A TEI Project

Chapter XVII

Wherein is declared the height and extreme to which the unheard-of bravery of don Quixote reached or could ever reach, with the very fortunate conclusion of the Adventure of the Lions.

THE HISTORY relates that when don Quixote was calling to Sancho to take him his helmet, he was purchasing some cottage cheese the shepherds were selling him, and pressed by the haste of his master, didn’t know what to do with it, nor how he could carry it back. So as not to waste it, since he’d already paid for it, he thought he would put it in his master’s helmet, and with these good provisions, he returned to his master to see what he wanted: “My friend, give me my helmet—for either I know little about adventures, or I can see one over there that will and does need me to take up arms.”

He of the Green Coat heard this and looked everywhere and found nothing other than a cart coming toward them with two or three small pennants, which were intended to show that the cart was carrying currency belonging to his majesty, and that’s exactly what he told don Quixote.

But don Quixote didn’t believe it, firmly convinced that everything that happened to him had to be adventures and more adventures, so he replied to the hidalgo: “«Forewarned is forearmed». Nothing is lost by my being prepared. I know from experience that I have visible and invisible enemies, and I don’t know when, where, at what moment, nor in what shape they will attack me.”

And turning to Sancho, he asked for his helmet, and since Sancho hadn’t had time to take the cottage cheese out, he had to hand it over as it was. Don Quixote took it, without noticing what was in it, and quickly put it onto this head. Since the cottage cheese was squeezed, the whey began to trickle down all over don Quixote’s face and beard, which startled him so much that he said to Sancho: “What can this be, Sancho? You’d think my brain was softening or I’m sweating from head to foot. And if it’s sweat, in truth it’s not from fear. Doubtless this is a terrible adventure that is about to happen to me. Give me, if you have anything, something to wipe my face with, for the copious sweat is blinding my eyes.”

Sancho said nothing and handed him a piece of cloth, and gave with it thanks to God that his master hadn’t discovered the truth of the matter. Don Quixote cleaned off his face and took off the helmet to see what it was that, in his opinion, was cooling off his head, and when he saw that white mush inside his helmet, he brought it to his nose, and when he’d smelled it he said: “On the life of my lady Dulcinea del Toboso, this is cottage cheese that you put in my helmet, you traitor, scoundrel and ill-bred squire!”

To which with great calm and dissimulation Sancho responded: “If it’s cottage cheese, give it to me, your grace, and I’ll eat it. But let the devil eat it since he must have put it there. Would I dare dirty your grace’s helmet? Do you think I’m to blame? On my faith, señor, God makes me think that I also must have enchanters who pursue me, as a part of your grace, and they must have put that slop there to change your patience to anger and to cause my ribs to be pummeled as usual. But in truth they’re off the mark this time. I trust in the good sense of my master who will have considered that I don’t have any cottage cheese, nor milk, nor anything of the kind, and if I had any, I’d put it in my stomach rather than in the helmet.”

“Anything is possible,” said don Quixote.

The hidalgo saw everything and everything left him amazed, especially when, after don Quixote cleaned off his head, face, beard, and helmet, he put it back on his head and making himself fast in his stirrups, girding his sword and grasping his lance, he said: “Now, come what may, for I have enough courage to take on Satan himself.”

At that moment the cart with the pennants drew near, on which there were no people other than the carter on one of the mules and another man sitting on the front of the cart. Don Quixote placed himself in front of the cart and said: “Where are you going, brothers? Whose cart is this? What are you transporting in it and whose pennants are those?”

To which the carter responded: “The cart is my own; what I’m transporting is two fierce lions in cages, which the General of Orán is sending to the Court as presents for his majesty; the pennants are his majesty’s own, to show that this is something of his.”

“And are the lions big?” asked don Quixote.

“So big,” responded the man who was on his way back to the door of the cage, “that larger ones, nor even as large, have never been transported before between Africa and Spain. I’m the lion keeper and I’ve brought others over but none like these. They’re a female and a male. The male is in this first cage, the female in the one behind. They’re hungry because they haven’t eaten today. So, your grace, get out of the way because I have to find a place soon where I can feed them.”

To which don Quixote said with a half smile: “Little lions for me? For me, little lions, and at this time of day? Well, by God, those men who sent them to me will see if I’m a man to be frightened by lions or not. Get down, my good man, and since you’re the lion keeper, open those cages and send those beasts out—for in the middle of this field I’ll show them who don Quixote de La Mancha is, in spite of all the enchanters who have sent them to me.”

