Thursday, July 30, 2009

"My walls are fire"

How to view a section of the medieval city wall of Madrid, with a side order of onion rings.

[A section of the wall built in the 1100s is now in the basement of the Foster's Hollywood Restaurant at Plaza Isabel II, across from the Ópera subway stop. Photo by Sue Burke, taken from the doorway of the women's restroom.]


Ye who come as tourists to Madrid will see little from Madrid's medieval days. Mostly this is because there never was much to see. Madrid was a tiny town.

Sometime between 850 and 886 A.D., Emir Mohamed I of Córdoba ordered the construction of a military fort at what is now the site of Madrid's Royal Palace on a bluff overlooking the Manzanares River to guard the mountain passes of Somosierra, Tablada, and Fuenfría. The zone was filled with springs and rich, moist soil, and soon a Moorish and Arabic-Christian farming community of about 2,000 people grew up, protected by stout walls.

During the Reconquest, two Christian kings failed to take Madrid, but King Alfonso VI of Castilla y León finally negotiated its surrender in 1085. The city grew as Christians repopulated the region. A new, larger defensive wall was erected during the 1100s similar to the one still standing around Ávila, with between 60 and 190 towers.

It surrounded a town of perhaps 4,000 people and 35 hectares (0.13 square miles), of which only 20 were occupied by buildings; the rest of the land held lush vegetable gardens.

Madrid's central location, defensive importance, productive farms, and nearby hunting made it a favorite for royalty, and the town grew fast. In 1561, Felipe II designated it as the permanent seat of the royal court, and by 1597, the city had 90,000 inhabitants. It currently has 3.2 million — 5 million if you count the suburbs.

During those centuries, Madrid suffered disasters, destructive wars and insurrections, and successive renovations by kings, emperors, and ambitious mayors who aspired to a modern and majestic city.

What little that survived from medieval times tended to get lost in the shuffle. In fact, any Spanish city that could afford it knocked down its city walls and rebuilt outdated buildings when they were no longer needed. Many lovely historical locales that now attract visitors had fallen into poverty and couldn't remove or replace their useless old architecture, though these days it generates tourism, income, and home-town pride.

Almost nothing remains of the Madrid's city walls, grand though they had been. A small section of the Moorish walls just south of the Almunena Cathedral in Emir Mohamed I Park is being rehabilitated using Economic Stimulus Plan funds. (The economy tanked last year in Spain, too.) Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón also hopes to improve access to the bits of the Christian wall that still remain, hidden within apartment complexes or other buildings that, as the centuries went by, were built right over it.

One place to see a fragment of the wall is in the Foster's Hollywood Restaurant kitty-corner from the Royal Opera Theater: Foster's is a successful Spanish chain founded in 1971 by four Californians living in Madrid. It features movie-theme decor and American food like barbecue and Tex-Mex, and the building it's in significantly predates the restaurant.

Its section of the wall, about six meters long and one meter wide, stands alongside the narrow hallway to the rest rooms in the basement; successive rebuilding of the area has raised the ground level quite a bit. Bright lights illuminate the wall like a museum display, although nothing tells passers-by what they're passing by. The striking arched brick doorway probably led to a guard tower.

The stone is flint, which was common in the area and frequently used in construction. Groundwater flowed freely in medieval Madrid, so residents could find a well anywhere they dug. This led to the town's medieval motto:
"Fui sobre agua edificada, mis muros de fuego son." I was built over water, my walls are fire.

As ye heard in Tuesday's post, Amadis of Gaul will vacation during August and return in September with more chivalrous adventure on Tuesdays and commentary on Thursdays.

Remember that this blog is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0, so feel free to use your spare time to copy, distribute, display, share, or perform all or any part of it, or to create derivative works — for non-commercial use. Just say where you got it. If you want to do something commercial, I can be very reasonable.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chapter 18 [final half]

[How Amadis met the sorcerer Arcalaus in battle and was defeated and left to die.]

[Moon rising over Thurso Castle, Scotland. Photo by amateur astrophotographer Stewart Watt. NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day.]


Amadis listened a while but heard nothing more. He entered the chamber, his shield at his neck, his helmet on his head, and his bare sword in his hand. Soon he found himself in a beautiful gallery lit by a lamp, and saw a bed where six armed men slept with their shields and axes next to them. He approached, took one of the axes, and was continuing forward when he heard more than a hundred voices shout:

"Lord God, send us death, for we can suffer this pain no more!"

He was shocked to hear it. The noise woke the men who slept, and one of them said to another:

"Get up, take the whip, and make the captives be quiet. They will not let us enjoy our sleep."

"I will happily do that," he said. "They woke me from a dream, and they will suffer for it."

Then he got up quickly, took the whip, then saw Amadis coming toward him. He was astonished and said:

"Who goes there?"

"I do," Amadis said.

"And who are you?" the man said.

"I am a knight and a stranger," Amadis said.

"Well, who let you in without permission?"

"No one," Amadis said. "I came here by myself."

"Did ye?" he said. "That was a bad moment for you, for it means ye shall soon be put into the same suffering as those prisoners who shout so loudly."

He turned and quickly closed the gate, woke the others, and said:

"Comrades, ye see here an erring knight-errant who entered here by his own will."

The one who was the jailer, who was extraordinarily big and strong, said:

"Just leave him to me, and I shall put him with the others there."

He picked up an axe and shield, came at him, and said:

"If thou fearest death, put down thy arms, and if not, wait for it, for soon thou shalt have my ax."

Amadis was angry to hear himself threatened and said:

"I would not give a straw for thee, and however big and brave thou mayst be, thou art evil and of bad blood, and thy heart must fail thee."

They raised their axes and attacked. The jailer hit him on top of the helmet, and the ax sunk deeply into it. Amadis struck his shield, and the ax passed through it. The jailer drew back with it in his shield. Amadis put his hand on his sword, came at him, and cut the handle.

