From Avellaneda's Continuation of Don Quixote, chapter 6, p. 34 (circa 1614, translated by Yardley 1784 apparently after the French of Le Sage 1705 but it all seems very confusing). Don Quixote says:

[...] you should see your undaunted master deliver himself up to the most dreadful dangers with such resolution, that you could not but compare him to Alexander the Great! And you would be in the right for so doing: for I will lay a wager, and it is past all dispute, that if my breast were opened, my heart would be found hairy, as was that valiant king's.

Apparently there was a meme that Alexander's heart was found to have hair on it? I'm not familiar with this story. Can anyone track down a source for it, or any other references to it? Or know which figure Quifauxte was misremembering as Alexander here?

The closest Google gave me was an 1878 curiosity about a woman killed by a hair growing into her heart, which is not very close at all.

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    Possibly useful reference dictionary.net, "Pericarditis in which the heart is seen post mortem to be covered with a shaggy, fibrinous exudate; cor hirsutum, cor tomentosum, trichocardia, shaggy pericardium."
    – MCW
    Jan 27 at 19:51
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    @MCW thank you! "Cor hirsutum" was indeed the key search term; I'll write up my findings in an answer. Jan 27 at 23:16
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    Just for completeness, a link to the Spanish original: books.google.de/books?id=APgAAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA38.
    – ccprog
    Jan 27 at 23:23
  • A medical journal article discusses ancient references to heroes with hairy hearts going back at least as far as Homer, but doesn't mention Alexander specifically.
    – Brian Z
    Jan 28 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


Thanks to MCW's comment above: The Latin for "hairy heart" is "cor hirsutum," and it's the key to unlock the search results. TLDR: Quifauxte is confusing Alexander with either Aristomenes of Messene, or possibly Alexander's dog.

The first step for me was this result, which seems to be the "Aristeides of Miletos (FGH 286)" entry from Brill's New Jacoby (2012). It's talking about a reference to Aristeides found in pseudo-Plutarch's Parallela minora 306D:

[Leonidas] made his way up to Xerxes and snatched off his crown. When he was dead the barbarian king cut out his heart and found it covered with hair. So says Aristeides in the first​ book of his Persian History. [Loeb Library's footnote: "Cf. Stobaeus, Florilegium VII.65; Lydus, De Mensibus 167."]

(The original Jacoby is here.)

Now, Brill's New Jacoby has its own commentary (by Paola Ceccarelli); she points to David Ogden's Aristomenes of Messene (2004), where we find a multi-page discussion of cor hirsutum.

Ogden first quotes Stephanus of Byzantium's Ethnica:

When [the Spartans] finally defeated [Aristomenes] in the Messenian wars, they cut him open [...] and they found his innards to be extraordinary and his heart to be shaggy (δασει̃αν), as Herodotus, Plutarch, and Rhianus say.

(Plutarch may have written a "Life of Aristomenes," but if so, this is the only trace of it. Plutarch does say that Herodotus says that the Spartans defeated Aristomenes, but it seems that Herodotus didn't even say that, let alone anything about a hairy heart.)

Also found in Pliny's Natural History 11:

Aristomenes, the Messenian [...] the Lacedæmonians opened his breast while he was still alive, and his heart was found covered with hair.

Ogden lists six other instances of cor hirsutum, the first five of which are plausibly linked to bravery, and/or perhaps wolf-likeness (the wolf being peculiarly relevant to Sparta):

  • Heracles' companion Stichius of Aetolia, per Ptolemy Chennus (summarized by Photius in Bibliotheca cod. 190);
  • Leonidas, per above;
  • Lysander, per Eustathius' commentary on the Iliad (1.189);
  • an unnamed dog belonging to Alexander, per Eustathius again;
  • a dog named Briareus belonging to one of the Ptolemies, per Ptolemy Chennus again;
  • the rhetorician Hermogenes of Tarsus, per the Suda (Greek, English).

(Ogden says that Malcolm Heath thinks Eustathius was simply mistaken in both cases: he wrote "Alexander's dog" when he meant Ptolemy's, and "Lysander" for Leonidas. Malcolm Heath (1998), "Hermogenes' biographers," Eranos 96.)

Ogden also points out that Homer's Iliad refers to both "Patroclus, of the shaggy heart" (Book 16) and "Pylaemenes of the shaggy heart" (Book 2), using shagginess-of-heart as a metaphor for sturdy bravery.

So, in conclusion: Various Greeks have been described as "shaggy-hearted," as far back as Homer in the metaphorical sense, and then later in the literal sense. But Alexander the Great was never one of them.

In the context of Avellaneda's Quixote, this might be a true mistake by the author; but it could also be the character of Quixote making the malapropism (similar to how the true Quixote refers to "Perseus's thread" in Book 1); or it could even be a deliberate "slip" by the author in character as a writer of medieval romance (similar to how Sancho's donkey gradually reappears after being stolen). See Tom Lathrop (2010), "Don Quixote and its Errant Author," New England Review 31:4.

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