Miguel de Cervantes lithography XIX century

Cervantes, Don Quixote in Naples

Cervantes, Don Chisciotte a Napoli (Leggi versione in italiano)

Miguel Cervantes had adventures equal, and higher by far, of his hero Don Quixote de la Mancha. He was sailor and tax collector. He escaped from Spain to avoid cutting his right hand to which he had been convicted of injuring a young man. He went to jail for peculiar. He was accused of killing a man, but was acquitted of the charge.

Miguel de Cervantes, returning from the victorious battle of Lepanto, was hospitalized in Messina, where his ship, the “Marquisa“, stopped in the return journey to Naples, due to the wounds in battle. He had been in hospital for several months. The serious injuries to his chest and to his left hand, caused by three shots of archibug, healed. The writer, however, lost the use of his hand, fortunately not of the right hand, then perhaps we would not have enjoyed his literary works.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in Alcala de Henares, a town near Madrid, on September 29, 1547. He was a member of a family who moved frequently from town to town in Spain to allow his father Rodrigo, who was practicing the profession of barber-surgeon, to earn the necessary for the survival of his family. A very strange big family, integrated over time by other people, relatives or strangers, who all lived together in a common ante litteram, a caravan that moved through Spain. It was a family that had roots in the high middle class because grandfather of Miguel was a well-known lawyer and his uncle was Alcalde (Mayor) of Cabra. His mother, Leonor de Cortinas, was the third-born of an economically lost noble family. The second surname, Saavedra, was not the surname of the mother, as stated by Spanish law, but an appellation that Cervantes chose as an adult.

Miguel did his studies in Madrid, as a pupil of Juan Lopez de Hoyos, a Spanish writer who had the task of manager of “El Studio“, Madrid’s public humanistic high school. Then he attended the Salamanca University without completing the study cycle. In those years he wrote his first poems. Parts of it were published by Juan Lopez de Hoyos in his work dedicated to Queen Isabel de Valois of 1569.

Miguel challenged a certain Antonio de Segura to a duel for a dispute over a woman. The young de Segura was seriously injured during the duel. Miguel was prosecuted for this reason. A order of arrest was issued with his name. Some historians believe that Cervantes was the victim of a case of homonymy with the real duelist. In 1570 Miguel was forced to flee quickly to avoid the cut of his right hand to which he had been sentenced. He moved to Rome, following Cardinal Giulio Acquaviva d’Aragona, a noble Neapolitan, who had gone to Madrid as ambassador of Pope Pius V. He visited many Italian cities following Cardinal Acquaviva. He got a chance to read Ludovico Ariosto‘s poem in the library of the Cardinal in Rome.

The knightly style of Ariosto had a great influence on the works of Cervantes. He left the task of secretary of the Cardinal and came to Naples where he enlisted in the company led by Diego de Urbina, who was at the service of the famous Spanish leader Miguel de Moncada. When the fleet of the “Holy League” formed against the Turkish fleet which lorded it in the Mediterranean, Miguel Cervantes embarked as a soldier on the Spanish-Neapolitan galley “La Marquisa“, commanded by Juan de Machado. On October 7, 1571, during the famous battle of Lepanto, the galley, on which Miguel was embarked, was destined to the retrograde and reserve. Cervantes was feverish that day and he had been released from the battle, but still he wanted to go upstairs to fight.

Captain Juan de Machado was invited to intervene with his ship in the battle. During the clashes Miguel Cervantes was seriously injured by three shots of blunderbuss. At noon the naval battle of Lepanto ended with the victory of the fleet of the Holy League. Miguel was rescued. The galley stopped at Messina on the return trip to Naples to disembark the injured men. They were treated in the hospital of that city. The Spanish writer was hospitalized six months to get the healing. He lost the use of his left hand as a result of wounds.

After he was cured, Miguel resumed his military life. He had the rank of captain. He worked as a naval officer on Spanish ships dislocated to Naples, taking part in numerous naval battles: Navarrino, Corfu and Bizerta. In these five years, in which the writer had his residence in Naples, there is very little information. He probably lived in the Spanish Quarter like all Spanish soldier in duty in Naples, upstream of the new road that Viceroy Pedro de Toledo had built let, now nomed via Toledo. Being not really a bit of a saint, he certainly knew Neapolitan women. Cervantes tells in a poem of his that he knew in Naples a woman, Silena, with whom he had a loving relationship and from which he had a son nomed Promontorio.

In September of 1975 he wanted to return to Spain, embarking on the galley “Sol” heading to Barcelona. Near Costa Brava, the Spanish galley was attacked by Turkish ships commanded by Mami Arnaute, a renegade Albanian who, after defeating in the Battle of Lepanto, become a piracy. Miguel was captured with his brother Rodrigo, who accompanied him, and trapped in Algiers. He was assigned as a slave to the renegade Greek Dali Mamì.

Cervantes tried many times to escape from Algiers. The first attempt to escape was particularly unfortunate because the Arab, that he had corrupted to reach Oran and to leave for Spain, betrayed immediately by abandoning him to his fate. He was captured by the guards and brought back to Algiers, where his imprisonment became harder. Meanwhile his brother Rodrigo was released since his mother had paid a sum of money to the kidnappers. The sum was not enough to release Miguel too.