The jailer, who was brave, thought to get under him, but he could not, for Amadis was stronger than anyone else he had ever fought. The jailer grabbed him and tried to throw him down, but Amadis hit him in the face with the pommel of his sword and broke his jaw, knocked him down in front of him, stunned, and struck him in the head such that no surgeon could have saved him. The others who watched were shouting not to kill him or Amadis himself would be killed.

"I do not know how that will happen," Amadis said, "but I am safe from this man."

He put his sword in its scabbard, pulled the ax from his shield, and went at them, and they all came to attack him. They struck him as hard as they could, but he swung at one and the ax split his head open down to his brain, and he fell dead at his feet. Next he struck the one who was attacking the fiercest and opened his ribs until he fell. He grabbed another by the ax so roughly that he knocked him to his knees. That man and the other one who had been fighting begged for mercy and for their lives.

"Then put down your arms," Amadis said, "and show me the men who are shouting."

They put their weapons down and led him forward. Amadis heard someone moaning and weeping in a small chamber, and he said:

"Who lies here?"

"My lord," they said, "a lady who is in great pain."

"Then open the door," he said. "I must see her."

One of them turned to where the big jailer lay and took two keys from his belt. He opened the door to the chamber, and the lady, who thought the jailer was coming, said:

"Oh, sir, by God, have mercy on me and give me death, not more torment!"

She said to herself:

"Oh, King, on a bad day I was beloved by you, for your love has cost me dearly!"

Amadis felt great pity for her, and tears came to his eyes. He said:

"My lady, I am not he whom ye think, but rather he who will take you from here if I can."

"Why, holy Mary!" she said. "Who are you that ye could enter here?"

"I am a knight and a stranger," he said.

"Then what happened to the big cruel jailer and the others who were guards?"

"What will happen to all evil men who do not mend their ways," he said.

He ordered one of the men to bring a candle, which he did, and Amadis saw a lady with a heavy chain around her throat and her clothing torn everywhere, allowing her body to be seen. And when she saw that Amadis looked at her with pity, she said:

"My lord, however ye see me now, there was a time when I was rich, the daughter of a king, and because of a king I am in this distress."

"My lady," he said, "do not be troubled, for these are the turns and acts of fate that none may flee nor avoid. And if the one for whom ye suffer and sustain this harm is worthy, your poverty and rags will become riches, and your suffering joy, but we must not place our trust in one or the other."

He ordered them to remove the chain and to bring her something to cover herself. The man with the candle brought a scarlet woolen cloak that Arcalaus had given to his jailer. Amadis put it on her, took her by the hand, and led her out of the cell, telling her not to fear returning to it unless they killed him first. He brought her to where the big jailer and the other dead men were, and she was astounded. She said:

"Oh, hands, how many injuries, how many cruelties ye have given me and the others who lie here and who do not deserve it! And though ye shall not feel vengeance, ye shall feel the damnation of the soul ye belong to."

"My lady," Amadis said, "as soon as I place you with my squire, I will return to take out all the other prisoners so that no one remains here."

They went onward, and when they came to the iron gate, a man was there and said to the man who carried the candles:

"Arcalaus asks what became of the knight who entered here. Did ye kill him or is he a prisoner?"

The other man was so frightened that he could not speak, and the candles fell from his hands. Amadis took them and said:

"Fear not, ruffian. What dost thou dread while under my guard? Go forward."

They went up the stairs until they entered the courtyard and saw that much of the night had passed. The moon shown brightly. When the lady saw the sky and the air, she was jubilant, as one who had not witnessed them for a long time. She said:

"Oh, good knight, may God keep thee and give thee the reward thou hast earned for removing me from here!"

Amadis took her by the hand and went to where he had left Gandalin, but he did not find him and feared he had lost him. He said:

"If the best squire in the world is dead, he who did it shall suffer the greatest and most cruel vengeance ever done, if I live."

As he stood, he heard shouts, and he went toward them until he found the dwarf who had left him hanging by one leg from a beam over a malodorous fire, and he saw Gandalin, who, although he was tied up and wished to be freed, said:

"My lord, help the dwarf first, for he is suffering badly."

Amadis did so, and, holding the dwarf with one hand, cut the cord, put him on the ground, and went to untie Gandalin. He said:

"Truly, friend, the one who put thee here did not esteem thee as much as I do."

Then he went to the gate of the castle and found it closed by a portcullis, and when he saw that he could not get out, he went to the side of the courtyard where there was a bench and sat there with the lady, and brought Gandalin and the dwarf and the two men from the prison. Gandalin showed him the building where they had put his horse, and he went there, broke down the door, found it with its saddle and reins, and took it with him.

He wished to return to release the prisoners, but he was worried that the lady might be harmed by Arcalaus, since he was in the castle. He decided to wait until daybreak, and asked the lady who the king was who loved her and on behalf of whom had she suffered such distress.

"My lord," she said, "Arcalaus is the sworn enemy of the king who loves me, and since he could not take vengeance on him, he decided to take it out on me, knowing of our love and believing that this would cause the worst possible pain. He managed to kidnap me in front of many people by making the air around me so dark that no one could see me. This was the work of one of his enchantments. He put me there where ye found me, and said that I would suffer in that gloom, and since the king who loved me would not see me nor know where I was, his heart would enjoy vengeance."

"Tell me, if it pleases you," Amadis said, "who this king is."

"Arban of North Wales," the lady said. "I do not know if ye have heard of him."

"Merciful God!" Amadis said. "That is the knight whom I love most in the world. Now I pity you less than before, since ye have suffered for one of the best men in the world, and because of that, your will shall be done with double joy and honor."

Speaking of this and other things, they waited until the morning became bright. Then Amadis saw a knight in the window who said:

"Are ye the one who killed my jailer and my men?"

"What!" Amadis said. "Are ye the one who unjustly kills knights and seizes ladies and damsels? Truly I hold you as the most corrupt knight in the world, more cruel than good."

"Ye do not know all my cruelty yet," the knight said. "But I will make ye know it soon, and I will make it so that ye shall not correct nor reproach me over what I do, whether for good or ill."

He left the window and soon Amadis saw him enter the courtyard well armed on a large horse. He was one of the biggest knights in the world who was not a giant. Amadis studied him, thinking that he would clearly be very strong. Arcalaus said to him:

"Art thou looking at me?"

