The Diabolical Adventures of Don Quixote, or Self-Exorcism and the Rise of the Novel (*)

By Kallendorf, Hilaire | Renaissance Quarterly, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

The Diabolical Adventures of Don Quixote, or Self-Exorcism and the Rise of the Novel (*)


Kallendorf, Hilaire, Renaissance Quarterly


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The pervasive allusions in Don Quijote to demonological treatises reveal a level of intertextual confusion in Don Quixote's mind that has not been explored in detail. Written in the vernacular, these treatises provided specifically Spanish terminology to describe apparitions, diabolical pranks, demonic possession, and exorcism. This linguistic register is only one among several that Cervantes used to lend verisimilitude to Don Quixote's madness. The medical, psychological, and literary languages employed in this masterpiece of heteroglossia (1) have already been analyzed in some depth. This essay recovers yet another layer, an additional linguistic register which Cervantes deliberately exploited. This essay argues that demonology enhances the importance of these other voices in the work's textual richness.

The proliferation of writing about the supernatural at this time explains Cervantes' use of demonic vocabularies, though his attitude toward the demonic varied. While Cervantes may have adopted, as Diana De Armas Wilson (2) has claimed, a completely skeptical, satirical stance toward exorcism, he could also treat the subject even more earnestly in the Quijote than in the less comical Persiles. He did not limit himself to the serious language of demonic possession, but also incorporated more humorous diabolical resonances in his hero's adventures, such as the alleged pranks of the trickster duendes. It should not surprise us that Cervantes' reactions to -- and appropriations of -- the language of demonology in general and exorcism in particular would encompass both jest and earnest. The following assessment of Cervantes' use of demonological discourse in the novel will thus be divided into two sections: one on his playful, the other on his serious use of demonology within the narrative process. Again, it shoul d come as no surprise to cervantistas that the more playful moments usually occurred early in Part I, while the darker side of demonic agency assumed greater power toward the end of Part I and continued in the more somber Part II of the Quijote, published ten years later, near the time of Cervantes' death. (3) The polyvalent nature of the demonic allowed it to be absorbed into the fictions of both comic and tragic events.

We can be almost certain that Cervantes read specific texts which refer to some form of demonology. (4) These include both ancient pagan works such as Apuleius' The Golden Ass or Heliodorus' Aethiopica and contemporary miscellanies such as Antonio de Torquemada's Jardin de flores curiosas. Cervantes demonstrated a fairly sophisticated knowledge of some of the finer points of Christian demonology, especially demonic possession and exorcism. He could have acquired it from specialized rather than from literary works on demonology, and while there is no way of knowing which of these sources Cervantes might have read, some representative demonological works tell us what kinds of information he might have taken from them or from books like them.

Most works of this genre were comprehensive volumes on witchcraft and superstition, with occasional passages about demonic possession. Some demonological treatises, however, gave special emphasis to possession and exorcism. Two that might have been available to Cervantes were Pedro Ciruelo's Tratado en el qual se repruevan todas las supersticionesy hechicerias (A treatise reproving all superstitions and forms of witchcraft, 1530) or Martin de Castanega's Tratado muy sotil y bien fundado de las supersticiones y hechiceriasy vanos conjuros y abusiones (Very subtle and well-founded treatise on superstitions and witchcrafts and vain conjurations and abuses, 1529). A typical guide to exorcism was Benito Remigio Noydens' Practica de exorcistas y ministros de la Iglesia. En que con mucha erudicion, y singular claridad, se trata de la instruccion de los Exorcismos para lancar, y ahuyentar los demonios, y curar espiritualmente todo genero de maleficio, y hechizos (Practice of exorcists and ministers of the Church. …

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