On this day in 1605, Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote. Cervantes’ novel, originally written in Spanish, remains one of the most influential, most reprinted, and most translated books ever written.
The novel’s plot begins with an ordinary man named Alonso Quijano who voraciously reads romantic tales of chivalry. Alonso becomes so obsessed with the stories of knights errant that he decides to become one himself. Taking the new name Don Quixote de La Mancha, he mounts his horse Rocinante and joins forces with his sidekick Sancho Panza to battle the forces of evil and to defend the weak.
Deluded and clearly insane, Don Quixote attacks windmills, thinking they are hulking giants. Ordinary inns to Quixote become castles, and peasant girls become beautiful princesses.
Literary critics call Don Quixote the first modern novel, and the critic Harold Bloom argued that only Shakespeare approached the genius of Cervantes’ writing. William Faulkner read Don Quixote every year, and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky proclaimed Don Quixote his favorite literary character (1).
Often when an idea or a style originates from a specific person, that idea or style takes on new meaning, not just as a noun but as an adjective. There are many examples of these proper nouns that become eponymous adjectives (sometimes called proper adjectives), such as: Darwinian, Epicurean, or Kafkaesque. When proper adjectives spring from literature, it’s usually the author’s name that transforms from noun to adjective (as in Orwellian, Shakespearean, or Byronic), but occasionally a character comes along who is so distinct and so unique that the character’s name takes on a more general adjectival meaning. Cervantes’ Don Quixote is such a character. Check any dictionary and you will see that the adjective quixotic refers not just to Cervantes’ famous knight, but also to anyone who is “exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic, or impractical.”
Today’s Challenge: Autobiography of an Adjective
What are some examples of adjectives that derive from the name of a specific person, real or imaginary? Select one of the eponymous adjectives below and research the etymology of the word, including the biography of the person behind the word. Then, imagine the person behind the word is telling the story of how he or she became so well known that his or her name became an adjective. Also, have the person explain the meaning of their adjective as it is used today and also what ideas or styles it embodies? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Arthurian, Byronic, Chauvinistic, Darwinian, Dickensian, Epicurean, Faustian, Hippocratic, Jeffersonian, Kafkaesque, Leninist, Lutheran, Marxist, Newtonian, Oedipal, Orwellian, Platonic, Pyrrhic, Reaganesque, Sisyphean, Stentorian, Trepsicordian, Victorian, Wilsonian, Zoroastrian
Quotation of the Day: It is one thing to write as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth. –Miguel de Cervantes