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ArribaAbajoDon Quixote's Fatherly Advice, and Olivares's

Elias L. Rivers

State University of New York at Stony Brook

Los consejos paternos que don Quijote ofrece a su escudero en los capítulos 42 y 43 de la Segunda Parte de su historia tienen hondas raíces en una tradición que remonta a Isócrates y Catón, y que recibe famosas reformulaciones renacentistas en autores como Castiglione, Shakespeare, y Lucas Gracián Dantisco, cuyo Galateo español conocería Cervantes. Basada en una tradición monológica, dominada por la voz paterna, la versión cervantina se distingue de ésta sin embargo por el papel activo que concede al «hijo» Sancho Panza, cuyos contraconsejos, en la forma de refranes, pesan tanto como los de su «padre» y amo. La inédita carta e «instrucción» que dirige el Conde-Duque de Olivares a su futuro yerno en 1624 atestigua tanto la actualidad del texto de Cervantes como su potencialidad irónica.

In our philological world of cultural studies, few of us attempt to invent anymore a hard-and-fast distinction between literary and historical documents. To cite a specific instance, on both sides of that imaginary dividing line we find documents in which a father or master tries to sum up in a few well-chosen words his mature advice to a son or disciple. For an English-reading public the archetypal literary example is no doubt Polonius's advice to Laertes (Hamlet I.iii):

And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy; rich not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man...
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

In one of his most brilliant articles, «Irony as Structure in the Drama», Peter N. Dunn has explained the multiple ironies involved in any theatrical production. (We may even be led to wonder how many children Lady Macbeth did have.) At this point in Hamlet, as Polonius performs on the stage the locutionary act of speaking words to his departing son, what are the diverse symbolic, or illocutionary, acts that take place so far as the son, the other characters, and the audience are concerned? Is Polonius to be taken as a wise father speaking from experience, as a foolish old man mouthing traditional platitudes, as a character that cannot be so easily labeled? Whatever the reader's or actor's or audience's eventual interpretation of the character, these words assigned to Polonius by the author (the play's deus in machina) have become part of the English language as commonplaces, usually taken at face value. (When in 1943 I was leaving home for service in the Second World War, my own father, fearing perhaps that I might not submit readily to military discipline, said to me, as his final words of advice, «Give thy thoughts no tongue».)


A remote antecedent for advice of the Polonius sort, in the Western written tradition, is Isocrates's Paraenesis, or exhortation to virtue, in which the philosophical rhetorician of classical Greece, after a discursive prologue, gives his disciple some rules on moral behavior. Years ago, apropos of Don Quixote's advice to Sancho, Américo Castro cited a few brief excerpts from Pedro Mexías's Spanish translation of Isocrates, and I here expand his sample39:

Primeramente, Demónico, las cosas divinas hónralas y trátalas pía y acatadamente...

Agradécete siempre ser enseñado de nuevo y crecer en doctrina y erudición...


Procura asimismo ser con los hombres fácil y cortés y en tus palabras blando y afable; cortesía será hablar bien a los que topares, y afabilidad tener con ellos buena y amigable conversación...

En tu vestido has de procurar ser pulido, limpio y bien aderezado, y no muy costoso y deshonesto, porque lo primero es de hombre honrado y liberal, lo otro de desordenado y pródigo...

Entre las cosas que más debes huir es el beber vino sin orden y templanza...

If the complex irony of Polonius's advice depends upon characters, actors, readers, and audiences, the ironic context of Don Quixote's exchange with Sancho Panza is more narrowly defined by the narrator in Cervantes's novel (Don Quijote, Part II, chapters 42-43), in which a sometimes sane madman gives Isocratic advice to an ignorant but canny peasant on how to behave as governor of an «ínsula». Sancho welcomes the opportunity offered to him by the Duke to «probar a qué sabe el ser gobernador», and Don Quixote, declaring himself to be Sancho's «Catón», quickly takes him aside to give him advice in private. The Dicta, or Disticha, de moribus Catonis, written years after Isocrates's Paraenesis and widely used since the Middle Ages as an elementary Latin textbook, provided in pairs of aphoristic hexameters an important tributary to the same broad flood of moral and social commonplaces40.

