In the previous episode, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza rose early and went into the village where huge quantities of food were being cooked for the wedding feast. As the knight watched displays in honour of the couple who were to be married, his squire acquired himself a free breakfast. When the bride and groom reached the platform where they were to be married, her first suitor appeared. He confronted her, saying that she wasn’t free to marry anyone else while he was still alive. He then proceeded to solve that problem for her by impaling himself on a rapier. He persuaded her to marry him as his dying wish, but once that brief ceremony was completed he sprang back to life, as this had all been an elaborate illusion in which the bride seemed complicit. Don Quixote quickly restored order, the former groom accepted the situation and declaring the feast should continue. The newlywed couple left the village immediately, taking Don Quixote with them. A reluctant Sancho Panza followed, dismayed at leaving all that food and wine behind.
For three days, Quiteria and Basilio the shepherd entertained Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as an expression of their gratitude for his support. It became clear that the bride had been unaware of Basilio’s deception, but had reacted in the way that he had expected. The knight spoke about the benefits of marrying a virtuous woman, which led his squire to wish that he’d known that before he had got married.
Don Quixote arranged a guide to take them on to the Cave of Montesinos and the Lakes of Ruidera. That guide, a cousin of a student they had met before attending the wedding, arrived on a pregnant donkey, so they filled their pack-saddles with provisions and rode off together. Their guide revealed that he had written a book about dress for knights attending festivities, and was working on more tales of chivalry. That night they stayed in a village near the cave, and reached it at two o’clock the following afternoon.
At the mouth of the cave, Sancho Panza and the guide helped Don Quixote to fasten himself to a long rope, ready to descend to its depths. The squire cautioned his master, who once again told him to shut up. The guide asked the knight to look out for anything which could be of use in his writing. After he had said a short prayer, Don Quixote hacked away the vegetation blocking the entrance with his sword. As he did so a stream of huge ravens flew out, knocking the knight to the ground.
Despite that ill-omen, Sancho and the guide gradually lowered the knight until they couldn’t hear him any more and they had run out of rope. They waited half an hour before starting to haul the rope back in. At first it came easily, until they reached the point where they were pulling up the knight’s weight. He remained unusually silent, and when they pulled him out at the top he appeared to be asleep. They untied him and eventually managed to wake him up.
Don Quixote complained bitterly that they had removed him from the most wonderful sights. He then ate a hearty lunch before telling them to listen to his account of what he had seen.
He told them of a chamber about twenty-five or thirty yards (metres) from the bottom of the shaft, lit by faint light from the surface. When he was there, Don Quixote was overcome by the urge to sleep, and when he awoke he found himself in the middle of a meadow and saw a castle with walls of crystal. Its gates opened and a wise old man walked out to speak to him. The man introduced himself as Montesinos, after whom the cave was named, and showed Don Quixote around the castle.
The old man first confirmed the story that he had followed his best friend’s dying wishes to cut out his heart when he had died and take it to his lady. Following that he showed the knight his friend’s tomb in the castle, on which the body lay enchanted. When Montesinos stopped speaking, his friend called out his dying wishes again. The old man explained that had already been done, went on to talk about the Lakes of Ruidera, and to introduce Don Quixote as a great knight whose visit had been prophesied by the wizard Merlin.
As the dying knight slumped back in his enchantment, two lines of women in turbans processed through a nearby room, leading a fine lady, all of them in mourning. The lady was carrying the friend’s heart, in a ceremony they undertook four times a week.
The old man explained that the lady was even more beautiful that the Lady Dulcinea, to which Don Quixote objected, forcing Montesinos to apologise for his error and confusion.
At that point in his account, the guide interrupted, wondering how Don Quixote could possibly have done all this when he had only been in the cave for such a short time. Don Quixote, though, reckoned that he’d been down there for three days and nights. Sancho Panza wrote it all down to enchantment, which his master accepted, and confirmed that none of them down there had eaten or slept when he was with them.
Don Quixote went on to tell his squire and the guide of how he saw the three village girls who they had met outside El Toboso, only this time he recognised one of them as the Lady Dulcinea in all her radiant beauty. Sancho had difficulty not laughing at this, as he knew the truth about that encounter and the trick he had played on the knight. When the squire pointed out the nonsense that his master had said, Don Quixote argued with him, then went on to explain how he came to give the lady all the money he had on him. The knight and his squire were left in amazed disagreement, waiting for the conclusion of Don Quixote’s account of what had taken place while he had been in the cave.
That completes the twenty-third 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.