One of the most comically iconic moments in Miguel de Cervante's novel Don Quixote is when the titular character mistakes windmills for giants and attacks them with his lance. It's probably the first image that comes to mind whenever you hear Don Quixote mentioned, and the colloquial phrase 'tilting at windmills' (attacking imaginary enemies) stems from Cervante's famous work!
Born on September 29, 1547, Miguel de Cervantes is widely-known for penning the satirical Don Quixote. Even so, there are still many things about him and his work that remain literary mysteries. So, read on for 5 interesting facts about Miguel de Cervantes and his famous book, Don Quixote.
1. Don Quixote is one of the most important books of all time
Published in two parts in 1605 and 1615, Cervantes' novel tells the tale of a nobleman who sets out in search of chivalrous adventures. He becomes a knight-errant and calls himself Don Quixote de La Mancha. By imitating his own literary heroes, Don Quixote forms new relationships, has exciting adventures, and brings new meaning to his own life.
So why is this book about a half-crazy knight so important? Well, Don Quixote is a story about everything from idealism, to love, to reading, to life and death. It's a book about books. A literary adventure about literary adventures.
Through his main character, Cervantes probes the line between dreams and reality, as well as explores ideas of fate vs. free will. It was the first modern novel, and critics and writers point to it as the foundation upon which every other novel ever written is based.
2. Cervantes inspired other great authors
The greatest writer in the Spanish language has had a lasting influence on authors throughout the literary ages. But none is perhaps so astonishing as the impression he made on his English counterpart: the formidable William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was a contemporary of Cervantes. He was such a big fan of Don Quixote (and Cervantes' other works) that he wrote a piece titled The History of Cardenio based on a character from the Spaniard's novel. But Shakespeare wasn't the only literary giant who took inspiration from Miguel de Cervantes.
Herman Melville was another author deeply influenced by him. You only need to read Moby-Dick to see it. Melville's magnum opus explores similar themes of madness, fate and free will as those found in Don Quixote.
3. World Book Day is based around Cervantes' death
World Book Day falls on April 23, and there's a very good reason for it! Miguel de Cervantes passed away on April 22, 1616 in Madrid, Spain. However, he wasn't buried until the following day, April 23rd.
World Book Day commemorates the great writer, as well as all those who followed after.
It seems suitable that the holiday revolves around celebrating the creator of the first modern novel and a major cornerstone of literature.
4. No one knows what Cervantes really looked like
Miguel de Cervantes' looks have always been something of a mystery. He lived way before photography existed (it'd be another 200 years before it was even invented), and in the 1600s, one of the few ways to capture someone's likeness was through drawings or painted portraits.
Even so, the only record or description of Miguel de Cervantes is his own. In the prologue of his work Exemplary Novels, Cervantes described himself as having an 'aquiline face, brown hair, forehead smooth and emptied, of bright eyes and nose curved.' All portraits that exist of the writer are based upon this same description.
5. The famous Don Quixote sketch was created long after his death
You've probably seen this sketch before. It's featured on many copies of Cervantes' book and is perhaps the most recognizable depiction of Don Quixote and his trusty sidekick Sancho Panza.
However, this sketch was actually created long after Cervantes' death, 339 years to be exact! In 1955, the famous artist Pablo Picasso drew the sketch for the cover of the French journal Les Lettres Françaises. The sketch was in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the publication of Don Quixote, and has since become one of the most recognizable pieces of artwork associated with Cervantes' novel!
Which fact about Miguel de Cervantes did you find most interesting?
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