Ever since high school, when I read Steven Boyett’s Ariel, I’ve been meaning to read Don Quixote, but I still haven’t gotten around to it, partly because I can’t decide which translation to read. (What I really oughta do is learn Spanish so I can read it, and Borges, in the originals, and to get back at Chris for knowing more Yiddish than I do.)
Today, I looked up a bunch of translations on Google Books, and compared their opening paragraphs. These all introduce Quixote, mentioning that he keeps old knightly gear (lance, shield, horse, greyhound), and describe the food and clothing that consume his money. The different approaches to describing Quixote’s food are striking, and seems to have been the subject of considerable scholarly effort.
Una olla de algo más vaca que carnero, salpicón las más noches, duelos y quebrantos los sábados, lentejas los viernes, algún palomino de añadidura los domingos, consumían las tres partes de su hacienda.
Duelos y quebrantos, according to the Spanish-language branch of Wikipedia (helpfully translated into English), seems to be a dish of scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage, cooked together in a skillet. It’s often served in a clay pot. Taken word-by-word (according to Google Translate and Chris’s Spanish-English dictionaries), duelos means “duels” or “grief”, while quebrantos means “bankruptcy”, “breaking”, “discouragement”, or “heavy loss”. As an idiomatic phrase, it seems to mean “scraps”.
I have no idea whether that Wikipedia article is accurate. While the dish itself is not at all implausible, the page says that there’s no record of the dish being called duelos y quebrantos prior to Cervantes’s use of the phrase. Given its popularity in the region where Quixote was described as living, it’s not impossible that some (not much) later person assigned the egg dish to Cervantes’s phrase, and it caught on as a semi-tlonian item. I imagine this has been hashed out at length in Spanish-language historical and literary journals, but I’ve got no way of knowing.
The first English translation was made by Thomas Shelton, and published in 1612. Here’s an 1896 edition, The history of Don Quixote of the Mancha:
His pot consisted daily of somewhat more Beefe then Mutton, a little minced meate every night, griefs and complaints the Saturdays, Lentils on Fridayes, and now and then a Pigeon of respect on Sundays did consume three parts of his rents;
The delightful history of the most ingenious knight Don Quixote of the Mancha, is another edition of Shelton’s translation, published in 1909. I don’t know who’s responsible for the changes:
His pot consisted daily of somewhat more beef than mutton: a gallimaufry each night, collops and eggs on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and now and then a lean pigeon on Sundays, did consume three parts of his rents;
The Life and Exploits of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote De La Mancha, translated by Charles “Jarvis” (a typo; his name was actually Jervas), first published in 1742:
A dish of boiled meat consisting of somewhat more beef than mutton, the fragments served up cold on most nights, an omelet on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a small pigeon, by way of addition, on Sundays, consumed three-fourths of his income.
The Life and Achievements of the Renowned Don Quixote De La Mancha, published by Peter Anthony Motteux in 1712. Though the front matter of this 1908 edition claims Motteux as the translator, earlier editions credit it as “translated from the original by many hands”:
His diet consisted more of beef than mutton; and with minced meat on most nights, lentiles on Fridays, griefs and groans on Saturdays, and a pigeon extraordinary on Sundays, he consumed three-quarters of his revenue;
Here’s where things start getting serious. In 1749 (and I think Google Books might have actually scanned an original 1749 edition), a Mr Ozell took Motteux’s translation and revised it — The History of the Renowned Don Quixote de la Mancha, translated “by Several Hands […] Revis’d a-new; and Corrected, Rectify’d and Fill’d up, in Numberleſs Places, from the beſt Spaniſh Edition; By Mr Ozell: Who, at the Bottom of the Pages, has likewiſe added (after ſome few Corrections of his own, as will appear) Explanatory Notes, from Jarvis, Oudin, Sobrino, Pineda, Gregorio, and the Royal Academy Dictionary of Madrid”:
His diet conſiſted more of beef than of mutton ; and with minc’d meat on moſt nights, lentils on Fridays, eggs and * bacon on Saturdays, and a pigeon extraordinary on Sundays, he conſumed three quarters of his revenue
* Strictly, ſorrow for his ſops, on Saturdays. Duelos y Quebrantos ; in Engliſh, gruntings and groanings. He that can tell what ſort of edible the author means by thoſe words, Erit mihi magnus Apollo, Cæfar Oudin, the famous French traveller, negotiator, tranſlator and dictionary-maker, will have it to be eggs and bacon, as above. Our tranſlator and dictionary-maker, Stevens, has it, eggs and collops, (I ſuppose he means Scotch-collops) but that’s too good a diſh to mortify withal. Signor Sobrino’s Spaniſh dictionary says, Duelos y Quebrantos is peaſe-soup. Mr Jervis tranſlates it an amlet (Aumulette in French) which Boyer ſays is a pancake made of eggs, tho’ I always underſtood Aumulette to be a bacon-froiſe (or rather bacon-fryze, from its being fry’d, from frit in French). Some will have it to mean being fry’d with eggs, which, we are told by Mr Jervis, the church allows in poor countries in defect of fiſh. Others have gueſt it to mean ſome windy kind of diet, as peaſe, herbs, &c which are apt to occaſion cholicks, as if one ſhould ſay, Greens and gripes on Saturdays. To conclude, the ’forcited author of the new tranſlation (if a tranſlator may be call’d an author) abſolutely ſays, Duelos y Quebrantos is a cant-phraſe for ſome faſting-day diſh in uſe in La Mancha. After all of theſe learned diſquiſitions, who knows but the author means a diſh of Nichils!