"I am looking at thee," he said, "because, by thy appearance, thou couldst be an illustrious man, deterred only by the evil and shameful deeds that thou findest enjoyable."

"Fortune has brought me to a fine moment," Arcalaus said, "if one such as thee can rebuke me."

And he went at him, with his lance lowered, and Amadis the same. Arcalaus hit him on the shield and his lance flew in pieces. They and their horses met each other so violently that they fell. Then they went on foot, as those who were very agile and brave. They attacked with their swords and soon they fought a cruel and fierce battle. No one could have believed it if they had not seen it. It lasted a long time since both were so strong and burning with passion.

But Arcalaus pulled back and said:

"Knight, thou art in danger of death and I do not know who thou art. Tell me so that I may know, for I think more in killing thee than in defeating thee."

"My death," Amadis said, "is at the will of God, whom I fear. Yours is at the will of the Devil, who is already furious for having to sustain thee and wants thy body to perish along with thy soul from the vices he has given thee. And if thou wishest to know who I am, I tell thee that my name is Amadis of Gaul, and I am the knight of Queen Brisena. Now prepare to end this battle, for I will not let thee rest any longer."

Arcalaus raised his shield and sword, and they both attacked each other with mighty and forceful blows. The courtyard was littered with pieces of their shields and the mail of their hauberks. By the third hour, Arcalaus had lost much of his strength, and when he went to strike Amadis on the top of his helmet, he could not maintain his grip on his sword. It flew from his hand and fell to the earth. When he tried to pick it up, Amadis pushed him so hard that both his hands struck the ground. As he got up, Amadis struck such a blow with his sword on top of his helmet that it left him stunned.

When Arcalaus saw himself in danger of death, he began to flee towards the palace from which he had left, with Amadis behind him. Both entered the palace, but Arcalaus took refuge in a chamber, and at the door, a lady watched how they fought. Arcalaus, as soon as he was inside the chamber, took a sword and said to Amadis:

"Now enter and fight me."

"Instead, let us fight in this hall, which is bigger," Amadis said.

"I will not," Arcalaus said.

"What?" Amadis said. "Dost thou believe thou canst protect thyself there?"

Amadis held up his shield, entered, raised his sword . . . and his strength left all his limbs and he lost consciousness. He fell to the ground as if he were dead.

Arcalaus said:

"I do not wish ye to die in any other way than this."

Then he said to the lady who watched them:

"Does it seem to you, my love, that I shall avenge myself well on this knight?"

"It seems to me," she said, "that ye shall avenge yourself at your will."

He disarmed Amadis, who lay senseless, put on the armor, and said to the lady:

"Do not move this knight from here for everything that ye hold dear, and leave him thus until his soul has left him."

And, wearing Amadis's armor, he went into the courtyard, where everyone believed he must have killed Amadis. The lady who had left the prison fell into deep mourning, and that of Gandalin cannot be spoken of.

Arcalaus said:

"Lady, look for someone else to take you from here, for the one ye saw is finished."

When Gandalin heard this, he fell to the earth as if he were dead. Arcalaus took the lady and said:

"Come with me and see how the ill-fated knight who fought with me is dying."

He took her to where Amadis lay and told her:

"How does it look, lady?"

She began to weep bitterly and said:

"Oh, good knight, how much pain and sadness many good people will suffer at thy death!"

Arcalaus said to the other lady, who was his wife:

"My dear, as soon as this knight is dead, have this lady returned to the prison from which he took her. I will go to the court of King Lisuarte and tell there how I fought with him, and that by his will and mine, we agreed to fight this battle on the condition that the winner take the other's head and go tell of it at the court within two weeks. That way, no one will be able to challenge me over his death, and I will obtain greater glory and esteem in arms that any other knight in the whole world for having defeated this knight who had no equal."

He returned to the courtyard, and ordered Gandalin and the dwarf to be put into the dark prison. Gandalin preferred to die and ran at him shouting:

"Traitor! Ye killed the most faithful knight that was ever born!"

But Arcalaus ordered his men to drag him away by the legs, saying:

"If I were to kill thee, it would not give thee sorrow. There inside thou shalt have something much worse than death itself."

He rode off on Amadis's horse and, with three squires, took the road toward King Lisuarte.

[As is the custom in Spain, Amadis of Gaul will vacation during the month of August, but it will resume on September 1, when ye shall see who came to rescue the greatest knight in the world from sad and certain death.]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

California, according to Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo

How the imaginary land of warrior women became the real land of Tinseltown.

[French map of California, 1656. The peninsula was originally thought to be an island.]


After rewriting the four books of Amadís de Gaula, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo wrote the bestseller Sergas de Esplandián (Exploits of Esplandián), published in 1510, which recounts the deeds of Amadis's son. It includes an episode involving female warriors from an island named California, and eventually explorers used that name for a region in the Americas.

The first Spanish explorer arrived at what is now Baja California Sur in 1533, perhaps in search of an island far to the west of the rest of Mexico populated by women, rich in gold and pearls. Indians had told Francisco Cortés about such a place, and his 1524 report to Emperor Charles V uses some of the same language as Sergas de Esplandián, so he apparently had already confounded the Indian rumor with the fantasy in the book. His cousin Hernán Cortés led an expedition there 1535, and he named it Santa Cruz Island. Other explorers followed.

All they found was arid land, rugged topography, and condors, which weren't griffons though they were big — but no gold, no pearls, no black Amazon warriors. They were disappointed.

In the early 1540s, explorers had begun to use "California" as an alternate name for the island (peninsula), perhaps to contrast the supposed riches with reality. By the time General History of the Indies and the Life of Hernán Cortéz by López de Gómara was published in 1552, the name had stuck.

Here is the description of California from Chapter CLVII of Exploits of Esplandián:


Now I want ye to know something so wondrous that nothing like it could be found in writing or in anyone's memory....

