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Don Quixote

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Don Quixote

Postby Edgar » Wed, 25 Dec 2019, 20:29

Cervantes' timeless parody of delusional chivalry coincided with the dramatic demise of Spain in the century following the Reconquest and Columbus' voyage to the Americas. It may have been a caricature of the royal court itself.

Indeed, even before we meet Senor Don Quixote and his trusty companion Sancho Panza, the narrator is to be found wandering about in the preface picking up scraps of paper written in the Arabic script. We know this, because he gets a 'Morisco' to translate, and a Morisco was a converted Muslim.

The Black Legend is a series of myths and fabrications about the Inquisition used as propaganda against the Spanish Empire and Catholic Church by Protestant Europe. But this was no medieval 'Holocaust.' Muslims and Jews alike were given three choices - convert, leave or die.

Many converted, many left (the Ottoman Empire received a large number of Jews, known to this day as Sephardi), few if any chose death voluntarily. But large numbers were caught practicing the old religion in the secrecy of their own homes.

These were tried and invariably executed - burning at the stake being the popular method for heresy throughout Europe. Cervantes was born barely half a century after the Reconquest and police raids of suspects' homes remained common in his time. Books written in foreign script were torn up and thrown into the street.

We can see it is a fairly empty novel for 850 pages, despite its various themes and symbology, with relatively few characters. At one point, riding through an abandoned town, our protagonist remarks to his sidekick that people used to live there but they don't anymore - in obvious reference to the banished.

A soldier and a scholar who had traveled the length and breadth of the Mediterranean in his life, Miguel de Cervantes knew what was what. He had been captured by North African Corsairs and fought the Ottomans at the pivotal Battle of Lepanto in Greece.

The latter conflict he famously described as the end of Turkish invincibility, and indeed history bears him out on this. Although it did not become evident in his own lifetime, Lepanto marked a turning point in the long struggle between Catholic Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

Cervantes himself was wounded in the battle and lost the use of his right arm. Of this he cheerfully remarked how merciful it was that God had provided him with a back up - and learned to write with his left!

But the author understood that it was the Muslim occupation (Maghrebis under Arab leadership) which had laid the foundations for Spanish greatness, introducing vast innovations in terms of science, mathematics, technology, medicine, art and philosophy.

This was the basis of the first intercontinental empire and undoubtedly contributed to the European Renaissance. Islamic Spain became the most advanced nation in Europe, Cordoba its largest and most magnificent city.

It existed more as an extension of Mediterranean civilization than a part of Europe, however. The entire concept of Europe as an entity, with its own race, religion, and linguistic commonalities, grew out of the Reconquest.

But Spain soon fell into disarray through poor leadership, power struggles in the court, economic mismanagement and a failure to develop industry due to an increasing reliance on natural resources from the New World.

In Cervantes' own time famine was rife. The author's descriptions of thieves hanged in their droves bears an eerie similarity to Thomas More's Utopia, published a century earlier; the futile executions of those who stole not because they were evil but because they were starving.

The Reconquest and subsequent expulsions had deprived Spain of much of its intellectual, financial and commercial expertise. Even those who remained, 'Christianos Nuevos,' were persecuted, prevented from holding public office and barred from certain professions.

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