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Tan desaforado salto: The Taming of Cratilo s Horse in Cervantes's Persiles y Sigismunda.

El ensayo examina uno de los mas celebres episodios de la novela Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda de Cervantes. En la larga narracion que hace Periandro de sus aventuras maritimas en busqueda de Auristela (Libro II), cuenta como de una manera precipitada y sin mucha reflexion logra domar el bello y salvaje caballo del rey Cratilo. El ensayo vuelve sobre varias de las interpretaciones mas significativas que se han ofrecido del episodio y como se han dividido en dos grandes acercamientos: por un lado, el problema de la verosimilitud, los excesos narrativos, la falsedad y la mentira y, por otro, una aproximacion emblematica que se concentra en el topico del caballo como simbolo de descontrol. El ensayo propone una lectura mas amplia de la aventura del caballo de Cratilo, dando cuenta de la alta complejidad de la narracion e identificando otros aspectos fundamentales que han sido excluidos por la critica, tales como la liberalidad, los peligros del agradecimiento y el intercambio de bienes y regalos.


ONE OF THE MOST celebrated episodes included in Periandro's long narration of his adventures in book two of Cervantes's Persiles y Sigismunda is the moment when the young hero suddenly and without reflection attempts to tame a beautiful, wild horse owned by King Cratilo (chapters 18 and 20). This episode has received the attention of many critics, a significant number of them focusing on literary criticism and Aristotelian verisimilitude as central to its significance. This approach has become quite important since the publication of Alban Forcione's book in 1970, with Julio Baena (1990, 1996) and Isabel Lozano Renieblas (1998, 2002), among others, fruitfully expanding his arguments. Forcione also paid attention to the "remote and illustrious ancestry" of the horse (247), alluding to ancient examples such as Pegasus and connecting it to Clavileno from Don Quijote. Following his example, Ruth El Saffar, Ignacio Arellano and, from the unique perspective of the need to tame an excess in narrative art, Baena (1990), have focused on the horse's domestication as an allegory of self-control. (1) Respecting the topic of verisimilitude, other critics analyze the episode as an illustration of the protagonist's character; in particular, several see Periandro as a narrator who tends to exaggerate his own exploits or is an outright liar. (2)

In my opinion, all critics that have focused on this episode tend to privilege two aspects of the story. On the one hand, some deal with verisimilitude, questionable truth, narrative excess, and lying, following closely the reaction of Mauricio, one of the characters listening to the story. On the other hand, others read the horse emblematically, symbolically, and even allegorically. The latter depend on the long genealogy of ready-made interpretative topoi, such as the traditional meanings of taming a horse as an illustration of the necessity to control the passions, or the animal's associations with other mythical and literary creatures. In what follows I will illustrate how these important approaches have generated a blind spot in criticism, one that I hope to reveal in order to articulate a more encompassing account of the episode's significance and complexity in Cervantes's work. To do so, I will begin by problematizing some of the most canonical approaches I have already mentioned, identifying what is left out of consideration. Then I will proceed with a close reading of those aspects of the episode excluded from critical attention in order to propose a broader reading.


It is best to begin with Forcione's book. I do so because his solid arguments and overall approach to the episode have had a significant impact in later criticism. Doubtlessly, it has been an important publication and, yet, I believe it is the root of several interpretative problems that I would like to tackle in this essay. Forcione begins by identifying Cratilo's horse with the literary topic of the "marvelous horse," which has a long genealogy of examples dating back to antiquity. He singles out Ariosto's hippogryph as a key example in this genealogy because it allows him to give continuity to the theme of the marvelous and, at the same time, it helps to establish a smooth transition towards Tasso's discussion of the improper use of flying horses and other creatures as a subject of poetry (247). In this way he can proceed from the topic of literary representations of the "improper marvelous" to a discussion of Cervantes's interest in literary criticism. Later on, Forcione quotes Giovanni Battista Pigna's defense of the hippogryph as an emblem of glory and as a legitimate way in which romance may be able to convey "wisdom by mysterious means" (248).

