Little is known of Cervantes's youth. He went to Italy (1569), where, in the service of a cardinal, he studied Italian literature and philosophy, which were later to influence his work. In 1570 he enlisted in the army and fought in the naval battle of Lepanto (1571), receiving a wound that permanently crippled his left arm. While returning to Spain in 1575 he was captured by Barbary pirates and was sold as a slave; he eventually became the property of the viceroy of Algiers. After many attempted escapes, he was ransomed in 1580, at a cost that brought financial ruin to himself and to his family. As a government purchasing agent in Seville (1588–97), Cervantes proved less than successful; his unbusinesslike methods resulted in deficits, and he was imprisoned several times.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.