I.1.Si Deus est animus, nobis ut carmina dicunt,
hic tibi praecipue sit pura mente colendus.

I.2.Plus vigila semper neu somno deditus esto,
nam diuturna quies vitiis alimenta ministrat.

I.3.Virtutem primarn esse puto compescere linguam:
proximus ille Deo est qui scit ratione tacere.

IV.4.Dilige te ornari, sed parce dilige formam,
quam nemo sanctus nec honestus captat habere.

IV.24.Hoc bibe quo possis si tu vis vivere sanus:
morbi causa mali minima est quaecumque voluptas.

The classical tradition of such commonplaces, stemming in part from Isocrates and Cato and supplemented by other moralists such as Cicero and Seneca, was followed, and again supplemented, in the handbooks of Renaissance manners. The open dialogue form of Castiglione's Cortegiano (1528) induces a less didactic tone, and allows for more philosophical discussion and difference of opinion than we find in the words of Polonius and of Don Quixote; but Castiglione's characters do mention some of the same familiar topics as discretion in clothing and in wine-drinking and add new rules on table manners. More simply didactic in form is Giovanni della Casa's Galateo (1555), in which an older man gives lessons to a nephew; Lucas Gracián Dantisco, in his Spanish translation and adaptation (1593), represents the author as addressing the work to a younger brother. In fifteen chapters he criticizes and recommends modes of behavior, both physical and verbal, over a wide range of possible social circumstances; his critique is designed to make a person «bienquisto y amado de las gentes» (186). Table manners are important, and his emphatic general advice «que no se hagan porquerías en la mesa» (111) is made more specific apropos of yawning and belching (108), a passage that anticipates Don Quixote's reprehension of Sancho's «regüeldos». (But Gracián uses the basic verb «regoldar», not Don Quixote's cultured euphemism «eructar».) In fact, Gracián Dantisco has something of a novelist's imagination as he describes how gross some people are about blowing their noses (109):

Hase visto assimismo otra mala costumbre de algunos que suenan las narizes con mucha fuerça, y páranse delante de todos a mirar en el pañizuelo lo que se han sonado, como si aquello que por allí han purgado, fuesse perlas o diamantes que le cayessen del celebro.

Let us now briefly review the familiar chapters 42-43 of Part II, first emphasizing the «aire de parentesco» noted by Américo Castro. Don Quixote, like Isocrates, begins his discourse proper with a prologue, saying «Primeramente, ¡oh hijo!, has de temer a Dios... Lo segundo, has de poner los ojos en quien eres, procurando conocerte a ti mismo...». After his prologue, Don Quixote recommends «suavidad» and «humildad» in Sancho's social attitudes, and more mercy than justice in his judicial decisions. The knight makes a   —78→   transition between the two chapters with these words: «Esto que hasta aquí te he dicho son documentos que han de adornar tu alma; escucha ahora los que han de servir para adorno del cuerpo».

In chapter 43 Don Quixote recommends cleanliness and clipped fingernails, neat clothing, the avoidance of garlic and onions, of eructation or belching, moderation in eating, drinking, and sleeping. The topic, however, that is most fully discussed in this chapter is that of proper speech; this echoes in a distant way passages in the Galateo español as well as the more lengthy discussions of the Italian questione della lingua, of written and oral style, at the end of Castiglione's Book I. Don Quixote is particularly concerned about Sancho's excessive use of refranes and his illiteracy, two traits which readers intuitively understand to be closely related to one another. And at the same time we realize that Spanish refranes are closely related to what we have seen of the broad tradition, both written and oral, of aphoristic moral advice. Don Quixote himself recognizes that «los refranes son sentencias breves», that is, that they are an oral component of wisdom literature.

