THE RUBAIYAT

Rubaiyat

Author: Omar Khayyám (1048−1131)
Translator: Edward FitzGerald (1809−1883)
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics (2009 edition)
Bought from: Noq Store

Introduction

Omar Ghiyāth ad-Dīn Abu’l-Fatḥ ‘Umar ibn Ibrāhīm al-Khayyām Nīshāpūrī, better known as Omar Khayyám, was a Persian mathematician, philosopher and astronomer. But he is best known today for a set of quatrains attributed to him and which were translated by Edward FitzGerald and published under the title The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. FitzGerald published the first edition in 1859, followed by 4 editions under his control (1868, 1872 and 1879) and a fifth edition published posthumously (1889).

What is the story about?

As very little is known about Omar Khayyám, the poems are open to interpretation. One of the most famous is the meta-referential quatrain no 51:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
   Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

What about the book?

This is a reproduction of the 1859 edition. There is a handy introduction by Cedric Watts.

Finally …

It is well known that FitzGerald’s translation was very loose and may be more accurately described as a reintepretation instead of translation.

THE TEMPEST

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Author: William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
Editors: Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen
Publisher: Modern Library (2008 Edition)
Bought from: Book Depository

Introduction

This is generally taken as the last play written by William Shakespeare on his own, around 1611.

What is it about?

Prospero was exiled with his daughter Miranda from the Duchy of Milan. They were shipwrecked on an island where Prospero tamed the local denizens, including the ogreish Caliban, and plotted his revenge against those who wronged him. Ultimately, he learned to forgive them instead:

Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’ quick,
Yet with my nobler reason gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance.
(5.1.29–32)

Themes

It is impossible to say with certainty if Shakespeare knew this was the last play he was going to write on his own. But reading the play today, it is difficult to avoid seeing striking connections between Shakespeare and Prospero, who controlled everything that took place on the island. It is also impossible not to see him bidding farewell in the following speech:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air.
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud–capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
(4.1.161–171)

and in the famous epilogue delivered after all the other characters have left the stage:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
(5.1.360–379)

What about the book?

Each of the books in the RSC Shakespeare series published by The Modern Library comes with very informative footnotes, helpful scene-by-scene analysis and, best of all, commentary on past and current productions that comes with interviews with leading directors and actors. The books are also very reasonably priced. Best of all, the introductions are not overly long and focus on a few talking points for each play. The paper quality is not particularly good though. Also, the covers are not very attractive.

Finally …

So, on the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare (to the month), I finished all the plays I set out to read.

THEOGONY

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Author: Hesiod (c 750 − 650 BC)
Translator: Richard S. Caldwell
Publisher: Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Co (1987 edition)
Bought from: Noq Store

Introduction

Little is known of Hesiod himself and when or where he lived and worked. It is believed that he is a contemporary of Homer. Herodotus ((c. 484–425 BCE) wrote in The Histories that Homer and Hesiod were the first poets of the Greeks (2.53.1–3).

Three extant works are attributed to Hesiod and the most famous is Theogony. The poem, which was written in the form of Greek known as Homeric or Epic Greek (also used in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey) is primarily an account of the origin of the cosmos and the gods according to ancient Greek. In Theogony, Hesiod synthesised many versions of the myths and today the short poem is considered one of the main sources of Greek mythology.

Theogony is also one of the few extant sources of the mythology around Prometheus (ll 507−616), second in importance only to Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound (c 5th century BC).

What is the story about?

The poem is not organised sequentially. Chronology, the events took place chronologically as follows:

First, Chaos, Gaia, Tartaros (Tartarus) and Eros emerged out of nothing — this is the Ancient Greeks’ cosmogony. The elemental beings gave birth to a number of offsprings asexually, for example Gaia (the earth) gave birth parthenogenically to Ouranos (Uranus) (the sky) (ll 116–128).

Gaia mated with Ouranos to produce the second generation gods: 12 Titans of which Kronos (Cronus) and Rhea are the most prominent, 3 Kyklopes (Cylops) and 3 Hundred−Handed (Hekatonkheires) (ll 132−153). 

