Sancho offers to care for Don Quixote’s bleeding ear. Don Quixote tells him about the Balsam of Fierbras, which he says has the power to cure any wound and is easy to make. Sancho suggests that they could make money by producing the balsam, but Don Quixote dismisses the suggestion. Upon seeing the damage the attendant did to his helmet, he swears revenge, but Sancho reminds him that the attendant promised to present himself to Dulcinea in return. Don Quixote abandons his oath of revenge and swears to maintain a strict lifestyle until he gets a new helmet. Unable to secure other lodging, the two sleep out under the sky, which pleases Don Quixote’s romantic sensibilities but displeases Sancho.
In every way Don Quixote’s opposite, Sancho Panza serves as a simple-minded foil to his master’s complex madness. Cervantes contrasts these two men even on the most fundamental levels: Don Quixote is tall and gaunt and deprives himself in his pursuit of noble ideals, while Sancho is short and pudgy and finds happiness in the basic pleasures of food and wine. Sancho is a peace-loving laborer who leaves his family only after Don Quixote promises to make him a governor. Don Quixote’s violent idealism befuddles Sancho, who consistently warns his master about the error of his ways. Sancho eats when he is hungry but accepts Don Quixote’s fasting as a knightly duty. He complains when he is hurt and marvels at his master’s capacity to withstand suffering. Sancho’s perception of Don Quixote informs our own perception of him, and we identify and sympathize with the bumbling Sancho because he reacts to Don Quixote the way most people would. Through Sancho, we see Don Quixote as a human being with an oddly admirable yet challenging outlook on life.
At the same time, Sancho makes it difficult to sympathize with him since he participates in his master’s fantasy world when it suits his own interests. In robbing the monk, for instance, Sancho pretends to believe that he is claiming the spoils of war. He takes advantage of Don Quixote’s sincere belief in a fantasy world to indulge his greed, a trait that does not fit with our conception of Sancho as an innocent peasant.
Unlike many of the novel’s battle scenes, which at times seem mechanical and plodding, the battle between Don Quixote and the attendant is genuinely suspenseful. As opposed to the fight scene with the guests at the inn or the charge at the windmills, this battle is graphic. Unlike Don Quixote’s previous foes—inanimate objects, unsuspecting passersby, or disapproving brutes—the attendant attacks Don Quixote with genuine zeal, which, along with the attendant’s skill, heightens the battle’s suspense. The attendant accepts the myth Don Quixote presents him—that they are two great enemies battling for honor. The fight thus takes on epic proportions for Don Quixote, and its form underscores these proportions, since the men verbally spar, choose their weapons, and engage. After several blows, the battle concludes when Don Quixote defeats his opponent and forces him to submit to the humiliaton of presenting himself to Dulcinea.
Cervantes’s sudden interruption of the narrative draws attention to the deficiencies of the work and, by implication, those of other heroic tales. Cervantes’s claim that the tale is factual is undercut when he stops the story due to a gap in the alleged historial account. Cervantes seems to be showing his scholarship by cutting off the narrative to credit its source, but the source he then describes turns out to be incomplete. At best, Don Quixote now appears to be a translation—and not even Cervantes’s own translation—which gives the novel a more mythical feel. Though myths are powerful for those who believe them, they are vulnerable to distortion with each storyteller’s version. In forcing us to question the validity of the story during one of its most dramatic moments, Cervantes implicitly criticizes the authorship and authenticity of all heroic tales.
In his famous charge at the windmills, we see that Don Quixote persists in living in a fantasy world even when he is able to see reality for a moment. Don Quixote briefly connects with reality after Sancho points out that the giants are merely windmills, but Don Quixote immediately makes an excuse, claiming that the enchanter has deceived him. This enchanter is not entirely fictional—Don Quixote has so deceived himself with his books of chivalry that he seeks to make up excuses even in the face of reality. Throughout the novel, Cervantes analyzes the dangers inherent in the overzealous pursuit of ideals, as we see Don Quixote continually constructing stories to explain a belief system that is often at odds with reality.