“Nichils” means nothings, trifles, or nonsense. “Collops” are thin slices of meat, much like what Americans call Canadian bacon, and the English just call bacon. What Americans just call bacon, the English call streaky bacon. That’s the stuff in duelos y quebrantos.
In 1755, translator Tobias George Smollett fired back a volley of his own footnotes, taking Ozell’s “nichils” more seriously than Ozell may have intended, and coming to a rather dubious conclusion. The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote (1796 edition):
Three-fourths of his income were ſcarce ſufficient to afford a diſh of hodge-podge, in which the mutton bore no proportion to the beef,* for dinner; a plate of ſalmagundy, commonly at ſupper†; gripes and grumblings‡ on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and the addition of a pigeon, or ſome ſuch thing, on the Lord’s-day.
* Mutton, in Spain, is counted greatly preferable to beef.
† Salpicon, which is the word in the original, is no other than cold beef ſliced, and eaten with oil, vinegar, and pepper.
‡ Gripes and Grumblings, in Spanish Duelos y Quebrantos; the true meaning of which, the former translators have been at great pains to inveſtigate, as the importance of the ſubject (no doubt) required. But their labours have, unhappily, ended in nothing elſe but conjectures, which, for the entertainment and inſtruction of our readers, we beg leave to repeat. One interprets the phraſe into collops and eggs, “being,” saith he, “a very ſorry dish.” In this decision, however, he is contradicted by another commentator, who affirms, “it is a meſs too good to mortify withal;” neither can this virtuoſo agree with a late editor, who translates the paſſage in question in question into an amlet; but takes occaſion to fall out with Boyer for his deſcription of that diſh, which he moſt ſagaciously underſtands to be a “bacon froize,” or rather fryze, from its being fried, from frit in French; and concludes with this judicious query, “After all theſe learned diſquiſitions, who knows but the author means a diſh of nichils?” If this was his meaning, indeed, ſurely we may venture to conclude, that faſting was very expensive in la Mancha; for the author mentions the Duelos y Quebrantos among those articles that conſumed three-fourths of the knight’s income.
Having conſidered this momentous affair with all the deliberation it deſerves, we, in our turn, present the reader with cucumbers, greens, or peaſe-porridge, as the fruit of our induſtrious reſearches; being thereunto determined by the literal ſignification of the text, which is not, “grumblings and groanings,” as the laſt-mentioned ingenious annotator ſeems to think, but rather pains and breakings; and evidently points at ſuch eatables as generate and expel wind — qualities, as every body knows, eminently inherent in those vegetables we have mentioned as our hero’s Saturday’s repaſt.
John Ormsby (who described Motteux’s version as “worse than worthless”), translated Don Quixote in 1885, and took the idiomatic meaning of Quixote’s Saturday meal:
An olla of rather more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays, made away with three-quarters of his income.
An “olla” is a ceramic jar or pot.
The Life and Achievements of Don Quixote de la Mancha was edited by Mary Elizabeth Burt and Lucy Leffingwell Cable in 1902 out of Shelton’s and Alexander Duffield’s translations (I haven’t been able to find the latter online, except for just the second volume). Burt and Cable have (or perhaps Duffield has) come up with a novel take on the meal:
Almost every night he had a pot of beef or mutton soup for dinner and cold meat with onions. On Saturdays he had a pie that was not much better than garbage: lentils on Fridays and pigeons by way of a treat on Sundays. This poor living ate up three-fourths of his income.
This 2000 translation by John Rutherford, Don Quixote, gets the eggs right, and I think leaves the meat out to better convey the poverty of Quixote’s diet:
A midday stew with rather more shin of beef than leg of lamb, the leftovers for supper most nights, lardy eggs on Saturdays, lentil broth on Fridays and an occasional pigeon as a Sunday treat ate up three-quarters of his income.
(Update: Non-ASCII character correction thanks to Nicholas Whyte in comment #1.)
(Update 2: Also, be sure to scroll down and read ajay’s comment #40.)