In the previous episode, soon after Don Quixote and Sancho Panza had fallen asleep they were woken up by the arrival of another knight and his squire. Hearing one another, they introduced themselves, and the two squires went off to compare their masters. They agreed that they were hard done by, and drank and ate together until they fell asleep. The two knights spoke about their ladies, and their conflicting claims of their beauty drove Don Quixote to challenge the other knight to a duel at dawn. When the time came, Don Quixote did everything right, but the other knight failed completely and was tossed from his mount to the ground. It then turned out that the Knight of the Spangles was none other than the young graduate Sansón Carrasco, and his squire was Sancho’s neighbour wearing a false nose. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza resumed their journey towards Saragossa, leaving the two imposters nursing their wounds.
Despite the revelation that the knight Don Quixote had just beaten was the young graduate from his village, he rode on proud with his victory over the Knight of the Spangles. What he didn’t realise was that the whole episode had been a set-up: the village priest and barber had agreed with the young graduate that the only way to put an end to Don Quixote’s madness would have been to defeat him in combat, which would have let the victor order Don Quixote to return to his village.
Sansón Carrasco and Sancho’s neighbour finally came to a village where the graduate received attention to his ribs, while his squire returned home. But the Knight of the Spangles wasn’t done yet with Don Quixote, and swore vengeance once his ribs allowed.
As Don Quixote rode on he recited to himself all his previous chivalric exploits, then losing himself attempting to work out how to disenchant his lady. Sancho tried to tell his master that the pair had really been the graduate and his neighbour, but the knight would have none of that, insisting it had all been the sorcerers’ ploy.
A horseman then drew up from behind them and they exchanged greetings. The knight invited him to ride with them, reassuring the traveller that Rocinante wouldn’t misbehave with his mare. Don Quixote explained his role and history as a knight errant, giving himself the name of the Knight of the Sorry Face. After a long silence, the traveller expressed his amazement and disbelief that such knights still existed.
The traveller then responded in kind, telling the knight that he was a hidalgo named Don Diego de Miranda, and would shortly be lunching in his village. He seemed to live a modest and good life with his family. At that, Sancho jumped from his donkey and grasped the travellers’ stirrup, declaring the hidalgo a saint. The traveller denied that, saying that he was a sinner, and the squire got back onto his donkey.
Don Diego revealed that his only son had been at Salamanca University for the last six years, seemingly obsessed with classical poetry. The knight called on him to allow his son to go where his star was calling him, giving him wise advice to guide the young man to the heights of the liberal arts. Just as Don Diego had become convinced that the knight was anything but a fool, Don Quixote saw a cart bearing royal banners approaching them on the road. The knight called for his helmet ready for his next disastrous adventure.
Unfortunately, when Sancho Panza heard his master, he had just paid a couple of shepherds for some goat curds. Not knowing where best to put them, Sancho poured them into his master’s helmet for the moment, then ran over to see what Don Quixote wanted of him. Don Diego couldn’t understand this fuss, as the cart he could see was ordinary and the royal banners were just a couple of small flags.
Don Quixote demanded his helmet immediately. Without thinking, Sancho handed it over, complete with its curds, and his master plonked it straight on his head, causing the whey to run from the curds, down over the knight’s face and beard. Don Quixote wasn’t sure whether the whey was oozing from his softening brain, or sweat pouring from his face, but his squire remained silent and handed him a cloth. The knight then removed his helmet, saw the curds and angrily accused Sancho of putting them there, as was correct.
Don Diego watched as the two agreed that this too must have been the work of enchanters. The knight then readied himself to join battle with Satan himself, and stopped in front of the cart to demand of the two men accompanying it what they were doing. They told him they were carrying two lions in crates as a present from Oran to the King. The lions were very large, one male and the other female, and both were hungry as they hadn’t eaten that day. With that they warned the knight to get out of their way so they could proceed to a place where they could feed them.
Don Quixote wasn’t afraid, though, and told the men to open the crates in the field by them so that he could show what sort of a man he was. This made Don Diego exclaim that the knight’s brains had indeed turned to curds. At Sancho’s begging, the hidalgo tried to reason with Don Quixote, who told him where to go, albeit politely.
Don Quixote then turned to the driver of the cart and threatened to skewer him with his lance. The carter pleaded that he be allowed to unyoke his mules and lead them to a safe place before letting the lions loose, which the knight agreed to. The hidalgo and Sancho made their final attempts to stop the knight, but he told them to leave him alone. Once their last protests had been made, and everyone else was at a safe distance, the keeper of the lions opened the first crate.
Don Quixote wasn’t sure whether to face the lions mounted or on foot, but decided on the latter. As he jumped down from the saddle, bearing only his sword and rather battered shield, the doors of the first crate opened.
The lion inside had a good stretch, yawned, washed the dust off its face with its huge tongue, turned around to point its backside at the knight, and lay down again in its crate.
The knight told the lion’s keeper to beat the animal to drive it out of its crate, but he refused, and managed to convince Don Quixote that the demonstration of his bravery had succeeded. At the knight’s insistence, after securing the doors of the crate, the keeper wrote a record of what Don Quixote had accomplished, then the knight fastened the cloth he’d used to wipe the whey from his face to the tip of his lance and called to the others to come back.
Once Don Diego and Sancho had plucked up the courage to return, Don Quixote told his squire to give the carter some money to compensate for the delay. The carter yoked up his mules, and the lion-keeper told the knight that he’d tell the King what had happened there. Don Quixote said that he was henceforth to be known not as the Knight of the Sorry Face, but as the Knight of the Lions. The cart then continued on its journey, and the other three on theirs.
As they rode on towards Don Diego’s village, the hidalgo mused as to Don Quixote’s simultaneous madness and folly. The knight himself raised the subject, launching into a long speech about courage as a virtue, and the merit of losing the game by scoring too many points rather than too few. Following that, the hidalgo invited the pair to stay with him, and they got a move on, arriving in the village by about two o’clock that afternoon.
That completes the seventeenth chapter of the second 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.