Don Quixote Abridged: Putnam’s Omissions

I have been reading Samuel Putnam’s The Portable Cervantes, which contains an abridged version of Don Quixote. I hadn’t thought about this until I came to the Chapters XI – XIV — “A Pastoral Interlude” — because the novel had been complete up to that point. It turns out that it is only slightly abridged, and it begs the question as to why it was cut at all: less than 100 pages were saved with over 650 pages left.

Don Quixote Translations

When last I discussed Don Quixote, I had come to dislike the character Don Quixote. There is much to dislike about him: he has a quick temper — especially when people do not pretend to accept his delusions; he has a romantic vision of knights-errant that is too real and unpleasant; he leaves a trail of innocents’ pain in his wake. It seems as though Cervantes understood that he had pushed his character to the edge of reader acceptance, because he follows it with “A Pastoral Interlude” — Chapter XI through XIV — in which Don Quixote redeems himself to some extent.

The first time through this section, I read Putnam’s abridged version with his editorial summaries and I was well pleased. If I weren’t also writing about the book, I would have left it there. In fact, I did. I became so involved with the story that I read the next 200 pages before I caught myself, went back to “A Pastoral Interlude,” and started work on this article.

I decided to use Edith Grossman’s translation to supplement my reading. To some extent, this is an arbitrary decision. Although it is only one of six translations that I own, it is the most recent. Given how popular this translation is, and how highly it is regarded, it provided an excellent opportunity to see how Putnam’s work — first published in 1949 — compared to the current state of the art.

Chapter XI

At the end of Chapter X, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were looking for lodging but ended the day without find it. They were lucky, however, to come upon a small group of goatherds. In Chapter XI, the goatherds provide our protagonists with a meal of dried goat meat and acorns. At the end of supper, the sight of the acorns in his hand throws Don Quixote into a reverie. This causes him to give a grandiose speech about the Golden Age. In the speech, he manages to cram just about every cliche regarding this mythical time. After the speech, a shepherd friend arrives and performs a ballad.

All the time that Don Quixote was pontificating and the shepherd was singing, Sancho was drinking. After the song, Don Quixote wants to hear another, but Sancho, being tired from the effects of the wine, wants to sleep. The knight is uncharacteristically astute, seeing right through his squire. Don Quixote gives him leave to go to bed, but asks that Sancho first care for his ear — the ear that was sliced half off by the Biscayan in Chapter IX. On hearing this, one of the goatherds treats his ear with rosemary, salt, and saliva, and then bandages it.

Fierabras’ Balm: Rosemary and Salt

It is hard to know how important Cervantes means for this folk medical treatment to be taken. He certainly does not spend much time on it. However, it relates to the magical Fierabras’ balm we heard about back in Chapter X, when Don Quixote told Sancho, “It is a balm the receipt[0] for which I know by heart; with it one need have no fear of death nor think of dying from any wound.”

Later, in Chapter XVII, when Don Quixote finally makes Fierabras’ balm, it seems anything but magical. In particular, its ingredients are very familiar: oil, wine, salt, and rosemary. Whether Cervantes meant to lampoon Don Quixote in this way is unclear. Regardless, after making it, he does not put it on his wounds but rather drinks it and instantly vomits it back up.[1]

The Putnam abridged version of Chapter XI includes only Don Quixote’s speech and the shepherd’s song. The main fault I find here is that he excludes the treatment that Don Quixote’s ear receives — even in the editorial summary. This is only a problem because of its relationship to Chapter XVII mentioned above, and as I implied, this may just be a case of a critic being more clever than the writer.

Chapter XII

In Chapter XII, a young man from the village arrives and tells the group that the shepherd Grisóstomo has died from his unrequited love for the shepherdess Marcela. The rest of the chapter involves the one named goatherd—Pedro—telling Don Quixote about this rich young woman who became a shepherdess, largely to avoid unwanted romantic attention. Despite the fact that she has been clear that she wants to marry no one, her beauty is so great that many young men became shepherds in an effort to win her. One such was Grisóstomo. During the telling of this story, Don Quixote shows himself to be annoying in a whole new way by constantly interrupting and correcting Pedro. Finally, Pedro explodes at him and Don Quixote stops. After the story, the knight is compelled to sleep in Pedro’s hut owing to his wound, while his squire sleeps outside, between Rocinante and Dapple, Sancho’s donkey.

