Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chapter 1

[Art: Woodcut from the 1526 edition.]

First chapter: How Princess Elisena and her damsel Darioleta went to the room where King Perion was.

When everyone was still, Darioleta rose and took Elisena wearing just the nightgown she slept in, covered by a cloak, and they both went into the garden. The moon shone bright. The damsel looked at her lady, opened the cloak, gazed at her body, and said, laughing:

"My lady, born to good fortune was the knight who will possess you tonight. Rightly they say that this is the damsel who has the most beautiful face and body ever known."

Elisena smiled and said:

"You may say the same about me, too. I was born to good fortune to have come to such a knight."

They arrived at the door to his room. Because Elisena was approaching he whom she loved most in the world, her whole body trembled and she could not speak a word. They knocked on the door.

King Perion had waited, unable to sleep, due to the great anguish in his heart and the great hope that he had put in the damsel. But in time he had grown tired and sleep had overcome him. He dreamt that someone he did not know entered the room by a false door and came to him, put their hands inside his ribs, took out his heart, and threw it in a river. The King said, "Why have ye done something so cruel?"

"This is nothing," said the other, "since ye still have another heart which I shall take, although I do not wish to."

The King, greatly troubled, awoke full of fear and began to cross himself.

The damsels had at that moment opened the door and were entering. He heard them, and fearing treachery because of his dream, raised his head and, through the bed curtains, saw a door he had known nothing about. By moonlight he saw the shape of the two damsels entering. He jumped from the bed where he lay, took up his sword and shield, and charged at what he saw.

Darioleta, when she saw him, said to him:

"What is this, my lord? Put down your arms. Ye need not defend yourself against us."

The King recognized her. He looked and saw Elisena, his dearest love, threw his sword and shield on the ground, and covered himself with a cloak he kept alongside his bed for when he rose. He went to take his lady in his arms, and she embraced him as the one whom she loved more than herself. Darioleta said to her:

"Stay, my lady, with this knight. Although ye have defended your maidenhood against many men until now, just as he defended himself against many women, your strength will not defend you from one another."

Darioleta saw the sword that the King had thrown down and picked it up as a sign of the promise and oath that he had made to marry her lady, and she went out to the garden. The King remained alone with his beloved, and by the light of three candles that were in the chamber, he looked at her, and it seemed that all the beauty of the world had united in her. He felt fortunate that God had brought her thus to him. They embraced and lay on the bed.

She, with her great beauty and youth, had defended herself against the suits of many princes and great men, and was still a free damsel. But in little more than a day, when such things were furthest from her thoughts, love had broken all the stout bonds of her chaste and devout life; and leaving it behind, she became there and forever a lady.

Ye may have heard of women such as this, who cease to think of worldly things, spurn the great beauty that nature has given them and the fresh youth that enhances it. They spurn the pleasures and delights that await them in the ample riches of their families. For the salvation of their souls, they shut themselves into convents, subjecting themselves by their own free will to the wills of others with complete obedience. Time passes them by without worldly fame and glory, though they know their sisters and families enjoy it. With great care, they must cover their ears, close their eyes, avoid seeing family and neighbors, and withdraw to devote meditations and pious prayers, considering them true pleasures. And they are, because with idle talk and careless glances they endanger to their holy purpose.

If they do otherwise, they will act like the beautiful Princess Elisena. She had kept herself apart for a long time, but in only a moment, at the sight of the great attractiveness of King Perion, her intentions fell to naught. If it had not been for the discretion of her damsel, who sought to protect her honor with matrimony, truly at that point she was destined to fall into the worst and lowest kind of dishonor. The same could be said of many other women in this world who have not kept themselves as said as above, and will do what is unseemly.

As two lovers took their pleasure, Elisena asked the King if he would leave soon, and he said to her:

"Why do ye ask, my lady?"

"Because this great good fortune, in which I have placed my mortal desires with all their pleasure and relief," she said, "now threatens me with the great sadness and distress that your absence will cause me, more like death than life."

