From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 17.2 (1997): 149-54.
Copyright © 1997, The Cervantes Society of America

Reply to a Reply to a Reply


In “A Reply to a Reply,”* Anthony Cárdenas points out that I called the versos de cabo roto decasyllables. I stand corrected. In my Anales Cervantinos piece (106) they were correctly termed octosyllables. Absent-mindedness increases with age, a factor in my decision to retire two years ago. Cárdenas also chides me thus: “When all is said and done, however, I do think Ullman would have better spent his time and energy pondering the richness and grandeur of Cervantine art rather than my poor musings over the same” (138). Let me answer that I still deem his ideas brilliant, suggestive, and to the point despite the deconstructive sauce poured upon them. “Poor musings” is unconvincing. If he truly felt they were, they would not have been submitted to a prestigious journal, whose editors moreover accepted them.
     As for me, I did not muse in order to come up with “an ingenious ‘misreading’” (139). I merely read aloud to myself what was in front of my eyes, pronouncing the word “libró” as it appeared on the page and arriving at the obvious conclusion, namely, that Cervantes did something ingenious. The ingenuity could hardly have been mine; the more so since I was too ignorant and naïve when I wrote that article in the early sixties to conceive that a straight reading of an apparently ironic statement could be valid or that satire was compatible with respect. Now I not only accept Cárdenas's reading but also admire his intuition and, except for the baggage borrowed from deconstruction, the way he makes his case. In this manner,

     * Cervantes 16.2 (Fall 1996): 138-43, which was a reply to Ullman's piece entitled “Réplica a Anthony CárdenasCervantes 16.2 (Fall 1996): 128-37. -FJ.


150 PIERRE L. ULLMAN Cervantes

despite his opinion to the contrary, I ponder the richness of Cervantine art, pointing out the pattern of its polysemy.
     Unlike Leitch's deconstructive theory which claims that there can be only misreadings, traditional polysemous theory like Pérez de Moya's and Northrop Frye's posits a hierarchy of valid readings. By accepting this approach, in vogue in Cervantes's own day, I opt for inclusiveness, thus evincing a change of mind since the publication of the 1962 Anales Cervantinos article where I expounded exclusiveness. Even though the moralistic judgment was most probably a commonplace in Cervantes's time, I now understand that his use of it to create a joke does not necessarily indicate dissent from this common judgment.
     The polysemous, inclusive aspect of Cervantes's art is well illustrated by the encomiastic sonnet to the royal surgeon Francisco Díaz, meant to be placed at the head of the latter's urological treatise. The poem, however, did not find its way to the front of the volume, as did Lope de Vega's, but at the back, and only in some copies at that. Could it be that Cervantes's sonnet is so laden with conceits that Dr. Díaz may have felt the punning to have been carried too far for his purposes? Hesitating before the prospect of a possibly humorous commencement to his book, he may have allowed the sonnet to appear in a limited number of copies, but then made sure that it would be expunged from further ones.
     Francisco Díaz was one of the most expert lithotomists of his day. These surgeons would remove bladder stones by making an incision between the anus and genitalia (Walton, s.v. “lithotomy” and “perineum”), irrigating the bladder through a catheter inserted into the urethra. In previous times the incision had been made above the pubic region. Hence Díaz may possibly have been a pioneer of the new “lateral” method. Francisco Díaz was also the first urethrotomist, having devised a catheter containing a wire whose tip was flattened into a tiny blade, in order to cut through growths that blocked the urinary passage.
     In the September 1996 issue of this journal I pointed out that Murillo (1:65n) expressed doubt regarding the seriousness of Cervantes's judgment on the Celestina. In the same spirit, A. L. Martín included this sonnet among the burlesque ones1:

     1 On p. 205. Nevertheless, she used the erroneous punctuation found in the Castalia ed. of Cervantes's poetry rather than the correct one in Valbuena Prat's edition of the complete works.

17.2 (1997) Reply to a Reply to a Reply 151



     Tú, que con nuevo y singular decoro
tantos remedios para un mal ordenas,
bien puedes separar, de estas arenas
del sacro Tajo, las que son de oro;
     y el lauro que se debe al que un tesoro
halla de ciencia con tan ricas venas,
de raro advertimiento y salud llenas,
contento y risa del enfermo lloro.
     Que por tu industria una deshecha piedra
mil mármoles, mil bronces a tu fama
dará, sin envidiosas competencias.
     Daráte el Cielo palma; el suelo hiedra,
pues el uno y el otro ya te llama
espíritu de Apolo en ambas ciencias.

