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Islam in Don Quixote 
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Post Islam in Don Quixote
Islam in Don Quixote

The various perspectives on the tension between Christianity and Islam open issues for the nature of religious truth and the social context of the adventures of Don Quixote. Cervantes himself was enslaved by the Moors for five years until he was ransomed. Despite this negative personal experience, his perspective on religion in Don Quixote does not cast Islam in a purely negative light, but recognises the contribution of Islam to humanity and civilization, while providing equal sly mockery of all beliefs that lack evidence. I would be interested to hear how other readers see the treatment of Islam.

Spain was at war with the Turkish Empire, and political tensions had led the Spanish king to expel all Moors, even those who were devout Christians. This tugs at the heartstrings regarding unjust persecution of 'Moriscos'. There was then, as now, a tendency to demonise Islam, but Cervantes gently invites recognition of common humanity. His device of claiming that an Islamic scholar, Cide Benengeli, wrote the book in Arabic and it was then translated into Spanish, is one main way of recognising the debt of Christian civilisation to Islam for maintaining the culture of letters through the Dark Ages. This is stated as a worry to Don Quixote, because
Quote:
“If, however, it were the fact that such a history were in existence, it must necessarily, being the story of a knight-errant, be grandiloquent, lofty, imposing, grand and true. With this he comforted himself somewhat, though it made him uncomfortable to think that the author was a Moor, judging by the title of "Cide;" and that no truth was to be looked for from Moors, as they are all impostors, cheats, and schemers.” (2 III)
Don Quixote also mentions how most words starting with Al- are from Arabic.
Quote:
"What are albogues?" asked Sancho, "for I never in my life heard tell of them or saw them."
"Albogues," said Don Quixote, "are brass plates like candlesticks that struck against one another on the hollow side make a noise which, if not very pleasing or harmonious, is not disagreeable and accords very well with the rude notes of the bagpipe and tabor. The word albogue is Morisco, as are all those in our Spanish tongue that begin with al; for example, almohaza, almorzar, alhombra, alguacil, alhucema, almacen, alcancia, and others of the same sort, of which there are not many more; our language has only three that are Morisco and end in i, which are borcegui, zaquizami, and maravedi. Alheli and alfaqui are seen to be Arabic, as well by the al at the beginning as by the they end with. I mention this incidentally, the chance allusion to albogues having reminded me of it; (2.XLVII)
However, he comments that the Moors learnt about morality from the Christians:
Quote:
“Although a Moor, I know well enough from the intercourse I have had with Christians that holiness consists in charity, humility, faith, obedience, and poverty.” (2. XLIV)
Here is a nice sly quote about the relation between Islam and Christianity:
Quote:
Lothario then went on to say, "It seems to me, Anselmo, that thine is just now the temper of mind which is always that of the Moors, who can never be brought to see the error of their creed by quotations from the Holy Scriptures, or by reasons which depend upon the examination of the understanding or are founded upon the articles of faith, but must have examples that are palpable, easy, intelligible, capable of proof, not admitting of doubt, with mathematical demonstrations that cannot be denied, like, 'If equals be taken from equals, the remainders are equal:' and if they do not understand this in words, and indeed they do not, it has to be shown to them with the hands, and put before their eyes, and even with all this no one succeeds in convincing them of the truth of our holy religion.(1.XXXIII)
Modern sensibility would regard the attitude Cervantes ascribes here to the Moors as rational. He is poking fun at the Christian claim that miracles can be believed through faith by saying Moors rely more on logic than revelation.



Last edited by Robert Tulip on Sat May 22, 2010 8:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Islam in Don Quixote
He doesn't see Muslims in a purely negative light, but negative nonetheless. Christians wanted to view themselves as the only civilized people in the world, and I can't see Cervantes making any statements--in your quotes (for which, thanks) or anywhere else that dissent from that attitude. But I wouldn't expect from any writer of Cervantes' time a view that would satisfy us in its liberality, so if you want to suggest that Cervantes is relatively enlightened, I wouldn't object. The larger issue is what C. is up to in this book, and we already know where we each stand on this.