Know that to the right of the Indies there was an island named California very close to the coast of Earthly Paradise, which was populated by black women without a single man among them, who were almost like the Amazons in their style of life. They had beautiful and robust bodies, striving and ardent hearts, and were very strong.

The island itself was protected by the most secure and impregnable rocks and peaks as could be found in the world. Their weapons were solid gold, as were the bridles of the wild beasts that they tamed and rode. No other metal existed on the island. They lived in well-appointed caves. They had many ships in which they sailed to other lands on expeditions, and all the men whom they captured they took with them and killed, as ye shall hear further on.

In some places they were at peace with their enemies, and they mixed with them in complete safety and had carnal knowledge, from which many were left pregnant, and if they gave birth to a female, they kept her, but if a male, they immediately killed him. The reason for that, as far as it is known, was because they firmly believed that if they reduced the men to a small number, they could reign over all their lands without effort, so they kept only enough to be able to ensure the propagation of their people.

On this island, California, there were many griffins, who lived in the arid lands in huge flocks, the like of which could not be found anywhere else on Earth. When the griffins gave birth, the women came, wearing thick leather to protect them, and took the young. They brought them to their caves and raised them.

When the young griffins were ready, they fed them the men they had captured and the boys they had borne, with such frequency and skill that the griffins would not harm the women. Any man who entered the island was immediately killed and eaten by the beasts, which, if they were not hungry, would still grab them and fly through the air, and when they were tired of carrying them, would let them fall, so that they were killed....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chapter 18 [first half]

How Amadis fought and defeated Angriote and his brother, who guarded a valley pass to defend the idea that no one had a more beautiful lover than Angriote.

[Detail from Gustave Doré's illustration of Lord Alfred Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," 1868.]


As soon as Angriote's brother saw Amadis, he took up his arms, came at him, and said:

"Truly, knight, ye are crazy not to grant what they ask for, because ye shall have to fight me."

"That would please me more than agreeing to the biggest lie in the world," Amadis said.

"And I know that ye shall grant it elsewhere, where your shame will be greater," the knight said.

"I do not think so," he said, "if God wishes."

"Then be on guard," the knight said.

Then they charged at each other as fast as their horses could go and struck each other's shields with their lances, and the knight made Amadis's shield fail, but his hauberk stopped the lance and broke it. Amadis hit him so hard that he launched him over the haunches of his horse. The knight, who was very valiant, held on to the reins and broke them, and, with them in his hands, he hit his neck and his shoulders on the ground, which injured him so badly that he was not aware of himself or anything else.

Amadis dismounted, took the helmet from his head, and saw that he was so out of his senses that he could not speak. Amadis took his arm and pulled him up, and the knight came to and opened his eyes. Amadis told him:

"Ye are dead if ye do not surrender as my prisoner."

The knight, who saw the sword over his head, surrendered, fearing death. Then Amadis mounted his horse, for he saw that Angriote had mounted, taken up his arms, and sent a squire to him with a lance.

Amadis took the lance and charged at the knight, who came at him as fast as his horse could run. Their lances struck each other's shields and were broken, but did no harm. They passed each other riding perfectly, which in many other places other knights would not be able to do. Amadis put his hand on his sword and turned his horse toward Angriote, who said:

"Stay, my lord knight, do not hurry to fight with swords, as ye may well do, but I believe it will be to your harm." He said this because he thought no other knight in the world could wield a sword better than himself. "Let us joust until those lances fail us or until one of us falls from his horse."

"My lord," Amadis said, "I have much to do elsewhere and cannot waste time here."

"What!" Angriote said. "Ye think ye shall leave here so easily? I do not think so, but I beg you that before we use swords, let us joust again."

Amadis agreed, since it pleased him, and they hurried to take the lance that each liked the most, backed away from each other, then charged and struck each other bravely with the lances. Angriote hit the ground, and his horse fell on top of him. As Amadis passed, his horse tripped on the other horse, and he fell with it to the side. A piece of the lance that had entered in the shield was driven by the force of the fall through his hauberk into his flesh, but not deeply.

He got up quickly, as one who sought to avoid shame, especially since the fight involved his lady. He immediately pulled out the piece of lance, put his hand on his sword, and ran at Angriote, whom he saw with his sword in his hand.

Angriote told him:

"Knight, I hold you as a fine youth, and I beg you, before ye suffer more injuries, grant that my beloved is more beautiful than yours."

"Be still," Amadis said, "for my mouth shall never grant such a lie."

Then they began to fight and struck such mighty blows with their swords that they put fear into those who watched and into themselves, wondering how much they could suffer.

But this battle could not last long, for Amadis fought for the cause of the beauty of his lady, thus it would be better for him to die than fail in his duty at any point. He began to give blows with all his strength so hard that neither Angriote's great skill or courage in the use of his sword did any good. Soon, all Angriote's strength was spent. Amadis had managed to land his sword on his head and body many times, and in more than twenty places he was bleeding.

When Angriote saw that he was in danger of death, he pulled back as far as he could and said:

"Truly, knight, there is more skill in you than a man could imagine."

"Surrender as my prisoner," Amadis said. "It will be to your advantage, for ye are so injured that if the battle were to go to its finish, it would finish you, and I would regret it, for I esteem you more than ye think."

He said this for Angriote's great skill at arms, and for the courtesy he used with his lady, having her in his power. Since Angriote could do no more, he said:

"I surrender as your prisoner, and to the best knight in the world, as all those who bear arms should surrender, and I tell you, my lord knight, I do not to take it as a dishonor but as a great loss, for today I lose the person in the world whom I love most."

"Ye shall not lose her," Amadis said, "if I can help it. It would be unjust if the great restraint which ye showed her did not receive the pay and award that it deserves. Ye shall have it, and sooner than before. This I promise you as an honest knight when I return from the task to which I go."

"My lord," Angriote said, "where will I find you?"

"In the house of King Lisuarte," Amadis said, "where I shall return, God willing."

Angriote wanted to take him to his castle, but Amadis did not want to leave the road he was on. He bid them farewell and put himself at the guidance of the dwarf to give him the boon that he had promised. They rode for five days without finding adventure. Finally, the dwarf showed him a splendid and impregnable castle and said:

"My lord, in that castle ye must give me the boon."

