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As part of a long-term effort to toss a few more pebbles into the chasm of my literary ignorance I recently began reading the new Edith Grossman translation of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. (I finished Tom Jones a few weeks ago. Yeah, maybe they're boulders, not pebbles --- but my illiteracy remains a vast canyon. Maybe I'll try Virgil's Aeneid next; it's another one I've never looked into.)

Like my running, my pace through a classic book is leisurely, with plenty of pauses to admire the tulips beside the trail. In Chapter XXV ("Which tells of the strange events that befell the valiant knight of La Mancha in the Sierra Morena, and of his imitation of the penance of Beltenebros") I stopped to chuckle at the justification which the insane Quixote gives for going meta-mad in the wilderness. In response to Sancho Panza's request for a logical explanation, the Knight of the Sorrowful Face describes his win-win strategy:

"Therein lies the virtue," responded Don Quixote, "and the excellence of my enterprise, for a knight errant deserves neither glory nor thanks if he goes mad for a reason. The great achievement is to lose one's reason for no reason, and to let my lady know that if I can do this without cause, what should I not do if there were cause? Moreover, I have more than enough reason because of my long absence from her who is forever my lady, Dulcinea of Toboso; as you heard the shepherd Ambrosio say, all ills are suffered and feared by one who is absent. And so, friend Sancho, do not waste time advising me to abandon so rare, so felicitous, so extraordinary an imitation. Mad I am and mad I shall remain until you return with the reply to a letter which I intend to send with you to my lady Dulcinea; if it is such as my fidelity warrants, my madness and my penance will come to an end; if it is not, I shall truly go mad and not feel anything. Therefore, no matter her reply, I shall emerge from the struggle and travail in which you leave me, taking pleasure as a sane man in the good news you bring, or, as a madman, not suffering on account of the bad news you bear. ...

Compare Grossman's choice of words with the ("Project Gutenberg") rather archaic John Ormsby translation:

"There is the point," replied Don Quixote, "and that is the beauty of this business of mine; no thanks to a knight-errant for going mad when he has cause; the thing is to turn crazy without any provocation, and let my lady know, if I do this in the dry, what I would do in the moist; moreover I have abundant cause in the long separation I have endured from my lady till death, Dulcinea del Toboso; for as thou didst hear that shepherd Ambrosio say the other day, in absence all ills are felt and feared; and so, friend Sancho, waste no time in advising me against so rare, so happy, and so unheard-of an imitation; mad I am, and mad I must be until thoureturnest with the answer to a letter that I mean to send by thee to my lady Dulcinea; and if it be such as my constancy deserves, my insanity and penance will come to an end; and if it be to the opposite effect, I shall become mad in earnest, and, being so, I shall suffer no more; thus in whatever way she may answer I shall escape from the struggle and affliction in which thou wilt leave me, enjoying in my senses the boon thou bearest me, or as a madman not feeling the evil thou bringest me. ...

The genius of Cervantes shines through both, but I do somewhat prefer the newer version ...

TopicLiterature - TopicHumor - TopicPersonalHistory - Datetag20040118

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