Cervantes organized the second attempt to escape with the complicity of hid brother Rodrigo. Rodrigo got a Spanish boat that had to embark his brother on the coast of Algiers. Miguel escaped with some prisoners and was waiting for the boat, hidden in a cave near a beach. The boat tried the landing several times, but, as the sea was rough, it could not land. Unfortunately, the fugitives were found by the guards being reported prisoners in Algiers.

The third attempt was aborted because the Arab, whom Cervantes had corrupted, was captured. Miguel had to send a message to the governor of Oran, which was a naval base under Spanish control, by this Arab. Algiers Bey wanted to punish Miguel Cervantes by whipping him to death, but there were several intercessions in his favor and the punishment was not executed. Evidently Cervantes had support and respect to Algiers.

Galeone ottomano
Galeone ottomano

The last attempt to escape covered a group of sixty captive Christians. One of them betrayed. The Bey then decided to transfer Miguel Cervantes to Constantinople where the escape was impossible. At this point there were the intervention of two Spanish friars who were in Algiers to try to buy back Christian prisoners. Knowing the story of Cervantes and his imminent departure for Constantinople, the two friars, who did not have the necessary sum for his liberation, turned to the Spanish merchants of the city, succeeding to collect the necessary money. Cervantes, who had already been embarked on a ready-to-sail galley, was released. On October 24, 1580, he returned to Spain.

Wishing to return the sum his mother had spent for his liberation and his brother, he went to Portugal at the court of Philip II, who commissioned him to carry out some official missions in Oran, for his knowledge of the place. After he completed the task, he returned to Madrid where he managed to get a public assignment. He became the lover of a married woman, Ana Villafranca de Riojas, from whom he had a daughter called Isabel de Saavedra in 1584. In those years Cervantes wrote his poem “La Galatea”. Galatea appears inspired by the pastoral poems of Ludovico Ariosto, whose works Cervantes had the opportunity to read in the library of Cardinal Giulio Acquaviva. Miguel married Catilina de Salazar Palacios, a twenty-year-old woman, when left his mistress. Marriage was not particularly happy. The two did not have children. Miguel began his travels to Extremadura, places he later described in his masterpiece “Don Quixote”. After two years left his wife Ana.

He was appointed commissioner of the “Invincible Army” and with this assignment he traveled through Andalusia. His job was to provide supplies for the Spanish fleet. Due to some foodstuffs required in the agricultural estate owned by the Seville Church, he received an excommunication from the bishop of that city. Then he had the public task of tax collector. His job was to go to the houses and claim the payment of taxes. In 1597 he was accused of having seized sums of money belonging to the tax collector. He was sentenced to jail for this charge. He began to conceive of his most famous work, “Don Quixote de La Mancha” in the jail.

When he left prison, moved to Valladolid where he lived in a large house with his two sisters, his daughter Isabel and other people. He devoted himself entirely to literature, writing theatrical works in three acts, a formula he had invented. His plays talked about his experiences of soldier and slave in Algeria. He completed his greatest work, Don Quixote de la Mancha. They were happy times for the poet and the literate. Theatrical managers and publishers were very demanding his works.

In 1605 he was protagonist of another criminal episode. One morning, Sir Gaspar de Ezpeleta was found dead outside the door of Cervantes’ home. The writer was accused of the crime. The suspicions of the investigators were that in that house there was prostitution and, for some reason, Sir Gaspar had been assassinated. Miguel Cervantes was cleared of the charges.

Tired of the suspicions of him and his family in the small city of Valladolid, he moved to Madrid where he continued his literary production. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who was suffering from diabetes, died at the age of 68 at his home in Madrid, located at number 2 of Calle de Cervantes, corner of Calle del Leon, on April 22, 1616.

Benedetto Croce highlights in his article “The Imaginary Trip by Miguel de Cervantes in Naples” that Cervantes used the name of Nisida, the islet that is at the end of Posillipo, in his poem “La Gelatea”. Croce also notes that in the “Don Quixote” Cervantes quoted Naples as “the richest and most vicious city in the entire world universe”. Cervantes described Naples as “a city that appears to all those who have known it, the best in Europe, and even all over the world” in the work “El licensiado Vidriera”.

The memory of his only son, Promontorio, he had by the beautiful Neapolitan Silena, who soon betrayed him for another man, bound him forever to Naples. In 1608, now an old man, he tried to return to Naples to meet his son for the last time. By failing to organize the trip, he transformed its into an ideal journey, that made with his poem “journey to Parnassus“, where he described the city where he had spent his best years with phrases filled with sweet memories and where he remembered the son “of a young age but already a great soldier”.


El Quijote de Carlos III, Benedetto Croce, cvc.cervantes.es/actcult/quijote_carlos/croce.htm
Fernando Arrabal, Uno schiavo chiamato Cervantes, Milano, Spirali, 1996
Jean Canavaggio, Cervantes, Roma, Lucarini, 1981