Thursday, December 31, 2009

Vasco de Lobeira did not write Amadís de Gaula

The original version had more than one author, and they remain anonymous.

[Part of a medieval manuscript of Amadís de Gaula, now at The Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley and displayed at the Columbia University Libraries Digital Scriptorium.]


In 1803, in the preface to his translation of Amadís de Gaula, Robert Southey wrote:

"Amadis of Gaul was written by Vasco Lobeira, a Portugueze, [sic] who was born at Porto, fought at Alijubarrota where he was knighted upon the field by King Joam of Good Memory, and died at Elvas, 1403."

That's no longer believed today. Over the past two centuries, scholars have collected more information about Amadis, and the evidence points to a14th-century Spanish genesis of the story. Although tales of chivalry originated with King Arthur, brought from Britain to Europe via France, they quickly took hold in the royal courts of Spain.

In Spain, King Alfonso X of Castilla y León (1252-1284) ordered stories of chivalry be read to knights during meals to inspire them, and future kings continued that practice. Chancellor Pero López de Ayala, born in 1332, wrote about hearing Amadis in his youth, and other contemporary references show that Amadis was well known that part of Spain in the early decades of the 1300s. Vasco de Lobeira would have been too young to write Amadis.

In fact, there are enough references in Spanish sources to trace the development of the story: two books in the early 1300s; three books at the end of the century that altered the plot somewhat to incorporate political and social changes in Spain; and four books in Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo's version, which also altered the plot to be more acceptable to his times — that is, he created a happy ending.

Sometimes Amadis has been attributed to the Portuguese troubadour João de Lobeira (1258-1285), but the verse cited to support that seems to have been written in the 1400s. In fact, all the claims that either Vasco or João Lobeira wrote Amadis were made by Portuguese writers the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Another problem with the Portuguese thesis is the lack of any manuscripts of Amadis made in Portugal from that era or any other. Manuscripts were claimed to exist, but they later disappeared.

But four fragments from Book III, Chapter 68, of a manuscript of Amadis were discovered in 1956. They had been used to bind a newer book. (Old parchments were often used for that in the Renaissance, which is why so many medieval manuscripts have been lost.) The handwriting dates them to around 1420, and the language is contemporary 15th-century Castilian. It contains a few Castilian-Leonese archaisms but no hints of any original Portuguese.

So, who wrote the first version of Amadis of Gaul — or the second version, for that matter? We still don't know. But some candidates can be eliminated.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chapter 24 [last half]

[How Sir Galaor came to learn who the dead knight was and how he died.]

[Inside the Royal Castle in Segovia, Spain. Photo by Sue Burke.]


Sir Galaor remained alone with the dead knight, since he had ordered his squire to chase after his horse, and waited for more than five hours in the night. Then sleep overcame him, and he laid his head on his helmet and placed his shield over him and slept for a long time. But when he woke up, he did not see the light of any of the candles that had been burning before, nor did he find the dead knight, which troubled him greatly, and he said to himself:

"Surely, I ought not to attempt what worthy men do, for I knew to do nothing other than sleep, and because of that I have failed to keep my promise. But I shall pay the price that my negligence deserves, and I shall search on foot for that which, had I been awake, I would have learned without any trouble."

As he thought about how he could find the trail of those who had come, he heard a horse whinny, and he went toward it, but he could not find it anywhere. Then he heard another horse somewhat farther away, and he continued traveling down that road. When he had gone some distance, dawn broke, and he saw two armed men before him. One was on foot, reading the words that were written on a stone, and he said to the other one:

"They were too free in sending me here, for it seems like a rather pointless errand to me."

He mounted his horse, and they left together. Galaor called out:

"My lord knights, would ye be able to tell me who took a dead knight that lay beneath the tree at the crossroads?"

"Truly," one of them said, "we do not know, but after midnight we saw three damsels and ten squires go by, and they carried a bier."

"Well, where were they headed?" Galaor said.

They showed him the way and left, and he went down that road. Soon he saw a damsel coming toward him, and he said to her:

"Damsel, by chance do ye know who took a dead knight from under the tree at the crossroads?"

"If ye promise me to avenge his death, which was a great sorrow to many men and women due to his noble character, I shall tell you."

"I promise that," he said, "since it seems to you that vengeance may be taken justly."

"That is very certain," she said. "Now come with me and ride on this palfrey, and I shall ride behind you on its haunches."

She wished to have him to ride in the sidesaddle, which he did not want to do at all, and riding behind her, they went where the damsel guided the horse. When they had gone two leagues, they saw a very beautiful castle, and the damsel said:

"There we shall find what ye ask for."

They arrived at the gate of the castle, and the damsel said:

"Enter, and I shall go. And tell me your name and where I may find you."

"My name," he said, "is Sir Galaor, and I believe that ye shall find me in the court of King Lisuarte sooner than anywhere else."

She left, and he entered the castle. He saw the dead knight lying in the center of the courtyard, and many people were mourning over him. He came up to an old knight who was there and asked who the dead knight was.

"My lord," he said, "he was such that everyone in the world rightly ought to mourn his death."

"And what was his name?" Galaor said.

"Antebon," he said. "And he was born in Gaul."

Galaor felt more pity for him than before, and he said:

"I beg you to tell me the cause of his death."

"I shall gladly tell you," he said. "This knight came to this land and, being noble, he married that lady who weeps over him, who is the proprietress of this castle. They had a very beautiful daughter, who was loved by a knight who lives near here in another fortress. But she disdained him more than anyone else. The dead knight had the custom of going to the tree at the crossroads because he often encountered adventures as a knight errant and was able to correct the wrongdoers who went past, and he accomplished so much at arms that in these lands he was greatly praised.

"One day, as he was there, by chance the knight who loved his daughter rode past him to the castle where the damsel was with her mother. He rode into this very courtyard where she was playing with other women. He took her by the arm and left before anyone could close the gate, and brought her to his castle. There the damsel did nothing but weep, and the knight told her:

" 'My dear, I am a knight and I love you very much. Will ye not take me in marriage, since I have more riches and a higher rank than your father?'

" 'No,' she said, 'not willingly, because I have sworn an oath to my mother.'

" 'And what oath was this?'

" 'Not to wed nor to love any knight except he who is praised for his feats at arms, like the knight whom my mother married and who is my father.'

" 'Do not refuse me for that, for I am not less valiant than your father, and within three days ye shall know it.'

"Then he left the castle armed and on his horse, and he went to the tree in the crossroads, where he found this knight on foot beside his horse with his arms next to him. When he arrived, without saying a word, he struck Antebon with his lance in the throat as ye see here, before he could take up his arms, and he fell to the earth mortally wounded. The knight then dismounted and gave him all those blows with his sword that ye see here until he killed him."

"May God help me," Galaor said, "the knight's death is a great injustice, and everyone ought to mourn him. Now tell me why they put him beneath the tree at the crossroads."

"Because many knights errant pass by there, and they were told what I have told you so that perhaps one of them would be such as to avenge him."

"Why did ye leave him unattended?" Galaor said.

"There were always four squires with him," the knight said, "until last night, when they left because the other knight had sent them threats, and that is why we took him from there."

"I am very sorry that I did not see you," Galaor said.

"What?" he said. "Are you the one we saw asleep, lying on his helmet?"

"I am," he said.

"And why did ye remain there?" the knight said.

"To avenge his death, if it can be justly done," Galaor said.

"Ye are willing to do that now?"

"Yes, truly," he said.

"Why, my lord," the knight said, "may God in His mercy let you do so in honor."

He took him by the hand, brought him to the bier, made the mourners be quiet, and said to the lady:

"My lady, this knight says he will do his best to avenge the death of your husband."

She fell at his feet to kiss them, and said:

"Oh, good knight! May God give thee thy reward, for my husband has no family or friends in this land to do it for him because he is a foreigner here, but when he was alive, many looked well on him."

Galaor said:

"My lady, he is from the land where I am from, so I have more cause to avenge him, since I was born where he was."

"My dear sir," the lady said, "by chance are ye the son of the King of Gaul, who my lord said was in the court of King Lisuarte?"

"I was never in his court," he said, "but tell me who killed your husband and where I can find him."

"My good sir," she said, "I shall tell you and guide you there, but I am afraid that ye may fail to do your duty out of fear, as did others who were sent there."

"My lady," he said, "this is what separates good men from bad men."

The lady ordered two damsels to guide him.

"My lady," Galaor said, "I arrived here on foot." He told her how he had lost his horse, and said, "Order one to be given to me when I go."

"I shall do so willingly," she said, "provided that if ye do not avenge him, ye shall return the horse to me."

