Often, the most obvious things are the ones that become forgotten in the years. Something obvious could be, in example, that two texts that have the same reference could not have the same sense, and it is the sense the one that defines the deep significance of a literary work. I understand the literary facet of a work as the one that possesses, as the natural and colloquial language, a wealth of significance possibilities (the same possibilities that philosophical and scientific languages intend to avoid because of the ambiguities that come along with it). It is not the fiction what gives the literacy to a work (what happens then with the poetry?), it is not a particular aesthetic value, however the use of a language full of senses, avoiding simple and overrated references, as the vanguards, staying away of the clear, strict and restricted languages that science and philosophy require to avoid misunderstandings as much as possible.
Greek tragedy and philosophy had both a clear political vocation, but the strict philosophical concepts crash with the wealth of meanings implied by its literary articulation, even when both genres are dealing with the same ideas and conflicts.
Literature sacrifices this conceptual clarity in order to get livelier ideas that better embody the concepts. What for the philosophers is a concept, for the writers is a moment in a life, a character, a feeling. The sacrifice of clarity allows a better understanding of the complexity of real life, in which is not always easy to isolate the concepts from the feelings, the ideas from the facts of existence.
It is mandatory, talking about literary hermeneutics, to have these considerations in mind, specially referring to the question of the intertextuality (conceived as a game of references and senses, the rest is simply plagiarism).
Two texts, as I was saying backwards, can have the same reference but completely different senses. Is the loss of the sense what made classical literature became a simple and common reference, beautiful but meaningless. The loss of the sense is the death of a literary work. It has a lot to do with the conception of literature as a doxographical collection, and implies the isolation of the literature of the time and place in which was created.
It is in the sense of a literary work where we can find the most valuable interpretations, because the sense in something pragmatic and Praxis requires for its understanding lots of aspects of reality, not only the textual ones.
Let’s take a look at a literary sample: the Quixote. In this novel, we have an explicit reference to the classical myth of the five Ages, focused on the Golden one. We find the whole myth perfectly exposed in Hesiod’s works, as well as other classic authors. The sense of this myth on Cervantes novel is, in my opinion, one of the capital questions to analyze the Quixote. One of the most common lectures about Quixote speeches is the one that assumes that Quixote is an insane man with some moments of sanity, moments as the one in which the Golden Age speech take place. This thesis, the madman with moments of sanity, implies the reduction of classical tradition to a question of only references without any further consideration about senses or meanings.
A mad but well educated man capable of sensible behaviour for a while that articulates beautiful and powerful speeches basis on classical tradition, that’s the way that most of the critics consider Quixote. But it is not so simple.
The Golden Age myth on Hesiod was a literary artefact to criticize the heroic mentality, a way to claim for new values: the vindication of work as a new way of justice and religious behaviour. With the decline of the aristocratic values (Hesiod adds to the myth an heroic age that disappears on Ovid), the hard and faithful workers are now the leading role. Hesiod was ending the Homeric mentality by making it part of the degenerative process described in the myth. Cervantes, that is my thesis, comes back to the Golden Age dissertation in a very special context: a moment in which classical mythology and literature had become a common and beautiful place, an exercise of erudition without sense, and Cervantes wrote against that in the prologue of the first part of his Quixote (which demonstrates that he was aware about this matter). Only in a time when classical tradition had lost its sense and meaning it is possible to think that Quixote’s speech about the Golden Age supposes a sensible break from his usual madness.
Cervantes, and Quixote, uses the myth in a very particular sense, a sense that could not be understood by a literary criticism that considered the myths as something beautiful but death and meaningless. Quixote uses the myth to justify his own modus vivendi: not a crazy one, however the way of life of an elder man that is fed up with his life, a bored man that decides start to play with everybody.