There is, then, no doubt about the «aire de parentesco» that relates Don Quixote's discourse to that of Isocrates. But we must not allow ourselves to ignore the striking difference between the whole tradition of masterful monologues like those of Isocrates, Cato, and Polonius, who write or speak to silent disciples, and the increasingly active part played by Sancho Panza as he receives his master's lessons. It is true that Don Quixote begins by attempting to humble, and thus to silence, his squire by emphasizing how little he deserves his good fortune:

Tú, que para mí, sin duda alguna, eres un porro, sin madrugar ni trasnochar y sin hacer diligencia alguna, con solo el aliento que te ha tocado de la andante caballería, sin más ni más te vees gobernador de una ínsula, como quien no dice nada.

But this does not keep Sancho silent for very long, even though he qualifies his first and only interruption in chapter 42 with this comical remark: «... pero esto paréceme a mí que no hace al caso...».

Chapter 43 begins with a comment by the narrator on how genuine Don Quixote's wisdom is and on Sancho's concentration as he tries to remember his master's advice. The latter's discourse in this chapter is in fact frequently interrupted by the disciple. Don Quixote cannot help admiring Sancho's wealth of refranes, but, he adds, «muchas veces los traes tan por los cabellos que más parecen disparates que sentencias».


-Eso Dios lo puede remediar -respondió Sancho-; porque sé más refranes que un libro, y viénenseme tantos juntos a la boca cuando hablo que riñen, por salir, unos con otros; pero la lengua va arrojando los primeros que encuentra, aunque no vengan a pelo. Mas o tendré cuenta de aquí adelante de decir los que convengan a la gravedad de mi cargo; que en casa llena, presto se guisa la cena; y quien destaja no baraja; y a buen salvo está el que repica; y el dar y el tener, seso ha menester.

Later on, Sancho doubts that he will be able to remember all of Don Quixote's varied bits of advice, «y así será menester que se me den por escrito...». And when his master reminds him of his inability to read and scolds him again for his misuse of refranes, he replies with this rhetorical question: «¿A qué diablos se pudre de que yo me sirva de mi hacienda, que ninguna otra tengo, ni otro caudal alguno, sino refranes y más refranes?». The question of oral and written traditions is here explicitly foregrounded; the Spanish refranero is Sancho's own Paraenesis and Disticha Catonis, and he defends his use of it as a heritage comparable to Don Quixote's sententious wisdom, which derives from written texts and, unlike refranes, is not easy to remember and can only be recorded in writing.


Some ten years after the publication of Don Quixote's advice to Sancho, the Count-Duke of Olivares, Philip IV's valido or privado, gave to his future son-in-law, in 1624, a written list of instructions on how to behave at court. This personal document has never, it seems, been published, but it must have circulated in Madrid; Quevedo mentions it as though it were well known in 1629, praising it as a model of style, and the historian John H. Elliott has located and read a copy of it41. Elliott (167) comments on the «rather bland character» of these instructions, «with their insistence on the need for piety and a modest comportment at court». Such was the character, as we have   —80→   seen, of the traditional commonplaces. Since this document is virtually unknown, I would now like to comment on it in some detail, after quoting the prologue in extenso.

Olivares, begins his advice to the young Don Ramiro de Guzmán, soon to acquire the title of Duke of Medina de las Torres, with a brief personal letter in which he deliberately calls him «hijo» rather than «yerno», for he did not have a son of his own:

Hijo, pienso que estaréis satisfecho de lo que he hecho por vos, pues os entrego mi hija única y fío mi memoria y nombre de vos, y la conservación y aumento de mi casa, en daros el papel que va con éste. Si lo obráis, conoceréis que por él solo me debéis mucho más que por todo lo otro junto; y cuando lo hice, no fue para sujeto determinado: formé el proceder que escogiera en mí. Hijo, pídoos con mucho afecto que os hagáis hijo mío, imitando el original que aquí os doy, porque si yo pudiese, no quisiera teneros por yerno.