"I agree," Galaor said.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Index of dramatis personae, Chapters 0-24

A list of the major characters, to help those who have gotten confused or who have just joined.

[Tomb of El Doncel (the Young Nobleman) Martín Vázquez de Arce in the Cathedral of Sigüenza, Spain. He served as a pageboy to Queen Isabel of Castile and died in 1486 at age 25 while fighting in the conquest of Granada.üenza]


As is typical of medieval novels, Amadis of Gaul features a number of intertwining plotlines and an enormous cast of characters and families. Here is an alphabetical list through Chapter 24 of the major protagonists and antagonists who will appear in subsequent chapters.

Agrajes: Son of King Languines of Scotland, cousin of Amadis, and a fine knight. He is in love with Olinda, Princess of Norway. He and his uncle Galvanes free a damsel from being burned at the stake in Chapter 16, which earns them the sworn enmity of the Duke of Bristol. In Chapter 23, Agrajes, Galvanes, and a knight named Olivas arrive at the royal court.

The greatest knight in the world. He is born out of wedlock to King Perion of Gaul and Princess Elisena of Little Brittany. As a newborn, he is cast into the sea in a wooden ark and recovered by a Scottish knight, Gandales, who raises him as a son. From Chapter 2 to 10, he is known as Childe of the Sea. At age 12, he meets Princess Oriana of Great Britain and they fall in love, but he is a boy with no name or estate and she is the daughter of a powerful king, so theirs is an impossible, secret love. He grows up to be handsome, brave, and a fierce protector of all women as well as the oppressed. His love for Oriana can overcome his senses, however, and he hopes that as a knight, he can achieve such feats as to be worthy of her. In Chapter 10, he learns who he is. In Chapter 15, he agrees to serve Queen Brisena, Oriana's mother. He leaves Windsor to search for his brother Galaor. In Chapter 24, he has found Galaor and they are returning to the royal court when he goes dashing off to rescue a damsel in distress.

Angriote d' Estravaus:
He loves Grovenesa, who hates him, so she orders him to guard a valley and make all knights who pass through it swear that she is the most beautiful woman in the world, and if they refuse, Angriote must fight them; she hopes that someone will kill him. In Chapter 18, Amadis, who cannot bear to say that any woman is more beautiful than Oriana (no woman is, actually), defeats Angriote but spares his life and thus wins his everlasting loyalty. In Chapter 23, Angriote arrives at the royal court.

Arcalaus the Sorcerer:
He fights Amadis in Chapter 18 and defeats him with an evil spell, but Amadis is rescued from death by two nieces of the sorceress Urganda. Amadis then frees 115 men and 30 knights held in a horrible prison in Arcalaus's castle. In Chapter 20, Arcalaus goes to the royal court to announce that he has killed Amadis, but everyone hates Arcalaus for it, so he leaves; the truth is soon known. Expect more trouble from Arcalaus.

A dwarf who becomes Amadis's vassal in Chapter 18.

Balais of Carsante:
One of the knights freed by Amadis from Arcalaus's prison. He intervenes in a fight between Amadis and Galaor in Chapter 22, then joins them on their trip to the royal court in Windsor. In Chapter 24, he rides off after a knight who attacked their horses.

Wife of King Lisuarte of Great Britain, daughter of the King of Denmark, mother of Oriana. Amadis is her knight.

Damsel of Denmark: She serves Oriana. Always level-headed, she has upbraided Amadis, Oriana, and Mabilia when they were acting foolish.

Galaor: Legitimate son of King Perion of Gaul and Queen Elisena. He is stolen as a toddler by a giant in Chapter 3. He is knighted by Amadis, who does not know him, in Chapter 11. He is an excellent and fearless knight, but not especially intelligent and not at all chaste. Galaor serves as a comic foil to his brother. He and Amadis meet in Chapter 22 while wearing helmets and thus fail recognize each other, and they fight to near death. In Chapter 24, Galaor is traveling to Windsor with Amadis and Balais when they find a murdered knight beneath a tree.

Son of the Scottish knight Gandales, who found Amadis as a newborn in the sea. They were raised together as brothers, and he has become Amadis's loyal squire.

King of Great Britain, husband of Brisena, father of Oriana.

Daughter of King Languines of Scotland, close friend of Oriana.

The most beautiful woman in the world. Daughter of King Lisuarte and Queen Brisena. She falls secretly in love with Amadis as a child, and, as adults, they confess their love to each other in Chapter 14. When Arcalaus says in Chapter 20 that he has killed Amadis, she almost dies of grief.

Urganda the Unrecognized: Sorceress who can assume any disguise and thus pass unrecognized; protector of Amadis and Galaor.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chapter 24 [first half]

How Amadis, Galaor, and Balais decided to go to King Lisuarte, and the adventures that happened to them on the way.

[The tomb of William de Valance the Younger, who died in 1282, in Dorchester Abbey, Dorchester-on-Thames, England. Photo by Sean McLachlan, ]


Amadis and Galaor remained in the house of Balais of Carsante until their wounds were healed, then they decided to leave for the court of King Lisuarte before they became involved in other adventures. Balais greatly wished to be at that court, especially since he had met two knights such as these, so he asked them to take him with them, which they willingly granted.

The three heard Mass, armed themselves, and took the most direct road to Windsor, where the King was. They traveled so fast that within five days they arrived at a crossroads where there was large tree, and they saw below it a dead knight on a rich bier. A candle burned at his feet and another at his head, and they were made so that no wind, no matter how strong, could have blown them out.

The knight was fully armed and not covered by a sheet. He had many blows on his head, and a piece of iron lance had pierced his throat and come out of the back of his neck. Both his hands were placed on it, as if he wished to pull it out.

They were astonished to see the knight like that and wanted to ask about him, but they saw no one and nothing around them where they could find out. Amadis said:

"Not without great cause would this knight be dead here this way, and if we wait, some adventure will come along soon."

Galaor said:

"I swear by the faith that I have as a knight to remain here until I know who this knight is and why he was killed, and to avenge him if reason and justice demand it."

Amadis, who dearly wished to continue on the road to see his lady, to whom he had promised to return as soon as he had found Galaor, felt distressed to hear this, and he said:

"Brother, what you have promised troubles me greatly, for I fear that ye will be detained here for some time."

"It is done," Galaor said.

He got off his horse and stood next to the bier, as did the other two so as not to leave him alone. This was sometime between the ninth hour and vespers. As they looked at the knight, Amadis said that he must have reached with his hands to remove the piece of lance while he was still breathing, and his hands had remained there.

They had not waited long before they saw a knight and two squires coming down one of the roads. One squire had a damsel sitting in front of him on his horse, and the other carried the knight's shield and helmet. The damsel was sobbing, and the knight struck her on the head with his lance, which he carried in his hand.

As they passed the bier where the dead knight lay, the damsel saw the three companions, and she said:

"Oh, good knight who hath come to lie there in death! If thou wert alive, thou wouldst not let them take me this way, instead thou wouldst place thy body in the face of any danger. The deaths of these three would be worth more than thine alone!"

The knight struck her even more angrily with the shaft of his lance, and blood ran down her face. They passed by so quickly it was amazing.

"Now I say to you," Amadis said, "that I have never seen a knight as vile as this to injure a damsel that way. God willing, I shall not let this violence continue." He said, "Galaor, brother, if I do not return soon, go to Windsor, and I shall come when I can. Balais will keep you company."

Then he mounted his horse, took up his arms, and said to Gandalin:

"Ride after me."

And he galloped after the knight, who had already gotten far ahead. Galaor and Balais waited there until nightfall. Then a fully armed knight came down the road that Amadis had taken, groaning over an injury to his leg, and he said to Galaor and Balais:

"Do ye know who the knight who is that went galloping down this road?"

"Why do ye ask?" they said.

"Because I wish him a bad death," he said. "He rides so bravely that it seems that all the devils ride with him."

"What brave act did he do to you?" Sir Galaor said.

"He did not wish to tell me where he went so fiercely," he said. "I took his horse by the reins and I told him to either tell me or fight with me. He angrily told me that if I did not let him go, it would take him longer to tell me than to free himself from me by battle. He drew back and we charged at each other, and he struck me so hard that he threw me and my horse on the ground and left my leg as ye see it."

They began to laugh, and Sir Galaor said:

"Next time it would be better to suffer not knowing what another man is doing than to demand an answer against his will."

"What!" the knight said. "Ye laugh at me? Truely, I shall make you less willing."

And he went to where the horses were and slashed Galaor's on its face with his sword, which made it rear up and break its reins. It fled into the fields. The knight wished to do the same to Balais's horse, but he and Galaor took their lances, ran at him, and stopped him.

