Thursday, February 26, 2009

The general structure of Amadis de Gaula

[First page of Chapter 5 from the 1526 Cromberger edition, printed in Seville.]


For ye who do not have the book in hand, here's what ye would be looking at if ye did:

Amadis of Gaul is a long text broken more or less arbitrarily into four books that were often bound as one volume; the action flows from one book to another without a pause. The story starts with an unnumbered chapter, which I have labeled "Chapter 0." Each chapter, at least in Book One, is usually a bit more than 2,000 words.

There are 43 chapters in Book One; the last chapter in Book Four is number 133. The books include an index with summary of the activity in each chapter. The index contains spoilers, so I've only posted the index to Book One so far. If you want to know the whole story arc, there's a brief synopsis at Wikipedia.

I'm posting one chapter a week, though if a chapter is too long, or if I get crunched for time, I reserve the right to post a partial chapter. I would rather post something short than something badly translated. Most of the text isn't too taxing, but when Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo inserts some of his lofty moralizing (you can spot those parts easily), the syntax gets loopy, and I get slowed down. Occasionally he gets lax in his correction of originals, which were "corrupt and badly composed in an antique style," and it takes me some research to puzzle out the truly antique Spanish grammar and vocabulary.

I have tried to retain a few of the graphic elements of early manuscripts, such as the red chapter headings. However, there were no paragraph breaks and not much punctuation in the original, and I am adding those as it seems fit.

If you had bought a copy of the book 500 years ago, it would have come as loose pages from the printer, and you would have had them bound and covered on your own.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chapter 5

[Photo: Detail of the royal castle at Segovia, Spain. Photo by Sue Burke.]


How Urganda the Unrecognized brought a lance to the Childe of the Sea.

The Childe of the Sea gave his shield and helmet to Gandalin and went on his way, but he had not traveled far before he saw a damsel coming toward him on a palfrey who carried a lance decorated with a braid. He saw another damsel coming on another road. The two young women met, and as they approached him, they talked with each other, and when they arrived, the damsel with the lance said to him:

"My lord, take this lance, for I tell you that within three days, with it ye shall strike so hard that ye shall set free the house from which ye first left."

He was astonished by what she said, and told her:

"Damsel, how can a house die or live?"

"It will be as I say," she told him. "I give you the lance for some favors that I expect from you. The first will be when ye do honor to a friend of yours, for which he shall be placed in a bigger and more dangerous confrontation than any knight in the last ten years."

"Damsel," he said, "I would not give friend of mine that kind of honor, God willing."

"I know well that it shall happen as I have said," she told him.

And spurring her palfrey, she went on her way. Know ye that she was Urganda the Unrecognized. The other damsel remained with him and said:

"Sir knight, I am from a foreign land and if ye wish, I will remain with you until the third day, instead of going to my lady."

"And where are ye from?" he said.

"From Denmark," the damsel said.

And he knew she told the truth because of the language she spoke, which he had heard his lady Oriana speak sometimes when she was younger. He said:

"Damsel, I would be well pleased, if it is no trouble to you."

He asked her if she knew the damsel who had given her the lance. She said that she had never seen her before, but the other damsel had said that she brought the lance to the best knight in the world:

"And she told me that after she left, I should tell you that she was Urganda the Unrecognized, and that she loved you dearly."

"By God," he said, "how unfortunate I am not to have realized it was her! But I shall not look for her because no one can find her against her will."

He traveled with the damsel until nightfall, when he met a squire in the road who said:

"My lord, where are ye going?"

"Along this road," he said.

"That is true," said the squire, "but if ye wish to lodge anywhere populated, it would be best to leave the road, since there is nothing near here except for a fortress that belongs to my father, where he will give you all ye require."

The damsel said that it would be wise, and the Childe agreed. The squire guided them off the road, and he did so because it was the custom of the castle where they were going and because he wanted to see what the Childe would do, for he had never seen a knight-errant fight.

They arrived, and that night they were well served. But the Childe of the Sea did not sleep well because he spent most of the night thinking about his lady, whom he had left behind. In the morning, he armed himself and went on his way with the damsel and his squire. The squire said he would accompany him as far as the next castle.

So they rode three leagues and saw a handsome castle alongside a river, which had a drawbridge with a tall, beautiful tower at its far end. The Childe of the Sea asked the squire if there was another way across the river besides the drawbridge. He said no, that everyone crossed it:

"And we are going pass over it."

The damsel and the squires went first, and the Childe of the Sea last, and he went so lost in thoughts of his lady that he noticed nothing. When the damsel was on the bridge, six foot-soldiers armed with helmets and breastplates took the reins of her horse, and they said:

"Damsel, ye must swear. If not, ye are dead."

"What must I swear?"

"Thou shalt swear never to make love to thy beloved if thou dost not promise to support King Abies against King Perion."

The damsel shouted that the soldiers wanted to kill her. The Childe of the Sea rode up and said:

"Rude villeins, who ordered you to lay a hand on a lady or damsel, especially when she is under my protection?"

He approached the biggest one, grabbed his battle ax, and gave him such a blow with the shaft that he knocked him to the ground. The other soldiers began to attack him, but he hit one of them so hard that he split his head down to his eyes, and he struck another on the shoulder, cutting clear to the bones of his ribs. When the others saw those two knocked dead, they were frightened and began to flee. He threw the hatchet at one of them and cut his leg in half. He said to the damsel:

"Go forward, and any villein who believes he has the right to lay a hand on a lady or damsel shall pay for it."

Then they went ahead on the bridge, and they heard fighting in the castle at the other end. The damsel said:

"Those people are making such a noise, I think ye should take up your arms."

"Fear not," he said. "Wherever women are mistreated, they shall be made safe, and no man is worthy otherwise."

"My lord," she said, "if ye do not take up arms, I dare not go any further."

So he did and went ahead, and when he entered the gate of the castle, he saw a squire who came to him weeping and said:

"By God, they are killing the best knight in the world because he would not swear an oath he cannot properly keep."

The Childe of the Sea continued on and saw King Perion, who had made him a knight, in grave danger. His horse had been killed, and two knights with ten armed foot-soldiers were attacking him. The knights said to the King:

"Swear. If not, thou art dead."

The Childe shouted:

"Stand back, evil and arrogant men! Lay no hand on the best knight in the world, or ye shall
die for it."

