September 29

This Day in History

Literary

Sep 29, 1547:

Miguel de Cervantes is born

Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, is born this day near Madrid.

Cervantes led an adventurous life and achieved much popular success, but he nevertheless struggled financially throughout his life. Little is know about his childhood, except that he was a favorite student of Madrid humanist Juan Lopez, and that his father was an apothecary.

In 1569, Cervantes was living in Rome and working for a future cardinal. Shortly thereafter, he enlisted in the Spanish fleet to fight against the Turks. At the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, he took three bullets and suffered permanent damage to his left hand. Later, he was stationed at Palermo and Naples. On the way home to Madrid in 1575, he and his brother Roderigo were captured by Barbary pirates and held captive in Algiers. Cervantes was ransomed after five years of captivity and returned to Madrid, where he began writing. Although his records indicate he wrote 20 to 30 plays, only two survive. In 1585, he published a romance. During this time, he married a woman 18 years younger than he was and had an illegitimate daughter, whom he raised in his household. He worked as a tax collector and as a requisitioner of supplies for the navy, but was jailed for irregularities in his accounting. Some historians believe he formulated the idea for Don Quixote while in jail.

In 1604, he received the license to publish Don Quixote. Although the book began as a satire of chivalric epics, it was far more complex than a simple satire. The book blended traditional genres to create a sad portrait of a penniless man striving to live by the ideals of the past. The book was a huge success and brought Cervantes literary respect and position, but did not generate much money. He wrote dramas and short stories until a phony sequel, penned by another writer, prompted him to write Don Quixote, Part II in 1615. He died the following year.

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