Tuesday, November 24, 2009
[Illumination from Jean Froissart's Chronicles, published in the mid-1400s. It depicts the knights of King John II of France bursting in on King Charles II of Navarro in 1336 at the Dauphin's castle in Rouen.]
As King Lisuarte was very fond of hunting and would have been a huntsman if he had been free of the affairs that went with his authority, he often went to hunt in the forest near Windsor; because it was well protected, it had many deer and other wild animals. He always dressed in hunting clothes, since he did everything according to its proper form.
One day, while he was with his game beaters near a large road, he saw three armed knights coming down it, and he sent a squire to tell them to meet him. When they heard this, they left the road and entered the forest where the squire guided them. Know ye that these were Sir Galvanes the Landless, his nephew Agrajes, and Olivas, who had gone with them to challenge the Duke of Bristol. They brought with them the damsel whom they had saved from death when she was about to be burned at the stake.
When they neared the King, he immediately recognized Sir Galvanes and said:
"Sir Galvanes, my good friend, be very welcome!" And he went to embrace him, saying, "I am very pleased to see you."
With equal goodwill he received the others, for, more than any other man in the world, he received knights who came to his court with great affection and honor.
Sir Galvanes told him:
"My lord, ye see here Agrajes, my nephew, and I present him to you as one of the best knights in the world, and if he were not, I would not present him to such a great man as you, whom so many good and esteemed knights serve."
The King, who had already heard many praises of the deeds of Agrajes, was very happy with him, embraced him, and said:
"Truly, good friend, I owe you many thanks for coming, and indeed I feel guilty because I knew about your great valor and did not ask you to come."
The King knew Olivas well, who was a member of his court, and said:
"My friend Olivas, I have not seen you for a long time. Truly, I would not want such a good knight as ye are to be parted from me."
"My lord," he said, "things have happened to me against my will that have caused me to be out of your sight and service. And now I am not wholly free of them and must still face many challenges and duties."
Then he told how the Duque of Bristol had killed his cousin, which made the King sad because he was a good knight, and he said to Olivas:
"My friend, I hear what ye say. Tell it to the court, and a deadline will be set for the Duke to come and respond."
Taking them with him, he left the hunt and went to the town, and on the road he learned how the damsel whom they brought with them had been freed from death when she was going to be burned because of Sir Galaor. The King told them how Amadis had gone to look for Galaor, and of the great surprise that Arcalaus had given them when he said he had killed Amadis.
Agrajes was shocked to hear it, and said to the King:
"My lord, do ye know for certain that Amadis is alive?"
"I know it for certain," he said. And he told him what he had learned from Brandoivas and Grindalaya. "And ye should not doubt it, for I am fully satisfied, and it would give no one any advantage to desire his life and honor."
"We believe that his great valor makes him worthy of your esteem and love," Agrajes said, "as all good men wish for other good men."
When the King and the knights arrived at his palace, the news was known immediately in the chambers of the Queen, which caused great happiness there, above all to the beautiful Olinda, Agrajes's beloved, who loved him as she loved herself. After her in happiness was Mabilia, his sister. When she learned he had come, she left the chamber of the Queen and met Olinda, who told her:
"My lady, are ye not joyful because your brother has arrived?"
"Yes, I am happy," Mabilia said, "for I love him dearly."
"Then ask the Queen to have him come here so ye may see him, because your happiness will give joy to all of us who love you."
Mabilia went to the Queen and said:
"My lady, it would be good if ye were to see my brother Agrajes and my uncle Galvanes, for they come in your service, and I greatly desire to see them."
"My dear," the Queen said, "I will do that gladly, for I am very happy to see two such knights as them in the court of my lord the King."
And then she sent a damsel to ask the King on her behalf to send them to her to see them. The damsel told him, and the King said to them:
"The Queen wishes to see you. It would be good for you to go."
When Agrajes heard this, he was joyful, for he hoped to see his lady, whom he loved so much and where all his heart and desire dwelled. It also pleased Sir Galvanes to see the Queen and her ladies and damsels, though not because he was in the extremes of love. So they went immediately before the Queen, who received them well, made them sit before her, and she spoke with them of many things, showing them her esteem, for she without doubt was one of the ladies in the world who best knew how to speak wisely with good men.