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Sun May 23, 2010 7:06 pm
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Post Re: Islam in Don Quixote
Quote:
"It is recounted by Cide Hamete Benegeli, the Arabic and Manchegan author, in this most serious, high sounding, detailed, sweet, and inventive history, that following the conversation between the famous Don Quixote and his squire ... DQ looked up and saw coming toward him on the same road he was traveling approximately twelve men on foot, strung together by their necks, like beads on a great iron chain, and all of them wearing manacles."

These are the opening words of chapter XXII and Cervantes proceeds with one of his more interesting stories - that of the 12 prisoners and DQ's rather ill advised attempt to free them only to have them turn on him and Sancho. The structure of the tale seems biblical as DQ interviews each regarding his crimes and forms a judgement, clearly contrary to that of the king, who has convicted these men and sent them to serve on the galleys. It is interesting that DQ takes considerable care this time, rather than just diving in with his lance - he tries to reason first and to find out what is going on, he tries to appeal to what thinks is the better nature of both the guards and the prisoners. Perhaps it is coincidence that C. selected "12 men", and interesting that it is "approximately" 12. Over the near 200 pages I have read, I think there is a deliberateness about how C. writes, his words are there for a reason, so I don't think this number is coincidence. But what is C. up to here? My guess is mocking Christianity, telling a kind of twisted good samaritan story, with a Christian tone and attributing it to an Arab. Whether or not this hints at the broader relationship between Christianity and Islam I do not know.



Mon May 24, 2010 6:12 pm
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Post Re: Islam in Don Quixote
With due respect to the views of you and Robert, I have trouble imagining this skeptical, anti-Catholic, even atheistic outlook existing at this time in Catholic Spain, barely into the 17th Century. It wouldn't surprise me if a minority had anti-clerical attitudes because of the Inquisition (though they wouldn't want to express them), but anti-Catholic, atheistic views are a much different thing. Don Quixote is pictured as a good Catholic gentleman throughout, the profession of knight-errantry being in fact a kind of holy office.

Cervantes has been described as a gifted writer, but not a particularly careful one. Sancho's ass disappearing and reappearing is an example. You're right that Don uses unusual deliberation in this episode, even though, as always, he doesn't get it right.


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Last edited by DWill on Mon May 24, 2010 9:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Islam in Don Quixote
DWill wrote:
I have trouble imagining this skeptical, anti-Catholic, even atheistic outlook existing at this time in Catholic Spain, barely into the 17th Century. It wouldn't surprise me if a minority had anti-clerical attitudes because of the Inquisition (though they wouldn't want to express them), but anti-Catholic, atheistic views are a much different thing. Don Quixote is pictured as a good Catholic gentleman throughout, the profession of knight-errantry being in fact a kind of holy office.
DWill, I think you underestimate Cervantes. Contemporary with Shakespeare and Galileo, he wrote at the glorious height of the Renaissance, when connections to ancient pagan culture had been restored and the mood was shifting against what Hume later called the ‘monkish virtues’ of the medieval world. Don Quixote is indeed a good Catholic, but Don Quixote is crazy. Surely this is part and parcel of the sly mockery invited by Cervantes? Skepticism is the basis of modernity. Just thirty years later, Descartes wrote his Meditations, in which God is neatly invoked and disposed as the guarantor of science, presenting a main waystation on the path to atheism. Descartes may well have drawn his idea of the deceiving demon of solipsism from Don Quixote. Science is intrinsically atheist, but when mad fanatics threaten to burn heretics, atheists must be circumspect in expressing their views.
giselle wrote:
Quote:
"It is recounted by Cide Hamete Benegeli, the Arabic and Manchegan author, in this most serious, high sounding, detailed, sweet, and inventive history, that following the conversation between the famous Don Quixote and his squire ... DQ looked up and saw coming toward him on the same road he was traveling approximately twelve men on foot, strung together by their necks, like beads on a great iron chain, and all of them wearing manacles."
These are the opening words of chapter XXII and Cervantes proceeds with one of his more interesting stories - that of the 12 prisoners and DQ's rather ill advised attempt to free them only to have them turn on him and Sancho. The structure of the tale seems biblical as DQ interviews each regarding his crimes and forms a judgement, clearly contrary to that of the king, who has convicted these men and sent them to serve on the galleys. It is interesting that DQ takes considerable care this time, rather than just diving in with his lance - he tries to reason first and to find out what is going on, he tries to appeal to what thinks is the better nature of both the guards and the prisoners. Perhaps it is coincidence that C. selected "12 men", and interesting that it is "approximately" 12. Over the near 200 pages I have read, I think there is a deliberateness about how C. writes, his words are there for a reason, so I don't think this number is coincidence. But what is C. up to here? My guess is mocking Christianity, telling a kind of twisted good samaritan story, with a Christian tone and attributing it to an Arab. Whether or not this hints at the broader relationship between Christianity and Islam I do not know.
You would have noted the mockery inherent in Cervantes' comment that his history is both serious and inventive, rather like the Bible. Have you read the bit later when these freed prisoners go on a crime spree and Don Quixote gets the blame? His sheepish guilt made me laugh. All the mixing of Christian and Islam seems to me about recognising a common humanity.
DWill wrote:
He doesn't see Muslims in a purely negative light, but negative nonetheless. Christians wanted to view themselves as the only civilized people in the world, and I can't see Cervantes making any statements--in your quotes (for which, thanks) or anywhere else that dissent from that attitude. But I wouldn't expect from any writer of Cervantes' time a view that would satisfy us in its liberality, so if you want to suggest that Cervantes is relatively enlightened, I wouldn't object. The larger issue is what C. is up to in this book, and we already know where we each stand on this.
If I may dissent, the quote about Arab logic directly mocks Christian reason. Cervantes says “the Moors… can never be brought to see the error of their creed by quotations from the Holy Scriptures, … but must have examples that are palpable, easy, intelligible, capable of proof, not admitting of doubt, with mathematical demonstrations that cannot be denied, like, 'If equals be taken from equals, the remainders are equal:'” The implication is that Christians accept illogical arguments from scriptural authority, while Muslims insist on logic. Cervantes seems to regard Christians as culturally superior to Muslims in terms of humane ethics, but sees the fantasy of Christian faith as a Quixotic dream.