Ouranos hid the Hekatonkheires in a “dark hole of Gaia”. Suffering from the pain, Gaia encouraged Kronos to castrate Ouranos. Out of Ouranos’ blood emerged the Erinyes (Furies) and Giants and from his severed penis which was thrown into the sea arose Aphrodite (ll 154−206).

Kronos mated with Rhea to produce the third generation gods including the big three Olympians, viz. Poseidon, Hades and Zeus as well as Hera. Frightened by a prophecy that his own son would overthrow him, Kronos swallowed all his children as they were born. Using trickery, Rhea managed to spare her youngest offspring Zeus from this fate. Zeus then freed and led the third generation gods in a 10−year war known as the Titanomachy against Kronos, the Titans and the Giants. Prometheus, born to a Titan father, fought alongside Zeus. Zeus prevailed after he recruited the Hundred−Handed based on Gaia’s counsel. Zeus exiled the Titans to Tartaros (ll 453−506, 617−721).

In some traditions (eg. Library 1.6.1), Zeus and the Olympians then fought another battle known as Giantomachy. Hesiod is silent on this in Theogony.

Gaia had helped her grandson Zeus defeat her son Kronos. Then she switched side and mated with Tartaros to produce the monster Typhoeus (Typhon) to overthrow Zeus. This was Zeus’ most formidable foe yet (see the description of Typhoeus in Library 1.6.2). After an epic battle, Zeus won and threw Typhoeus into Tartaros. At that stage, Zeus assumed unchallenged supremacy (ll 820 ff).

[Before he waged war on Zeus, Typhoeus had time to beget some monsters of his own, viz Kerberos (Cerberus), Hydra and Chimaira (Chimera). He would also be the grandfather of the Sphinx and the Nemeian Lion (ll 133 −153).]

What about the book?

The poem itself is only about 1,000 lines long and takes up just 60 pages (with many pages more than half filled with footnotes). A very useful Introduction takes up 16 pages and an essay titled The Psychology of the Succession Myths another 18 pages. The Introduction includes very handy family trees in diagram form. This edition also includes extracts from Hesiod’s Works and Days and the incomplete collection of myths known to us as Library of Apollodorus relating to the stories told in Theogony.

The publisher Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Co labels itself an independent publisher of reasonably-priced quality textbooks. However, there are a number of annoying typos in the text.

Finally …

Fascinating stuff.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS AND OTHER PLAYS

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Author: Christopher Marlowe (1564−1593)
Editor: David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen
Publisher: Oxford University Press (2008 Reissue)
Bought from: noQ Store

Introduction

Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury, England in the same year as William Shakespeare. Unlike Shakespeare, Marlowe went to university and obtained a Bachelor of Arts (1584) and a Master of Arts (1587) from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Like Shakespeare, however, little is known about his personal life which has led to much speculation, fuelled largely by the mysterious circumstances of his arrest and stabbing death within a space of 10 days in 1593. What we do know for sure is that he wrote some of the period‘s most famous plays within a span of 6 short years. Perhaps the biggest compliment one can pay Christopher Marlowe is to note his influences in some of Shakespeare’s own plays. Students of the history of English literature will know him as the writer who popularised the use of blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter).

What is the story about?

The two-part Tamburlaine The Great was written around 1587−8. Part I was first performed on stage in 1587 and Part II possibly in the following year. Both parts were published together in 1590. The main character is based loosely on the historical Central Asian warlord Timur (1336−1405), better known as Tamerlane (Persian for Timur the Lame). At the height of his power, his empire ranged from Mongolia to Russia, India and the Middle East. On the basis that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Timur was actually viewed as a potential ally by some European leaders after he defeated an Ottoman Sultan, something Marlowe alluded to (I 3.3.236-8).

