Homage to Don Quixote was the central axis of the International Literature Festival of New York “Pen World Voices” on the occasion of the four hundred years after the IV publication of the masterpiece’s Part I. Several ceremonial acts were celebrated and famous writers like Salman Rushdie (british writer of Indian background) and the american Paul Auster gathered to honor the work of Cervantes. Nevertheless, nowhere was mentioned themes like the ethics of Cervantes or the biblical intertextuality which are so necessary for present day man.
Cervante’s purpose in Don Quixote is to express his views and concerns of the 16th and 17th century Spanish life: what he thinks of man, woman, ethical values and human ideals. He is totally convinced that the man of his time is not observing a good ethic.
Don Quixote’s ethic is never out of fashion. It is observed in his chivalrous behavior, in his good manners, in his faithfulness to friendship, in his respect for women, in his appreciation of human relationships. All these are living and updated examples of his ethics. Don Quixote emphasizes to his squire Sancho the fundamental principles of ethics: 1) what man should do, 2) what he should not do and 3) what he can do.
When the beautiful young duchess, Attisidora, demands him to love her, he listens her sensual chant but refuses so betray Dulcinea, the woman he loves and respects. Again we observe the ethical concepts of the wondering knight, of the faithful man that has knowledge of what he should not do in a given moment.
His explicit ethic is also reflected in his good manners displayed in front of friends and strangers, when he sits to dive with the goatherds (chap. XI) he demonstrates his sensitivity and tenderness toward them. The biblical intertextuality clearly slipped in the text when Sancho exclaims:
...I want you to sit by my side and in the company of these good people and become one with me, your master and natural lord. I want you to eat out of my plate and drink out of my cup, as of love makes all things equal” (Don Quixote-Cap XI
Sancho has learned ethics with Don Quixote and therefore remains besides the errant Knight even though he does not agree with everything Don Quixote says or does. Don Quixote tells Sancho: “For all that you will have to sit, for God exalted the humble”(Chapter XI, p117). Again the pronouncement shows the intertextuality derived from the biblical text. We should be reminded that Jesus dined with his friends on various occasions.
Whenever Don Quixote goes out with Sancho he takes advantage of the opportunity specially when choosing a mate. Don Quixote explains what a man should do.
“Beauty by itself attracts the desires of all those who recognize it, and the royal eagles and birds that soar on high swoop down upon it as a tasty lure; but if to this beauty be joint want and penury, even the crows, the kites, and other birds of prey also attack it, and she who stands firm against such trials deserves indeed to be called the crown of her husband”. (Don Quixote, Chap. XXII p.679).
He exercises critical and ethical thinking at the moment of entering marriage.
“I myself can not married, nor, so far, has it even come into my mind to be so; nevertheless, I would dare to give advice to anyone who might ask it, as to the mode in which he should seek a wife to marry. The first thing I would advice him is to pay more attention to reputation than to fortune, for the good woman does not win a good name solely by being good, but by appearing so…”
These precepts are of the kind of woman should not do because
“…for looseness and public frivolity do greater injury to a woman’s honor than secret misdeeds”. (p679)
“If you bring a good woman to your house, it will be an easy matter to keep it good, and even improve her in that goodness. But if you bring a bad one, you will find it a hard task to mend her ways.” (p.679)
When Sancho mumbles against his wife Teresa Panza, Don Quixote advises:
“You do wrong Sancho to speak ill of your wife, for she is the mother of your children”
Sancho learns the course in ethics and reaffirms his love for Teresa
“...I say it for my self, because while I am caving I do not even know what I hear, that is, my Teresa Panza, whom I love more dearly than own eyelashes.”
Don Quixote’s ideas refer to the shortness of life which Jesús, Gángora and Calderón de la Barca talked about. It is quite obvious that Cervantes is acquainted with Paul’s writings.
“Now indeed I know that all the pleasant things of this life pass away like a shadow and a dream, or whether like the flowers of the field. O’ hapless Montesinos! O’ sorely wounded Durandarte! O’unlucky Belerma! O’ tearful Guadiana, and yours luckless daughters of Ruidera, who show by your water the tears your eyes did shed!” (p.685)
In view of what has been exposed, it can be said that Spanish history nurtures the fiction of Cervantes in the XVII Century, enriching it with ethical influences registered in numerous occasions the Bible, and therefore the ethics of Don Quixote continues alive.
(Dr. Leticia Pimentel Ríos is a professor at the UPR in Carolina. She is the director of the Family Sunday School of Barbara Ann Roessler Presbyterian Church and friend of Quality for Business Success, Inc).
Copyright 2005 QBS, Inc.