Then one of the knights and five foot-soldiers left the others, charged at the Childe, and told him:

"Ye too must swear or ye are dead."

"How can I swear against my will?" he said. "It shall never be, so help me God."

The others shouted to the gatekeeper to shut the gate. The Childe of the Sea let his horse charge, and his lance hit the other knight's shield so hard that he knocked him to the ground over the haunches of the horse. As he fell, he hit his head on the ground, twisted his neck, and died.

The Childe rode past the foot-soldiers who were attacking him and charged at the other knight. His lance passed through his shield and hauberk and lodged in his ribs, and no surgeon could have saved him. When King Perion saw this and realized that he had help, he fought even harder. He slashed against the foot-soldiers with his sword, and the Childe of the Sea charged unrestrained into them on his horse and struck such mortal and fierce blows that most of them fell to the ground. That attack, combined with the King's, quickly defeated them all.

Some of the foot-soldiers who had fled began to climb a wall, but the Childe got off his horse and chased them. They were so afraid that in their haste they threw themselves over the wall, falling down the other side, except for two, who ran toward a chamber. The Childe chased them and followed them into the room, where he saw a man lying in a cot who was so old that he could not rise from it. The old man shouted:

"Base villeins! Who do you flee?"

"From a knight who fights like the devil," they said, "and who has killed both your nephews and all our companions."

The Childe told one of the soldiers:

"Show me to thy lord, otherwise thou art dead."

He showed him the old man who was lying in the bed.

The Childe began to cross himself and said:

"Vile old man, thou art close to death and thou hast such ignoble conduct? If ye could take up arms, I would show you here that ye are a traitor both to God and to your own soul."

Then he acted as if he were about to strike him with his sword, and the old man said:

"My lord, mercy. Do not kill me!"

"Ye are dead," said the Childe of the Sea, "if ye do not swear to never conduct yourself so badly again for the rest of your life."

He swore to it.

"Now tell me why ye have done this."

"Because of King Abies of Ireland," he said. "He is my nephew, and since I could not help him with my own body, I wanted to send him the help of knights-errant."

"Treacherous old man," said the Childe. "What have knights to do with your help or hindrance?"

Then he kicked the cot and tipped it over, and commending them all to the devils of Hell, he went out to the courtyard. There he took one of the horses belong to the knights that he had killed, brought it to the King, and said:

"Ride off, my lord. I do not like this place nor the people in it."

Then they rode out of the castle, but the Childe of the Sea kept his helmet on so the King would not recognize him. When they were outside, the King said:

"My lord and friend, who are ye? Ye helped me when I was close to death, and ye saved me from the attacks of many knights-errant, and saved the friends of the damsels who were passing by here, because I am the one they were being called to swear against."

"My lord," said the Childe of the Sea, "I am a knight who wished to serve you."

"Knight," he said, "I realize this well. A man could hardly find better help. But I will not leave without knowing who ye are."

"This would not be to the advantage of either of us."

"Still, I beg you to take off your helmet out of courtesy."

The Childe lowered his head and did not respond, but the King asked the damsel to remove it, and she told the youth:

"My lord, do as the King asks, because it means so much to him."

But the Childe did not wish to. The damsel took off his helmet against his will, and when the King saw his face, he knew it was the youth he had made a knight at the request of the damsels. He embraced him and said:

"By God, my friend, now I know you better than ever."

"My lord," the Childe said, "I knew you well when ye gave me the honor of knighthood, and if it pleases God, I will serve you in your war in Gaul, may it be granted to me, but until then I do not wish to let my identity be known."

"I thank you truly," the King said. "Ye have done so much ye could hardly do more. I give thanks for what I have done."

He said this because he had made the Childe a knight, for he neither knew nor imagined that he was his father.

As they spoke, they arrived at a crossroads, and the Childe of the Sea said:

"My lord, which of these roads do ye wish to follow?"

"This one to the left," he said, "because it goes right to my kingdom."

"Go with God," he said. "I will take the other one."

"May God be your guide," the King said, "and remember what ye promised. Your help has relieved me of much of my fear, and it gives me hope that it will remedy my loss."

Then he went on his way, and the Childe remained with the damsel, to who said to him:

"My lord knight, I stayed with you because of what the damsel with the lance said: that she brought it to the best knight in the world. From what I have seen, I know it is true. Now I wish to travel again to my lady, as I said before."

"And who is she?" said the Childe of the Sea.

"Oriana, the daughter of King Lisuarte," she said.

When he heard his lady mentioned, his heart shook so hard that he almost fell off his horse, and Gandalin, seeing him so stricken, held him up. The Childe said:

"I am slain by my heart."

The damsel, who thought it was due to something else, said:

"My lord knight, take off your armor, for ye are injured."

"It is not necessary," he said. "I often suffer this illness."

The squire of whom ye have already heard said to the damsel:

"Do ye go to the house of King Languines?"

"Yes," she said.

"Then I shall accompany you," he said, "because I have an appointment there."

And saying goodbye to the Childe of the Sea, they turned back the way they had come, and he continued on the road where fate took him.

The author here ceases to speak of the Childe of the Sea and turns to tell of Sir Galaor, his brother, whom the giant had taken away. He was being raised by a hermit, as ye have heard, and now Sir Galaor was eighteen years old and strong of body and limb.

He had always read the books that the hermit had given him about the deeds that knights at arms had done in the past, and both due to that and to his natural disposition, he felt moved by a great desire to become a knight. However, he did not know if he had to right to be one, and he often asked the hermit who raised him to tell him. But the hermit, knowing full well that if he became a knight he would have to fight with the giant Albadan, told him, with tears in his eyes:

"My son, it would be better to take another, safer path for your soul than to take up arms and the order of knighthood, which has great burdens to bear."

"My lord," Galaor said, "it would be very hard for me to follow something that I took up against my will, and if I get my heart's desire and if God gives me good fortune, I will enter into His service. Without it, I do not wish to keep living."

The hermit, who saw his intentions, said:

"I see it is so, and I tell you truly that if ye do not fail, your lineage will not fail you, for ye are the son of a king and queen. But do not let the giant know that I told you."

When Galaor heard this, he could not have been happier, and he said:

"Up until now, I thought it too much to think of becoming a knight, but now I see it is not too much at all, because of what ye have told me."

