In the previous episode, Don Quixote scored his first success in combat, when he knocked down a Basque escort with his sword, at the cost of part of his helmet and some of his left ear. As the day was getting late, he and Sancho Panza accepted the hospitality of a group of goatherds, who were then mystified when the knight gave an account of the golden age of chivalry as they were eating boiled goat meat together. They were then entertained by a young fiddler, before Don Quixote’s ear was dressed by one of the peasants.
One of the lads who had returned from the nearby village brought news that a student-shepherd there had died that morning, of love for the daughter of a rich man; she had wandered around living as a shepherdess. The dead shepherd had wanted to be buried out in the wilds, where he first saw his love. The goatherds agreed to draw lots to decide who would attend his burial.
One of them told Don Quixote about the dead shepherd, who had been a rich hidalgo, and had attended Salamanca University. He could predict when eclipses would occur, and thanks to his advice his father and friends grew rich. He was also a poet, and inherited a large estate from his father. The woman he had fallen in love with was an orphan of great beauty, who had been brought up by her uncle, the village priest, who kept her locked away. She had rejected many suitors, until one day she dressed as a shepherdess, and was then pursued by many, including the dead man. However, she continued to reject all their advances, including those of the man who was to be buried.
Don Quixote decided to stay to attend the burial, then went to sleep in a hut to help his ear to heal. Sancho spent the night sandwiched between Rocinante and his own donkey, out in the open.
The following morning Don Quixote told Sancho Panza to prepare their mounts so they could ride to the burial. When they had ridden less than a mile from the goatherds’ camp they came across shepherds converging on the site of the grave. They met another pair of horsemen, who quickly concluded that Don Quixote was mad, so asked him to explain what knights errant were. The knight’s explanation confirmed their opinion of him, but one of the horsemen started to debate with him about chivalry, leading him to invent a noble lineage for his Lady Dulcinea. By now, even the goatherds had realised how crazy he was, although his faithful squire thought that every word of his was true.
Just then the burial party approached, put the bier down, and started to dig the grave.
After a brief oration by his friend, the argumentative horseman pleaded for his writings to be preserved rather than burned. He was given some of them, the first of which was entitled Song of Despair, which he proceeded to read aloud.
Cervantes gives the full text of that poem, a lament for his unrequited love for the beautiful young shepherdess. He wrote of his soul’s torment, of the pain of his neglect, and his imminent death, and how it increases her glory.
Just as the horseman was about to read more of the dead shepherd’s writings, the figure of the shepherdess appeared on a crag overlooking the grave.
The dead man’s friend asked her whether she had come to gloat over his death. She denied that, and told them that a beautiful woman shouldn’t be compelled to love whoever loves her, and that love must be voluntary. She had chosen to live free in the countryside, and had never encouraged anyone’s love of her. She had resolved to remain chaste, and that should be respected. With that, she turned and disappeared into a forest.
That prompted Don Quixote to defend her reasons and honour. The shepherds completed the burial, burning the dead man’s papers, and covered the grave with a rock slab until its tombstone could be installed there. The ceremony completed, they all dispersed, Don Quixote going in pursuit of the shepherdess, to offer her his services – something which didn’t work out as he had intended.
That completes the fourteenth chapter, and the second part, 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.