The problem I see with this approach is that Forcione emphasizes the marvelous content without realizing that this category is absent from the episode of Cratilo's horse. (3) If the hippogryph is a "defiance of all natural law" (Forcione 247), this cannot be said about the king's horse. The moment when Forcione begins his close analysis, he continues to insist on the marvelous when he states: "Perhaps the most significant of the evocative details which form the texture of the episode is Periandro's simple statement 'I made him fly through the air'" (251). This obviates the fact that what is most important about this particular horse in relation to verisimilitude is not that the horse is able to fly, but that it fell from a cliff into the frozen ocean without suffering a single broken leg. (4) From my perspective, Cratilo's horse is totally affected by gravity, and the fact that it suffered no harm from the fall is what most imperils the believability of Periandro's story. I would propose instead that, regarding the problem of mimesis, the most significant phrase in Periandro's depiction of this episode appears in the following quote: "y en mitad del vuelo me acorde, que pues el mar estaba helado, me habia de hacer pedazos con el golpe, y tuve mi muerte y la suya por cierta. Pero no fue asi, porque el cielo [...] hizo que las piernas y los brazos del poderoso caballo resistiesen el golpe, sin recibir yo otro dano que haberme sacudido de si el caballo, y echado a rodar, resbalando por gran espacio" (266). Thankfully, the strong legs of the horse withstood the impact of the ice and came to no harm. The impossibility of flight, coupled with the existence of ice and the height from which the horse leaped, are the constitutive elements that make almost unbelievable a landing without any harm to the horse. This is the basis of Mauricio's complaint: "Duro se le hizo a Mauricio el terrible salto del caballo tan sin lision: que quisiera el, por lo menos, que se hubiera quebrado tres o cuatro piernas" (266).

I believe that I have identified here an insistence on Forcione's part to unite the marvelous flying horse with Mauricio's reaction to the story. There is, however, no correspondence between his reading of Cratilo's horse as an example of the marvelous and Mauricio's incredulity at the fact that there were no broken legs. I believe that there is no need to interpret Cratilo's horse as a rendition of the "legitimate marvelous" (see Forcione 252) contrasted to the critical and literary problem of verisimilitude. There is no fantastic leap based on an ability to fly, but rather a fantastic survival due precisely to an incapacity to fly. Why do I consider this to be so important? Because on the other extreme of the marvelous one finds materiality, a horse with weight and substance, and we must attend to this materiality in order to fully comprehend the complexity of the episode. It may be that, at times, it would be better to focus first on the horse as such, rather than on its traditional symbolic meanings.

Forcione's emphasis on the genealogy of the marvelous horse may be an example of what Bradley Nelson has identified as a traditional "emblematic reading" (195), one that follows the closed, moral aspects of emblems characteristic of allegorical readings and traditional topoi. Emblems of horses are abundant in Bernat Vistarini and John Cull's Enciclopedia de emblemas espanoles ilustrados, and, although not always acknowledged by critics, a number of them have strong ties to the episode. (5) The image of a marvelous flying horse provides Forcione with a ready-made interpretation that help to subsume the contradictions and complexities of the episode into an organic reading, one that seems to depend overwhelmingly on Mauricio's judgment, as I will discuss shortly. From a different perspective, El Saffar interprets the horse as the need to tame the emotional excess of the protagonist, a reading that is sustained by the traditional meanings appended to the wild horse as well as her interests in psychoanalysis. For El Saffar, the horse illustrates "characters who have not mastered their passions" for the horse "perfectly symbolizes Periandro's instincts that must also be brought under the control of the will" (149). Similarly, Arellano recognizes the emblem as a symbol of the blindness of the passions: "El caballo desenfrenado es simbolo de la ceguera de las pasiones y el caballo dominado expresa el control de los propios apetitos, tema basico en la pintura de los protagonistas y rasgo definidor del propio Persiles" (580-81). My argument calls for a temporary resistance to articulate such ready-made meanings until a full assessment of the episode is complete. Instead of following these codified readings, I would prefer to ask whether these are the principal meanings of the adventure of the horse. Does it illustrate a lack of self-control? Is it intended as a juxtaposition between the marvelous and reality? Can it refer to something else altogether? I will come back to these questions later on in my analysis.

Instead of articulating traditional interpretative meanings, Nelson identifies a Cervantine technique that I find fruitful. He calls it "eventful emblems," those that are affected by specific historical contexts, or by references to a materiality of the body, causing a "short-circuiting of the emblem's allegorical drive" (203-04)/ This materiality, as I will show, renders all allusions to the marvelous and the fantastic, or allegorical readings based on ready-made meanings, incomplete.

To the emblematic reading of the episode and the strong influence exerted by the traditional symbolic meanings assigned to the horse, I must add as well the power that Mauricio's interpretation has had on many critics. There is no doubt that Cervantes wanted to include intradiegetic reactions by characters in many of his works, and the Persiles y Sigismunda is no different. The author assigned Mauricio what we should understand as an important reading of the adventure of the horse, one that determined many future commentaries of the novel, including my own. Due to the character's specific questioning of Periandro's believability, subsequent readings of the episode have concentrated on verisimilitude and the Aristotelian categories of the possible and the improbable. (7) Although I am not questioning the importance of all approaches that follow Mauricio's lead, his reaction, in my opinion, has led to a lack of attention given to the entire episode as a whole. It is as if Mauricio's opinion as a listener to the story were as important as the event itself with all its witnesses--or even more so. Mauricio's perspective has led to the characterization of Periandro as an unreliable and exaggerated storyteller, and even an outright liar. (8) We must keep in mind, however, that there is more than one intended receiver of the adventure both in terms of the actual event and in its narrative form. Several entities react to what Periandro does with the horse, including the king, his niece Sulpicia, and the entire cohort of city dwellers present on the shores of Bituania. All of them, as I will show, react to the events differently, and those reactions should be added to Mauricio's judgment. Ultimately, one must pose an alternative question. Do verisimilitude, truth, and narrative reliability comprise the episode's core significance? Can we reduce the event to these critical, theoretical, and moral problems concerning the character of Periandro? These are additional questions I intend to tackle in my approach to the entire episode.


The encounter with King Cratilo and Sulpicia is narrated by Periandro to the entire cohort of characters who accompany him on his peregrination to Rome. In order to have a comprehensive understanding of the adventure of Cratilo's horse, one needs to refer back to chapter 14 of book two (235-239), the moment when Periandro and his group of fishermen, acting as "piratas justicieros," board Sulpicia's ship. (9) During that encounter, Periandro and his companions act with extreme liberality and courtesy towards Sulpicia, King Cratilo's niece. With the intention of replicating the liberality shown to King Leopoldio in a previous adventure, the fishermen decide not to accept her treasures, preferring to leave her free, "que nosotros no queremos mas que la gloria de haber vencido nuestros naturales apetitos" (237). Supporting their decision, Periandro lets them know that "obras tales nunca las deja el cielo sin buena paga" (237). Sulpicia reacts with absolute surprise and amazement at such extreme gestures of liberality from a boarding party that she first thought to be comprised of pirates. She proceeds to offer Periandro "un rico collar de oro," which he accepts. However, the group of fishermen responds by asking Periandro to return the gift, stating that "la fama que nos prometes, no hay collar que la cina ni limite que la contenga" (238-39). Sulpicia accepts the return of the necklace "a fuerza de mis importunaciones, y casi tuvo a afrenta que le estimase yo en tan poco que se le volviese" (239). As I will demonstrate later, the offering of gifts and the decision not to accept them is vital in order to fully understand the adventure of the horse.

After much sea travel pursuing Auristela's captors and ending up stranded in the frozen glacial sea, Periandro and the fishermen are eventually captured by King Cratilo's men (book two, chapter 18). They arrive at the kingdom of Bituania as captives and with little assurance of survival. Periandro identifies the king and his niece Sulpicia among the crowd of curious onlookers who want to see the newly arrived prisoners. A scene of recognition unfolds between the king's niece and the young captive, one that reflects back to the encounter described in chapter 14: " Santos cielos!--dijo a esta sazon la hermosa Sulpicia, arrojandose del caballo al suelo--. O yo no tengo vista en los ojos, o es este mi libertador, Periandro. Y al decir esto y anudarme el cuello con sus brazos, fue todo uno, cuyas estranas y amorosas muestras obligaron tambien a Cratilo a que del caballo se arrojase, y con las mismas senales de alegria me recibiese" (257). The scene of recognition is highly positive for the captives. Periandro's crew, for example, feel immediately relieved from anxiety once Sulpicia and the king react in this welcoming fashion. Having lacked hope after being captured, the fishermen react with emotion: "les hizo brotar por los ojos el contento y por las bocas las gracias que dieron a Dios del no esperado beneficio; que ya le contaban, no por beneficio, sino por singular y conocida merced" (257). (10) Speaking among themselves, the fishermen begin to narrate their own fortunes in an exaggerated manner ("los del mar esageraban su hielo, y los de la tierra sus riquezas"), but Cervantes concentrates on the twelve men who accompanied Sulpicia in her voyage to Bituania, and the rewards they received from her:

--A mi--decia el uno--me ha dado Sulpicia esta cadena de oro.

--A mi--decia otro--esta joya que vale por dos de esas cadenas.

