Formally called Don Quixote: The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha, the adventures of wannabe hero Don Quixote de la Mancha and his steadfast sidekick, Sancho Panza, are one of Spain's great literary treasures. Written by Renaissance rockstar Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the tale is a ton of fun, but who knew that Cervantes actually lived a life worthy of the nutty knight errant he wrote about?
For quite a few years, Cervantes served as a Spanish soldier. He left his Iberian home after fighting a duel (which technically he wasn't supposed to do) and decided to fight for his king. In the 1570s, he fought in Italy and Turkey, then decided to sail back home in September 1575, no doubt eager to kick his feet up. But a bunch of "Barbary pirates," a.k.a. North African privateers, had other ideas...
A lithograph of the real Miguel de Cervantes. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
While on his way home, these pirates captured Miguel and his brother, Rodrigo. The siblings were held prisoner for five long years in Algiers (now the capital of Algeria); they had a huge ransom out on their names, one that their relatives back home had trouble gathering. Perhaps, as some have suggested, the pirates figured he was more important to the Spanish ruling class than he actually was, so they ramped up the ransom. How did the Cervanteses spend their time in captivity? Trying to escape over and over again. Much like Don Quixote's plans, each attempt failed.
In 1580, Miguel was released after Trinitarian monks finally managed to raise money for his ransom. This particular monastic order was actually founded to free Christian captives. Cervantes may well have had PTSD from this experience; either way, the incredibly traumatic time is reflected in his later works.
Image of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza via Luis García/Wikimedia Commons.