Miguel de Unamuno
Our Lord, Don Quixote
When he finds himself at last in the open country, free and disburdened of the demands and attentions of Altisidora (Part Two, Chapter 58), he encounters some peasants carrying wooden images for the altar of their village church; the carved statues represent Saint George, Saint Martin, Saint James the Moor-Slayer, and Saint Paul, and after pondering the merits of these four knights-errant Don Quixote proclaims: 'These saints and knights professed, even as I do, the calling of arms. The difference between us is that they were saints and fought divinely, while I am a sinner and fight humanly.' And he adds these most pregnant words: 'They conquered heaven by force of arms because heaven suffers violence, but as for me, I don't know to this moment what it is that I conquer by force of my feats and travail. If my Dulcinea del Toboso could be freed from her own travails, and my fortune were to improve and my wits be mended, it might be that I could tread a better path than the one I'm on.'
At this brief moment of descent to prudence and his own sanity, Don Quixote lets us see that he was conscious of the root of his madness. I am personally not one of those who suppose that the work of Cervantes possesses any esoteric sense whatever, or that he sought to embody symbols in the chracters of his story, but I do believe that we have a right to see our own symbols in these characters.
For me, Dulcinea del Toboso has always symbolized glory, that is, worldly glory, the inextinguishable thirst to leave behind eternal name and fame in the world. The ingenious hidalgo declares, in his fit of sanity, that if he were perhaps to be cured of his thirst for glory, for worldly renown and fame, he would direct his steps toward attaining that other glory, in which his faith as an Old Christian made him believe.
And I come to the fourth passage, on the sublime death of the sublime madman, to the time when, freed from the misty shadows of the ignorance in which he labored as a consequence of his grievous and continual reading of those detestable books of chivalry, he confesses his fault, confesses his folly, and admits the risk he had run by reading such books; and, putting aside the fairy stories which had been true only in truly damaging his mind, he makes his own death turn them, with the help of heaven, to his advantage. Alonso Quixano dies 'repentant' of his madness, repenting it not as a deplorable misfortune but as a sin, and he dies convinced of his culpability. And a sin his madness was, according to his Christian point of view, because it stemmed from vainglory, from the tormenting thirst for eternal renown, from herostratism.
The passion to survive stifled in Don Quixote the enjoyment of life, a capacity for enjoyment that is characteristic of Sancho. Sancho's wisdom was the result of his holding on to this life and this world in the measure that he could personally enjoy them, and the sanchopanzesque heroism—for Panza is heroic—consisted in his following a madman, being himself sound of mind, an action more filled with faith than that of a madman following his own madness.
Great was Don Quixote's madness, and it was great because the root from which it grew was great: the inextinguishable longing to survive, a source of the most extravagant follies as well as of the most heroic acts. The outstanding benefactors of their fatherland and of their fellow men have been those who dreamed of eternal name and fame.
But, the truth is, there are two classes of ambitious men: those who have faith in themselves and those who have none at all. In those who are not equipped with a firm faith in themselves, the thirst for notoriety, or at least for renown, engenders envy and produces the sad figure of the frustrated man. Nothing more lamentable than a Quixote who, not believing that the windmills are giants, cannot make up his mind to take to the field, lance under arm and helmet on his head.
History knows of a memorable type of herostratism: that disciple of Cola Montano, Girolamo Olgiati by nam, who along with two others assassinated Galeazzo Sforza, the tyrant of Milan. Olgiati, Lampugnani, and Visconti met together in the church of San Stefano under cover of night, formed a conspiracy, and, after seeking aid from St. Ambrose, patron saint of Milan, whose image stood before them, vowed to kill the tyrant, and killed him. As he was being led to his own death on the scaffold shortly after, Girolamo Olgiati exclaimed: 'Courage, Girolamo, you will be remembered for ages to come! Death is bitter, but fame is eternal!'
But nowhere have I read a more quintessential, concentrated, lively, or powerful expression of the root-quality of quixotism, of the absurd anxiety for eternal renown, than in a passage from one of our own dramatists, in a drama that is itself a marvel of concentrated vivacity and expressive force. Las mocedades del Cid, by Guillen de Castro, in which, as Rodrigo Arias falls dead in a duel, he pronounces these final words: 'Death to me! Long live my fame!'
To sacrifice oneself to one's fame rather than to sacrifice one's fame to oneself: herein lies the quintessence of quixotism and the root of its heroism. Life may be a dream, but I, the dreamer who dreams it, I am no dream, even though Shakespeare tells us that we are such stuff as dreams are made on. Nor is it true that he whose fame lives on really and truly dies.
It would be worth the effort it would take to trace through Spanish history the workings of quixotism, and to see on the other hand how we have been brought to the sorry pass we are in by the fact that those who are taken for ambitious among us place all their hopes and ambition on achieving prestige and power while they still live, and exclusively within the confines of our own country, at that. This attitude, and no other, is the essence of sanchopanzisim; an ambition which is allayed by the governorship of an Isle of Barataria. Men of such moderate ambitions may perhaps be more prudent than men of unbridled ambitions, than truly quixotic men, but the fatherland ought not pay them a rental fee for their shrewdness.
To Alonso Quixano it seemed reasonable and even necessary for the greater glory of his honor, that is, of his fame, as well as for the service of his country, that he should become a knight-errant. The best servants of their country are those who take pains to increase its honor, and the wider the space and the longer the time they covet for their fame and renown, so much the greater will be the force with which they serve their country.
'Death to me! Long live my fame!'