1. Paradoxical Discourse from Antiquity to the Renaissance: Plato, Nicolaus, Cusanus, and Erasmus
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W STERN PARADOX AND T E SPANISH GOLDEN AGE Paradoxical Discourse from Antiquity to the Renaissance Plato, Nicolaus Cusanus, andErasmus In her groundbreaking study Paradoxia Epidemica (1966), Rosalie Colie provides a topical and historical overview of literary paradoxy from Classical Antiquity to the Renaissance. Neither her overview nor her studies of such Renaissance practitioners of literary paradoxy as Rabelais, Petrarch, Sidney, Donne, Shakespeare, and Burton need to be summarized or repeated here. Since the concern of this study is largely topical-paradox in Don Quixote and its Spanish antecedents-I shall invoke Colie only for background material. Moreover, the historical side of my discussion will draw from the rich tradition of paradoxy to spotlight three landmark texts: Plato's Parmenides, Nicolaus Cusanus's OfLearnedIgnorance, and Erasmus's Praise ofFolly. All three represent major advances in that tradition and illuminate important features of paradoxy in Don Quixote.1 1. It is not a question here of citing "sources" or influence in Cervantes' work. Rather, I claim only that these and other works form an integral part of a philosophical, rhetorical, and literary patrimony. 12 Western Paradox and the Spanish Golden Age From Plato to Saint Francis ofAssisi: Paradoxy in Antiquity and the Middle Ages fu Colie points out, Plato's Parmenides represents one of the chief sources of paradox literature, and rhetorical paradoxy, in the West (1966, 7-8).2 In a manner that typifies exchanges in paradoxical discourse, our dialogue elicits a response ofwonder, bewilderment, and perplexity in the reader. This is so not only because of the dialogue's rhetorical mastery, its seemingly interminable litany of paradoxical utterances, and its inconclusive ending, but also because a young Socrates suffers defeat at the hands of the sage Parmenides in their dialectical contest. Besides dealing with the eminently philosophical questions of unity and diversity, likeness and unlikeness, and being and nonbeing, the dialogue provides a model of Plato's dialectical art, including a practical model for the training of novices. fu Parmenides says to Socrates: "There is an art which is called by the vulgar 'idle talking,' and which is often imagined to be useless; in that art you must train yourself , now that you are young, or truth will elude your grasp" (Plato 1973, 379). Parmenides goes on to demonstrate that in negative terms, this art consists of avoiding the "youthful" impulse to dogmatism. In positive terms, it consists of simultaneously arguing opposite sides of a question. Truth is thus shown to reside not so much between as beyond extremes, each of which is both enlightening and deficient, both partially true and partially false. To be sure, the Parmenides is largely an abstract exercise, whose chief interest arises from the substance of its ideas, discussed by characterological types. Yet, for that very reason, a brief, anecdotal moment of human interest stands out in the text. After praising the young Socrates' desire to pursue the truth, and gently criticizing the youth's inclination to seek pat answers to complex problems, Parmenides balks at Socrates' request to demonstrate the dialectical method of a mature philosopher. For not only is the master advanced in years, but the demonstration would require a physical effort that is shown, as the dialogue progresses, to resemble a contest between two athletes, as in wrestling, boxing, or-anachronistically , yet more relevant to Cervantes' time and rhetorical practice-fencing. Following its proliferation of paradoxes, stated and implied, the Parmenides reaches the disconcerting "conclusion'' that, in truth, it is of little moment whether This patrimony could have reached Cervantes and his contemporaries through a nearly countless number of sources, ranging from manuals in logic and rhetoric to works of philosophy and literature. AB discussed in the following chapter, Spain underwent its own "epidemic" of paradox, of which Don Quixote is an extreme and unique case in point. 2. Although I draw on Colie's insights, my discussion here of Plato's dialogue takes a different form from Colie's and highlights different elements of the philosophical text. Paradoxical Discourse from Antiquity to the Renaissance 13 one affirms or negates the idea of the One: the radical unity of existence in the cosmos, encompassing all existents that merely "have" or receive their being. In any event, what one can "affirm" is that all existing beings both "are and are not." For, as observable and observed, they "seem to be" and "seem not to be" at the same time. The One, which is coterminous with everything as a whole, or as all...