"In the name of God," Amadis said, "I will give it to thee if I can."

"I am more confident of this than before," the dwarf said, "for I have seen your great deeds. My lord, do ye know the name of this castle?"

"No," he said. "I have never been in these lands."

"Know that it is called Valderin," said the dwarf.

And as they spoke, they arrived at the castle. The dwarf said,

"My lord, take up your arms."

"What," Amadis said, "will they be necessary?"

"Yes," he said. "Those who enter do not leave easily."

Amadis took up his arms and went ahead, with the dwarf and Gandalin behind him. When they entered the gate, he looked one way and the other, but he saw nothing. He said to the dwarf:

"This place seems uninhabited."

"By God," he said, "to me as well."

"Then why did thou bringest me here, and what boon dost thou wish me to give thee?"

The dwarf told him:

"Truly, my lord, I saw here the most brave knight, the best at arms that I think I shall see. He killed two knights in that gate. One of them was my lord, and he killed him viciously, as one who has never felt mercy. I wish to ask for the head of the traitor who killed him. I have brought other knights here to avenge him, and, alas, some he gave death and others cruel imprisonment."

"Surely, dwarf," Amadis said, "thou hast been loyal, but thou ought not bring knights if thou dost not tell them beforehand with whom they must fight."

"My lord," the swarf said, "the knight is well known as one of the bravest in the world, and if I were to say his name, none would be so bold as to dare to come with me."

"And dost thou know his name?"

"Yes, I do," said the dwarf. "He is called Arcalaus the Enchanter."

Amadis looked everywhere and saw no one. He got off his horse and waited until vespers, and said:

"Dwarf, what dost thou wish me to do?"

"My lord," he said, "night is coming, and I do not think it good to take shelter here."

"Even so," Amadis said, "I will not leave here until the knight comes or until someone tells me where he is."

"By God, I will not remain here," the dwarf said. "I am terrified, for Arcalaus knows me, and he knows that I mean to have him killed."

"However," Amadis said, "thou shalt stay here. I do not want to fail to fulfill the boon if I can."

Amadis saw a courtyard ahead and entered it, but he spotted no one. He saw a very dark place, with a stairway that went below ground. Gandalin brought the dwarf so he would not flee, for he was very afraid, and Amadis told him:

"Let us enter these stairs and see what is there."

"Oh, my lord," the dwarf said, "mercy. I would not enter that dreadful place for anything, and by God, let me go, for my heart is filled with fear."

"Thou shalt not go," Amadis said, "until thou hast the boon that I promised thee or thou seest how I do my will."

The dwarf, who was terrified, said:

"Let me go. I release you from the boon and will be content without it."

"If it were up to me," Amadis said, "I would order thee not to release me from the boon so that thou shalt not say later that I failed to do my duty."

"My lord, I release you and consider my debt fulfilled," he said, "and I will wait for you outside, where we came in, until I see that it is."

"Go with good fortune," Amadis said. "I will remain here until morning waiting for the knight."

The dwarf went on his way and Amadis went down the steps and saw nothing as he descended. He continued down until he found a level area. It was so dark he did not know where he went, and he kept going until he came upon a wall. He ran his hands over it and found a bar of iron with a key hanging from it. He opened a lock in an iron gate, and heard a voice that said:

"Oh, Lord God, how long will this suffering last? Oh, death, why do you delay when you are so needed?"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why "quixote"? Because it's funny

Sometimes it's hard to translate humor without being pedantic. I won't let that stop me.

[Quixotes. Photo by Sue Burke]


From Chapter I of Don Quixote de La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, as translated by John Ormsby in 1885:

"...Having got a name for his horse so much to his taste, he was anxious to get one for himself, and he was eight days more pondering over this point, till at last he made up his mind to call himself Don Quixote, whence, as has been already said, the authors of this veracious history have inferred that his name must have been beyond a doubt Quixada, and not Quesada as others would have it. Recollecting, however, that the valiant Amadis was not content to call himself curtly Amadis and nothing more, but added the name of his kingdom and country to make it famous, and called himself Amadis of Gaul, he, like a good knight, resolved to add on the name of his, and to style himself Don Quixote of La Mancha, whereby, he considered, he described accurately his origin and country, and did honour to it in taking his surname from it...."

Here's what these words really mean:

Quixote: the piece of armor that covers the thigh. Called "cuisse" in English.

Quixada: jaw.

Quesada: jaw. Or cheese-filled pastry.

Mancha: spot or stain, and thus metaphorically, dishonor or shame, a stain upon one's good name. La Mancha is the arid plateau of central Spain; the name comes from the Arabic la manxa, which means "parched earth" for its lack of water.

So you could translate Don Quixote de La Mancha, a name that Cervantes' hero spent eight days devising, as "Thigh Armor of Dishonor."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chapter 17 [final half]

[How Amadis travels until he learns of a lady in distress, and what he fearlessly decides to do for her.]

[The Dwarf Don Sebastián de Morra, by Diego Velázquez, 1643-44. The Prado Museum, Madrid.]


Amadis continued on the road until he left the forest and entered a wide and beautiful meadow, where he savored the green grass that he saw on all sides, as one who himself was blooming in love's green heights.

He looked to his right and saw a dwarf with a very deformed face on a palfrey, and he called to him to ask asked where he came from. The dwarf responded:

"I come from the house of the Count of Clare."

"By chance," Amadis said, "hast thou seen there a new knight named Galaor?"

"My lord, no," the dwarf said, "but I know where, three days' ride from here, there is probably the best knight that ever entered this earth."

When he heard this, Amadis said:

"Why, dwarf, by the faith that thou owest to God, take me there so I may see him."

"Yes, I shall take you there," the dwarf said, "provided that ye grant me a boon and afterwards go with me where I ask."

Amadis, who had a great desire to meet his brother Galaor, said:

"I give you that boon."

"May our way be in the name of God," the dwarf said. "Now I shall guide you to where ye will see the good knight, very valiant in arms."