According to this unusually personal preface, which develops in explicit detail for a particular case the more general paternal implications of the traditional preface, Olivares's advice was originally written as a guide for his own behavior, and by following this advice the young man will conform with Olivares's ideal and thus become his own true son in spirit.

In the manuscript copy at Berkeley, the above preface is labeled «carta» and is followed by the «instrucción» proper. It begins with the usual bland commonplaces noted by Elliott and stemming from Isocrates and Cato:

Encárgoos en primer lugar el temor y respeto a Dios... El amor, ley, fidelidad y reconocimiento al rey y a cuanto sea su servicio ha de ser antes que vivir. Pudiera escusar el encargaros el respeto a la justicia, habiéndoos dicho la obligación que tenéis al servicio del rey, como cosa inseparable de lo más sagrado de él, pero no me ha parecido dejar de deciros que habéis de respetar a la justicia sin distinción de ministros... Amaréis mucho el ser enseñado y advertido...

More interesting are the allusions to the specific Madrid context involving Philip IV, Olivares, and the government of Spain: «Habéis menester, hijo, hacer cuenta que empezáis a vivir, tanta es la diferencia que habréis menester hacer de vida por el lugar en que yo me hallo; tenéis en la mano ayudarme mucho, y también desayudarme». Of special importance is the young man's personal service to the king: «Procurad servir al rey con maña; ésta no se adquiere de   —81→   golpe, y así con ir mirando despacio y ensayándoos donde el rey no lo vea, lo vendréis a conseguir...».

Olivares mentions in one passing sentence three of the special courtly skills that had been recommended by writers in the Renaissance tradition: «Aprended a danzar, esgrimir y andar a caballo, porque es forzoso saberlo hacer». He then moves into what he calls «las menudencias» of concrete social advice, drawing heavily upon the traditional commonplaces, especially as found in the Galateo español: do everything possible to make friends, not enemies; avoid story-telling; be courteous and respectful to others; tell the truth, for honesty is the best policy; be pious and set a good moral example; avoid gambling and debts; give support to soldiers, the backbone of the country; encourage literature and scholarship; don't argue or be obstinate. Olivares concludes by emphasizing the importance of actually following all this advice; he will not forgive the young man if he fails to do so. And he finally tells his son-in-law not to count on the permanence of his precarious power at court:

Y concluyo las advertencias con una en que se encierran todas. Fabricaos opinión sin esperar fortuna ni conservación de mi puesto por ser tan sujeto a mudanza, y la cosa que mayor daño os puede hacer el no entendello así y fiaros en la fortuna, y creedme que con nada os hallaréis tan atrás, y os afirmo, hijo, que jamás pretendí y procuré el lugar que tengo, ni después que me hallo en él soy tan loco que se me haya pasado un día entero sin esperar que me pueda faltar en el siguiente, porque ésta es la verdad, y todo lo demás engaño sin fundamento y aun sin ejemplo, y desdichado de quien no lo entendiere así.

According to Elliott (1986: 168), the young man later on «proved a model courtier and rapidly endeared himself to the king».

Of particular interest is Olivares's advice on piety and morality. Given what we know of religious controversies and practices in early modem Spain, Olivares's recommendations are a masterpiece of ambiguity, worthy of a Jesuit confessor's analysis:

Haced profesión de piadoso, y aunque no se ha de creer en revelaciones que no califica la Iglesia, no os hagáis calificador ni en favor ni en contra, sino dejad que los que quisieren lo crean y los que no que lo contradigan, sin tomar por vuestra cuenta lo uno ni lo otro, entendiendo que es posible sea, aunque las más veces no sea así. Pero de ninguna manera conviene mostrar impiedad. Adviértoos con particularidad en este punto porque los más entendidos, con error afectado, proceden en reprobarlo todo, y tengo esto por tanta ignorancia como lo contrario. Esta misma   —82→   piedad os encargo en todas las cosas de virtud, procurando, aunque seais malo, no parecerlo ni escandalizar sino dar a todos buen ejemplo; y si pudiéredes ser bueno, será mejor para todos. Yo os aseguro que para esta vida no hay otra cosa buena; mirad cuál será para la otra. En este caso os aconsejo huyáis el afectar la virtud, y ella misma, si es verdadera, os obligará a no afectarla.

