Saturday, February 03, 2007

Don Quixote's Significant Mole

Portrait by Juan Martínez de Jáuregui y Aguilar (c. 1600)
More ironic than political correctness would allow?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Miguel Cervantes is well known for using irony in Don Quixote to poke fun at various figures.

In showing the lovely Dorothea inquiring after the great knight-errant whose name she cannot recall but whom her father has sent her to find so that this magnificent knight might free her kingdom from a dreadful giant, Cervantes makes Don Quixote's identify and valor depend upon the presence of a mole "on his right side under the left shoulder" -- supposedly "the mark of a strong man":

"'Don Quixote,' he must have said, senora," observed Sancho at this, "otherwise called the Knight of the Rueful Countenance."

"That is it," said Dorothea; "he said, moreover, that he would be tall of stature and lank featured; and that on his right side under the left shoulder, or thereabouts, he would have a grey mole with hairs like bristles."

On hearing this, Don Quixote said to his squire, "Here, Sancho my son, bear a hand and help me to strip, for I want to see if I am the knight that sage king foretold."

"What does your worship want to strip for?" said Dorothea.

"To see if I have that mole your father spoke of," answered Don Quixote.

"There is no occasion to strip," said Sancho; "for I know your worship has just such a mole on the middle of your backbone, which is the mark of a strong man."

"That is enough," said Dorothea, "for with friends we must not look too closely into trifles; and whether it be on the shoulder or on the backbone matters little; it is enough if there is a mole, be it where it may, for it is all the same flesh...." (Part 1, Chapter 30, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by John Ormsby)

Cervantes makes rather a mountain of this mole, so much emphasis he puts on it! Why a mole? Why on the Don's back? Why the uncertainty about its location?

Let's take an excursus that will wind back to this point.

In the Muslim tradition, the seal of the prophet is sometimes interpreted as a physical seal in the form of a mole on Muhammad's back, supposedly first seen on Muhammad and identified as a prophetic seal by the Nestorian Christian monk Bahira of southern Syria. This interpretation is alluded to in Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4: "Ablutions (Wudu')":

Number 189: Narrated As-Sa'ib bin Yazid:

My aunt took me to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! This son of my sister has got a disease in his legs." So he passed his hands on my head and prayed for Allah's blessings for me; then he performed ablution and I drank from the remaining water. I stood behind him and saw the seal of Prophethood between his shoulders, and it was like the "Zir-al-Hijla" (means the button of a small tent, but some said 'egg of a partridge.' etc.)
Another mention occurs in Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56: "Virtues and Merits of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions":
Number 741: Narrated As-Scab bin Yazid:

My aunt took me to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! My nephew is sick"' The Prophet passed his hands over my head and blessed me. Then he performed ablution and I drank the remaining water, and standing behind him. A (sic: I) saw the seal in between his shoulders."
Several times, the mole is mentioned in Sahih Muslim, Book 30: "The Book Pertaining to the Excellent Qualities of the Holy Prophet (may Peace be upon them) and His Companions (Kitab Al-Fada'il)":
Chapter 28: The Fact Pertaining to the Seal of his Prophethood, its Characteristic Feature and its Location on his Body

Number 5790: Jabir. Samura reported:

I saw the seal on his back as if it were a pigeon's egg.

Number 5791: This hadith has been narrated on the authority of Simak with the same chain of transmitters.

Number 5792: As-Sa'ib b. Yazid reported:

My mother's sister took me to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Allah's Messenger, here is the son of my sister and he is ailing. He touched my head and invoked blessings upon me. He then performed ablution and I drank the water left from his ablution; then I stood behind him and I saw the seal between his shoulders.

Number 5793: Abdullah b. Sarjis reported:

I saw Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and ate with him bread and meat, or he said Tharid (bread soaked in soup). I said to him: Did Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) seek forgiveness for you? He said: Yes, and for you, and he then recited this verse:" Ask forgiveness for thy sin and for the believing men and believing women" (xlvii. 19). I then went after him and saw the Seal of Prophethood between his shoulders on the left side of his shoulder having spots on it like moles.
The seal of the prophet, identified as a large mole in various Islamic traditions, seems to be placed somewhat differently according to the particular tradition. Several of the hadith above state that the seal is between Muhammad's shoulders, whereas Abdullah b. Sarjis states that it is "between his shoulders on the left side of his shoulder," which sounds a bit odd, as if it were in more than one place.

Anyway, my question is this: Is the notable, imprecisely located mole found on Don Quixote's back an ironic reference -- "a startling [irony, an irony] ... that we find unacceptable" -- to the extraordinarily significant, possibly imprecisely located mole found on Muhammad's back?


At 2:58 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

Thanks for revealing yet another layer in Cervantes.

Another book question, do you know much about The Manuscript Found in Saragossa?

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No, I know nothing about that book. Yet another chink in my scholarly armor...

Why do you ask? Should I read it? Have you read it?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:21 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

By the way ... could this be where the expression "Holy Moley" comes from?

Jeffery Hodges

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