The hermit, fearing that Galaor would leave, sent a message to the giant that the boy he was raising was at the age to become a knight and desired to become one, so the giant should make preparations. When he heard this, the giant rode there and saw that Galaor was unusually handsome and brave for his age, and told him:

"Son, I know that ye wish to become a knight, and I want to take you with me, and I will work with you so that ye shall become one honorably."

"Father," he said, "that is everything I wish."

Then the giant got him a horse so he could to leave, but first Galaor said goodbye to the hermit who had raised him, begging him on his knees to remember him. The hermit, weeping, kissed him repeatedly, and gave him his blessing.

Galaor left with the giant, and, when they arrived at his castle, the giant had armor made for him, and taught him to ride and jump on horseback in the countryside. He got two swordsmen to teach him to fight, and they showed how to use with a shield and sword effectively. The giant had Galaor learn everything about arms that a knight needed to know. After a year, he saw that there was nothing to stop the youth from becoming a knight.

Here the author ceases to tell of this, because in time he will make mention of what Galaor does, and instead he recounts what happened to the Childe of the Sea after he left King Perion, the Damsel of Denmark, and the castle of the old man.

He rode for two days without finding any adventure, and on the third day, at midday, a beautiful castle came into sight that belonged to a knight named Galpano. He was the most valiant and strongest knight of all in that region, and he was much feared and dreaded by all. Though he had great courage and a mighty castle, he conducted himself with extreme arrogance, and he had made himself infamous for doing more in service to the enemy of God than to the Lord on high, which would have made him more celebrated than all other knights.

Ye shall now hear what he did:

He made the ladies and damsels that passed through there come to the castle, where he forced his will on them, then made them swear that while he lived, they would not take another lover, for if they did, he would cut off their heads. As for the knights, he told them they would have to fight his two brothers, and if they could defeat them, they would have to fight him, and his skill at arms was so great that no one in the region dared to face him in the field of battle. So he made them swear to be called "Vanquished by Galpano" or he would cut off their heads. He took whatever they had from them and made them leave him on foot.

But God was angered by such great cruelty that had gone on for too long, and he let Fortune turn against them. They had been arrogant and had delighted themselves in excessive pleasures at the expense of others for a long time, but very quickly things went against them. They paid dearly for their evil, and they served as a fearful example to others to mend their ways, as ye shall now hear told.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I'm shocked

[The Roman Theater in Mérida, Spain, constructed in 16-15 B.C. It is still in use. Photo by Håkan Svensson.]


Modern readers may react differently to Amadis of Gaul than readers or listeners did five or six centuries ago. Here are a few considerations:

Elisena and Perion

Secret amorous liaisons like that of Elisena and Perion always get our attention (Chapter 2), but a medieval fan would be shocked mostly because nobles in those days carefully arranged the marriages of their children for political and social advancement. Youths did not chose their own spouses, and love had nothing to do with it. What were these two kids thinking?

And even when they had an active hand in the arrangements, the circumstances seem amazing today. In 1469 in what is now Spain, a prince, 17 years old, and princess, 18, began to plan their marriage. Because of its political implications, the princess's brother, a king, threatened her with arrest. She was rescued by an archbishop and armed horsemen, and whisked away to Valladolid. Then the prince, disguised as a merchant, journeyed by night to Valladolid from his home in Zaragoza, narrowly escaping assassination en route.

The couple had never seen each other before, despite all their plans, and finally met face to face in Valladolid only four days before the ceremony: Isabel of Castile and Fernando of Aragon. Their marriage created an alliance of two large kingdoms — in fact, it created the country of Spain as we know it — so they had powerful enemies both close to home and in Europe. Their reign marked the end of medieval Spain. But their wedding is remarkable only for its life-or-death political importance, not for their ages or their personal unfamiliarity with each other.

That was the right way to get married.

Naming a knight

King Perion, whose judgment I'm starting to question, should never have invested knighthood on youth he did not know well for years, even at the request of his daughter (Chapter 4). The office had too many responsibilities and sacred duties. It was also shocking, earlier, when the Child of the Sea threatened to seek someone other than King Languines to do it, because he owed loyalty to his lord the King. In any case, as King Perion admits, it "should have been done with more honors" — that is, with public ceremony. A lot of ceremony.

This was shockingly irregular, and Perion was just lucky it turned out well.

Giants, monsters, and sorcerers

Amadis of Gaul is a very Christian book. God even intervenes personally. However, sorcery and non-Biblical beings would not have shocked faithful medieval listeners. Witch hunts flourished later, in the Renaissance, when Christianity felt uneasy. Sorcery still shocks some people.

Robert Southey, who created an abridged translation of Amadis in 1803, says this in his introduction:

"Classical superstitions lingered long after the triumph of Christianity. The Spanish chronicles continually speak of augury.... The Fathers of the Church expressly assert that the Gods of the Gentiles are the Fallen Angels; and with this key, a Catholic may believe the whole of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Saint Anthony the Great saw and conversed with a Centaur, and Saint Jerome vouches for his veracity.

"Enchanted weapons may be traced to the workshop of Vulcan as easily as to the Dwarfs of Scandinavia. The tales of dragons may be originally oriental; but the adventures of Jason and Hercules were popular tales in Europe, long before the supposed migration of Odin, or the birth of Mohammed. If magical rings were invented in Asia, it was Herodotus who introduced the fashion into Europe. The Fairies and Ladies of the Lake bear a closer resemblance to the Nymphs and Naiads of Rome and Greece than to the Peris of the East."

Spain had been Roman, and the pagan Roman vision of the world survived long after Rome fell. Don't be shocked.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chapter 4 [final half]

[Photo: Detail from the facade of San Bendito Church, built in 1104 and remodeled 1508, Salamanca, Spain. Photo by Sue Burke.]


The Childe of the Sea was watching King Perion very closely, not as his father, since he did not know that he was, but for the great skill in arms that he had heard tell of him. The Childe wanted to become a knight by his hand more than by anyone else in the world. He believed that a petition by the Queen would help him achieve it, but when he found her very sad for the losses of her sister, he did not wish to speak to her of it. He went to his lady Oriana and, kneeling in front of her, said:

"My lady Oriana, may I ask you to find out why the Queen is so sad?"

