Cervantes and the Histories of Paolo Giovio: Translators and Truths

By Byrne, Susan | Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Cervantes and the Histories of Paolo Giovio: Translators and Truths


Byrne, Susan, Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America


AN EARLIER STUDY HIGHLIGHTED certain connections between the Spanish translation of Italian historian Paolo Giovio's Elogia and the works of Miguel de Cervantes, (1) among them Giovio's semi-apocryphal Muley Hamet and his completely fictional father Zidamet in relation to Cervantes's Cide Hamete Benengeli; an historically real, and quite irate Spanish soldier turned historian possibility for "other historians" having named Cervantes's protagonist Quesada/Quijada; a poet Andres de Angulo who clarifies the reference to two persons by that name in El coloquio de los perros; and a poem written by Cervantes's friend Gregorio Silvestre, (2) in which we hear the the first person poetic voice of Charles V praise himself, then Giovio and his pen, verses echoed at the end of the 1615 Quijote with Cide Hamete's pen praising itself and Cervantes's protagonist.

The introductions and interpolations by the same translator to another work by Italian historian Giovio, his monumental Histories, (3) offer a possible model for Cervantes's interrupted history and layering of narrative voices in Don Quijote.

Like the Elogia, the Histories have a decidedly unique literary flair. Giovio didn't write a dry, dispassionate retelling of events, nor a chronicle that conformed to the image-building standards of the powerful (4) but, rather, stories filled with information gleaned from interviews with returning soldiers and emissaries. (5) Sometime around 1548, "Giovio became a disciple of Lucian and began adopting the methods of Greek eyewitness historiography" (Zimmerman 23), and he "probed insistently among captains and courtiers to uncover 'the real truth of events and plans" (Preface x). Giovio saw that: "the humanists had no interest in history and the diplomats and generals had no interest in writing, leaving him the opening he wanted" (24), and he conceived his Histories as "a piece of chorography, or political geography, a melange of geography, natural history, history, social customs, literature, and religion ...' the mirror necessary for whoever wishes to see and clarify the where, how, and when of events'" (66).

This approach to historical detail and narration gives Giovio's Histories a lively, journalistic tone and multiple narrative voices, including prominently his own as a sort of interested party through whom all the others speak. The historian allows history's participants a certain narrative freedom as he filters their voices into his story line and vouschafes for their veracity, although he also simultaneously introduces doubts and outright caveats on some "truths" of the information he transmits.

Giovio's Spanish translator, sixteenth century jurist Gaspar de Baeza, adds yet another voice, commenting and adapting the Histories as he translates them. Baeza is the reader-translator-writer of a history full of characters also found in Cervantes' Don Quijote: Preste Juan de las Indias, the Emperor of Trapisonda, Cachadiablo, Manicongo, (6) Rodamonte. The Histories tell of heroes like Diego Garcia de Paredes, whose melancholy causes him to lose his mind from time to time and throw rocks at people (VIII, 4, 57v-58r), (7) reminding the reader of Cervantes' Cardenio, who is with the manchegan knight when the same Diego Garcia de Paredes' story is found at the inn (I, 32). (8) Giovio's work describes the dubbing of knights "con las palabras ordinarias y cerimonia militar conviene a saber hiriendole ligeramente el ombro siniestro con una espada desnuda" (XV, 12, 127V). (9) The Turks hang the heads of their fallen enemies from palm trees "para con la novedad de tan terrible espectaculo entretener los ojos de su senor cuando passase por alli y representarle la victoria que avian ganado" (XVII, 8, 143v), as do Roque Guinart's men as they wait for their leader in Part II of Don Quijote, although Sancho finds first not the heads, but "arboles [que] estaban llenos de pies y de piernas humanas" (II, 60, 854). Like Cervantes' protagonist, gran capitan Gonzalo Hernandez de Cordoba goes out "quebrando los molinos" (V, 2, 52r) (10) although this last, in Giovio's Histories, is an addition by translator Baeza (see infra). …

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