Hearing her reasons, he said:

"Do not fear this, for although my body may leave your presence, my heart will remain with yours, and it will give both us strength: to you for your suffering and to me to return at once, because by leaving without it, no other force has the power to keep me away."

Darioleta, who saw that it was time to leave there, entered the chamber and said:

"My lady, I know that at other occasions it may please you to come with me more than now, but ye must rise and we must go, for it is time.

Elisena rose, and the King told her:

"I will dwell on this longer than ye can imagine because of you, and I beg you not to forget this occasion."

The women left for their beds and he remained in his own, filled with thoughts of her, but frightened by the dream that ye have heard of. Because of it, he longed to leave for his lands, where there were at that time many wise men who knew how to clarify and explain such things. He himself had learned something about it when he was young.

In this delight and pleasure King Perion dwelled for ten days, being at his comfort each night with his dearly beloved. But finally he knew it was time to leave, against his wishes and the tears of his lady, which were more than a few. He said goodbye to King Garinter and the Queen and put on all his armor, but when he went to gird his sword he could not find it and dared not ask for it, despite the great loss, for it was fine and beautiful. He did not want his love of Elisena to be discovered and anger King Garinter, and he ordered his squire to look for another.

So, fully armed except for his hands and head, on his horse, with no other accompaniment than his squire, he took the road straight to his kingdom. But before he left, he spoke with Darioleta, who told of the great distress and loneliness in which he left his beloved, and he said:

"Oh my friend, I commend her to you as to my own heart!"

He took from his finger a beautiful ring of the two that he wore, both identical, and gave it to her to bring and give to Elisena so she could wear it for his love. And so Elisena remained in much loneliness and deep sorrow for her beloved, and if it had not been for the great encouragements of her damsel, she would have suffered even more, but she could talk with her and rest her spirit.

Time passed and she realized she was pregnant. She lost her will to eat and sleep, and her beautiful color. Her distress and sorrow were great, and with good cause, because at that time, the law established that nothing could save any woman discovered in adultery, despite her high social rank and nobility, from death. This base and cruel custom lasted until the arrival of the most virtuous King Arthur, the greatest king who ever reigned there, who revoked it when he killed Floyon in battle before the gates of Paris. But many kings reigned between him and King Lisuarte, who upheld that law. Though, as it was told to you, the words King Perion swore by his sword had left her without sin before God, before the world it was different, since he had spoken them in such secrecy.

She knew her beloved could not be told of it, being a youth of proud heart that never rested anywhere as he sought honor and fame. He could do nothing other than to roam from one place to another as a knight-errant. So she had no hope to save her life, and she regretted never seeing her truly beloved lord more than she regretted leaving the world at her death. But the most powerful Lord, by whose grace all this came to pass in His holy service, gave great courage and discretion to Darioleta. With her help, all was solved, as ye shall now hear.

In the palace of King Garinter, there was a chamber apart from the rest, a vault at the river that ran by there, and it had a small iron door where, from time to time, the damsels went to pass the time. No one lived there, and so, at the advice of Darioleta, Elisena asked her father and mother if she could repair there for her ill health, to lead a solitary life, which she had always wished to have, and to pass her hours in prayer without interruption. She asked only to be accompanied and served by Darioleta, who knew her suffering. Her parents easily gave her her wish, believing that she only meant to recover her health and her soul with a more strict life. They gave the key to the small door to the damsel to keep, so she could open it when her daughter wished to be alone there.

When Elisena was lodged there, as ye have heard, and feeling more rested by being there, she asked advice from her damsel about what to do when she gave birth.

"What, my lady?" she said. "Let it suffer, so ye may be free."

"By holy Mary!" Elisena said, "How will I consent to kill that which was engendered by he whom I love most in the world?"

"Do not worry about that," said the damsel, "for if they kill you, they will not spare it."