On page 697, Grossman mentions that the Inquisition cut the statement that “works of charity performed in a lukewarm and half-hearted way have no merit and are worth nothing.” Clearly, the fact that the book was censored (so lightly!) by the Catholic Church indicates a concern on the part of the hounds of God that Cervantes was dubious regarding his orthodox piety. In fact, the whole book is secretly and cunningly atheist, sailing just downwind of the limits of plausible deniability.



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Post Re: Islam in Don Quixote
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Robert:

In fact, the whole book is secretly and cunningly atheist, sailing just downwind of the limits of plausible deniability.


A good way for Cervantes to cloak his real intent, his real meaning, is to write a book about a madman laced with humour because both madness and humour hide the author’s true intent and meaning. We allow comedians to say things in the context of comedy that would be frowned upon outside of comedy and perhaps it was the same in Cervantes’ day? And madness provides the perfect vehicle to say edgy, heretical or subversive things while hiding behind the madness of his main character as an explanation. I don’t know what conditions Cervantes faced with respect to censorship, suppression or sanctions but to succeed as an author he had to find a way to get his message out without losing critical content or the liberty to say what was on his mind.

On the madness theme, I have been wondering why Sancho is such a dupe; why he sticks with DQ through adventure after adventure? Sancho is apparently sane and says reasonable things and at times makes quite compelling arguments for cessation of their adventures, yet he stays on. Clearly, Cervantes needs a foil for DQ’s madness and for the comedic episodes, a straight guy, and in doing so Cervantes provides a baseline of sanity contrasted with DQ’s madness and is necessary to move the plot forward. So, Sancho suffers the perils of a logical man awash in a sea of madness, on and on, trying to confront that madness with logical arguments, which of course fall on deaf ears, and the only response being more madness. Sancho’s salvation could be to confront madness with madness, but I have not seen him do this so far. And he raises questions as to what constitutes madness or irrationality and who is mad, really? Perhaps all this questioning, confusion and madness gives Cervantes a better case for deniability.



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Post Re: Islam in Don Quixote
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill, I think you underestimate Cervantes. Contemporary with Shakespeare and Galileo, he wrote at the glorious height of the Renaissance, when connections to ancient pagan culture had been restored and the mood was shifting against what Hume later called the ‘monkish virtues’ of the medieval world. Don Quixote is indeed a good Catholic, but Don Quixote is crazy. Surely this is part and parcel of the sly mockery invited by Cervantes? Skepticism is the basis of modernity. Just thirty years later, Descartes wrote his Meditations, in which God is neatly invoked and disposed as the guarantor of science, presenting a main waystation on the path to atheism. Descartes may well have drawn his idea of the deceiving demon of solipsism from Don Quixote. Science is intrinsically atheist, but when mad fanatics threaten to burn heretics, atheists must be circumspect in expressing their views.