Then Amadis said:

"I beg thee by my love to take me by the road that will get us there the fastest."

"I will do that," he said.

Then they left that road, took another, and traveled all day without finding adventure. When night fell, they were next to a fortress.

"My lord," the dwarf said, "ye may lodge here, where there is a lady who will serve you."

Amadis entered the fortress and found the lady, who gave him good lodging, diner, and a fine bed to sleep in, but he hardly slept all night. Instead, he thought only about his lady. The next day, he bid farewell to the lady, and the dwarf guided him again. He traveled until midday, when he saw a knight fighting with two others. When he approached them, he said:

"Stay, my lords, if it please you, and tell me why ye are fighting."

They pulled back, and one of the two said:

"Because this one says that he himself, alone, is so good that he could do as great a deed as both of us together."

"Surely," Amadis said, "that is a petty reason, for one man's courage does not make another man's less."

They saw that he was right and stopped fighting. They asked Amadis if he knew the knight who had fought for the lady at the court of King Lisuarte, in which the good knight Dardan had been killed.

"Why do ye ask?" he said.

"Because we wish to find him," they said.

"I do not know if ye mean that for good or ill," he said, "but I saw him not long ago in the house of King Lisuarte."

Then he left them and went on his way.

The knights spoke among themselves, then spurred their horses to go after Amadis. When he saw them coming, he took his arms, but neither he nor they carried lances, which they had broken in their jousts. The dwarf said:

"What is this, my lord? Do ye not see that those are three knights?"

"I am not worried," he said. "If they do something unreasonable, I will defend myself if I can."

They arrived and said:

"Knight, we wish to ask ye a boon, and give us it. If not, ye shall not leave us."

"I would prefer to give it," he said, "if I can do it rightly."

"Then tell us," said one, "as an honest knight, where do ye think we may find the knight who killed Dardan."

He, who could not do anything other than tell the truth, said:

"I am he, and if I had known that was the boon, I would not have granted it, to avoid boasting."

When the knights heard that, they all said:

"Oh, traitor, ye are dead!"

They put their hands on their swords and came at him bravely. Amadis took his sword as one who had brave heart, and came at them irate because he had ended their fight and now they attacked him so wrongly. He struck one on the top of his helmet with such a blow that it reached the shoulder, and the sword cut the armor, flesh and bone, and drove as far down as the ribs. With his arm hanging loose, the knight fell off his horse.

He came at the two, who were attacking him wildly, and he gave one such a blow on the helmet that he made it fly from his head, and the sword swung onto the back of his neck and cut most of the way through it, and he fell from his horse. The other, when he saw this, began to flee from where he had come. Amadis, who saw that he had a good running horse that had quickly put a lot of distance between them, stopped his pursuit and returned to Gandalin.

The dwarf said:

"Truly, my lord, I am more sure about the boon that ye promised me than I had thought. Now let us go forward."

And so they went that day, and lodged in the house of a hermit, where they had a very simple supper. In the morning, he returned to the road as the dwarf guided him and traveled until the third hour of day, and there the dwarf showed him, in a beautiful valley, two tall pines and a fully armed knight beneath them on a large horse. Two knights chased across the field after their horses, which fled. The knight below the pines had knocked them from their saddles. Another knight lay beneath a different pine, resting his head on his helmet with his shield next to him and more than twenty lances around a pine tree, and near him two horses with saddles.

As he looked at them, Amadis said to the dwarf:

"Dost thou know these knights?"

The dwarf said:

"Do ye see, my lord, the knight lying under the pine?"

"I see him," he said.

"He is the good knight that I wanted to show you," the dwarf said.

"Dost thou know his name?" Amadis said.

"Yes, I do, my lord. He is named Angriote d'Estravaus, and he is the best knight that I could show you in all the lands around here."

"Now tell me why he has so many lances there."

"I shall tell you," the dwarf said. "He loved a lady of these lands and she did not love him, but he fought so hard with her parents that they finally delivered her by force. And when he had her in his power, he said he felt himself the richest man in the world. She told him:

" 'It is not courteous to take a lady by force. Ye may possess me, but ye shall never have my love by my will, unless ye do something first.'

" 'My lady,' Agriote said, 'is it something I can do?'

" 'Yes,' she said.

" 'Then order it, and I shall comply unto death.'

"The lady, who deeply hated him, thought to put him where he would die or create so many enemies that they would defend her from him. She ordered him and his brother to guard this valley of pine trees from all knights-errant who passed through it and make them promise by force of arms that, when they arrived at the court of King Lisuarte, they would swear that the beauty of Angriote's lover was greater than theirs.

"And if by chance this knight, his brother, whom ye see on horseback, were to be defeated and could no longer fight, all the duty would fall on Angriote alone and he would have to guard the valley for one year. During the day, they guard it, and at night they lodge in a castle that lies beyond the little hill ye see. But I tell you that they began this three months ago, and until now Agriote has never had to take arms against a knight, for his brother has defeated them all."

"I believe that thou tellest me the truth," Amadis said, "for I heard in the court of King Lisuarte that there was a knight there who swore that lady was more beautiful than his beloved, and I think her name was Grovenesa."

"That is right," said the dwarf, "and, my lord, I have fulfilled my promise. Now give me that which ye promised me and come with me where ye must."

"Very happily," said Amadis. "What is the shortest road?"

"Through that valley," said the dwarf, "but I do not want to go through there, since it has that problem."

"Do not worry about that," he said.

Then he went forward and, at the entrance to the valley, he met a squire who told him:

"My lord knight, ye may not pass further if ye do not grant that the beloved of the knight lying beneath the pine is more beautiful than yours."

"May God will that I will never grant such a big lie," Amadis said, "and neither can they make me say it by force or at the cost of my life."

When the squire heard this, he said:

"Then turn back. If not, ye must fight with them."

Amadis said:

"If they attack me, I will defend myself if I can."

And he continued forward without fear.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Seven links to the past

In which we explore a few interesting sites on the Internet about medieval times.

