The King of Naples!
Saying something is true does not make it true. Just ask Alonso Quixano. That man’s mind, infected by the madness of books, feeds him the lie that instead of a simple country hidalgo he is actually a knight-errant of old destined for great chivalric adventures under the name of Don Quixote. Don Quixote, therefore, embarks on great battles against fearsome giants while in search of his Lady, Dulcinea del Toboso. None of this is real. The giants are merely windmills and the Lady is a local farm girl. What is real is the picture Alonso Quixano’s story paints of the inner life of a man wholly consumed by self-deceit. It’s a story so rich and universal that Arthur Schopenhauer considered it to be among the greatest novels ever written and, today, Leo Tolstoy plays a variation on the theme with the historical character of Joachim-Napoléon Murat.
Like Alonso Quixano, Joachim-Napoléon Murat is invested in a fake title, a fictitious personality. That unearned and impossible title is King of Naples. He received that designation because his brother-in-law, Napoleon, gave it to him. He wasn’t born into it, he did not earn it, and if it wasn’t for Napoleon’s exploits he never would have possessed it. It’s clear Tolstoy is disdainful of Murat and his title. He writes: “Though it was quite incomprehensible why he should be King of Naples he was called so, and was himself convinced that he was so, and therefore assumed a more solemn and important air than formerly.” It’s this quixotic behavior of Murat’s — his attempts to assume an idealized persona of regality contrary to his true nature — that Tolstoy continually draws our attention to in today’s chapter.
There is a lesson here for all of us. Don Quixote is inauthentic. The King of Naples is inauthentic. These identities should not be pursued. We should focus instead on developing our Alonso Quixano, not our Don Quixote, on improving our Joachim-Napoléon Murat, not our King of Naples.
Fortune may always change, but not character. Therefore, subjective blessings, — a noble nature, a capable head, a physique, in a word, mens sana in corpore sano, are the first and more intent on promoting and preserving such qualities than on the possession of external wealth and external honor.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life