When she saw in front of her the person who she loved most, though not he nor anyone else knew it, her heart leapt, and she said to him:

"Why, Childe of the Sea! This is the first thing ye have asked of me, and I will be glad to do it for you."

"Oh, my lady!" he said. "I am neither so daring nor worthy to ask anything of such a lady as yourself, but only to do that which ye may order me."

"And why is that?" she said. "Is your heart so weak that it can ask for nothing?"

"So weak," he said, "that in anything contrary to you, I must fail. I can only serve you as he whose heart belongs not to himself but only to you."

"To me?" she said. "Since when?"

"Since it pleased you," he said.

"And when did it please me?" Oriana said.

"Remember, my lady," said the Childe, "that on the day your father left, the Queen took me by the hand and brought me before you and said, 'I give you this young man to serve you,' and ye said it pleased you. Since then I have considered myself yours to serve you, and I always will, and I shall have no other woman as my mistress for as long as I live."

"Ye took her words for more than they meant," she said, "but I am very pleased that it be so."

He was so dazed by pleasure that he could not respond at all, and she saw that she had complete control over him. She left him and went to the Queen and learned that she was sad over her sister's loss, and she went back to the Childe of the Sea and told him. The Childe told her:

"If it would please you for me to be a knight, my lady, I would go to help the Queen's sister, if ye should permit me to go."

"And if I did not grant permission," she said, "ye would not go?"

"No," he said, "because my defeated heart could not face any adversity without it, and in fact it could face nothing at all."

She laughed with a kind face and said to him:

"Then, since I have won you, I permit you to be my knight and to help the Queen's sister."

The Childe kissed her hands and said:

"Since my lord the King has not wanted to make me a knight, I now would have King Perion do it."

"I will do what I can about it," she said, "but it would be best to talk to Princess Mabilia, whose requests mean a lot to her uncle the King."

Then she went to Mabilia and told her how the Childe of the Sea wanted to become a knight by the hand of King Perion, and that it was necessary for her to ask for it. Mabilia was very willing, since she felt great affection for the Childe. She said:

"Let us both do it for him, for he merits it. Have him come to my mother's chapel in full armor, and we can keep watch with him, along with other damsels. Since King Perion wants to travel on by horse, and from what I have heard before dawn, I shall send him a request to see me, and there he will do as we ask, since he is a knight of very good conduct."

"Ye have spoken well," Oriana said.

They both went to the Childe and told him what they had planned. He thanked them, and all three left that discussion in agreement. The Childe called Gandalin and told him:

"Brother, take all my arms to the Queen's chapel by stealth. Tonight I plan to become a knight, and since it will be wise for me to leave here after that, I want to know if thou wishest to leave with me."

"My lord, I tell you that I will never willingly be parted from you."

Tears came to the eyes of the Childe. He kissed Gandalin on the face and said:

"Friend, now do as I told thee."

Gandalin put the arms in the chapel while the Queen was at supper, and when the tablecloths were lifted, the Childe went to the chapel and put on all his armor, except the helmet and gauntlets. He prayed in front of the altar, asking God to give him victory both in acts of arms and in his mortal desires for his lady. After the Queen went to sleep, Oriana and Mabilia with some other damsels came to accompany him. Since Mabilia knew that King Perion wanted to ride off, she sent word for him to see her before he left. He came right away, and Mabilia said to him:

"My lord, please do as Oriana, the daughter of King Lisuarte, shall ask you."

The King said that he would do it willingly, for his duty to her father obliged him. Oriana came before the King, and when he saw her how beautiful she was, he knew that no equal to her could be found in the world. She said:

"I wish to ask a boon of you."

"I will do it gladly," he said.

"Then make my Childe of the Sea a knight."

And she showed him to the King, on his knees in front of the altar. The King marveled at his handsomeness, and approached him and said:

"Do ye wish to receive the order of knighthood?"

"I do," he said.

"In the name of God, and may He make you be as well employed in it and as honorable as He has made you handsome." And putting on his right spur, he said to him, "Now ye are a knight and ye may take up the sword."

The King picked up the sword and gave it to him, and the Childe girded it, and he looked handsomer than ever. And the King said:

"Surely, I wish I could have armed you as knight with greater ceremony, more befitting your
character and appearance. But I trust in God that your fame will give testimony to that which should have been done with more honors."

Mabilia and Oriana were happy and kissed the hands of the King, who commended the Childe of the Sea to God and went on his way.

This was the beginning of the love affair between this knight and this princess, and if these words seem foolish to the reader, do not question them. In this world, many things have happened not only at the tender age she had, but to others with greater discretion. Great and overwhelming love had such power in these cases that their senses and speech were also confused. And so these words as they were spoken and as the author wrote them, without enhancement, clearly deserve no censure, because each thing should be given its due.

The Childe of the Sea, now knighted as was told above, wished to say goodbye to his lady, Oriana, and to Mabilia and the other damsels who kept watch in the chapel with him. Oriana, who felt her heart break but who did not wish to show it, took him aside and said:

"Childe of the Sea, ye seem so noble to me that I cannot believe that ye are the son of Gandales. If ye know something of this, tell me."

The Childe told her what King Languines knew of his background, and she, being very happy to know it, commended him to God.

At the door of the palace, he found Gandalin with his lance, shield, and horse. He left on his way on horseback without being seen since it was still night, and he rode until he entered a forest. At midday, he ate what Gandalin had brought.

Late in the afternoon he heard sorrowful shouts to his right, as if a man were in great pain. He there rode quickly and found a dead knight in the road, and beyond him he saw another who was badly injured. A woman stood over him and was making him cry out because she was putting her hands into his wounds. When the knight saw the Childe of the Sea, he said:

"Oh, sir knight, help me! Do not let this treacherous woman kill me."

The Childe said:

"Get away from him, lady. What ye are doing is not right."

She stepped back. The knight lay still as death, and the Childe of the Sea got off his horse to see who he was. He took the knight in his arms, and when the man came to his senses, he said:

"Oh, my lord, I am dead. Take me to where I can get comfort for my soul."

The Childe told him:

"Sir knight, be brave, and tell me, if it pleases you, what adversity this is that befell you."

