This is a question about Don Quijote de la Mancha (Edición conmemorativa de la RAE y la ASALE / 400th-anniversary commemorative edition by the Spanish language academies).

In Chapter XXVI of the second (1615) par,: the puppeteer Maese Pedro says something in the lines of "more impropierties than atoms has the sun".

The translation is horrendous (sorry). He says that even if he says (with his puppets) as many things as the number of atoms in the sun, he doesn't care as long as he gets the money.

This edition includes lots of annotations for words not used in modern Spanish (the edition is almost identical to the original by Cervantes) but this is the first instance of a modern word (atom) present there with its present meaning (small build blocks of the sun). The only meaning of atom before that (that I know of) is "indivisible".

Can someone explain?

Edit with the text in Spanish:

Lo cual oído por maese Pedro, cesó el tocar y dijo:

No mire vuesa merced en niñerías, ni quiera llevar las cosas tan por el cabo, que no se le halle. ¿No se representan por ahí casi de ordinario mil comedias llenas de mil impropiedades y disparates, y con todo eso, corren felicísimamente su carrera y se escuchan no sólo con aplauso, sino con admiración y todo? Prosigue, muchacho, y deja decir, que como yo llene mi talego, siquiera represente más impropiedades que átomos tiene el sol.

  • 6
    The idea that matter is made up of tiny indivisible units called "atoms" goes back to Democritus in the 5th century B.C. No reason Cervantes and Quixote wouldn't have heard of Democritus's atomic theory. Of course the "atom" of Democritus was a far cry from the atom of modern physics.
    – user14111
    Mar 20, 2020 at 1:13
  • 2
    Shakespeare certainly knew the word. In As you Like It Celia says, "It is as easy to count atomies as to resolve the propositions of a lover." And in the same play Phebe tells Corin, "Thou tell’st me there is murder in mine eye:/’Tis pretty, sure, and very probable,/That eyes, that are the frail’st and softest things,/Who shut their coward gates on atomies,/Should be call’d tyrants, butchers, murderers!" Mar 20, 2020 at 2:34
  • @user14111 I was aware of that but hadn't seen any use of the concept (neither the word nor its meaning) in any text written before 1900 or so. According to the other comment about Shakespeare, it seems to be more common than I initially thought.. Thanks! Mar 21, 2020 at 16:25
  • 1
    @pedro Atomism was featured in Lucretius's De rerum natura which was rediscovered in 1417, so both Shakespeare and Cervantes could have been acquainted with it. I don't know how plausible it is for a puppeteer in Don Quixote's Spain to be so well versed in philosophy.
    – user14111
    Mar 22, 2020 at 1:44
  • Translated here as 'motes'; books.google.co.uk/…
    – Valorum
    Apr 17, 2020 at 23:07

1 Answer 1


Enrique Suárez Figaredo, in his edition to El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de La Mancha, uses the contents of the entry "átomo" in the Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española by Sebastián de Covarrubias to interpret it as specks of dust:

n. 52 átomos del sol: motas de polvo. Lo explica el Tesoro: Comúnmente llámamos átomos aquellas moticas que andan en el aire y sólo se perciben por el rayo de sol que pasa por el resquicio de la ventana.

My translation:

n. 52 "átomos del sol": specks of dust. As explained in the Tesoro: We commonly call atoms those small specks of dust that hang in the air and are only perceived by the ray of sunlight that passes through the gap in the window.

The Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española is the first dictionary of the Spanish language, compiled by Sebastián de Covarrubias in 1611.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.