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Miguel de Cervantes 1547-1616 - surname in full CERVANTES SAAVEDRA - nickname: Cripple of Lepanto


Spanish novelist, playwright, and poet, the creator of Don Quixote, the most famous figure in Spanish literature. Although Cervantes' reputation rests almost entirely on his portrait of the knight of La Mancha, El ingenioso hidalgo, his literary production was considerable. William Shakespeare, Cervantes' great contemporary, had evidently read Don Quixote, but it is most unlike that Cervantes had ever heard of Shakespeare. In spite of his fame, Cervantes remained a poor man.

For if he like a madman lived,
At least he like wise old died.

(Don Quixote epitaph)

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra lived an unsettled life of hardship and adventure. He was born in Alcalá de Henares, a small town near Madrid, into a family of the minor nobility. His mother was Leonor de Cortinas; she gave birth to seven children, Cervantes was the fourth. Rodrigo de Cervantes, his father, was an apothecary-surgeon. It has been argued that the family members were of converso origin, Jews who had converted to Christianity. Jews also appear as characters in several of Cervantes' plays and novelas.

Much of his childhood Cervantes spent moving from town to town while his father sought work. After studying in Madrid (1568-69), where his teacher was the humanist Juan López de Hoyos, he went to Rome in the service of Guilio Acquavita, who became a cardinal in 1570. In the same year Cervantes joined a Spanish regiment in Naples. He took part in the sea battle at Lepanto (1571), during which he received a wound that permanently maimed his left hand. Cervantes was extremely proud of his role in the famous victory and of the nickname he earned, el manco de Lepanto (the cripple of Lepanto). After recuperation in Messina, Sicily, he continued his military career.

In 1575 he set out with his brother Rodrigo on the galley El Sol for Spain. The ship was captured by pirates under Arnaute Mami and the brothers were taken to Algiers as slaves. Rodrigo was ransomed in 1577. The Moors though that Cervantes was more valuable captive because he had carried letters written by important persons. Cervantes spent five years as a slave until his family could raise enough money to pay his ransom. During this period he tried to escape several times without success. Cervantes was released in 1580, with the payment of 500 escudos raised by his family and the Trinitarian order. He returned to Madrid where he held several temporary, ill-paid administrative post.

Cervantes' first play, Los tratos de Argel (1580), was based on his experiences as a Moorish captive. In 1584 he married 18 years younger Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, the daughter of a well-to-do peasant. The marriage was childless. He had also a daughter, Isabel de Saavedra, from an affair he had with an actress, Ana Franca de Rojas (or Ana de Villafranca). Isabel worked as a servant in the family but her way of life caused him much worries. The other members of the household included his mother and two unmarried sisters.

In the late 1580s Cervantes left his wife. During the next 20 years he led a nomadic existence, also working as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada and a tax collector. He suffered a bankruptcy and was imprisoned at least twice (1597 and 1602) because of fiscal irregularities. It is generally believed that Cervantes was honest, but a victim of a thankless task. For a period he was excummunicated for expropriating grain from Church stores.

Between the years 1596 and 1600 he lived primarily in Seville, and by 1604 he had moved to Valladolid, where Philip III had established his court. In 1606 Cervantes settled permanently in Madrid, where he spent the rest of his life. His economic situation remained difficult. When a nobleman, Gaspar de Ezpeleta, was mortally wounded on the street in front of Cervantes' house, and died there, Cervantes and the women in his household were jailed on suspicion of having had something to do with his death. After one Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda published a poor sequel to Don Quixote, Cervantes answered to the challenge and produced the second part, which appeared in 1615. He died on April 23, 1616. Three days before he had finished his novel The Exploits of Persiles and Sigismunda, dedicated to the Count of Lemos.

"The truth lies in a man's dreams... perhaps in this unhappy world of ours whose madness is better than a foolish sanity."

Cervantes started his literary career in Andalusia in 1580. Accroding to Cervantes, he wrote 20-30 plays, but only two copies have survived. His first major work was Galatea (1585), a pastoral romance. It received little contemporary notice and Cervantes never wrote the continuation for it, which he repeatedly promised. He also mentions the book in Don Quixote, where the priest says to the barber: "His book exhibits some faculty of invention, but it proposes things and arrives at no conclusion. In the meanwhile let us wait for the continuation which he promises us; with better luck he may give us something that his wretched circumstances have hitherto denied him."