"I brought it on myself," the knight said. "Despite my riches and nobility, I married that woman whom ye see out of love, though she was poor and ignoble. And last night she left me with that knight whom ye see there laying dead, whom I had never seen before last night when he stayed at our home. After I killed him in battle, I told her that I would forgive her if she swore to do me no more affronts or dishonors, and she agreed. But when she saw that I was bleeding so badly from my wounds that I was weak, she wanted to kill me by putting her hands in them, and so I am dying. I beg you to take me a little ahead here where a hermit lives who will heal my soul."

The Childe had him ride behind Gandalin, and they rode on toward the hermitage. But the evil woman, fearing that her husband might follow her, had sent orders to her three brothers to come down that road. They met her and asked her what had happened. She said:

"Oh, my lords, help me, by God! The evil knight who killed the one that ye see over there has taken away my lord, almost dead. Chase him and kill him, and the man who rides with my husband, who has done just as much evil as him."

She said this because if both died, no one would know of her malice, since her husband would not be believed. She rode on her palfrey with her brothers to point them out. By then the Childe of the Sea had left the knight in the hermitage and was back on the road, and he saw the damsel coming with the three knights, who said:

"Stay there, traitors, stay!"

"Ye lie," he said. "I am no traitor. I will defend myself well against treachery. Come at me as knights."

"Traitor!" said the one in front. "We must all attack you, and we shall."

The Childe of the Sea, who had his shield ready and his helmet strapped on, charged at the first knight, and he at him. The Childe's lance hit his shield so hard that it passed through it to the arm that held it, and knocked him and his horse to the ground so forcefully that the knight's right shoulder broke and the horse broke a leg. Neither could arise.

But the Childe's lance had broken. He took his sword from Gandales and charged against the other two, and they at him. They struck him on the shield and destroyed it, but did not pierce his hauberk, which was strong.

The Childe injured one of them by striking over the top of his shield. His sword passed down as far as the straps of the shield, and the knight's chain mail did not hold. The blade reached his shoulder, and the point cut flesh and bones. When the Childe pulled back his sword, the knight fell to the earth.

He charged at the other knight and attacked. He struck him on the top of the helmet, knocking his head with such force that the knight had to grab the neck of the horse, and then he let himself fall to avoid yet another blow. The treacherous women tried to flee, but the Childe of the Sea shouted to Gandalin to stop her.

The knight left standing said:

"My lord, we do not know if this fight was just or unjust."

"It could not be just," the Childe said, "for that evil woman has killed her husband."

"We have been deceived," the knight said. "Give us your word and ye will learn why we attacked you."

"I give you my word," he said, "but I do not relieve you of the combat."

The knight told why they had attacked. The Childe crossed himself many times as he heard it, and told them what he knew.

"Ye shall see her husband in this hermitage, who will tell you the same story."

"If it is so," said the knight, "we shall be at your mercy."

"I will not grant it if ye do not swear as honest knights that ye shall take this wounded knight and his wife to the house of King Languines, and ye shall tell him how this happened. And tell the King that she has been sent by a new knight who left today from the town where the King is, and this new knight has asked him to do that which he finds right."

The two agreed to it, and the other as well, after they took him, very badly injured, from beneath his horse.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The world's first bestseller

[Cover art of the 1508 edition. A knight on horseback became the standard cover art for chivalric novels.]


Gutenberg's printing press became operational in about 1450, and in 1455 he published 180 copies of the Bible. Though these were expensive, about three years of wages for a middle-class salary, they were considerably cheaper than hand-copied books; it took about a year to copy one Bible by hand.

Soon, inexpensive paper replaced parchment, and printing spread. By 1500 there were 1,700 printing presses in over 250 locations; they had cumulatively published at least 15 million copies of thousands of titles. Almost half dealt with religion; many of the rest served scholarly or scientific uses, with topics like grammar or medicine, or were reprints of Classical texts. Three-fourths of the titles were in Latin. But books in the vernacular for entertainment sold well, too.

Education and a rising incomes had expanded literacy rates, and reading, sometimes even for pleasure, had become common among the nobility and the middle and upper classes. Those who could not read often heard books: reading out loud to groups became a popular pastime, sort of like going to movies today.

In Spain, 35 editions of chivalric novels were published in the 1530s; 49 in the 1540s; 20 in the 1550s; 29 in the 1560s; 7 in the 1570s (during an economic crisis); 31 in the 1580s; and 4 in the 1590s — this despite frequent censure of these books as "frivolities and proven lies." The print run of an edition might typically be 1000 copies. Amadís de Gaula itself was reprinted 20 times during the 16th century within Spain and had 8 sequels.

In addition, many copies were printed outside of Spain in Spanish. In Italy, Germany, France, England, and Portugal, Amadís and its sequels were translated into the local language, and the stories were continued by other writers — 24 volumes alone in France by various authors.

In those days, one copy did not equal one reader. Books were expensive, so they typically were lent, rented, and read in groups. So while the number of books may seem small by today's standards, each book was reread repeatedly over the years, and the overall population of Europe was smaller, too.

There's a theory that every best-seller is an accident. If publishers knew for sure how to create them, every book would be a best-seller. Why was Amadís the first to sell so well and launch a genre?

In 1500, the time was ripe for some book to become generally popular, simply because printing and reading had become widespread. Spain had also become the leading world power, and people wanted to learn Spanish. Reading literary works is still a good way to study a foreign language.

But of course, there's something else, something that excited readers. Brave knights, beloved damsels, and fantastic adventures captured the popular imagination during the Renaissance for some reason.

It may have been the deep cultural roots that chivalric stories had all across Europe. Or the novels may have reinforced the sense of individual possibility and personal achievement at the same time that renewed scholarship, exploration, and discoveries expanded the readers' real-life horizons. But the Renaissance was also a time of political and religious conflicts and frightening change, so readers may have appreciated a retreat to simpler times. Or maybe the novels seemed entertaining, and we all do things just because we enjoy them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chapter 4 [first half]

[Photo: La Tizona, traditionally said to be one of the swords of the Spanish knight El Cid (1034-1099). He took it from the Moorish King Bucar after defeating him in battle. Recent tests show that the blade is from the time of El Cid, but the hilt is from the late 1400s. Photo from, a facsimile weapons dealer.]


How King Lisuarte sailed the sea and made port in the Kingdom of Scotland, where he was received with great honors.

