Cide Hamete Benengeli writes that after Quixote came back to his home village, the priest and the barber did not come to see him for a month to avoid stirring up old memories. Finally they come to visit him and he speaks very sensibly on many different subjects – until they begin discussing the war with the Ottoman Empire. Quixote tells them that the best possible solution is to call all the knights in Spain and send them into battle. The two men realize that he still believes in knight-errantry and therefore must be as mad as ever.
We have said before that Quixote’s romantic ideals are not just aesthetic: he wants to remake society entirely. In this light, his interest in the war and his proposed solution are significant. He believes that knights can best serve the Spanish empire – not only because of their exceptional strength and courage, but also because of the force of their moral conviction.
The barber decides to tell them a story about a learned man with a BA who lost his mind and spent a lot of time in a Sevillian insane asylum. After a few years, the man wrote to the archbishop to say that he was absolutely sane, and that his family was keeping him in the asylum in order to rob him of his income. The archbishop sent a chaplain to ascertain whether the man was sane or not. After speaking to the student and listening to his learned and sensible opinions, the chaplain decided that the man was sane and deserved to be removed from the asylum.
The learned man in the story resembles Quixote in that he acts and speaks with a peculiar mixture of sanity and insanity, intelligence and delusion. The barber wants to make Quixote see himself as this doubled, split personality, with one foot in reality and one foot out of it, so that Quixote might see his own absurdity and renounce it.
The man was glad to hear the news, but he asked to say goodbye to his friends in the asylum before leaving, and the chaplain decided to accompany him. The man told some of his friends that he was sane now, and that he was leaving the asylum for good. One of the men in the asylum was so upset by these news that he called himself Jupiter and threatened to withhold rain from the region for three years. The student replied that, since he was Neptune, he could protect the region from drought. The chaplain told him he’d better stay with Jupiter for now and left him in the asylum.
The man is intelligent and sensible when he speaks of world issues with the chaplain. But once he is speaking to his mentally ill friends in the asylum, he himself becomes mentally ill. The barber tells the story to shame Quixote, but in fact the story describes the fragility and elusiveness of sanity. Perhaps the man simply adapts to his circumstances, like a chameleon.
Don Quixote reproaches the barber for making such callous comparisons. He explains that he is not a madman trying to prove his sanity; he is only trying to show the world that it is wrong not to revive the wonderful practice of knight-errantry, which does so much good, and exemplifies so many great human qualities. Knights nowadays, he says, are spoiled courtiers instead of hardened warriors. Jupiter will not rain, but he “shall rain as often as I like.”
After his lonely convalescence, Quixote is not quite as cheerful and oblivious as we left him. He is more self-aware, more canny. He knows very well that other people consider him insane, and he has created a strong defense.
The barber apologizes, and the priest tells Quixote that he can’t help but feel that all the histories of knights are dreams and lies. Quixote explains that this is “an almost universal misconception to the light of truth,” a truth that is almost “palpable” with one’s senses. The priest asks him some questions about the nature of famous giants, knights, and princesses, and Quixote responds in vivid detail. Just then, they hear the housekeeper and the niece shouting in the yard.
Earlier, we saw Quixote describe truth as something that sustains people. Here, he clarifies his position. He tells his friends that they are wrong about the nature of truth. The truth is not the opposite of a dream or a lie: it is something that warms a person (as dreams and lies sometimes do), something that a person feels as true. He is describing an unscientific, non-factual truth.