A few years ago, I had an intuition about the meaning of Iliad and Odyssey, two works that have accompanied me all my life: it suddenly occurred to me that Iliad, the world of the Trojan War, with all the heroes and gods and the incessant noise of metals, represented the world as it is, with the cosmic forces that affect its course, the inexorable course of destiny. Odyssey, which is really a modern book, would represent, after the terrifying knowledge of the world, in which “one is lived”, the other path of Ulysses, the return to the immortal self, the primordial homeland, Ithaca, where Penelope, his soul, has waited for him for so many years. It is the return that every human being, after purifying himself through endless experiences, must make to return to the origin, to the divine being.
I have also always wondered about Cervantes’s vision when he wrote Don Quixote. There was never any doubt about his talent, generosity, idealism, wisdom; about his transparent, ironic, compassionate writing. But, more than the cuisine, the flavor of the work had always escaped me. Apart from the literary sources and interpretations, whose research never ceases, I was looking for another meaning. Not a comic novel, nor romantic, nor meta-creative, which it is, but its hidden meaning: what it revealed to us of the true human essence.
The geniality of the work and the monumental addition of critical commentary has obscured many things that should be veiled; and they have been.
In the same way, I always wondered about Shakespeare, whose gaze has seemed to me such a transparent crystal that it seems to have made all the creative entity disappear: behind Shakespeare’s works there is no one, there is no ego to show itself, only a mirror that shows characters and situations. And an immense linguistic creation that recast the English language in the Elizabethan period.
But let us return to Cervantes. One fine day, as happened to me with the works of Homer, the light came a little and I intuited a global sense of the comings and goings of the knight of the Sad Figure and his squire Sancho.
In general terms, it is revealed to me that Don Quixote is a work about the path: I am referring to the inner path, the path of consciousness that advances, expands and recomposes itself, always mutating, but without losing sight of its destiny: the understanding of the unity and harmony of creation. This is exposed in his discourse on the Golden Age before the astonished goatherds, humble beings to whom the mystery is revealed, like the shepherds of Bethlehem. It reveals the esoteric idealism of the Renaissance, which emanates from the classical world, with its hermetic and oriental implications. Let us not forget that the author is only credited with translating the work of a certain Cide Hamete Benengueli, an Arabic author. The Arab world is still very close to Spain; not two centuries have passed since its definitive defeat and even during Cervantes’ lifetime Moorish rebellions are being fought in Granada and the Spanish Levant. And all over the Mediterranean there is “the threat of the Turk”. Cervantes fights as a soldier in Lepanto and is held captive in Algiers for eight years.
Don Quixote makes three sorties. In the second, he is accompanied by Sancho, who has convinced his wife to let him leave, since he is going to make a profit. Sancho is a being with his feet on the ground, materialistic and sensible, and an immense help to Don Quixote in all his misfortunes. He is, in a symbolic sense, the other part of ourselves, what we call ego or natural conscience, which has to take care of survival and basic needs. Without it the path would not be possible, because the rose has to grow from below, from the natural conscience, which in the best of cases understands and collaborates.
Through Don Quixote and Sancho, Cervantes places the chivalric myth, Provençal, at ground level, because from the earth we must understand the secrets of above and below. We could say that in Cervantes the chivalric myth becomes flesh and takes to the roads; we are continually shown not how we should be, but how we are: Parsifal represents, at the end of his quest, an ideal without blemish, without fissures; Don Quixote falls again and again: the chivalric canons are left behind and only the road remains. Thus, Cervantes founds modernity behind the mentality of the Middle Ages.
But back to our thesis.
If we take into account what is above, the vertical that descends from the stars, and what is below, the horizontal that walks, Don Quixote undertakes the third path: to make his own way. That is why he goes out three times to experience what he has read and wants to live in his own flesh.
Since what he preaches with effusive eloquence is something out of the ordinary for the human mentality, Cervantes has to create a “mad” character. Only a madman, like a child, connects directly with the truth and is able to offer us a truth that can be ignored or “forgiven” because it comes from a character who has lost his reason, who has abandoned the conventions of space and time and has entered the infinite horizons of eternity.
D. Quixote, after each adventure, lies beaten, in pain, confused. And it could not be otherwise, because in each feat he has faced an inner ghost that closes the way to the evolution of consciousness. Each obstacle shows an error of perception, what we all suffer, and, by experimenting, we come out confused and, then, perhaps more enlightened.
Let us say that the windmills may represent the aeon of destiny, or the eternal return, the wheel of the samsara, which turns over itself and turns everything that appears around it; but it also grinds wheat, the essential food: a whole lesson of alchemy, that of the consciousness that feeds and grows confronted with the act. Or that the herds are the tribal conscience of conventions, the most animal conscience. Thus, Cervantes poses us in his Quixote a series of enigmas about the evolution of consciousness as the narrative progresses, the path makes sense and the character is transformed.
Like his great ideals – Amadis, Tirant lo Blanc, Parsifal, the knight of the cart, the knights of the Arthurian cycle – Don Quixote has to make his way. Otherwise, so much idealistic fanfare would be useless. The idea must be put into practice so that it may bear fruit and clarify the understanding, and elevate the soul.
In truth, only a madman – alas, the madmen of love of Sufism – could accept the titanic effort for the liberation of the soul. The idealistic will gives strength to the myth and makes one think of forces other than the purely human to confront giants and armies. For the myth of freedom has the forces of freedom attached to it; the path evokes the forces of the path.
Curiously, on his return and still recovering from the second outing, while still in seclusion, in the face of general fear, he replies to his friends the priest and the barber that the threat of the Turk would be resolved with the presence of more knights-errant in the world. That is, with more people with a conscience, which is the only thing that can really solve the problems. And not so much by their army-destroying strength, but by the presence of their light in the world, which annuls and dissolves conflicts.
We are not going to talk about the converted Jew, the soldier, the captive in Algiers, the tax collector in the lands of Cordoba and Seville, the prison, the love affairs… Although these experiences filled a life that led to the masterpiece that always seems to us much more than what it seemed.
D. Quixote dies when his madness is over, we could say that he has purified his heart through action, and he dies in peace, not for having regained his sanity, but for having made his way, the initiatory way, the way of the Grail knights.