--A mi--replicaba este--me dio tanto dinero. Y aquel repetia:

--Mas me ha dado a mi en este solo anillo de diamantes, que a todos vosotros juntos. (257-58)

The fishermen's reaction indicates that the rewards that were so vehemently rejected in chapter 14 have been accepted with emotional intensity in chapter 18. It seems that the fishermen experience this as a reciprocal return or even payment (a "merced") for the liberality they showed Sulpicia in their first encounter. The rewards of liberality formerly promised by Periandro have come to fruition ("obras tales nunca las deja el cielo sin buena paga"). Undoubtedly, Cervantes is maintaining a dialogue between both encounters with Sulpicia, and what connects them are liberality combined with a generous reciprocity. During her praise, Sulpicia supplements her bodily demonstrations and gratefulness by stating to her uncle that Periandro "es un sujeto donde tiene su asiento la suma cortesia y su albergue la misma liberalidad" (257). She continues praising Periandro, telling her uncle: "Este fue el que me dio libertad despues de la muerte de mi marido; este el que no desprecio mis tesoros, sino el que no los quiso; este fue el que despues de recibidas mis dadivas, me las volvio mejoradas, con el deseo de darmelas mayores, si pudiera [...]" (257). The king's niece still remembers well the "dadivas" not accepted and returned by Periandro, along with the fact that he gave them back improved ("mejoradas"), since he respected her honor (her most valuable possession) by not behaving like a pirate. She also mentions the desire on the part of Periandro to offer even greater "dadivas." As these quotes make clear, the young captive has found the perfect witness to his virtue, liberality, and generosity at sea. This scene of recognition, carefully prepared by Cervantes and strongly echoing chapters 14 and 18, sets up a very specific context preceding the appearance of the horse. The "recompensa" promised by the act of liberality in chapter 14 ushers in the possibility of continued reciprocity to the newly arrived captives on the shores of Bituania.


There is no question that Periandro should expect to be granted hospitality and favorable treatment from Sulpicia's uncle. However, he is not completely satisfied and sees a problem with this encounter. In reference to Sulpicia's praise, he states that "y en esto bien se vee que hablaba como agradecida, y aun como enganada," and when Sulpicia ends her long and highly favorable speech, he feels shame: "Yo entonces, a lo que creo, rojo el rostro con las alabanzas, o ya aduladoras o demasiadas, que de mi oia, no supe mas que hincarme de rodillas ante Cratilo, pidiendole las manos" (257). In the end, the intensity of the scene of recognition has produced a sense of "verguenza" in Periandro." He is afraid that such excessive praise may be confounded with a discourse of flattery despite Sulpicia's intention to tell the truth in order to dispel any doubts that her uncle may have about the newcomer's character. Flattery here works as the shadow of epideictic rhetoric. (12) As stated by Michel Foucault, flattery is both the shadow and the major adversary of parrhesia or truth-telling, and the same can be said of overenthusiastic praise in relation to adulation. (13) The danger here is that the intensity of gracious recognition may end up becoming a scene of misrecognition born out of words that do not render effectively the truth about Periandro's own self. In fact, such praise ends up positioning Periandro at a higher level than he desires, a fact that could explain the sense of shame that he experiences not so much as a "fear of disrepute" (Aristotle's classical definition of shame) but rather as an indication of his modesty as delimited by Covarrubias, who defines "vergonzoso" as "el que de cualquiera cosa que a su parecer no haya hecho con la decencia debida se pone colorado y le llamamos vergonzoso, indicio de virtud y de modestia" (1523). We must keep in mind that shame works like an antidote to an enlarged perception of what one really is, just as modesty is the antidote to stupidity. (14) In any case, shame is precipitated by the social experience that affects the perception of self in the public realm. A shadowy presence, it affects the body whenever we are praised too much. Praise in all its forms (especially those that are interpreted as exaggerations) becomes a performative utterance with a clear, immediate material effect on the body of the one being praised, sometimes becoming visible with the color of the cheeks, or some other bodily gesture. (15)

The specter of flattery hence could debilitate the testimonial accuracy of Sulpicia's description, jeopardizing her praise as a discourse of truth. There is also a burden associated with actions that somehow surpass ethical expectations. Periandro's extreme liberality and generosity at sea had a very strong impact on the beneficiary, an impact that manifests itself on two distinct temporal planes. First, it appears during the experience at sea, when Sulpicia cannot believe what Periandro is doing on her behalf: "no acertaba a saber lo que le habia sucedido, tampoco acertaba a responderme" (238). Second, his liberality is displayed during the scene of recognition, when Sulpicia shows how grateful she is. Both scenes reveal a difference with regards to the use of language. On the one hand, the beneficiary is rendered speechless at the moment she experiences the act of liberality, and on the other hand, there seems to be an unavoidable demand for an excessive utterance when she later encounters her benefactor. In both instances we find a negativity: at the moment of the experience, a paralysis of the body and a lack of discourse that resembles experiences of the sublime; and at the moment of praising the benefactor, an abundance of linguistic productivity that may be misinterpreted as flattery. In both examples, however, the bodily gesture of humility towards the benefactor is repeated in exactly the same way.


