Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) is often celebrated as the most influential Spanish writer in history and one of the most important European authors in history. Cervantes is most famous for The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615)—which is considered by some to be the first modern novel. The character Don Quixote is known around the world to this day. Cervantes accomplishes all of this despite spending most of his life in poverty, receiving a permanent wound in battle, being held hostage for five years by pirates, and even being thrown in jail later in his life! 

Miguel de Cervantes Miguel de Cervantes

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Contents
Table of contents

    Miguel de Cervantes: Biography and Facts

    Miguel de Cervantes spent most of his life in poverty, received a permanent wound in battle, was held hostage for five years by pirates, and was thrown in jail later in his life. Despite all this, he wrote many works and is now known as one of history's most important European authors.

    Miguel de Cervantes: Early Life

    Miguel de Cervantes, Madrid, Spain, StudySmarterMiguel de Cervantes was born near Madrid, SpainPixabay

    Though it is difficult to be sure of the exact date, it is believed that Miguel de Cervantes was born on September 29, 1547, in a small town just outside Madrid called Alcalá de Henares. Not much information is known about his childhood, though it is believed that one or both of his parents' families were recently converted to Christianity. At the time there was a stigma against people whose ancestors hadn't been Christians for long; this would have limited the family's social standing and contributed to the poverty Cervantes spent most of his life living in. We know that Cervantes attended school in Madrid and that a teacher there, López de Hoyos, published four poems that Cervantes wrote. These were Miguel de Cervantes's first published works.

    So little can be confirmed about Cervantes's life that there are not even any officially authenticated portraits of him. Several portraits exist that claim to be of Cervantes, but all of them are either only said to be of him or were created long after his death, with no official references of his likeness to help. Despite this, his imagined likeness appears on several Spanish euro coins: the €0.10, €0.20, and €0.50 coins.

    Miguel de Cervantes: Career

    Cervantes then briefly lived in Rome in 1569, and then joined the military in 1570. He fought in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and was wounded permanently, but he resumed his military career after a year of recovery.

    The Battle of Lepanto happened on October 7, 1571, in the Gulf of Patras. It was a clash between the Ottoman Empire and a group of Catholic states which included both Spain and Italy. The battle was a victory for the Catholic states, the side that Cervantes fought for.

    In 1575, Miguel de Cervantes was on a voyage back to Spain when he was captured by pirates. Cervantes was their captive for five years in Algiers before he was finally ransomed and was able to go back to Madrid.

    In 1582, Miguel de Cervantes wrote several plays. Though they were never considered great successes, they received positive reviews. Cervantes married a much younger woman, Catalina de Salazar, in 1585.

    Cervantes's career in writing took off in 1585 with his first big publication—La Galatea. Despite this, he continued to work other jobs in order to bring in money. Over the next ten years, Cervantes worked as a purchasing agent and a tax collector in addition to writing. Part one of the Don Quixote story was published in 1605; the novel was quickly very popular. In 1607 Miguel de Cervantes returned to Madrid and settled there. Part two of the Don Quixote story was published ten years after the first part in 1615—only a year before Cervantes's death.

    Don Quixote is such an influential character that we get the word quixotic from his name. If something is quixotic, it is overly idealistic and unrealistic...just like Don Quixote was in the novel.

    Miguel de Cervantes: Decline and Death

    Miguel de Cervantes, Statue of Miguel de Cervantes, StudySmarterMiguel de Cervantes had such an important impact on literature that today he is honored around the worldPixabay

    Miguel de Cervantes was able to devote his time to writing in his last few years, and his most popular works came from this period. These works include Novelas ejemplares (1613), Viaje del Parnaso (1614), and Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses (1615). His final work, Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (1616), was finished just days before he died and was published the following year. Miguel de Cervantes died on April 22, 1616, in Madrid, likely of diabetes.

    Miguel de Cervantes: Books and Other Famous Works

    Cervantes wrote several novels as well as plays, poems, and short stories. Some of his better-known works are highlighted below.

    La Galatea (1585)

    La Galatea is Cervantes's first novel; it is an exploration of the theme of love. It is the story of two men, Elicio and Erastro, who are both in love with a woman named Galatea. The book follows both men, Galatea, and Galatea's friend as they travel to attend a wedding. It was mildly well-received, but never very popular. There is no evidence that the planned sequel was written.