     Comparing broken-up bladder stones to grains of sand, Cervantes is reminded of the auriferous nature of the sands of the Tagus River, flowing by Toledo, Spain's traditional capital, symbolic seat of power and, in this case, wealth, some of which trickles down to Dr. Díaz thanks to his skill. But the words “sacro” and “tajo” can also be used to depict an incision in the general region of the sacrum. Cervantes accordingly suggests that Dr. Díaz has received considerable financial reward for his ability. Even the word “venas” could allude to anatomical as well as geological veins (of gold), and even to the tear ducts from which the “lloro” flows. The statement that broken-up bladder stones should generate marble statues and plaques to immortalize the great surgeon is indeed a feat of geological ennoblement. In addition, the similarity between deshecha and desechada suggests Ps. 118.22 (Vulg. num. 119.22), repeated by Christ according to Matt. 21.42-43, to the effect that the stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone (or keystone). Thus the Biblical reminiscence, added to the comparison of Dr. Díaz to Apollo, as healer and writer, gives the poem its divine or anagogic dimension. Yet none of this word play means that Cervantes ridiculed Scripture or lithotomy. On the contrary, it completes the fivefold polysemy, for, at the tropological level, Díaz is an extraordinarily gifted mortal who can turn weeping and painful suffering into laughter and contentment. At the allegorical level, he can identify grains of gold among those of sand; he is a finder of

152 PIERRE L. ULLMAN Cervantes

treasure; and, thanks to his efforts, a broken stone can generate marble, in the way a stone cast aside by builders can turn into a main cornerstone. At the historical level (also called parabolic and literal), he is a lithotomist and author of an important treatise on diseases of the urinary tract and their cure. At the physical or natural level, his existence is evinced by the mementos of his accomplishments, marble and bronze statues of himself and plaques, as well as his book perhaps. These interpretations occur at five hierarchical levels; none are “misreadings.”
     An inclusive attitude is needed to perceive the richness of Cervantine art, but Cárdenas is intent on exclusiveness, as I was in my younger years, though in an opposite direction. It is he who now insists on limiting this richness by demurring at the acceptance of a humorous interpretation while being offered the opportunity, through polysemous analysis, to maintain the serious ones he advocates.
     Besides the richness of Cervantine art, I ponder its depth, not the purported grandeur upon which Cárdenas wishes me to fix my gaze. To illustrate what I mean, let me recount an event of my childhood. When I was seven, an uncle took me to the Louvre. At the dinner table that evening, my father asked me which painting I preferred. Well do I recall the look of dismay on his face when I answered, “David's Coronation of Napoleon.” He then glanced at my uncle, who assured him that I had seen, not only the Mona Lisa, but the Rembrandts, Rubenses, Titians, Poussins, Daubignys, Tintorettos, and the Velázquez. After a pause my father said: “I think I can understand why a seven-year-old would be so impressed by that picture.” It is a paternal lesson I have never forgotten. Beware of the attraction of grandeur! There is no doubt that David's painting has it, but greater masterpieces abound in that museum.
     As P. E. Russell puts it, Don Quixote is a funny book. Grandeur excludes humor; depth does not. In the case of Cervantes's novel, whose mock hero could not be swayed from his grandiose proto-Napoleonic plans, grandeur is an institutionally added value upheld by an Establishment long after the author aimed his banter at the ideological excess once fostered by that Establishment. I am too much of a cynic to accept without a grain of sal andaluza the institutional assignment of grandeur that this masterpiece possesses neither intrinsically nor originally. For over a century Cervantes's novel was the only Spanish work that commanded universal admiration. As the Spanish empire declined and its ideology became obsolete, the others lost their prestige, albeit unjustly. Don Quixote did not suffer

17.2 (1997) Reply to a Reply to a Reply 153

their fate because it neither possessed grandeur nor shared in that of the culture which spawned it.
     Grandeur is what deconstructionists take their aim at when initiating their critical procedures. Hence, in order to validate the application of their method to Don Quixote, they will be wont to overlook much of the humor that contributes to its depth.


Cárdenas, Anthony J. “Cervantes's Rhyming Dictum on Celestina: Vita artis gratia o Ars vitae gratia?” Indiana Journal of Hispanic Literature 5 (1994 [1995]): 19-36.

——. “A Reply to a Reply: A Perspective on a Perspective of My Perspective.” Cervantes 16.2 (Fall 1996): 138-43.

Cervantes, Miguel de. Obras completas, ed. Angel Valbuena Prat. Madrid: Aguilar, n.d.

Díaz, Francisco. Tratado de todas las enfermedades de los riñones, vejiga y carnosidades de la verga. Madrid, Francisco Sánchez, 1588. Introd. Rafael Mollá y Rodrigo. Biblioteca Clásica de la Medicina Española 2-3. Madrid: 1922-23. 2 vols.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957.

Martín, Adrienne Laskier. Cervantes and the Burlesque Sonnet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1991.

Murillo, Luis Andrés, ed. El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. 2a ed. Madrid: Castalia, 1982. 3 vols.

Pérez de Moya, Juan. Philosophia secreta. 1585. Ed. Eduardo Gómez de Baquero. Madrid: Compañía Iberoamericana de Publicaciones, 1928.

Ullman, Pierre L. “The Burlesque Poems which Frame the Quijote.” Anales Cervantinos 9 (1963): 213-27.

——. “Réplica a Anthony Cárdenas.” Cervantes 16.2 (Fall 1996): 128-37.

Walton, John, Paul Beeson, and Ronald Bodley Scott. The Oxford Companion to Medicine. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986.


Prepared with the help of Sue Dirrim
Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes