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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2729

The ancestors of Guzmán de Alfarache lived in Genoa, upstart noblemen who had grown rich in trade. Like others of his family, Guzmán’s father was a dealer on the exchange, resorting even to usury in order to add to his wealth, although he piously heard mass every morning and owned a rosary with beads as large as hazelnuts. His love of money led him into his greatest adventure, for when a partner in Seville became bankrupt and carried away some of the money belonging to Guzmán’s father, the Genoese took ship for Spain in an attempt to recover some of his lost property. On the way, his ship was captured by Moorish pirates, and the merchant was sold into slavery in Algiers. Envisioning no other way out of his difficulty, he embraced the faith of Allah and so was able to marry a rich Moorish widow. Secretly, he took possession of her money and jewels and fled with them to Seville. There, after some time, he found his former partner, recovered most of his debt, made his peace with the Church, and settled down to live the life of a gentleman, trading in money for his profit and gambling for his pleasure.

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Now a prosperous man, he bought two estates, one in town, the other at San Juan de Alfarache. One day he saw the mistress of an old knight and fell in love with her. The lady was not unwilling to share her favors between her two lovers, so that Guzmán could say in later life that at the time of his birth he had possessed two fathers. When the old knight died, the woman carried away all of his property and a short time later married Guzmán’s true father. The merchant did not long survive but died a bankrupt, impoverished by his gambling and love of rich living. Left penniless, Guzmán decided to seek his fortune elsewhere. Calling himself Guzmán de Alfarache, after his father’s country estate, he started out at the age of fourteen to see the world.

Unused to walking, he soon tired and slept supperless that night on the steps of a church not far from Seville. The next morning, his way led him to a wretched inn, where the hostess cooked him a breakfast omelet of eggs filled with half-hatched chicks. He ate the mess ravenously, but before he had traveled a league from the inn, he became violently ill. A passing muleteer laughed heartily when Guzmán told his story, and in his glee, he invited the boy to ride with him. As they rode along, the muleteer told how the hostess of the inn had tried the same trick on two lively young fellows who had rubbed her face in the omelet and daubed her with soot.

Meanwhile, Guzmán and the muleteer had found two friars by the roadside. Since they were on their way to Cacalla, they were willing to hire two of the carrier’s mules. That night the travelers stopped at a village inn where the landlord fed them a freshly killed young mule instead of veal. The next morning, after discovering the deception, Guzmán and the muleteer threw the whole inn into an uproar. During the confusion, two alcaldes appeared and took the rascally landlord into custody. Guzmán and the muleteer left the town in great haste.

Some distance beyond the village they were overtaken by several constables looking for a page who had stolen from his master. Mistaking Guzmán for the page, they seized him, and when the muleteer tried to interfere, they bound him as well. After the prisoners had been severely beaten, the constables, convinced of Guzmán’s innocence, allowed the travelers to continue on their way. To help Guzmán and the carrier to forget their aching bones, one of the priests told the romantic story of Ozmin and Daraxa, a tale of the Moorish wars.

By the time the story ended, they were in sight of Cacalla, where they parted company. The muleteer demanded more for Guzmán’s transportation and lodging than the boy could pay. The two friars decided...

(The entire section contains 2729 words.)

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