In his play El trato de Argel, printed in 1784, Cervantes dealt with the life of Christian slaves in Algiers. He announced in the preface to Persiles that he was preparing a new play (Fooled with Open Eyes), a romance (The Famous Bernardo), a collection of novellas (Weeks in the Garden), but none of these works ever appeared. The Persiles was published posthumously. Aside from his plays, his most ambitious work in verse was Viaje del Parnaso (1614), an allegory which consists largely of a rather tedious though good-natured reviews of contemporary poets. Cervantes himself realized that he was deficient in poetic gifts. Later generations have considered him one of the world's worst poets. Novelas Ejemplares (1613, Exemplary Novels), a collection of tales, contained some of his best prose work about love, idealism, gypsy life, madmen, and talking dogs. At the time he wrote the work, the Spanish Moriscos (Muslims) were expelled from Spain.

Tradition maintains, that he wrote Don Quixote in prison at Argamasilla in La Mancha. Cervantes' idea was to give a picture of real life and manners and to express himself in clear language, "in simple, honest, and well-measured words," as he stated in the prologue to Part I of Don Quixote. The intrusion of everyday speech into a literary context was acclaimed by the reading public. The author stayed poor until 1605, when the first part of Don Quixote came out. Although it did not make Cervantes rich, it brought him international appreciation as a man of letters.

According to a story King Philip III of Spain once saw a man reading beside the road and laughing so much that the tears were rolling down his cheeks. The King said: "That man is either crazy or he is reading Don Quixote." However, Lope de Vega, the most influential playwright at that time, slaughtered Cervantes as a poet and novelist in a letter. A sonnet, either written by Vega or his acolyte, contrasted the Apollo (Vega), with the Quixote, which would circle the world, "arse to arse",  as toilet paper.

Don Quixote (part I; 1605; part II 1615) - Often called the first modern novel, originally conceived as a comic satire against the chivalric romances. The work has been interpreted in many ways since its appearance. It has been seen as a veiled attack on the Catholic Church or on the contemporary Spanish politics, or symbolizing the duality of the Spanish character. Cervantes himself had believed in uplifting rhetoric, fought for Spain, and when he returned to Madrid after slavery, he found out that the government ignored his services. The English writer Ford Madox Ford stated in The March of Literature (1938) that Cervantes did with his book to the world a disservice: "The gentle ideal of chivalry is the one mediaeval trait which, had it survived as an influence, might have saved our unfortunate civilization." Another major theme is the notion of quest, in this case not the Holy Grail, but reality. By traveling, Don Quixote is able to overcome his madness.

Neither wholly tragedy nor wholly comedy Don Quixote gives a panoramic view of the 17th-century Spanish society. Central characters are the elderly, idealistic knight, who sets out on his old horse Rosinante to seek adventure, and the materialistic squire Sancho Panza, who accompanies his master from failure to another. Their relationship, although they argue most fiercely, is ultimately founded upon mutual respect. In the debates they gradually take on some of each other's attributes.

Before the good Knight of La Mancha dubs himself Don Quixote, his name is Quijida or Quesada. His is a country gentleman, around fifty. During his travels, dressed in a old, black suit of armor, Don Quixote's overexcited imagination blinds him to reality: he thinks windmills to be giants, flocks of sheep to be armies, and galley-slaves to be oppressed gentlemen. Sancho is named governor of the isle of Barataria, a mock title, and Don Quixote is bested in a duel with the Knight of the White Moon, in reality a student of his acquaintance in disguise. Don Quixote is passionately devoted to his own imaginative creation, the beautiful Dulcinea. "Oh Dulcinea de Tobosa, day of my night, glory of my suffering, true North and compass of every path I take, guiding star of my fate..."

The hero returns to La Mancha at then end of part I. After a spurious sequel to Quixote by 'Avellaneda' came out in 1614, Cervantes was forced to write his own continuation. The real author behind the pseudonym has never been unravelled. Only at his deathbed Don Quixote confesses the folly of his past adventures. He forgives even Avellaneda. Most likely Vega had conspired with the another author.

