15 de abril de 2010

The Sporting Dimension of Cervantes

Por Jesús Castañón Rodríguez

The Sporting Dimension of Cervantes

Jesús Castañón Rodríguez

The presence of sport in the literature of the Golden Age has occupied many scholars, from the pioneering work of Ángel Valbuena Prat in the article «Sport in the Golden Age» to other studies such as those of José Hesse or the research group Sport, politics and culture of the Department of Physical and Sports Education of the University of A Coruña.

In these studies two groups of games and sports have been established. On the one hand, the aristocratic pastimes: on horseback – masquerade, pageantry and quintain – mock spears, hunting, bullfighting, fencing, ball games, jousting and tournaments, swimming, ring jousting and billiards. And, on the other hand, popular sports: acrobatics and acrobats, heavy and light athletic games, wrestling and archery.

And their literary recreation has been documented in works such as Cancionero tradicional Primavera y flor de romances, as well as in compositions by such varied authors as: Pedro Aguilar, Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola, Pedro Calderón, Rodrigo Caro, Sebastián de Covarrubias, Alonso de Ercilla, Padre Escobar, Gaspar Gil Polo, Luis de Góngora, Juan de Jáuregui, Fray Luis de León, Lope de Vega, Padre J. de Mariana, Cristóbal Méndez, Pedro Mexía, Tirso de Molina, Luis Pacheco, Ginés Pérez de Hita, Francisco de Quevedo, Agustín de Salazar y Torres, Juan de Torres, Luis Vives, Juan Yagüe, Juan de Zabaleta y Luis de Zapata.

The works of Cervantes

Concentrating on the works of Cervantes, in 2005 the National Institute of Physical Education of Galicia published «Sport in Cervantes», by José Luis Salvador Alonso, to record the physical and sporting activities that appear in El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la ManchaLa GalateaLa GitanillaLas novelas ejemplares and Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda. In this work references are found to Olympic reminiscences, athletic sports (racing, wrestling, javelin and archery) and other sports and activities such as: billiards, hunting, riding, fencing, ball games, fishing, tournaments, mock spears, bullfighting and ring jousting.

Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda

Outstanding among these works is Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda which Cervantes himself considered to be the best entertainment novel he had written.

Chapter twenty-two describes the festivals held by King Policarpo on one of the islands situated close to that of Hibernia in which the most virtuous man was appointed King in order to avoid ambition and covetousness and to make justice and mercy shine forth. The latter organised jolly festivals and entertainment in order to prevent melancholy among the people, which included the holding of games, called Olympics by the nobles, on a beach.

In Cervantes’ tale, a boat suddenly arrived carrying twelve dashing, well-built passengers dressed in white, among whom the helmsman Periandro excelled. He requested permission to participate in various competitions and triumphed in all the trials until the beautiful Sinforosa, daughter of the king, removed a garland of flowers that adorned her head and placed it on that of Periandro.

Five trials are mentioned in the text: an athletic race in which the sound of a trumpet marked the start, a fencing contest in which Periandro beat six opponents, a wrestling competition in which he overcame another six adversaries, the throwing of a spear, similar to a javelin, which he managed to hurl into the sea and an archery trial in which, with an arrow launched by a crossbow, he managed to pierce the heart of a dove that was tied by a thread to the top of a tall, straight tree.

Modern transformations

A curious aspect of Cervantes’ work is the dimension attained by the character of don Quixote in modern sport in Argentina and Spain and in such varied sporting disciplines as aviation, cycling and football.

Miguel de Unamuno in the poem «To the Aeroplane» (1915) begins this game of associations by considering the plane as a contraption formed by a bewildered angel that gambols around in search of the faith of don Quijote.

Cycling turns to the figure of the ingenious hidalgo to recreate in poems the special character of the Spanish cyclists Fernando Poblet, specialised in track trials, and Federico Martín Bahamontes, road racer and winner of the Tour de France in 1959. In these compositions, the Spanish author José María Borrás associates the state of mind of the modern racing cyclist with morals and chivalrous values relating to the absence of fear, the exaltation of the smile in suffering and the concealment of sadness.

In 2007, Luis Juaristi and Olaia Juaristi published Ruta de Don Quijote en BTT with a prologue by the five-times winner of the Tour de France and twice winner of the Giro d’Italia, Miguel Induráin. They converted the text of Cervantes’ novel and of the routes recognised in it by the association Amigos del Campo (Friends of the Country) of Montiel into a route for active tourism through the places that form the setting for: the adventures of the fulling mills, of the Biscayan and of the Yangüeses, the plain, the Nueva and Quesada inns and that of Juan Palomeque, the shepherds’ flock, the Castle of Montizón, the meetings with the friars, the lions, the actors and the Knight of the Mirrors, the lancing of the bulls, the conquest of the helmet, the liberation of the galley slaves, the braying village, Master Pedro’s puppet show, the Cave of Montesinos, the hamlet of Basilio, and the wedding of Camacho.

Finally, the adaptation to football of the work of Cervantes took place in 2007 thanks to the Argentinian Lionel Messi, who on 19 April and 9 June of that year reedited with F. C. Barcelona against Getafe and Espanyol the style of the well-known goals scored by the sky blue and white star Diego Armando Maradona against England in the 1986 World Cup. This singular fact of recovering the magic of the unrepeatable and the exceptional led the Argentine writer Juan Sasturain in «Lionel Messi, author of the Quijote» to compare this situation with that presented by Jorge Luis Borges in the story of Pierre Menard, a writer who proposed to prolong ideas in space and time in order to write the same text as that of Cervantes’ work.

Literary creation as sport

The passing of the centuries does not cease to demonstrate that good literature never dies. It is merely transformed. Into an aeroplane, astride a bicycle or dodging to overcome adversities, the sporting dimension of Miguel de Cervantes allows one to let imagination, creativity and freedom fly in new and surprising cultural adventures.

Bibliographical references

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