• Keith Mathison

A Legend in His Own Mind


It can be and has been argued that Cervantes's Don Quixote is the first modern "novel." It has been a hugely influential work. Don Quixote contains a quote that seems to be more relevant today than it was in Cervantes's day:


"In short, our gentleman became so immersed in his reading that he spent whole nights from sundown to sunup and his days from dawn to dusk in poring over his books, until, finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind."


Any present or former college student has likely felt like this has happened to them at one point or another during an all night study session, but anyone who spends a lot of time online will easily relate to this as well. If you go online looking for information on anything going on in the world today and you read more than one source, you often find yourself faced with multiple conflicting documents. Spend too much time on some issues, and it can make you feel like you've lost your mind.


Of course, the rest of the Cervantes's tale describes the "adventures" of this man who believes himself to be a gallant knight. His misperception of reality and what he does based on this misperception has led to the well-known phrase "tilting at windmills." The passage introducing the famous windmill scene is brilliantly written:


“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth."


"What giants?" Asked Sancho Panza.


"The ones you can see over there," answered his master, "with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long."


"Now look, your grace," said Sancho, "what you see over there aren't giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone."


"Obviously," replied Don Quixote, "you don't know much about adventures.”


If too much reading of Twitter has driven you a bit mad and you've started to fancy yourself an online knight in shining armor, make sure you too have someone like Sancho Panza around.

Public Domain Image - Engraving by Gustave Doré

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