"?A que viene aqui la geometria, senor D. Quijote?": Don Quijote and the History of Curiosity in Spain.
Over four centuries after Cervantes published the second part of Don Quijote, curiosity has established itself as a paradigmatic value of modernity. For example, what fueled spacecraft Juno's insertion into Jupiter's orbit on 4 July 2016 was not only its array of solar panels assisted by the gas giant's gravitational pull, but also the impulse of scientific curiosity. As NASA's mission statement affirms, the agency pledges "to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research" (Revkin). So celebrated today are the urges to "pioneer," "explore," "discover," and "research," that it is easy to forget that curiosity about the physical world has not always been with us, nor did it appear out of nowhere. It was repurposed during the Renaissance to fill new demands and to replace exhausted paradigms (Perez Magallon 13-14). In short, curiosity has a history in which Cervantes's novel holds a privileged place, but one that has yet to be fully mapped. The purpose of this essay is to advance this mapping; however, first it will be useful to recognize several key figures in the field of curiosity studies.
The late Swiss philosopher Jeanne Hersch may be credited with inaugurating the modern field of curiosity studies in her 1993 volume, L'etonnement philosophique. Five years later, Nicole Jacques-Chaq uin and Sophie Floudard published Curiosite et Libido Sciendi de la Renaissance aux Lumieres. By 2001, Barbara Benedict's Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Lnquiry offered English-language readers "a broad study of questioning in the early modern period [that analyzes] literary representation of the way curious people [...] were engaged in practicing and producing curiosity itself" (1). Neil Kenny's The Uses of Curiosity in Early Modern France and Germany followed in 2004. Curiosity studies have most recently secured a place in the popular imaginary with Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everythingby Philip Ball (2013), and Alberto Manguels Curiosity (2015).
The history of science and that of curiosity are related yet distinct. For historians of science, technology and science are "the interactions between humans and the natural environment, and their aspirations to understand it" (Smith 346). Since Thomas Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolution in 1962, the history of early modern science has branched in three directions. First, historians have begun to record the efforts of the earliest proponents of empirical method and of pure reason that emerged in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. Second, previously scorned disciplines of hermetic inquiry such as alchemy and astrology have become recognized as valuable repertoires of ancient knowledge that enrich the history of science. Third, beyond the precincts of elite practice, vernacular interpretations of the natural world have also come into their own as worthy objects of scholarly investigation (Smith 346-58). Don Quijote fits into this latter definition of history of science as a sourcebook of vernacular rather than learned attitudes toward early modern science because, in Chad Gastas words, "no historical documentation exists to fully appreciate Cervantes's participation in the intellectual circles of his day where discoveries and advancements were paramount" (58, 59).
The history of curiosity, like the history of science, springs from an understanding of science and technology as "the interactions between humans and the natural environment," but it expands this understanding by emphasizing the aspirational aspect of these encounters. Rather than presume that libido sciendi has held equal sway throughout the ages, historians of curiosity plot fluctuations in "humankind's aspiration to understand its interactions with the environment" (Smith 346). Early Church Fathers such as Anselm, Bernard of Clairvoix, and Buenaventura, for example, imposed limits on the range of human inquiry. St. Augustine allowed for pia curiositas but condemned vana curiositas, a division that reappears in Thomas Aquinas's distinction between studiositas, the spirit of learning, and curiositas, an inordinate or disorderly desire to know (Arbesu Fernandez 26).
Concern for the limits of curiosity sharpened in early modern Spain as New World discoveries and technological advances shattered prior assumptions and demanded new responses. Against those historians who alleged that Spain's entry into modernity had to await the arrival of Bourbon rule in 1700, first Pedro Alvarez de Miranda and later Jose Maria Lopez Pinero have countered that evidence of what Alvarez de Miranda calls la curiosite scientifique (482) made its definitive appearance around 1687, the year that Juan de Cabriada published his anti-Galenic Carta filosofica medico-quimica (Lopez Pinero 23). However, Perez Magallon pushes this date even further back, to 1622. In that year Francisco de Barreda published El mejor principe Trajano Augusto, to which the author appended a pro-Lopean invective. Don't follow Aristotelian models when composing plays, Barreda cautions, because the key to good theater is imitation, and real life does not segregate tragedy from comedy. Barreda criticizes superstitious playwrights who blindly obey ancient precept rather than write from lived experience:
Es el arte [de componer comedias] una observancia atenta de ejemplos graduados por la experiencia y reducidos a metodo y a majestad de leyes. Su principio es la curiosidad. (Perez Magallon 47; original emphasis) (1)
Curiosity, for Barreda, propels the dramatist to engage in keen observation that he then refines into art. Another forward-looking aspect of El mejor principe Trajano Augusto is Barredas advice to princes only to engage in divinatory practices--astrology, pyromancy, aeromancy, hydromancy, and quiromancy--in order to discern the pitfalls that these judicial arts entail (Bellon Barrios 6).