She was well esteemed and loved for that not only by those who knew her but even by those who had never seen her, for such is the preeminence that humanity gives to those great men and women who fulfill their duties with nothing less than virtue and nobility. Those who do the contrary reap the contrary: nothing could be worse in temporal affairs than to be scorned and abhorred.
Olinda stood next to Mabilia thinking that Agrajes would come talk to his sister, and he, while he spoke with the Queen, could not take his eyes from Olinda, for she was where his heart was. The Queen, who thought that he looked at Mabilia and wished to speak with her, told him:
"Good friend, go to your sister, who wishes to see you."
Agrajes went to her, and they received each other with the affection of siblings who love each other dearly, though true fraternal love is rare. Olinda greeted him much more with her heart than her face, holding back her emotions with her intellect, which she found hard to do, but it fell within that great discretion with which the damsel was gifted. Agrajes had his sister sit between him and his beloved, for in that way he would never have to take his eyes from her, and her sight gave him great consolation and relief.
And so he spoke with them, but as his thoughts and his eyes were on his lady, he barely understood what his sister was saying, thus he gave no answer nor attention to her questions. Mabilia, who was very wise, realized immediately what was happening, and she knew that her brother loved Olinda more than her, and Olinda him, for Olinda had already told her so. She had sat beside Olinda so that he could speak with her, and since she loved her brother as she loved herself, she thought in all things to seek his happiness. Knowing that nothing else would please him more, she said:
"My lord brother, call my uncle, for I would like to speak to him."
Agrajes was very pleased with this, and said to the Queen:
"My lady, may it be your mercy to call that knight here to us, so that his niece may speak to him."
The Queen had him come, and Mabilia approached him and wished to kiss his hands, but he pulled hers to him and embraced her, and said:
"My lady niece, let us be seated, for I wish to ask you how ye came to be in these lands."
"My lord," she said, "let us go to that window, for I do not wish my brother to hear my secret."
And Galvanes responded, laughing:
"Truly, it would please me, since he is not the type that should hear such good secrets as yours and mine."
And they went to the window, and Agrajes remained with his lady as he had wished, and seeing himself alone with her, he said:
"My lady, I have come here to serve you and to comply with your orders because my heart would find no rest elsewhere, and the sight of you shall be the reward for the cares and mortal desires that I continue to suffer."
"Oh, my lord and beloved," she said, "all-knowing God is the witness of the pleasure that my heart feels with your arrival. When ye are absent, I would not find delight even if everything in the world were at my disposal. I know that ye came to these lands only for me, and I must strive to reward you for it."
"Oh, my lady," Agrajes said, "may everything be done for your benefit, and my life shall never cease to be placed in confrontation with any opponent in the world at your service, and all those who would have you as their lady shall be alien to me."
"My beloved lord," she said, "ye are such that ye shall be victor over all others, and I shall never abandon you, may God help me. I am very happy to see how everyone praises you for the great deeds that they hear told of you."
Agrajes lowered his eyes with embarrassment to hear himself praised, and she ceased to speak of that. She said:
"My beloved, now that ye are here, what shall ye do?"
"As ye order me," he said, "for I have come to these lands for no other reason than to carry out your wishes."
"Then I wish," she said, "that ye await your cousin Amadis, whom I know ye love dearly, and if he advises you to join the company of the King, ye should do so."
"My lady," he said, "ye do me a great mercy in everything, for there is nothing that would give me more pleasure apart from you than to let my future be guided by the advice of my cousin."
Then, while they were speaking, as ye hear, the Queen called the knights, and they both went before her. The Queen knew Sir Galvanes well from the time when she was a princess living in the kingdom of Denmark, were she was born; there, as well as in the kingdom of Norway, he had done many great deeds and had the reputation of being a excellent knight.