Doctor Faustus, full name The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, is Marlowe’s most famous work. It was written around 1588−92 and was first performed on stage in 1594. Two versions of the play survive, one published in 1605 (called the A−Text) and a longer one published in 1616 (the B−Text). The protagonist is based on a character from German legend who sold his soul to the devil for knowledge and pleasure.The play has given us the term faustian which refers to the insatiable striving for worldly knowledge and power even at the price of spiritual values. The play is also the source of the description of Helen of Troy as “the face that launched a thousand ships” (A−Text 5.1.90) as well as the following description of hell as essentially a state of mind:

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be.
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that are not heaven.
(A−Text 2.1.121−6)

This volume also includes The Jew of Malta (written c 1589−90) and Edward II (written c 1592). The Jew of Malta is often compared to Shakespeare‘s The Merchant of Venice (1596−98).

Themes

One common thread in the first two plays is the hubris exhibited by the protagonists. To the blood-thirsty Tamburlaine, it was indeed (apologies to Mel Brooks) good to be king, even better than being a god:

A god is not so glorious as a king.
I think the pleasure they enjoy in heaven
Cannot compare with kingly joys in earth:
To wear a crown enchased with pearl and gold,
Whose virtues carry with it life and death;
To ask and have; command and be obeyed;
When looks breed love, with looks to gain the prize—
Such power attractive shines in princes’ eyes.
(I 2.5.57−64)

He added:

The chiefest God, first mover of that sphere
Enchased with thousands ever-shining lamps
Will sooner burn the glorious frame of heaven
Than it should so conspire my overthrow.
(I 4.2.8−11)

And in a controversial scene, he ordered the burning of copies of the Quran and challenged Mahomet (the prophet Mohammad) to do something about it (II 5.1).

Just as Tamburlaine used a defeated enemy as a footstool to ascend to his throne, Faustus used arcane knowledge (referred to as necromancy or metaphysics) to become as a god himself:

A sound magician is a mighty god
Here, Faustus, try thy brains to gain a deity
(A−Text 1.1.64−65)

Tamburlaine’s arrogance did not appear to have adversely affected him. Faustus on the other hand paid a heavy price for his transgressions. He was dragged alive into hell by the devils (A−Text 5.2) or torn asunder by the devils, leaving only his “mangled limbs” (B−Text 5.3.17).

In Tamburlaine, Marlowe lionised a commoner, a sherperd, who challenged and defeated not one but four empires (Persian, Ottoman, Egyptian and Babylonian) to become the “scourge of God and terror of the world” (II 4.153). One can only wonderhow this was viewed by the Elizabethan palace.

Marlowe lived, worked and died during the Renaissance period which marked Europe’s transition from the Medieval Period (Middle Ages) into the Modern Period. The movement, which reshaped European arts, sciences and philosophy, originated in Italy in the 14th century before spreading to the rest of Europe over the next 100 years. In England, the Renaissance reached its pinnacle during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558−1603), dominated by the poetry of Edmund Spenser and plays of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. In a twisted sort of way, Faustus was the model Renaissance man, having mastered analytics (philosoply), Physic (medicine), law and divinity.

The religious landscape of England under Queen Elizabeth I that Marlowe lived in was shaped by the monarch’s immediate predecessors: the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII (1509−1547), the intensification of the English Reformation under Edward VI (1547−1553) and the prosecution of Protestants by Mary (1553−1558). Many of the challenges to Elizabeth’s rule (domestic as well as foreign) can be traced to these religious tensions. Nonetheless, Elizabeth is credited for calming the religious convulsions of the previous rules. Anglicanism shared many elements with Calvinism, a major Protestant denomination. In Marlowe‘s play, Faustus’ biggest sin was not making the deal with Lucifer in the first place but failing to repent. This may reflect the Calvinist doctrine that everyone is predestined by God′s plan to be either saved or damned. Those destined to fall are incapable of saving themselves by any action whatsoever since redemption is the work of God.

How is the book?

This is a volume in the Oxford World’s Classics series and includes an informative introduction and end notes.

It is not clear why the cover illustration of the book is a detail from Self-Portrait with Fur-Trimmed Robe by German painter Albrecht Dürer (1471 − 1528).

THE POETIC EDDA : THE HEROIC POEMS

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Author: unknown
Translator: Henry Adams Bellows
Publisher: Dover Publications (2004 Edition)
Bought from: Book Depository

Introduction

Germanic mythology refers to the stories and pagan beliefs of the people who lived in Northern Europe before and during the early days of Christianity. Over the years, as a result of migrations, distinct strains emerged − the branch that took hold in Scandinavia and Iceland is usually referred to as Norse or Northern Germanic mythology to distinguish it from Continental Germanic mythology.