After King Lisuarte had listened to the envoy, he took to the sea with a grand fleet with help from his father-in-law. He sailed as far as the kingdom of Scotland, where he took port and where he was received with great honor by King Languines.

Lisuarte brought with him his wife, Brisena, and a daughter he had had with her while he lived in Denmark named Oriana, about ten years old. She was the most lovely child ever seen, so lovely that they called her without peer, because at that time no one was her equal. Because sea travel had made her ill, he decided to leave her there, and asked King Languines and the Queen to care for her. They were very happy to do it, and the Queen said:

"Ye may be sure that I shall care for her as her own mother would."

Lisuarte quickly got in his ships and docked in Great Britain, where he discovered that certain people opposed him, and there often are in these situations, and because of that he did not remember his daughter for some time. He took the throne with great effort, and he was the best king Great Britain had had up until then. He maintained the proper conduct of knighthood better than any other until King Arthur reigned, and surpassed all kings until Arthur in virtue, although many reigned between them.

The author leaves Lisuarte reigning with much peace and tranquility in Great Britain, and turns to the Childe of the Sea. At the time he was twelve years old, but in his height and development, he seemed more like fifteen. He served the Queen, and was much loved by her and all the ladies and damsels. But when Oriana arrived, the daughter of King Lisuarte, the Queen gave her the Childe of the Sea to serve her, saying:

"My dear, this is a youth who will serve you."

Oriana said it pleased her. The Childe held these words in his heart in such a way that they never left his memory. Without fail, as this story tells it, never a day in his life did he find it tiresome to serve her, and his heart was always hers. This love endured as long as they lived, and as much as he loved her, she loved him, and not for a single moment did they cease to love each other.

But the Childe of the Sea, who did not at all recognize or realize much she loved him, believed it very bold merely to think of her, as noble and as beautiful as she was, so he dared not speak a word to her about his love. She kept her heart-felt love secret and spoke not a word of it to him or anyone else so no one would suspect it. But it gave their eyes great pleasure to look upon each other as the person each loved most in the world. So they lived, without their words or deeds revealing a thing to each other.

Time passed, as I have told you, and the Childe of the Sea realized that he could take up arms if he found someone who would make him a knight. He wanted this because, as a knight, he could do things that might get him killed, but if he lived, his lady would hold him in esteem. With this wish, he went to the King, who was in a garden, knelt before him, and said:

"My lord, if it pleases you, I would now become a knight."

The King said:

"Why, Childe of the Sea! Are ye so brave to become a knight? Know that is easy to get and hard to keep. Whoever wants to become one and to uphold the honor of the title of knight must do many grave things that will often trouble his heart. If a knight out of fear or greed fails to do his duty, he would be better to die than to live in shame. I would hold it well for ye to wait for a while."

"Not for all this would I give up being a knight, and if I knew I could not comply with what ye have said, my heart would not strive to be one. And since I am a servant at your mercy, fulfill your duty. If not, I will find someone who will."

The King, who feared that he would do so, said:

"Childe of the Sea, know that when it is more honorably time for you to become one, I promise to do it, and at that time ye shall have your arms and all else that ye require. But to whom do ye think to go?"

"To King Perion," he said, "who they tell me is a good knight and who is married to the sister of my lady the Queen. If I told him that I am her servant, I thought he would willingly arm me as a knight."

"For now, be patient," said the King, "and when the time comes, ye shall be honorably knighted."

Then he ordered all the equipment be made that would be necessary for the order of knighthood, and sent word to Gandales of all that had happened with his ward. It made Gandales very happy, and he sent a damsel to bring the Childe the sword, the ring, and the letter covered by wax that been in the ark when he found him.

One day, as the beautiful Oriana, along with other ladies and damsels, were at their leisure in the palace while the Queen slept, the Childe of the Sea was with them. He dared not even look at his lady, and he said to himself:

"Oh, God, why does it please Ye to have put so much beauty in this lady and so much trouble and pain in me because of her? It was a terrible moment when I set my eyes on her, for if they lose her light, and they will pay with death for the madness they have placed in my heart."

As he stood there, lost in thought, a page entered and told him:

"Childe of the Sea, a foreign damsel awaits you outside who brings gifts and wants to see you."

He wanted to go see her, but the heart of she who loved him shuddered when she heard it. Anyone who would have looked at Oriana could have seen how upset she was, but no one thought to do so. She said:

"Childe of the Sea, stay here and have the damsel enter, so we may see the gifts."

He remained, and the damsel entered, the one that Gandales had sent, who said:

"My lord Childe of the Sea, your foster father Gandales send you glad greetings, and as one who loves you, he sends you this sword, this ring, and this wax, and asks you to wear this sword for as long as ye shall live as a sign of his love."

He took the gifts and put the ring and the wax on his lap. He began to unwrap the sword from the linen cloth that surrounded it, wondering why it had no scabbard, and meanwhile Oriana took the wax, thinking that there was nothing else to it, merely wax, and told him:

"I would like this from these gifts."

He would have been more pleased to have her take the ring, which was one of the most beautiful in the world. As he was examining the sword, the King entered and said:

"Childe of the Sea, what do you think of this sword?"

"My lord, it seems very handsome, but I do not know why it has no scabbard."

"It has not had one for at least fifteen years," the King said.

He took him by the hand, led him aside, and told him:

"Ye wish to be a knight but ye do not know if ye have a right to it, and I want ye to know your estate as I know it."

And he told him how he had been found in the sea with that sword and ring inside an ark, as ye have heard it. The Childe said:

"I believe what ye say because that damsel told me that my foster-father Gandales sent me this sword, and I thought she misspoke when she did not say he was my father. But what hurts me is not what ye say but rather not knowing my lineage and family, just as they do not know me. But I believe I am a noble, and my heart gives me strength. And now, my lord, knighthood suits me more than ever, because with it I can gain honor and glory, and I do not know where I come from or if all those in my lineage are dead, since I do not know them, nor they me."

The King knew that he would be a brave and valiant man in every way, but as they were speaking, a knight came and told him:

"My lord, King Perion of Gaul has arrived at your house."

"My house? How?" said the King.

"He is at your palace," said the knight.

The King left quickly, as someone how knows how to honor all guests. After the two Kings saw each other and greeted each other, Languines said:

"My lord, why did ye come to this land so unexpectedly?"