“Aha,” the hidalgo said to himself at this point. “At last, this good knight has shown who he is. The cottage cheese has doubtless softened his brain.”

At his point, Sancho went to the hidalgo and said: “Señor, for God’s sake, your grace, see that my master doesn’t take on these lions, for if he does, they’ll tear us all to bits.”

“Is your master so crazy,” responded the hidalgo, “that you fear and believe he’ll take on such fierce animals?”

“He’s not crazy,” responded Sancho, “just daring.”

“I’ll see that he doesn’t do it,” replied the hidalgo.

And approaching don Quixote, who was pressing the lion keeper to open the cages, said: “Señor knight, knights errant should undertake adventures that promise a favorable outcome, and not engage in those that cannot. Courage that invades the territory of recklessness smacks more of foolhardiness than bravery. Moreover, these lions are not here to do battle with you, nor are they even dreaming about it. They’re presents for his majesty and it’s not a good idea to stop them nor hinder their progress.”

“Get out of the way, your grace, señor hidalgo,” responded don Quixote, “and tend to your tame partridge and your daring ferret, and leave everyone to his own business. This is mine, and I know if these señores lions are really meant for me or not.”

And turning to the lion keeper, he said: “I swear, you knave, if you don’t open the cages right now, I’ll pin you to this cart with my lance!”

The carter saw the resolve of that phantom in armor and said: “Señor mío, if your grace pleases, out of charity, let me unyoke the mules and put them and myself where we’ll be safe before the lions are released, because if they kill my mules, I’ll be ruined for the rest of my life—I have no property other than this cart and these mules.”

“Oh, man of little faith!” responded don Quixote, “Get down and unyoke the mules and do whatever you want. Soon you’ll see that your trouble was in vain and that you didn’t have to take that precaution.”

The carter got down and unyoked the mules in great haste, and the lion keeper cried out: “All those who are here, be my witnesses that against my will and having been forced, I’m opening the cages and releasing the lions, and that I’m warning this man that all the harm and damage they may do are his responsibility, including my wages and fees. Your graces, señores, take cover before I open the cages. I’m sure they won’t harm me.”

Once again the hidalgo tried to persuade him not to do that mad act, because taking on such a foolish thing was tempting God. To which don Quixote responded that he knew what he was doing. The hidalgo told him to consider it carefully, and that he was convinced he was mistaken.

“Now, señor,” replied don Quixote, “if your grace doesn’t want to witness this act you think will be a tragedy, spur your gray mare and go where it’s safe.”

When Sancho heard this, with tears in his eyes he begged him to stop that perilous undertaking, in comparison to which the windmills, the fearful adventure of the fulling mills, and all the other deeds he’d attempted in his entire life, had been cakes and cookies. “Look, señor,” said Sancho, “there’s no enchantment here nor anything of the kind. I saw the real claw of a lion between the bars of the cage, and I judge by the size of the claw that the lion itself must be bigger than a mountain.”

“Fear, at least,” responded don Quixote, “will have made it seem larger than half the world. Stand back, Sancho, and leave me alone, and if I should die here, you know our longstanding agreement—you’ll go to Dulcinea… and I’ll say no more.”

He added further comments that made Sancho realize that he was not about to give up his foolish intent. The man in the Green Coat would have tried to thwart him, but he was not nearly as well armed, and he realized that it was not prudent to take on a crazy man—for that’s exactly what don Quixote appeared to be. The knight again pressed the lion keeper and renewed his threats, all of which inspired the hidalgo to spur his mare, Sancho his donkey, and the carter his mules, all of them trying to get as far away from the cart as they could before the lions were released.

Sancho was weeping over the impending death of his master, for that time he believed without any doubt he was going directly into the claws of the lion. He cursed his luck and thought it was a very ill-fated moment when he got the idea to serve him again. But even though he was crying and lamenting, he still didn’t fail to whip his donkey to get away from the cart. The lion keeper, seeing that those who were fleeing were a good distance away, tried again to dissuade and warn don Quixote the same way he’d tried to already. He responded that he had heard him and didn’t care to hear any more dissuasions or warnings, for they would all have little effect, and also the lion keeper shouldn’t waste any more time. During the time the lion keeper took to open the first cage, don Quixote considered if it would be better to do the battle on foot rather than on horseback, and finally decided to do it on foot, fearing that Rocinante would be spooked when he saw the lions. For this reason, he jumped off the horse, threw down his lance, clasped his shield, and, unsheathing his sword, step by step, with marvelous courage and with a brave heart, placed himself in front of the cart, commending himself to God with all his heart, and then to his lady Dulcinea.