Very little remains in written form of Continental Germanic myths. On the other hand, many more works of Norse mythology have survived such as The Poetic Edda, The Prose Edda and The Volsunga Saga.

The Poetic Edda is a collection of poems that were probably first composed and orally transmitted by court minstrels in medieval Scandinavia called skalds in the 10th century.The poems that appear in modern editions of The Poetic Edda are mostly found in a manuscript called Codex Regius. Codex Regius itself is believed to have been written by an unknown author in Iceland around 1270. The 13th century saw an amazing flowering of literature in Viking Iceland — The Prose Edda was written during this period as were poetry and sagas (prose tales about the journeys, disputes and lives of the Vikings). The language used in these works was Old Norse, the language of Scandinavia during the Middle Ages (c 500 – 1400 CE).

The Poetic Edda is made up of two parts. The first part consists of poems which feature the Norse pantheon and includes Voluspa, the story of the creation and future destruction of the universe. The second features poems about mortal heroes and includes the so-called Niflung Cycle (the parallel of the Middle High German epic poem Nibelungenlied).

There is a separate text called The Prose Edda, The Younger Edda, Snorri’s Edda or simply Edda, attributed to Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson (c 1220s). In The Prose Edda, Snorri made multiple references to poems found in The Poetic Edda.

Today, the 2 Eddas are the main sources of Norse mythology.

What is it about?

This volume of The Poetic Edda is a hodgepodge of tales about the warrior Helgi Hundingsbane, the Niflungs, and Jörmunrekkr, the king of the Goths.

The Niflung cycle makes up the bulk of the volume and relates the well known twisted relationship between Sigurd (Siegfried in German), Brynhildr (Brünnhilde), Gudrun (Kriemhild), Gunnar (Gunther) and Atli (Etzel).

What about the book?

There are three translations of The Poetic Edda currently in print, by Bellows (1923), Lee M. Hollander (1928) and Carolyne Larrington (1996). Dover Publications has republished Bellow’s translation in 2 volumes. The second volume Of Bellows, subtitled The Heroic Poems, is based on the part called Lay of the Heroes in the original translation. It includes a useful introduction and Bellows has supplied useful annotations.

The first volume is subtitled The Mythical Poems and is based on the part called Lays of the Gods in the original translation.

Bellow‘s translation is in the public domain. The 2 Dover volumes are not cheap (the first volume costs S$12.40). Together, they are more expensive than the Larrington’s translation (Oxford University Press) but cheaper than the latest edition of Hollander (University of Texas Press). With Dover’s Bellows, it is possible to buy just The Mythological Poems for stories relating to the gods and choose a different source eg. the prose Völsungasaga for stories relating to heroes.

Finally …

Norse mythology was largely unknown outside Scandinavia until the 1800s. Since then, it has left a deep legacy on western culture, from the operas of Richard Wagner to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and the comics and movies of Marvel. However, the source materials, such as The Poetic Edda, have not been well preserved.

THE POETIC EDDA : THE MYTHOLOGICAL POEMS

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Author: unknown
Translator: Henry Adams Bellows
Publisher: Dover Publications (2004 Edition)
Bought from: Book Depository

Introduction

Germanic mythology refers to the stories and pagan beliefs of the people who lived in Northern Europe before and during the early days of Christianity. Over the years, as a result of migrations, distinct strains emerged − the branch that took hold in Scandinavia and Iceland is usually referred to as Norse or Northern Germanic mythology to distinguish it from Continental Germanic mythology.

Very little remains in written form of Continental Germanic myths. On the other hand, many more works of Norse mythology have survived such as The Poetic Edda, The Prose Edda and The Volsunga Saga.