While the Queen talked with Sir Galvanes, Oriana spoke with Agrajes, whom she knew well and loved, both because she knew that Amadis loved and esteemed him and because she was fond of his father and mother, who had raised her with great honor during the time when King Lisuarte had left her with them, as has been told to you. She said:
"My good friend, ye have given us great pleasure with your arrival, especially to your sister, who needed some cheer, for if ye knew what had happened to her with the news of your cousin Amadis's death, ye would be shocked."
"Truly, my lady, "he said, "my sister rightly ought to feel that way, and not only she but all those of us in her family, for if he were to die, the greatest leader of all of us would die, the best knight who ever put a shield around his neck or took a lance in hand. And his death would be avenged or accompanied by many others!"
"A bad death to that traitor Arcalaus," she said, "who knew well how to give us great sorrow!"
As they spoke, the knights were called on behalf of the King, and they went there. They found him ready to eat, and he had them sit at the table with the finest knights. While the tablecloths were being laid, two knights entered a gate of the castle. They knelt in front of the King, and he saluted them.
One of them said:
"My lord, is Amadis of Gaul here?"
"No," the King said, "but it would please us if he were."
"Truly, my lord," the knight said, "I would be very happy to find him, as someone who by him hopes to recover the happiness from which I am now separated."
"And what is your name?" the King said.
He answered: "Angriote d'Estravaus, and this other man is my brother."
King Arban of North Wales, when he heard that he was Angriote, got up from the table and went to him, who was still kneeling in front of the King, raised him up by the hand, and said:
"My lord, do ye know Angriote?"
"No," the King said. "I have never seen him before."
"Truly, my lord, those who know him hold him as one of the best knights at arms in all your lands."
The King rose and told him:
"Good friend, forgive me if I did not do you the honor that your valor deserves. It was because I did not know you, and I am very pleased with you."
"Many thanks," Angriote said, "and I am pleased to serve you."
"My friend," the King said, "where do ye know Amadis?"
"My lord, I know him, but not for long. And when I met him, it cost me dearly, even being injured to the point of death. But he, who did me the harm, also gave me the medicine to become well, as he who is the knight with the most good will in the world."
Then he recounted what had happened to him, as this story has presented. The King told Arban to take Angriote with him, which he did, and sat him at the table next to him. When they had begun to eat, speaking of many things, Amadis's dwarf Ardian entered, and Angriote, who saw him, said:
"Why dwarf! Thou art very welcome. Where didst thou leave thy lord Amadis, whom I saw thee with?"
"My lord," the dwarf said, "wherever I leave him, he loves and esteems you greatly."
Then he went to the King, and everyone grew silent to hear what he would say, and he said:
"My lord, Amadis sends you his praises and sends greetings to all his friends."
When they heard the news of Amadis, they were made joyous.
The King said:
"Dwarf, may God help thee, tell us where thou left Amadis."
"My lord," he said, "I left him where he was safe and healthy, and if ye wish to know more, put me in front of the Queen, for I must tell her."
"No one will be left without knowing it," the King said.
He sent for the Queen to come, who arrived immediately with fully fifteen of her ladies and damsels, and there were those who blessed the dwarf because, due to him, they got to see the women they loved.
The dwarf came before her and said:
"My lady, your knight Amadis sends me to kiss your hands, and to say to you that he has found Sir Galaor, whom he sought."
"Is it true?" the Queen said.
"My lady, it is true," the dwarf said, "without a doubt. But when he met him, it would have been a great misadventure if God had not brought a knight named Balais there at the right moment."
Then he told them everything that had happened, and how Balais killed the damsel who had brought the brothers together so they would kill each other, for which he was praised by the King and everyone else.
The Queen said to the dwarf:
"My friend, where didst thou leave him?"
"I left him in Balais's castle."
"And how did Sir Galaor seem to thee?"
"My lady," he said, "he is one of the most handsome knights in the world, and if ye were to see him next to my lord, it would be hard to tell one from the other."
"Truly," the Queen said, "I would be very pleased if they were here."
"As soon as they have healed," the dwarf said, "they will come, and I must wait for them here."
And he told them everything that had happened to Amadis while he had been with him. The King and Queen and all the knights were happy with this good news, above all Agrajes, who did not stop asking the dwarf questions.