Putnam skips the whole of Chapter XII, and this is a shame. Nothing in it is critical to the story, but it gives us a new aspect of Don Quixote’s character: the pedant. It is true that we could have well guessed this of our protagonist, but it is great fun to have the experience. Everyone can share with Pedro the exasperation of trying to tell a story only to have a listener constantly interrupting with trivialities. While I well understand why Putnam cut this material, it is missed.

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIII starts with the goatherds waking Don Quixote to go to the funeral, which is a quarter of a league away—about a mile. On their way, they meet up with a group of shepherds who are also heading for the funeral. With this group are two gentlemen. One of them — Vivaldo — noticing that Don Quixote is oddly dressed for battle in a peaceful land, questions him about his chosen profession of knight-errantry. Our knight, of course, is ignorant of the fact that Vivaldo is having fun with him. By the end of their conversation, even the goatherds — who had only considered him odd before — know he is crazy.

The burial is being managed by Grisóstomo’s best friend, Ambrosio. In accordance with the deceased’s wishes, Ambrosio is having all of Grisóstomo’s writing burned. Vivaldo argues that this is not a valid request by citing the disregarding of Virgil’s wish that the Aeneid be burned. He grabs some of Grisóstomo’s papers. Ambrosio allows him to keep the pages he has grabbed, but is determined to burn the rest. As the chapter ends, Vivaldo is about to read the pages, which contain the last song that Grisóstomo wrote.

Putnam includes only the conversation between Don Quixote and Vivaldo. Thus, he skips the small amount of material leading up to it, and all of the business at the funeral. This later material is missed, but it is clear why Putnam sees fit to exclude it: it has little if anything to do with Don Quixote. In addition, Sancho is not mentioned from the start of Chapter XIII through most of Chapter XIV.[2] But these cuts do not hurt the understanding or enjoyment of later adventures.

Chapter XIV

The beginning of Chapter XIV consists of the bitter, despairing song that Vivaldo reads. Shortly after this, Marcela shows up at the funeral to defend herself against the charges that she is responsible for the shepherd’s death. Although her argument is compelling, it also shows that those claiming that she has an icy heart are not far from the target. This scene is what this whole pastoral section has been leading to. Finally, we come back to Don Quixote. After Marcela leaves, he attempts to defend her:

A few—those who had felt the powerful dart of her glances and bore the wounds inflicted by her lovely eyes—were of a mind to follow her, taking no heed of the plainly worded warning they had just had from her lips; whereupon Don Quixote, seeing this and thinking to himself that here was an opportunity to display his chivalry by succoring a damsel in distress, laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword and cried out, loudly and distinctly, “Let no person of whatever state of condition he may be dare to follow the beauteous Marcela under pain of incurring my furious wrath. She has shown with clear and sufficient reasons that little or no blame for Grisóstomo’s death is to be attached to her; she has likewise shown how far she is from acceding to the desires of any of her suitors, and it is accordingly only just that in place of being hounded and persecuted she should be honored and esteemed by all good people in this world as the only woman in it who lives with such modesty and good intentions.”

As far as Don Quixote is concerned, this is yet another victory: no shepherd follows the young woman. But Cervantes cannot leave us thinking this is necessarily due to the knight’s warning. “Whether it was because of Don Quixote’s warning, or because Ambrosio said they should conclude what they owed to their good friend, none of the shepherds left…” Even if the shepherds had stayed because of Don Quixote, by this time, they all knew he was crazy and surely feared him for that reason and not because of any respect or fear of his talents as a knight.

The last quoted line was taken from the Grossman translation because it is not in Putnam’s. He excluded Grisóstomo’s song, which is understandable because it is not very entertaining and it is wholly irrelevant to the story except perhaps to highlight the distinction between the romantic delusions of Grisóstomo and Don Quixote. But after Don Quixote’s speech, Putnam ends the chapter with an editorial summary that misses two important details: Don Quixote’s probable impotence in protecting Marcela and his heading into the woods to offer his services to the woman (he’s unable to find her). These cuts are the first clear errors in Putnam’s abridgment.

Translation Comparison

The least that can be said about the translations is that Putnam is comparable to Grossman. In fact, much of the two translations are shockingly similar. Grossman says that she consulted no other translations while she worked on Part 1 of the book, and I don’t doubt her. But it is clear that Putnam and Grossman are far more similar to each other than either are to Charles Jervas’ 1742 translation.

