Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) stands out from other Renaissance writers in that literature was not his original vocation. He was a military man for the first forty years of his life, fighting in the naval battle of Lepanto against Turks in 1571, on the side of his native Spain; and continuing to battle in northern Africa and other Mediterranean areas into his thirties. He spent much time abroad, and was captured and enslaved for five years by Algerians on his way back to Madrid. It wasn’t until 1585 - shortly after his marriage - that his literary career truly started.

Cervantes was greatly influenced by pastoral novels and chivalrous romances, and it shows in his work. He is best known for his novel, Don Quixote, - published in two parts: the first in 1605, the second in 1615 - a satire on Medieval beliefs and practices. He has written a number of other works in prose, none of which are nearly as acclaimed, and his poetry is not regarded highly.

In his final work, Persiles y Sigismunda, Cervantes forsaw his own demise in a moving introduction; indeed, it was completed just four days before his death and was published posthumously.

For if he like a madman lived,
At least he like wise old died.

-Don Quixote's epitaph

Miguel de Cervantes is the most famous author in Spanish history, and is regarded as one of the finest novelists in world literature. His most famous book, Don Quixote, is often designated the number one spot in top 100 lists of literature. Although he is most renowned for his novels, he was also an accomplished playwright and poet. Don Quixote remains a constant source of literary inspiration and is still studied by academic types all over the world.

Early Life

Little is known about Cervantes' youth. He was born in a Spanish town near Madrid named Alcalá de Henares in 1547, although his exact date of birth is unknown. It is known, however, that Cervantes was baptized in the church of Santa María on October 9, 1547. His mother, Leonor de Cortinas, gave birth to seven children, with Cervantes being the fourth. Rodrigo de Cervantes, his father, was a traveling surgeon/barber (what a scary combination that would be nowadays). As a result, Cervantes was able to see most of Spain with his family being on the move so often. His family was, nominally, of nobility, but they were more middle class than noble.

Cervantes" first education was in Madrid at the hands of Juan López de Hoyos. Although brief, López made enough of an impression to make Cervantes want to actively pursue knowledge. Under López, he would write his first poems, elegies on the wife of Philip II. In 1569, he moved to Rome under tutelage of Guilio Acquavita, a philosopher who would become a cardinal the year after Cervantes arrived in Italy. Cervantes joined a Spanish army regiment in Naples after only a year in Italy. Almost immediately after his enlistment, he fought in the naval Battle of Lepanto. It was here that Cervantes would permanently incapacitate his left hand and earn his nickname, el manco de Lepanto (the cripple of Lepanto).


It was not until 1575 that Cervantes would fully recover from his injuries. At this time he would depart from Italy in order to serve in the military in his motherland on the ship El Sol. On the way home, Cervantes' ship was overtaken by Barbary pirates led by Arnaute Mami, and Cervantes and his brother, Rodrigo, were taken prisoner. In 1577 his parents were able to raise enough money to free Rodrigo from his captivity in Algiers. Cervantes freedom, however, was a little more difficult; his captors believed that he was important because he carried letters. Although they couldnt understand them, they assumed Cervantes was the messenger for someone important After numerous attempts at escape, a few of which almost ended in death, Cervantes' parents were able to free their child in 1580.

Cervantes returned to a home in complete financial devastation. His ransom had been so high that he and his family would live in poverty for the rest of their lives. Cervantes was able to acquire a job as a government purchasing agent in Seville in 1588, but was unable to hold onto his job. This would be the case for almost every other job Cervantes would hold during this time. His spare time was spent researching and creating what would be the beginnings of an enormous writing career.

Marriage and Isolation

In 1584, Cervantes married Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, eighteen years younger than the thirty-seven year old man. Her family, although peasant, was ironically more well off than Cervantes'. Although their marriage produced no children, they raised Isabel de Saavedra, Cervantes' daughter from an earlier affair with a Spanish actress. Five years after the marriage, Cervantes and Catalina broke up.

Cervantes spent the next twenty years of his life wandering the Spanish countryside after declaring bankruptcy. He soon became famous for his excellent dueling ability, and was even imprisoned once for killing a man. It was during this time period that Cervantes would create some of his most lasting literary contributions. In 1606, he settled down permanently in Madrid. Soon afterwards, he was jailed again after being accused of murder because a dead man, to whom Cervantes had no affiliation, appeared on his doorstep.

Writing Career

Galatea, a pastoral romance, was released in 1580 as Cervantes' first published work to little acknowledgment. Between 1582 and 1587, he wrote over twenty plays, only two of which survived. El Trato de Argel, his second published work and a play, received greater praise. This play was based on Cervantes" experiences in Algiers as a prisoner. His most widely applauded accomplishment, however, was . Although it did not bring him sorely needed financial aid, Cervantes achieved appreciation among the people of Spain. In an introduction to his final work, Persiles y Sigismunda, Cervante predicted his demise; he died four days after its completion in 1617 (it is said that he died on the same day as William Shakespeare).


La Galatea (1585)
La Numancia
Los tratos de Argel
Don Quixote
(Part 1) (1605)
Novelas Ejemplares (The Exemplary Novels) (1613)
Viage del Parnaso
Don Quixote
(Part 2) (1615)
Persiles y Sigismunda (1617)

Stealth Munchkin says: Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the same *date*, April 23, but not the same *day* - England was on the Julian calendar at the time while Europe was on the Gregorian, so they died on the same date, ten days apart...

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