Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Another Case in Point—The Robbery of Sancho’s Donkey

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Another Case in Point—The Robbery of Sancho’s Donkey

The biggest “error” in the whole of Part I is without doubt the mysterious robbery and return of Sancho’s donkey. The readers of the first 1605 edition of the work suddenly found that Sancho’s donkey was not only missing, but stolen, as he blurts out in Chapter 25: “Good luck to the person who has saved us the trouble of taking the packsaddle off the donkey.” Soon, when Sancho has to do an errand for don Quixote, he says: “It’d be a good idea to resaddle Rocinante in the absence of my donkey.” When don Quixote asks for bandages a bit later, Sancho says: “It was worse luck to lose the donkey… because when we lost him we lost the bandages and everything.” And then, when Sancho calls himself a donkey, he says: “But I don’t know why I’d mention «donkey», since «you should never mention rope in the hanged man’s house».” In the next chapter, Sancho meets the priest and barber of his village and “he told them about the loss of the donkey.” It would seem that somewhere in Chapter 25, as many have pointed out, the donkey was stolen. Later, in Chapter 29, Sancho is mentioned as being on foot: “Then don Quixote got onto Rocinante and the barber his pack mule, leaving Sancho on foot.” After twelve chapters with no mention either of the lost or recovered donkey, little by little, the donkey reappears. In Chapter 42, Sancho is found sleeping comfortably on his donkey’s trappings, which had been stolen along with the animal: “Sancho Panza despaired at the lateness of the hour, and he managed to get the best accommodation of all, stretching out on the trappings of his donkey.” After a few similar allusions to trappings and the donkey’s halter, in Chapter 46, there is the donkey, miraculously, standing in the stable, and the innkeeper swore that “neither Rocinante nor Sancho’s donkey would leave the inn unless he was paid down to the last ardite.” And then the story continues with Sancho on his donkey and don Quixote on his horse.

That’s the way it was in the first Cuesta edition of 1605. In the second Cuesta edition of 1605, the one that included Portugal in its copyright area, we now read about the loss of the donkey in Chapter 23, and its recovery in Chapter 30. These additions have led some editors to believe that Cervantes went down to Cuesta’s print shop and corrected his huge mistake himself. Far from the truth. The way it was in the first edition was exactly as he wanted it.

I don’t know who wrote the inserted sections. I suspect it was someone in the print shop, given the other “corrections” made there, but I know it wasn’t Cervantes. I am sure of it for several reasons. On stylistic grounds, the passage which tells about the loss of the donkey uses a Spanish expression for ‘to miss’ that Cervantes simply does not use. It says that “Sancho Panza… halló menos su rucio” [“Sancho missed his donkey”]. But whenever Cervantes wanted to say ‘to miss’ he used “echar menos” and not “hallar menos,”6 so the person who wrote that could not have been Cervantes.

Another important proof is where the new material was inserted. Flores, Allen, Hartzenbusch, Stagg, and others, all agree that the robbery should not have been in Chapter 23, where it was placed, but in Chapter 25, since there is where we first see references to it. And the recovery was stuck in the middle of Chapter 30 where it seems an intrusion. Would the author himself have put these added sections where they now are? Clearly not. But the added sections were never supposed to be inserted at all, as the next proof shows.

Printers in Spain and in the rest of Europe used the “corrected” second Cuesta edition as a basis for their own editions until and beyond when Cervantes’ Part II came out. These included the edition in Valencia (1605), one in Brussels (1607), a new one in Madrid (1608), one in Milan (1610), and yet another in Brussels (1611). So, most of the copies of the book in circulation at the time Part II came out had the inserted sections describing the theft and recovery of the donkey.

In Chapter 3 of Part II, a new character named Sansón Carrasco, arrives and says: “And some have found fault with the memory of the author since he forgot to say who the thief was who stole Sancho’s donkey, because it’s not mentioned there, and you can only infer from the context that it’s been stolen.” To most readers this would have been downright perplexing, since chances are they had read copies based on the second Cuesta edition, where not only did they find out who had stolen the donkey, since it was mentioned both in Chapter 23 and Chapter 30, but once it had been stolen, the second edition also corrected several subsequent references to Sancho riding it, and put him on foot. What this means is that Sansón is basing his observation on what went on in the first edition, the one without the added sections, the only one approved by Cervantes. If Cervantes had written the inserted sections, Sansón’s observation would not have been made.

In this translation, following Martín de Riquer’s model in his Spanish editions, I have put the added sections in footnotes where they were placed in the second Cuesta edition. But to play the game correctly, in the Cervantine way, you should pay little heed to added sections. The first edition is as Cervantes wanted, and the giant error of the robbery of the donkey is also exactly the way Cervantes wanted it.7

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