Cervantes's influence is seen among others in the works of Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, also in the works of James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote a short story about an author ('Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote', in El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, 1941), who undertook to compose Don Quixote – not another Quixote, but the Quixote. After studies of Spanish, history, and the Catholic faith, he writes the novel, word for word. "Cervantes's text and Menard's are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer. (More ambiguous, his detractors will say, but ambiguity is richness.)" See also: Torquato Tasso, Anton Tammsaare

For further reading: Refiguring Authority: Reading, Writing, and Rewriting in Cervantes by Michael E. Gerli (1995); Miguel de Cervantes: "Don Quixote" by A.J. Close (1990); A Critical Introduction to Don Quixote by L.A.Murillo (1988); Cervantes and Ariosto by Thomas R. Hart (1989); Don Quixote by E.C. Riley (1986); Cervantes by Jean Canavaggio (1986); Cervantes by P.E. Russell (1985); Cervantes by Manuel Duran (1974); Cervantes across the Centuries, ed. by Angel Flores and M.J. Benardete (1969); The World of Don Quixote by Richard L. Predmore (1967); Mimesis by Erich Auerbach (1953); Cervantes by William J. Entwistle (1940); A Man Called Cervantes by Bruno Frank (1935); Cervantes by Rudolph Schevill (1919); Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: A Memoir by James Fitzmaurice-Kelly (1913); Life of Miguel de Cervantes by Henry Edward Watts (1891) - In Finnish: Cervantesin tuotantoa on suomeksi sovittanut mm. Pietari Hannikainen 1800-luvulla, ensimmäisen julkisesti esitetyn suomenkielisen näytelmän tekijä.

Selected works:

