The greyhound, already mentioned in the first line of Don Quixote

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In 2016 the world commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Alcalá de Henares 1547 Ð Madrid 1616), the prince of wits and author of the first modern novel in Spanish, "Don Quixote". His book, a timeless masterpiece, is an immortal portrait of the ideals and miseries cohabiting the human soul. 2016 will therefore be Cervantes quixotic year, a perfect moment to honor his paradoxical character and famous nobleman, Alonso Quijano, and all the creatures that configure his surrealistic and symbolic universe Ð including, of course, the Galgo (the Spanish sight-hound).



With the title "The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha" used for publishing the first part of the novel in 1605, Cervantes, in a mocking tone, wanted to "put on hatred of men the foolishness told in the chivalrous novels of that time". Hidden between lines, the novel shells a very modern parody of customs, traditions, symbols, rituals and languages. A book on adventures, fantasy and hunger, a novel about pride, honor and freedom:


"Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heaven gave men; with it they cannot match the treasures of the earth and the seas. For freedom and for honor, one can and should risk one's life..."


This odd mixture of pride and honor define our anti-hero and the Spanish race. I mean that kind of vain pride born from a genetic condition, individualism and the honor of belonging to a certain kingdom or house. The uniqueness that would make these people the heroes of the time and star in the great medieval epic Songs. That pride and honor can also be found in the Galgo world. Our protagonists, those thin but strong sighthounds, give themselves away to their tasks, house and owner who also becomes a hero if the acting of his hound is good enough. I have heard many times that there is some pride in creating a winner galgo, to breed a bloodline that would bring a name to the house and envy to all others. Maybe that is the ingredient we very seldom talk about when referring to the Galgo world, the ego of the creator.


Cervantes left nothing to chance and carefully selected each of the words and ideas that shaped his Quixote. So it's no coincidence that our protagonist and his Galgo appear together in the first sentence, a capital one, in the most famous novel written in Spanish:


"In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a Galgo for coursing. An olla of rather more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays, made away with three-quarters of his income."


Don Quixote pursues the eternal ideal of manhood that Cervantes means when he says, "the true nobility is in your virtue"; that quality is what identifies the "Fidalgo" or "gentleman" . " A gentleman must be the son of his own deeds and justify his honor with them." Cervantes agrees here with Sebastian de Covarrubias Orozco and his 'Treasury of the Castilian or Spanish Language' (1611):

Fidalgo (referred to Don Quixote but very applicable to the Galgo as well) is a very typical term in Spain. It commonly describes a gentleman of noble, pure and old lineage. Being the son of such line means to have inherited from their parents and elders what is called 'something'. That something is the nobility. And he who does not inherit nobility from parents can take it by his virtue and value. He will be the son of his works and the beginning of his lineage, leaving their descendants something they can boast and pass on. "

As Fidalgos, Galgos also prove their worth with their performances in the race, showing a quality that instead of being called nobility is something called "Race". To have ÒRaceÓ or ÒrazaÓ is to posses a provision of character that pushes the dog to always follow the prey, never to stop no matter how much it hurts. With his speed and elegance, their performance and behavior in the game and in life, Galgos justify their honor and tile. So, as said before, with their nobility, Spanish sighthounds are truly gentlemen, canine examples of "race".


Don Quixote himself, who is owner of this symbolic position and a title of nobleman, could have a Galgo. Now, Quixote has all the elements and attributes to be the carrier of the universal values of chivalry and so he says:


"Know, friend Sancho, I was born, by Heaven, in this our iron times to revive in them the golden or gold age. I am he for whom are reserved perils, mighty achievements, and valiant deeds " (I, XX)


In Don Quixote as in any other book about chivalry more animals are present, often associated with fabulous beasts and mythological creatures, but also as references to the everyday reality of the time. So we know that our Quixote as a knight had his horse, Rocinante, who was not only mount but also teammate of battles and adventures. He also as a gentleman had certain privileges including having a "greyhound". Having a greyhound not only speaks of honor and pride, but also of certain social structure.


Not all men had the necessary class to own Galgos, like not all knights had falconry birds either. Cervantes tells us that when talking about the life of Don Diego Miranda, in Chapter XVI of The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote:


"I am more than moderately rich, my name is Don Diego de Miranda; I spend my life with my wife, my children and my friends; my exercises are hunting and fishing; but I do not keep neither falcon nor Galgo, but a tame partridge or a bold ferret. "



The Galgo appears here as a symbol of distinction and is associated with wealth and abundance.

Dogs and the Galgo particularly appear in the novel with negative connotations as well. It occurs, for example, when the figure of a fictional character named Cide Hamete, to whom Cervantes assigns the authorship of part of Don Quixote, is referred to as "the Galgo of the author", meaning that he is not to be trusted. Another example appears in chapter 39, which is the story of a captive, where to be an infidel is equaled to being a dog. But in this case it comes from the perspective of an Arab character, Zoraida's father, and dogs are impure animals for Islam. So, here, the dog has become a moral and a religious symbol.

It would be interesting to do further study on how the Galgo has been discussed in the literature, so if you, readers, have any reference to book or work of art in which Galgos appear we would love to hear about it. Please leave it in comments.


Author: Bárbara Vidal Munera

Editor/ Translator: Yeray López Portillo