The King asked and ordered all those who were there not to leave his company until Amadis and Galaor arrived, because he planned to hold a very honorable court for them. They agreed and praised him. He ordered the Queen to send for the most beautiful damsels of the highest rank, because, in addition to her being well accompanied, many valiant knights would come to serve the damsels, to whom the King would provide many honors and games and gifts.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
[Don Quixote recites a passage from Chapter II of a book about him as we sit in front of Cervantes' Birthplace-Museum: "Happy the age, happy the century, when my deeds of fame shall be brought to light, worthy to be molded in brass, carved in marble, painted on canvas, to be remembered in the future." Photo by Jerry Finn.]
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote one of Spain's approximately 100 medieval and Renaissance novels of chivalry — and that single work eclipsed the rest of his opus, the rest of the genre, and possibly the rest of entire literary output of Spain, which is considerable.
So, of course, everything that Cervantes did has evoked tremendous interest, including being born. The exact date isn't known, but the place is: Calle Mayor (Main Street) 48, in Alcalá de Henares, a city near Madrid. He was baptized in Santa María Church nearby on October 9, 1547. His family left for Valladolid in 1551.
The house has been restored to its original appearance and has become Alcalá's most popular tourist attraction. Actually, it's a pretty ordinary house for a well-to-do family of the time, which is to say, it's nice.
Visitors get an excellent booklet to explain the house and its furnishings, and the staff can answer any question. However, the website is so outstanding that going there is almost better than a live visit, except that if you visited in person, you'd be in Spain, and what could compete with that?
The site is in both English:
You will notice a book open and displayed on a stand in the Estrado, or Ladies' Parlor. Although you can't read the title in the photos, I took a close look when I was there, and it's Amadís de Gaula.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The November 2009 issue of the Internet Review of Science Fiction includes my essay "From Best-Seller to Oblivion: A Renaissance Literary Phenomenon." In it, I tell how the novel Amadis of Gaul became Europe's first publishing mega-hit in the 1500s, and how and why it was forgotten.
I suggest that Don Quixote de La Mancha did not cause its fall from grace — because fans of novels of chivalry enjoyed Cervantes' contribution to the genre, and they remained loyal readers. Instead, political attacks and bans on the books eventually eliminated Amadis from respectable bookshelves.
Read the essay at:
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
[Sohail Castle, Fuengirola, Spain. This polygonal fortress stands on a small hill on the Mediterranean coast. A fort has stood there since the Phoenician era to protect the nearby town, but the current construction was built over an earlier Roman fortress and dates back to Moorish times. It was repeatedly attacked by the pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa in the 1500s and was sieged in 1810 during the War of Independence against Napoleonic troops. Photo by Cindy Van Vreede.]
Amadis said goodbye to the lady and the girl, went on his way, and rode without finding adventure until he came to a forest called Angaduza. The dwarf was riding ahead, and a knight and damsel were coming down the road towards them. When they neared the dwarf, the knight took his sword in hand and charged at him to cut off his head. The dwarf, in fear, let himself fall from his nag and said:
"Help me, my lord! They want to kill me!"
Amadis, who had seen it, galloped forward and said:
"What is this, my lord knight? Why do you want to kill my dwarf? You act without courtesy to strike such a poor thing. Besides, he is mine, and ye have not asked me for the right to do so. Do not lay a hand on him, for I must protect him from you."
"I am sorry ye must protect him," the knight said, "but it still falls on me to cut off his head."
"First ye must do battle," Amadis said.
They took up their arms, raised their shields, and came at each other as fast as their horses could gallop. Their lances struck each others' shields so hard that the shields failed along with their chain mail, and their bodies and helmets and horses collided. Both knights and horses fell, crashing in different directions.
But immediately they got on their feet and began to fight with swords, with such cruelty and might that anyone who saw it would have been terrified, as they themselves were, for never before had they encountered an opponent who put his own life in such peril. And so they continued attacking each other with great slashing blows for much of the day until their shields were shredded and cut in many places, as were their coats of chain mail, which by then offered them little protection. Their swords had encountered many opportunities to strike and find flesh, and their helmets had been cut and dented everywhere.
