A portrait of Miguel de Cervantes by Juan de Jáuregui. / SUr

22 April 1616: Death of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes

A contemporary of Shakespeare, the most important writer in the Spanish language left his mark on literature with Don Quixote

LILY FARRANT

Miguel de Cervantes is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language. His influence and the importance of his literary work is reflected by the fact that Spanish is often referred to as "the language of Cervantes".

Many details of his life are obscure. However, what is known is that he was born in Alcalá de Henares, a Spanish town in the Madrid region in around 1547. He was part of a big family, and didn't grow up wealthy. In around 1570, he joined the military and fought for Spain against the Ottoman Empire. He was nicknamed "El manco de Lepanto" (the one-armed man of Lepanto), for his lost function in his left hand during this battle.

As a writer he was prolific, and it is his literary legacy that prevails. He is best known for Don Quijote (Don Quixote, in English translations). Published in 1605, it is considered the first modern novel, and is one of the most translated in the world. The story follows the adventures of a low-ranking noble, Alonso Quijano from La Mancha, who has read so many chivalric romances that he is convinced he is living in one. Believing himself to be a knight, he embarks on a series of quests and adventures.

The story of Don Quixote is split into two main sections: the first is quite relaxed and comedic, while the second is generally more philosophical, considering the protagonist's idealism of the chivalry in times gone by.

Don Quixote has left a strong mark on Spanish culture, inspiring paintings, plays and films depicting the wishful knight. Internationally, it has been referenced in The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin by Mark Twain, and The History of Cardenio by William Shakespeare, among others.

Cervantes was Shakespeare's contemporary, and although the two never met there are several uncanny coincidences between the two writers' lives, such as the fact that the death of both authors is officially commemorated on 23 April (despite the fact that neither actually did die on this day). Like Shakespeare, Cervantes also made many linguistic contributions to his language. While the Bard's phrases such as a "green with envy" have become common in English, the opening sentence of Don Quixote created a Spanish cliché with the phrase "de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme" ("whose name I do not wish to recall").