The knight left, saying:

"If I did anything wrong to the knight, I paid for it, and so ye paid for laughing at me."

"May God not help me," Balais said, "if ye do not give up your horse for the one that ye let loose."

Immediately he mounted his horse and told Galaor that he would return the next day, if fate did not prevent it.

"Go with God," he said.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Five links to the past

Some interesting websites related to Amadis or medieval times.

A detail from an illumination in The Romance of Alexander the Great.


The Romance of Alexander the Great
BibliOdyssey has reproduced some stunning pages from a manuscript of The Romance of Alexander the Great, produced by the workshop of the Flemish illuminator, Jehan de Grise, between 1338 and 1344. Click on the photos for the large and very large images to appreciate the gold-leaf detail.

History Cookbook's Normans/Medieval section
This site offers English recipes and podcasts of their preparation, along with food facts, health facts, and notes about life in those times. It's aimed at British school children, but we're never too old to learn. The whole site covers Britain from prehistoric to postwar/modern times.

The F-Word: The Problem with Feudalism
Historian Melissa Snell explains why the word feudalism "has the power to annoy, disgust, and even upset the ordinarily cool and collected medievalist." The problem, she says, that feudalism never existed in medieval Europe.

Exposición Alfonso X el Sabio
An exhibit in Murcia, Spain, open now through January 31, recounts the life and contributions of Alfonso X the Wise (1221-1284), King of Castilla y León. He led developments in literature, science, scholarship, music, and law. The site is in Spanish, but non-Spanish-speakers can still enjoy the music and images.

Semi-staged Handel, with care
The Boston Globe reviews a recent performance of Handel's Amadigi de Gaula, a Baroque opera loosely based on Amadis of Gaul. The reviewer concludes that the music was better than the plot. The libretto leaves out the frequent blood-spattered jousts and focuses on a love story, and the role of Amadigi is written for a castrato. (!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chapter 23

How King Lisuarte, leaving to hunting as he usually did, saw three armed knights coming down the road, and what happened to him with them.

[Illumination from Jean Froissart's Chronicles, published in the mid-1400s. It depicts the knights of King John II of France bursting in on King Charles II of Navarro in 1336 at the Dauphin's castle in Rouen.]


As King Lisuarte was very fond of hunting and would have been a huntsman if he had been free of the affairs that went with his authority, he often went to hunt in the forest near Windsor; because it was well protected, it had many deer and other wild animals. He always dressed in hunting clothes, since he did everything according to its proper form.

One day, while he was with his game beaters near a large road, he saw three armed knights coming down it, and he sent a squire to tell them to meet him. When they heard this, they left the road and entered the forest where the squire guided them. Know ye that these were Sir Galvanes the Landless, his nephew Agrajes, and Olivas, who had gone with them to challenge the Duke of Bristol. They brought with them the damsel whom they had saved from death when she was about to be burned at the stake.

When they neared the King, he immediately recognized Sir Galvanes and said:

"Sir Galvanes, my good friend, be very welcome!" And he went to embrace him, saying, "I am very pleased to see you."

With equal goodwill he received the others, for, more than any other man in the world, he received knights who came to his court with great affection and honor.

Sir Galvanes told him:

"My lord, ye see here Agrajes, my nephew, and I present him to you as one of the best knights in the world, and if he were not, I would not present him to such a great man as you, whom so many good and esteemed knights serve."

The King, who had already heard many praises of the deeds of Agrajes, was very happy with him, embraced him, and said:

"Truly, good friend, I owe you many thanks for coming, and indeed I feel guilty because I knew about your great valor and did not ask you to come."

The King knew Olivas well, who was a member of his court, and said:

"My friend Olivas, I have not seen you for a long time. Truly, I would not want such a good knight as ye are to be parted from me."

"My lord," he said, "things have happened to me against my will that have caused me to be out of your sight and service. And now I am not wholly free of them and must still face many challenges and duties."

Then he told how the Duque of Bristol had killed his cousin, which made the King sad because he was a good knight, and he said to Olivas:

"My friend, I hear what ye say. Tell it to the court, and a deadline will be set for the Duke to come and respond."

Taking them with him, he left the hunt and went to the town, and on the road he learned how the damsel whom they brought with them had been freed from death when she was going to be burned because of Sir Galaor. The King told them how Amadis had gone to look for Galaor, and of the great surprise that Arcalaus had given them when he said he had killed Amadis.

Agrajes was shocked to hear it, and said to the King:

"My lord, do ye know for certain that Amadis is alive?"

"I know it for certain," he said. And he told him what he had learned from Brandoivas and Grindalaya. "And ye should not doubt it, for I am fully satisfied, and it would give no one any advantage to desire his life and honor."

"We believe that his great valor makes him worthy of your esteem and love," Agrajes said, "as all good men wish for other good men."

When the King and the knights arrived at his palace, the news was known immediately in the chambers of the Queen, which caused great happiness there, above all to the beautiful Olinda, Agrajes's beloved, who loved him as she loved herself. After her in happiness was Mabilia, his sister. When she learned he had come, she left the chamber of the Queen and met Olinda, who told her:

"My lady, are ye not joyful because your brother has arrived?"

"Yes, I am happy," Mabilia said, "for I love him dearly."

"Then ask the Queen to have him come here so ye may see him, because your happiness will give joy to all of us who love you."

Mabilia went to the Queen and said:

"My lady, it would be good if ye were to see my brother Agrajes and my uncle Galvanes, for they come in your service, and I greatly desire to see them."

"My dear," the Queen said, "I will do that gladly, for I am very happy to see two such knights as them in the court of my lord the King."

And then she sent a damsel to ask the King on her behalf to send them to her to see them. The damsel told him, and the King said to them:

"The Queen wishes to see you. It would be good for you to go."

When Agrajes heard this, he was joyful, for he hoped to see his lady, whom he loved so much and where all his heart and desire dwelled. It also pleased Sir Galvanes to see the Queen and her ladies and damsels, though not because he was in the extremes of love. So they went immediately before the Queen, who received them well, made them sit before her, and she spoke with them of many things, showing them her esteem, for she without doubt was one of the ladies in the world who best knew how to speak wisely with good men.

She was well esteemed and loved for that not only by those who knew her but even by those who had never seen her, for such is the preeminence that humanity gives to those great men and women who fulfill their duties with nothing less than virtue and nobility. Those who do the contrary reap the contrary: nothing could be worse in temporal affairs than to be scorned and abhorred.

Olinda stood next to Mabilia thinking that Agrajes would come talk to his sister, and he, while he spoke with the Queen, could not take his eyes from Olinda, for she was where his heart was. The Queen, who thought that he looked at Mabilia and wished to speak with her, told him:

"Good friend, go to your sister, who wishes to see you."

Agrajes went to her, and they received each other with the affection of siblings who love each other dearly, though true fraternal love is rare. Olinda greeted him much more with her heart than her face, holding back her emotions with her intellect, which she found hard to do, but it fell within that great discretion with which the damsel was gifted. Agrajes had his sister sit between him and his beloved, for in that way he would never have to take his eyes from her, and her sight gave him great consolation and relief.

And so he spoke with them, but as his thoughts and his eyes were on his lady, he barely understood what his sister was saying, thus he gave no answer nor attention to her questions. Mabilia, who was very wise, realized immediately what was happening, and she knew that her brother loved Olinda more than her, and Olinda him, for Olinda had already told her so. She had sat beside Olinda so that he could speak with her, and since she loved her brother as she loved herself, she thought in all things to seek his happiness. Knowing that nothing else would please him more, she said:

"My lord brother, call my uncle, for I would like to speak to him."

Agrajes was very pleased with this, and said to the Queen:

"My lady, may it be your mercy to call that knight here to us, so that his niece may speak to him."

The Queen had him come, and Mabilia approached him and wished to kiss his hands, but he pulled hers to him and embraced her, and said:

"My lady niece, let us be seated, for I wish to ask you how ye came to be in these lands."

"My lord," she said, "let us go to that window, for I do not wish my brother to hear my secret."

And Galvanes responded, laughing:

"Truly, it would please me, since he is not the type that should hear such good secrets as yours and mine."

And they went to the window, and Agrajes remained with his lady as he had wished, and seeing himself alone with her, he said:

"My lady, I have come here to serve you and to comply with your orders because my heart would find no rest elsewhere, and the sight of you shall be the reward for the cares and mortal desires that I continue to suffer."

"Oh, my lord and beloved," she said, "all-knowing God is the witness of the pleasure that my heart feels with your arrival. When ye are absent, I would not find delight even if everything in the world were at my disposal. I know that ye came to these lands only for me, and I must strive to reward you for it."

