The humorous sculpture featured here may look like nothing more than a silhouette of a man on a donkey, but the modern-day windmills in the background make it easily recognizable as Don Quixote. The scene where Don Quixote attempts to fight windmills (which he believes are “giants”) is one of the most iconic scenes from the epic. While it may seem ridiculous for him to attempt to fight windmills, it’s important to note that Don Quixote was actually written during a period of war between Spain and Holland (80 Years’ War), and windmills are often associated with the Netherlands. It is interesting to note that this scene is the origin of the English phrase “tilting at windmills”, which means to take up arms against an imaginary enemy (“tilt” being a synonym for “joust”).
Location chosen: Gulf of Patras, Ionian Sea—This is where the Battle of Lepanto occurred in 1571. Miguel de Cervantes fought in this battle during his time as a soldier in the Spanish navy. The battle was fought between the Holy League (an alliance between several Catholic states) and the Ottoman Empire, initiated by Pope Pius V, and funded mainly by the Spanish Empire. During the battle, Cervantes was ill with a fever and was encouraged to stay below deck. However, believing that the battle would be one to shape European history, he insisted on fighting—and received several gunshot wounds in the process. He believed that the rewards outweighed the risks (forgive the cliché) in this scenario, ironically exemplifying the romantic attitude that he so satirized in Don Quixote.
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