"Although I were found guilty and die," she said, "they would not allow an innocent child to suffer."

"Let us talk no more of it," said the damsel. "It would be great madness to save something without a future and to condemn you and your beloved, who without you could not live. If ye and he live, ye will have other children and your love for this one will fade."

But as the damsel was very intelligent and was guided by God's mercy, she sought a solution to this danger. This is what she did: She took four boards large enough build an ark that could hold a baby and its clothing, and long enough to hold a sword. She brought together tools and tar to make it watertight, and kept everything hidden beneath her bed without Elisena knowing it until, by her own hand, she had sealed the joints with stout tar and made it the just the same and as well as if it had been constructed by a master. Then she showed it to Elisena, and said:

"Why do ye think this was made?"

"I do not know," she said.

"Ye will know," the damsel said, "when the time comes."

Elisena replied: "Little will it matter to know anything that is done or said, when soon I am about to lose my boon and happiness."

It hurt the damsel to see her thus, and as tears came to her eyes, she turned away so Elisena would not see her weep.

Soon afterwards the time came to Elisena to give birth. The pains came to her as something greatly new and strange, and it made her heart very afflicted. Because she could not moan or cry out, her anguish was doubled. But soon, the most powerful Lord wished her to bear a healthy son. The damsel, holding him in her hands, saw that he was handsome as fate could have. She did not hesitate to execute her plans. She wrapped him in rich fabric, put him near his mother, and brought the out ark that ye have heard of. Elisena said:

"What do ye plan to do?"

"Put him here and launch it in the river," she said, "and fate will protect him."

The mother held him in her arms, weeping fiercely as she said:

"My little son, how sadly I feel your misfortune!"

The damsel took ink and parchment and wrote a letter that said: "This is Amadis Without Time, son of a king." She said "without time" because she believed that the he would soon die, and "Amadis" because it was a name much appreciated there and the saint to whom the damsel commended him. She completely covered this letter with wax and put it on a cord around the neck of the boy. Elisena had the ring that King Perion had given her when he left her, and she put in on the same cord as the wax. They put the child in the ark, along with King Perion's sword. This was the sword he had thrown to the ground on the first night that they slept together, as ye have heard, and that her damsel had kept. Although the king had wished to have it, he had not dared to ask for it, lest King Garinter become angry for them sharing a chamber.

Then she put a board on top of the ark, constructed and caulked so tightly that neither water nor anything else could enter. She picked it up, opened the door, put it in the river, and let it go. The river was wide and the water flowed fast, and soon it reached the sea, no more than a half-league away. By then sun had risen, and a beautiful miracle occurred, as the Lord most high does when it pleases Him: there was a ship in the sea.

In it a Scottish knight named Gandales traveled with his wife, whom he was bringing from Little Brittany and who had just bourne a son named Gandalín. They traveled with all haste toward Scotland. The morning was clear, and they saw the ark bobbing in the water. He called four sailors and ordered them to quickly launch a skiff and bring it to him. They moved speedily, for the ark had already floated far from the ship. The knight took the ark, pulled off the cover, and saw the childe. He took it in his arms and said:

"This boy has come from a noble place."

He said this because of the rich fabrics, the ring, and the sword, which he saw was very fine, and began to curse the woman who, out of fear, had left the infant so cruelly abandoned. He kept those things safe, and he asked his wife to raise him, and so the same wet nurse who breast-fed Gandalin, their own son, also fed him. He nursed very willingly, which made the knight and his lady very happy.

They sailed the sea with favorable weather until they docked at a town in Scotland named Antilia, and from there left for their castle, one of the finest of that land, where they raised the boy as their own son. Everyone believed he was, and the sailors could tell no one what had really happened because their ship had sailed on to other lands.


  1. I am reading Amadis for second time in my life. The Medieval Spanish is almost a proto-Barroque Spanish.. Simply a BEAUTIFUL language.

    1. Working with the language has been one of the delights of this translation.