While this careful scene of recognition is unfolding, the sound of "un poderosisimo caballo barbaro" resisting the bridle interrupts everything. Periandro proceeds to describe the horse in a very specific way: "Era de color morcillo, pintado todo de moscas blancas, que sobremanera le hacian hermoso" (258). The horse "no consentia ensillarse del mismo rey" and not even "mil montes de embarazos" are able to detain his ferocious nature. According to Periandro, the king loved this horse so much that he would have given away an entire city to the person able to tame it (258). As soon as he learns of the king's strong desire to grant superlative rewards to the person who could accomplish this feat, and without hesitation, Periandro decides to immediately tame the horse ("me resolvi con mayor brevedad"). It is at this moment that Periandro's narration is interrupted by the arrival of Renato and Eusebia, to be finished later on in chapter 20 of book two.

As the narrative continues, Periandro decides to tame the horse for two main reasons clearly stated in the text. First, he desires to be of service to Cratilo and, second, he needs to supplement Sulpicia's praise with a tangible experience of his value as a person:
   La grandeza, la ferocidad y la hermosura del caballo que os he
   descrito tenian tan enamorado a Cratilo, y tan deseoso de verle
   manso, como a mi de mostrar que deseaba servirle, pareciendome que
   el cielo me presentaba ocasion para hacerme agradable a los ojos de
   quien por senor tenia, y a poder acreditar con algo las alabanzas
   que la hermosa Sulpicia de mi al rey habia dicho." (266; my

Despite the separation and interruptions of the narrative, the two reasons clearly expressed by Periandro provide a strong continuity to these chapters. They are based on themes (liberality and reward) that flow from the first encounter with Sulpicia in chapter 14 to the moment just before the taming of the horse, with the added problem of the need to correct the public perception of the self, although this added element is still generated by praise in relation to actions done in the past. What interests me here is the young hero's perception of how inadequate the discourse of praise has turned out to be. Despite the fact that Sulpicia is the king's niece and should be considered an impeccable judge of Periandro's character, it would seem that her praise needs to be supplemented by other means. Two factors are at play in this scene. The first is the opportunity to demonstrate a capacity to serve the king that goes beyond the liberality that he has shown towards Cratilo's niece. This should be understood as a courtly imperative of displaying one's usefulness to his superior and, by doing so, expecting a significant reward. Periandro embraces his subordinate position in this agonistic context by making visible an extraordinary capacity to serve, assuring himself a higher ranking among all subordinate subjects (we must keep in mind that at this moment he is a captive and, as such, has nothing to offer). We must also remember that this intense desire to serve and receive "mercedes" parallels the celebration of gifts received by his companions from Sulpicia. But Periandro does not need to receive more gifts from her. He would rather receive them from the king.

The second factor can be understood as the need to correct the discourse of flattery. Even more important than this is the fact that the intensity of the discourse of praise has become a challenge to Periandro's own sense of self. Instead of using language in order to clarify Sulpicias discourse, the young "hero" decides to use his own agency in order to elevate his self to the same level as Sulpicias praise. In other words, Periandro is transforming the possible misinterpretation of flattery into an ambitious opportunity to display through action a superior sense of who he is, one that has the potential to transcend and augment his already formidable reputation. (16) Surprisingly, this should be considered as contradicting the previous display of shame and modesty (the definition of shame as "vergonzoso" and a display of modesty as it appears in Covarrubias). It is as if this operative definition at the moment he felt shame were transferred to Aristotle's fear of disrepute, or anxiety over a lesser perception of the self by others. Contrary to modesty, Periandro wants to make true the excess that flattery has created by acting according to that elevated description of his self. That way, he is assured of gaining the king's favor despite his subordinate status as a captive. Periandro's burden is that his action must be equivalent to the high degree of intensity that characterized Sulpicias emotional response.

Returning now to Periandro's taming of the horse, we see that he does so in the most thoughtless and spontaneous way:
   Y asi, no tan maduro como presuroso, fui donde estaba el caballo y
   subi en el [...] y arremeti con el, sin que el freno fuese parte
   para detenerle, y llegue a la punta de una pena, que sobre la mar
   pendia, y apretandole de nuevo las piernas [...] le hice volar por
   el aire y dar con entrambos en la profundidad del mar; y en mitad
   del vuelo me acorde, que pues el mar estaba helado, me habia de
   hacer pedazos con el golpe, y tuve mi muerte y la suya por cierto.