And it should be said that when the author got to this point in this true history, he exclaims: “Oh, strong and beyond all exaggeration dauntless don Quixote de La Mancha, mirror in which all of the valiant men in the world may see themselves, a second and new Manuel de León, who was the glory and honor of Spanish knights! What words can I use to describe this so frightening deed, or with what words can I make future ages believe it, or what praise is there that will not be fitting, no matter how much exaggeration is used? You on foot, alone, intrepid, heroic, with a single sword—and not one of those really sharp ones from Toledo—with a none too shiny or clean steel shield, are waiting for the two fiercest lions that were ever born in the African jungles. Let your own deeds serve as praise, you brave Manchegan—for here I’ll leave your deeds at their height, lacking the words to describe them.”

Here the exclamation of the author ends and he continued, getting back to the thread of his story saying:

Now that the lion keeper saw that don Quixote was ready, and that he couldn’t avoid releasing the male lion—fearing the enmity of the indignant and daring knight—opened wide the door of the first cage where the lion, as has been said, was. This lion seemed inordinately large and had a fearful and ugly face. The first thing the lion did was to turn around in the cage, where he’d been lying, extend his claws, and stretch all over. He opened his mouth wide and yawned very slowly, and with a tongue almost a foot long, he licked the dust from his eyes and washed his face. Then he stuck his head out of the cage and looked everywhere with eyes that looked like ret-hot coals, with a look and an attitude that would instill fright in fear itself. But don Quixote watched him fixedly, wanting him to jump out of his cage and to attack, planning to tear the poor creature to shreds.

His unheard-of madness reached this height. But the generous lion, more courteous than arrogant, indifferent to all this childishness and bravado, after having looked all around, as has been said, turned back, showing his rear end to don Quixote, and with great apathy and sluggishness, returned to lie down in his cage. When don Quixote saw this, he commanded the lion keeper to give him a few whacks and provoke him so he’d come out.

“I’ll not do that,” responded the lion keeper, “because if I do, the first one he’ll claw to pieces will be me. Be content, your grace, señor knight, with what you’ve done, since nothing more can be said of your bravery. Don’t tempt Fortune a second time. The lion has his door open before him. Let him decide if he wants to come out or not. But since he hasn’t come out yet, he won’t come out all day. The greatness of your bravery has been well proven. No courageous fighter, the way I understand it, is obliged to do any more than challenge his enemy and wait for him in the field of battle, and if his contrary doesn’t show up, in him lies the infamy, and the person who waits ready to fight wins the crown of victory.”

“That’s true,” responded don Quixote, “so close the door, my friend, and write me an affidavit in as good a form as you can, about what you saw me do—to wit: you opened the door of the lion’s cage; I waited for him; he didn’t come out; I kept waiting; he remained in the cage and went back to lie down. There’s nothing more I can do, and there’s no enchantment. And may God let reason, truth, and true chivalry prosper. So close the cage while I signal those who fled so they can find out from your own mouth what transpired here.”

The lion keeper did what he was asked, and don Quixote attached to the point of his lance the cloth he’d used to wipe the trickles of cottage cheese from his face, and began to call those who were still fleeing while still looking back at every step, with the hidalgo in green bringing up the rear. But when Sancho saw the signal with the white cloth, he said: “May they kill me if my master didn’t vanquish the fierce beasts—he’s summoning us.”

The others reined in and realized that the person who was waving the cloth was don Quixote, and with their fear partially relieved, they cautiously returned to where they could hear don Quixote calling them. Finally, they returned to the cart, and when they got there, don Quixote said to the carter: “You can yoke up your mules and go your way, and you, Sancho, give two escudos in gold to him and the lion keeper in recompense for the delay I’ve caused them.”

“I’ll give them with great pleasure,” responded Sancho, “but what happened to the lions? Are they dead or alive?”

Then the lion keeper related in great detail the course of the combat, exaggerating the bravery of don Quixote as well as he could and knew how—how the lion was unnerved at the sight of don Quixote and refused to leave his cage, although the cage was left open more than enough time. He also said that he’d told that knight that it was tempting God to irritate the lion in order to force him out against the lion’s wishes, and that don Quixote, contrary to his own will, had permitted him to close the cage.

