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Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
(1547-1616)

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France 1957. Cervantes. Portrait. Romania 1955. Cervantes. Portrait. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was a Spanish writer of the Golden Age, whose satiric novel Don Quixote is one of the masterpieces of the world literature. Because of his eloquent style and remarkable insight, Cervantes has achieved acclaim comparable to that given to such literary greats as the Greek poet Homer, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, and the English playwright William Shakespeare. 
  • France 1957.  Cervantes 

  • Romania 1955.  Cervantes  

Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares. In 1998, the city of Alcala de Henares was designated World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Alcala de Henares is a town in central Spain, in the Madrid Province, on the Henares River, near Madrid. An industrial center in which leather products and soap are produced, Alcalá is also a trading center for the surrounding agricultural area. The town was known to the Romans as Complutum. 

It was destroyed about 1000 and was rebuilt in 1083 by the Moors. The University of Alcalá, which became a leading educational center in Spain, was founded in 15o8; it was moved to Madrid in 1836. A celebrated early Bible, the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, was printed in Alcalá in 1517. 
  • Spain 1966. Alcala de Henares.
  • Spain 2001. Alcala de Henares. 

In 1568, when he was a student, a number of his poems appeared in a volume published in Madrid, Spain, to commemorate the death of the Spanish queen Elizabeth of Valois. In 1569 Cervantes went to Rome, where in the following year he began working for Giulio Cardinal Acquaviva. Soon afterward Cervantes joined a Spanish military regiment in Naples, Italy. He fought in 1571 against the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Lepanto, in which he lost the use of his left hand. 

While returning to Spain in 1575, Cervantes was captured by Barbary pirates. He was taken to Algeria as a slave and held there for ransom. During the next five years he made several heroic but unsuccessful attempts to escape before he was finally ransomed in 1580 by his family and friends. Returning to Spain at the age of 33, Cervantes, despite his wartime service and misfortunes in Algeria, was unable to obtain employment with a noble family, the usual reward for veterans who had distinguished themselves. Deciding to become a writer, he produced poems and plays at a prodigious rate between 1582 and 1585, but few of these works have survived. 

His pastoral novel La Galatea (1585) gained him a reputation, but the proceeds from its sale were insufficient to support him. Cervantes then took government jobs, first furnishing goods to the fleet of the Spanish Armada and later collecting taxes. The government imprisoned him several times because he failed to give a satisfactory explanation of his tax-collecting activities. 
 
Cervantes's most important work, called in full The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha, is generally regarded as the first modern novel. It is a brilliant satire, not only of the chivalrous romances of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance but also of the sentimental and pastoral novels popular in Cervantes's own time. 

The principal character of the novel is Don Quixote, an elderly village gentleman of modest means. An avid reader of old-fashioned tales of chivalry, he becomes obsessed with the idea of reintroducing the practice of knight-errantry into the world. In Part I Don Quixote equips himself with arms and armour and rides forth on Rosinante, an elderly horse, to challenge evil wherever he may find it. He is accompanied by the loyal and shrewd, but credulous, peasant Sancho Panza, who serves him as squire.

Cervantes. Painting.

 
Spain 2005. Don Quixote. Stamp #1. Spain 2005. Don Quixote. Stamp #2. Spain 2005. Don Quixote. Souvenir sheet.
Spain 2005. Don Quixote. Stamp #3. Spain 2005. Don Quixote. Stamp #4.

In his deranged state, Don Quixote sets himself the task of defending orphans, protecting maidens and widows, befriending the helpless, serving the causes of truth and beauty, and re-establishing justice. His adventures and skirmishes are often grotesquely inappropriate to the situation; for example, he attacks a windmill, thinking it a giant, and a flock of sheep, thinking it an army. The obstinacy of his illusions never permits him to heed the warnings of Sancho Panza, whose attitude is as realistic as that of his master is idealistic. The philosophical perception of the novel lies in the suggested balance of their contrasting views.

In 1998 Spain issued two wonderful sheets, each depicting various scenes from "Don Quixote".  Both sheets are shown in small size immediately below.  All stamps of both sheets have the face value of 20 pesetas.  The original sheets measure 26 * 16,5 cm.  Click on either of the images to zoom to full screen, with a short description of each of the stamps. The links will open in a new window.  The sheets are issued in limited quantities, and each sheet is individually numbered.  

Spain 1998. Cervantes. Sheet 2. (thumbnail). Spain 1998. Cervantes. Sheet 1. (thumbnail).

Probably during his time in prison Cervantes conceived the idea for a story about a man who imagines himself a knight-errant (a knight who seeks out adventure) performing the splendid feats described in medieval tales of chivalry. In 1605 the first part of his tale was issued under the title El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha). It became such an immediate success that within two weeks after publication three unauthorized editions appeared in Madrid. Partly because of these unauthorized editions and partly because of his lack of financial management skills, Cervantes never gained substantial wealth from the enormous success of the work. Don Quixote was first translated into English in 1612. 

Cuba has issued a nice set of stamps at the occasion of the 425th birth anniversary of Cervantes.  To the left is the souvenir sheet, and below the three stamps in the set.

Cuba 1972. Cervantes. Oil painting by Jose Moreno Carboriero (Spanish painter 1860-1942)..

Cuba 1972. Cervantes. Portrait of the Knight Don Quixote. Cuba 1972. Cervantes. Fight with the Leather Water Pipe. Cuba 1972. Cervantes. The Knight of La Mancha.

Don Quixote has had a tremendous influence on the development of prose fiction; it has been translated into all modern languages and has appeared in some 700 editions. The first publication in English was in a translation by Thomas Shelton. It has been the subject of a variety of works in other fields of art, including operas by the Italian composer Giovanni Paisiello, the French Jules Massenet, and the Spanish Manuel de Falla; a tone poem by the German composer Richard Strauss; a German film (1933) directed by G. W. Pabst and a Soviet film (1957) directed by Grigori Kozintzev; a ballet (1965) by George Balanchine; and an American musical, Man of La Mancha (1965), by Mitch Leigh. Its influence can be seen in the work of Smollett, Defoe, Fielding, and Sterne, as well as in the classic 19th-century novelists Scott, Dickens, Flaubert, Melville, and Dostoyevsky. The theme also inspired the 19th-century French artists Honoré Daumier and Gustave Doré.

Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares (Exemplary Novels, 1613), a collection of 12 short stories, includes romances in the Italian style; descriptions of criminal life in Seville, Spain; and sketches of unusual events and characters. One of these stories, “El coloquio de los perros” (The Talking Dogs), is particularly renowned for its satirical prose style. The second part of Don Quixote was published in 1615 and translated into English in 1620. In 1616 Cervantes completed the allegorical novel Persiles y Sigismunda (1617), four days before his death. The book was published the next year. 

Spain 2003. Cervantes. 50 Euro-cent coin, depicting Cervantes.

Cervantes died in Madrid on 23rd April 1616, on the same day William Shakespeare passed away in Stratford (England). He is commemorated beautifully in modern times by this 50 Euro-cent coin bearing his portrait, issued by Spain in 2002. Given that the government imprisoned him several times because he failed to give a satisfactory explanation of his tax-collecting activities, I am sure that Cervantes would be proud in his Heaven to be earthly commemorated on a modern Spanish coin, if even of a modest value :-)

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