The spontaneous way in which he does this is vividly illustrated when Periandro suddenly realizes "en mitad del vuelo" that the sea was frozen. (17) His haste makes him lose his environmental and temporal awareness. Fortunately, the strong legs of the horse are able to withstand the impact of the ice and he suffers no harm. After the fall, Periandro is able to stand up and mount the horse, which once again brings him to the same edge of the cliff. Due to his past experience, the horse is so afraid that he is finally tamed and transformed: "Lleno de miedo, que le volvio de leon en cordero y de animal indomable en generoso caballo, de manera que los muchachos se atrevieron a manosearle, y los caballerizos del rey, enjaezandole, subieron en el, y le corrieron con seguridad, y el mostro su ligereza y su bondad, hasta entonces jamas vista" (267). (18) Periandro domesticates the horse, showing the animal's best features, and describing at the same time how the "muchachos" are able to "manosearle," thus lessening the narrative's heroic tone.

With such a fortunate conclusion to the fall, we must now take into account all the spectators that appear as part of the story. First, Periandro acknowledges that the inhabitants of Bituania hold an opinion that is not entirely flattering: "aunque tuvieron el suceso a milagro, juzgaron a locura mi atrevimiento" (266). In other words, they agree with Periandro's assessment of his own action as precipitate, lacking reason, but ultimately so fortunate that it could be interpreted as miraculous. The king, on the contrary, is very pleased about what happened, probably due to the fact that the end result makes him ignore the manner in which it was accomplished. Regarding Sulpicia, she is "alegre, por ver que mis obras habian respondido a sus palabras" (267). The initial reasons for undertaking the taming of the horse are indeed achieved, ending in a highly positive conclusion.

We return now to the reception of Periandro's story by Mauricio, clarifying that he was not in Bituania when the events occurred. He is not concerned with what Periandro accomplished (although he refers to it as a "terrible salto"), but with the fact that the horse did not suffer any injuries: "Duro se le hizo a Mauricio el terrible salto del caballo tan sin lision: que quisiera el, por lo menos, que se hubiera quebrado tres o cuatro piernas, porque no dejara Periandro tan a la cortesia de los que le escuchaban la creencia de tan desaforado salto" (266; my emphasis). Gravity, weight, and materiality are the central issues in Mauricio's complaint. He resists one of the conclusions reached by witnesses on Bituania's shores, focusing instead on an essentially physical, material perspective that, in this instance, does not consider fortune and the miraculous as legitimate interpretations. I do agree with Forcione that with Mauricio's opinion Cervantes introduces humor and parody (25152). I must add that Mauricio's assessment of the adventure of the horse brings a new element to the story and, at the same time, reduces significantly the adventure's amplitude. The complexity of the forces at play cannot be reduced completely to the categories of what is believable or unbelievable.


The adventure of the horse deploys a series of scenes of incrementally higher intensity and makes evident the burdens generated at different narrative levels. These burdens are reflected in the protagonist's action and what he feels he needs to do, the spectators who witness what he does and need to render a conflictive judgment, the actor transformed as narrator in the future, and those who listen to this strange episode during Periandro's maritime adventures. Like the burdens produced by gift-giving in Marcel Mauss's study of the potlatch, there seems to be a chain of reciprocal intensities that clearly refer to benefits, credit, value, and "mercedes" in this episode. From the beginning Sulpicia interprets the liberality of Periandro as an extreme generosity that also included a return of gifts, but "mejorados." The fishermen also enter into a sort of competition regarding the value of each and every gift they have received from the king's niece. The appropriation of the horse has to be understood as part of this increased intensity in the need to give and receive benefits. In fact, by appropriating the horse without the consent of his true owner, Periandro has forged what I would call a gift out of nothing. More importantly, parallel to flattery acting as the shadow of praise, this gift is a momentary robbery, the unauthorized appropriation of a highly valuable object with an almost immediate return of the same object, but "mejorado" or improved. Periandro has found a way to generate the burden of reciprocity at a moment when he has nothing to offer in his present condition as captive. By taming and domesticating the horse, the fierce animal is magically transformed into a gift for King Cratilo. But in order for this to occur, there needs to be, first, a precipitated and unauthorized appropriation of an object that is not his, and worse yet, the bringing of the horse and himself as close as possible to destruction and death. By surviving this precipitated resolution, a gift is born out of nothing.

Periandro has effectively instrumentalized the horse for his own purposes, and he was fortunate enough that his daring action resulted in major benefits. Periandro stayed with the king for three months and was able to continue serving him. In the end, the king returns the favor in a significant way by giving him a ship with provisions, and the absolute liberty to use it as he sees fit. All this leads me to conclude that what began as an imperative to act with liberality in chapter 14 has developed slowly into issues of exchange, reward, value, and economic fulfillment all the way to chapter 20. From my perspective, the horse cannot be fully comprehended outside of this economic content. (19) Furthermore, if the story told by Periandro is conceived as a lie, and if Mauricio's opinion dominates over all others, then one can understand why there has not been much attention given to the entire episode of the horse.

