Miguel de Cervantes
1605 – 1615
One of the world’s first novels and considered a foundational text of modern literature, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha follows the comic adventures of a gentleman farmer who decides to live out the fantasy of knighthood, dressing up in an old suit of armour, designating a neighbour his great love and inspiration, and hitting the road to chivalrous heroics with his “squire” Sancho Panza. Quixote sees grave insults and corruptions everywhere around him, battles for justice, glory and honour at every turn. To him, a great steed stands in place of his broken-down horse, a loyal servant is made of a bumbling neighbour, castles arise in the place of local inns, and giants – ferocious, menacing giants – replace the windmills on his journey. The neighbours see a crazy old man who’s just going to get himself hurt, and plot to get him home and safe and quiet once more. But Don Quixote will suffer no such indignation.
It’s the last great hurrah of chivalry, a laughing glance at the myths we live by, and still a nostalgic reflection – if not on what we’ve lost, on what we believe we’ve lost. And now, Cervantes’ book itself has entered history in the same way – as myth, as nostalgia, as a work of literature emblematic of worlds that collide, the death of the middle ages, the rise of modernity, a new literary form for a new cultural age and yet entirely occupied with what was lost even if it never really was to begin with.