A Spring Sky Over Hirsau Abbey
Shown above. Photo taken from the courtyard of Hirsau Abbey, once one of the most prominent Benedictine abbeys of Germany. It was founded in about 830 A.D., and many of the buildings were erected in the 11th century, but the abbey was destroyed by the French in 1692 and is now in ruins. Photo by Till Creder, NASA Astronomy Picture of the day. Click the link, then move your cursor over the image to see astronomical notations.

Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages
On-line blog for a special exhibit this summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Curatorial comments, exhibition themes, additional resources, and many amazing images — plenty to explore, if you can't get to New York.

Midmar Castle for sale
To quote the website: "This is one of the principal castles of Mar and the only one in private ownership. It is fully restored and with contents including an extensive collection of weapons and armory. The property includes a renowned deer farm." Just in case you have £5.5 million available. The rest of us can scroll through the photos and dream, can't we? For more modest tastes, Barcaldine, the "Black Castle" of Benderloch, can be yours for only about £1.3 million:

Stirling Castle Skeleton Reveals Violent Life Of A Medieval Knight
In Amadis, from time to time our heroes need to get medical attention, although no doctor could have saved some of their opponents. Archeologists have uncovered the bones of a young man from the early 1400s, possibly a knight, with wounds that sound familiar.

Arthuriana Through the Ages
Ruth Nestvold examines the development of Arthurian literature and how the legend has been adapted by authors to suit their times, often with little regard for real history. Amadis of Gaul, of course, is part of the Arthurian cycle.

Review of Medieval Knights: The Age of Chivalry, by Jose Sanchez Toledo
Craig M. Nakashian of the University of Rochester takes a critical look at Sanchez's book, and Nakashian's remarks serve as a good introduction to some of the ongoing scholarly debates about the age of chivalry.

Got Medieval
Finally, a rigorous but light-hearted site by Carl Pyrdum, which describes itself as "A[n intermittently updated] tonic for the slipshod use of medieval European history in the media and pop culture." Its introduction clarifies: "During that period, women didn't wear chainmail bikinis, but they totally should have."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Chapter 17 [first half]

How Amadis was well loved in the court of King Lisuarte, and of the news that he learned about his brother Galaor.

[Illustration of backgammon (tables), from The Book of Chess, Dice, and Tables, created between 1251 and 1283 by commission of Alfonso X the Wise, King of Castile, León, and Galicia, Spain.]


It has been told to you how Amadis remained in the court of King Lisuarte as a knight of the Queen after he killed the arrogant and valiant Dardan in a battle. He was well loved and honored by the King and by all others there.

One day the Queen sent for him to speak with her, and while he was before her, a damsel entered a gate of the palace, knelt in front of the Queen, and said:

"My lady, is there a knight here who bears arms with an insignia of lions?"

She understood immediately that she asked about Amadis, and she said:

"Damsel, what do ye wish of him?"

"My lady," she said, "I bring him a message from a new knight who has made the greatest and most noble beginning of chivalry ever done by any knight in all the isles."

"Ye say much," the Queen said, "for there are many knights in the isles and ye do not know what they have all done."

"My lady," she said, "that is true, but when ye know what he did, ye shall agree with me."

"Then I beg you to tell me," the Queen said.

"If I could see that good knight whom he esteems more than all others," she said, "I would tell him this and many other things I was sent to say."

The Queen, who wished to hear this, said:

"Ye see here the good knight whom ye ask for, and I tell ye that truly it is him."

"My lady," the damsel said, "I believe it, for a such a good lady as yourself would say nothing but the truth."

Then she said to Amadis:

"My lord, my message is from the handsome young nobleman whom ye made a knight at Baldoid Castle when ye defeated two knights on the bridge and three on the causeway, took the lord of the castle prisoner and by force of arms rescued the lover of Urganda from inside it. This nobleman sends you his commendations as he who holds you as his lord. He sent me to tell you that he shall strive to be a good man or he shall pay with his death. He will tell you of your estate more than ye know, and if he does not merit your esteem, he shall be silent."

This made Amadis remember his brother, and tears came to his eyes, which the ladies and damsels there wondered about, his lady most of all, who was shocked, thinking that if the damsel could cause such great concern that it made him weep, and not in pain, then she must have brought him great pleasure.

The Queen said:

"Now tell us of the beginning of his knighthood that ye praised so much."

"My lady," said the damsel, "the first place where he showed himself was at the Rock of Galtares, doing battle with the brave and strong giant named Abadan. Fighting one-on-one, he defeated and killed the giant."

Then she recounted the battle the way she saw it happen and the reason why it was fought. The Queen and everyone else was very amazed by such an extraordinary deed.

"Damsel," Amadis said, "do ye know where the knight went after he killed the giant?"

"My lord," she said, "I departed after he won the battle and left him with another damsel who was to guide him to her lady, who had sent her there. I can tell you nothing more." And she left them.

The Queen said:

"Amadis, do ye know who that knight might be?"

"My lady, I know, though I do not know him." Then he said that it was his brother, whom a giant had taken away when he was a child, and recounted what Urganda had said about him.

"Truly," said the Queen, "your childhood and his are two strange wonders. How could it be that your family did not know of you? It would give me great pleasure to see such a knight in the company of my lord the King."

So they spent some time talking, as ye hear, but Oriana, who was too far away to listen to any of it, was very angry because she had seen Amadis weep. She said to Mabilia:

"Call your cousin, and we will find out what happened."

She called him, and Amadis went to them, and when he saw his lady before him, he forgot everything else in the world. Oriana, with an angry and disturbed look, said:

"Whom were ye remembering with the news from the damsel, which made ye weep?"

He told her everything as it was told to the Queen. Oriana lost all her ire and became very happy, and told him:

"My lord, I beg you to forgive me, for I suspected something I should not have."

"Oh, my lady," he said, "there is nothing to forgive, for my heart could never be angry with you." Then he said, "My lady, may it please you for me to go and look for my brother and bring him here in your service, for he will not come any other way."

Amadis said this so he could find him, whom he loved deeply, and because he feared he would spend too much time resting at the palace without looking for adventures where he could earn fame and honor.

