Monday, June 13, 2005

On Cervantes' "Don Quixote"

I once read somewhere that "Don Quixote" was the all-time most read fiction book, and anyone who has read the novel will not find that to be very surprizing. If you have read or are interested in reading this great classic, the following article from the New Yok Times of today will give you a taste of the context in which it was written:

Regarding Cervantes, Multicultural Dreamer

Edward Rothstein

Why was "Don Quixote" originally written in Arabic? Or rather, why does Cervantes, who wrote the book in Spanish, claim that it was translated from the Arabic?

Much is being said this year about "Don Quixote," in celebration of the 400th anniversary of its publication. And indeed, much has always been said about this extraordinary epic, narrating the misadventures of a half-mad hidalgo who seeks to re-establish the traditions of knight errantry. Faulkner reread it annually; Lionel Trilling said all prose fiction was a variation on its themes.

But aside from its literary achievements, "Don Quixote" sheds oblique light on an era when Spain's Islamic culture forcibly came to an end. Just consider Cervantes's playful account of the book's origins. One day in the Toledo marketplace, he writes, a young boy was trying to sell old notebooks and worn scraps of paper covered with Arabic script. Cervantes recounts how he acquired a book and then looked around for a Moor to translate it. "It was not very difficult" to find such a Moor, he writes. In fact, he says, he could have even found a translator of Hebrew.

The Arabic manuscript, the Moor tells him, is the "History of Don Quixote de la Mancha, written by Cide Hamete Benengeli, an Arab historian." Cervantes brings the Moor to the cloister of a church and commissions a translation.

To read the full text of the article, click here.

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