I would argue that it is not necessary to identify a precise point of rupture to sense that Cervantes's contemporaries were already curious to go beyond and to know beyond the frontiers of their received world view. The motto Plus Ultra that Luigi Marliano selected in 1516 to adorn the future Emperor Charles V's royal device enjoyed an enthusiastic reception throughout Europe. Interpreted alternately as an invocation of Ulysses's exploratory zeal, a prophesy of Spain's worldwide conquests, or a celebration "of man's enhanced power, experienced by the informed courtiers and humanists of Europe who eagerly awaited news of the latest discoveries of the previously unknown hemisphere" (Rosenthal 228), Plus Ultra announced an unprecedented era of scientific curiosity in Spain. (2)
In honor of the Don Quijote quatrocentenary, Jose Manuel Sanchez Ron (2005) compiled sixteen essays covering scientific topics in Don Quijote as diverse as metallurgy, navigation, medicine, and astronomy. Sanchez Ron opened the floodgates to a stream of blogs, articles, and exhibits on the subject, perhaps most notably including the Spanish Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales's 2016 exhibit, Cervantes: Ciencia y el Quijote. Many cervantistas have likewise inquired into the place of science in Cervantes's oeuvre. Bradley J. Nelson's analysis of "La gitanilla," which he characterizes as an "outline of what a historically informed quantum approach to Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares might look like" stands out as a bold paradigm (126). Cory Reeds work on instrumentality in Cervantes, Chad Gastas interrogation of relative space and time in the Clavileno and Montesinos episodes, and Alison Krueger's analysis of Anselmos flawed experimental methodology in the "Curioso impertinente" episode have further extended this line of investigation.
While these initiatives seek to illumine aspects of scientific discourse within Cervantes's works, the project of placing Don Quijote within the broader history of curiosity involves calibrating the value that the novel assigns to what Rachel Schmidt calls "ingenio libre," the "individual's drive to go beyond the domain of the known--creating new knowledge, forms of expression, riches, and goods" (62). How, for example, does Cervantes portray the truth-status of experience, experiment, and direct observation, as opposed to the received wisdom of ancient authority, old books, and manuscripts?
David Arbesu Fernandez intuited the question of Don Quijotes place in the history of curiosity in his 2005 essay, "Auctoritas y experiencia en 'El curioso impertinente.'" Following an exhaustive interrogation of Anselmo, Lotario, Camila, Don Quijote, and Sanchos respective approaches to truth-seeking--and truth-concealing--while at the same time wary of Cervantes's pervasively ironic manipulation of manuscripts, Arbesu Fernandez reaches an impasse. All he can conclude from the play of curiosity in the intercalated novella "El curioso impertinente" is that it showcases the complex interplay between art, received authority, and experience (41). Nonetheless, Arbesu Fernandez reminds us that Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce, Georges Guntert, and Jurgen Hahn have proposed contrastive readings of Anselmo and Don Quijotes respective characters. To these critics' view, Anselmos vana curiositas functioned as an inverse mirror of Don Quijotes consistent disinterest m testing his assumptions against first-hand observation. So, for example, Anselmos undue curiosity regarding Camilas true nature (faithful or unfaithful) contrasts with Don Quijotes indifference to fact-checking Dulcineas actual identity. In sum, Arbesu Fernandez writes, "Don Quijote mantiene una fe ciega en la autoridad que le lleva al extremo de negar la experiencia sensorial" (35).
Indeed, empirical truth holds little sway with Cervantes's romance-besotted knight. Don Quijote derives knowledge about his environment largely from the authority of books--fictions that he confuses with history since they are written in prose rather than verse. Much remains to be said about curiosity in Cervantes novel but, focusing for the moment on the construction of its protagonist's character, let us simply reiterate that Don Quijotes a priori assumptions learned from books so thoroughly mediate his interactions with the natural and social world through which he moves that they disable his capacity for direct observation and judgement.
Which returns us to the question that forms the title of this article, " A que viene aqui la geometria, senor D. Quijote?" Readers may recognize in this question the petulant tone that often colors Diego Clemencin Vinas's (1765-1834) Comentarios on Don Quijote, published between 1833 and 1839. (3) Clemencin's Comentarios bespeak the zeal of a reader convinced that, properly corrected, Don Quijote could overcome the obvious defect of its being a novel to vouchsafe a place for Cervantes--and by extension Spain--on the shelves of great European literature. Nonetheless, the sheer amplitude of Clemencin's six-volume Comentarios attests to the effort required to fit the square peg of what he termed Cervantes's "fabula satirico-festiva" (i: xxxi) into the round hole of Neoclassical decorum.
