Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra is one of the most recognized Spanish authors largely due to the success of his novel Don Quijote de la Mancha, published in 1580. Cervantes, however, led a very difficult life; it seems the writer fit the mold for the starving artist stereotype. Nonetheless, his passion for theatre and literature drove the man to create a masterpiece that has withstood the test of time.
There is no official birth date on record for Cervantes but Michael, the name he was given, after St. Michael, suggests September 29th, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel. It is noted that Cervantes was christened on October 9th, 1547 and born in Alcala, a city near Madrid.
Cervantes´ childhood was somewhat nomadic and very unsettled. His father, Rodrigo de Cervantes is recorded as being a barber-surgeon or pharmacist-surgeon. The family was constantly moving around in search of towns in need of his services. And quite a large family it was, Cervantes was the 4th of 7 children, Cervantes mother was named Leonor de Cortinas.
In terms of education, Cervantes had very little, or perhaps formal coursework was simply never recorded. He was a student of the Spanish humanist Juan Lopez de Hoyos in Madrid, from 1568-1569 only to go to Rome the next year under the watch of Guilio Acquavita. Acquavita was ordained as a cardinal in 1570.
Cervantes, with many other Spanish men, next went to Rome to find a better life and seek an opportunity to fund his writing. Cervantes ended up joining the Spanish infantry in Naples instead. It should be noted that throughout his military experiences Cervantes enjoyed his time and was popular amongst the ranks.
In 1571, the headwaters of war met at Cyprus. In the Mediterranean, on the Gulf of Lepanto, the Ottman Empire was moving to expand power and land control. Cervantes´s company was called to fight. Cervantes fought honorably as many accounts have stated. However, he also sustained a wound to the chest and a debilitating wound to the left hand that earned him the nickname Manco de Lepanto (Maimed of Lepanto).
Shortly after the Gulf of Lepanto, Cervantes was on passage home when his vessel was captured by pirates. Cervantes was taken to Algiers and kept in slavery for 5 years despite several failed escape attempts.
In 1580 with the help of family and enormous sums of money gathered by the Trinitarian monastery, Cervantes was released. It is speculated during his captivity Cervantes gathered material and inspiration for his first works and Don Quijote characters. His first plays, Los tratos de Argel (The Treatment of Algiers) and Los baños de Argel (The Baths of Algiers) were based on his time held captive in Africa.
In 1584 Cervantes married Catalina de Salazary Palacios, the couple did not have any children although Cervantes did have a daughter through an affair with an actress. Cervantes would leave his wife and face unrelated financial difficulties that landed him in jail several times, once suspected of murder (he was never tried).
In 1605, now in Madrid, the first installment of Don Quijote was released and was met with immediate success. In 1615, the second and final installment was published and also had great success; both pieces were translated into English, French, and Italian. Unfortunately, Cervantes had sold the rights to his work and although some of his financial burdens were eased he never managed his money well enough to be a wealthy man. The silver lining for Cervantes could only have been the literary recognition for his talent, the majority of which came after his death.
Cervantes also wrote dozens of plays and short stories though none as popular or as heralded as Don Quijote. For example, 12 Novelas Ejemplares (12 Exemplay Novels) published in 1613. In Ocho Comedias y Ocho Entremeses (Eight Comedies and Eight Interludes, 1615) Cervantes says his farewell to his readers in the prologue as he knew death was approaching. His final novel, Los trabajos de Persiles y Segismunda (The Exploits of Persiles and Segismunda) was published at the end of his life in 1616.