  • El trato de Argel, 1582-87
    - The Commerce of Algiers (translated by G.W.J. Gyll, in Voyage to Parnassus, Numancia and the Commerce of Algiers, 1870)
  • - Numantia (translated by G.W.J. Gyll, 1870,  in Voyage to Parnassus, Numancia and the Commerce of Algiers, 1870)
  • La Galatea, 1585
    - Galatea: A Pastoral Romance (translated from French by W.M. Craig, 1813;  Gordon Willoughby James Gyll, 1867) / Galatea (translated by H. Oelsner and A.B. Welford, 1903)
  • Viaje del Parnaso, 1614
    - Voyage to Parnassus (translated by G.W.J. Gyll, in Voyage to Parnassus, Numancia and the Commerce of Algiers, 1870) / Journey to Parnassus (translated by James Gibson, 1883)
  • El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha I, 1605; part II, 1615
    - The History of Don Quixote of the Mancha (translated by Thomas Shelton, 1612) / subsequent translations of Don Quixote by Tobias Smollett, 1755 (History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote); Charles Jarvis, 1883; Samuel Putnam, 1949; J.M. Cohen, 1950; Walter Starkie, 1957; Pierre Motteux, 1991; Burton Raffell, 1995; John Rutherford, 2001; Edith Grossman, 2003; Tom Lathrop, 2005;  James H. Montgomery (rev. ed., 2009)  
    - Don Quixote de la Mancha eli ritari surullisen muodon ritaristosta (suom. Pekka Ikonen, 1877) / Mielevä hidalgo Don Quijote manchalainen (suom. J.A. Hollo, 1927-28)
    - Don Quixote film version: France 1902 and 1908, Italy 1910, France 1911, U.S.A. 1915, Britain 1923, Denmark 1926 (dir. Lau Lauritzen, starring Carl Schenstrøm, Harald Madsen), France 1933 (dir. by G.W. Pabst, starring Feodor Chaliapin Sr., Dorville), Spain 1947 (dir. Rafael Gil, starring Rafael Rivelles), USSR 1957: Don Kikhot (dir. by Grigori Kozintsev, starring Nikolai Cherkasov, Yuri Tolubeyev), Britain 1972: Man of La Mancha (dir. Arthur Hiller, starring Peter O'Toole, Sophia Loren, James Coco) and 1975 (ballet version with Nureyev), Spain/Italy/USA 1992: Don Quijote de Orson Welles (dir. Orson Welles, starring Francisco Reiguera, Akim Tamiroff), Spain 2002 (dir. Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, starring Juan Luis Galiardo, Carlos Iglesias). Terry Gillam's film project was shut down in 2002. Gillam started shooting in September 2000. Keith Fulton's and Louis Pepe's documentary film Lost in La Mancha (2002) recorded the calamitous attempt.
  • Novelas ejemplares, 1613
    - Exemplary Novels (translated by James Mabbe, 1640) / Exemplary Novels of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, to Which are Added El Buscapie, or the Serpent and La Tia Fingida, or the Pretended Aunt (translated by Walter K. Kelly, 1822) / Six Exemplary Novels (translated by Harriet de Onís, 1961) / Exemplary Stories (translated by C.A. Jones, 1972) / Exemplary Stories (translated by Lesley Lipson, 1972) / Exemplary Novels (4 vols., translated by B.W. Ife and others, 1992) Exemplary Novels (translated by Leon Stephens, 2005) / Three Exemplary Novels = Tres Novelas Ejemplares: A Dual-language Book  (edited and translated by Stanley Appelbaum, 2006) / Four Stories from Cervantes’ Novelas ejemplares (edited and with notes by Michael J. McGrath, 2008) / The Dialogue of the Dogs (translated by David Kipen, 2008)
    - Novelleja (suom. Walter O. Streng-Renkonen, 1936) / Opettavaisia kertomuksia (suom. Arto Rintala, 2007)
  • Ocho Comedias y Ocho Entremeses Nuevos, Nunca Representados, 1615
    - The Interludes of Cervantes (translated by Griswold Morley, 1948) / Interludes (translated by E. Honig, 1964) / Miguel de Cervantes’ Interludes/Entremeses  (translated by Randall W. Listerman, 1991) / Eight Interludes (translated by Dawn L. Smith, 1996)
    - Välinäytöksiä (suom. Arto Rintala, 2011)
  • Los Baños de Argel, 1615 (play)
    - The Bagnios of Algiers; and, The Great Sultana: Two Plays of Captivity (edited and translated by Barbara Fuchs and Aaron J. Ilika, 2010)
  • La Entretenida, 1615 (play)
  • La Casa de los Celos, 1615 (play)
  • El Gallardo Español, 1615 (play)
  • La Gran Sultana, Doña Catalina de Oviedo, 1615 (play)
    -  The Bagnios of Algiers; and, The Great Sultana: Two Plays of Captivity (edited and translated by Barbara Fuchs and Aaron J. Ilika, 2010)
  • El Laberinto de Amor, 1615 (play)
  • El Rufián Dichoso, 1615 (play)
  • La Cueva de Salamanca, 1615 (play, written in 1611?)
    - The Cave of Salamanca (translated by M. Jagendorf, in World Drama, vol. 2, 1933)
  • La elección de los alcaldes de Daganzo, 1615 (play)
  • La Guarda Cuidadosa, 1615 (play, written in 1611?)
    - The Hawk-Eyed Sentinel, in Spanish Drama (translated by A. Flores and J. Liss, 1962) / The Vigilant Sentinel (translated by Angel Flores, in Great Spanish Plays, 1991)
  • El Juez de los Divorcios, 1615 (play)
  • El retablo de las maravillas, 1615 (play, written ca. 1585)
  • El rufián viudo llamado Trampagos, 1615 (play)
  • El viejo celoso, 1615 (play)
    - The Jealous Old Husband (translated by W. Starkie, in Eight Spanish Plays of the Golden Age, 1964)
  • El Vizcaíno Fingido, 1615 (play, written ca. 1611?)
  • Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, 1617
    - The Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda (tr. 1619) / The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda: A Northern Story (translated by Celia Richmond Weller & Clark A. Colahan, 1989)
  • El cerco de Numancia, 1784 (play, written ca. 1585/87)
    - The Siege of Numantie (edited by E.R. Bentley, translated by R. Campbell, in The Classic Theatre, vol. 2, 1958-1961)
  • El Trato de Argel, 1784 (play, prod. after 1580)
  • Complete Works, 1901-1903 (edited by James Fitzmaurice-Kelly)
  • Entremeses, 1911 (in Nueva Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, vol. XVII)
  • Entremeses, 1916
  • Obras completas, 1914-41 (19 vols., edited by R. Schevill and A. Bonilla y San Martín)
  • Entremeses, 1945 (edited by M. Herrero García)
  • The Portable Cervantes, 1947 (edited and translated by Samuel Putnam)  
  • Obras completas, 1956 (edited by Angel Valbuena Prat)
  • Entremeses, 1982 (edited by Nicholas Spadaccini)
  • Teatro completo, 1987 (edited by Florencio Sevilla Arroyo and Antonio Rey Hazas)
  • Obras completas, 1993 (edited by Domingo Ynduráin)
  • Obra completa, 1993-1995 (3 vols., edited by Antonio Rey Hazas & Florencio Sevilla Arroyo)
  • Obras completas, 2003-2005 (2 vols., edited by Juan Carlos Peinado)

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