A Tantalus of letters

From Miguel de Cervantes’ Novel of the Glass Lawyer (Novela del licenciado Vidriera):

In the crowded circle of people who, as we have said, were always listening to him, was an acquaintance of his in a lawyer’s cassock and cloak whom someone called Señor Licentiate. And since Vidriera knew that the man did not even have a bachelor’s degree, he said to him:

“Be careful, compadre, that the friars who redeem captives don’t find your diploma, because they’ll take it from you as common property.”

To which his friend responded:

“Let us treat each other nicely, Señor Vidriera, for you already know I am a man of high and profound letters.”

Vidriera replied:

“I know you are a Tantalus of letters, because some get away from you because they are too high and you cannot reach the profound ones.”


En la rueda de la mucha gente que, como se ha dicho, siempre le estaba oyendo, estaba un conocido suyo en hábito de letrado, al cual otro le llamóSeñor Licenciado; y, sabiendo Vidriera que el tal a quien llamaron licenciado no tenía ni aun título de bachiller, le dijo:

-Guardaos, compadre, no encuentren con vuestro título los frailes de la redempción de cautivos, que os le llevarán por mostrenco.

A lo cual dijo el amigo:

-Tratémonos bien, señor Vidriera, pues ya sabéis vos que soy hombre de altas y de profundas letras.

Respondióle Vidriera:

-Ya yo sé que sois un Tántalo en ellas, porque se os van por altas y no las alcanzáis de profundas.

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