If there is a characteristic of many (if not all) adventure narratives, it is the fact that every port, castle, island, or landscape that is not the goal of the story is considered provisional. For a short period of time the protagonists stay in these places, it is imperative to gain friendships and relationships that are beneficial to them during their brief interaction with others. The story of the horse illustrates not necessarily the need to control the passions, but rather how the protagonist of the episode was able to gain trust, benefits, his own freedom, and an entire ship full of provisions by generating an adventure out of thin air, one that showed others his value as a person. He is able to respond to the chain of reciprocities by forging, with the help of an opportune horse, a dramatic adventure that is difficult to believe. If for Baena the story of the horse illustrates the appearance of an other, "ese otro que en cada uno hay que, literalmente, domar" (52), I propose that Periandro domesticates the specific context of adventure, the otherness of place and encounters with strangers, gaining their assistance and receiving benefits and gifts in the shortest time possible. This could be understood as an accelerated gain of a practical version of friendship based on interest, a conquering of the slowness of time when it comes to reaching the soul of the other. (10)

The intense contextual framework created by Cervantes in the episode of the horse generates an action that is difficult to undertake, difficult to understand, difficult to narrate, and difficult to accept when characters hear it in the form of a story. These intensities manifested in action and their representation through language generate negative aspects: speechlessness when experiencing an excess of generosity; excessive praise that may be misunderstood as flattery; a strong desire to display the usefulness of the self which may include a high risk of destruction; and the difficult task of conveying the events to others and making them believable. Such is the complexity of this episode when seen from the wider perspective of the narrative sequence and the characters's need to move on and to reach, with expediency, the soul of others.

University Of Califronia, Irvine

Luis F. Aviles is Professor and Chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Lenguaje y crisis: Las alegorias de El Criticon (Fundamentos, 1998), and Avatares de lo invisible: Espacio y subjetividad en los Siglos de Oro (Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2017). He has also published a number of articles on authors such as Miguel de Cervantes, Garcilaso de la Vega, Antonio de Guevara, Baltasar Gracian, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, among others. He is co-editor of the edition titled Representaciones de la violencia en America Latina (Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2015). He currently serves as a member of the Executive Council of the Cervantes Society of America. His research interests include topics such as liberality, hospitality, friendship, and magnanimity in the context of Golden Age violence. Aviles is also working on a book project on unusal action in Cervantes's Persiles and Sigismunda.

Works Cited

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Aristotle. On Rhetoric. Trans. George A. Kennedy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.

Arellano, Ignacio. "Elementos emblematicos en La Galatea y el Persiles." Bulletin of Spanish Studies 81 (2004): 571-583.

Armstrong-Roche, Michael. Cervantes's Epic Novel: Empire, Religion, and the Dream Life of Heros in Persiles. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2009.

Aviles, Luis F. "Expanding the Self in a Mediterranean Context: Liberality and Deception in Cervantes's 'El amante liberal.'" In and Of the Mediterranean: Medieval and Early Modern Iberian Studies. Ed. Michelle Hamilton and Nuria Silleras-Fernandez. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2015. 233-257.

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Foucault, Michel. La hermeneutica del sujeto. Trans. Horacio Pons. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura, 2002.

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Gil-Osle, Juan Pablo. Amistades imperfectas: Del humanismo a la ilustracion con Cervantes. Frankfurt and Madrid: Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2013.

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Musil, Robert. "Sobre la estupidez." Musil/Erdmann: Sobre la estupidez. Trans. Francisco de Lara Lopez. Madrid: Abada Editores, 2007. 51-84.

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(1) Like Forcione, Baena also compares Cratilo's horse to the story of Clavileno.

(2) See Lozano Renieblas (Cervantes y "Los relatos"); Williamsen; and Zimic.

(3) Forcione gave the subtitle "The Marvelous Horse" to the section in which he focuses on the episode in question, a clear indication of his interest in the fantastic and marvelous (245-56).

(4) The fact that Cratilo's horse cannot fly may be the reason why B. W. Ife, in his publication entitled "Air Travel in Cervantes," did not include the episode of Cratilo's horse.

(5) Other emblems that may be related to the episode appear in Vistarini and Cull's encyclopedia, such as numbers 260 ("Hombre cae de su caballo"), 264 ("Caballo se encabrita de miedo ante un risco grande"), and 1,365 ("Mancebo monta un potro encabritado").

(6) Nelson explores the materiality of the body in relation to the episode of Feliciana de la Voz (see 208-18).

(7) On this subject, apart from Forciones book (245-256), see Baena, who reads Cratilo's horse as a resistance to mimesis. On verisimilitude in general and the Persiles y Sigismunda, see Alcala Galan (215-31); Armstrong-Roche (18-24); and Riley.

