Great Artists Steal

Don Quixote Painting

I remember reading Don Quixote and thinking about what a great writer Cervantes was when I came to this passage:

“Nevertheless,” said the traveller, “if I remember rightly, I think I have read that Don Galaor, the brother of the valiant Amadis of Gaul, never had any special lady to whom he might commend himself, and yet he was not the less esteemed, and was a very stout and famous knight.”

To which our Don Quixote made answer, Sir, one solitary swallow does not make summer; moreover, I know that knight was in secret very deeply in love; besides which, that way of falling in love with all that took his fancy was a natural propensity which he could not control.

The summer swallow metaphor stood out to me as classic.

Cut to two days ago and I’m reading excerpts from Nicomachean Ethics when this line caught my attention:

But we must add ‘in a complete life.’ For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.

You’ve been caught red-handed, Cervantes. Don Quixote is still an all-timer, but maybe you’re not as supremely brilliant as I once thought. Oh well. It’s far from the worse crime ever committed. The rest of the novel is very original and fantastic, so you’re forgiven.

I think almost all writers steal from the past. They usually don’t lift exact lines like Cervantes. Most writers steal content and rearrange it. Then, as an extra layer of disguise, they add the trappings of their own aesthetic.

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