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Everything is related to Naples
Number 42 in this series. Link to all items here.

Cervantes in Naples

The street named via Cervantes is near the port, probably an exciting place to be back in the early 1570s when Cervantes was in the Spanish vice-realm of Naples in his rough–and–tumble days as soldier and struggling author. Inscribed on a plaque at the beginning of that street is a passage from his poem, Journey to Parnassus. It speaks of "...Naples the illustrious...the glory of Italy, famed in the world...the mother of nobility and the land of plenty..."

Miguel de Cervantes Saarvedra (1547-1614) fled Spain in 1568 to avoid the ghastly punishment of having his hand amputated for wounding someone in a fight. He fled to Rome and a job as a domestic servant, a post he left in 1570 for the life of a common soldier. In 1571 he went aboard the Marquesa, a ship in the Holy Roman fleet and sailed from Messina to engage the Turks at the great Battle of Lepanto, one of the most important naval engagements in the history of Europe. By all accounts, Cervantes fought well; he spent the next few years in the Neapolitan vice–realm in the garrisons in Palermo and Naples. He sailed from Naples in 1575 to return to Spain and was captured by Berber pirates and held for ransom. He lived through years of hell in prison in Algiers, failing in four attempts to escape, finally being ransomed and freed in 1580.

As a writer, Cervantes struggled unsuccessfully through much of the rest of his life. He applied for various jobs, even in Spanish possessions in the Americas but was turned down for one reason or another. The bulk of his work was published in the last ten years of his life. Indeed, he started to write Don Quixote while in debtors' prison in 1600. The first part was published in 1605.

With the publication of Don Quixote, Cervantes achieved the success that had eluded him for so long. In terms of posterity, thus, he had made it, but his contemporaries were not so sure. In 1608 he was passed over for inclusion in a group of Spanish poets invited to go to Naples with the new viceroy, the Conde de Lemos. Journey to Parnassus (cited above) was the result of that snub. Cervantes had been denied the pleasure of returning to Italy, to Naples, the land of his exuberant youth, so he invited himself. That is, the long poem is written under a pseudonym, and it invites "Miguel de Cervantes" to Parnassus (Naples), the mythological home of poets and musicians. It is a somewhat tedious critique of other poets, and it is not widely read.

The place of Cervantes is now secure in the history of our literature. He is a byword, whereas those who got that invitation are forgotten. Cervantes is even secure against the jibe of his great contemporary, Lope de Vega (1562-1625), who was apparently stupid enough to say that "no one would be so stupid as to praise Don Quixote."


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