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Comparative Literature Studies 43.4 (2006) 441-465

Tiny (Erasmian) Dagger or Large Poniard?
Metonymy Vs. Metaphor in the Cave of Montesinos Episode in Don Quixote
Judith Stallings-Ward
Norwich University

[C]ada cosa de por sí y todas juntas, me suspendieron y admiraron.
[E]ach [thing] separately and all of them in combination, astonished and bewildered me.

—Don Quixote on the Cave of Montesinos

This essay proposes an oblique reading of the Cave of Montesinos episode (Book II, chaps. 22–23) that discerns several Erasmian references.1 Unlike earlier scholarship, which either detects a philosophical affinity between Don Quixote and Erasmus's Praise of Folly or dismisses any substantial link between the two authors, this paper makes a case for reading the cave episode as a foil to the Enchiridion militis christiani [Manual for the Christian Knight], a work to which Cervantes did have access, as I will indicate. The rhetorical figures of metaphor and metonymy inherent in the symbolic process of the episode's dream pull in opposite directions, leaving the meaning of key images and characters—among them the dagger and Montesinos—unstable and ambiguous.2 By undertaking to maintain the opposing perspectives simultaneously, the reader will see how those Erasmian references are camouflaged by a type of anamorphosis not unusual in seventeenth-century Spanish letters. The ambiguous and unstable nature of these references is an indication of the artistic and political climate informing the novel's creation, a time in which artistic developments were marked by anamorphosis and thus invited oblique readings. In anamorphosis, taken from the Greek ana [End Page 441] [again] and morphe [shape], the viewer of visual art experiences perceptual oscillation and visual uncertainty derived from optical illusions.3 Therefore, discerning the veiled Erasmian references requires that one read according to Don Quixote's own prescription, regarding "cada cosa de por sí y todas juntas" ["each [thing] separately and all of them in combination"].

Underlying all previous scholarship examining the question of an Erasmian presence in Cervantes is the supposition that Cervantes did not have access to Erasmus's works in Spanish. To date, with only one exception, studies admit the influence of Erasmus in Cervantes's Don Quixote, but differ as to whether that influence is indirect or direct.4 With some qualifications, Américo Castro, Marcel Bataillon, Dámaso Alonso, José Antonio Maravall, and Francisco Márquez Villanueva all agree on the indirect transmission of Erasmian influence.5 Possible sources given for such indirect transmission range from Cervantes's Erasmian teacher, López de Hoyos, to Cervantes's reading of Erasmian works such as Felipe de Meneses's Luz del alma Christiana (1554), to the general tenor of Cervantes's time.6 That tenor was shaped by European cultural traditions extending from the late Middle Ages as well as by the reform movements that characterized the epoch of Charles V.7 Only Antonio Vilanova takes exception to the theory of indirect influence, believing instead that Cervantes's knowledge of Erasmus was directly accessed through the reading of the Moriae encomium [Praise of Folly] of 1511, either in Latin or Italian.8

The Conflicting Indices of 1559 and 1564

There are three features common to the views of these authors. The first of these is a belief that the significant common ground between Cervantes and Erasmus begins and ends with Erasmus's better-known work Moriae encomium. For example, Américo Castro maintains in his El pensamiento de Cervantes that Cervantes and Erasmus share a moral-ethical perspective founded in tolerance, above all with respect to adultery and the code of honor of the era, under which the mere suspicion of dishonor warranted punishment (355–68). Castro makes reference to Praise of Folly, but concludes that neither the work nor its spirit impacted Spain. Furthermore, Marcel Bataillon points out a similarity between the particular concept of madness as an expression of joyful wisdom, treated in Praise of Folly, and the madness personified by Cervantes's main...


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