Tuesday, November 8, 2011
What is the name of Sancho Panza's donkey?
And of course the answer is: Sancho Panza's donkey has no name. Isn't this odd? Miguel de Cervantes is very specific about the name of Don Quixote's horse, Rocinante, so why doesn't the donkey, which accompanies DQ and SP on all of their journeys, except for an interlude during which he is stolen, then recovered, have a name? On the most obvious level, it's a class thing: both among people (DQ is of the gentry, although there are insinuations that the "Don" of his title is of recent and shady acquisition) and SP is a peasant. Also, a horse is of a higher "class" of animal than a donkey. But still, why no name? I think there's a sense in which the capacity to and the desire to name animals is a sign of luxury, of having too much time for games and frivolity: to name an animal is of course to anthropomorphize it, and a peasant, who has to work the animal to near death, may someday have to sell or trade it, is less likely to give his animal a name so that he is more able to see the animal as a tool or a commodity. There's also a sense in which names are emblems of accomplishments: the various monikers that DQ acquires over the course of the novel are a testament (his testament) to his deeds of valor. But SP earns no sobriquet, nor does his donkey earn a name: they're just functionaries, means to an end - or at least that's what DQ thinks, though we know better.