The Golden Age

~ a reflection on the epic novel Don Quixote (1605), by Miguel de Cervantes.

Volume II: Don Quixote’s long harangue on “The Golden Age,” on the more virtuous and satisfying days of yore, when men traveled together, fought for what they believed in and who they loved, and created a future as bright and worthy…


After Don Quixote had satisfied his stomach, he picked up a handful of acorns, and, regarding them attentively, he began to speak these words: “Fortunate the age and fortunate the times called golden by the ancients, and not because gold, which in this our age of iron is so highly esteemed, could be found then with no effort, but because those who lived in that time did not know the two words thine and mine. In that blessed age all things were owned in common; no one, for his daily sustenance, needed to do more than lift his hand and pluck it from the sturdy oaks that so liberally invited him to share their sweet and flavorsome fruit. The clear fountains and rushing rivers offered delicious, transparent waters in magnificent abundance. In the fissures of rocks and the hollows of trees diligent and clever bees established their colonies, freely offering to any hand the fertile harvest of their sweet labor.

Noble cork trees, moved only by their own courtesy, shed the wide, light bark with which houses, supported on rough posts, were covered as a protection, but only against the rain that fell from heaven. In that time all was peace, friendship, and harmony; the heavy curve of the plowshare had not yet dared to open or violate the merciful womb of our first mother, for she, without being forced, offered up, everywhere across her broad and fertile bosom, whatever would satisfy, sustain, and delight the children who then possessed her. In that time simple and beautiful shepherdesses could wander from valley to valley and hill to hill, their hair hanging loose or in braids, wearing only the clothes needed to modestly cover that which modesty demands, and has always demanded, be covered, and their adornments were not those used now, enveloping the one who wears them in the purple dyes of Tyre, and silk martyrized in countless ways, but a few green burdock leaves and ivy vines entwined, and in these they perhaps looked as grand and elegant as our ladies of the court do now in the rare and strange designs which idle curiosity has taught them. In that time amorous concepts were recited from the soul simply and directly, in the same way and manner that the soul conceived them, without looking for artificial and devious words to enclose them. There was no fraud, deceit, or malice mixed in with honesty and truth. Justice stood on her own ground, and favor or interest did not dare disturb or offend her as they so often do now, defaming, confusing, and persecuting her. Arbitrary opinions formed outside the law had not yet found a place in the mind of the judge, for there was nothing to judge, and no one to be judged. Maidens in their modesty wandered, as I have said, wherever they wished, alone and mistresses of themselves, without fear that another’s boldness or lascivious intent would dishonor them, and if they fell it was through their own desire and will. But now, in these our detestable times, no maiden is safe, even if she is hidden and enclosed in another labyrinth like the one in Crete; because even there, through chinks in the wall, or carried by the air itself, with the zealousness of accursed solicitation the amorous pestilence finds its way in and, despite all their seclusion, maidens are brought to ruin. It was for their protection, as time passed and wickedness spread, that the order of knights errant was instituted: to defend maidens, protect widows, and come to the aid of orphans and those in need. This is the order to which I belong, my brother goatherds, and I thank you for the kindness and hospitality you have shown to me and my squire. For, although by natural law all men are obliged to favor knights errant, still, because I know that without knowing this obligation you welcomed me and treated me so generously, I wish, with all my goodwill, to thank you for yours.”

This long harangue—which could very easily have been omitted—was declaimed by our knight because the acorns served to him brought to mind the Golden Age, and with it the desire to make that foolish speech to the goatherds, who, stupefied and perplexed, listened without saying a word. Sancho too was silent, and ate acorns, and made frequent trips to the second wineskin, which had been hung from a cork tree to cool the wine.

Was there ever such a time as Don Quixote’s “Golden Age”? Or is he simply mentally ill?