Don Juan
Language Resources

Don Juan. Myth or Reality?

It is usually said, half jokingly, that Spaniards are evenly divided between "Don Quijotes and Don Juans". This is a way, albeit superficial, of classifying ourselves. It also demonstrates the importance in Spanish culture regarding both the figure of the idealistic knight as well as the incorrigible lothario.

But when we speak of Don Juan are we referring to a myth or a real person? Experts have given us some important information regarding this question. The myth of Don Juan came from the pen of Spanish writerTirso de Molina in his work from 1630, "El Burlador de Sevilla" ("The Trickster of Seville"). This character had so much strength and his last name, Tenorio, was very common for that time that people came to believe that the character was real. This belief would last for hundreds of years. Spanish experts, like 19th century Frenchman Louis Viardot, and scholars like Gregorio Marañón spoke of a Cristobal Tenorio as someone who could have had various affairs—including the Lope de Vega's daughter!

Don Juan

Today, we know that Don Juan is a fictitious character, but there are some writers that have wanted to see in this character references to real people lke Jacobo de Grattis—known as the "Caballero de Gracia"—a nobleman from Modena, Italy who achieved fame as a womanizing playboy who later, repentant of his behavior, became a priest.

The Don Juan that we know today comes from the 19th century Spanish writer, José Zorrilla. There are some who speculate that his creation takes elements from the life of the Conde de Villamediana who was the supposed lover of the wife of King Philip IV of Spain. As we mentioned in an earlier article, the Count would end up being murdered by people believed to be close to the king or his overseer, the Duke of Olivares.

These are just a couple of theories behind the legend of the Don Juan. If you investigate on your own a little, you will find numerous historical references and debates revolving around this character. The legend of Don Juan remains alive and well!

Other Famous Spanish people