Love #26: The Shepherdess Marcela


While questing for adventure and renown, the knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha and his squire Sancho chanced upon a burial party of twenty shepherds garbed in black wool. They wore garlands  of yew and cypress. The shepherds were taking a suicide for burial at the foot of a mountain near a pass. 

The shepherd Chrysostom had taken his life because his love was not reciprocated by the shepherdess Marcela. Don Quixote joined the party out of respect and curiosity to witness the ceremony.

Dark poetry written by Chrysostom was found and read to the assembly in the wilderness. It told of his passion for Marcela, her beauty, and her rejection of his advances. The party was moved by his sad words. 

Then they were surprised by Marcela's unexpected appearance near to the ceremony, to defend her name. 

Let us hear her words:

"If Chrysostom’s impatience and violent passion killed him, why should my modest behavior and circumspection be blamed? 

If I preserve my purity in the society of the trees, why should he who would have me preserve it among men, seek to rob me of it? 

I have, as you know, wealth of my own, and I covet not that of others; my taste is for freedom, and I have no relish for constraint; I neither love nor hate anyone; I do not deceive this one or court that, or trifle with one or play with another. The modest converse of the shepherd girls of these hamlets and the care of my goats are my recreations; my desires are bounded by these mountains, and if they ever wander hence it is to contemplate the beauty of the heavens, steps by which the soul travels to its primeval abode.”

Don Quixote was much taken by her speech and by her earlier reflections on love. He forbade that any of the mourners chase her thereafter. Marcela's views about love bear repetition:

"Heaven has made me, so you say, beautiful, and so much so that in spite of yourselves my beauty leads you to love me; and for the love you show me you say, and even urge, that I am bound to love you. 

By that natural understanding which God has given me I know that everything beautiful attracts love, but I cannot see how, by reason of being loved, that which is loved for its beauty is bound to love that which loves it... 

[S]upposing the beauty equal on both sides, it does not follow that the inclinations must be therefore alike, for it is not every beauty that excites love, some but pleasing the eye without winning the affection; and if every sort of beauty excited love and won the heart, the will would wander vaguely to and fro unable to make choice of any; for as there is an infinity of beautiful objects there must be an infinity of inclinations, and true love, I have heard it said, is indivisible, and must be voluntary and not compelled."

Dangerous currents swirl around us when words of an imaginary shepherdess at an imaginary burial on the edge of an imaginary mountain, witnessed by an imaginary knight can color our understanding of love.

Copyright Dark Aelf, 2021 

Return to Love (Short Story Series) INDEX 

notes: Not content to skewer the tattered vestments of feudal society, Cervantes here steps into our future and asks, through the imaginary Marcela, painful questions that beset our relationships worldwide. Within the structure of her dialogue, one might also hear a direct engagement of the views put by Diotima, with affection and mutuality given specific emphasis.


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