What status do we accord to Olivares's solemn document? Did he want it to be kept private, as the moral ambiguity of the foregoing paragraph seems to imply? Or, within the theatrical space of the royal court in Madrid, did he discreetly let it become public, deliberately having it circulated among political associates? He claims that it is an ideal self-portrait; it may well have been designed to convince the courtly readers of what was an apparently private document that he was really a man of integrity who unconditionally served the king in the best interests of the nation. But its reference to «maña» and rehearsal in serving the king carries yet another hint of hypocrisy.

The only explicit comment that we know of made by a contemporary reader is that of the no doubt sycophantic Quevedo (Rivers 1997), who asserts in his 1629 dedication that his excellency

... siempre ha escrito tan fácil nuestra lengua, y tan sin reprehensión, como se ha leído en la instrucción que vuestra excelencia dio al duque de Medina de las Torres, su hijo: tratado que juntamente le mostró buen padre y buen maestro, discurso que atesorarán las edades por venir y obedecerán en ellas los que en grandes lugares quisieren asegurar el acierto y hacer bienquista la virtud eminente en la buena fortuna.

This praise of Olivares's instruction as a model combination of good style and sound moral advice is itself, one suspects, part of Quevedo's political campaign to defend the great privado in 1629, when, as Elliott says (1982: 233), «Olivares needed his services... as never before».

In conclusion, we have seen a few examples, ancient and modem, taken from a long and varied tradition of fatherly advice. Some examples, like those of Isocrates, Cato, and Gracián Dantisco, are in fact textbooks. Others, like those of Polonius and Don Quixote and Olivares, are self-characterizing elaborations (literary or historical, cultural or political) based, in part, on such textbooks and presented as spoken, or written, by a father or father-figure to a son or son-figure at a critical juncture in the latter's life: Laertes is leaving to study abroad, Sancho is about to go govern an «ínsula», and Don   —83→   Ramiro de Guzmán is about to enter the Madrid court as the virtual son of Spain's most powerful man, a man well aware that he could fall from power, as he eventually did in 1643. The Olivares document, as circulated at court and praised by Quevedo, may well strike the late twentieth-century reader, if he has been prepared by reading Dunn's article, as a coup de théâtre hardly less loaded with irony than the fictitious words of Polonius or of Don Quixote.

Works Cited

Bleznick, Donald W. «Don Quijote's Advice to Governor Sancho Panza». Hispania (1957) 40: 62-65.

Castro, Américo. El pensamiento de Cervantes (nueva edición). Barcelona: Noguer, 1972.

Castiglione, Baldesar. Il libro del Cortegiano. Ed. V. Cian. Firenze: Sansone, 1947.

Cato: see Duff.

Della Casa, Giovanni. Il Galateo, Ed. G. Tinivella. Milano: Hoepli, 1949.

Duff, J. Wight, and Arnold M. Duff, eds. and transls. «Dicta Catonis» in their Minor Latin Poets, «The Loeb Classical Library». London: Heinemann, 1961. 583-639.

Dunn, Peter N. «Irony as Structure in the Drama», Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 61 (1984): 317-325.

Elliott, John Huxtable. «Quevedo and the Count-Duke of Olivares», in Quevedo in Perspective. Ed. J. Iffland. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 1982. 227-50.

Elliott, John Huxtable. The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.

Gracián Dantisco, Lucas. Galateo español. Ed. M. Morreale. Madrid: CSIC, 1968.

Isocrates: see Mexías.

Mexías, Pedro. «Parénesis, o exortación a virtud de Isócrates» in his Silva de varia lección. Madrid: Espinosa, 1673. 562-571.

Rivers, Elias L. «Quevedo Against 'Culteranismo': A Note on Politics and Morality». MLN 112 (1997): 269-274.