The Poetic Edda is a collection of poems that were probably first composed and orally transmitted by court minstrels in medieval Scandinavia called skalds in the 10th century.The poems that appear in modern editions of The Poetic Edda are mostly found in a manuscript called Codex Regius. Codex Regius itself is believed to have been written by an unknown author in Iceland around 1270. The 13th century saw an amazing flowering of literature in Viking Iceland — The Prose Edda was written during this period as were poetry and sagas (prose tales about the journeys, disputes and lives of the Vikings). The language used in these works was Old Norse, the language of Scandinavia during the Middle Ages (c 500 – 1400 CE).

The Poetic Edda is made up of two parts. The first part consists of poems about the Norse pantheon and includes Voluspa, the story of the creation and future destruction of the universe. The second part features poems about mortal heroes and includes the so-called Niflung Cycle (the parallel of the Middle High German epic poem Nibelungenlied).

There is a separate text called The Prose Edda, The Younger Edda, Snorri’s Edda or simply Edda, attributed to Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson (c 1220s). In The Prose Edda, Snorri made multiple references to poems found in The Poetic Edda.

Today, the 2 Eddas are the main sources of Norse mythology.

What is it about?

This volume of The Poetic Edda consists Voluspo (The Wise-Woman’s Prophecy), Homavol (The Ballad of the High One), Vafthruthnismol (The Ballad of Vafthruthnismol), Grimnismol (The Ballad of Grimnir), Skirnismol (The Ballad of Skirnir), Harbarthsljoth (The Poem of Harbarth), Hymiskvitha (The Lay of Hmir), Lokasenna (Loki’s Wrangling), Thrymskvitha (The Lay of Thrym), Alvissmol (The Ballad of Alvis), Baldrs Draumar (Baldr’s Dreams), Rigsthula (The Song of Rig), Hyndluljoth (The Poem of Hyndla) and Svipdagsmol (The Ballad of Svipdag).

What about the book?

There are three translations of The Poetic Edda currently in print, by Bellows (1923), Lee M. Hollander (1928) and Carolyne Larrington (1996). Dover Publications has republished Bellow’s translation in 2 volumes. The first volume is subtitled The Mythical Poems and is based on the part called Lays of the Gods in the original translation and includes a useful introduction. He has supplied very useful annotations.

The second volume Of Bellows, subtitled The Heroic Poems, is based on the part called Lay of the Heroes in the original translation.

Bellow’s translation is in the public domain. The 2 Dover volumes are not cheap (the first volume costs S$12.40). Together, they are more expensive than the Larrington’s translation (Oxford University Press) but cheaper than the latest edition of Hollander (University of Texas Press). With Dover’s Bellows, it is possible to buy just The Mythological Poems for stories relating to the gods and choose a different source eg. the prose Völsungasaga for stories relating to heroes.

Finally …

Norse mythology was largely unknown outside Scandinavia until the 1800s. Since then, it has left an enduring legacy on western culture, from the operas of Richard Wagner to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and the comics and movies of Marvel. However, the source materials, such as The Poetic Edda, have not been well preserved.

DON QUIXOTE

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Author: Miguel de Cervantes (1547 – 1616)
Editors: Edith Grossman
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers (2005 Edition)
Bought from: NoQ Store

Introduction

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra is Spain’s most famous author and Don Quixote, full title The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (or El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha) is his most famous work. The First Part was published in 1605. It appears that Cervantes was working on the sequel when someone using the pseudonym Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda published an unauthorised sequel in 1614. This apparently pushed Cervantes to finish his own sequel and it was finally published in 1615, just a year before his death.

Cervantes is to Spanish literature what his contemporary Shakespeare is to English literature. And coincidentally, Cervantes died on 22 April 1616, one day before Shakespeare. But unlike Shakespeare and other Elizabethan-Jacobean writers who produced mostly plays, Cervantes is celebrated for his prose fiction. Don Quixote is one of the first novels in any European language.

In a poll organised by the editors of the Norwegian Book Club in 2002, well-known authors from 54 countries were asked to choose the 100 books ever written. The Book Club did not rank the books chosen but singled out Don Quixote as having received 50% more votes than any other book. Critics and experts polled by the newspaper The Observer in 2003 voted Don Quixote number 1 in a poll of the 100 greatest novels of all time. The novel has given the English language the term “quixotic” and the idiom “tilting at windmills”.