    Novelas exemplares (1613)

    This volume is a collection of twelve novellas by Cervantes, all written between 1590 and 1612. The book was positively received upon publication. The novellas included are: 'La gitanilla' ('The Gypsy Girl'), 'El amante liberal' ('The Generous Lover'), 'Rinconete y Cortadillo' ('Rinconete & Cortadillo'), 'La española inglesa' ('The English Spanish Lady'), 'El licenciado Vidriera' ('The Lawyer of Glass'), 'La fuerza de la sangre' ('The Power of Blood'), 'El celoso extremeño' ('The Jealous Man From Extremadura'), 'La ilustre fregona' ('The Illustrious Kitchen-Maid'), 'Novela de las dos doncellas' ('The Novel of the Two Damsels'), 'Novela de la señora Cornelia' ('The Novel of Lady Cornelia'), 'Novela del casamiento engañoso' ('The Novel of the Deceitful Marriage'), and 'El coloquio de los perros' ('The Dialogue of the Dogs').

    The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615)

    Miguel de Carvantes, Don quixote statue, StudySmarterThe story of Don Quixote is known around the world and has inspired many other works of artPixabay.com

    Miguel de Cervantes's most influential and famous work was originally published in two volumes: El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605) and Segunda Parte del Ingenioso Cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha (1615). They tell the story of Alonso Quijano, a man who reads so many fiction books that he seems to lose his grip on what is reality and what is fantasy. Alonso (calling himself Don Quixote) decides to set off as a knight, along with his very grounded squire (actually a farmer named Sancho Panza), and bring chivalry back to the land—but he is living in a fantasy world.

    Miguel Cervantes claims that he wrote The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha to push back against the "vain and empty books of chivalry" which were popular at the time. It is often considered one of the first modern novels as well as one of the best novels ever written. It has been beloved and influential since its publication.

    Don Quixote is so famous and beloved that it has been translated into over 100 different languages—including all of the world's major languages, allowing people from many different countries to read and enjoy Cervantes's most popular work.

    Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (1617)

    Cervantes's final work of writing was Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda. Because he finished it only days before his death, he did not live to see it published. This story focused more on unrealistic elements than any of his previous works.

    Cervantes also produced plays such as La cueva de Salamanca (1615), and poetry like 'Viaje del Parnaso' (1614), though none of his poems were particularly acclaimed.

    Miguel de Cervantes: Quotes

    It is one thing to praise discipline, and another to submit to it. (Novelas ejemplares, ‘The Dialogue of the Dogs’)

    The Dialogue of the Dogs’ is a novella included in Novelas ejemplares. It is a story told from the perspective of two dogs who tell one another their life stories. The dogs take turns describing the various humans they have worked for and the nature of their different jobs. The story tackles themes such as corruption and loyalty.

    My heart is wax molded as she pleases, but enduring as marble to retain. (Novelas ejemplares, ‘La Gitanilla’)

    'La Gitanilla' is a story about a young woman from a gypsy family and a man who must spend two years traveling with her family in order to earn her hand in marriage. The story discusses truth, stereotypes, and women. This quote describes the love between the main characters.

    Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind. (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, ch 1)

    Appearing early in the text, this quote describes the state of Don Quixote's mind. Because he read too many fictional books, he has lost the ability to differentiate between reality and imagination properly. This leads to the events of the story, with Don Quixote thinking he is a chivalrous knight.

    Miguel de Cervantes - Key Takeaways

    • It is believed that Miguel de Cervantes was born on September 29, 1547, in Madrid, Spain.
    • Cervantes was an influential Spanish author, poet, and playwright.
    • Miguel de Cervantes's most influential work is The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615).
    • Miguel de Cervantes died on April 22, 1616, in Madrid, Spain.

    1Jean Canavaggio, ‘Miguel de CERVANTES (1547-1616): Life and Portrait’, 1997.

    2Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, 1605.

    3Miguel de Cervantes, Novelas ejemplares, 1613.

    4Alison Krueger, ‘Miguel de Cervantes’, Columbia College.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Miguel de Cervantes

    What is Miguel de Cervantes famous for?

    Miguel de Cervantes is best known for his novel The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615).

    Where was Miguel de Cervantes born?

    Miguel de Cervantes was born in Madrid, Spain.

    Why is Miguel de Cervantes important?

    Miguel de Cervantes's The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605) is considered one of the most influential books in European literature. It is also often considered one of the first modern novels. 

    What poems did Miguel de Cervantes write?

    Miguel de Cervantes wrote many poems such as 'Canto de Calíope', 'Epístola a Mateo Vázquez', and the 'Viaje del Parnaso' (1614).

    Why did Miguel de Cervantes write Don Quixote?

    Miguel Cervantes claims that he wrote The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605) to push back against "vain and empty books of chivalry." 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Where was Miguel de Cervantes from?

    True or false: The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615) has been translated into over 50 different languages.

    True or false: Miguel de Cervantes only ever wrote one book: The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615).

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