Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Sancho as a Thief of Time and Art: Ovid's Fasti and Cervantes' Don Quixote 2

Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Sancho as a Thief of Time and Art: Ovid's Fasti and Cervantes' Don Quixote 2

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

Over the years, critics have been puzzled by the impossible chronology and the instability of time in Cervantes' Don Quixote. (1) As Luis A. Murillo has noted, the novel from its inception is implicated in humanity's "prepossession with the passage of time and its measurement, objective or subjective." (2) Even before Don Quixote, the Lazarillo de Tormes, the first Spanish picaresque, carefully expounds the rogue's case using linear time, accelerating its pace as the protagonist passes from innocence to experience. Indeed, the novel ends with the presence of Emperor Charles V in Toledo in 1538-39, a festive occasion that ironically compares with Lazaro's own unstable felicity. (3) Since Lazaro's happiness is based on specific accomplishments related to linear time, they can also be viewed as part of the "destructive irrational movement of accidental time," which reappears throughout the period in images of the sundial, the hourglass, and the mechanical clock. (4) It may be no coincidence that Cervantes will refer in his novel to the Augustan horologium. While the 1605 novel takes place in mid- and late summer, the second part (1615) transpires during the following spring and early summer, even though only a month is said to have elapsed between Don Quixote's first two sallies and his third. (5) Fall and winter seem to have mysteriously vanished from an unstable calendar. (6) In the second part of the novel these time shifts are accentuated: the reader is never sure if it is April or May, or even if it is spring or the height of summer. (7)

In chapter 36, for example, Sancho writes a letter, dating it 20 July 1614, although Don Quixote's defeat, which brings about the ending of the novel, tales place in late June, at the time of the solstice and the feast of St. John the Baptist. (8) Is Sancho's fixation with this month a result of the July adventures described in part 1 of the novel? Or is it part of anxieties over the different calendars, Julian, Gregorian, and Islamic? (9) Counting time, some scholars even claim that the knight goes forth on 3 October and returns on 29 December. (10) Since Don Quixote has already attained mythical fame, his world is rendered as a mythical season: thus the knight is linked "to the feasts of Saint George, in April, Corpus Christi in May, Saint John's in June." (11) And yet the question of time in the second part of Don Quixote is much more complex. In addition to misplacing Christian feasts in his text, Cervantes uses Roman festivals and constellations, adding further complexities to an already confusing calendar. The reader is clearly invited to unravel these confusions as Don Quixote and Sancho have heated discussions as to the amount of time that has elapsed. For example, while Sancho claims they have been away twenty years during the second sally, Don Quixote seems to grasp the temporal sequence, affirming that no more than two months passed on the road. (12) While the sentimental romances of Spain utilize the epistolary mode in order to point to the passage of time and while the picaresque novels follow a linear, chronological time sequence, Cervantes purposefully turns away from these so as to foreground the vagaries of calendars and the potential arbitrariness in timing festivals and events. That he would do so is not at all surprising. Decades before the advent of the Gregorian calendar, Spanish authors grappled with the problem of feasts celebrated on the wrong date. For example, in his Silva de varia leccion (1540) Pedro Mexia tells how the year "steals" two thirds of an hour every year, thus creating confusion. But he reassures his readers, affirming that if Christians celebrate their feasts with proper devotion, they are still effective in spite of occurring on the wrong date. (13)

Cervantes' own life reflects this shift in time. Returning home from Italy, where he spent his youth looking at art and fighting the Turks, Cervantes was captured by corsairs and held prisoner in Algiers for five years, during which the Christian calendar was for him metamorphosed into an Islamic and lunar one. …

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