- Cervantes and His Don Quixote
Through the broadest seas and non-seas,And through mountains topped with white wreaths,Asking neither about the paths nor the days,He will come as if from the Nemunas Valley.—Brazdžionis
The noble hidalgo, a long-awaited guest, has finally come to us, too. He comes at a time when we require his assistance and advice perhaps the most. In the terrible collision of the giants of this world, our small and dear country desperately needs just such naïve belief in its human cultural mission. The armor-bearers have been waiting for their knights-errant and have missed them so badly that the appearance of the great optimist in the fields of our literature may definitely be regarded as the best omen sent to us by the gods.
It is notable that the incorporation of Cervantes into the Lithuanian depository is perhaps the most important, if not the only, fact of our literary life this past year. We are shamefully ignorant of the classics; nor do we apprehend those ideological and artistic opportunities which, amassed in the works of great masters, offer themselves to every traveler of this earth as a shared property of humanity. The occasional earlier translations of the classics, as well as dry rudimentary literature textbooks only terrify the youth and scare them away from taking any interest in literature. If he has spoken to his students about Dante with enthusiasm, a conscientious professor of literature is forced to forbid them to read the Divine Comedy in Lithuanian, for fear of passing for a charlatan. This is why, upon receiving a truly exemplary translation [End Page 171] of Don Quixote, a pleasure for both the eye and the soul¸ ever more so must we “make merry and rejoice,” thanking Andriušis and Churginas for all the toil they have put into it.
If every nation must contribute its seed into the common granary of humanity, Spain has paid off its debt in full with one stroke by Don Quixote, by effecting a true salto immortale. Confronted with the work by Cervantes, just as when confronted with any great work by a genius, the reader experiences the entire complex of his human nothingness, feeling not only the abyss that separates him from the heights of the genius’s thought, but also comprehending the enormous disproportion between the author and his era, on the one hand, and between the author and his work, on the other. Even the pen of the most sophisticated critic working according to the principles of Taine’s determinism that have already been put to the test, will not be able to elucidate Don Quixote through Cervantes, a hero of Lepanto, nor Hamlet through a dozen problematic Lord Shakespeares. The mysterious gap which separates man from the greatness of thought that he himself has created will remain unexplained.
Cervantes emerges in Spain in the fairest days of its Golden Age. Born in the empire of Charles V on which the sun never set, as a war invalid missing a hand, Cervantes experiences Spain’s full honor and grandeur along with Philip II, and dies seeing its decline. Alongside his contemporaries Lope de Vega and El Greco, and the somewhat younger Quevedo, Velázquez, Calderón and Murillo, he forms Spain’s iron honor guard.
Spain is a strange country: having saved Europe from Islam in the battle against the Moors which lasted for eight centuries; having discovered and conquered America; having created the largest empire in the world, expelling the Jews and the Moors—restoring the unity of the true faith, enthroning popes and kings, and ruling the gold of the entire world—the hidalgo suddenly noticed that he was ragged and indigent and had to tramp. Heroically devoted to both the chivalrous and folk medieval tradition, full of the valorous spirit to fight for that abstract honor which is of no benefit to himself, having sacrificed himself to the struggle for king and faith, stunned by the boundless opportunities [End Page 172] supplied to him by space and time, the proud Spaniard didn’t have the...