"Oh, my lady," Agrajes said, "may everything be done for your benefit, and my life shall never cease to be placed in confrontation with any opponent in the world at your service, and all those who would have you as their lady shall be alien to me."

"My beloved lord," she said, "ye are such that ye shall be victor over all others, and I shall never abandon you, may God help me. I am very happy to see how everyone praises you for the great deeds that they hear told of you."

Agrajes lowered his eyes with embarrassment to hear himself praised, and she ceased to speak of that. She said:

"My beloved, now that ye are here, what shall ye do?"

"As ye order me," he said, "for I have come to these lands for no other reason than to carry out your wishes."

"Then I wish," she said, "that ye await your cousin Amadis, whom I know ye love dearly, and if he advises you to join the company of the King, ye should do so."

"My lady," he said, "ye do me a great mercy in everything, for there is nothing that would give me more pleasure apart from you than to let my future be guided by the advice of my cousin."

Then, while they were speaking, as ye hear, the Queen called the knights, and they both went before her. The Queen knew Sir Galvanes well from the time when she was a princess living in the kingdom of Denmark, were she was born; there, as well as in the kingdom of Norway, he had done many great deeds and had the reputation of being a excellent knight.

While the Queen talked with Sir Galvanes, Oriana spoke with Agrajes, whom she knew well and loved, both because she knew that Amadis loved and esteemed him and because she was fond of his father and mother, who had raised her with great honor during the time when King Lisuarte had left her with them, as has been told to you. She said:

"My good friend, ye have given us great pleasure with your arrival, especially to your sister, who needed some cheer, for if ye knew what had happened to her with the news of your cousin Amadis's death, ye would be shocked."

"Truly, my lady, "he said, "my sister rightly ought to feel that way, and not only she but all those of us in her family, for if he were to die, the greatest leader of all of us would die, the best knight who ever put a shield around his neck or took a lance in hand. And his death would be avenged or accompanied by many others!"

"A bad death to that traitor Arcalaus," she said, "who knew well how to give us great sorrow!"

As they spoke, the knights were called on behalf of the King, and they went there. They found him ready to eat, and he had them sit at the table with the finest knights. While the tablecloths were being laid, two knights entered a gate of the castle. They knelt in front of the King, and he saluted them.

One of them said:

"My lord, is Amadis of Gaul here?"

"No," the King said, "but it would please us if he were."

"Truly, my lord," the knight said, "I would be very happy to find him, as someone who by him hopes to recover the happiness from which I am now separated."

"And what is your name?" the King said.

He answered: "Angriote d'Estravaus, and this other man is my brother."

King Arban of North Wales, when he heard that he was Angriote, got up from the table and went to him, who was still kneeling in front of the King, raised him up by the hand, and said:

"My lord, do ye know Angriote?"

"No," the King said. "I have never seen him before."

"Truly, my lord, those who know him hold him as one of the best knights at arms in all your lands."

The King rose and told him:

"Good friend, forgive me if I did not do you the honor that your valor deserves. It was because I did not know you, and I am very pleased with you."

"Many thanks," Angriote said, "and I am pleased to serve you."

"My friend," the King said, "where do ye know Amadis?"

"My lord, I know him, but not for long. And when I met him, it cost me dearly, even being injured to the point of death. But he, who did me the harm, also gave me the medicine to become well, as he who is the knight with the most good will in the world."

Then he recounted what had happened to him, as this story has presented. The King told Arban to take Angriote with him, which he did, and sat him at the table next to him. When they had begun to eat, speaking of many things, Amadis's dwarf Ardian entered, and Angriote, who saw him, said:

"Why dwarf! Thou art very welcome. Where didst thou leave thy lord Amadis, whom I saw thee with?"

"My lord," the dwarf said, "wherever I leave him, he loves and esteems you greatly."

Then he went to the King, and everyone grew silent to hear what he would say, and he said:

"My lord, Amadis sends you his praises and sends greetings to all his friends."

When they heard the news of Amadis, they were made joyous.

The King said:

"Dwarf, may God help thee, tell us where thou left Amadis."

"My lord," he said, "I left him where he was safe and healthy, and if ye wish to know more, put me in front of the Queen, for I must tell her."

"No one will be left without knowing it," the King said.

He sent for the Queen to come, who arrived immediately with fully fifteen of her ladies and damsels, and there were those who blessed the dwarf because, due to him, they got to see the women they loved.

The dwarf came before her and said:

"My lady, your knight Amadis sends me to kiss your hands, and to say to you that he has found Sir Galaor, whom he sought."

"Is it true?" the Queen said.

"My lady, it is true," the dwarf said, "without a doubt. But when he met him, it would have been a great misadventure if God had not brought a knight named Balais there at the right moment."

Then he told them everything that had happened, and how Balais killed the damsel who had brought the brothers together so they would kill each other, for which he was praised by the King and everyone else.

The Queen said to the dwarf:

"My friend, where didst thou leave him?"

"I left him in Balais's castle."

"And how did Sir Galaor seem to thee?"

"My lady," he said, "he is one of the most handsome knights in the world, and if ye were to see him next to my lord, it would be hard to tell one from the other."

"Truly," the Queen said, "I would be very pleased if they were here."

"As soon as they have healed," the dwarf said, "they will come, and I must wait for them here."

And he told them everything that had happened to Amadis while he had been with him. The King and Queen and all the knights were happy with this good news, above all Agrajes, who did not stop asking the dwarf questions.

The King asked and ordered all those who were there not to leave his company until Amadis and Galaor arrived, because he planned to hold a very honorable court for them. They agreed and praised him. He ordered the Queen to send for the most beautiful damsels of the highest rank, because, in addition to her being well accompanied, many valiant knights would come to serve the damsels, to whom the King would provide many honors and games and gifts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The house where Cervantes was born

As an adult, Cervantes suffers constant money troubles, but his parents had lived well.

[Don Quixote recites a passage from Chapter II of a book about him as we sit in front of Cervantes' Birthplace-Museum: "Happy the age, happy the century, when my deeds of fame shall be brought to light, worthy to be molded in brass, carved in marble, painted on canvas, to be remembered in the future." Photo by Jerry Finn.]


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote one of Spain's approximately 100 medieval and Renaissance novels of chivalry — and that single work eclipsed the rest of his opus, the rest of the genre, and possibly the rest of entire literary output of Spain, which is considerable.

So, of course, everything that Cervantes did has evoked tremendous interest, including being born. The exact date isn't known, but the place is: Calle Mayor (Main Street) 48, in Alcalá de Henares, a city near Madrid. He was baptized in Santa María Church nearby on October 9, 1547. His family left for Valladolid in 1551.

The house has been restored to its original appearance and has become Alcalá's most popular tourist attraction. Actually, it's a pretty ordinary house for a well-to-do family of the time, which is to say, it's nice.

Visitors get an excellent booklet to explain the house and its furnishings, and the staff can answer any question. However, the website is so outstanding that going there is almost better than a live visit, except that if you visited in person, you'd be in Spain, and what could compete with that?

The site is in both English:
and Spanish:

You will notice a book open and displayed on a stand in the Estrado, or Ladies' Parlor. Although you can't read the title in the photos, I took a close look when I was there, and it's Amadís de Gaula.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"From Best-Seller to Oblivion"

An essay in which I argue that we can't blame it all on Cervantes.

The November 2009 issue of the Internet Review of Science Fiction includes my essay "From Best-Seller to Oblivion: A Renaissance Literary Phenomenon." In it, I tell how the novel Amadis of Gaul became Europe's first publishing mega-hit in the 1500s, and how and why it was forgotten.

I suggest that Don Quixote de La Mancha did not cause its fall from grace — because fans of novels of chivalry enjoyed Cervantes' contribution to the genre, and they remained loyal readers. Instead, political attacks and bans on the books eventually eliminated Amadis from respectable bookshelves.

Read the essay at:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chapter 22

About how Amadis left the lady's castle, and what happened to him on the road.

[Sohail Castle, Fuengirola, Spain. This polygonal fortress stands on a small hill on the Mediterranean coast. A fort has stood there since the Phoenician era to protect the nearby town, but the current construction was built over an earlier Roman fortress and dates back to Moorish times. It was repeatedly attacked by the pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa in the 1500s and was sieged in 1810 during the War of Independence against Napoleonic troops. Photo by Cindy Van Vreede.]


Amadis said goodbye to the lady and the girl, went on his way, and rode without finding adventure until he came to a forest called Angaduza. The dwarf was riding ahead, and a knight and damsel were coming down the road towards them. When they neared the dwarf, the knight took his sword in hand and charged at him to cut off his head. The dwarf, in fear, let himself fall from his nag and said:

"Help me, my lord! They want to kill me!"

