"a student at Salamanca University"

   The oldest university in Spain, mentioned several times throughout Don Quixote.  Founded in 1243 it was a prestigious institution by Cervantes' time, graduates taking positions of great authority throughout the Empire.  Along with other Spanish universities it declined in wealth and prestige following the Golden Age.

'Columbus Before the Council of Salamanca' by William Henry Powell (1847)
Public Domain'Columbus Before the Council of Salamanca' by William Henry Powell (1847)

   The university was bound up with a particularly Cervantine confusion when American writer Washington Irving, in Chapter III of his fictionalised history The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828), cast members of it faculty as dogged representatives of irrational ignorance, disputing Columbus' theory of a spherical earth.  Despite the story's persistence there was no such organised argument from the university against Columbus who, rather than proposing a new shape for the earth, held the truly radical belief that Asia was only a few thousand nautical miles west of Europe.

Salamanca
Creative Commons AttributionSalamanca - Credit: Rob Hilken

   Today the University of Salamanca is more prized for its rich history than academic excellence, still numbering among Spain's top universities.  There is no evidence to support the speculation of some biographers that Cervantes, who grew up in a poor household, was ever a student there.  Salamanca's own website merely insinuates this, with the less bold but still unsupported claim that the author "walked along the University’s corridors".

 

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