Thursday, May 28, 2009

Princesses from far-away lands

How I was reminded of the reason why Amadis and Oriana must proceed with total secrecy.

[Political map of Europe in 1346, just before the arrival of the Black Death, created and copyright © 2003 Melissa Snell, at Medieval History.]


At first, it struck me as almost an authorial convenience that Amadis and Oriana have to go through such enormous efforts to make sure that no one discovers their passion for each other. Then, earlier this month, I was in Barcelona and visited a museum exhibit that reminded me of a fact that would have been obvious to medieval and Renaissance readers: theirs is a forbidden, impossible love.

I visited "Princesses from far-away lands: Catalonia and Hungary in the Middle Ages" (Princeses de terres llunyanes: Catalunya i Hongria a l'edat mitjana) at the Museu d'Història de Catalunya. It describes the four attempts between the 12th and 16th centuries to use royal marriages to forge alliances between the Kingdom of Aragón in Spain and the Kingdom of Hungary.

More than 200 artifacts from museums and collections across Europe and the United States magnificently illustrate the environments surrounding these princesses. They were married off in their teens to men they had never seen, but they seemed to accept their destiny, and in fact they often proved as tough, shrewd, and capable of governing a kingdom as the men in their lives.

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, every royal household in Europe was doing business in the marriage market. The family trees displayed in the exhibit look more like labyrinths than dendroids.

In our novel, King Lisuarte of Great Britain is naturally looking for the best bargain he can get for Princess Oriana, and everyone knows it. Although Amadis is a prince, Gaul doesn't seem to be important enough to merit consideration. Our hero's only hope is to become the world's best knight. In the meantime, if anyone learns of their love, Amadis and Oriana will face catastrophe.

So Amadis will fight any foe, attempt any noble deed, and strive to gain all the honor he can, whatever the peril, to prove himself worthy her hand. He and Oriana face a long, hard struggle, as ye shall see.


Another historical tidbit: Ye have heard how King Lisuarte had the tombs for Dardan and his beloved placed over carved stone lions. This was the custom in the 13th century: the stone sepulchers had lion-headed stone support beams set crosswise at their ends, which held the tombs off the ground, but which also served a symbolic purpose. The lions represented the death that devours all life, and they guarded the tombs against those who would despoil them.

Still, most of the sculptors probably never saw a real lion. I've seen such tombs, and I think the lions usually look more like hairy-headed, toothy, pug-nosed dogs. But it's the thought that counts.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chapter 14 [first half]

How King Lisuarte buried Dardan and his beloved, and had the manner of their death inscribed on their tombs.

[Windsor Palace arms. Photo by Immanuel Geil.]


After the battle had been fought in which Dardan and his beloved were so cruelly killed, the King ordered two tombs brought and set on stone lions in the battlefield. They put Dardan and his lover in them, with an inscription describing what had happened. And in time, there was added the name of the knight who had defeated him, as shall be given further on.

The King asked where the unknown knight was, but no one knew what to say except that he had left for the forest as fast as his horse could go.

"Who would not want to have such a man in his company!" said the King. "In addition to his great courage, I believe that he is very self-controlled, for ye all heard the insults that Dardan had given him, and although he had Dardan in his power, he did not wish to kill him. I fully believe that he understood that if he had been at the will of the other knight, Dardan would have had no mercy on him."

He and everyone else were speaking about the unknown knight as they entered the palace. Oriana said to the Damsel of Denmark:

"My friend, I suspect that that knight who fought here is Amadis. Now would be the time for him to arrive, since I sent you to tell him to come without delay.

"In truth, I believe it is him," said the Damsel, "and I should have remembered it today when I saw that the knight rode on a white horse, which without a doubt he had when I left him." She added: "Did ye recognize the insignia he had on his arms?"

"No," Oriana said. "All the paint had been knocked from his shield by blows, but it seems to me that it had a field of gold."

"My lady," she said, "in the battle with King Abies, he had a shield with a field of gold on which two blue lions attacked each other, but that shield was destroyed there. He ordered another made like it, and he told me that he would bring it when he came here. I think that was it."

"My friend, if it is him," Oriana said, "he will come or he will send a messenger to the town. Go out as farther than usual to see if ye can find a message."

"My lady," she said, "I will do so."

Oriana said:

"Oh, God, what mercy ye do me if it is him, for now it may come to pass that I can talk with him!"

Thus the two damsels spoke.

Now the story turns to tell what happened to Amadis. After he left the battle, he passed through the forest so well hidden that no one saw him, and in the afternoon he arrived at the tents, where he found Gandalin and the damsels, who had dinner waiting. He got off the horse and they disarmed him. The damsels told him how Dardan had killed his beloved and then himself, and why. He crossed himself many times to hear such bad news, then they sat down to eat with pleasure.

But Amadis never stopped thinking about how to let his lady know he had arrived and about what she had ordered him to do. When the table cloths had been lifted, he got up, took Gandalin to the side, and told him:

"My friend, go to town and try to see the Damsel of Denmark, but secretly, and tell her that I am here, and have her send word on what to do."

Gandalin agreed to go on foot in order to do it more secretly. So he went, and when he arrived at the town, he went to the palace of the King. He was not there long before he saw the Damsel of Denmark, who was walking back and forth without pause. He approached her and greeted her, and she him, and looking at him more closely, she saw that he was Gandalin. She told him:

"Oh, my friend, thou art very welcome. Where is thy lord?"

"Ye have seen him already today," Gandalin said, "for it was he who won the battle. I left him hidden in the forest, and he has sent me to you to learn what to do."

"He shall be welcome in this land," she said, "for his lady will be very happy with him. Follow me, and if someone asks, say that thou art from the Queen of Scotland bringing a message from her to Oriana, and that thou comest to look for Amadis, who is in this land, in order to accompany him, and thus thou canst be in his company later without anyone suspecting anything."

So they entered the palace of the Queen, and the Damsel said to Oriana:

"My lady, ye see here a squire who brings thee a message from the Queen of Scotland."

Oriana was very happy at that, and even more when she saw that he was Gandalin. He knelt before her and said:

"My lady, the Queen sends you fond greetings as she who loves ye and esteems ye, and who would by pleased by your honor and would do what she could to help it grow."

