… courage, which we now feel to be an indispensable quality of the hero, is in fact already present in a willingness to act and speak at all, to insert one’s self into the world and begin a story of one’s own.’
Hannah Arendt (from: “The Human Condition”)
3.1 The courageous Don Quixote
Zeal and honor are the result when a person aspires for the best. The insight that aspires for the best is the last of the three forces present in a person. This is represented by Socrates as the zealous horse in the metaphor of the charioteer and the pair of horses. It is about courage to take the steps you have to take. Don Quixote is a great example of what happens when the unruly horse and the charioteer lose out to the zealous horse. The story illustrates the links to the heart, the extrinsic or social self, and Role Awareness.
Aspiring for the best
La Mancha, Central Spain, at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Quejana, a nobleman of strong constitution, skinny and scrawny in appearance, lives with a housekeeper, a niece and a lad. Not much else is known about the nobleman. Except that he does nothing for most of the year. And that he devours the romances of chivalry popular at the time. He even sells pieces of his land in order to buy new romances. He reads for days on end and is so absorbed in his books that he loses his mind. He becomes enchanted by the stories. Quejana is approaching fifty when he decides to become a knight errant.
He dusts off the weapons of his ancestors. He removes rust and mold, cleans and patches them up. He even makes a helmet with a visor to complete his armor. Quejana takes his old, flawed horse and it seems to him that the horse is well suited to serve a knight. He thinks for four days about a suitable name for the horse and finally names him Rocinante. This is a name befitting an illustrious knight, a name that does justice to the number one horse in the world.
Next, Quejana thinks for a week about a name for himself and decides to call himself Don Quixote. As a mark of honor, and as is a good custom for a knight, he adds the name of his native region; thus, he eventually becomes Don Quixote of La Mancha.
The only thing still missing from him as a knight is a lady with whom he can fall in love. A knight errant without love is ‘like a body without a soul’. ‘If, for my sins, or by my good fortune, I come across some giant hereabouts, a common occurrence with knights-errant, and overthrow him in one onslaught, or cleave him asunder to the waist, or, in short, vanquish and subdue him, will it not be well to have some one I may send him to as a present, that he may come in and fall on his knees before my sweet lady?”
Quejana thinks of a peasant girl with whom he may have been secretly in love and calls her Dulcinea del Toboso. A telling name that fits well with Don Quixote of La Mancha and Rocinante.
To enhance his glory and serve his country, Don Quixote travels the world with horse and arms. He turns his thoughts into deeds and sets out on adventures to do what knights errant do: ‘wrongs to right, grievances to redress, injustices to repair, abuses to remove, and duties to discharge.’ Hereby hoping to reap eternal name and fame.
The ingenious Don Quixote undertakes his first journey in the month of July. On one of the hottest days of the year, he sets off in full gear, with lance and shield and his helmet on his head. After riding out of his village, something occurs to him that almost causes him to abandon his endeavor. He has not yet been knighted. But insanity wins out over reasonable considerations. He wants to be knighted by the first person who crosses his path.
Thus the knight errant continues on his way, letting his horse choose the way because he believes that therein lies the power of adventuring. Along the way, he fantasizes about how his achievements will be described in the future. How they will be engraved in bronze, carved in marble, and painted on panels. He expresses himself aloud about Rocinante, his good and eternal companion, and about his heart which is suffering for love of princess Dulcinea. These are texts he quotes from romances of chivalry.
After a day of riding and on the verge of despair, because the assertion of his virtues is taking so long, the first adventure begins. Towards the evening, the starving Don Quixote and Rocinante arrive at an inn where a few public women are standing at the door. Some mule drivers are staying inside. To our adventurer, everything looks like what he has read in his romances. So he thinks he has arrived at a castle with four towers and gleaming silver spires, complete with drawbridge and moat. He mistakes the loose girls for fair maidens, the innkeeper for a knight and lord of the castle.
After some surprise and uneasiness about his unusual appearance, it is clear to everyone that they are dealing with an insane man. This is mainly due to his use of language. For example, kneeling in a stable, he asks the innkeeper to knight him: ‘From this spot I rise not, valiant knight, until your courtesy grants me the boon I seek, one that will redound to your praise and the benefit of the human race.’