The rationale behind highlighting Clemencin's dyspepsis with Don Quijotes reference to geometry is not to poke fun at the Murcian critic's historically invaluable contribution to Cervantes studies, but rather to pose a similar question of Cervantes's narrative as a whole. What is the point of devoting an entire novel to satirizing an incurious character's travails? Doesn't this point to an impatience with outworn epistemologies in general? And wouldn't such a concern suggest that Cervantes recognized, as early as 1605, that superior tools of knowledge production such as direct observation, experimentation, and scientific method had arrived?
The passage concerning geometry that so vexed Clemencin appears in Don Quijotes disquisition on giants from the opening chapter of the second part. It will be recalled that, after the Barbero asks the convalescing hidalgo to share his thoughts regarding the actual physical dimensions of the giant Morgante, Don Quijote, still smarting from his friend's earlier indirecta regarding the loco de Sevilla, finds it expedient to adduce proof that these oversized beings once walked the earth. Don Quijotes defense of giants displays masterful neo-Scholastic reasoning. He first recruits the infallible authority of Scripture, referring to David's confrontation with the Philistine giant Goliath (2.1:636). Then Don Quijote backs up this assertion on what E. C. Riley wryly calls paleontological grounds (120), citing specimens of enormous tibia and backbones found in Sicily that he reasons must have belonged to proportionally colossal humans:
Tambien en la isla de Sicilia se han hallado canillas y espaldas tan grandes, que su grandeza manifiesta que fueron gigantes sus duenos, y tan grandes como grandes torres, que la geometria saca esta verdad de duda. (2.1:636-37)
It is here that Clemencin interjects, " A que viene aqui la geometria, senor, D. Quijote? Mas del caso fuera la huesometria" (3: 17m).
What was it that so irritated Clemencin about this passage? At first glance, one would expect an enlightened eighteenth or early nineteenth-century reader to applaud Cervantes's satirical critique of his protagonist's lack of curiosite scientifique, his humanistic incuriousness to investigate with any rigor the answer to the Barberos question regarding Morgante's dimensions. The source for Don Quijotes response, as Clemencin observes, was probably Antonio de Torquemada's Jardin de flores curiosas of 1570, a compendium of odd tidbits of natural history (3: 17m). (4) Yet even during Cervantes's lifetime, Torquemada's miscellany must have raised eyebrows, for, in the escrutinio de libros episode of 1.6, the Cura questions with respect to the Jardin deflores and another book by Torquemada, Don Olivante de Laura, "cual de los dos libros es mas verdadero o, por decir mejor, menos mentiroso; solo se decir que este ira al corral, por disparatado y arrogante" (1.6:79). By recycling this earlier allusion to Torquemada's mendacious reputation, Cervantes reassures readers of the second part that the disconnect between received wisdom and evidence-based knowledge will remain thematically central to the narrative. Yet Clemencin does not acknowledge this instructive aspect of the episode. Rather, he attacks Cervantes for abusing the lexeme geometria, suggesting, perhaps sarcastically, that huesometria makes more sense.
Huesometria appears to be a neologism coined by Clemencin himself, since osteologia had entered the lexicon as early as 1722, in Pedro Martin Martinez's Compendio y examen nuevo de cirugia (Saiz Carrero 897). The term was quickly picked up by the Diccionario de Autoridades, which defined osteologia, as the "arte que ensena el modo de conocer la naturaleza de los huesos del cuerpo humano."
