good. Now am I the enemy of Amadis of Gaul and of the whole countless troop of his descendants; odious to me now are all the profane stories of knight-errantry; now I perceive my folly, and the peril into which reading them brought me; now, by God’s mercy schooled into my right senses, I loathe them.”

As a matter of fact, there is another possible reading but it is a most cynical one. Whereas the Church appointed me as devil’s advocate, let me declare it: Humankind had never wanted what makes them remember celestial principle during all the ages. By that time, they had endured it by killing the messenger. However, they did not want any sacrifice on their account anymore. Because they learned that any sacrifice will require a compensation of remembering and blessing name of the person who sacrificed himself for them. They did not want any sacrifice because they did not wanted any communion: they had not endured to feel the taste of his body and blood. Don Quixote must have been converted. He must have been sent back home in order to age and die on his bed, just like them.

Consequently, the atonement was not paid: “all of you are still sinners!”




Works Cited:
Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Trans. John Ormsby. London, 1885.
Holy Bible. King James Version. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1957.
Ortega y Gasset, Jose. Meditations on Quixote. Trans. Evelyn Rugg and Diego Marin. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Paulson, Roland. Don Quixote in England. London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Rodó, José Enrique. «El Cristo a la Jineta.» El Mirador de Próspero: Obras Completas de José Enrique Rodó. Madrid: Aguilar, 1967. 538-539.
Unamuno, Miguel De. Treatise on Love of God. Trans. Nelson R. Orringer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.
Welsh, Alexander. “The Influence of Cervantes.” Cascardi, Anthony J. The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 82.
Ziolkowski, Eric Jozef. The Sanctification of Don Quixote: From Hidalgo to Priest. Penn State Press, 1991.

[*] This essay was published in DailySabah on April 17, 2015

[1] For further reading about religious approaches on Don Quixote and their historical development, see Ziolkowski, Eric Jozef. The Sanctification of Don Quixote: From Hidalgo to Priest. Penn State Press, 1991.


Yukari Asagi