Hacia Cervantes : confluence of the “Byzantine” and the chivalric literary traditions in the Quijote
Miguel de Cervantes’s novel El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha Part One (1605) and Part Two (1615) has delighted readers for centuries. The literary criticism analyzing just this one product of Cervantes’s literary genius is voluminous. In particular, the novel’s structure has received significant scrutiny, and discussions regarding its unity, or lack thereof, abound. This debate rages today with Cervantine experts still espousing various theories. Puzzling over this quandary and asking why a truly convincing explanation regarding the structure has not emerged, we arrive at a partial answer. We believe that there is unity in the Quijote and that Cervantes created a unified work by ingeniously taking full advantage of the elements of both the “Byzantine” and the chivalric literary traditions, combining them in a harmonizing synthesis. Moreover, he resolved the problem of unity within variety by establishing thematic consistency throughout. The purpose of our study is to explore the confluence of the “Byzantine” and chivalric literary traditions in works that precede Cervantes and to examine how Cervantes innovatively worked with this element in the Quijote of 1605. We present a panoramic view of works written between the thirteenth and the mid-sixteenth centuries, which reveal writers’ efforts to combine, consciously or unconsciously, the various characteristics of the “Byzantine” and chivalric literary traditions. For this project, we look at six representative works written in Spanish or Italian that represent significant antecedents to the Quijote and Cervantes’s unique method of synthesizing the traditions: Libro de Apolonio, Libro del caballero Zifar, Orlando innamorato, Orlando furioso, Palmerín de Olivia, Los amores de Clareo y Florisea y los trabajos de la sin ventura Isea. We investigate each author’s approach at coupling the two traditions and determine his/her degree of success in merging them artistically to produce a coherent whole. Our analysis reveals that not only does Cervantes systematically integrate the two literary traditions in his parody, but he also skillfully devises a way to unify thematically the delightful variety in his work. To wit, Cervantes embraces the theme of literature (fiction) and life (reality) and explores the need for distinguishing judiciously between them.