"May the Queen be blessed," Oriana said. "I am pleased by her commendations. Come to this window and tell me all thy can."

Then she took him aside and had him sit next to her, and told him:

"My friend, where didst thou leave thy lord?"

"I left him in the forest," he said, "where he went last night after he won the battle."

"My friend," she said, "by thy good fortune, tell me how he is."

"My lady," he said, "he does as ye shall desire, as he who is all yours and who is dying for you. His soul suffers like no other knight."

He began to weep and said:

"My lady, he would not disobey your orders no matter what good or ill may come. By God, my lady, have mercy on him, for he has suffered so far more than anyone else in the world could have withstood. Indeed, I often expected him to fall dead before me, his heart dissolved by tears. And if he has the fortune to live, he will be the best knight who ever bore arms. Certainly, by the great and honorable deeds he has accomplished so far since he has been a knight, he is already the best. But his good fortune failed when he met you, and he shall die before his time. Surely it would be better for him to have died at sea, where he had been thrown before his parents knew him, since now they see him die without being able to help him."

He continued to weep and said:

"My lady, cruel shall be the death of my lord, and many will ache with pain for him if he were to suffer more than he already has without any relief at all."

Oriana, weeping and wringing her hands, said:

"Oh, my friend Gandalin, by God, be still. Do not tell me any more. God knows how it would hurt me if thou believest what thou sayest. I could rather kill my heart and all that I have. How could I want his death, which would be so hard that I would not live one more day if he were to die? Thou blamest me because thou knowest his thoughts but not mine. If thou wert to know them, thou wouldst ache for me and not blame me. But people cannot always help those whom they wish, and instead they may be further separated, even though being apart hurts and angers them. So regarding your lord, if it were up to me, as God knows, if I could, I would very willingly try to remedy his deep desires and my own."

Gandalin told her:

"Do as ye must if ye love him, for he loves you more than all other women who are loved today, and my lady, now tell him what to do."

Oriana showed him a garden that was below the window where they were speaking, and told him:

"My friend, go to your lord and tell him to come tonight very secretly and enter the garden. Below here is the room where Mabilia and I sleep, and it has a small window close to the ground with an iron screen, and through it we shall speak, since Mabilia already knows my heart."

And she took a beautiful ring from her finger and gave it to Gandalin to take to Amadis, because she liked that ring more than any other that she had. She said:

"Before thou goest, see Mabilia, who can tell thee well how to proceed secretly, since she is very wise. Between ye two, say that thou bringest news of her mother, so no one will suspect a thing."

Oriana ordered Mabilia called to see the squire sent by her mother, and when she saw that he was Gandalin, she understood why. Oriana went to her mother the Queen, who asked if the squire would be returning soon to Scotland, because she would send gifts with him to the Queen.

"My lady," she said, "the squire has come to look for Amadis, son of the King of Gaul, the good knight of whom many here speak."

"And where is he?" the Queen said.

"The squire says that more than ten months ago he heard news that he was coming here," she said, "and he is surprised that he cannot be found."

"God help me," said the Queen, "I would be very pleased to see that knight in the company of my lord the King, for he would be a great aid in the many disputes that come from all sides, and I tell ye that if he comes here, nothing that he may ask for, if the King can do it, will prevent him from entering his service."

"My lady," Oriana said, "of his chivalry I know nothing more than what they say, but I tell ye that he was the most handsome young nobleman known at the time when he served me and Mabilia and other ladies and damsels in the court of the King of Scotland."

Meanwhile, Mabilia, who had remained with Gandalin, said:

"My friend, is thy lord in these lands now?"

"Yes, my lady," he said, "and he sends you fond greetings as the cousin whom he loves most in the world. He was the knight who won that battle here."

She prayed:

"Oh, Lord God,blessed be Thou for creating such a fine knight in our family and for making him known to us."

To Gandalin, she said:

"My friend, how is he?"

"My lady," he said, "he would be well, if it were not for the power of love, which may kill him. By God, my lady, help him and soon, for truly, if he does not find some relief for his love, the best knight in your family and in the world shall be lost."

"He shall not perish for me," she said, "for I will do what I can. Now go and give him fond greetings from me and tell him to come as my lady orders. Thou canst speak with us as my mother's squire as often as necessary."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Song of El Cid

How a fragile text turned a real medieval Spanish knight into a myth.

[Monument erected to the Cid in Burgos, Spain, in 1955, sculpted by Juan Cristóbal González Quesada.]


Amadis may have been the greatest fictional knight in the world, but El Cid is Spain's most famous real knight — mostly because he, too, was immortalized in a literary masterpiece, The Song of El Cid.

The original manuscript of the 148-page epic rests in Spain's National Library in Madrid in a climate-controlled triple-locked safe. The goatskin parchment has been nibbled by insects and warped by time. The first three pages and two interior pages are missing, and others are torn, stained, or full of holes. The binding is cracked and falling apart, and, because the manuscript was treated with gallic acid in the 18th century to darken the rusting iron-based ink, the chemicals are eating away what remains of the pages.

Still, it's a treasure, the most complete text of its kind, and Spain's first great literary work.

The poem, in medieval Castilian, was probably composed around 1110 or 1140 by troubadours, though the details are subject to debate. It was apparently written down by Per Abbat in 1207, a cleric and scribe, who had heard it sung, although some scholars speculate that he actually composed it. A century later, the pages were bound into a book.

In the 1500s, the book was in the archives of the city of Vivar, and later it passed through a series of private owners before being purchased by the National Library in 1960.

Who was El Cid? Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar was born in Vivar, near Burgos, in about 1043, the son of minor nobility. As expected of a boy of his time and place, he became a knight. The Reconquest was a time of constant warfare in Spain: Christian and Moorish kings fought each other and among themselves, and a professional man-at-arms found mercenary work where he could.

Rodrigo originally served King Sancho IV and then his successor, King Alfonso VI, whom he had once defeated in battle. Perhaps because of that, he eventually lost Alfonso's support and was exiled in 1081. He wandered through Spain looking for work, and came to fight for the Moorish King al-Muqtadir of Zaragoza. It was there, due to his valor and success in battle, that he got the title of "El Cid" or "The Greatest."

As the fortunes of war changed, sometimes El Cid acted as an ally of King Alfonso despite their quarrels, and sometimes he fought against Alfonso's supporters.

El Cid conquered Valencia from the Moors in 1089 and reigned as lord of the city until his death in 1099. It fell to the Moors again in 1101, but his wife took his remains to be interred in the San Pedro de Cardeña Monastery in near Burgos, and they were taken in 1842 to the Burgos cathedral.

It had been an exciting life, full of deeds, intrigues, and conquests, and soon it was sung by troubadours as they traveled from town to town. The epic centers on the rocky relationship between El Cid and King Alfonso, and it turned the knight into a myth.

Regardless of why it's written, the meaning of a literary work changes with time. Some historians say El Cid acquired his mythical dimensions only after 1898, when Spain lost the last of its empire and its imperial identity. Promotion of The Song of El Cid became a means to re-establish a Castilian hero as the essence of Spanish culture, to the detriment, some critics say, of other regions of Spain — but Spain wouldn't be Spain without controversy.

In any case, The Song of El Cid characterizes Rodrigo Díaz as heroic and idealized, but with a distinct personality. He emerges as a pragmatic man who shows great tenderness toward his family. The work is realistic, unlike similar contemporary works from elsewhere in Europe: no dragons, sorcerers, magic weapons, or supernatural events.

There's even a little humor, a another common element in Spanish literature across the centuries, often with an ironic bite. El Cid is idealized, but not his society.

Just like Shakespeare's Hamlet in English, The Song of El Cid remains popular today, especially in Spain. You can read children's editions and scholarly critiques, watch television documentaries, enjoy spin-off literature — and of course get a DVD of the 1961 movie staring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, which diverges significantly from both the poem and history.

You can also see a scan of the manuscript online, read more modern versions, and consult scholarly works (in Spanish) courtesy of the Biblioteca Nacional de España:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chapter 13 [final half]

[In which Amadis fought with Dardan, and how he seemed to be struck by cowardice.]

[Codex Manesse, c. 1320, a German illuminated manuscript of love songs.]


The next day they traveled without any incident to recount until they arrived at Windsor, where King Lisuarte was. As they came close to the town, Amadis said to the damsels:

"My friends, I do not wish to be known by anyone, and until the knight comes for the battle, I will remain here hidden somewhere. Send one of these squires who knows me to call me when it is time."

"My lord," they said, "there remain only two days until the date. If ye wish, we will stay with you and send someone to town to tell us when the knight has arrived."

"So be it," he said.

Then they left the road and had the tents put up along a riverbank. The damsels said that they wanted to go to the town and would return soon. Amadis mounted his horse, unarmed, and with Gandalin, went to a hillock where they thought they could see the town better. Near it was a wide road. Amadis sat at the foot of a tree, began to gaze at the town, and saw its towers and walls raised high. He said in his heart:

"Oh, God! Where in there is the flower of the world? Oh, town, how lofty thou art to have now in thee the lady who is without par in goodness or beauty in all the world, and I even say that she is the most loved of all the women who are loved. I would prove this to the best knight in the world, if she were to grant it to me!"

After having praised his lady, a great distress came to him, and tears to his eyes. His heart failed, and he fell into a deep melancholy in which he was so lost that he was unaware of himself and everyone else. Gandalin saw a company of ladies and knights coming down the wide road toward his lord, so he went to him and said:

"My lord, do ye not see the company coming here?"

But he did not respond. Gandalin took him by the hand and pulled him up. He arose, sighing deeply, and his face was all wet with tears. Gandalin told him:

"May God help me, my lord, your melancholy worries me greatly, for ye take such distress in things which any other knight in the world would not. Ye must confront them and have courage, as ye do in other things."

Amadis told him:

"Oh, my friend Gandalin, how my heart suffers! Since thou lovest me, I know that thou wilt advise death rather than living in such great distress and desiring that which I cannot see."

Gandalin, who could not refrain from crying, said:

"My lord, this is a misadventure of excessively deep love and, God help me, I think there is no woman so noble nor so beautiful to equal your goodness, nor shall there be."

Amadis, when he heard this, grew angry and told him:

"Go! How darest thou, crazy and senseless, rave like that? Can I or anyone else be worth as much as she in whom all the goodness in the world is gathered? And if thou sayest that again, thou shalt not go one step more with me."

Gandalin said:

"Wipe your eyes so that those who are coming do not see your tears."

"What?" he said. "Someone is coming?"

"Yes," Gandalin said.

Then he showed him the ladies and knights that were now close to the hillock. Amadis mounted his horse, rode toward them, and greeted them, and they him. He saw among them a lady exceedingly beautiful and well dressed, who was crying uncontrollably. Amadis said to her:

"My lady, may God make you happy."

"And may He give you honor," she said, "but happiness now is far away from me, if God does not grant me help."

"May God grant it," he said. "But what sorrow is it that ye suffer?"

"My friend," she said, "all I own is at risk and on trial by combat."

He understood then that she was the lady of whom the damsels had spoken, and he told her:

"My lady, do ye have someone who will fight for you?"

"No," she said, "and the date is tomorrow."

"Then, what do ye think will happen?" he said.

"In the court of the King, if there is no one who will duel for me and take on this combat out of mercy and righteousness," she said, "I will lose all."

"May God give you good help," Amadis said. "It would please me greatly, both for you and because I despise he whom ye face."

"God make you a good man," she said, "and quickly give you and me vengeance on him."

Amadis went to his tents and the lady with her companions to the town, and the damsels arrived soon to tell him that Dardan was now in the town, well-prepared to do battle. Amadis told them how he met the lady and what happened. That night they rested, and at dawn of day the damsels arose and told Amadis that they were going to the town and that they would send someone to say what the knight was doing.

"I wish to go with you to be close by," he said, "and when Dardan comes on the field, one of you should come tell me."

And then he armed himself and they all left together, and when they were close to the town, Amadis remained at the edge of the forest and the damsels went on. He got off his horse and took off his helmet and shield, and waited.

It was sunrise, and at this time, as ye hear, King Lisuarte rode with a large company of good men to a field between the town and the forest. Dardan arrived there well-armed on a beautiful horse, and he brought his beloved by the reins, as well-dressed as he could make her, and he stopped with her in front of King Lisuarte and said:

"My lord, order that all be delivered to this lady which ought to be hers, and if there is a knight who says no, I shall fight him."

King Lisuarte ordered to have the other lady called up. She came before him, and he said:

"My lady, do ye have someone who will fight for you?"

"My lord, no," she said, weeping.

The King felt great pity for her, because she was a good lady. Dardan went and stood in the place where he would have to wait, armed, until the third hour of day, and if no knight came to challenge him, the King would have to find in his favor, as that was the custom.

When the damsels saw him waiting, one went as fast as she could to tell Amadis. He rode and, taking his arms, told Gandalin and the damsel to leave by another route, and if he left the battle with his honor, to go to the tents, where he would arrive. Then he left the forest fully armed on a white horse, and he rode toward where Dardan was readying his weapons. When the King and the townspeople saw a knight leave the forest, they wondered who it was, for no one could recognize him, and they said that they had never seen a knight with such handsome arms and horse. The King said to the lady who had been challenged:

"My lady, who is this knight who wishes to take up your cause?"

"May God help me," she said, "I do not know and never recall seeing him."

Amadis entered the field where Dardan was and said:

"Dardan, now defend the cause of thy beloved, and I shall defend that of the other lady with the help of God, and free myself of what I promised thou."

"What didst thou promise me?" he said.

"That I would fight with thee," Amadis said, "for learning thy name when thou wert villainous toward me."

"Now I value you less than before," Dardan said.

"Now nothing ye say means anything to me," Amadis said, "because I am here to avenge myself, if God gives me fortune."

"Let the lady come and pledge thee as her knight," Dardan said, "then avenge thyself if thou canst."

Then the King arrived with his knights to see what was happening. Dardan said to the lady:

"This knight wishes to fight for you. Do ye grant him that right?"

"I grant it," she said, "and may God give him a fine reward for it."

The King looked at Amadis and saw that his shield had been damaged in many places, and the edge was cut by sword blows. He said to the other knights:

"If that unknown knight were to ask for a shield, give him it immediately, for he merits it."

But Amadis was so intent on fighting Dardan that he had thoughts of nothing else, holding his foul words in his memory more fresh and recent than when they happened, for which all ought to take example and rein in their tongues, especially with those whom they do not know, because grave consequences have occurred over similar incitements.

The King drew back, along with everyone else. Dardan and Amadis came at each other from a distance. Their horses were fleet and light, and the knights very strong, and they hit each other with their lances so bravely that all their armor failed, but neither was injured, though the lances were broken. The bodies of their horses and their shields collided so fiercely that it was amazing.

Dardan went to the earth in that first joust, but it went well for him because he kept the reins in his hand. Amadis passed by him, and Dardan remounted quickly and rode as skillfully as before. He bravely put his hand on his sword.

When Amadis turned toward him on his horse, he saw him ready to attack, so he put his hand on his sword, and both attacked so fiercely that all were frightened to see the battle. The townspeople were in the towers, on the wall, and everywhere where they could best see the fight. The rooms of the Queen overlooked the wall and had many windows filled by ladies and damsels, and they watched the knights battle, which terrified them to see.

They struck each other on their helmets, which were of fine steel, so that it seemed to all that their heads were burning due to the great sparks that flew off. Their hauberks and other armor fell to the earth in pieces, in fragments of mail, and in many slices of their shields.

Their battle was so brutal that all who saw it took fright, and the knights did not pause in their attacks from all sides. Each one showed the other his strength and spirit. King Lisuarte watched them, and of the many combats he had fought in or had seen with his own eyes, all seemed like nothing compared to this. He said:

"This is the bravest battle that man has seen. I want to see how it ends and have a statue of the victor placed at gate of my palace so that all those who hope to win honor may see it."

The knights continued their battle with great spirit, as ye have heard, attacking with fearsome blows and without even a brief rest. Amadis had deep anger with Dardan and hoped to find a place in the court of the King where his lady awaited, so he could serve her. He saw that the other knight was becoming slower, and he began to give bigger and harder blows, because he wished to show his worth there more than anywhere else, for there was where his lady was.

Thus by the third hour of day, all had realized that Dardan was getting the worst of the battle, but he could still defend himself so well that no one there was so valiant as to dare to fight him. But that made no difference, for the unknown knight had only improved in strength and in spirit, attacking as fiercely as he had in the beginning. Everyone said that nothing about him waned except his horse, which was now not as effective as it should have been, the same as the horse of his combatant. Both often stumbled, or fell to their knees with their riders on top, and could hardly be made to charge. Dardan, who believed he could fight better on foot than on horseback, said to Amadis:

"Knight, our horses are failing, for they are very tired, and this is making our fight last longer. I believe that if we had fought on foot, I would have quickly defeated thee."

He said this loudly so that the King and all those with him could hear it. The unknown knight was greatly shamed by this, and said:

"Well, if thou believest thyself better defended on foot than on horse, let us dismount. Defend thyself as necessary, although it seems to me that a knight ought not leave his horse as long as he can stay on it."

So they immediately got off their horses, and each one took what remained of his shield, and with great spirit they went at each other, attacking more bravely than before, which amazed those who watched. But the unknown knight was better than ever and landed truer blows than the other, and struck harder and more frequently, never allowing him to rest, although he saw that Dardan needed it. Often he made him swing from one side to the other, and fall to his knees, so much that everyone said:

"Dardan was mad to ask to fight on foot with that knight, who could not land blows from his horse, which was very tired."

As so the unknown knight had Dardan at his bidding, who now was trying more than ever to protect himself from the blows of the other knight's attacks and was retreating toward the Queen's palace. The damsels and all others said that Dardan would die if he kept fighting. When they were below the windows, they all called out:

"Holy Mary! Dardan is dead!"

Thus Amadis heard the Damsel of Denmark, recognizing her voice. He looked up and saw his lady Oriana in a window with the Damsel. As soon as he looked at her, his sword swung in his hand, and he lost sight of the battle and everything else. Dardan took it a as a chance rest. He saw that his enemy was looking elsewhere, and he took his sword in both hands and gave him such a blow on his helmet that he made it twist on his head. In response, Amadis only straightened it, rather than return the blow, and Dardan began to attack on all sides. Amadis barely fought back, for his thoughts were muted by seeing his lady. At this time Dardan began to improve, and Amadis to worsen. The Damsel of Denmark shouted:

"At a bad moment that knight saw someone in this window, because he lost himself and allowed Dardan to recover, who was at the point of death. Surely, a knight ought not to fail in his task at such a time."

Amadis heard this and felt such shame that he wished to die out of fear that his lady might find him cowardly. He charged at Dardan and struck him on the top of his helmet with so mighty a blow that he made him fall to his hands on the earth. Then he took Dardan by the helmet, tugged until he pulled it off his head, and hit him with it so hard that he fell stunned. Then Amadis hit him in the face with the pummel of his sword and said:

"Dardan, thou art dead if thou dost not free that lady of thy challenge."

He said:

"Oh, knight, mercy, do not kill me, I free her!"

Then the King and the knights came to hear him. Amadis, who was ashamed over what had happened, mounted his horse and galloped as fast as he could toward the forest.

Dardan's lover came to where he was injured, and said to him:

"Dardan, from today on do not look at me as a lover, not ye nor any other man in the world, only that fine knight who has just fought this battle."

"What?" Dardan said. "I have been defeated and disgraced for thee, and thou wishest to leave me for the knight who caused thee harm and me dishonor? By God, what a woman thou art, what things thou sayest! I will give thee the reward thy treachery merits."

He put his hand on his sword, which he still had on its belt, and gave her such a blow that her head fell at her feet. Then he realized what he had done and said:

"Oh, miserable me! What did I do? I killed the person whom I most loved in the world. But I will avenge her death."

He took his sword by its point and drove it into himself, and no one could keep him from dying, though they tried.

Since everyone had come to see the fight, it is a wonder that no one went after Amadis to find out who he was. But that death had greatly pleased everyone, because, although Dardan was the most valiant and courageous knight in all Great Britain, his arrogance and bad conduct made him employ his skills to the injury of many, taking things illegally, and holding his strength and the passion of his heart more highly than the justice of the Lord on high, Who with very little of His power can make the very strong defeated and dishonored by the very weak.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A collection of relevant links

In which we can discover a few interesting articles and sites.

[Gold penny of King Henry III, 1257-1258, from the Fitzwilliam Museum.]


The Middle Ages is alive and well on the Internet. Here are a few notable links:

Éowyn under Seiege: Female Warriors during the Middle Ages
This article in Strange Horizons e-zine describes the realities of women in battle.

Guide to Carcassonne, France
Visit one the best medieval walled cities still in existence. This brief but seductive tourist guide includes videos and an aerial photo of the city that alone is worth the click.

Coin of the Moment, Fitzwilliam Museum
Coins and medals of particular interest from the Fitzwilliam Museum collection are described, with commentaries on the history behind the money — for example, why King Henry's gold penny failed, and what the depiction of the King tells us.

The castle Monty Python made famous
Terry Jones, who directed the Monty Python movie about the Holy Grail filmed at Doune Castle, which attracts many fans, is the voice of the new audio guide.

Chivalry goes to Gaul with Amadis
I'm interviewed in Episode #31 of the Chivalry Today podcast.

xkcd - A Webcomic - Alternative Energy Revolution
Finally, here's a modern reference to a derivative work of Amadis of Gaul. The world is doomed! Who will save us?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chapter 13 [first half]

How Amadis left Urganda the Unrecognized and came to a fortress, and what happened to him there.

[Detail from the portico of San Martín Church, Segovia, built in the 11th century. This chapter contains a fine medieval sermon, as ye shall see. Photo by Katheline Vernati-Finn.]


Amadis left Urganda in high spirits, because he had learned that the man he had made a knight was his brother, and because he knew he would soon be where his lady was, for though he might not see her, it would be a great comfort to see the place where she was.

He traveled a long way through a forest without finding a town, and when night fell, a little further on he saw lights over the trees, and he headed that way, thinking he would find shelter. He left the road and rode until he came to a beautiful fortress, and the lights in the windows of one of its towers were from torches, and he heard voices of men and women singing and celebrating.

He called at the gate, and they did not hear him, but in a little while the people in the tower looked through the crenels and they saw him calling. A knight said to him:

"Who are ye that calls at this hour?"

He replied:

"My lord, I am a knight and a stranger."

"So it seems," said the man on the wall. "Ye are strange, for instead of traveling by day, ye travel by night, but I think that, since ye have no reason to fight us, ye shall find nothing but the devils of the night to fight."

Amadis told him:

"If there were any goodness in you, ye might see that sometimes those who travel by night cannot help doing so."

"Go away now," the knight said, "for ye shall not enter here."

"God help me," Amadis said, "I venture that ye do not wish anyone worthy in your company. But before going, I would like to know your name."

"I shall tell thee," he said, "provided that, when thou meetest me, thou shalt fight with me."

Amadis, who was angry, agreed. The knight said:

"Know that I am named Dardan, and there can be nothing so bad in this night that the day on which thou meetest me shall not be worse."

"Then I wish to fulfill this promise now. Let the light of these torches shine on our battle."

"What?" Dardan said. "I not only have to fight someone like you, but I have to take up arms during the night? Cursed be he who wears spurs and arms in search of honor!"

Then he left the wall, and Amadis continued on his way.

Here the author denounces arrogance and says:

Ye prideful men and women, what do ye desire? What are your thoughts? I beg you to speak to me of your physical beauty, your great courage, or the burning in your heart. By good fortune did ye inherit it from your parents, buy it with your riches, acquire it in the schools of wise men, or win it through the mercy of great princes? Surely ye shall say no. Then, where did ye get it? It seems to me from the Lord most high, from Whom all good things arise and come.

And to this Lord, what thanks, what services have ye given in repayment? Surely none other than to disdain the virtuous and to dishonor the good, to mistreat those who have taken His holy orders, to kill the weak with your great arrogance, and to offer many other insults to Him, believing, it seems, that thus ye shall gain fame and honor in this world, and thus with a little penitence at the end of your days ye shall gain the glory of next world.

Oh, what vain and mad thoughts! Ye pass your time doing these things without repentance, without giving atonement to the Lord as ye ought, saving it all for that sad and dangerous hour of death, which ye do not know when or in what form it shall come!

Ye shall say that the power and grace of God is great, as is His mercy, and that is true. But still ye ought use your power to conquer your ire and brutality in time to free yourself from those things that He holds loathsome, because by making yourselves worthy, ye might worthily achieve His pardon. Consider, not without cause, the cruel inferno that He has established.

But now I wish to leave aside that which ye do not see and to speak to you of that which we have seen and read. Tell me, why was the evil Lucifer thrown down from Heaven into the abysmal pit? For no other reason than for his great pride. And that mighty giant Nimrod, the first to lord over all humanity, why was he left abandoned, like a brute and senseless animal, to waste away his remaining days in the desert? For no other reason than because, by his great pride, he wished to make a stairway like a road [up the tower of Babel] on which he thought to climb to the heavens and rule them.

And why do we say that by Hercules the great city of Troy was devastated and destroyed, and its powerful King Laomedon killed? For no other reason than for the prideful message the King's emissaries delivered to the Greek warriors, who had arrived with a letter providing safe conduct to the port of Simoesis.

Many others could be told of who, due to evil and wicked pride, were lost in this world and in the next, which would strengthen this argument even more. But by being more prolix, it would be more tedious to read, so it shall not be recounted. It will only be brought to your mind that if those who in heaven and earth, where they had such great power and honor, by pride were lost, dishonored, and perverted, what fruit is there in those vile words said by Dardan and by others like him? What authority, in this world or the next, do they have or could they acquire? This story shall show you further along.

Greatly angered, Amadis left that very arrogant knight Dardan and went through a forest looking for a clump of thickets he could use for shelter. As he went, he heard voices up ahead, and spurring his horse, he soon arrived and found two damsels on their palfreys, and a squire with them. He neared them and greeted them. They asked where he came from at such an hour armed. He told them what had happened to him since nightfall.

"Do ye know," one of them said, "what the name of that knight is?"

"Yes, I do," he said, "for he told me, and he said it was Dardan."

"It is true," they said. "He is called Dardan the Arrogant because he is the most arrogant knight in this land."

"I well believe it," Amadis said.

And the damsels told him:

"Sir knight, our lodging is nearby. Stay with us."

Amadis agreed, and traveling together, they arrived at two tents set up where the damsels were lodging, and got off their horses. Amadis took off his armor, and the damsels were very pleased by his good looks. They enjoyed supper, and they put up a tent where he could sleep. Meanwhile, the damsels asked him where he was going.

"To the court of King Lisuarte," he said.

"We are going there also," they said, "to see what will happen to a lady who was one of the best looking and most noble in this land. All her worldly goods have been placed at trial by combat. She must appear in ten days before King Lisuarte with someone who will fight for her, but we do not know what will happen, because the one to fight against is the best knight there is now in all Great Britain."

"Who is that," Amadis said, "so esteemed in arms in a land where there are so many good knights?"

"The same one ye just left," they said. "Dardan the Arrogant."

"What is the reason for this battle?" he said. "Tell me, so help you God."

"My lord," they said, "this knight loves a lady of this land who is the daughter of a knight married to another lady, and the beloved told her suitor Dardan that she would never make love to him if he did not take her to the court of King Lisuarte to say that the estate of her stepmother ought to be hers, and he would fight for it against anyone who said the contrary. He did as his lover ordered. The other lady did not have the necessary evidence and said that she would provide a champion for herself before the King, and she did this because she was in the right, and she needs to find someone who will uphold her claim. But Dardan is such a good knight at arms that, right or wrong, everyone fears him."

Amadis was pleased by this news because the knight had been arrogant to him, so he could avenge his anger justly, and because the battle would be done before his lady Oriana. He began to think hard about it. The damsels noticed his concern, and one of them said:

"My lord knight, I beg you to have the courtesy to tell us what ye are thinking, if ye can say it properly."

"My friends," he said, "if ye promise me as trustworthy damsels to keep it secret and tell no one, I will gladly tell you."

They promised, and he said:

"I am thinking of fighting for that lady about whom ye told me, and I shall do so, but I do not wish anyone to know it."

The damsels held him in esteem for that, since he had been so highly praised in arms, and they said:

"My lord, your idea is good and very brave. God grant that it goes well."

And they went to sleep in their tents, and in the morning mounted up and got on the road. The damsels asked him that, since they had a ways to go and there were men of ill fame in the forest, not to leave their company. He agreed.

Then they rode together speaking of many things, and the damsels asked him, since God had brought them together, to give them his name. He told it and asked them to tell no one. And so they traveled, as ye heard, lodging in the wilds, resting in their tents with the provisions that the damsels had brought.

It happened that they saw two armed knights beneath a tree, who rode on their horses to block their way in the road, and one of them said to the other:

"Which of these two damsels do ye desire? I shall take the other."

"I want this damsel," the knight said.

"Then, I want that one."

And each one took his own.

Amadis told them:

"What is this, my lords. What do ye wish with the damsels?"

They said:

"We wish to make them our lovers."

"So easily ye want to take them against their will?" he said.

"Well, who shall take them from us?"

"I will," Amadis said, "if I can."

Then he took up his helmet and shield and lance and said:

"Now it would be wise to release the damsels."

"First," one of them said, "ye shall see that I know how to joust."

And they both let their horses charge fast and struck bravely with their lances. One knight broke his lance, and Amadis hit him so hard that he knocked him off his horse, head over heels. The straps on his helmet broke and it flew off his head. The other knight came at Amadis fiercely and hit him so that his hauberk failed and he injured him, but the injury was slight, and he broke his lance. Amadis erred in his aim and they struck each other with their horses and shields, but Amadis held his place against the other, pulled him from his saddle, and threw him to the ground. So the knights were left on foot with their horses loose.

Amadis took the damsels in front of him and left on the road until they came to a riverbank, where they ordered the tents to be put up and a meal prepared, but before he got off his horse, the two knights he had jousted with arrived, and they said:

"Now is the time to defend the damsels with your sword, as you did with your lance. If not, we shall carry them off."

"Ye shall not," he said, "as long as I can defend them."

"Then put down your lance," they said, "and let us do battle."

"I will do so," he said, "if ye come one by one."

He gave his lance to Gandalin, put his hand on his sword, and went at one of them, the one most likely to cause injury, and began his battle, but soon the knight was doing so badly that his companion came to help him, against his promise. And Amadis, when he saw that, said:

"What is this, knight? Do ye not keep your word? I tell you that I hold you to be nothing."

The knight came rested, and being brave, he attacked Amadis with great blows. But Amadis, seeing himself in battle with both, had no wish to be slow and hit the one who had arrived rested with all his strength on his helmet, and the blow glanced off and landed on his shoulder, where it cut the straps of his hauberk and the flesh and bones, so his sword fell from his hand. The knight took himself for dead and began to flee.

Amadis went at the other and hit him on the shield directly in front of his fist, sinking so deep it reached his hand and cut it open up to his arm. The knight said:

"Oh, my lord, I am dead!"

Then he let the sword fall from his hand and the shield from his neck. Amadis told him:

"This is not necessary, but I shall not let you go if ye do not swear that ye shall never take a lady or damsel against her will."

The knight swore it, and Amadis made him put his sword in its scabbard and the shield back on his neck, and let him go wherever he might get help. Amadis turned to the damsels next to the tents, and they told him:

"Truly, sir knight, we would have been dishonored if it were not for you, in whom there is more goodness than we knew, and we have great hopes that no only will ye find satisfaction for the arrogant words that Dardan spoke to you, but also for the lady who is placed in a grave confrontation, if fortune guides you to win the battle."

Amadis was embarrassed by the praise. He disarmed himself, and they ate and rested a while. Then they returned to the road and traveled until they came to a castle, where they were given shelter by a lady who did them great honors.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The legend of the Alcázar of Segovia

How King Alfonso X the Wise earned the wrath of God, and how we can still see his penance when we visit the castle.

[The Hall of the Cord in the Royal Castle of Segovia. The Franciscan knotted cord can be seen in the plaster-work above a 16th-century panel depicting four saints. Photo by Katheline Vernati-Finn.]


Perched on a rocky prow overlooking the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers, the Segovia Alcázar (royal castle or palace), is renowned worldwide for its beauty and history. Fortifications existed as early as the 1100s, but its splendor began during the reign of King Alfonso X. He was known as "the Wise" for his great learning, and he even had one of the towers converted into an astronomical observatory.

In 1258, he called his Court to meet at the alcázar, and during that meeting, part of the building collapsed.

Legend says it happened because the King was boasting of his wisdom. He had dared to say that the Creator would have made a better world if He had consulted with him. A Franciscan friar named Antonio begged the King to retract his words, but he would not — and a huge storm came and destroyed the room where the Court was meeting.

Alfonso had those parts of the castle rebuilt, and as a sign of penance, he had a Franciscan-style cord included in the plasterwork around the wall of a room off the new hall for the Court, which he used as an office.

Or so the legend says. Though damaged in a fire in 1862, the room's original friezes have been faithfully restored.

No castle would be complete without at least one legend.


Many fine photos of the alcázar are at:ázar_of_Segovia

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chapter 12 [last half]

Medieval literature often speaks of love as the deceiver that leaps over walls, and its tales can include scandalous amorous adventures, as ye shall see in this episode that not even Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo dared to suppress, though he condemned. —Translator's note.

[Patio of the Damsels, Alcázar of Seville, ordered built in 1364 by Pedro I the Cruel (or the Lawful, depending upon whom ye ask). Photo by Sue Burke.]


They returned to the road, where soon they arrived at a river named Bran, which could only be crossed by boat. The damsel, who went ahead, found a boat and passed to the other side, and while Galaor was waiting for the boat, the dwarf whom he had fought arrived and said:

"By my faith, base traitor, ye are dead, and ye shall return the damsel ye took from me."

Galaor saw that he came with three well-armed knights on good horses.

"What?" said one of them. "All three of us against one lone knight? I do not want any help."

And he charged at Galaor as fiercely as he could. Galaor, who had already taken up his arms, charged at him, and they hit each other with their lances. The lance of the dwarf's knight penetrated Galaor's armor, though the injury was not great. Galaor hit him so hard that he threw him from his saddle.

The other two knights were astonished and came at him together, and he at them. One of the knights erred in his blow, and his lance flew to pieces on Galaor's shield. Galaor hit him so hard that his helmet was knocked from his head, he lost his stirrups, and came close to falling. But the other turned and hit Galaor with his lance on the chest, breaking the lance. Although Galaor felt the blow, his hauberk was not badly damaged.

Then they all put their hands on their swords and began their battle. The dwarf shouted:

"Kill his horse and do not let him flee."

Galaor tried to attack the one whose helmet he had knocked off. That knight raised his shield, and Galaor's sword entered into an opening a palm wide between his shield and his arm. The sword point reached the knight's head and cut it open down to his jaw, and so he fell dead. When the other knight saw this blow, he fled. Galaor pursued him and struck him with his sword on the top of his helmet, but he did not aim well, and the blow landed on the back edge of the saddle, taking out a piece of it and many plates from his hauberk. The knight spurred his horse and threw the shield from his neck to be able to go faster. When Galaor saw him leaving, he let him go, hoping to order the dwarf to be hung up by one leg, but he saw him fleeing on his horse as fast as he could.

Turning to the knight whom he had earlier jousted and who had now come to his senses, he said:

"Ye trouble me more than the others, because ye had wished to fight me like a proper knight. I do not know why ye attacked me, for I did not deserve it from you."

"That is true," said the knight. "But that traitorous dwarf told us that ye had attacked and killed his men and ye had taken a damsel by force who had wanted to go with him."

Galaor showed him the damsel who was waiting for him on the other side of the river and said:

"Ye can see the damsel, and if I had forced her, she would not be waiting for me. Instead, while she was in my company, she became separated from me in this forest and the dwarf took her and beat her badly with a rod."

"Oh, the liar!" said the knight. "In a bad moment he made me come here, if I find him!"

Galaor had his horse returned to the knight, and told him to torment the dwarf, who was a traitor. Then he traveled to the other side in the boat, and got on the road, guided by the damsel. When it was between the ninth hour of sunlight and vespers, the damsel showed him a very beautiful castle overlooking a valley and told him:

"There we shall go to spend the night."

And they rode there, where they were very well received, as it was the house of the damsel's mother, whom she told:

"My lady, honor this knight as the best who ever put a shield around his neck."

The mother said:

"Here we shall do all at his service and pleasure."

The damsel told him:

"Good knight, in order to complete my promise to you, ye must wait for me here and soon I shall return with a message."

"I beg you not to make me wait long," he said, "for that would cause me much anguish."

She left, and very soon she returned and told him:

"Now mount your horse, and we shall go."

"In the name of God," he said.

Then he took up his arms and left with her on horseback. They rode all the way through a forest, and when they emerged from it, night was falling. The damsel left the road they were traveling on and took another route. A little into the night, they arrived at a beautiful town named Grandares. When they arrived alongside a royal castle, the damsel said:

"Now let us dismount. Follow me, and in that castle I shall tell you what I promised you."

"Shall I take my arms?" he said.

"Yes," she said. "A man cannot know what may occur."

She went ahead and Galaor followed her until they came to a wall, and the damsel said:

"Climb here and enter, and I will go another way and will meet you inside."

He climbed up with great difficulty, and took his shield and helmet, and then lowered himself down the other side. The damsel left. Galaor passed through a garden, and came to a small door in the castle wall. He waited a little while until he saw it open, and inside he saw the damsel, accompanied by a second damsel. She said:

"My lord knight, before you enter, ye must tell me whose son you are."

"Leave that be," he said, "for I have such a father and mother that until I am more worthy, I do not dare to say whose son I am."

"Still," she said, "it is important to tell me, and it will do you no harm."

"Know than I am the son of King Perion and Queen Elisena, but only seven days ago I did not know it and could not have told you."

"Enter," she said.

He entered, and they had him disarm and covered him with a cloak. They left, with one damsel walking behind, another in front, and him in the middle. They entered a large and very handsome palace, where many ladies and damsels lay in their beds, and if one of them asked who went there, both damsels responded.

They went on until they reached a room within in the palace. They entered, and Galaor saw a beautiful damsel sitting in a richly draped room, combing her lovely hair. When she saw Galaor, she put an attractive garland on her head and came to him, saying:

"My dear, ye are welcome as the best knight that I know of."

"My love," he said, "ye are very well met as the most beautiful damsel I have ever seen."

The damsel who had guided him there said:

"My lord, ye see here my lady, and I am now free of my promise. Know that she is named Aldeva, and is the daughter of the King of Serolis. The wife of the Duke of Bristol, who is her mother's sister, has raised her here."

Then she said to her lady:

"I give you the son of King Perion of Gaul. Ye are both children of kings and very fair. If ye love greatly, none will take it as wrong." She left.

Galaor enjoyed the damsel that night, with nothing more of it recounted here, and rightly so, because a man ought to pass quickly over such acts, which do not conform to good conscience nor to virtue, and they should be held as lowly as they deserve.

When the time came to leave, he took the damsels with him and returned to the place where he had left his arms. He armed himself and went to the garden. There he found the dwarf of whom ye have heard, who said:

"Knight, ye entered at a bad moment, for I shall have you killed, as well as the treacherous woman who brought you here."

Then he shouted:

"Come out, knights, come out. There is a man leaving the chamber of the Duke."

Galaor climbed the wall and got on his horse, but soon the dwarf left a gate with armed men. Galaor, who saw himself surrounded, said to himself:

"Oh, slave of fate, I am dead if I do not avenge myself on this traitorous dwarf."

He charged at him to take him, but the dwarf placed himself on his nag behind everyone else. Galaor came at them them with great rage, and they began to attack him on all sides. When he saw that he could not get through, he attacked them so cruelly that he killed two of them and broke his lance. He put his hand on his sword and gave them mortal blows, such that some were dead and others injured. But before he could escape, they killed his horse. He got up with great difficulty, for they were attacking him all around, but once he was on his feet, he taught them such lessons that one dared come near him.

When the dwarf saw him on foot, he wanted to hit him with the chest of his horse, and came at him as fast as he could. Galaor stepped back a bit, reached out and grabbed the bridle, and gave the dwarf such a blow with the pommel of the sword on the chest that it knocked him to the ground. He was left dazed, and blood flowed from his ears and his nose.

Galaor jumped on the horse, but as he rode, he lost the reins, and the horse took off. As it was large and a racer, it had gone a good distance before he could recover the reins. When he got them, he wanted to turn back and attack, but he saw his lover in the window of a tower, who waved a cloak at him to say that he should go. He left immediately because many people had suddenly come, and he rode until he entered into a forest. Then he gave his shield and helmet to his squire.

Some of the men said it would be good to follow him, other said it would be no use, since he had entered the forest, but all were amazed by how bravely he had fought. The dwarf, who was injured, said:

"Take me to the Duke and I will tell him on whom he must take vengeance."

They took him in their arms and carried him to where the Duke was. The dwarf told how he had found the damsel in the forest, and because he wanted to take her with him, she shouted, and a knight came to her aid who killed his men and injured him with a rod. Later he followed him with three knights to take the damsel from him, but he overcame them and defeated them. Finally, he told how the damsel brought the knight there and placed him in the Duke's chambers.

The Duke asked him if he knew the damsel. He said yes. Then the Duke ordered all the damsels in the castle to come there, and when the dwarf saw her among them, he said:

"This is the one who dishonored your palace."

"Oh, traitor," she said, "but thou injured me and ordered thy men to attack me, and a good knight defended me. I do not know if it was him or not."

The Duke was very angry and said:

"Damsel, I will make you tell me the truth."

And he ordered her put in prison, but they learned nothing from her, neither by torture nor by the wickedness they did her. They left here there, to the great anguish of Aldeva, who loved her deeply and did not know by whom she could get the news to her lover, Sir Galaor.

The author leaves off telling this here, and turns to speak of Amadis, and shall recount events about Galaor in their proper place.