They had become very tired, and they pulled back. The knight said to Amadis:
"Knight, do not suffer any more on account of this dwarf. Let me do to him what I wish, and then I shall compensate you for him."
"Do not speak of that," Amadis said, "for I shall protect the dwarf in every way possible."
"Then, truly," the knight said, "either I shall die or the damsel who asked for his head shall have it."
"And I tell you," Amadis said, "that one of our heads will be lost first."
He took up his shield and sword and attacked again with great anger because the knight arrogantly and senselessly wanted to kill the dwarf, who had done nothing to deserve it. But if Amadis was brave, the other never flagged. Instead, he proved himself to be very valiant, and they exchanged great blows and tried to show each other their might and courage; thus each expected nothing for himself but death. Though the other knight was seriously injured, he could still fight Amadis with great strength.
While they were in perilous battle, as ye hear, by chance a fully armed knight approached the damsel, and when he saw the fight, he began to cross himself, saying that he had never in his life seen such a fearsome confrontation between two knights. He asked the damsel if she knew who those knight were.
"Yes," she said, "for I brought them together, and I can only leave here happy, since it would please me if either one of them were to die, and much more if they both did."
"Surely, damsel," the knight said, "that is not a good desire nor a pleasure. Instead one should pray to God for two such good men. But tell me why ye despise them so."
"I shall tell you," the damsel said. "The one with the shield more intact is the man who more than any other in the world who despises Arcalaus, my uncle, and whose death Arcalaus desires more than any other. The man he is fighting is named Galaor, and he killed the man whom I loved most in the world. Galaor owed me a boon, and I made sure to ask for something that would bring him death. Since I knew the other knight is the best in the world, I asked for the head of that dwarf. And so this Galaor, a very strong knight, must give it to me, and the other must defend it. They are both close to death, and which gives me glory and pleasure."
When the knight heard this, he said:
"Cursed be the woman who with such treason sought to make the two best knights in the world die!"
He took his sword from its scabbard and give her such a blow on her neck that her head fell at the feet of her palfrey. He said:
"Take this reward for thy Uncle Arcalaus, who put me into a cruel prison and from which that good knight rescued me!"
Then as fast as his horse could gallop, he went shouting:
"Stay, my lord Amadis, for this is your brother, Sir Galaor, whom ye have sought!"
When Amadis heard this, he let his sword and shield fall to the ground and ran towards Galaor, saying:
"Oh, brother, may blessings come to he who made us know each other!"
"Oh, wretched and ill-fated me! What have I done to my brother and my lord?"
He knelt before him, weeping, and begged for forgiveness. Amadis raised him up, embraced him, and said:
"My brother, the danger ye put me in was well employed, for it was testimony to the test I put to your skill and ability at arms."
Then they took off their helmets and rested, which they badly needed. The knight told them what the damsel had said and how he had killed her.
"May ye be blessed," Galaor said, "for now I am free from her boon."
"Truly, my lord," the dwarf said, "it pleases me even more that ye have been released from that boon. I am also puzzled that she despised me, for I had never seen her before."
Galaor told them what had happened with her and her lover, as ye have already heard, and the knight said:
"My lords, ye are badly wounded. I beg you to ride with me to my castle, which is nearby, and recover from your injuries."
"God give you blessings for what ye have done for us," Amadis said.
"Surely, my lord, I consider myself blessed to serve you, for you took me from the most cruel and vicious prison than any man has ever suffered."
"Where was that?" Amadis said.
"My lord," he said, "in the castle of Arcalaus the Sorcerer, for I am one of the many who escaped there at your hand."
"What is your name?" Amadis said.
"They call me Balais," he said, "and since my castle is Carsante, I am Balais of Carsante. And I beg you, my lord, to come with me."
Sir Galaor said:
"Let us go with this knight who esteems us so highly."
"Let us go, brother," Amadis said, "since it pleases you."
