Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Cervantes

Is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the world’s pre-eminent novelists. His major work, Don Quixote, considered to be the first modern novel, is a classic of Western literature, and is regarded amongst the best works of fiction ever written. His influence on the Spanish language has been so great that the language is often called la lengua de Cervantes (“the language of Cervantes”). He has also been dubbed El príncipe de los ingenious (“The Prince of Wits”).

There is no precise data regarding Cervantes’ early study years, but undoubtedly he did not manage to register at the University. However, it seems that he might have studied in Valladolid, Córdoba and Sevilla. It’s also possible that he studied in the “Company of Jesus” because his novella “El coloquio de los perros” (“Colloquium dogs”) starts with a description of the Jesuit college, which seems to be an allusion to his student life.

It seems that Cervantes decided to seek refuge in Italy after he was charged of injuring in a duel a certain Antonio Sure, an action that made King Philip II of Spain very angry. He arrived in Rome in December 1569. There, he read the chivalrous poems of Ludovico Ariosto and the “Dialogues of love” of Sephardic Jew, León Hebreo, of Neo-Platonic inspiration that would shape the conception of love for Cervantes. The writer is influenced by the style of those writers and by the Italian art in general, as demonstrated by one of his short stories “El licenciado Vidriera” (the title alludes to a very delicate and shy person) and by other allusions scattered throughout the his opera.

Cervantes entered in the service of Giulio Acquaviva, who became cardinal in 1570 and the writer probably knew him from Madrid. The two went together to Palermo, Milan, Florence, Venice, Parma and Ferrara. Afterwards, Cervantes was employed as a soldier in the company of Captain Diego de Urbina, embarking on the “Marquesa” galley.

Then, Miguel passed through cities from Sicily and Sardinia, Genoa and Lombardy. He stationed two years in Napoli until 1575. Cervantes has always been proud of his participation in the Battle of Lepanto, which was for him, as he would write in the preface of the second part of “Don Quijote”, “the greatest opportunity he had seen in the past centuries, the present, and doesn’t even hope to be able to see in the future.”

On 12 December 1584, Cervantes married Catalina de Salazar y Palacios in a village in the province of Toledo. Catalina was a young woman who wasn’t even in her 20’s and didn’t have much of a dowry. It is considered that this marriage was not only sterile, but simply a failure. After two years of marriage, Cervantes began his long journey through Andalusia. It’s very likely that Cervantes had written his first important literary work, “La Galatea” between 1581 and 1583, a book published in Alcalá de Henares in 1585. Until then, Cervantes published a few compositions in verse, as part of some poets’ anthologies.

Cervantes was also occupied by literary criticism. This appeared in “La Galatea” in “Don Quijote” and in a book of his own, “Viaje del Parnaso” (“Journey of Parnassus”), a long poem based on sestet. In 1615, he published “Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nueuos”, but his dramas, very popular today, “La Numancia” and “El trato de Argel” remained unknown until the 18th century. Cervantes’s influence in literature was so great that modern Spanish was called “the language of Cervantes”.

While 23 April 1616 was recorded as the date of his death in some references, and is the date on which his death is widely commemorated, along with that of William Shakespeare, Cervantes in fact died in Madrid the previous day, 22 April. He was buried on 23 April. The cause of his death, according to Antonio López Alonso, a modern physician who has examined the surviving documentation, was type-2 diabetes, a result of a cirrhosis of the liver. This is the best explanation for the intense thirst he complained of. The cirrhosis was not caused by alcoholism. Cervantes was too productive, especially in his final years, to have been an alcoholic.

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