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“, was docking in the return journey to Naples, due to the wounds in battle. He had been in hospital for several months. The serious injuries to the left and to the left hand caused by three shots of archibug, healed. The writer, however, lost the use of the hand, fortunately not of the right hand, for 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 one city to another in Spain to allow Father Rodrigo, who practiced the profession of barber-surgeon, to earn the necessary for the survival of his family. A very strange family, numerous of his own, but integrated over time by other people, relatives or strangers, who all lived together in a common ante-litteram, a caravan that moved from town to town. 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 a economically lost noble family. The second surname, Saavedra, was not the surname of the mother, as envisaged 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 directing “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, some of which were published by Juan Lopez de Hoyos in his work of 1569 dedicated to Queen Isabel de Valois.
Miguel challenged a certain Antonio de Segura duel for a dispute over a woman. The young de Segura was seriously injured during the duel. That is why Miguel was prosecuted. A warrant was issued on his behalf. Some historians believe that Cervantes was the victim of a case of homonymy with the true duelant. In 1570 Miguel was forced to flee quickly to avoid the cut of the 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 for Pope Pius V. He was acquainted with Ludovico Ariosto‘s poem in Rome. The knightly style of Ariosto had a great influence on the works of Cervantes.
He visited many Italian cities following Cardinal Acquaviva. 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 spinning across 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 had been released from the battle, but still wanted to go upstairs to fight.
Captain Juan de Machado, halfway through the battle, was invited to intervene with his ship. 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. On the return journey to Naples, the galley stopped at Messina to disembark the injured men who were cared for at the hospital of that city. It took six months for hospitalization to get the healing of the Spanish writer who 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 not much news. He probably lived, like all Spanish soldiers in service in Naples, in the Spanish Quarter, upstream of the new road let by Viceroy Pedro de Toledo built, which is now called via Toledo. Being not really a bit of a saint, he almost certainly knew about women from the middle and small Neapolitan bourgeoisie. Cervantes himself tells in a poem that he met in Naples with a woman, Silena, with whom he had a loving relationship and from which he had a son called Promontorio.
In September of 1575 he wanted to return to Spain, embarking on the galley Sol heading to Barcelona. Near Costa Brava, the Spanish galleon 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 several times to escape from Algiers. The first attempt at escaping was particularly unfortunate because the Arab, that he had corrupted to reach him to Oran and to leave there for Spain, betrayed immediately by abandoning him to his fate. He was taken back by the guards and brought back to Algiers, where his imprisonment became harder. Meanwhile his brother Rodrigo was released from the mother who paid a ransom for 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 was supposed to collect 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 moved, it could not approach the beach. Unfortunately, the fugitives were spotted 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 banging him to death, but there were several intercessions in his favor and the punishment was not executed. Evidently Cervantes enjoyed support and respect for Algiers.
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 redeem 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 ransom, turned to the Spanish merchants of the city, succeeding in bringing together the necessary money. Cervantes, who had already been embarked on a ready-to-fly galley, was released. On October 24, 1580, he returned to Spain.
Wanting to return the sum his mother had spent for his and his brother’s redemption, 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 serving, he returned to Madrid where he managed to get a public assignment. He became the lover in Madrid of a married woman, Ana Villafranca de Riojas, from whom in 1584 he had a daughter called Isabel de Saavedra. 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. Left the lover, Miguel married Catilina de Salazar Palacios, a twenty-year-old woman. 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 charge 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. For this offense he was sentenced to jail. In the jail he began to set up his most famous work: Don Quixote de La Mancha.
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 enterpreneurs and publishers were very demanding.
In 1605 he was protagonist of another crime beat 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 town 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 at the corner of Calle del Leon. It was April 22, 1616.
Benedetto Croce, in his article “The Imaginary Trip by Miguel de Cervantes in Naples” recalls that in his poem “La Galatea” Cervantes used the name of Nisida, the islet that is at the end of Posillipo. He cross also notes that in the “Don Quixote” Cervantes quoted Naples as “the richest and most vicious city in the entire world universe”. In the work “El licenciado Vidriera”, 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.”
The memory of his only son, Promontory, 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 “The journey to the Parnassus”, where he described with words filled with sweet memories the city where he had spent his best years 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