Amadis, who had seen it, galloped forward and said:

"What is this, my lord knight? Why do you want to kill my dwarf? You act without courtesy to strike such a poor thing. Besides, he is mine, and ye have not asked me for the right to do so. Do not lay a hand on him, for I must protect him from you."

"I am sorry ye must protect him," the knight said, "but it still falls on me to cut off his head."

"First ye must do battle," Amadis said.

They took up their arms, raised their shields, and came at each other as fast as their horses could gallop. Their lances struck each others' shields so hard that the shields failed along with their chain mail, and their bodies and helmets and horses collided. Both knights and horses fell, crashing in different directions.

But immediately they got on their feet and began to fight with swords, with such cruelty and might that anyone who saw it would have been terrified, as they themselves were, for never before had they encountered an opponent who put his own life in such peril. And so they continued attacking each other with great slashing blows for much of the day until their shields were shredded and cut in many places, as were their coats of chain mail, which by then offered them little protection. Their swords had encountered many opportunities to strike and find flesh, and their helmets had been cut and dented everywhere.

They had become very tired, and they pulled back. The knight said to Amadis:

"Knight, do not suffer any more on account of this dwarf. Let me do to him what I wish, and then I shall compensate you for him."

"Do not speak of that," Amadis said, "for I shall protect the dwarf in every way possible."

"Then, truly," the knight said, "either I shall die or the damsel who asked for his head shall have it."

"And I tell you," Amadis said, "that one of our heads will be lost first."

He took up his shield and sword and attacked again with great anger because the knight arrogantly and senselessly wanted to kill the dwarf, who had done nothing to deserve it. But if Amadis was brave, the other never flagged. Instead, he proved himself to be very valiant, and they exchanged great blows and tried to show each other their might and courage; thus each expected nothing for himself but death. Though the other knight was seriously injured, he could still fight Amadis with great strength.

While they were in perilous battle, as ye hear, by chance a fully armed knight approached the damsel, and when he saw the fight, he began to cross himself, saying that he had never in his life seen such a fearsome confrontation between two knights. He asked the damsel if she knew who those knight were.

"Yes," she said, "for I brought them together, and I can only leave here happy, since it would please me if either one of them were to die, and much more if they both did."

"Surely, damsel," the knight said, "that is not a good desire nor a pleasure. Instead one should pray to God for two such good men. But tell me why ye despise them so."

"I shall tell you," the damsel said. "The one with the shield more intact is the man who more than any other in the world who despises Arcalaus, my uncle, and whose death Arcalaus desires more than any other. The man he is fighting is named Galaor, and he killed the man whom I loved most in the world. Galaor owed me a boon, and I made sure to ask for something that would bring him death. Since I knew the other knight is the best in the world, I asked for the head of that dwarf. And so this Galaor, a very strong knight, must give it to me, and the other must defend it. They are both close to death, and which gives me glory and pleasure."

When the knight heard this, he said:

"Cursed be the woman who with such treason sought to make the two best knights in the world die!"

He took his sword from its scabbard and give her such a blow on her neck that her head fell at the feet of her palfrey. He said:

"Take this reward for thy Uncle Arcalaus, who put me into a cruel prison and from which that good knight rescued me!"

Then as fast as his horse could gallop, he went shouting:

"Stay, my lord Amadis, for this is your brother, Sir Galaor, whom ye have sought!"

When Amadis heard this, he let his sword and shield fall to the ground and ran towards Galaor, saying:

"Oh, brother, may blessings come to he who made us know each other!"

Galaor said:

"Oh, wretched and ill-fated me! What have I done to my brother and my lord?"

He knelt before him, weeping, and begged for forgiveness. Amadis raised him up, embraced him, and said:

"My brother, the danger ye put me in was well employed, for it was testimony to the test I put to your skill and ability at arms."

Then they took off their helmets and rested, which they badly needed. The knight told them what the damsel had said and how he had killed her.

"May ye be blessed," Galaor said, "for now I am free from her boon."

"Truly, my lord," the dwarf said, "it pleases me even more that ye have been released from that boon. I am also puzzled that she despised me, for I had never seen her before."

Galaor told them what had happened with her and her lover, as ye have already heard, and the knight said:

"My lords, ye are badly wounded. I beg you to ride with me to my castle, which is nearby, and recover from your injuries."

"God give you blessings for what ye have done for us," Amadis said.

"Surely, my lord, I consider myself blessed to serve you, for you took me from the most cruel and vicious prison than any man has ever suffered."

"Where was that?" Amadis said.

"My lord," he said, "in the castle of Arcalaus the Sorcerer, for I am one of the many who escaped there at your hand."

"What is your name?" Amadis said.

"They call me Balais," he said, "and since my castle is Carsante, I am Balais of Carsante. And I beg you, my lord, to come with me."

Sir Galaor said:

"Let us go with this knight who esteems us so highly."

"Let us go, brother," Amadis said, "since it pleases you."

Then they rode as best they could and arrived at the castle, where they found knights and ladies and damsels who received them with great acclaim. Balais told them:

"My friends, ye see that I bring the height of knighthood of all the world. This one is Amadis, who took me out of that awful prison. The other is his brother, Sir Galaor. And I found them at such a moment that if God in His mercy had not led me that way, one of them would have died, or perhaps both. Serve them and honor them as ye should."

Then they helped them off their horses and took them to a chamber, where they were disarmed and put into fine beds. There they were healed by two nieces of Balais's wife, who knew much about that ministry. The lady, their aunt, came to Amadis and very humbly thanked him for what he had done for her husband by rescuing him from Arcalaus's prison.

While they were there, as ye hear, Amadis told Galaor how he had left the court of King Lisuarte to look for him, and how he had promised to bring him back. He asked him to come with him, for in the whole world there was no royal court more honorable nor one where so many good men stayed.

"My lord brother," Sir Galaor said, "all that which pleases you I must follow and do, although I have to say that I thought I ought not make myself known there until my deeds gave testimony in some measure resembling your own, or I should die in the attempt."

"Truly, brother," Amadis said, "do not hold back for that. Your fame there is already such that mine, if anything, is being eclipsed by it."

"Oh, my lord," Galaor said, "by God, do not say something so mad, for not only in deeds but in wisdom I could not approach or equal your great might!"

"Let us set this aside now," Amadis said, "for in your deeds and in mine, next to the great skill of our father, rightly there should be no difference."

And then he ordered his dwarf to leave immediately for the court of King Lisuarte, there to kiss the hands of the Queen on his behalf and tell her that he had found Galaor and as soon as their wounds were healed, they would come there. The dwarf obeyed the order of his lord and got on the road to Windsor, where the King was at that time, well attended by all his knights.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Who was Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo?

We know little about the life of the knight who created the only surviving version of Amadís de Gaula.
[Detail from "The Descent from the Cross" by Pedro Machuca, which hangs in the Prado Museum. The Prado's online gallery displays the full painting with interesting commentary. The painting's frame includes an inscription that says, "This altarpiece was ordered made by do a Inés del Castillo, wife of Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo, alderman of this town." The man in the armor is apparently Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo, though he may be the author of Amadís or his nephew or grandson, who had the same name.]


In about 1450 in the city of Medina del Campo, Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo was born into the politically connected Pollino family, which held a hereditary seat on the city council. Medina del Campo, in the plains of central Castilla y León near Valladolid, enjoyed a large population and great wealth and from its two huge sheep fairs; wool held enormous economic importance at the time.

As a member of the minor nobility, Rodríguez de Montalvo grew up enjoying falconry and dreaming of great feats of arms, according to what he wrote about himself in the novel Las Sergas de Esplandián.

He had several children and earned his living as an alderman, verseeing municipal administration. The nobility also provided men at arms, and he joined the military regiment of Medina del Campo in the initial campaigns in the War of Granada. He was named a knight by the King Fernando and Queen Isabel in 1482 for his defense of Alama.

Although scholars debate the exact dates, he probably worked on Amadís de Gaula between 1482 and 1492, "correcting and polishing" medieval Books I, II, and III, adding Book IV (by changing the ending of Book III), and creating a fifth book about Amadis's son, Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Exploits of Espandian). Book I remains closest to the original. In some later editions, his name is inexplicably given as Garci Ordó ez de Montalvo.

In 1497 he (or his grandson or nephew of the same name) and another man from Medina del Campo were sued for adultery and sentenced to two months of exile from the province of Valladolid. In 1502, he was witness to a wedding — a secret one in Coca Castle between María de Fonseca and the Marqués del Cenete, Rodrigo de Mendoza; secret weddings were illegal at the time, but nothing involving the powerful Fonseca and Mendoza families could stay secret long.

These notes in legal documents are the only proof he was alive and doing anything.