"I came to find friends," King Perion said, "which I need now more than ever because King Abies of Ireland is at war with me. He has all his forces in my lands, camped in the countryside, and he is coming with Daganel, his cousin. Both have raised many men against me, so I need to enlist all my relatives and friends. I lost many men in the war, and I need all those who are loyal to me."

Languines told him:

"Brother, I am deeply saddened by your troubles, and I will help you as best I can."

Agrajes was already a knight, and he knelt in front of his father and said:

"My lord, I ask a gift from you."

Languines, who loved him as himself, said,

"Son, ask what ye wish."

"I ask you, my lord, that ye let me go to defend the Queen, my aunt."

"I grant that," he said, "and I shall send thee as honorably and finely as I can."

At that, King Perion was very happy.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

FAQ for the story so far

[I'm standing in the gothic cloister, built in the 1300s, at Sé Cathedral, Oporto, Portugal. Photo by my husband.]


1. Regarding the prologue, what's Rodríguez de Montalvo talking about? Shouldn't history be accurate?

You were obviously born in the 20th century. It took a while for historians to think of themselves as scientists rather than moralists, and now to think of anything else seems immoral.

2. Did secret marriages really exist, or is that just an authorial convenience?

Until the Council of Trent (1545-1563), private promises of marriage had the same legal standing as promises made in religious ceremonies. As you can imagine, sometimes these private promises turned out to be false, since not everyone in the real world was as honest and pious as our protagonists.

3. Did they really talk so stilted?

I prefer to think of it mannered and lofty. It is a distinctive literary device of the text. This unrealistic but stylish speech actually became hip and cool in Renaissance society, like any other trendy slang. Eventually, of course, it became dated and unfashionable, and now it is unthinkable.

4. What about ye and thou?

The original text uses vos and as distinct forms of you: in early modern English, the equivalent is the polite ye and the familiar thou. In medieval times, everyone occupied a set place in the social hierarchy, and it is revealing, at times even shocking, to notice who speaks as a superior, equal, or inferior to whom, and when. Note that familiarity need not be reciprocal.

5. There's a lot of violence, isn't there?

Yes. This is a medieval story. In medieval European society, in a state of near-constant war, knights were esteemed members of nobility, born to fight, and fight they did. There will be much more blood to come.

6. Damsels? Really?

In Spanish, the word is donzella, and it comes from the Latin dominicella, which means "young noblewoman." Not every young woman or girl is a damsel, though that's about the only breed we see in this novel. Donzel is the male version in Spanish; there is no English equivalent. As a boy, Amadis is called Donzel del Mar, which is traditionally translated as "Child of the Sea." You already know that he's very noble.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chapter 3

[Seaside near the Crozon Peninsula, Brittany, photo by Charles Betz.]


How King Languines took with him the Childe of the Sea and Gandalin, son of Sir Gandales.

At that moment, the King and Gandales entered, and the Queen said:

"Tell me, Sir Gandales, is your son that handsome childe?"

"Yes, my lady," he said.

"Well," she said, "why is he called the Childe of the Sea?"

"Because he was born in the sea," Gandales said, "when I was returning from Little Brittany."

"By God, he does not look like you." The Queen said this because the childe was marvelously handsome, and Sir Gandales had more virtue than good looks. The King looked at the boy, who seemed very handsome to him, and said:

"Have him come here, Gandales. I would like to raise him."

"My lord," he said, "I will do it, but he is still too young to be taken from his mother."

Then Gandales went and brought him, and asked him:

"Childe of the Sea, do ye wish to go with my lord the King?"

"I will go where ye send me," he said, "and send my brother with me."

"I will not stay without him," Gandalin said.

"I believe, my lord," said Gandales, "that ye will have to take both, for they do not wish to be apart."

"That would greatly please me," the King said.

Then he brought Gandales to his side, ordered his son Agrajes to be called, and told him:

"Son, love these boys deeply, just as I love their father."

When Gandales saw that they were putting the Childe of the Sea in the hands of someone who was not worth as much as he, tears came to his eyes and he said to himself:

"Beautiful son, ye began a life of adventure and danger when thou wert small, and now I see thee in the service of those who should serve thee. May God keep thee and guide thee in the tasks of their service and of thy great honor, and make true the words that the wise Urganda said to me about thee. May God allow me to live to see the mighty wonders at arms that are promised to thee."

The King, who saw his eyes filled with tears, said:

"I never thought ye were so tender."

"I am not as much as ye think," he said, "but if it pleases you, let me speak briefly with you and the Queen."

They ordered all to leave, and Gandales told them:

"My lords, know the truth. I found the childe that you are taking in the sea."

He told them how it happened, and he would have told them what he had learned from Urganda if he could have, but he had taken an oath.

"Now do with him as ye should, because, God help me, judging by the items he had with him, he comes from a great lineage."

It pleased the King much to know it. He praised the knight for having protected the childe so well, and he said to Sir Gandales:

"Since God took such care in protecting him, we must also care for him and do him right when the time comes."

The Queen said:

"I want him to be mine, if it please you, while he is of the age to serve women, then he shall be yours."

The King agreed.

The next day in the morning, they left, taking the boys with them, and went on their way. But I tell ye that the Queen raised the Childe of the Sea with as much care and honor as if he were her own son. The effort that they put into him was not in vain, for his wit was such and his nature so noble that he learned everything better and faster than any other child. He loved the hunt and the forest so much that if they had let him, he would never have left it, shooting his bow and training the hunting dogs. The Queen was so pleased with his service that she never let him leave her presence.

The author here turns to tell of King Perion and his beloved Elisena. As you have already heard, Perion remained in his kingdom after he had asked the clerics to explain his dream, and he often thought of the words that the damsel had told him, but he could not understand them.

After several days had passed, he was in his palace when a damsel entered by the gate and gave him a letter from his beloved Elisena. In it, she told how King Garinter, her father, had died and how she was abandoned, and asked him to have pity for her. The Queen of Scotland, her sister, and her husband the King, wanted to take her lands. Although King Perion greatly mourned the death of King Garinter, he was happy to think of going to see his beloved, for whom he had never lost his desire. He said to the damsel:

"Go now and tell your lady that without a day's delay, I will be with her."