Oriana told him:

"May God help me, I would be very happy if that knight were to come here and live with us. I grant you permission to go, but speak to the Queen so it may seem that ye go by her orders."

He thanked her very humbly and went to the Queen and said:

"My lady, it would be good if we were to have that knight in the company of the King."

"That is true," she said. "I would be happy if it could be done."

"Yes, it can," he said, "if ye give me permission to look for him and bring him back, my lady, for there is no other way to have him here without much time passing during which he will have earned more honor."

"In the name of God," she said, "I give you leave, provided that when ye find him, ye shall return."

Amadis was very happy, and bid farewell to her and his lady and the other women, and went to his lodging. The next morning, after he heard Mass, he armed himself, mounted his horse, and took to the road with only Gandalin and the arms that he brought. He rode until night, and lodged in the house of an elderly prince.

The next day, he continued on the road, entered a forest, and after traveling for six hours, he saw a lady coming with two damsels and four squires, who carried a knight in a litter. They were all weeping loudly.

Amadis approached her and said:

"My lady, whom do ye carry in that litter?"

"I carry all my care and woe," she said. "It is the knight to whom I am wed, and he is so badly hurt that I fear he shall die."

He went to the litter and lifted a sheet that covered it, and saw within a quite big and well-built knight, but he looked not at all handsome, for his face with black and swollen and in many places wounded.

Amadis put his hand on him and said:

"My lord knight, from whom did you receive these injuries?"

He did not respond and moved his head a little. Amadis said to the lady:

"From whom did this knight receive such injuries?"

"My lord," she said, "from a knight who guards a bridge ahead here on this road, which we wished to pass over. He said that my lord would first have to say if he came from the court of King Lisuarte, and my lord asked why he wanted to know. The knight said:

" 'Because none from his court shall pass here whom I will not kill.'

"And my lord asked why he hated King Lisuarte's knights so much.

" 'I hate them because I want to have him in my power to avenge myself.'

"My husband asked why he hated him so much. He said:

" 'Because he has in his court a knight who killed the famous and brave Dardan, and for that, he will receive dishonor from myself and from many other knights.'

"And when my husband heard this, the words of the knight weighed on him, and he said:

" 'Know that I am King Lisuarte's and his vassal, and I will not deny it to you nor to anyone.'

"Then the knight on the bridge, with great wrath, took up his arms as quickly as he could and they began to fight, very brutally and savagely, and at the end, my husband was badly injured, as ye see him now, my lord. The knight thought he was dead and ordered us to take him to King Lisuarte the following day."

Amadis said:

"My lady, give me one of his squires to take me to the knight, since he suffered this harm out of love of me, and it behooves me more than any other to avenge him."

"Why," she said, "are ye the one for whom he hates King Lisuarte?"

"I am he," he said, "and if I can, I will end his hatred for him and for all others."

"Oh, good knight," she said, "God guide you well and give you strength!"

She gave him a squire to go with him, and said goodbye. The lady continued on her way as before, and Amadis on his, and he rode until he reached the bridge. He saw that the knight was playing backgammon with another knight, but promptly left the game, came at him fully armed on a horseback, and said:

"Stay, knight. Ye shall not cross the bridge if ye do not first swear."

"And what shall I swear?" Amadis said.

"Whether ye are from the court of King Lisuarte. And if ye are, I shall make you lose your head."

"I do not know about that," Amadis said, "but I tell you that I am from his court and a knight of the Queen, his wife, although not for long."

"How long has it been?" said the knight on the bridge.

"Since a lady came there with a challenge."

"What!" the knight said. "Are ye the one who fought for her?"

"I let her keep what was rightfully hers," Amadis said.

"By my head," said the knight, "I will make you pay with your head if I can, for ye killed one of the best men in my family."

"I did not kill him," Amadis said. "I made him release the arrogant claim that he had made, and he killed himself in a sinful, faithless act."

"That makes no difference," the knight said, "for he was killed by you and no one else, and ye shall die for it."

Then he came at him as fast as his horse could gallop, and Amadis at him. Both their lances hit each others' shields and immediately broke, but the knight of the bridge went to the ground without being able to detain his fall, and he was amazed by how easily he had been thrown down.

Amadis's helmet had been knocked askew, and while he was straightening it, the knight had time to remount his horse and give him three blows with his sword before Amadis could put his hand on his. But once he did, he came at the knight and struck the edge of his helmet in the back and cut a piece of it off, and the sword reached his neck and cut it so deeply that his head could not support itself and fell, hanging over his chest, and he died immediately.

When the others on the bridge saw this, they fled. The lady's squire was amazed by the two blows, one with the lance and the other with the sword.

Amadis told him:

"Go now and tell thy lady what thou has seen."

When he heard this, he quickly went on his way, and Amadis crossed the bridge with nothing to prevent him.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The time of the chivalrous day

The hours of the medieval day could be longer or shorter, depending on the season.

[Sundial at the Benedictine Convent of St. John, Mústair, Switzerland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved Carolingian art. The Abbey was founded in about 780 A.D. and was modified and expanded over the coming seven centuries. The tower, which features the sundial, was built in the 10th century. Photo by Roland Zumbühl ]


Ye have seen how events in Amadis of Gaul can happen at the third hour of the day, or at vespers, matins, or midday. This is canonical time, obviously.

Clock-making progressed during medieval times, but most people, including our hero, used a sundial, and all days had twelve hours of sunshine. Summer days are longer than winter days, thus summer daytime hours were longer than winter daytime hours.

Though the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours, or The Breviary) and its canonical prayers are more complex than we need to worry about for literary uses, and the nomenclature for its hours varied over the centuries and among churches, for the purposes of knight-errantry, this is what "time" meant to Amadis:

Sunrise, sometimes called "matins" or "lauds."
First hour: 6 a.m., prime.
Third hour: 9 a.m., terce.
Sixth hour: noon or midday, sext.
Ninth hour: 3 p.m., none.
Vespers: 6 p.m., sunset.
Bedtime: 9 p.m., compline.
Vigils: nighttime watches.