Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Pasados más de tres siglos, esta célebre novela satírica continúa hoy vigente; una cumbre de la literatura universal que es a la vez un relato de aventuras y una crítica sobre la construcción de las sociedades modernas.

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An illustration from the 1880 edition of Gulliver’s Travels shows the protagonist captured in Lilliput.

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Born in 1667 in Dublin, Jonathan Swift is famous as a satirist who helped to shape the early novel. He worked as a personal assistant to the essayist Sir William Temple and later became an Anglican priest. He wrote essays, poetry and political pamphlets. His early satires, A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books (1704), examine English ideas and morals, but his best-known work is Gulliver’s Travels.

MAN-MOUNTAIN

Written soon after the publication of Robinson Crusoe (1719), Gulliver’s Travels is a four-part political polemic and a parody of travel literature. It quickly became a bestseller. A fictional ship’s surgeon called Lemuel Gulliver narrates the tale. Shipwrecked on the remote island of Lilliput, Gulliver becomes a “Man-Mountain” at the mercy of a race of tiny people:

“I attempted to rise but was not able to stir: For as I happened to lie on my Back, I found my Arms and Legs were strongly fastened on each side to the Ground; and my Hair, which was long and thick, tied down in the same manner […] In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left Leg, which advancing gently forward over my Breast, came almost up to my Chin; when bending my Eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human Creature not six Inches high, with a Bow and Arrow in his Hands […]” 

“Intenté levantarme, pero no lo conseguí. Me hallaba tumbado de espaldas y mis brazos y piernas, junto con mi larga y abundante cabellera, estaban fuertemente amarrados al suelo por ambos lados […] Al poco rato sentí que algo vivo se movía por mi pierna izquierda y avanzaba suavemente hacia el pecho hasta casi la altura de la barbilla. Cuando bajé los ojos tanto como pude, divisé una criatura humana que no llegaba a seis pulgadas de altura, con un arco y una flecha en las manos.”

GIANTS

Lilliput, Gulliver discovers, is a place of trivial disputes. He helps the king resist invasion from a neighbouring country and puts out a fire in the royal palace by urinating on it. When he falls from favour, Gulliver is forced to escape by sea. His second adventure marks a change in perspective, as giants inhabit the land of Brobdingnag. Here, Gulliver is exhibited as a miniature curiosity and kept at the royal court. He almost drowns in a bowl of cream and is attacked by giant wasps. And the king is unimpressed by Gulliver’s description of England:

“By what I have gathered from your own Relation, and the Answers I have with much Pains wringed and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.”

“Tal como he deducido de tu propio relato y de las respuestas que con gran dificultad he entresacado y extraído de ti, sólo puedo llegar a una conclusión: el grueso de tu raza constituye, en su conjunto, la especie más maligna de odiosos y pequeños bichos a los que la naturaleza haya jamás permitido deslizarse por la superficie de la Tierra”.

FLYING ISLAND

Gulliver’s third adventure combines fantasy and science fiction as Gulliver climbs on board the flying island of Laputa. Inhabited by an educated elite, and used as an astronomical observatory, the island hovers above the continent of Balnibarbi, watching for signs of rebellion:

“[…] the Reader can hardly conceive my Astonishment, to behold an Island in the Air, inhabited by Men, who were able (as it should seem) to raise, or sink, or put it into a Progressive Motion, as they pleased.”

“[...] difícilmente imaginará el lector mi asombro al ver una isla en el aire habitada por personas al parecer capaces de elevarla, bajarla y hacerla avanzar a su antojo.”

HORSES

Swift saves his most savage critique for last, when Gulliver arrives in the land of the Houyhnhnms, a race of horse-creatures. He finds the animals to be more intelligent, caring and communal than the primitive humanoid Yahoos. After many years, when Gulliver finally arrives home, he prefers the company of horses to humans:

“My Horses understand me tolerably well; I converse with them at least four Hours every Day. They are Strangers to Bridle or Saddle, they live in great Amity with me, and Friendship to each other.”

“Mis caballos me entienden bastante bien. Suelo hablar con ellos un mínimo de cuatro horas diarias. Desconocen la brida y la silla; viven una gran amistad conmigo, y en armonía entre ellos.”

EPITAPH

Since its first publication, Gulliver’s Travels has never been out of print. Despite its success at the time, the book faced a backlash for its misanthropy and criticism of human beliefs. Swift remained unapologetic, and when he died in 1745, was buried in Dublin with the famous epitaph “Ubi saeva indignatio ulterius cor lacerare nequit” (“Where fierce indignation can no further tear apart his heart”).

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