He probably died in 1505, although that's far from certain. He may or may not have seen Amadís de Gaula achieve publication, since the date of its initial publication is also not completely certain.

In all, we don't know much about him or his life, and if he hadn't taken it upon himself to "bring together the writings of light things of little substance" so that "some shadow of remembrance remain of me" (as he wrote in the prologue to Books I to III), Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo would have been a forgotten footnote in history.

Ars longa, vita brevis.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chapter 21 [final third]

[How Amadis came to pledge his aid to the beautiful girl.]

[Detail from "The Lady and the Unicorn," a series of six wool and silk tapestries made from designs drawn in Paris in the late 1400s, on display at the Musée National du Moyen Âge, Paris, France.]


The lions paced from one side of the courtyard to the other and tried to get out through the gate. The people in the castle did not dare leave the building, not even the damsel who cared for the animals, for they were so excited and enraged by the bloodshed that they would obey no one. The people inside did not know what to do.

They asked the lady to beg Amadis to open the gate, for they thought that he would do it for her rather than for anyone else because she was a woman. But she, thinking of the great and evil misdeed she had done him, did not dare ask for any mercy. Finally, when she could not hope for any other remedy, she came to the window and said:

"My lord knight, we have erred badly against you without realizing it, yet may your humble courtesy prevail over our guilt, and if it please ye, open the gate for the lions, because if they leave, we shall be unafraid and free from danger. Thus everything will be set right with you, as it ought to be, for what we did and committed. However, I also wish to say that my intention and will was only to have you imprisoned."

He gently responded:

"My lady, ye did not have to do what ye did, for I was willingly yours, as I am for all the ladies and damsels who need my service."

"Then, my lord," she said, "will ye not open the gate?"

"No, may God help me," he said. "Ye shall not have this courtesy from me."

The lady left the window weeping. The beautiful girl said:

"My lord knight, there are those here who are not guilty of the evil ye received. Instead, they deserve thanks for doing that which ye do not know of."

Amadis felt great affection for her, and said:

"My pretty friend, do ye wish me to open the gate?"

"I would be very thankful to you for it," she said.

Amadis went to open it, and the girl said:

"My lord knight, wait a little, and I will tell the lady to deliver you your men who are here."

Amadis appreciated that greatly and considered her discreet. The lady agreed and said that she would give him Gandalin and the dwarf immediately. And the old knight, of whom ye have heard, told Amadis to take a shield and a mace so he could kill the lions when they left the gate.

"I want those for another reason," Amadis said, "and may God not help me if I do ill to someone who has helped me so well."

"Truly, my lord," he said, "ye esteem loyalty in men as much as ye do in wild beasts."

Then they threw him a mace and a shield. Amadis put what remained of his sword in its scabbard and put the shield on his arm. With the mace in hand, he went to open the gate. The lions, when they realized it was open, ran out and fled into the fields.

Amadis, who had hidden at the side of the gate, entered the castle. Immediately the lady and everyone else came out and went to him and he to them, and they received him very well and brought him Gandalin and the dwarf.

Amadis told her:

"My lady, I lost my horse here. You may order another to be given to me, but if not, I shall leave on foot."

"My lord," the lady said, "remove your armor and rest here tonight, for it is late. Ye shall have a horse, since it would be unreasonable for such a knight to go on foot."

Amadis took what she said for the best, and went immediately to disarm in a chamber. They gave him a cloak to cover himself and took him to the windows, where the lady and the girl were waiting for him. When they saw him, they were amazed by how handsome he was and by his age, being so young to do such amazing feats at arms.

Amadis looked at the girl, who seemed even more beautiful to him, and then said to the lady:

"Tell me, lady, if ye please, why did the statue in the carriage have its head cut in two?"

"Knight," she said, "if ye promise to do what must be done, I will tell you, but if not, I must not."

"My lady," he said, "it is not wise for a man to grant what he does not know, but when I know it, if it is something that touches upon that which a knight may reasonably do, I will not fail to do it."

The lady said he had spoken well, and ordered all the ladies and damsels and other people to leave. She held the girl close and said:

"My lord knight, that figure in stone that ye saw was made in the memory of the father of this beautiful girl, and he lies within the tomb in the carriage. He was the crowned king, and he was sitting in his throne during a feast. His brother came up and said that the crown on his head equally belonged to him, since they were both in line for it. Then he took out his sword, which he had brought in under his cloak, and struck him on top of the crown. The sword drove through his head as ye saw it depicted.

"Since he had planned this treason, he had brought many knights with him, and because the King was dead, leaving no other son or daughter besides this girl, the brother immediately took over the kingdom, which he still has in his power. At that time, the old knight who brought you to this girl was on guard. He fled with her and brought her here to me in this castle because she is my niece. Then I acquired the body of her father, and every day I put it in the carriage and go with it through the countryside. I swore that I would show it to no one except by force of arms, and would not tell the victorious knight about it unless he agrees to avenge that treason.

"And if ye, good knight, obliged by reason and virtue, wish to justly employ the great valor and brave heart that God gave you in that mission, having you, I shall continue in the same way until I find two more knights, which shall be necessary so that you three can fight in this cause with that traitor and his two sons, since they have an agreement among themselves not to fight one by one but to be together in battle if they are challenged."

"My lady," Amadis said, "ye have done right to see a way to avenge the greatest treason I have ever heard of. And truly, he who did it cannot last for long without being dishonored, for God will not suffer it. If ye could manage that they came to fight one by one, with the help of God I would accept that battle."

"They will not," the lady said.

"Then, what do ye wish me to do?" he said.

"Be here a year from today if you are alive and have free will," she said. "By then I will have found the two knights, and ye shall be the third."

"I will gladly do that," Amadis said, "and do not trouble to look for the other two, for I plan to bring them on that date, and they will fight to do what is right."

He said this because he believed he would have found his brother Sir Galaor and his cousin Agrajes by then, and with them he would dare to attempt such a great deed.

The lady and girl thanked him sincerely, telling him to look for very good knights because they would have to be the best to win, for he could be sure that the evil king and his sons were among the most valiant and brave knights in the world.

Amadis said:

"If I find one of the knights that I seek, I would not be troubled much for the third, no matter how brave they are."

"My lord," the lady said, "where are ye from and where shall we seek you?"

"My lady," Amadis said, "I am from the court of King Lisuarte, and I am a knight of Queen Brisena, his wife."

"Well, now," she said, "let us eat, for after making such a pact, it will do us good."

Then they entered a very beautiful hall where they were given a fine meal, and when it was time to sleep, they took Amadis to a chamber to lodge in, and only the damsel who had set free the lions remained with him. She said:

"My lord knight, there is someone here who helped you, although ye do not know it."

"And how was that?" Amadis said.

"It was to save you from death, which had closed in on you," she said. "By order of my lady, that beautiful girl, who pitied you because of those who were doing you wrong, I let loose the lions."

Amadis was surprised by the discretion of a person of such a young age, and the damsel said:

"Truly, I believe that if she lives, she will have in her two things far above all else, beauty and wisdom."

Amadis said:

"Indeed, so it seems to me. Tell her that I owe her thanks, and she should consider me her knight."

"My lord," the damsel said, "what ye say gives me great pleasure, and she will be very happy when I tell her."

She left the chamber, and Amadis went to his bed, and Gandalin and the dwarf to another bed that lay at the feet of their lord. They had heard all that had been said. The dwarf, who did not know about the history of his lord and Oriana, thought that he loved the beautiful girl because he had paid so much attention to her and had promised to be her knight. This belief proved not to help Amadis and in time led to a disaster that brought Amadis close to a cruel death, as shall be told farther along.

The night passed and morning came. Amadis got up, heard Mass with the lady, and then asked for the names of those whom he would have to fight. She said:

"The father is called Abiseos, the older son Darasion and the other son Dramis, and all three are greatly experienced in arms."

"And the land," Amadis said, "what is its name?"

"Sobradisa," she said, "which shares a border with Serolois, and its other border is surrounded by the sea."

Then he armed himself, mounted a horse that the lady had given him, and, as he was about to say goodbye, the beautiful girl came with a fine sword in her hands that had been her father's. She said:

"My lord knight, for my love, carry this sword for as long as it lasts, and may God help you with it."

Amadis thanked her, laughing, and said:

"My dear lady, ye have me as your knight do to all things that may be to your benefit and honor."

She was delighted with that, and it showed in her face. The dwarf, who saw all this, said:

"Truly, lady, ye have won no small thing to have such a knight as yours."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don Quixote confronts lions in a parody of Amadis of Gaul's adventure

Wherein is shown the furthest and highest point which the unexampled courage of Don Quixote reached or could reach; together with the happily achieved adventure of the lions.