What is it about?

Alonso Quijano, a poor noble, went mad after reading too many books about chivalry. In his mind, he became a knight errant named Don Quixote. He imagined a peasant girl Aldonza Lorenzo as Dulcinea del Toboso as his ideal lady-love and set out in search of adventures in her name. He recruited his neighbour Sancho Panza as his squire after his first sally ended with a beating.

Themes

Cervantes lived and died in Spain during the height of her imperial power. The year 1492, just a little over 50 years before he was born, was a momentous one in Spanish history. The Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, ended 781 years of Islamic rule in Spain by recapturing Granada (completing the so-called reconsquita). That unleashed the expulsions and/or forced conversions of Jews and Muslims (moriscos) and atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition. In the same year, the monarchs financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World, ushering in the Age of Discovery. The inflow of precious metals and other resources from the Americas would eventually transform Spain into the world’s first superpower under the rule of the Habsburg dynasty (c 1506 – 1700). Habsburg Spain dominated Europe militarily for much of the 16th and 17th century before declining in the late 17th century.

The Habsburg dynasty coincided with the so-called Golden Age of Spain (Siglo de Oro in Spanish). During this period, there was a great flowering in Spanish literature, art, drama, music and even architecture. However, the works created from this period are not known outside Spain today other than in academic circles with the exception of Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote.

Spanish literature during Cervantes’ time was dominated by 2 genres. Chivalric romance, which was extremely popular amongst the European aristocracy from the 12th to the 16th century, celebrated the adventures of knights and their code of loyalty, honour and courtly behaviour. The genre flourished in France (the Arthurian poems of Chrétien de Troyes in late 12th century), England (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by an unknown author from late 14th century and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, 1485), Italy (Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, 1516 – 1532) and Spain itself (Amadis de Gaula by an unknown author, 1505). The second genre was picaresque fiction, traditionally considered as originating with Lazarillo de Tormes a novella published anonymously in Spain (1554). Picaresque novels are characterised by the adventures of a low-born but appealing hero (picaro in Spanish) told in humorous and satiric episodes and in realistic language.

Don Quixote is a satire of chivalric romances written in the style of a picaresque novel. The protagonist Don Quixote met (or thought he met) giants, enchanters and enchantresses, Moors and hostile armies, just like the typical hero of a Romance. The difference is the generous helping of humour that Cervantes added to the mix.

The comic and episodic format of the novel is reminiscent of the Chinese classic Journey to the West, thought to be written in the 16th century.

Cervantes used a number of literary devices in his novel. Most of the novel (starting from the First Part, Chap IX) is supposedly derived from a history written in Arabic by Cide Hamete Benengeli, a fictional Moorish author, translated into the Castilian language by an unnamed morisco and edited by Cervantes — in other words, the original Spanish version is supposed to be a translation which means any English translation is a translation of a translation! The novel (especially the First Part) contains a number of digressions in the form of stories told by characters that Don Quixote encountered. More remarkably, in the Second Part, the characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were aware that they have been written about in both the authorised First Part of Cervantes’ novel as well as the unauthorised sequel.

The entire novel is very comical and occasionally laugh out loud funny. The Second Part contains more more serious moments, including passages on honour, religion etc. In Chap XLII and XLIII, Don Quixote dispensed advice to Sancho Panza on how to be a good ruler and a good person, reminiscent of Polonius’ advice to Laertes in Hamlet (1.3).

What about the book?

This is a beautiful deckle-edged volume and contains both First and Second Parts. It is a massive 940 pages long. Grossman has translated the novel into modern English. There is an introduction by Harold Bloom.

Finally …

The First Part is difficult reading in part. The interpolated novels are a little annoying. It is far more interesting to read about Don Quixote and Sancho Panza than characters like that idiot who insisted on testing his wife’s faithfulness (First Part, chapters XXXIII – XXXV).

Don Quixote is recognised as one of the most influential novels of Western literature. A number of novels, some classics in their own right, are influenced by Don Quixote — eg. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759 –1767) by Laurence Sterne, Madame Bovary (1856) by Gustave Flaubert and The Idiot (1869) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.