Cervantes sense of the myth serves to demonstrate that our misunderstanding of the classical myths makes us believe that speeches about the Golden Age as the Quixote one are perfectly sensible and a sign of sanity. Quixote goes against his time, but only for fun, being selfish and taking advantage of the rights he possesses. In other words, Quixote fools everybody with his speeches and Cervantes fools those ones that think that such speeches are serious, rational and sensible, further than simple ingredients of a cheeky and bored man’s game.
If the critics consider these speeches as a sensible break in Quixote’s behaviour is only because at Cervantes time it was very established that late-Roman conception of Greek mythology as a beautiful compilation of tales and nothing more than tales. The quotation of Greek mythology was associated with sanity and erudition because no one thought about the sense and meanings that Greek mythology possesses. No one doubted about the rhetorical use of Greek mythology, but anyone that knows deeply the classical tradition, and I think that Cervantes did, realizes that myths were about politics and philosophy. Myths were stories politically orientated, full of meaningful differences depending on authors and versions. Myths were stories of justification with a high element of ideology and political convictions.
As a justification of his life Hesiod wrote his version of the myth, the same that Quixote uses it as part of his game. Cervantes was counting on this loss of sense of the classical tradition to disguise the deep significance of his novel: the critic of the nobility, decadent, corrupt and only concerned about his own interests: playing, wooing girls that would be left behind eventually (the story of Dorotea) and, at last, fooling the hope and dreams of people like Sancho.
Quixote speeches are the excuse, the cynic justification of a game, a game that was brilliantly pointed out by Torrente Ballester. Only who thinks that literature is meaningless could accept that Quixote use of mythology is no more than healthy erudition.
But if the classical tradition possesses a sense, as I think, then is mandatory to wonder about this sense, and is mandatory to find out the meaning of the Golden Age myth in Cervantes novel.
If Quixote uses the myth to seriously justify his labour as a knight, it would be crazy, because even the Greeks did not consider the myth as a true story and the myth served them to express political concerns and ideas. On the contrary, if Quixote is playing a cynical game, as I think, it seems right to consider that the Golden Age speech, as the one about Laws and weapons, is only a playful tool that only makes sense in the context of his game. In other words, he is being naughty and cheeky all the time, and that is it. He is not crazy sometimes and sane when he makes his speeches.
From this point of view, I think that Cervantes was pretty sure about how the critics wouldn't be able of this interpretation of his novel. The prologue of the first part becomes this way even more facetious, because Cervantes himself foresaw the superficial interpretations that he was expecting about his novel. I insist, only a pedant can consider sensible to use the Golden Age myth in the Spanish 17th century.
A more careful interpretation of Cervantes works turns out that the author understood perfectly the classical tradition, and he reflected this tradition perfectly in the rest of his works, as he demonstrated with his conception of the tragic genre, so close to the Greek one and so far from his Spanish contemporaries.
Rare is the author that doesn't put any idea in his work and even the most apolitical and neutral is, in fact, expressing a particular conception of men and society. In literature, as in life, is impossible to be neutral, and here lies one of the highest interests of classical literature: its sense can never be closed and every new version and lecture opens the discussion again.
The prologue to the first part of Quixote is a powerful lesson about how to read literature, a sarcastic lesson about how not to read the Greek classics, a claim against the reduction of classic literature to a meaningless compilation of names, tales and common places. Cervantes knew that all this tales had a sense, and he uses it in his novel with a very clear intention, but not obvious: Quixote’s game helps Cervantes to show a very cynical attitude with Sancho as only victim. Sancho will be the one, with his generosity, that will turn the Quixote’s world upside down. That is what Cervantes shows in his novel and is something that
could not explain in his brilliant essay: Why Cervantes put on scene this game?
Which is the cause and objective of writing a novel about and elder bored man
that decides to start playing? The answer was always a fundamental key to the
interpretation of the novel, and the answer is Sancho. Cervantes did it for
Sancho and for all the Sanchos of his time, real heroes of a decadent Spain,
as Gabriel Celaya pointed out in one of his brilliant poems.