But also due to his remarkable actions. Like during the night, when he keeps watch over his armor, displayed over a drinking trough. A mule driver, who also spends the night at the inn, wants to give his animals something to drink and throw the armor aside. Don Quixote then calls out loudly: ‘O thou, whoever thou art, rash knight that comest to lay hands on the armour of the most valorous errant that ever girt on sword, have a care what thou dost; touch it not unless thou wouldst lay down thy life as the penalty of thy rashness.’ The man pays no attention to his words. Don Quixote turns in thought to his mistress Dulcinea: ‘Aid me, lady mine, in this the first encounter that presents itself to this breast which thou holdest in subjection; let not thy favour and protection fail me in this first jeopardy.’ Things end badly for the mule driver; Don Quixote’s lance lands on his head with a thump. ‘The man remains lying on the ground in a deplorable state.’ A second mule driver appears with the same thought and the same carelessness, but this one does not survive. His head bursts into four pieces.
Commotion and unfriendliness ensue. The other mule drivers want to attack him. But the innkeeper saves the situation by calming them down and tells the mule drivers that the man is insane, and will be acquitted as a crazy man. The innkeeper then decides to knight Don Quixote and quickly manages to arrange this. Afterwards, Don Quixote continues on his way. The innkeeper is so relieved that he lets Don Quixote leave without paying. Don Quixote decides to ride home because he lacks things like money and clean shirts. But also an esquire, a job for which he has a peasant in mind. He is barely on the road when he hears someone calling weakly, or rather complaining, from a bush to his right. Don Quixote says to himself: ‘Thanks be to heaven for the favour it accords me, that it so soon offers me an opportunity of fulfilling the obligation I have undertaken, and gathering the fruit of my ambition. These cries, no doubt, come from some man or woman in want of help, and needing my aid and protection.’
It appears to be a boy of about fifteen years of age who is tied to an oak tree bare-chested. He is being beaten with a belt by a sturdily built farmer. The boy is the farmer’s servant. He is being whipped because the farmer believes that every day he lets a sheep escape from the flock he is shepherding. The servant, on the other hand, accuses the farmer of greed and thinks that the farmer is making up the story to have a reason not to pay out wages. The peasant, afraid of Don Quixote, who is armed from head to foot, says the servant is lying. To which Don Quixote says: ‘Lies before me, base clown!’
Intimidated, the peasant bows his head, afraid that his last hour has come, and unties the servant. A discussion ensues about how much the peasant should pay the servant. When an agreement is reached, Don Quixote trusts the peasant to comply, but the servant, not trusting the peasant, protests. Don Quixote spurs on Rocinante and says to himself and Dulcinea Del Toboso: ‘…yesterday received the order of knighthood, and hath to-day righted the greatest wrong and grievance that ever injustice conceived and cruelty perpetrated: who hath to-day plucked the rod from the hand of yonder ruthless oppressor so wantonly lashing that tender child.’
What he doesn’t know is that, as soon as he had set purs to Rocinante, the peasant started belting his servant again.
In his delusion, Don Quixote continues on his way and ‘he now came to a road branching in four directions, and immediately he was reminded of those cross-roads where knights-errant used to stop to consider which road they should take. In imitation of them he halted for a while, and after having deeply considered it, he gave Rocinante his head, submitting his own will to that of his hack, who followed out his first intention, which was to make straight for his own stable.’
About two miles down the road, the next adventure presents itself. Don Quixote behaves presumptuously towards six merchants, accompanied by four servants and three mule boys, who cross his path. Slanderous language is used back and forth, and Don Quixote decides to attack the spokesman of the group. However, Rocinante stumbles so he lands on the ground and cannot get up due to lance, shield, spurs, helmet and the weight of his armor. He is beaten to a pulp by one of the mule boys with his own lance.
When the boy tires, and the lance is completely shattered, the group continues on their way. Devastated and broken, Don Quixote is unable to get up. His body is one big bruise. Yet he considers himself lucky. This kind of disaster belongs to knights errant, he thinks. He blames his failure on Rocinante.
