Born: September 29, 1547, in Alcala de Henares, Spain
Died: April 23, 1616, in Madrid, Spain
Miguel de Cervantes was born the fourth son to Leonor de Cortinas and Rodrigo de Cervantes. The latter was a deaf surgeon, with a large family to support, and limited means to do so. Cervantes' first poems in appreciation of Spain's Queen Elizabeth of Valois in 1568 were published while he was still a student. However he left off writing while struggling to make a living as a chamberlain to Cardinal Giulio Acquaviva, whom he accompanied to Italy. In Naples, he joined the Spanish regiment for the 1570 naval battle against the Turks in Lepanto. Cervantes was shot twice to the chest and one in the hand while on board the ship La Marquesa. While he recovered enough to see further battle, he lost the use of his left hand.
Cervantes was captured by pirates in 1575 and taken to Algeria as a slave where after several unsuccessful escape attempts he was ransomed by Trinitarian friar Juan Gil in 1580. At age thirty- three he returned to Spain but was unable to find the usual employment for distinguished veterans. He began writing and produced a considerable amount of verse and plays as well as a novel, La Galatea, by 1585. During this time he also married, but was unhappy with, Dona Catalina de Palacois. Despite the amount of writing he was able to accomplish, he was unable to make a sufficient living from the sales of his work, and began to take government jobs, such as tax collector. He was subsequently imprisoned at least twice for controversial collection methods.
It was while in prison, however that Cervantes first conceived of the allegorical story of the adventures of Don Quixote, an idealistic gentleman obsessed with chivalrous deeds, and his realistic companion Sancho Panza. In 1605, the year when the first part of the story, The History of the Valorous and Wittie Knight-Errant Quixote of the Mancha, was published, Cervantes was living in poverty with his sisters, his niece and his illegitimate daughter Isabel Saavedra in Valladolid. Unfortunately while the story and its subsequent second part were immensely popular at the times of their publication and ever since, Cervantes did not ever profit significantly from the text, partly from poor management.
Don Quixote is deemed by many to be the first modern novel, holding a position of significant influence on ensuing prose fiction. Its enduring themes have since inspired, and have been represented in, operas, poems, films, a ballet and a modern day American musical (Man of La Mancha), as well as in the artwork of Honore Daumier and Gustave Dore. In print it has appeared in all modern languages, in over 700 editions.
In 1613 Cervantes published Novelas Ejemplares, a collection of short stories, followed by the second part of Don Quixote in 1615. His last work, Persiles y Sigismunda, another allegorical novel in whose prologue he foreshadows his own death, was finished just four days before he died in Madrid.