On April 19 1616, now ill with dropsy and only a few days from death, Miguel de Cervantes wrote the dedication for The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda to Pedro Fernández de Castro, Count of Lemos:
“In the stirrup,
with the agony of death upon me,
great lord,I write to you…”
His last great work came out in January of 1617, when the author was already dead, thanks to the endorsement of the master Josef de Valdivielso. The book was published, almost simultaneously, in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Pamplona, and also abroad (in Lisbon and Paris).
The book is in the vein of the genre known as ‘Byzantine novel’ with Hellenistic roots. It tells the story of the complicated romantic relationship between Periandro and Auristela (Persiles and Sigismunda), a story of adventures in the style of the Greek novel but with details tailored to the vision of Catholic Spain. As Cervantes says in his Exemplary Tales, mentioning Persiles, he was writing a “book that dared to compete with Heliodorus…”.
Cervantes choose a Nordic prince and princess as his protagonists: Persiles and Sigismunda. The pair of lovers decide to make a pilgrimage to Rome to get married. To achieve their goal they have to change their identities, as in any good novel of this genre, and pass themselves off as brother and sister, changing their names to Periandro and Auristela. During their escape to Italy they must overcome obstacles that serve to confirm and strengthen their love and reinforce the image of the universal literary hero: a character that must always fight for his fate in order to receive his reward.