Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, born September 29, 1547, was a Spanish novelist,
dramatist, and poet. Cervantes was the author of the novel Don Quixote, a
masterpiece of world literature that was a great influence to other renaissance
writers. Cervantes was born to a poor family in a town called Alcala de Henares.
His father was a surgeon who made little money to support the family . Without
the means for much formal education, Cervantes became a soldier. On his return
to Spain he worked at a series of government jobs that involved extensive travel
in Andalucia. (Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia) . His career as a public servant
was marked by as much misfortune as was his military career. Not till his later
years did Cervantes find a patron. It was then that he had the time to devote
to his writing.
Cervantes was a literary experimenter. In 1568, when Cervantes was a
student, a number of his poems appeared in a volume published in Madrid to
commemorate the death of the Spanish queen Elizabeth of Valois. In 1569 he went
to Rome, where in the following year he entered the service of Cardinal Giulio
Acquaviva. Soon afterward Cervantes joined a Spanish regiment in Naples. He
fought in 1571 against the Turks in the naval battle in Lepanto, in which he
lost the use of his left hand. While returning to Spain in 1575, Cervantes was
captured by Barbary pirates. He was taken to Algeria as a slave and held there
for ransom. (Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia). He did however make several
unsuccessful escape attempts, but he was finally ransomed in 1580 by his family
and friends. Returning to Spain at the age of 33, Cervantes, despite his wartime
service and Algerian adventure, was unable to obtain employment with a noble
family. This was usually the gift presented to military veterans for their
distinguished courage. Deciding to become a writer, he turned out poems and
plays at a prodigious rate between 1582 and 1585 (Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia).
Few of these are still existent. His pastoral novel La Galatea (1585) gained
him a reputation, but the proceeds from its sale were insufficient to support
him. Cervantes then took government jobs, first furnishing goods to the fleet of
the Armada and later collecting taxes. The government imprisoned him several
times because he failed to give a satisfactory explanation of his tax-collecting
activities. While in prison Cervantes conceived the idea for a story about a
madman who imagines himself a knight-errant performing the splendid feats
described in medieval tales of chivalry. The first part was issued under the
title The History of the Valorous and Wittie Knight-Errant Don Quixote of the
Mancha (Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia). It became such an immediate success that
within two weeks after publication three pirated editions appeared in Madrid.
Partly because of the pirating and partly because of his lack of financial
acumen, Cervantes never gained substantial wealth from the enormous success of
the work. His Novelas ejemplares (Exemplary Novels, 1613), a collection of 12
short stories, includes romances in the Italian style, descriptions of criminal
life in Seville, and sketches of unusual events and characters (Funk & Wagnalls
Encyclopedia). One of these stories, "El coloquio de los perros" (The Talking
Dogs), is particularly renowned for its satirical prose style. The second part
of Don Quixote was published in 1615. Cervantes completed the fantastic
allegorical novel Persiles y Sigismunda (1617) four days before he died in
Madrid on April 23, 1616 (Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia). Cervantes\'s most
influential work, Don Quixote, is generally regarded as the first modern novel.
It is a brilliant satire, not only of the chivalric romances of the Middle Ages
and early Renaissance but also of the sentimental and pastoral novels popular in
Cervantes\'s own time (Byron, 24). The principal character of the novel is Don
Quixote, an elderly village gentleman of modest means. An enthusiastic reader of
old-fashioned tales of chivalry, he becomes obsessed with the idea of
reintroducing the practice of knight-errantry into the world. In Part I Don
Quixote equips himself with arms and armor and rides forth on Rosinante, a
broken-down horse, to challenge evil wherever he may find it. He is accompanied
by the loyal and shrewd, but credulous, peasant Sancho Panza, who serves him as
squire. In his deranged state, Don Quixote sets himself the task of defending
orphans, protecting maidens and widows, befriending the helpless, serving the
causes of truth and beauty, and reestablishing justice. His adventures and
skirmishes are often grotesquely inappropriate to the situation; for example, he
attacks a windmill, thinking it a giant,