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MLN 119.5 (2004) 949-978

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Martin and the Ghosts of the Papacy:

Don Quijote 1.19 between Sulpicius Severus and Thomas Hobbes

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"I keep wishing that we didn't have any theologians."
—Richard Rorty, "Comments" (74)

Attacks on religious practice abound in Don Quijote (1605-15) by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). Among the most blasphemous is the knight's decision to imitate the penitence of Amadís de Gaula by fashioning a rosary out of a particularly filthy piece of clothing:

—Mas ya sé que lo más que él hizo fue rezar y encomendarse a Dios; pero ¿qué haré de rosario, que no le tengo?

En esto le vino al pensamiento cómo le haría, y fue que rasgó una gran tira de las faldas de la camisa, que andaban colgando, y diole once ñudos, el uno más gordo que los demás, y esto le sirvió de rosario el tiempo que allí estuvo, donde rezó un millión de avemarías.

["Yet I well know that what he most did was to pray and commend himself to God; but what can I use as a rosary, not having one on me?"

As he said this an idea came into his head for making one, and he tore a long strip from his shirt-tail hanging down behind him, and he tied eleven knots in it, one of them bigger than the others, and this he used as a rosary all the time he was there, during which he said a million Ave Marias. ]

(221)1 [End Page 949]

The second edition of 1605 reduced this passage to read "Mas ya sé que lo más que él hizo fue rezar y así lo haré yo" ["Yet I well know that what he most did was to pray and that is what I will do"] (1.26.292n12). In 1624 the Portuguese Inquisition expurgated almost as much. Clearly, the first modern novel's lower-bodily contamination of the instrument of prayer to the Virgin transgressed orthodoxy (cf. Fig. 1).2

But just how radical was DQ's sacrilege? What importance, intentional or otherwise, should we attach to it? Critics decry the anachronism of calling Cervantes an Enlightenment skeptic; others insist he is the product of Renaissance religious humanism. Both are unnecessary restrictions. The scatological impertinence of Don Quijote's rosary figures a materialist critique of theism, just as the general this-worldliness of DQ dispels metaphysical superstitions. By specifying the medieval origin (Sulpicius Severus) and the first serious Enlightenment reception (Thomas Hobbes) of the cuerpo muerto (dead body) adventure of DQ 1.19, I will demonstrate how the novel overcomes religious humanism and inaugurates modern empiricism.3

Martin and corpses

"The decisive transformation took place when a genuine religious ethos superseded the religious pathos which had motivated the preceding centuries of religious controversy."
—Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment (164)

The cuerpo muerto adventure relates Don Quijote and Sancho's encounter with a nighttime funeral procession, which they mistake for otherworldly beings. Don Quijote attacks the mourners, who flee, and the one he manages to unhorse excommunicates him. There are two schools regarding the sources of this episode. Many argue it refers to the chivalric novel Palmerín de Inglaterra (1.76-77), where Florián del Desierto encounters the dead body of Fortibrán el Esforzado.4 Florián's adventure is short and its connections to DQ simple: a corpse on a bier, the interrogation of a grieving squire, and Florián's desire to avenge Fortibrán's death. The allusion fits Cervantes' parody of novels of chivalry, so details like the asas (beams) on which the corpse is carried or Don Quijote's interest in the story of both corpse and mourners might echo Palmerín. Nevertheless, the chivalric [End Page 950]

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Figure 1
Jérôme David, Don...


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