Wisdom in Art, Culture, Folklore, History, Literature and Mass Media
9. “Tilting at Windmills” A Proverbial Allusion to Cervantes’ Don Quixote 277
While most proverbs and proverbial phrases are based on repeatedly observed or experienced natural phenomena or human behavior, there are also those formulaic expressions that summarize events from classical mythology, par- ables of the Bible, Aesop’s fables, folk narratives, and also literary works into succinct and memorable statements that belong to the general cultural literacy of humankind.i The “Trojan horse,” “Achilles’ heel,” “the labor of Sisyphus,” “Pandora’s box,” “the Gordian knot,” “the golden calf,” “the handwriting on the wall,” “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” “sour grapes,” “the Pied Piper,” “a Faustian bargain,” and “beauty and the beast” readily come to mind. The proverbial allusions can be heard throughout the world in oral discourse, and they appear with considerable frequency in all types of writing. This is doubtlessly also true for the well-known phrase of “tilting at windmills” that alludes to Don Quixote’s unforgettable adventure with the windmills in chapter eight of part one of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s massive novel Don Quixote (1605/1615). In fact, if people know anything about this voluminous literary work, it is that Don Quixote in his delusions mistakes windmills for giants and consequently loses his human fight against the overpowering machines.ii One might even go so far as to maintain that the entire novel has basically been reduced to the word “quixotic” in the meaning of being impractically idealistic and the proverbial “Tilting AT Windmills” A Proverbial Allusion to Cervantes’ Don Quixote C H A P T E R N I N E Mieder-09.indd 277 6/2/2008...
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