In the previous episode, having decided in his madness to become a knight, Don Quixote had left his home on his first sally. Realising that he hadn’t been dubbed a knight yet, he found an inn at sunset where he rested and begged its landlord to invest him. Following a fracas with two muleteers, the landlord dubbed Don Quixote, and he rode off at dawn on his horse Rocinante to continue his quest for chivalric adventure.
As he was riding away from the inn, Don Quixote remembered the advice given him by its landlord about carrying money, so he turned to head home to get some, and clean shirts, and while he was about it to acquire himself a squire. Not long after he had changed course, he heard someone moaning in a wood, and discovered a burly farmer flogging a youth who was tied to a tree.
When Don Quixote threatened the farmer, he explained that the lad had failed to protect his flock of sheep, as a result of which he had stopped his wages too.
The knight wouldn’t accept his answer, and threatened to run him through with his lance, forcing the farmer to stop, untie the youth, and offer to take him home to collect his money, something the young man refused to do. Don Quixote asserted that the farmer would be true to his word to respect the lad and pay him, and rode on towards his house.
Once Don Quixote was out of earshot, the farmer quickly tied his shepherd to the tree again, and returned to flogging him until he was half-dead, and unpaid. Meanwhile Don Quixote comforted himself with his achievement in redressing a wrong, and his success at getting the farmer (who he’d mistaken as another knight, of course) to deal so fairly with his servant.
As the knight neared his village, he saw a gathering of people, who were in fact merchants from Toledo going to Murcia to buy silk. To Don Quixote, though, the six, who were accompanied by four mounted servants and three footmen, were knights to be challenged. He set himself in their way and demanded that they confess that there was no maiden more fair than the Empress of La Mancha, Dulcinea del Toboso (a figure of his own imagination).
The merchants responded with wit, playing along with Don Quixote but only resulting in his anger towards them. Don Quixote spurred Rocinante on to charge at the wag who had upset him, but his horse tripped and fell, rolling a goodly distance and trapping the knight on the ground. One of the footmen came over and, rather than helping him, broke his lance and used one of the fragments to beat the fallen knight.
Only when the footman grew tired of hitting his victim did the group move on, leaving Don Quixote battered and bruised.
As the fallen knight became lost in his imagination, one of his neighbours came past with a donkey. Don Quixote continued to babble lines of chivalric verse as the farmer removed his visor, wiped his face and recognised him. Once he had removed his armour, the farmer put Don Quixote on his donkey and took him back home.
To avoid any embarrassment to the hidalgo, they didn’t enter the village until after dark, by which time the priest, his barber, niece and housekeeper were together worrying about where Don Quixote had been for the last three days.
Don Quixote told them of his injuries, and asked to be carried to bed and for the wise Urganda (another of his inventions) to be summoned to tend to him. That they did, although remaining at a loss as to who Urganda might be, and asked him a great many questions. All Don Quixote did was to ask for food and sleep, but the farmer told them all that he knew.
While Don Quixote was sleeping his bruises off, the priest and others unlocked his library and examined its books. They decided to burn the lot, but as they checked the titles the barber kept interrupting the priest and trying to convince him to spare them from the flames.
Some even the priest thought should be kept, including one of Miguel de Cervantes, Galatea. By the end of the day, though, most of Don Quixote’s precious and expensive collection had been piled in the yard ready to be destroyed.
That completes the sixth chapter of the first book of Don Quixote.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, trans John Rutherford (1604, 2000) Don Quixote, Penguin, ISBN 978 0 140 44909 9.
Roberto González Echevarría (2015) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Yale UP, ISBN 978 0 300 19864 5.
Roberto González Echevarría (ed) (2005) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, A Casebook, Oxford UP, ISBN 978 0 19 516938 6.