This made the damsel very happy. The King prepared the party to accompany him and left on the road straight to where Elisena was. He traveled each day from dawn to dusk, and when he arrived in Little Brittany, he heard the news that Languines had taken dominion of the land, except for those towns that Elisena's father had left her. He learned that she was in a town called Acarte, and he went there.

It does not need to be told that he was well received, and she by him, for they both loved each other deeply. The King told her to call together all their friends and relatives because he wanted to marry her. She did it with great joy in her spirit because it fulfilled all her desires.

When King Languines learned of the arrival of King Perion and how he wanted to marry Elisena, he called together all the noblemen of the land and went to see him with them. The couple greeted and received him with good will, and when the wedding and feasts were done, the Kings knew they must return to their kingdoms.

As King Perion was traveling with Elisena, his wife, they and their party passed along the bank of a river, where they decided to camp. The king rode alone upstream, thinking about how he would ask Elisena about child that the clerics had told him about when they explained his dream. He traveled so far thinking about this that he arrived at a hermitage, where he tied the horse to a tree and entered to pray. Inside he saw an old man dressed in a habit, who said to the King:

"Knight, is it true that King Perion has married the daughter of our lord the King?"

"It is true," he said.

"I am very pleased," said the good hermit, "for I know for certain that she loves him with all her heart."

"How do ye know this?" he said.

"From her lips," said the hermit.

The King, thinking that he might learn what he wanted to know, told him who he was and said:

"I beg you tell me what she told you."

"That would be a grievous error," said the hermit, "and ye would turn me into a heretic if I told what I heard in confession. It is enough to tell you that she loves you with a true and faithful love. But I want ye to know something a damsel who seemed very wise told me at the same time that you came to this land, something which I do not understand. She said that two dragons will leave Little Brittany who had their dominion in Gaul and their hearts in Great Britain, and from there they will leave to eat the beasts of other lands. Against some, they will be brave and fierce, but against others, tame and humble as if they had neither claws nor hearts. I was very astonished to hear this, but not because I understand it."

The King too was astonished, and although at the time he did not understand it, eventually he clearly knew it to be the truth. So King Perion left the hermit and returned to the tents where he had left his wife and his company.

That night the couple enjoyed themselves, and as they lay pleasurably in their bed, he told the Queen about what the masters had declared about his dream. He begged her to tell him if she had borne a child. The Queen, when she heard this, felt so ashamed that she wanted to die, and she denied it, saying that she had never given birth. Thus the King could not learn what he wanted to know.

The next day they left there, and after traveling several more days, arrived in the kingdom of Gaul. Everyone in that land was pleased with the Queen, who was a very noble lady. There the King spent more time than usual at home, and he had by her a son and a daughter. The son was called Galaor and the daughter Melicia.

When the boy was two and a half years old, his father the King was in a seaside town called Bangil. He was standing at a window overlooking a garden where the Queen was relaxing with her ladies and damsels, with the boy alongside her, who had by then begun to walk.

They saw a giant enter through a gate that led to the sea, with a great mace in his hand. He was so tall and ugly that any man who saw him would be afraid, as were the Queen and her company. Some fled to the trees while others fell on the ground, covering their eyes so as not to see him. But the giant headed for the child, whom he saw abandoned and alone. When he drew near, the child raised his arms to him, laughing. The giant picked him up, and said:

"What the damsel told me is true."

He turned toward where he had come from, got onto a boat, and headed out to sea.

The Queen, who saw him leave carrying the child, screamed and shouted, but it did no good. Her sorrow and that of all the others was so great that the King, who felt deep grief because he had not been able to save his son but had seen that it could not have been prevented, went down to the garden to console the Queen. She was beside herself with the memory of the son she had sent to the sea, because now this other son, with whom she had hoped to console her sadness, had just been lost as well, with no hope of ever recovering him. She raved like none other in the world. But the King took her with him and brought her to her room, and when he saw she had calmed somewhat, he said:

"My lady, know I know what the clerics told me was the truth. This was the second heart. Tell me the truth, for the way things were at the time, ye cannot be held responsible."

The Queen, despite her great shame, told him everything that had happened with the first son, and how she had sent him to the sea.

"Do not fear my anger," the King said. "It has pleased God that we have had little joy in these two sons, but I hope that He will make the time come when by good fortune we will learn news of them."

The giant that took the childe was from Leonis and had two castles on an island. He was named Gandalas and was not such an evildoer as other giants. He had a good disposition until he was enraged, and then he was capable of great cruelty. He went with the child to a cape of the island where there was a hermit, a layman leading a pious life. The giant had populated the island with Christians and ordered them give alms for his maintenance. He said:

"My friend, I give you this boy to raise and teach all things proper for a knight. I want you to know he is the son of a king and queen, and I prohibit you to harm him."

The good man said to him:

"Tell me, why didst thou commit such a cruel act?"

"I shall tell thee," he said. "When I was about to get on a boat to fight with Albadan, the fierce giant who killed my father and who took the Rock of Galtares from me by force, when it should be mine, I met a damsel who told me: 'That which thou wantest must be carried out by the son of King Perion of Gaul, who will be stronger and faster than thou.' I asked her if she spoke the truth. 'Thou wilt see it happen,' she said, 'when the two branches of a tree, now separate, are united.'"

That is how he left the childe named Galaor in the care of the hermit, and what happened to him will be told farther along.

In the time when these things that ye have heard of took place, there reigned in Great Britain a king named Falangriz, who died without an heir. He had brother named Lisuarte who had great prowess in arms and who was very wise. Lisuarte had recently married the daughter of the king of Denmark, named Brisena, and she was the most beautiful damsel that could be found in all the islands of the sea. Her father had not dared to give her to any of the high princes who had asked for her, out of fear of some of them. When she saw Lisuarte and knew of his good conduct and great courage, she dismissed them all and married him, who served her with love.

When King Falangriz died, the noblemen of Great Britain, who knew about the deeds in arms Lisuarte had done and how his great feats had led to his marriage to a princess, sent for him to take the kingdom as his.


[Translator's notes: Boys served women from age 7 to 14, during which time they would learn such lessons as manners and cleanliness. Leonis is the kingdom in Arthurian legend where Tristan, one of the Knights of the Round Table, was from. Leonis may be imaginary, or it may refer to an area in Scotland or Brittany.]