Then they rode as best they could and arrived at the castle, where they found knights and ladies and damsels who received them with great acclaim. Balais told them:
"My friends, ye see that I bring the height of knighthood of all the world. This one is Amadis, who took me out of that awful prison. The other is his brother, Sir Galaor. And I found them at such a moment that if God in His mercy had not led me that way, one of them would have died, or perhaps both. Serve them and honor them as ye should."
Then they helped them off their horses and took them to a chamber, where they were disarmed and put into fine beds. There they were healed by two nieces of Balais's wife, who knew much about that ministry. The lady, their aunt, came to Amadis and very humbly thanked him for what he had done for her husband by rescuing him from Arcalaus's prison.
While they were there, as ye hear, Amadis told Galaor how he had left the court of King Lisuarte to look for him, and how he had promised to bring him back. He asked him to come with him, for in the whole world there was no royal court more honorable nor one where so many good men stayed.
"My lord brother," Sir Galaor said, "all that which pleases you I must follow and do, although I have to say that I thought I ought not make myself known there until my deeds gave testimony in some measure resembling your own, or I should die in the attempt."
"Truly, brother," Amadis said, "do not hold back for that. Your fame there is already such that mine, if anything, is being eclipsed by it."
"Oh, my lord," Galaor said, "by God, do not say something so mad, for not only in deeds but in wisdom I could not approach or equal your great might!"
"Let us set this aside now," Amadis said, "for in your deeds and in mine, next to the great skill of our father, rightly there should be no difference."
And then he ordered his dwarf to leave immediately for the court of King Lisuarte, there to kiss the hands of the Queen on his behalf and tell her that he had found Galaor and as soon as their wounds were healed, they would come there. The dwarf obeyed the order of his lord and got on the road to Windsor, where the King was at that time, well attended by all his knights.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
[Detail from "The Descent from the Cross" by Pedro Machuca, which hangs in the Prado Museum. The Prado's online gallery displays the full painting with interesting commentary. The painting's frame includes an inscription that says, "This altarpiece was ordered made by do a Inés del Castillo, wife of Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo, alderman of this town." The man in the armor is apparently Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo, though he may be the author of Amadís or his nephew or grandson, who had the same name.]
In about 1450 in the city of Medina del Campo, Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo was born into the politically connected Pollino family, which held a hereditary seat on the city council. Medina del Campo, in the plains of central Castilla y León near Valladolid, enjoyed a large population and great wealth and from its two huge sheep fairs; wool held enormous economic importance at the time.
As a member of the minor nobility, Rodríguez de Montalvo grew up enjoying falconry and dreaming of great feats of arms, according to what he wrote about himself in the novel Las Sergas de Esplandián.
He had several children and earned his living as an alderman, verseeing municipal administration. The nobility also provided men at arms, and he joined the military regiment of Medina del Campo in the initial campaigns in the War of Granada. He was named a knight by the King Fernando and Queen Isabel in 1482 for his defense of Alama.
Although scholars debate the exact dates, he probably worked on Amadís de Gaula between 1482 and 1492, "correcting and polishing" medieval Books I, II, and III, adding Book IV (by changing the ending of Book III), and creating a fifth book about Amadis's son, Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Exploits of Espandian). Book I remains closest to the original. In some later editions, his name is inexplicably given as Garci Ordó ez de Montalvo.
In 1497 he (or his grandson or nephew of the same name) and another man from Medina del Campo were sued for adultery and sentenced to two months of exile from the province of Valladolid. In 1502, he was witness to a wedding — a secret one in Coca Castle between María de Fonseca and the Marqués del Cenete, Rodrigo de Mendoza; secret weddings were illegal at the time, but nothing involving the powerful Fonseca and Mendoza families could stay secret long.
These notes in legal documents are the only proof he was alive and doing anything.
He probably died in 1505, although that's far from certain. He may or may not have seen Amadís de Gaula achieve publication, since the date of its initial publication is also not completely certain.
In all, we don't know much about him or his life, and if he hadn't taken it upon himself to "bring together the writings of light things of little substance" so that "some shadow of remembrance remain of me" (as he wrote in the prologue to Books I to III), Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo would have been a forgotten footnote in history.
Ars longa, vita brevis.