Don Quixote 7: Armies of sheep and spectres of the night

Johann Baptist Zwecker (1814–1876), Don Quixote (1854), oil on canvas, 71 x 91 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

In the previous episode, Don Quixote, his horse Rocinante, and Sancho Panza had been left battered and bruised after being beaten by muleteers. They made their way to an inn, which the knight believed to be a castle, where they stayed the night. In a collision of misunderstandings, they became involved in a brawl, only worsening their injuries. Don Quixote brewed up a balsam to cure his bruising, but it wiped Sancho out completely. The following morning, the knight departed without paying, leaving some of the guests at the inn tossing his squire into the air. They finally got away scot free, leaving Sancho’s saddle-bags behind.

Sancho Panza was still feeling exhausted when he reached his master, prompting Don Quixote to start a long post-mortem discussion of their stay in the ‘haunted castle’. As they were talking, they saw a huge cloud of dust approaching them along the road, which they presumed came from an army; when they saw a second cloud behind them, they were forced to conclude that two armies were marching against one another. Don Quixote gave an elaborately inventive explanation of their identities and purpose, and the two rode up a hill to watch battle commence.

Adrien Demont (1851–1928), Don Quixote (1893), oil on canvas, 111 x 156 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. Wikimedia Commons.
Ricardo Balaca (1844-1880), Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (1880-1883), vol 1, Montaner y Simon, Barcelona, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

Don Quixote continued to detail individual knights in each army, as Sancho sat in silence, hanging on to his every word. As the knight heard the blare of bugle-calls, all his squire could hear was the bleating of the large flocks of sheep drawing close. Suddenly the knight couldn’t remain a spectator any longer and spurred Rocinante to gallop down the slope towards the approaching armies, his lance at the ready. Sancho called in vain for him to stop, as they were only sheep.

Vicente Barneto y Vazquez (1836-1902), Illustration for Don Quixote (date not known), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.
Artist not known, Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (c 1894), watercolour after Gustave Doré, dimensions not known, Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla, Seville, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.
Johann Baptist Zwecker (1814–1876), Don Quixote (1854), oil on canvas, 71 x 91 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.
Zbigniew Kamiński (1847-1915), Illustration for Don Quixote (1900), from Polish edition published by Wydawnictwo M. Arcta, Warszawa. Wikimedia Commons.

Once Don Quixote was in the midst of the flock his lance speared them without mercy, to the shock of their drovers, who responded with a hail of slingshot. A stone struck him hard in the ribs. As he raised the bottle of his balsam to drink from it, that was knocked flying, together with some of his teeth. He then slid from his mount, forcing the drovers to check whether they had killed him. They quickly gathered up their dead sheep and moved on, leaving Sancho to descend the hill to check on his master.

The knight lay on the ground, still conscious and able to talk. Just as his squire was closely inspecting the injuries to his master’s mouth, the balsam took effect and Sancho’s face felt the full force of the contents of Don Quixote’s stomach. At first the squire feared this was the blood of a dying man, but its vile smell confirmed that it was only balsam. That smell immediately turned Sancho’s stomach so that he promptly returned his master’s compliment, leaving both of them covered in the other’s vomit.

Sancho went over to his donkey to fetch a cloth from his saddle-bags, then realised that he’d left them at the inn. At that moment, he decided to resign his services and return home, abandoning any hope of the governorship of an exotic island. Don Quixote assured him that their bad luck couldn’t last forever, and life could only get better, before discovering that their only food was in the missing saddle-bags. Sancho told Don Quixote that he would have been better as a preacher than a knight errant.

Before they resumed their journey along the road, Sancho helped his master work out how many teeth he had lost in that misadventure. As their mounts walked steadily on, the squire suggested that blame for his master’s misfortunes must be punishment for his sins, to which Don Quixote replied that Sancho’s blanket-tossing must have been his own fault too. Before they knew it, night fell as they were still on the open road without shelter or food, so they carried on riding in the dark.

After a little while they saw lights ahead of them, growing steadily closer. The nearer these got, the more fearful the two became, believing that they were ghosts. By the time the lights reached them, Sancho’s teeth were chattering in terror. They turned out to be a funeral cortege, many of whom were mounted and wearing white gowns, carrying torches.

Philibert Bouttats (c 1650-1722), Illustration for Don Quixote (1697), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

When Don Quixote challenged them, a mourner told him they hadn’t time to explain, but the knight wouldn’t let them get away, and the mourner’s mule took fright, reared, and fell on its rider’s leg. This brought an angry exchange, and Don Quixote charged around unseating the others before beating those on foot. Sancho was amazed at his master’s bravery and success against these spectral forces of darkness.

The mourner whose mule had fallen on him then explained that they were escorting the remains of someone who’d died of a fever in the city of Baeza to be interred in his tomb in Segovia. Having satisfied himself that there was no vengeance due, Don Quixote introduced himself and explained his role as a righter of wrongs. The mourner couldn’t see that happening, now that his leg was broken and would never be right again. The knight accused the party of appearing evil, and claimed it was his duty to attack them.

Meanwhile, his squire was busy removing the mourners’ food supply into his coat, which he loaded onto his donkey before going to help his master and the man with the broken leg. As the mourners gathered themselves ready to move away, Don Quixote told Sancho that he had decided to give himself the nickname of The Knight of the Sorry Face. One of the party told them that the two were now excommunicated for laying violent hands on the sacred.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza walked between two hills and stopped to gorge themselves on the food that they had acquired, but Sancho lamented that they had no wine.

That completes the nineteenth chapter of the first book of Don Quixote.

Further reading

List of characters
English translation by John Ormsby (1885)

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.