I’ve never liked reading more than one book at a time, and so its not been particularly easy to interrupt my current book to return to Don Quixote which I am reading over the course of ten weeks. However, I soon get back into the tales of the valiant knight and his exploits with his servant Sancho Panza.
This week’s reading in Don Quixote covers pages 276 to 368. I am reading the book in ten chunks of about 90 pages each, and this is chunk number four.
Untangling a mistaken coupling
This week we read of two pairs of lovers, previously mis-matched, now reorganising themselves so they are in the correct pairs! Don Quixote has little part in this, it being left to the noble Don Fernando to be persuaded of the rightness of the new arrangements – after all, he was to get the lovely Dorotea who his associates assured him was unequalled among women, humble, beautiful, virtuous and loved him greatly. Who could resist?
The war against the wineskins
Meanwhile our brave Don Quixote persisted with the belief that he had resolved the amorous confusion by doing battle with two huge wineskins containing about 18 gallons (about 70) litres) of wine believing it to be a giant.
The company resolve to carry on with their strategy of deceiving Don Quixote in order to persuade him to travel to his home town where they may be able to cure him of his madness. However, it is too late in the day to journey on that day, and so all decide to spend another night at the inn.
A traveller arrives at the inn, a Christian who has been travelling in Moorish lands, and with him is a beautiful Moorish woman, Lela Maria.
Is it better to work in an office or to join the army?
However, perhaps the most interesting section in this week’s reading is Don Quixote’s discourse on whether it is better to be a man of letters or a man of arms. De Cervantes does not hesitate in regaling his readers with the thoughts of Don Quixote on these matters. And as his audience around the table were military men they apparently approved of his arguments – de Cervantes readers may think otherwise.
In typical contrariwise logic, Don Quixote declares that peace is the true purpose of war, but at least he comes out against the escalation of the arms trade –
Happy were those blessed times that lacked the horrifying fury of the diabolical instuments of artillery, whose inventor, in my opinion, is in hell, receiving the reward for his accursed invention, which allows an ignoble and cowardly hand to take the life of a valiant knight, so that not knowing how it comes, or from where, a stray shot is fired into the courage and spirit that inflame and animate a brave heart.
Alas, in those early days they were just beginning to understand that progress in the technology of war is unstoppable, for gaining an advantage of your enemy is the only way to guarantee victory. It was about as useless for Don Quixote to protest at the use of artillery as it is to protest today about the use of phosphorous bombs.
The rest of the evening is taken up with the tale of the traveller who had been held captive by the Turks – a topic which must have been close to de Cervantes heart for he himself had been held captive for five years.
Title: Don Quixote
Author: Miguel de Cervantes (trans. Edith Grossman)
Publication: Vintage (2005), paperback, 992 pages