Thursday, December 26, 2013

Contending with Giants - Quijote's 600 Word Gift to Western Culture

Capítulo VIII. Del buen suceso que el valeroso Don Quijote tuvo en la espantable y jamas imaginada aventura de los molinos de viento, con otros sucesos dignos de felice recordación

Chapter VIII. The great turn of events which the valiant don Quijote had in the terrifying and never before imagined adventure with the windmills, together with other events worthy of remembrance

Here it is:

En esto, descubrieron treinta o cuarenta molinos de viento que hay en aquel campo; y, así como don Quijote los vio, dijo a su escudero:
La ventura va guiando nuestras cosas mejor de lo que acertáramos a desear, porque ves allí, amigo Sancho Panza, donde se descubren treinta, o pocos más, desaforados gigantes, con quien pienso hacer batalla y quitarles a todos las vidas, con cuyos despojos comenzaremos a enriquecer; que ésta es buena guerra, y es gran servicio de Dios quitar tan mala simiente de sobre la faz de la tierra.
¿Qué gigantes? -dijo Sancho Panza.
Aquellos que allí ves -respondió su amo- de los brazos largos, que los suelen tener algunos de casi dos leguas.
Mire vuestra merced -respondió Sancho- que aquellos que allí se parecen no son gigantes, sino molinos de viento, y lo que en ellos parecen brazos son las aspas, que, volteadas del viento, hacen andar la piedra del molino.
Bien parece -respondió don Quijote- que no estás cursado en esto de las aventuras: ellos son gigantes; y si tienes miedo, quítate de ahí, y ponte en oración en el espacio que yo voy a entrar con ellos en fiera y desigual batalla.
Y, diciendo esto, dio de espuelas a su caballo Rocinante, sin atender a las voces que su escudero Sancho le daba, advirtiéndole que, sin duda alguna, eran molinos de viento, y no gigantes, aquellos que iba a acometer. Pero él iba tan puesto en que eran gigantes, que ni oía las voces de su escudero Sancho ni echaba de ver, aunque estaba ya bien cerca, lo que eran; antes, iba diciendo en voces altas.
Non fuyades, cobardes y viles criaturas, que un solo caballero es el que os acomete .
Levantóse en esto un poco de viento y las grandes aspas comenzaron a moverse, lo cual visto por don Quijote, dijo: Pues aunque mováis más brazos que los del gigante Briareo me lo habéis de pagar Y, en diciendo esto, y encomendándose de todo corazón a su señora Dulcinea, pidiéndole que en tal trance le socorriese, bien cubierto de su rodela, con la lanza en el ristre , arremetió a todo el galope de Rocinante y embistió con el primero molino que estaba delante; y, dándole una lanzada en el aspa, la volvió el viento con tanta furia que hizo la lanza pedazos , llevándose tras sí al caballo y al caballero, que fue rodando muy maltrecho por el campo. Acudió Sancho Panza a socorrerle, a todo el correr de su asno, y cuando llegó halló que no se podía menear: tal fue el golpe que dio con él Rocinante.
¡Válame Dios! -dijo Sancho-. ¿No le dije yo a vuestra merced que mirase bien lo que hacía, que no eran sino molinos de viento, y no lo podía ignorar sino quien llevase otros tales en la cabeza.
Calla, amigo Sancho -respondió don Quijote-, que las cosas de la guerra, más que otras, están sujetas a continua mudanza; cuanto más que yo pienso y es así verdad, que aquel sabio Frestón , que me robó el aposento y los libros, ha vuelto estos gigantes en molinos por quitarme la gloria de su vencimiento: tal es la enemistad que me tiene; mas, al cabo al cabo, han de poder poco sus malas artes contra la bondad de mi espada.
Dios lo haga como puede -respondió Sancho Panza, y ayudándole a levantar, tornó a subir sobre Rocinante, que medio despaldado estaba.

and en ingles:

In this endeavor, they came upon thirty or forty wind mills in that field, and as soon as don Quijote saw them, he said to his squire: Providence is guiding our affairs better than what we thought to expect - just you look over there, Sancho Panza, my friend, where one sees thirty or a few more monstrous giants - with whom I think I will do battle and take the lives of them all, and with their spoils we shall begin to enrich ourselves, since this is righteous warfare, and a great service to God to sweep so evil a breed from the face of the earth.
"What giants? -  asked Sancho Panza."
Those! - that you see over there! - answered his better - with the big arms, some of which extend almost two leagues!
Look my Lord - answered Sancho - those things that seem to be giants are nothing but wind mills, and what looks like their arms are blades which spin in the wind, to turn the stone in the mill.
That’s what they appear to be - answered don Quijote - but you are not versed in these adventures; they are giants! If you are afraid, run on away and find a place to say your prayers because I am going to fight them in a fierce and unequal fight.
So saying, he spurred his horse Rocinante, paying no attention to the shouts of his squire Sancho Panza called out to him, warning him that without any doubt, these were windmills, not giants, these things he was going to charge. But he was so fixed on their being giants, he neither heard the shouts of his squire Sancho nor bothered to notice even though he was now really close, what they really were. Then he began to say in loud shouts: 
Don’t run away, cowards and vile creatures, because a single knight attacks you.
Then the wind picked up a little and the huge blades began to move, at which don Quijote said:
Even if you have more arms to move than the giant Briareo I will make you pay!
Saying this and entrusting himself with all his heart to his lady Dulcinea, asking her, trancelike, to protect him, well covered by his shield, with his lance poised, he charged Rocinante at full gallop, falling on the first mill before him, and impaled the lance into a blade, which the wind spun around with such fury it broke the lance into pieces, sweeping after it horse and rider, who went rolling downhill very battered on to the ground.

Sancho hurried to his aid as fast as his ass could run but when he arrived he saw he could not free him, so heavy was the fall he got with Rocinante. 
God help me! said Sancho. Didn’t I tell your worship, you need to watch what you are doing? that they were just windmills? that you have to watch out unless someone or something puts other notions in your head?

Simmer down, Sancho my friend, in war, more than in other affairs, matters are subject to change. Besides, I think and believe this is the truth, that the wizard Frestón, the one who stole my chamber and books has sent these giants as mills, to deny me the glory of his defeat such is the hatred he has for me; besides, before long, their dirty tricks have little power against my fine sword.
May God accomplish what he will, answered Sancho Panza.

He helped him stand up, turn around and climb up on Rocinante, since his shoulder was partly broken.


There it is. 605 words from Cervantes (and the same number in my translation, by the way). These are all the words Cervantes needed to create an iconic encounter between delusion and indifferent mechanisms, between the will to do good in the world and the actual injurious result caused by heedless pretension.

"Tilting at windmills" we say in English, a phrase credited to the New York Times in a political piece published in April, 1870: 
"They [Western Republicans] have not thus far had sufficient of an organization behind them to make their opposition to the Committee's bill anything more than tilting at windmills."
Can this be true? The first delicious appearance of this lyrical accounting of human folly - tilting at windmillsis in a newspaper reporter's commentary on local politics just after the US Civil War? 

The phrase ought to have come from higher on the rhetorical summit, from Dr. Johnson, or Dryden or Swift or Charles Lamb, or Whitman or Emily or Lincoln.


This shows the power and the breadth of Cervantes' fable of futility. 

But . . . since Cervantes makes DQ out to be insane, ought we hesitate to make too big a deal of this episode

Is a person no longer in his right mind a good model for how to get on in the world? 

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