Ellie Augustine, "Memory, Mirroring and Mimesis: Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Cervantes’ Don Quixote"

Ellie Augustine

Ellie Augustine grew up on the outskirts of Overland Park in Bucyrus, KS. Her freshman year of college at the University of Kansas, she entered a Great Books program called Humanitas that greatly impacted her life. The deep wonder and awe of the academic and experiential knowledge that Humanitas fostered led her straight to the Classics Department at KU.

Ellie Augustine
Classical Languages BA (2020), Philosophy and Spanish Minors

Cervantes’ Don Quixote is filled with a myriad of references to Classical Literature. In particular, Ovid’s Metamorphosis is particularly noticeable throughout the novel. Throughout Don Quixote, in plot and in structure, multiple allusions and echoes, as well as direct references, emerge in relation to the Metamorphoses. In Memory, Mirroring, I show how Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a basis for Cervantes’s Don Quixote. There are certain themes that run throughout both texts and which unite them, first, on a narratological level, and second, on a plot level. In analyzing three particular stories from Ovid – the story of Arachne, the story of Echo and Narcissus, and the story of Pyramus and Thisbe – we are able to draw out three important themes – memory, mirroring and mimesis. These themes create a link not only between the two works over the span of history, but intertextually.

Through an engagement with three important stories from the Metamorphoses, we see a foundation for themes, structures, and plot lines which run through Don Quixote. In the story of Arachne, we find a basis for the metaphor of the tapestry as a representation of storytelling and a repository of human memory through writing and weaving. In the story of Echo and Narcissus, we see the ways in which Cervantes has mirrored aspects of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and inverted them to fit the medieval framework of Don Quixote. Lastly, in the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, we see a model for imitation and the ways in which fictional stories reflect and permeate real life. This concept of mimesis helps to relate the events and themes in both Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Cervantes’ Don Quixote to the lives of the modern reader and allows them to participate in the classical and medieval worlds. In this final chapter, themes which we had touched upon in previous sections returned in order to tie up the loose ends of the tapestry that is Don Quixote.

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