Spanish celebrations of Cervantes come under fire

Published 23.04.2016 02:56

It has been 400 years since the death of legendary Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, and his influence continues to be felt around the world.

On Friday Spain marks the anniversary of his death, but some have criticized the government for not doing enough to celebrate the man widely acknowledged as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and the world's foremost novelist.

His 1605 novel "Don Quixote," which depicts the absurd misadventures of lowly nobleman Alonso Quixano and his donkey-riding squire Sancho Panza, is regarded by many as the world's first literary classic.

In a recent survey, "Don Quixote" was voted the best novel of all time. Cervantes is considered the founder of the modern novel for his groundbreaking style, revolutionary thinking and influence he had on future generations of writers. It is one of the world's most translated novels, available in more than 140 languages.

However, the death of Cervantes is often overshadowed by that of his English contemporary William Shakespeare, whose death is remembered on the same day.

The death of two of history's most important literary figures has provoked comparison of the commemoration events planned for them. Spanish writers have lined up to denounce the Madrid government for failing in contrast to the U.K.'s plans to mark the anniversary Shakespeare's passing.

"This is a government that has no appreciation for literature or the arts," Angel Garcia Galiano, a professor of Spanish literature at Madrid's Complutense University, told Anadolu Agency (AA). "They took no initiative, which goes to show their real way of operating, which ... is idiotic."

A senior official at the Spanish Culture Ministry, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "Anyone is encouraged to present a project for commemorating Cervantes and they can get support." She said there were more than 350 activities taking place over the year and the government had spent 4 million euros on the events in Spain and throughout the world.

"We celebrate Cervantes every year but this year is extra special," she said.

The friction is fitting in terms of Spain's current political scene - the country is still waiting for a government to be formed five months after the last general election - and in relation to Cervantes, who was no stranger to controversy in his time.

Many of Cervantes's notable Spanish contemporaries disapproved of his work, but their criticism became irrelevant when "Don Quixote" became what would be a bestseller in today's terms, Garcia Galiano said. Crowds howled with laughter in taverns throughout Spain as they listened to readings of the ridiculous tales of the idealistic madman and his naive companion, who were both relatable and delusional. "Cervantes was so ahead of his time, it wasn't until 150 years later that the book was really understood," Garcia Galiano added, pointing to Henry Fielding's 1742 work "Joseph Andrews" as the first understanding of "Don Quixote."

Throughout his work, Cervantes explored themes of absurdity, madness, freedom and passion in a realistic style that revolutionized literature, which had been previously been more traditional and based on the journeys of heroes.

His ideas and style have continued to influence literature, language, philosophy and psychology throughout the world. Charles Dickens, Sigmund Freud, Jorge Luis Borges and Fyodor Dostoevsky were all notably influenced. The English language as well, with the idiom "tilting at windmills," meaning to fight imaginary enemies, comes from Don Quixote's duel with windmills he had confused for giants - has been influenced.

However influential Cervantes may have been, most Spaniards have not read his most famous work. A recent survey by Spain's Center for Sociological Investigation found that 22 percent had read the full book, which is often over 700 pages, and 41 percent said they had not read any of it. "'Don Quixote' should be banned so people will read it," Garcia Galiano suggested. "That way it will become the seductive and revolutionary story that it is, attracting those who seek it and without the bad taste of having it forced upon you in high school."

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter