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.


  1. Wouldn't the equivalent of "donzel" be "childe", which is defined as a youth of noble birth? It's an archaism, but it's a real English word.

  2. Yes, you're right. Thank you! I'll start using it, and as fast as the day job lets me, I'll go back and correct the earlier chapters. Yes, it's an archaism, but so is thou and ye.