Tuesday, January 6, 2009


[Art: The Fall of Granada, by Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz, 1882. The Moorish King Boabdil of Granada surrenders to King Fernando and Queen Isabel.]


In truth, the great acts of arms, which we know about through their written accounts, took place in brief periods of time. We have clearly experienced and noted that with the battles of our own time. With that consideration in mind, the wise men of ancient times sought to compose accounts of these wondrous deeds on some basis in fact. They not only intended them to enter into the perpetual memory of professional men of arms, but also of those who read with great admiration the ancient histories of the Greeks, Trojans, and others whose battles appear in the written record. As Sallust said, the deeds of the Athenians appear grand because their scribes chose to embellish and extol them.

If the great orators who employed their wits and exhausted their spirits in search of fame rather than pecuniary interests were present now, then how many flowers, how many roses would be showered upon our most valiant and Catholic King Fernando for the holy conquest of the reign of Granada, as well as upon the efforts of the knights in the turbulent and dangerous skirmishes and combats and in all the other affronts and labors that they saddled their horses for, and upon the valiant discourses that the great King pronounced to his nobles gathered in the royal tent, and their obedient responses. Above all, great praise and ever-increasing acclaim would be due for having undertaken and finished this most Catholic struggle.

As for me, I believe that if these ancient writers had recounted the truth as well as the falsehoods as part of the fame of this most great prince, with just cause given to the broad basis of fact, these accounts would reach the clouds. One can believe that his wise chroniclers, if they were allowed to write in the style of those in antiquity as a memorial for those to come, would properly record the higher degree of fame and genuine nobility due his great deeds. Other emperors have been extolled with more love than accuracy than our own King and Queen, but they deserve it more, since they upheld Divine law. The others served the mundane world, which gave them its esteem, while our own served the Lord, who, with well known love and willingness, gave them His aid and favor, finding them full worthy because they had dedicated so much labor and expense, which is what His service requires. And if by chance some detail has been forgotten here below, it will not be before His Divine Throne, where He has prepared the reward that they deserve.

The great historian Titus Livy employed a different, more reasonable means to extol the honor and fame of the Romans. Rather than give them physical force, he made courage burn in their hearts, so were there any doubt about the former, there would be none about the latter. By his extreme effort, he memorialized the audacity of he who burned his arm [the Roman Curtius Muncius who fought through a wall of fire] and of he [Horacio Cocles] who leapt into the dangerous lake [in a battle defending a bridge to the final moment]. We have seen similar acts done by those who, risking their own lives, preferred death to save the lives of others. Therefore we can believe what we have read, amazing though it may seem. But certainly, in all Livy's great histories, nothing can be found to equal those fearful blows and miraculous encounters that we find in the stories about stalwart Hector, famous Achilles, brave Troilus and valient Ajax Talemon, and many others about whom much was recorded, in accordance with the esteem that ancient writers have left us.

Just as with these, there are others closer to our time, such as the distinguished Duke Godrey de Bouillon. On the bridge at Antioch, with a blow of his sword, he almost cut a well-armed Turk in half when he was King of Jerusalem. As one may and must believe Troy to have been during its siege and destruction by the Greeks, Jerusalem and other sites were similarly conquered by the Duke and his company. But we may attribute these blows, as I said, more to the writers than to what really took place. Other, poorer writers did not erect their works over any basis of fact. In fact, no hint of truth can be found. They composed false histories about amazing things found outside of the natural order, and they ought to be considered tall tales rather than chronicles.

If we see now that certain armed confrontations are like those that we witness and experience almost every day but yet they largely stray from virtue and good conscience, and if they strike us as very seriously strange, we may know that they are imaginary and false. Shall we not take whatever worthy fruit that grows there for us? Truly, in my view, we should do no other thing but take all of the good examples and doctrines for our salvation that come to us, for if we allow the grace that the most high Lord sends us to be imprinted on our hearts, our spirits can use it as wings and rise to that height of glory for which they were created.

In consideration of this, and wishing that some shadow of remembrance remain of me, I dared not put my weak ingenuity to these tasks that those with more sensible wisdom occupy themselves. As the century drew to a close, I wished to bring together the writings of light things of little substance that best suit someone of such weakness. I corrected these three books of Amadis, such as they could be read, due to poor writers or very corrupt and dissolute scribes, and I translated and emended a fourth book and The Exploits of Esplandian, a sequel, which up until now no one can recall seeing. By great good fortune, it was discovered in a stone tomb beneath a hermitage near Constantinople and was brought by a Hungarian merchant to eastern Spain in such ancient script and old parchment that it could only be read with much difficulty by those who knew the language. With such exemplary and doctrinal improvements, these five books, which until now had been considered rank fiction rather than chronicles, will be justly compared to cheap and fragile cork saltcellars that have been sheathed and embellished with gold and silver. Both youthful knights and the oldest of men can find in them what each seeks.

And if, by chance, in this poorly executed work some error seems to transgress that which is forbidden to the human and divine, I humbly beg pardon for it, since I firmly hold and believe all that which the Holy Mother Church teaches and instructs. It originated in my simple-minded indiscretion rather than in this work.


[Translator's note: Through the ritual praise of the reigning royalty, we can deduce that the prologue was composed after the fall of Granada on January 2, 1492 (see artwork above), but before the death of Queen Isabel on November 26, 1504, of uterine cancer in Medina del Campo. Generally, prologues were written after the rest of the work was finished. Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, a councilman of Medina del Campo, probably died before 1505. Little is known of his life. Although the earliest surviving copy of Amadis of Gaul was printed in Zaragoza in 1508, there may have been an earlier edition.]


  1. Hello and thanks for endeavoring on this project,

    The prologue seems quite odd to me. Is it the authors intention to say that this work is pure and unbelievable fiction? If so, why would that be? If not, then what am I missing?


  2. Thanks. This project is a lot of fun.

    Yes, Rodríguez de Montalvo says that the project is pure and unbelievable fiction, but the reason he says that is odd and perhaps easy to miss because it is based on concepts rather foreign to us.

    First, he says that good history, while it embellishes facts, does not stray from them too far. That is strange but true: in those days, history was written not only to tell us the facts about the past but more importantly to provide moral examples for us, and so it was perfectly legitimate (in those days) to put a whole lot of spin on the facts (as we would say now). That spin for our own good, of course. Reading history was supposed to make you a better person.

    Next he says that some histories stray so far from the facts that they are unbelievable, especially for people like him who have actually witnessed war. Still, he says, these accounts may be useful to us because they, too, provide good moral instruction that can act as wings to our souls and uplift them.

    Finally, he says, though this work is pure and unbelievable fiction, it, too, can provide good moral instruction for us, and so it, too, is valuable. In fact, he has added to the text to highlight its instructional value.

    Fiction in those days was considered so frivolous that it needed a little justification. But from the beginning, "Amadis" was always considered instructive because it asked the question: If you were both the most powerful knight in the world and the most honorable, what would you do? In the days when every knight was a powerful man who constantly faced questions of honor and good conduct, that question mattered.

  3. In regard to the following passage, I believe you have annotated in error.

    "By his extreme effort, he memorialized the audacity of he who burned his arm [the Roman Curtius Muncius who fought through a wall of fire] and of he [Horacio Cocles] who leapt into the dangerous lake [in a battle defending a bridge to the final moment]."

    "He who burned his arm" would probably be Mucius Scaevola, who thrust his hand into a brazier to prove to Lars Porsena that he was a warrior, rather than a common thief, after mistakenly stabbing Porsenna's paymaster, causing the king to marvel so much at the courage of the Romans that he raised his siege & withdrew. "He who leapt into the dangerous lake" would be Marcus Curtius : a chasm opened in the Forum, & the oracles said that it would only be closed when Rome's most precious possession was sacrificed to it. After various articles had been thrown in, without effect, Curtius decided that Rome's most precious possession was the flower of her youth, & leapt in full-armed, upon which the rift closed after him with a snap -- or so the story goes.

  4. Thanks for your close interest.

    The source I checked said the man who put his arm in fire was Curtius Muncius, who found himself surrounded by fire while trying to assassinate King Porsenna. They're clearly the same person, but my source uses a slightly different name for some reason.

    As for the man who leapt into the dangerous lake, two of my sources say it's Horacio Cocles, who fought in the same battle and fought alone on a bridge to detain the Etruscans while his fellow Romans worked to knock it down. But you raise a good alternative. The story about Marcus Curtius fits, too.

    Livy wrote about all three men, and Rodríguez de Montalvo was referring to his historical accounts of Rome. Unfortunately, we can't ask Rodríguez de Montalvo which two of the three he meant.

    Thanks again. I hope you're enjoying the rest of the tale, and don't hesitate to comment.