Clemencin's proposal to substitute huesometria for geometria would continue to perplex subsequent critics. For Miguel de Toro Gomez (1851-1922), who annotated Clemencin's Comentarios from 1910 to 1913, the neologism huesometria represented a linguistic barbarism that violated the rules of Spanish phonology. The correct coinage for the measurement of bones, according to Toro Gomez, would have been osteometria:
Huesometria-- Que es eso de huesometria senor censor? Si quiso Ud. emplear una palabra tecnica analoga a geometria, debio Ud. emplear la voz osteometria, formada de las dos griegas osteon, hueso y metron, medida. Y ya que se decidio por emplear una palabra hibrida, compuesta por latin y griego, debio tener en cuenta que lo [sic] compuestos de hueso no admiten la diptongacion de la o del radical, como se ve en osesico, osezuelo, osificar, osifraga, y osifrago. (17)
In similar fashion, Spanish philologist and dramatist Juan Eusebio Hartzenbusch (1806-1880) disregarded Clemencin's suggestion to substitute huesometria for geometria in his 'corrected' critical edition of Don Quijote of 1863. Instead, Hartzenbusch removed the offending word altogether from Cervantes's text, replacing it with simetria (3: 13). The corrector defended this emendation in a footnote:
"La simetria saca esta verdad de duda." Geometria dice la primera edicion. Como se alude a las proporciones del cuerpo humano, parece que se debe leer simetria, en el sentido que dan a esta voz los pintores, (vol. 3: 388n16)
However, this argument too met with resistance. On 25 March 1865, Zacarias Acosta contributed one of a series of notes critical of the Argamasilla edition of Don Quijote to the influential Madrid weekly, the Museo Universale Among the textual changes to which he objected was the substitution of simetria for geometria. After citing Cervantes's text and Hartzenbusch's justification, he complained:
Que se debe leer simetria, le parecera al corrector, pero a nosotros nos parece que se debe leer geometria como hasta ahora se ha leido. Para quitar una palabra y poner otra en su lugar, debe ante todo probarse que la que se quita esta mal, y que la que se pone esta bien: y ni esto ni aquello ha probado el corrector de donde naturalmente se sigue que su correccion es arbitraria. (99: par. 25)
Acosta attacks Hartzenbusch for allowing his "parecer" to guide editorial choices. He agrees with Clemencin that Cervantes probably had Torquemada's jardin de flores curiosas in mind when composing Don Quijotes response to the Barbero's question regarding the size of giants, but he finds no cause to criticize the choice of the word geometria in this context:
He aqui ya en nuestro concepto suficiente motivo para haber respetado el texto de Cervantes, aun cuando la palabra 'geometria estuviera en el mal aplicada. Pero es el caso que dicha palabra esta usada con el mayor acierto: resultando en consecuencia de esto huera la critica del senor Clemencin, e infundada y absurda la correccion del senor Hartzenbusch. (99: par. 25)
Proportional extrapolation problems, such as calculating from the size of ancient bone remains the dimensions of a lost race of giants, Acosta reasons, could best be solved using geometry, as every schoolchild knows:
Enterado el nino que entre las canillas de dos hombres y sus alturas hay proporcion, dira con el tonillo de la escuela: --Para determinar lo que se me pide tendre que hallar una cuarta proporcional a tres rectas dadas; las cuales son, por su orden, la longitud de mi canilla, la de la canilla del gigante, y por ultimo mi altura; y dicha cuarta proporcional sera la altura que se pedia [...] (99: par. 25)
The science of proportional measurement during Cervantes's lifetime was indeed called geometria. The leading geometers of Cervantes's day were Claudio Richard and Jean Charles de La Faille, both Jesuit professors at the Colegio Imperial de Madrid. They taught Eudoxian geometry, an ancient theory of proportions that eliminated the need for using numbers in geometric theorems, and that would form the basis for Book V of Euclid's Elements (Ji). During the period from 1615 through 1637, the year that Pierre de Fermat and Rene Descartes each independently introduced algebra as the preferred language for solving geometric problems, geometria remained, as it had for centuries, the correct term for describing the Euclidian art of calculating size, distances, and volume proportionally.
Why, then, does Clemencin so often lose sight of the modernity of a "fabula festiva" that satirizes the dented epistemological armor of its protagonist? The commentator himself provides a clue, for, despite his great admiration for Cervantes, he finds his disorderliness intolerable:
Desgraciado de aquel a quien no suspendan y arrebaten las gracias y bellezas admirables, originales, unicas del Quijote! Mas sin embargo de este testimonio de aprecio y veneracion [...], no puede menos de reconocerse que escribia su fabula con una negligencia y desalino que parece inexplicable. La escribio dejando correr la vena de su ingenio, sin seguir regla ni imponerse sujecion alguna. (1: xxix)
This passage epitomizes an attitude that Jose Montero Reguera characterizes as the "espiritu neoclasico" of Clemencin's commentaries (38). Straddling the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Clemencin's generation sought a new form of erudition unyoked from the constraints of Church doctrine, and that instead found refuge in the certainties of Classical precept (38). The novel as a genre freed from the constraints of epic poetry was too novel a literary form to have developed its own set of rules, and it lacked the imprimatur of an appropriate Classical precedent. Hybrid, non-linear, sui generis, it found little favor with Neoclassical critics. Ana Luisa Baquero Escudero explains that for this reason, the novel was relegated to a largely female readership in eighteenth century Spain. Worse yet, despite its satirical overtones, it wasn't considered sufficiently didactic to pass the Horatian prodesse et delectare test. In her words, "El hombre de ingenio abandonara las formas novelescas y buscara otras mas verosimiles y estimadas para difundir la instruccion necesaria" (24).