Coincidentally, a fellow villager of his passes by, a peasant who has taken wheat to a mill. The peasant recognizes Quejana and asks what has happened. Don Quixote talks nonsense about knights and Dulcinea. The peasant concludes that he has gone mad and takes him back to the village. After checking that he is not hurt, he lifts him onto his donkey. This makes Don Quixote groan so violently that it must have been heard all the way to heaven.
The peasant goes to Quejana’s house where he finds two of Quejana’s friends, the pastor and the barber. The housekeeper and his niece are also present. They are in an uproar because their friend, master and uncle has been missing for three days. They have a strong suspicion that he has become a knight errant and that reading too much has driven him mad. The peasant calls them outside. Don Quixote then tells them that he is exhausted due to a fight with ten monstrous giants. This confirms the suspicions of all present – he is mad. The next day, they throw all the books out of the window onto the courtyard, including those cursed chivalry romances, and set them on fire. In doing so, they hope that when Quejana recovers, he will not go mad again from reading chivalry romances or other books.
While he recovers, Don Quixote keeps quiet for two weeks. In the meantime, he ropes his neighbor, the neat, poor and stupid peasant Sancho Panza, into becoming his esquire. He is promised all kinds of things, such as adventures and, as a reward for faithful service, an island where he can become governor. They leave one evening without saying goodbye to anyone or being noticed by anyone. Sancho takes his donkey, some saddlebags, and a leather wineskin. Don Quixote takes his armor, shirts, money, and Rocinante.
Along the way, they talk about conquering islands and governorship. Don Quixote explains that it is a common custom among knights errant to reward esquires in such a way and that he is not going to change that custom. The conversation stops when they come to a halt because there are thirty to forty windmills in front of them. Don Quixote sees these as colossal giants with long arms and wants to wipe the evil spawn from the face of the earth. He speaks of good fortune and tells Sancho that, once he has taken their lives, the spoils will be the beginning of their wealth.
Sancho warns his master that they are windmills and the long arms sails. Don Quixote regards this warning as proof that Sancho is an inexperienced adventurer, and advises him to leave if he is afraid, while he enters into an unequal battle with the “giants”.
He spurs on Rocinante while his esquire shouts that there is no doubt he is attacking windmills. Don Quixote in turn shouts at the monsters: ‘Fly not, cowards and vile beings, for a single knight attacks you.’ He begs Dulcinea to help him, changes to a fighting posture, digs his spurs into Rocinante, and thrusts his lance into the spinning vane of the very first windmill. The lance breaks into pieces; both horse and rider are dragged along for a bit and then fall with a bang. Don Quixote rolls into a field, heavily battered. Sancho repeats that there are just windmills. Don Quixote then accuses a wizard of turning the giants into windmills to deprive him of the glory of victory.
Sancho helps Don Quixote get up and back on top of the disjointed Rocinante. Don Quixote sits slightly crooked. Sancho asks him: ‘Straighten yourself a little, for you seem all on one side, may be from the shaking of the fall.’ To which Don Quixote replies: ‘That is the truth, […] and if I make no complaint of the pain it is because knights-errant are not permitted to complain of any wound, even though their bowels be coming out through it.’
They continue on their journey towards many more adventures together.
The above story is a summary of the first eight chapters of the novel Don Quixote written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and published in 1605. The adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza span a total of seventy-four chapters.
3.2 Zealous heart
The zealous horse
Don Quixote has an acquired opinion which aspires after the best. The zealous horse in him strongly prevails and he has a strong desire to be a knight errant. Therefore, he thinks carefully about meaningful names for himself, his horse, and his beloved. He sets out on an adventure to do what knights do, namely ‘wrongs to right, grievances to redress, injustices to repair, abuses to remove, and duties to discharge.’ All this ‘for the support of his own honour as for the service of his country’ and to gain eternal fame and glory.
And he believes he can only do that if he is knighted. Don Quixote strives to do what a knight errant should do, exactly as he has read in the many chivalry romances he has devoured. He will not settle for less.