“What do you think of that, Sancho?” said don Quixote. “Are there enchantments that can have any effect against true bravery? Enchanters may well be able to rob my good fortune—but my resolve and courage, never!”

Sancho gave them the escudos, the carter yoked up his mules, the lion keeper kissed don Quixote’s hand for the favor received, and promised to tell the king himself about the brave deed when he saw him in court.

“If his majesty should ask who did that deed, you will tell him it was the KNIGHT OF THE LIONS, for that’s what I want my old name, the WOEBEGONE KNIGHT, to be changed to, altered, transformed, and made over into from now on, and in this I’m following the ancient custom of knights errant, who changed their names whenever they wanted, or whenever it seemed appropriate.”

The cart went on its way, and don Quixote, Sancho, and the man in the Green Coat went theirs. In all this time don Diego de Miranda had not said a word, being absorbed in looking at and noting the deeds and words of don Quixote, for it seemed to him that he was a sane crazy man and a crazy man who was leaning toward being sane. The first part of his history had not yet come to his notice. If he’d read it, his wonder would have disappeared since he would have known what kind of madness he suffered from. But since he didn’t know, sometimes he took him for sane and other times for crazy, because what he said was well put together, elegant, and well stated, and what he did was foolish, reckless, and stupid. He said to himself: “What can be crazier than to put on a helmet filled with cottage cheese and believe that enchanters were softening his brains, and what greater recklessness and foolishness can there be than to want to fight lions?”

Don Quixote roused him from these thoughts and this soliloquy, when he said: “Who doubts, señor Diego de Miranda, that your grace must hold me as a fool and a crazy man? And it wouldn’t be too far off the mark since my deeds seem to point to nothing else. But withal, I want your grace to be aware that I’m not as crazy and diminished as I must have appeared. A gallant knight who gives a fortunate lance stroke to a fierce bull in the middle of the plaza must look good in the eyes of the king. A knight dressed in shining armor who competes in animated jousts must look good to the ladies. And all those knights who engage in military exercises, or exercises that look military in nature, entertain and gladden people, and, if I may say so, honor the court of their princes. But above all of these, a knight errant seems to be the best, for he wanders through deserts, wilderness, crossroads, forests, and mountains, seeking dangerous adventures with the intention of bringing them to a happy conclusion, for the sole purpose of achieving glorious and lasting fame. A knight errant rescuing a widow in some barren place, I say, seems better than a courtly knight wooing a damsel in the city. Every knight has his particular function: let the courtly knight serve the ladies, glorify his king at court with his handsome uniforms, feed the poor knights with splendid food at his table, arrange jousts, take part in tournaments, and show himself to be liberal and magnificent, and above all a good Christian—in this way he’ll fulfill his precise obligations.

“But let the knight errant scour the corners of the earth, penetrate into the most intricate labyrinths, attack impossible things every step of the way, resist the burning rays of the desert sun in the middle of summer, and in winter, the cruel bitterness of the winds and snows. He won’t let lions terrify, nor monsters frighten, nor dragons daunt him, for seeking these, attacking those, and vanquishing all of them are his main and true exercise. I, then, since it was my fate to be among the knights errant, can’t help but take on everything that seems to me to fall under the purview of my profession; so attacking lions, which I just did, was something I had to do, even though it seemed to be foolhardy recklessness. I well know what bravery is—it’s a virtue somewhere between the two vices of cowardice and foolhardiness. But it will be better for the brave man to rise to the point of recklessness rather than to lower to the point of cowardice. So just as it’s easier for the generous person to be more liberal than the miser, it’s easier for the reckless man to be truly brave than for the coward. Insofar as taking on adventures is concerned, believe me, señor don Diego, it’s better to lose by a card too many than one too few, because it sounds better in the ears of those who hear ‘that knight is reckless and daring’ than ‘that knight is timid and cowardly.’ ”

“I say, señor don Quixote,” responded don Diego, “that everything you’ve said is proven by reason itself, and I can see that if the rules and laws of knight errantry were lost, they could be found in your grace’s heart as they would be in their own storehouse and archive. And let’s hurry because it’s getting late. We’ll go to my village and house where your grace can rest from your travails, which—if these weren’t of the body, they certainly were of the spirit—frequently results in fatigue of the body.”

“I accept your offer as a great favor and kindness, señor don Diego,” responded don Quixote.

And spurring their horses more than they had before, it was probably about two in the afternoon when they arrived at the village and house of don Diego, whom don Quixote called the KNIGHT OF THE GREEN COAT.



Date: June 1, 2009
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