He was warmly received by the goatherds, and after Sancho had taken care of Rocinante and the donkey as well as he could, he followed the aroma that came from certain chunks of goat meat that were boiling in a cauldron. He wanted to see if they were ready to be transfered from the cauldron into his stomach, but he didn’t need to, since the goatherds removed them from the fire, spread some sheepskins onto the ground, quickly set their rustic table, and with a show of good will invited the two of them to join them to share their meal. Six goatherds sat around the skins, and with their best country manners they invited don Quixote to sit on a trough they had turned upside-down especially for him. Don Quixote sat down, with Sancho standing behind to serve him his cup made from a horn.
When don Quixote saw him standing, he said: “So that you can see, Sancho, the greatness embraced by knight errantry, and that those who practice it in any capacity are soon honored and esteemed by everyone, I want you to sit down here next to me—your master and natural lord—and in the company of these good people, eat from my plate and drink from my cup, so that it can be said of knight errantry what is said of love: that it makes all things equal.”
“It’s a great honor,” said Sancho, “but I can tell you that as long as I have plenty to eat, I can eat as well, and even better, standing up alone, than seated at the feet of an emperor. And to tell the truth, food that I eat in a corner somewhere, without all that fussing and table manners—even though it’s only bread and onions—tastes better to me than turkeys served on tables, where I have to chew slowly, drink little, use my napkin a lot, and not sneeze or cough if I feel like it, nor do any of the other things that freedom and privacy guarantee. So, señor mío, concerning these honors that you want to offer me, since I, as your squire, am a servant and aide to knight errantry, I’d rather have you swap them for other things that might be of more use and benefit to me. So, although I appreciate the offer, I renounce it from now until the end of the world.”
“Even so, you must sit with me, because «he who humbles himself is exalted by God».” And grabbing Sancho by his arm, he forced him to sit at his side.
The goatherds didn’t understand all that gibberish about squires and knights errant; they only sat there and ate quietly as they looked at their guests, who were stowing away chunks of meat the size of your fist with great gusto and pleasure. After the meat course they spread quite a few dry acorns on the skins and added half a wheel of cheese, which was as hard as if it were made of cement. And the horn was hardly idle, because it circulated so frequently—now full, now empty, like the buckets of a waterwheel—that it easily emptied one of the two wineskins that were visible.
After don Quixote had satisfied his stomach, he took some acorns in his hand, and, examining them with great care, raised his voice to speak words like these: “What a happy time and a happy age were those that the ancients called Golden! And not because gold—which in this our Age of Iron is so valued—was gotten in that fortunate time without any trouble, but rather because the people who lived then didn’t know the two words yours and mine! In that holy age all things were commonly owned. To find their daily sustenance, they had only to raise their hands and take it from the robust oaks, which liberally offered their sweet and ripe fruit to them. Crystal clear fountains and running rivers, in magnificent abundance, offered them their delicious and transparent water. In the fissures of boulders and in the hollows of trees, the diligent and prudent bees formed their republics and offered to any hand, without recompense, the fertile harvest of their very sweet work. The robust cork trees shed their lightweight bark without any artifice other than their own courtesy, with which people began to cover their rustic houses, built only for protection against the rigors of the heavens. Everything then was friendship, everything was harmony. The heavy plow had not yet dared to open nor visit the pious bowels of our first mother, for she, without being forced, gave everywhere from her fertile and broad bosom that could fill, sustain, and delight the children that possessed her then.
“It was then that the simple and beautiful young shepherdesses could travel from valley to valley and from hill to hill, either in braids or with their hair flowing behind, with only enough clothing to cover modestly what decency requires, and has always required. And their ornamentation was not like the Tyrian purple and silk woven in a thousand different ways that women esteem nowadays, but rather it was of intertwined green-dock and ivy, with which they carried themselves with perhaps as much dignity and composure as our courtesans do nowadays, strutting about in extravagant dresses. In those days, literary expressions of love were recited in a simple way, without any unnatural circumlocution to express them.
“Fraud, deceit, and wickedness had not as yet contaminated truth and sincerity. Justice was administered on its own terms and was not tainted by favor and self-interest, which now impair, overturn, and persecute it. Arbitrary law had not yet debased the rulings of the judge, because in those days there was nothing to judge, nor anyone to be judged.
“Young women, with their chastity intact, traveled about on their own anywhere they wanted, as I’ve said, without fearing the damaging boldness or lust of others, and if they suffered any ruination it was born of their own pleasure and free will. Nowadays, in our detestable age, no young woman is secure, even though she be hidden and locked in a new labyrinth of Crete, for even there, through the cracks or borne in the air, the plague of lust finds its way in with the zeal of cursed importunity, and brings her to ruin in spite of her seclusion. As time went by and as wickedness grew, the order of knight errantry was instituted to defend young women, protect widows, and help orphans and needy people.
“I am a member of this order, brother goatherds, and I’m grateful for the hearty welcome and reception you’ve given me and my squire. For, although under natural law all living souls are obliged to show favor to knights errant, it’s still fitting that—knowing as I do you received and entertained me with no knowledge of this obligation—I should acknowledge your good will with utmost gratitude.”
All of this long speech, which could well have been spared, was given by our knight because the acorns brought the Golden Age to his memory. And he was moved to give that useless speech to the goatherds, who, without saying a single word, were listening to him open-mouthed and amazed. Sancho also remained silent as he snacked on some acorns and visited very frequently a second wineskin that had been suspended from a cork tree to make the wine cool.
But don Quixote took longer to finish his speech than his dinner, and when he’d finished, one of the goatherds said: “So that your grace, señor knight errant, can say with even greater truth that we entertained you well with ready good will, we want to give you solace and pleasure by having one of our compañeros sing for you, and he’ll be here pretty soon. He’s a very smart goatherd and is very much in love and, above all things, he can read and write and can play the rabel, and you can’t want more than that.”
As soon as the goatherd had said this, notes from a rabel came to his ears, and a little while later he who was playing it arrived, a lad about twenty-two years old and quite good-looking. His compañeros asked him if he’d eaten and he said that he had. The one who had suggested that the lad might sing said: “In that case, Antonio, you can do us the pleasure of singing a little bit, so that our señor guest can see that we have in these mountains and woods people who can make music. We’ve told him about your skills and we’re anxious for you to show them off and prove us true. So we’d like you to sit down and sing the ballad about your love that your uncle the priest wrote for you, and which was well-received in town.”
“I’d be very pleased,” said the young man. And without any further urging, he sat on the trunk of a felled oak tree, tuned his instrument, and in a little while began to sing in a very spirited way:
With this, the goatherd ended his song. Although don Quixote begged him to sing something else, Sancho wouldn’t hear of it, because he favored going to sleep over hearing more songs, and so he said to his master: “Your grace should arrange to find a place to sleep now since the labors these good men do all day long don’t let them spend all night singing.”
“I understand you, Sancho,” responded don Quixote. “I easily infer that the visits to the wineskin demand compensation more in sleep than in music.”
“It tasted good to us all,” responded Sancho.
“I don’t deny that,” replied don Quixote, “but you can sleep wherever you want. Those of my profession do better keeping guard than sleeping. But, all things considered, it would be a good thing if you’d try to dress this ear since it’s causing me more pain than it should.”
Sancho began to do what he was asked. When one of the goatherds saw the wound, he told don Quixote not to worry, that he would apply a remedy that would make him better. He took some rosemary leaves—from a bush that grew wild there—chewed them and combined them with a little salt, then applied them to the ear, bandaged it well, and assured don Quixote that he would need no further treatment, and it turned out to be true.