Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Miguel De Cervantes and the Political Turn of History (C. 1570-1615)

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Miguel De Cervantes and the Political Turn of History (C. 1570-1615)

Article excerpt

Historicism, or the approach to the historical task, is a phenomenon of special interest in the life and work of Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). (1) We may consider this historical method from various perspectives. First, to consider Cervantes as a historian is to reveal the epistemological experience in which Cervantes practiced historical methods in his writing, since a close reading of his works shows that he displayed a high degree of familiarity with the prevailing theories of the historian's task of his day. Second, we may approach his work through the lens of Cervantes as a chronicler of the very events he lived through and which rocked the world of his time. Third, we may discover a Cervantes who was both preoccupied with and who played with the truth, veracity, and verisimilitude of what he recounted. This is a Cervantes who ranged from the historian to the "strange inventor," from the writer of texts within his creative laboratory to his "table of tricks" (mesa de trucos) (Blasco 165).


Although we might approach both Cervantes the writer and his great reader Alonso Quijano without thinking of their social and cultural context, if we permit them to live within the period they happened to inhabit, it is possible to understand them somewhat better.

Throughout his life, Cervantes's works coincided with those of many historians and chroniclers, including well-known scholars such as his master Juan Lopez de Hoyos (1511-1583), and the historiographers Esteban de Garibay y Zamalloa (1533-1600), Luis Cabrera de Cordoba (1559-1623), and the brothers Lupercio and Barolome Leonardo de Argensola (1559-1613; 1562-1631). In addition to the writers of his own time, Cervantes also imbibed the classical authors--whom he might have read anywhere, among the scraps of papers strewn in the streets, or at some time during the thirteen boring years he spent traversing "el" Andalucia (as they called it)--whose works he certainly read in Madrid at the Estudio de la Villa of his master Juan Lopez de Hoyos. Lopez de Hoyos kept such works in his library for that very purpose: from Cicero to Tacitus, each left a mark on and in the work of Cervantes, whether or not he referred to them directly (Alvar Ezquerra, Un maestro 168).

Cervantes had the good fortune to live through a fascinating period in the development of the genre that is historiography. He witnessed the change in "doing history," which was transformed from the creation of wild and imaginative histories to a search for reliable sources on which to base the assertions of history. In addition, along with the impact of print as a means of diffusing knowledge, there were increasing efforts to define the form of the historical text that were couched in a language of transmission, of style, etc., and which made constant reference to Thucydides, Caesar, or Cicero. At the same time, the question of what the object of the Historian actually was became subject to doubt, criticism, and discussion. To what depths must the historian plumb, and to what point should he concern himself--as Sancho did--with the question of who was the first to use a handkerchief? Was such a thing incumbent upon the knowledge of the humanist historian? Cervantes also reflected on the forms of transmitting historical knowledge and of the written text, and his defenses of vernacular languages are well known.

Among the classical authors who influenced Cervantes, Cicero stands out in particular, and Cervantes cited him repeatedly. At the same time, Cervantes had direct contacts with contemporary historical writers, or theoreticians of history, like Esteban de Garibay y Zamalloa (whose routes often overlapped with those of Cervantes and with whose widow Cervantes shared a house in Valladolid) or Luis Cabrera de Cordoba, who Cervantes compared to Tacitus. However, he also had influences that were much closer to home. The year 1568, a mournful year that witnessed the imprisonment and death of don Carlos and the death of Isabel de Valois, gave rise to the literary after effects of these tragedies in 1569, including the edition of a text by Juan Lopez de Hoyos praising the Queen, in which Cervantes's second verses appeared. …

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