The Way Behind and the Way Ahead

Cartography and the State of Spain in Cabeza De Vaca’s Relación

Authored by: Kathryn M. Mayers

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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Early in Volume II of Don Quijote, as the now-recuperated hidalgo shows signs of giving his niece and housekeeper a third slip, his housekeeper attempts to divert him from his ill-errant chivalry by suggesting that he be one of those who “a pie quedo sirviesen a su rey y señor, estándose en la corte” (Cervantes 1978, 80). Don Quijote refuses her advice with a reference to cartography:

[N]o todos los caballeros pueden ser cortesanos, ni todos los cortesanos pueden ni deben ser caballeros andantes … porque los cortesanos, sin salir de sus aposentos ni de los umbrales de la corte, se pasean por todo el mundo, mirando un mapa … pero nosotros, los caballeros andantes verdaderos, al sol, al frío, al aire, a las inclemencias del cielo, de noche y de día, a pie y a caballo, medimos toda la tierra con nuestros mismos pies; y no solamente conocemos los enemigos pintados, sino en su mismo ser … y … esta segunda, o, por mejor decir, primera especie de caballeros andantes … ha sido la salud no sólo de un reino, sino de muchos.

(80–81) What is interesting about this passage is not just the bleeding of cartography into literature, which had become commonplace by the early seventeenth century, nor Cervantes’ anticipation of Alfred Korzybski’s notion to the effect that a map is not the territory it represents, but rather the way Don Quijote’s speech here contrasts two different methods of cartography as a device to express dissatisfaction with the current political shape of Spain. In emphasizing that true knights save kingdoms with knowledge drawn not from (illusionistic, two-dimensional) paintings but from (first-person, directly experienced) measurements, Cervantes uses the contrast between knowledge derived from abstract projection on paper and knowledge derived from first-hand empirical investigation as a figure for Don Quijote’s dissatisfaction with the increasing bureaucratization of the court that had occurred in the transition from a medieval to a Baroque state.

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