We wish a happy birthday to Don Quixote, who turned 400 this past Sunday. It is commonly observed that, after the Bible, Cervantes’s masterpiece is the world’s most translated and printed book. Yet, the importance and influence of the novel can hardly be estimated by so crudely quantitative a measure. Quixote brought about a new way of representing the world. Gone is the world of the romance, with its knight errantry and haunted landscapes. In its place is the ordinary world of mere mortals, with common longings and secular destinies. Quixote understood his life as a story. We do much the same thing, but our stories are more earthbound. Such is what it means to live in modernity, thanks in no small part to Cervantes.
“At that instant, a breeze of wind springing up, the great sails began to turn; which being perceived by Don Quixote, ‘Tho’ you wild, said he, ‘ more arms than ever belonged to the giant Briareus, we will make you pay for your insolence’. So saying, and heartily recommending himself to his lady Dulcinea, whom he implored to succour him in this emergency, bracing on his target, and setting his lance in the rest, he put his Rocinante to full speed, and assaulting the nearest windmill, thrust it into one of the sails, which was driven about by the wind with so much fury, that the lance was splintered to pieces, and both knight and steed whirled aloft, and overthrown in very bad plight upon the plain.”