Don Quixote & What You Can Learn from Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote is at times referred to as the first modern European novel. It has been translated into almost every major language. This makes it one of the most widely distributed books, second only to the Bible.

Many years ago when I was in school, I read Don Quixote. I remember the story being about some crazy guy that charged toward a windmill with a sword. I honestly don’t remember much else about it.

His Life
Miguel de Cervantes is one of Spain’s most famous authors. He is known worldwide today for his work Don Quixote, but unfortunately for him, he did not become rich and famous for it during his lifetime.

His dad was a surgeon, but being a surgeon then was not like it is now. Surgeons were not looked upon with respect. It was a lowly trade and didn’t make much money.

Miguel de Cervantes remained loyal to Spain throughout his life. While he was a member of the Spanish regiment in Naples, a wound he received permanently injured his left hand. Because of this, he acquired the nickname el manco de Lepanto (the cripple of Lepanco). This injury was the least of his trouble though.

pirates, wikimedia commons

In 1575, he and his brother were on board a ship that was captured by pirates. They tried to escape unsuccessfully four different times. They were finally released in 1580 after five long years with the pirates. Their friends and family raised 500 escudos to pay for their release. Back then, that was an enormous sum of money, and it drained them financially.

Not one to let such an adventure go to waste, he wrote two plays based on his experiences as a captive of the pirates: Los tratos de Argel (The Treatments of Algiers) and Los baños de Argel (The Baths of Algiers).

He did marry in 1584, but no children came from this marriage. He did, however, have a daughter from an affair with an actress. Once he left his wife, he faced some serious financial difficulties, along with other problems.

debtors prison, wikimedia commons

He ended up in jail three different times, once as a murder suspect. Maybe he took his research a bit too far?

He had financial trouble for most of his life. While he was in debtor’s prison, he began writing Don Quixote. The publication of Don Quixote didn’t make him rich, but it did ease his financial situation a bit. He was able to devote more of his time to his writing.

His Books
Don Quixote (Parts 1 and 2)
Novelas Ejemplares (Exemplary Novels)
Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (The Labors of Persiles and Sigismunda)
Viaje del Parnaso
La Numancia

He also wrote several plays and poems.

pot calling the kettle black, by gagilas, flickr

Expressions Taken from Don Quixote
Not many of us have read Don Quixote in its original Spanish. When I read it in school, I read the English translation. From it, we have taken many expressions, such as the pot calling the kettle black, tilting at windmills, a wild-goose chase, and the sky’s the limit.

Our word quixotic comes from the name of the main character, Don Quixote.

His Death
Cervantes’ final novel was The Exploits of Persiles and Sigismunda. It was published only three days before his death.

There is an interesting fact about the time of his death: his date of death is the same as that of William Shakespeare, but in reality, Cervantes died ten days earlier. Why? At that time, Spain and England were using different calendars.

coffee and writing, flickr

What You Can Learn from Cervantes
This guy had a rough life. He grew up poor, and he was always broke. He spent a lot of time in jail and was once kidnapped by pirates.

Even with all of the adversity going on his life, he still had a love of writing and found time to write.

So, no matter what issues you have in life, no matter what you are facing, if you really want to write, you will find a way.

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