Analects of the Core: Cervantes on truth in history

Cover of the 2003 Penguin Classics edition

Cover of the 2003 Penguin Classics edition

-A lo que yo imagino—dijo don Quijote—, no hay historia humana en el mundo que no tenga sus altibajos, especialmente las que tratan de caballerías, las cuales nunca pueden estar llenas de prósperos sucesos.

-Con todo eso—respondió el bachiller—, dicen algunos que han leído la historia que se holgaran se les hubiera olvidado a los autores della algunos de los infinitos palos que en diferentes encuentros dieron al señor don Quijote.

-Ahí entra la verdad de la historia—dijo Sancho.

-También pudieran callarlos por equidad—dijo don Quijote—, pues las acciones que ni mudan ni alteran la verdad de la historia no hay para qué escribirlas, si han de redundar en menosprecio del señor de la historia. A fee que no fue tan piadoso Eneas como Virgilio le pinta, ni tan prudente Ulises como le describe Homero.

-Así es—replicó Sansón—, pero uno es escribir como poeta y otro como historiador: el poeta puede contar, o cantar las cosas, no como fueron, sino como debían ser; y el historiador las ha de escribir, no como debían ser, sino como fueron, sin añadir ni quitar a la verdad cosa alguna.

‘I suppose,’ added Don Quixote, ‘that every history that has ever been written has its ups and its downs, especially those that deal with chivalric exploits, for they cannot recount successful adventures alone.’

‘For all that,’ the young graduate replied, ‘some of those who’ve read the history say that they’d have been happier if its authors had overlooked some of the countless beatings that Don Quixote received in various confrontations.’

‘That’s where the truth of the history comes in,’ said Sancho.

‘But they could, in all fairness, have kept quiet about them,’ said Don Quixote, ‘because there is no need to narrate actions that do not alter or undermine the truth of the history, if they are going to result in the discrediting of the hero. I am sure that Aeneas was not as pious as Virgil depicts him, now was Ulysses as prudent as Homer says.’

‘That’s true,’ Sanson replied, ‘but it’s one thing to write as a poet and quite another to write as a historian: the poet can narrate or sing events not as they were but as they should have been, and the historian must record them not as they should have been but as they were, without adding anything to the truth or taking anything away from it.’

- from pp. 504-5, Part II, Chapter III, in Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, translated by John Rutherford (Spanish text from Project Gutenberg). Today’s analect was suggested by Kalani Hoe McDaniel, Core ’10, CAS ’12.

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