Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote (1605)

Of the good fortune which the valiant Don Quixote had in the Terrible and Undreamed-of Adventure of the Windmills, with Other Occurrences Worthy to be Fitly Recorded


Don Quixote is typical of the Renaissance in the way that it satirizes the chivalric traditions of the Middle Ages as absurdly old-fashioned. The crazed and impoverished Spanish noble who sets out to revive the glory of knighthood has been romanticized in the popular modern musical, The Man of La Mancha; but Cervantes has little compassion for the "impossible dreams" of his protagonist, who refuses to face facts even when he is hit over the head with them. Even though his relatives have taken away the chivalric romances which they think have driven him mad and tried to confine him, he has escaped with his squire Sancho Panza who is much less learned but a good deal saner than his master.

How does Don Quixote seem to think a knight should behave?


At this point they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that are on that plain.

"Fortune," said Don Quixote to his squire, as soon as he had seen them, "is arranging matters for us better than we could have hoped. Look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants rise up, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes. For this is righteous warfare, and it is God's good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth."

"What giants?" said Sancho Panza.

"Those you see there," answered his master, "with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues (1) long."

"Look, your worship,'' said Sancho. "What we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the vanes that turned by the wind make the millstone go."

"It is easy to see," replied Don Quixote, "that you are not used to this business of adventures. Those are giants, and if you are afraid, away with you out of here and betake yourself to prayer, while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat."

So saying, he gave the spur to his steed Rocinante, heedless of the cries his squire Sancho sent after him, warning him that most certainly they were windmills and not giants he was going to attack. He, however, was so positive they were giants that he neither heard the cries of Sancho, nor perceived, near as he was, what they were.

"Fly not, cowards and vile beings," he shouted, "for a single knight attacks you."

A slight breeze at this moment sprang up, and the great vanes began to move.

"Though ye flourish more arms than the giant Briareus, (2) ye have to reckon with me!" exclaimed Don Quixote, when he saw this.

So saying, he commended himself with all his heart to his lady Dulcinea, imploring her to support him in such a peril. With lance braced and covered by his shield, he charged at Rocinante's fullest gallop and attacked the first mill that stood in front of him. But as he drove his lance-point into the sail, the wind whirled it around with such force that it shivered the lance to pieces. It swept away with it horse and rider, and they were sent rolling over the plain, in sad condition indeed.

Sancho hastened to his assistance as fast as the ass could go. When he came up and found Don Quixote unable to move, with such an impact had Rocinante fallen with him.

"God Bless me!," said Sancho, "did I not tell your worship to watch what you were doing, because they were only windmills? No one could have made any mistake about it unless he had something of the same kind in his head."

"Silence, friend Sancho," replied Don Quixote. "The fortunes of war more than any other are liable to frequent fluctuations. Moreover I think, and it is the truth, that the same sage Frestón who carried off my study and books, has turned these giants into mills in order to rob me of the glory of vanquishing them, such is the enmity he bears me. But in the end his wicked arts will avail but little against my good sword."

"God's will be done," said Sancho Panza, and helping him to rise got him again on Rocinante, whose shoulder was half dislocated. Then, discussing the adventure, they followed the road to Puerto Lápice, for there, said Don Quixote, they could not fail to find adventures in abundance and variety, as it was a well-traveled thoroughfare. For all that, he was much grieved at the loss of his lance, and said so to his squire.

"I remember having read," he added, "how a Spanish knight, Diego Pérez de Vargas by name, having broken his sword in battle, tore from an oak a ponderous bough or branch. With it he did such things that day, and pounded so many Moors, that he got the surname of Machuca (3) and his descendants from that day forth are called Vargas y Machuca. I mention this because from the first oak I see I mean to tear a branch, large and stout. I am determined and resolved to do such deeds with it that you may deem yourself very fortunate in being found worthy to see them and be an eyewitness of things that will scarcely be believed."

"Be that as God wills," said Sancho, "I believe it all as your worship says it. But straighten yourself a little, for you seem to be leaning to one side, maybe from the shaking you got when you fell."

"That is the truth, said Don Quixote, "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."

"If so," said Sancho, "I have nothing to say. But God knows I would rather your worship complained when anything ailed you. For my part, I confess I must complain however small the ache may be, unless this rule about not complaining applies to the squires of knights-errant also."

Don Quixote could not help laughing at his squire's simplicity, and assured him he might complain whenever and however he chose, just as he liked. So far he had never read of anything to the contrary in the order of knighthood.

Sancho reminded him it was dinner time, to which his master answered that he wanted nothing himself just then, but that Sancho might eat when he had a mind. With this permission Sancho settled himself as comfortably as he could on his beast, and taking out of the saddlebags what he had stowed away in them, he jogged along behind his master munching slowly. From time to time he took a pull at the wineskin with all the enjoyment that the thirstiest tavern-keeper in Málaga might have envied. And while he went on in this way, between gulps, he never gave a thought to any of the promises his master had made him, nor did he rate it as hardship but rather as recreation going in quest of adventures, however dangerous they might be.

Finally they settled down for the night among some trees. From one of them Don Quixote plucked a dry branch to serve as a lance, fixing on it the head he had removed from the broken one. All that night Don Quixote lay awake thinking of his lady Dulcinea, in conformity with what he had read in his books, how many a night in the forests and deserts knights used to lie sleepless, borne up by the memory of their mistresses.

Sancho Panza spent it thus: having his stomach full of something stronger than chicory water he slept straight through. If his master had not called him, neither the rays of the sun beating on his face nor all the cheery notes of the birds welcoming the approach of day would have had power to waken him.


Translated by John Ormsby (1895)

(1) Several miles.

(2) A hundred-armed giant from Greek mythology.

(3) Meaning "he who crushes."



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This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 2, edited by Paul Brians, Michael Blair, Douglas Hughes, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Paul Brians
Department of English
Washington State University
Pullman 99164-5020

This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 2.


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