On this day in 1571, the great Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio was born. He was only 38 when he died, but he was hugely influential on the path of painting. Yet he was all but forgotten after his death. It has only been in the last century that he has been given his due. He was a wonderful painter regardless.
The great Jerry Lee Lewis is 78 today. Here he is doing “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”:
Other birthdays: the great novelist Elizabeth Gaskell (1865); largely wrong economist Ludwig von Mises (1881); the great physicist Enrico Fermi (1901); novelist James Fogle (1936); actor Madeline Kahn (1942); actor Ian McShane (71); the great television composer Mike Post (69); and comedian Robert Webb (41).
The day, however, belongs to the man who not only invented the modern novel, he invented the postmodern novel: Miguel de Cervantes who was born sometime around this day in 1547. I’ve read a couple of biographies about him and I can tell you this: we don’t know much about him. But the man clearly loved poetry. And yet, he really wasn’t that good a poet. What I don’t think he ever appreciated enough is just what a great wit he was. It isn’t just in Don Quixote. His Ocho Cemedias would be hysterical if performed. And even the Novelas Ejemplares are funny. But it seemed to be so much a part of who he was that he didn’t focus on it.
He also had a remarkable life. While coming back from war, he was captured and enslaved for five years, during which time he attempted to escape 4 times—some of the attempts quite daring and involved. But he never really used the experiences in his work—at least not in an autobiographical way. Again, I think it was too much a part of him. As a result, I always imagine him as a very introverted man who perhaps didn’t have the best notion of what was going on in the “objective” world. But he certainly created much great literature.
Let me explain what I mean when I say he invented the postmodern novel. In the first book of Don Quixote, he claims just to be someone who found these true histories of this amazing man Don Quixote. But then, in the second book, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza—the actual people the story was written about—become famous because of the first book. That is some seriously twisted life imitating art imitating life. It is wonderfully charming and funny.
Happy birthday Miguel de Cervantes!