A person only lasts a lifetime, but a story remains forever.

And one story that has withstood time is Miguel de Cervantes’ four-century old tale, Don Quixote de la Mancha. Its first part was published in 1605 and has been considered as the first modern novel, amusing and entertaining readers—conquering Europe, and eventually, the rest of the world.

A Cavalier’s tale

Don Quixote, legend claims, was created inside a prison cell in La Mancha, Spain. Born only out of need for some quick buck, the novel not only served its purpose; it paved the way for a new generation of storytelling. Indeed, Cervantes was able to create a satirical comedy that challenged how romance and chivalry tales are told. The novel cannot be classified among the usual stories of might and right, with gallant knights conquering the forces of evil—dragons, monsters, and evil sorcerers. Rather, it tells the story of a person with the same knightly ideals without the standard clear distinction between good and evil.

Cervantes, according to critics, initiated the use of colloquial language to depict this most unique parody of a knight-errant and his ubiquitous squire. This technique, along with the satirical and unconven-tional plot, reached out to the public, and almost instantly gained fame and recognition. Never did anyone expect that such a literary masterpiece could ever come from a simple, maimed soldier and that he would later be considered as the king of all prose fiction.

In his novel, Cervantes not only showed the heroism of chivalry and blinded idealism—he also illustrated the makings of 17th century Spain. The characters behind the delusional Don Quixote were common men with practical approaches to life—shepherds, governors, wenches, and innkeepers, who dismiss knights and adventures as mere fansies and follies. The novel also demonstrated the politics within the Spanish society of his time, and has been seen as an indirect mockery of the Catholic Church.


Reliving history

Today, the story of Don Quixote and his unpredictable adventures is still very much read and loved. Indeed, despite today’s high-tech and cyber-age entertainment, the book still sells out in major bookstores. As the book turns 400 this year, the story of Don Quixote is even more celebrated around the world.

This April, Spain’s cultural arm in Manila, Instituto Cervantes, commemorated Don Quixote’s anniversary through various activities and events. Four different film interpretations of the satiric tale, from the 1933 classic of Georg-Wilhelm Pabst to the more realistic 2000 interpretation of Peter Yates, plus a screening of the opera Don Quijote en Barcelona with its three acts (scattered on different play dates), were shown.

Last April 5, the Don Quijote: Music and Dance conference-performance was held with performances from renowned Spanish composer Delfin Colomé and soprano Rachelle Gerodias, a faculty member at the UST Conservatory of Music.

Aside from the screenings and the performances, Instituto hosted the first Non-Stop-Around-the-Clock Public Reading of Don Quixote last April 22-24. Believed to be the best way to pay tribute to the novel, the public reading comprised all 126 chapters, or 1,072 pages, and more than 50 hours of continuous reading. Over 500 participants joined the event, including National Artist Alejandro Roces, who read the first two chapters, former Tourism Secretary Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Inquirer editor in chief Isagani Yambot, and ambassadors to the Philippines from five Spanish-speaking countries—Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, and Spain. Participants from UST included library prefect Fr. Angel Aparicio, friars from the St. Thomas Aquinas Priory, and several Spanish professors.

Science research center gets grant

After 400 years, Don Quixote has certainly gone a long way. With just a rusty armor, a cardboard helmet visor, an old worthless horse, and a trusty sidekick, Don Quixote de la Mancha was able to conquer world literature, of course with his unparalleled idealism and perseverance. He continues to live on, in the hearts of readers and society, through the novel’s cultural legacy.


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