[This plaque is on the wall of the Convent of the Discalced Trinitarians on Lope de Vega Street in Madrid. It's near the site of Miguel de Cervantes' home, where he died in 1616. As the plaque says, he lies in the convent's crypt, in accordance with his last wishes, but don't plan on visiting him. Last year a newspaper reporter tried. "We know he's here," a nun told him, "but we don't know exactly where." Whether due to the remodeling of the chapel in the convent or to the amnesia of hundreds of years, Cervantes' remains have been misplaced. I think he would find that funny. Photo by Sue Burke.]


Lions occur frequently in chivalrous tales, including Chapter 21 of Amadis of Gaul. Miguel de Cervantes parodied this episode in Don Quixote de la Mancha. A cart approaches with a mysterious cargo, which turns out to be a pair of lions, and Don Quixote madly challenges them, much as Amadis rashly challenged the knights guarding the cart. Cervantes also parodies the authorial outbursts in Amadis.

By the way, you can get the full text of Ormsby's landmark translation of Don Quixote from Project Gutenburg at:

Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by John Ormsby in 1885. Book II, Chapter XVII [excerpted]:

... Don Quixote put [his helmet] on, and settling himself firmly in his stirrups, easing his sword in the scabbard, and grasping his lance, he cried, "Now, come who will, here am I, ready to try conclusions with Satan himself in person!"

By this time the cart with the flags had come up, unattended by anyone except the carter on a mule, and a man sitting in front. Don Quixote planted himself before it and said, "Whither are you going, brothers? What cart is this? What have you got in it? What flags are those?"

To this the carter replied, "The cart is mine; what is in it is a pair of wild caged lions, which the governor of Oran is sending to court as a present to his Majesty; and the flags are our lord the King's, to show that what is here is his property."

"And are the lions large?" asked Don Quixote.

"So large," replied the man who sat at the door of the cart, "that larger, or as large, have never crossed from Africa to Spain; I am the keeper, and I have brought over others, but never any like these. They are male and female; the male is in that first cage and the female in the one behind, and they are hungry now, for they have eaten nothing today, so let your worship stand aside, for we must make haste to the place where we are to feed them."

Hereupon, smiling slightly, Don Quixote exclaimed, "Lion-whelps to me! To me whelps of lions, and at such a time! Then, by God, those gentlemen who send them here shall see if I am a man to be frightened by lions. Get down, my good fellow, and as you are the keeper open the cages, and turn me out those beasts, and in the midst of this plain I will let them know who Don Quixote of La Mancha is, in spite and in the teeth of the enchanters who send them to me."

... The carter, seeing the determination of this apparition in armour, said to him, "Please your worship, for charity's sake, señor, let me unyoke the mules and place myself in safety along with them before the lions are turned out; for if they kill them I am ruined for life, for all I possess is this cart and mules."

"O man of little faith," replied Don Quixote, "get down and unyoke; you will soon see that you are exerting yourself for nothing, and that you might have spared yourself the trouble."

The carter got down and with all speed unyoked the mules, and the keeper called out at the top of his voice, "I call all here to witness that against my will and under compulsion I open the cages and let the lions loose, and that I warn this gentleman that he will be accountable for all the harm and mischief which these beasts may do, and for my salary and dues as well. You, gentlemen, place yourselves in safety before I open, for I know they will do me no harm."

... Hearing this, Sancho with tears in his eyes entreated him to give up an enterprise compared with which the one of the windmills, and the awful one of the fulling mills, and, in fact, all the feats he had attempted in the whole course of his life, were cakes and fancy bread. "Look ye, señor," said Sancho, "there's no enchantment here, nor anything of the sort, for between the bars and chinks of the cage I have seen the paw of a real lion, and judging by that I reckon the lion such a paw could belong to must be bigger than a mountain."

"Fear at any rate," replied Don Quixote, "will make him look bigger to thee than half the world. Retire, Sancho, and leave me; and if I die here thou knowest our old compact; thou wilt repair to Dulcinea — I say no more." To these he added some further words that banished all hope of his giving up his insane project.

...Sancho was weeping over his master's death, for this time he firmly believed it was in store for him from the claws of the lions; and he cursed his fate and called it an unlucky hour when he thought of taking service with him again; but with all his tears and lamentations he did not forget to thrash Dapple so as to put a good space between himself and the cart. The keeper, seeing that the fugitives were now some distance off, once more entreated and warned him as before; but he replied that he heard him, and that he need not trouble himself with any further warnings or entreaties, as they would be fruitless, and bade him make haste.

During the delay that occurred while the keeper was opening the first cage, Don Quixote was considering whether it would not be well to do battle on foot, instead of on horseback, and finally resolved to fight on foot, fearing that Rocinante might take fright at the sight of the lions; he therefore sprang off his horse, flung his lance aside, braced his buckler on his arm, and drawing his sword, advanced slowly with marvellous intrepidity and resolute courage, to plant himself in front of the cart, commending himself with all his heart to God and to his lady Dulcinea.

It is to be observed, that on coming to this passage, the author of this veracious history breaks out into exclamations. "O doughty Don Quixote! High-mettled past extolling! Mirror, wherein all the heroes of the world may see themselves! Second modern Don Manuel de Leon, once the glory and honour of Spanish knighthood! In what words shall I describe this dread exploit, by what language shall I make it credible to ages to come, what eulogies are there unmeet for thee, though they be hyperboles piled on hyperboles! On foot, alone, undaunted, high-souled, with but a simple sword, and that no trenchant blade of the Perrillo brand, a shield, but no bright polished steel one, there stoodst thou, biding and awaiting the two fiercest lions that Africa's forests ever bred! Thy own deeds be thy praise, valiant Manchegan, and here I leave them as they stand, wanting the words wherewith to glorify them!"

Here the author's outburst came to an end, and he proceeded to take up the thread of his story, saying that the keeper, seeing that Don Quixote had taken up his position, and that it was impossible for him to avoid letting out the male without incurring the enmity of the fiery and daring knight, flung open the doors of the first cage, containing, as has been said, the lion, which was now seen to be of enormous size, and grim and hideous mien. The first thing he did was to turn round in the cage in which he lay, and protrude his claws, and stretch himself thoroughly; he next opened his mouth, and yawned very leisurely, and with near two palms' length of tongue that he had thrust forth, he licked the dust out of his eyes and washed his face; having done this, he put his head out of the cage and looked all round with eyes like glowing coals, a spectacle and demeanour to strike terror into temerity itself. Don Quixote merely observed him steadily, longing for him to leap from the cart and come to close quarters with him, where he hoped to hew him in pieces.

So far did his unparalleled madness go; but the noble lion, more courteous than arrogant, not troubling himself about silly bravado, after having looked all round, as has been said, turned about and presented his hind-quarters to Don Quixote, and very coolly and tranquilly lay down again in the cage. Seeing this, Don Quixote ordered the keeper to take a stick to him and provoke him to make him come out.

"That I won't," said the keeper; "for if I anger him, the first he'll tear in pieces will be myself. Be satisfied, sir knight, with what you have done, which leaves nothing more to be said on the score of courage, and do not seek to tempt fortune a second time. The lion has the door open; he is free to come out or not to come out; but as he has not come out so far, he will not come out today. Your worship's great courage has been fully manifested already; no brave champion, so it strikes me, is bound to do more than challenge his enemy and wait for him on the field; if his adversary does not come, on him lies the disgrace, and he who waits for him carries off the crown of victory."

"That is true," said Don Quixote; "close the door, my friend, and let me have, in the best form thou canst, what thou hast seen me do, by way of certificate; to wit, that thou didst open for the lion, that I waited for him, that he did not come out, that I still waited for him, and that still he did not come out, and lay down again. I am not bound to do more; enchantments avaunt, and God uphold the right, the truth, and true chivalry! Close the door as I bade thee, while I make signals to the fugitives that have left us, that they may learn this exploit from thy

The keeper obeyed, and Don Quixote, fixing on the point of his lance the cloth he had wiped his face with..., proceeded to recall the others, who still continued to fly, looking back at every step, all in a body, the gentleman bringing up the rear. Sancho, however, happening to observe the signal of the white cloth, exclaimed, "May I die, if my master has not overcome the wild beasts, for he is calling to us."

They all stopped, and perceived that it was Don Quixote who was making signals, and shaking off their fears to some extent, they approached slowly until they were near enough to hear distinctly Don Quixote's voice calling to them. They returned at length to the cart, and as they came up, Don Quixote said to the carter, "Put your mules to once more, brother, and continue your journey; and do thou, Sancho, give him two gold crowns for himself and the keeper, to compensate for the delay they have incurred through me."

