"to tilt at windmills"
Gustave Dore's illustration of Don Quixote
Creative Commons AttributionGustave Dore's illustration of Don Quixote

Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes is a comic masterpiece in the mould of the quintessential chivalric romance. The comedic hero, Don Quixote, is seen as unsuitable in many ways to the task he has set himself and incongruous to his surroundings. Accompanied by Sancho Panza as his man at arms, mounted astride a mule rather than a charger, the aging protagonist is undeterred, gamely fighting even inanimate and unthreatening windmills which his imagination mistakes for the giants of an epic quest, in a parody of the best tradition of myth and legend.

The author, similarly unsuited to the task, creates in Antarctica a chivalric proving ground of his own imagination where he fights the Antarctic winds with his kites (the Sabre and the Blade), and other obstacles largely created by his own mind. The allusion also acknowledges that the self-aggrandisement in being an ‘explorer-adventurer’ is ultimately bathetic and anachronistic. Just as Don Quixote was a century or two too late for the era of chivalry, the author, too, is a far cry from the golden era of polar exploration.


Don Quixote on Book Drum