Cervantes's unapologetic use of the millennium-old term geometria to refer to Euclidian calculation in the exchange between Don Quijote and the Barbero in part 2, chapter 1 illustrates the challenge of writing a history of curiosity in Spain grounded in literary texts. Don Quijote remains an incurious character throughout his adventures. He seldom attempts to reconcile the gap between book-knowledge and first-hand observation. He erects massive justifications to avoid confronting empirical evidence. Yet the landscape through which Don Quijote travels brims with windmills, fulling mills, gunpowder, printing presses, talking heads, and other technologically sophisticated objects that recall Sanchez Ron's observation that
Philip II's monarchy--which encompassed most of Cervantes's lifetime--was actually a fruitful epoch for the progress of physics, astronomy, biology, technology, mathematics, medicine, and pharmacology; in many ways, it was more scientifically productive than either the preceding or subsequent centuries. (10)
By inventing a character wedded to the authority of the printed page, and oblivious to the emerging epistemologies of his time--experimentation, empirical reasoning, scientific observation--Cervantes underlines the failure of outworn and incurious modes of thought. Conversely, the supposedly enlightening Neoclassical rage for order could dull its practitioners' libido sciendi as surely as Don Quijotes unwavering faith in books could dampen his.
In light of the foregoing discussion, it appears that the history of curiosity follows an itinerary as errant and digressive as Don Quijotes trek across the arid tablelands of Spain. For, if Miguel de Cervantes in 1605 could detect the ossifying effect of natural philosophy divorced from experience on his protagonist's reasoning faculties, two centuries later, neither Clemencin nor Hartzenbusch could escape Neoclassicism's fossilizing impact on their monumental interpretations of Don Quijote.
University of Florida
Shifra Armon is Associate Professor of Spanish and University Term Professor 2018-2021 at the University of Florida. She received a Scholarin-Residence grant to study theater performance at the UF College of Theater+Dance in 2018-2019. As Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Society and Culture in 2017, she collaborated with faculty across the University of Alberta College of Arts. She has sole-authored two books, Masculine Virtue in Early Modern Spain (Ashgate 2015) and Picking Wedlock: Women and the Courtship Novel in Spain (Rowman and Littlefield 2002). Most recently she contributed an essay to the Routledge Research Companion to Early Modern Spanish Women Writers edited by Nieves Baranda and Anne J. Cruz (2018). Her latest book manuscript in preparation is "Staging Curiosity: Skepticism and Science on the Spanish Stage, 1650-1750."
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(1) Perez Magallon cites Barreda in Sanchez Escribano (48n158) and Porqueras Mayo (216).
(2) Rosenthal refutes the widespread belief that the phrases 'Non Plus Ultra' and 'Nec Plus Ultra' preceded the advent of Charles V's motto. Rather, he demonstrates that these expressions derived as back-formations after 'Plus Ultra' gained prominence.
(3) The original six-volume Edicion comentada por don Diego Clemencin was published in Madrid by D. E. Aguado. Pagination of the Comentarios in this article refers to the digitized four-volume Paris edition of 1913.
(4) The Primer coloquio of the Jardin presents an extensive debate concerning the existence of giants. "LUIS: Por mayor maravilla tendreis lo que escribe Sinforiano Campegio en un libro que llamo Ortus Gallicus, lo cual dice por autoridad de Juan Bocacio (que afirma el mesmo haberlo visto); y fue que en Sicilia, cerca de la ciudad de Trapana, a la raiz de un monte que esta cerca della, andando unos labradores cavando un cimiento para hacer una casa descubrieron una cueva que tenia grandisima anchura, y, encendidos unos manojos, entraron dentro para ver lo que habia, y hallaron en medio della un hombre sentado, de tan admirable grandeza que, espantados y atonitos, comenzaron a huir hacia el lugar. Y, dando nuevas de lo que habian visto, se juntaron muchos, y con armas y lumbres entraron en la cueva a certificarse de la verdad, y hallaron aquel hombre, tan grande cual otro jamas nunca se ha visto ni oido. Tenia en la mano siniestra un baculo tan grande y tan grueso como una grande antena de nao; y, perdido el temor con ver que estaba muerto, llegaron a tocarle, y luego se deshizo en ceniza" (Antonio de Torquemada 655).
(5) See Charnon-Deutsch.
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|Publication:||Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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