In general, Grossman is a little more modern and natural than Putnam. But the difference is mostly pretty subtle. What’s more, there are almost as many occasions when Putnam is superior in this regard. One very obvious place where this happens is in support of dialog. For example, in Chapter XIII, Cervantes wrote:

A lo cual respondió don Quijote:

—La profesión de mi ejercicio no consiente ni permite que yo ande de otra manera.[3]

Grossman translated:

To which Don Quixote replied:

“The exercise of my profession does not allow or permit me to go about in any other manner.”

And Putnam translated:

“The calling that I profess,” replied Don Quixote, “does not permit me to do otherwise.”

This is a common occurrence. Clearly, Putnam is taking a lot of license with the text. Grossman’s translation (in this way) is closer to the original, but at the cost of offending a modern reader’s expectations.


One area where Putnam is clearly superior to Grossman is in the translation of the poetry in Don Quixote. At first, I had a hard time believing that Grossman was a bad as she seemed. But there is no doubting it: her poetry sucks. To some extent, this is intentional. Her focus seems to be on translating as accurately as possible, without regard to meter, rhythm, rhyme, or any other poetic aspects of the language. Putnam takes much more care in this regard, even if he is not able to include Cervantes’ use of assonance and repetition.

Just to give you some idea, here are the first two stanzas of the poem “Antonio” from Chapter XI:

 Yo sé, Olalla, que me adoras,
Puesto que no me lo has dicho
Ni aun con los ojos siquiera,
Mudas lenguas de amorios.
 Porque sé que eres sabida,
En que me quieres me afirmo;
Que nunca fue dedichado
Amor que fue conocido.[4]

The Grossman translation is ugly, and hard to read:

I know, Olalla, that you adore me
though you haven’t told me so,
not even with your eyes,
in the silent language of love.
 Since I know that you are clever,
that you love me I do claim;
for love was ne’er unrequited
if it has been proclaimed.

Although the Putnam translation takes many liberties with Cervantes, it communicates the same thing in a similar manner. And most important of all, it is poetry; it is easy to read.

 I know well that thou dost love me,
My Olalla, even though
Eyes of thine have never spoken—
Love’s mute tongues — to tell me so.
 Since I know thou knowest my passion,
Of thy love I am more sure:
No love ever was unhappy
When it was both frank and pure.

This is the most thorough comparison of translations that I have made. In addition to Putnam and Grossman, I have included Jervas[5] in my studies. I stand by my original assessment that this early translation — the fourth in English, published in 1742 — is quite readable. But whether the art of translation has improved or the language has changed, the recent translations are better. However, if Grossman is today the state of the art regarding Don Quixote translations, not much has changed since 1949 when Putnam published his. It certainly makes me wonder why a new translation comes out every couple of years.

[0] An uncommon definition of “receipt” is “recipe.”

[1] This idea is not original to me. I got it from The Chivalric World of Don Quijote: Style, Structure, and Narrative Technique by the Curators of the University of Missouri. It can be found in Miguel de Cervantes (Bloom’s Modern Critical Views), edited by Harold Bloom.

[2] It is striking how this section de-emphasizes Sancho Panza. In so doing, it makes plain the function that he plays in the novel. As we saw during the first sally, Don Quixote is not very interesting by himself. He only shines when seen through the eyes of others—others who are sane. So the goatherds and shepherds serve this function here, and Sancho slips into the background.

[3] Google does a surprisingly good job of translating this, “To which Don Quixote: the exercise of my profession does not condone or allow me to walk otherwise.” However, ande (andar) means: walk, go, go around, go about, carry, hang around, live, get long, tramp, trip, and so on. So a better translation would be, “To which Don Quixote: the exercise of my profession does not condone or allow me to go about my life otherwise.”

[4] Google translates this as, “I know, Olalla, which I adore, / As I have said / Not even with his eyes even, / Silent tongues of love affairs. / Because I know you are known, / In me you love me I say; / That was never dedichado / Love was known.”

[5] Here is a video that some guy took of an 1809 printing of the Jervas translation. It is produced in two volumes, rather than the modern tradition of binding both parts into a single volume. The book only cost $90, and I am oh so jealous; but it is nice to have the video.

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2 replies on “Don Quixote Abridged: Putnam’s Omissions”

  1. Steven C says:

    While I admire the effort that went into this article, it would have been unnecessary had the author used something other than his “Portable Cervantes”. Modern Library has the full Putnam–Chapter XII included. Almost all of the “Portables” have omissions and the author could have saved his time and effort (and ours!) ny using a full version of Putnam’s translation.

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