You and Giselle are taking good turns at the oars. Why would you think I underestimate C? I don't believe that a book aiming for social or religious criticism is necessarily of a higher purpose than one aiming to make people laugh, to entertain, or to portray a world. Tom Jones is better than many a book that tries to say Important Things.

What I want to suggest now and have only implied as yet, is that your views may reflect that attitude the historians call presentism. I won't repeat my previous post about the unlikihood that Cervantes or his readers would be responding out of their own Catholic faith with skepticism towards the foundations of theology. In a sense, though, this historically based criterion doesn't matter; it isn't a part of the context of the novel, any more than what you say about the intellectual millieu is part of the novel's context. There is no determinism on an author implied by our summary view of what an era was all about. We come up with these judgments, and they may be good enough to be judged as true, but only in the sense of being averaged out. The reality under consideration contained diverse currents, and an author may well be taken by any current that didn't win in the judgment of history.

You can't really continue to claim that Cervantes was itching to say more than he did, can you? There would seem to be no restrictions on the possible use of that reasoning, making it suspect, IMO. Further, I can't see even the edge of dangerousness in what C. does say, when viewed in the context of the whole novel. There is nothing really for him to say "more" about.

Robert Tulip wrote:
.
But what is C. up to here? My guess is mocking Christianity, telling a kind of twisted good samaritan story, with a Christian tone and attributing it to an Arab. Whether or not this hints at the broader relationship between Christianity and Islam I do not know.You would have noted the mockery inherent in Cervantes' comment that his history is both serious and inventive, rather like the Bible. Have you read the bit later when these freed prisoners go on a crime spree and Don Quixote gets the blame? His sheepish guilt made me laugh. All the mixing of Christian and Islam seems to me about recognising a common humanity.

Tone is one of the most difficult aspects of literature to pin down. Our own personalities must partly determine how we are to judge a writer's tone, just as they work in how we judge the tone of anyone we interact with. It may seem to you strange, but mocking is far from the impression I have of the narrator's tone. He is, rather, tolerant (within limits), amused and musing, gently shaking his head over the foolishness we humans can get up to. This is fortunate, because such a tone happens to be more attractive to me than mockery.

Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
He doesn't see Muslims in a purely negative light, but negative nonetheless. Christians wanted to view themselves as the only civilized people in the world, and I can't see Cervantes making any statements--in your quotes (for which, thanks) or anywhere else that dissent from that attitude. But I wouldn't expect from any writer of Cervantes' time a view that would satisfy us in its liberality, so if you want to suggest that Cervantes is relatively enlightened, I wouldn't object. The larger issue is what C. is up to in this book, and we already know where we each stand on this.
If I may dissent, the quote about Arab logic directly mocks Christian reason. Cervantes says “the Moors… can never be brought to see the error of their creed by quotations from the Holy Scriptures, … but must have examples that are palpable, easy, intelligible, capable of proof, not admitting of doubt, with mathematical demonstrations that cannot be denied, like, 'If equals be taken from equals, the remainders are equal:'” The implication is that Christians accept illogical arguments from scriptural authority, while Muslims insist on logic. Cervantes seems to regard Christians as culturally superior to Muslims in terms of humane ethics, but sees the fantasy of Christian faith as a Quixotic dream.
Maybe we should begin to talk about Cervantes as master of ambiguity. Ambiguity seems to be present in most of what you have quoted, and is here as well. If the narrator's remark is a compliment, it could be a backhanded one. Most obviously, though, the remark continues with the disregard of another culture. The narrator invents a stereotype without basis in truth in order to ignore the plain fact that a Muslim can't be convinced of the scriptures' truth because he has his own scriptures that are valid for him. A Christian would not think of acknowledging this, though.

Quote:
In fact, the whole book is secretly and cunningly atheist, sailing just downwind of the limits of plausible deniability

Again, this stealth mission is very hard to demonstrate through the only means by which we should attempt it, through the text itself.


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Last edited by DWill on Fri May 28, 2010 10:01 pm, edited 6 times in total.



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