Miguel de Cervantes: Biography, Books & Facts

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You're probably familiar with Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza, but you might not know much about the man who gave these timeless characters life. You won't have to fight crowds (or windmills) to get up-close and personal with Miguel de Cervantes in this lesson, where you'll learn about his own fascinating story, his work, and some surprising facts concerning this famous Spanish author.

A Storied Life: Biography of Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616)
Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes

Much like his most notable character, this world-renowned Spanish author led a relatively long and exciting life. He didn't actually publish any of his writing until he was nearly forty years old. Born 29 September 1547 in the university town of Alcalá de Henares, little else is known of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's early life or education. What we do know is that his father, Rodrigo de Cervantes, was a financially unstable surgeon who moved the family throughout Spain in an effort to change his fortunes.

Statue of Cervantes in the harbor at Lepanto commemorating his service in the historic battle there
Statue of Cervantes at Lèpanto

The family's travels took them through the rough neighborhoods of Madrid and Sevilla, where in 1569 Cervantes was allegedly involved in a duel with Antonio de Sigura. Cervantes fled to Italy after his trouble in Sevilla left him a wanted man. There he was employed at Rome by the future Cardinal Giulio Acquaviva as his personal assistant. He later enlisted as a marine in the Spanish navy and was part of a Catholic allied assault against the Turks in 1571 at the historic sea Battle of Lèpanto. His military career continued until 1575, when he was recommended for a civil appointment in Spain.

On his homeward journey, however, he was overtaken by Barbary pirates and held hostage in Algiers. After five years in captivity, he was finally ransomed, thanks to contributions from his parents and Trinitarian nuns. He returned to Madrid with few prospects, eventually finding work as a tax collector. He married Catalina de Salazar in 1584, but the marriage was less than rewarding, and the couple is rumored to have spent most of their time apart.

Cervantes' literary career finally took root when when he published his first work, La Galatea, in 1585. From there, his skill as an artist and scholar of the literary process thrived until his death in Madrid on 22 April 1616. Though he died nearly 400 years ago, Cervantes still continues to have a massive impact on world literature.

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