"That will I give with all my heart," said Sancho; "but what has become of the lions? Are they dead or alive?"

The keeper, then, in full detail, and bit by bit, described the end of the contest, exalting to the best of his power and ability the valour of Don Quixote, at the sight of whom the lion quailed, and would not and dared not come out of the cage, although he had held the door open ever so long; and showing how, in consequence of his having represented to the knight that it was tempting God to provoke the lion in order to force him out, which he wished to have done, he very reluctantly, and altogether against his will, had allowed the door to be closed.

"What dost thou think of this, Sancho?" said Don Quixote. "Are there any enchantments that can prevail against true valour? The enchanters may be able to rob me of good fortune, but of fortitude and courage they cannot."

Sancho paid the crowns, the carter put to, the keeper kissed Don Quixote's hands for the bounty bestowed upon him, and promised to give an account of the valiant exploit to the King himself, as soon as he saw him at court.

"Then," said Don Quixote, "if his Majesty should happen to ask who performed it, you must say the Knight of the Lions; for it is my desire that into this the name I have hitherto borne of Knight of the Rueful Countenance be from this time forward changed, altered, transformed, and turned; and in this I follow the ancient usage of knights-errant, who changed their names when they pleased, or when it suited their purpose."...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chapter 21 [middle third]

[How Amadis continued his search for his brother Galaor, and what he encountered along the way.]

[A stable at the ruins of the castle of the Marquis of Santillana, built between the 14th and 15th centuries, in Buitrago del Lozoya, Spain. Photo by Sue Burke.]


Amadis left Urganda's damsels, as we have told you, and traveled until midday, when he left the forest through which he had ridden. He found himself in a plain, where he saw a handsome fortress and a carriage traveling across it, the biggest and most beautiful that he had ever seen. It was pulled by twelve palfreys and was covered from top to bottom by a rich scarlet silk cloth, so nothing could be seen of what was inside, and it was guarded on all sides by eight armed knights.

When he saw the carriage, Amadis came toward it, wanting to know what it was. As he neared, a knight came forward and told him:

"Pull back, my lord knight, and do not dare approach."

"I do not come for ill purposes," Amadis said.

"However it be," the other knight said, "do not do it, for ye are not such as ought to see what goes here. And if ye continue to try, it will cost you your life, for ye must fight with us, and here are such that could defend it well alone against you and even better if all fight you at once."

"I know nothing of their skill, but still, if I can, I will see what is in that carriage."

Then he took up his arms, and the two knights that rode ahead came at him, and he at them. One struck his shield and the knight's lance broke, while the other missed with his blow. Amadis quickly knocked down the one who had hit him, turned to the other who had passed and met him so hard that he put both that knight and his horse on the ground.

He tried to go toward the carriage, but two other knights came at him as fast as their horses could gallop, and he went at them. He hit one so hard that that knight's armor served for naught, and, with his sword, he struck the other on top of his helmet with such a blow that the knight had to hold on to the neck of his horse, senseless.

When the remaining four saw that their comrades had been defeated by a single knight, they were frightened to see such an amazing thing, and moved as a group with great anger against Amadis to attack him. But before they arrived, he knocked the other knight to the earth.

They attacked, and some struck his shield while the others missed. Amadis came at the one who rode ahead to attack him with his sword, but that knight came so fast that they collided, and their shields and helmets met so hard that the knight fell from his horse, stunned out of his wits. The three knights turned to Amadis and stuck great blows. Amadis knocked the lance out of the hands of one of them with his sword, then used the lance to hit him in the throat so hard that the iron and the wooden shaft came out of the back of his neck, and threw him to the earth dead.

Then he rode as fast as he could at the other two, and hit one on the helmet with all his strength and knocked it from his head. Amadis saw his face, which was very old, and felt pity for him. He said:

"Truly, my lord knight, ye ought to cease these practices, for if ye have not won honor yet, from here forward your age will excuse you from winning it."

The knight told him:

"My dear sir, to the contrary, young men ought to try to win honor and prestige, and old men ought to try to maintain it as long as they can."

When Amadis heard the old man's thoughts, he said:

"Knight, I hold what ye said to be better than what I said."

As they were speaking, Amadis looked up and saw that the remaining knight was riding as fast as his horse could go toward the castle, and that the others who could get up were chasing their horses. He went to the carriage, lifted up the cloth and put his head inside.

He saw a marble funeral monument, and on the lid was the image of a king dressed in royal clothing with a crown on his head, but his crown was split down to his head, and his head split down to his neck. He saw a lady sitting on a bench with a girl next to her, and the girl seemd more beautiful than any other he had seen in all his days.

He said:

"My lady, why does this statue have its face split in half?"

She looked at him and saw that he was not a member of her company, and said:

"What is this, knight? Who allowed you to see this?"

"I did," he said, "for I wanted to see what was traveling inside here."

"And our knights," she said, "what did they do about it?"

"They did me more harm than good," he said.

Then the lady lifted up the cloth and saw that some of her men were dead and that others were chasing their horses, and she was very upset. She said:

"Oh, knight, cursed be the hour when ye were born for the devilish acts that ye have done!"

"My lady," he said, "your knights attacked me, but if it pleases you, answer my questions."

"May God help me," she said, "ye shall learn nothing from me, for I have been vilely dishonored you."

When Amadis saw how angry she was, he left there and went on his way where the road took him. The lady's knights put the dead into the carriage, and they rode with great shame toward the castle.

The dwarf asked Amadis what he had seen in the carriage. Amadis told him, and how he could learn nothing from the lady.

"If she were an armed knight," the dwarf said, "she would have told us soon enough."

Amadis did not answer and continued on his way, but when he had ridden a full league, he saw the old knight whose helmet he had knocked off coming up behind him and calling for him to wait. Amadis stopped, and the knight arrived unarmed and said:

"My lord knight, I come to you with a message from the lady whom ye saw in the carriage. She wishes to remedy the discourteous way she spoke to you and asks you to lodge in the castle tonight."

"Good sir," Amadis said, "I saw her so impassioned for what happened between you and me, that the sight of me ought to give her more anger than pleasure."

"Believe, my lord," the knight said, "that your return would make her very happy."

Amadis, who thought that a knight so old would not lie, and who saw the affection with which he made the request, turned back. As they rode, they spoke, and Amadis asked if he knew why the stone figure had its head cut in half, but the old knight did not wish to say.

When they neared the castle, the knight said that he wanted to go ahead so that the lady would know he would be arriving. Amadis rode more slowly, and when he arrived at the gate, he saw the lady and the beautiful girl in a window in the tower above it. The lady said to him:

"Enter, my lord knight, and we thank you for coming."

"My lady," he said, "I am very happy to give you pleasure instead of anger."

He entered the castle, and as he went ahead, he heard a great movement of people in the palace. Then armed knights rode out of it and soldiers left on foot, and as they came, they said:

"Stay, knight, and be our prisoner. If not, ye are dead."

"Truly," he said, "I shall not willingly be imprisoned by such deceitful people."

Then he strapped on his helmet but could not put on his shield because they came too fast, and they began to attack on all sides. But as long as his horse lasted, he defended himself bravely, bringing down at his feet those whom the blade of his sword reached.

When he saw that he was surrounded by too many people, he went to a shed in the courtyard, and there he defended himself amazingly well. He saw them take the dwarf and Gandalin prisoner, and his heart was filled with more courage than ever to defend them.

But so many people came and attacked him on all sides with such blows that at times he fell to his knees on the earth. There was no way he could escape death, for he knew they would not put him in prison since he had killed six of his adversaries and had badly injured others.

However, God and His great love saved him very well, in this manner: The girl, who was watching the battle and saw him do amazing deeds, took great mercy on him. She called one of her damsels and said:

"My friend, the great valor of the of that knight has moved me to pity. I would rather have all our men die than him alone. Come with me."

"My lady," the damsel said, "what do ye wish to do?"

"To let my lions loose," she said, "so they can kill those who hold the best knight in the world in a such danger. I command you as my vassal to let them loose, for no one other than you can do it, since they know only you. I will take the blame."

The girl returned to the lady. The damsel went to free the lions, both of them, very brave, who were on a chain. As the animals entered the courtyard, she shouted to everyone to protect themselves, for she had set them loose. But before anyone could flee, they tore to pieces all those they could reach with their sharp, strong claws.

Amadis saw people fleeing to the castle wall and towers, leaving him free while the lions occupied themselves with those whom they had before them. He immediately ran as fast as he could to the gate of the castle, went outside, and closed it behind himself so the lions would remain inside.

He sat down on a rock, very tired, as one who had just fought hard, his bare sword in his hand, one-third of it broken off.