(8) Forcione does not question the heroic stature of Periandro, nor does he see his narration negatively. For him, Periandro is a "creative narrator" who uses "an aesthetic of pleasure and the freedom of the artist from the restrictions of classical rules" (255). This explains why he characterizes Mauricio as "pedantic" (252). Baena shares this criticism against Mauricio ("Trabajo" 56). Other critics have reversed the balance, characterizing Periandro as a liar. Zimic is quite severe in his judgment, describing him as a braggart and an ostentatious protagonist (103). Williamsen asserts that Periandro lies in the story of the horse (69). Lozano Renieblas sees in the story of the horse "un autentico acto de autoheroificacion" and "autoglorificacion" of the hero (Cervantes 146-47). However, Lozano Renieblas is much more positive, describing how Periandro's way of narrating as fruitfully expanding storytelling ("Los relatos" 123).

(9) For an analysis of the concept of "piratas justicieros" and Sulpicia's first encounter with Periandro, see Aviles ("Piratas justicieros"). On Sulpicia, see also Wilson.

(10) The distinction between "beneficio" and "merced" is interesting in this context. "Beneficio" means "el bien que uno hace a otro liberal y gratuitamente" (Autoridades i: 593), in contrast to "merced," "el premio o galardon que se da por el trabajo," although it could also mean "dadiva o gracia que los Reyes hacen a sus vasallos" (Autoridades 2: 549).

(11) On the concept of shame ("verguenza") and its uses by Cervantes, I highly recommend the publications of Paul Michael Johnson ("Soldier's Shame," "Don Quijote avergonzado," "'Salido a la verguenza,'" and "End(lessnes)s"). Johnson discusses shame and the public sphere ("Don Quijote avergonzado" 478-79), as well the relationships between shame, the sense of sight, and the body ("End(lessnes)s" 496-97).

(12) On epideictic rhetoric and the trope of praise, see Pernot. The ancient rhetorical problem of the encomium is defined by the establishment of a connection between action and virtue. On this topic, see Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book I, 9. Among the virtues mentioned by Sulpicia as characteristics of Periandro and that are listed in Aristotle's Rhetoric are justice, magnanimity, and especially liberality.

(13) On Foucault's comments on flattery as opposed to parrhesia, see El gobierno de si y de los otros (308-09), and La hermeneutica del sujeto (355-61). Foucault ends up defining parrhesia as "antiadulacion."

(14) Robert Musil states in his famous essay "Sobre la estupidez": "[el] ultimo y mas importante remedio contra la estupidez: la modestia" (83).

(15) On blushing and other bodily signals indicating shame in Don Quijote, see Paul Michael Johnson ("Don Quijote avergonzado" and '"Salido a la verguenza'").

(16) This scene follows closely what Steven Hutchinson has studied as the "valor" of each person in Cervantes's works. In this case, the challenge of Periandro is to illustrate visually to others how virtuous he is and, consequently, making himself valuable to others. Hutchinson's description is pertinent here: "la virtud [...] debe manifestarse no a traves de la composicion de una personalidad mas perfecta sino a traves de los beneficios que el ejercicio de la virtud tiene fuera de los limites del individuo. Asi, la virtud es el material del que esta hecho el valor, y el valor o la estima del ser humano se situan en el ambito interpersonal de los beneficios para los otros" (74). Periandro wants to increase his own worth in front of others so that he may attain the same value assigned by Sulpicias praise and, at the same time, provide his uncle Cratilo with a sensible experience of his value as a person.

(17) Periandro's act has all the signs of praecipitatio. The etymology of precipitation is "con la cabeza por delante" (see Pascal Quignard 41), implying "hacer o decir alguna cosa inconsideradamente" (Covarrubias 1373), or "arrebatadamente, sin consideracion ni prudencia" (Autoridades 3: 348). Another word that we could use to describe Periandro's decision is "resuelto" defined as "demasiadamente determinado, audaz, arrojado y libre" CAutoridades 3: 595).

(18) Under the word "indomable" Autoridades includes a reference to the episode of the horse in the Persiles y Sigismunda. To tame has a close relationship to domesticate, to bring home, make an animal "casero" (set Autoridades z: 330-31).

(19) The topic of liberality and the exchange of benefits is important in many works written by Cervantes, for example, "The Captive's Tale," "La espanola inglesa," and "El amante liberal," among others. On this topic and materiality, see Carroll Johnson. For the topic of economy and ethics, see the excellent book by Hutchinson. On liberality in "El amante liberal," see Aviles ("Expanding the Self").

(20) For a thorough discussion of Aristotle's diverse concepts of friendship and recent debates on philia, see Gil-Osle (26-37).
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Author:Aviles, Luis F.
Publication:Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
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Date:Mar 22, 2019
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