Thursday, December 31, 2009

Vasco de Lobeira did not write Amadís de Gaula

The original version had more than one author, and they remain anonymous.

[Part of a medieval manuscript of Amadís de Gaula, now at The Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley and displayed at the Columbia University Libraries Digital Scriptorium.]


In 1803, in the preface to his translation of Amadís de Gaula, Robert Southey wrote:

"Amadis of Gaul was written by Vasco Lobeira, a Portugueze, [sic] who was born at Porto, fought at Alijubarrota where he was knighted upon the field by King Joam of Good Memory, and died at Elvas, 1403."

That's no longer believed today. Over the past two centuries, scholars have collected more information about Amadis, and the evidence points to a14th-century Spanish genesis of the story. Although tales of chivalry originated with King Arthur, brought from Britain to Europe via France, they quickly took hold in the royal courts of Spain.

In Spain, King Alfonso X of Castilla y León (1252-1284) ordered stories of chivalry be read to knights during meals to inspire them, and future kings continued that practice. Chancellor Pero López de Ayala, born in 1332, wrote about hearing Amadis in his youth, and other contemporary references show that Amadis was well known that part of Spain in the early decades of the 1300s. Vasco de Lobeira would have been too young to write Amadis.

In fact, there are enough references in Spanish sources to trace the development of the story: two books in the early 1300s; three books at the end of the century that altered the plot somewhat to incorporate political and social changes in Spain; and four books in Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo's version, which also altered the plot to be more acceptable to his times — that is, he created a happy ending.

Sometimes Amadis has been attributed to the Portuguese troubadour João de Lobeira (1258-1285), but the verse cited to support that seems to have been written in the 1400s. In fact, all the claims that either Vasco or João Lobeira wrote Amadis were made by Portuguese writers the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Another problem with the Portuguese thesis is the lack of any manuscripts of Amadis made in Portugal from that era or any other. Manuscripts were claimed to exist, but they later disappeared.

But four fragments from Book III, Chapter 68, of a manuscript of Amadis were discovered in 1956. They had been used to bind a newer book. (Old parchments were often used for that in the Renaissance, which is why so many medieval manuscripts have been lost.) The handwriting dates them to around 1420, and the language is contemporary 15th-century Castilian. It contains a few Castilian-Leonese archaisms but no hints of any original Portuguese.

So, who wrote the first version of Amadis of Gaul — or the second version, for that matter? We still don't know. But some candidates can be eliminated.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chapter 24 [last half]

[How Sir Galaor came to learn who the dead knight was and how he died.]

[Inside the Royal Castle in Segovia, Spain. Photo by Sue Burke.]


Sir Galaor remained alone with the dead knight, since he had ordered his squire to chase after his horse, and waited for more than five hours in the night. Then sleep overcame him, and he laid his head on his helmet and placed his shield over him and slept for a long time. But when he woke up, he did not see the light of any of the candles that had been burning before, nor did he find the dead knight, which troubled him greatly, and he said to himself:

"Surely, I ought not to attempt what worthy men do, for I knew to do nothing other than sleep, and because of that I have failed to keep my promise. But I shall pay the price that my negligence deserves, and I shall search on foot for that which, had I been awake, I would have learned without any trouble."

As he thought about how he could find the trail of those who had come, he heard a horse whinny, and he went toward it, but he could not find it anywhere. Then he heard another horse somewhat farther away, and he continued traveling down that road. When he had gone some distance, dawn broke, and he saw two armed men before him. One was on foot, reading the words that were written on a stone, and he said to the other one:

"They were too free in sending me here, for it seems like a rather pointless errand to me."

He mounted his horse, and they left together. Galaor called out:

"My lord knights, would ye be able to tell me who took a dead knight that lay beneath the tree at the crossroads?"

"Truly," one of them said, "we do not know, but after midnight we saw three damsels and ten squires go by, and they carried a bier."

"Well, where were they headed?" Galaor said.

They showed him the way and left, and he went down that road. Soon he saw a damsel coming toward him, and he said to her:

"Damsel, by chance do ye know who took a dead knight from under the tree at the crossroads?"

"If ye promise me to avenge his death, which was a great sorrow to many men and women due to his noble character, I shall tell you."

"I promise that," he said, "since it seems to you that vengeance may be taken justly."

"That is very certain," she said. "Now come with me and ride on this palfrey, and I shall ride behind you on its haunches."

She wished to have him to ride in the sidesaddle, which he did not want to do at all, and riding behind her, they went where the damsel guided the horse. When they had gone two leagues, they saw a very beautiful castle, and the damsel said:

"There we shall find what ye ask for."

They arrived at the gate of the castle, and the damsel said:

"Enter, and I shall go. And tell me your name and where I may find you."

"My name," he said, "is Sir Galaor, and I believe that ye shall find me in the court of King Lisuarte sooner than anywhere else."

She left, and he entered the castle. He saw the dead knight lying in the center of the courtyard, and many people were mourning over him. He came up to an old knight who was there and asked who the dead knight was.

"My lord," he said, "he was such that everyone in the world rightly ought to mourn his death."

"And what was his name?" Galaor said.

"Antebon," he said. "And he was born in Gaul."

Galaor felt more pity for him than before, and he said:

"I beg you to tell me the cause of his death."

"I shall gladly tell you," he said. "This knight came to this land and, being noble, he married that lady who weeps over him, who is the proprietress of this castle. They had a very beautiful daughter, who was loved by a knight who lives near here in another fortress. But she disdained him more than anyone else. The dead knight had the custom of going to the tree at the crossroads because he often encountered adventures as a knight errant and was able to correct the wrongdoers who went past, and he accomplished so much at arms that in these lands he was greatly praised.

"One day, as he was there, by chance the knight who loved his daughter rode past him to the castle where the damsel was with her mother. He rode into this very courtyard where she was playing with other women. He took her by the arm and left before anyone could close the gate, and brought her to his castle. There the damsel did nothing but weep, and the knight told her:

" 'My dear, I am a knight and I love you very much. Will ye not take me in marriage, since I have more riches and a higher rank than your father?'

" 'No,' she said, 'not willingly, because I have sworn an oath to my mother.'

" 'And what oath was this?'

" 'Not to wed nor to love any knight except he who is praised for his feats at arms, like the knight whom my mother married and who is my father.'

" 'Do not refuse me for that, for I am not less valiant than your father, and within three days ye shall know it.'

"Then he left the castle armed and on his horse, and he went to the tree in the crossroads, where he found this knight on foot beside his horse with his arms next to him. When he arrived, without saying a word, he struck Antebon with his lance in the throat as ye see here, before he could take up his arms, and he fell to the earth mortally wounded. The knight then dismounted and gave him all those blows with his sword that ye see here until he killed him."

"May God help me," Galaor said, "the knight's death is a great injustice, and everyone ought to mourn him. Now tell me why they put him beneath the tree at the crossroads."

"Because many knights errant pass by there, and they were told what I have told you so that perhaps one of them would be such as to avenge him."

"Why did ye leave him unattended?" Galaor said.

"There were always four squires with him," the knight said, "until last night, when they left because the other knight had sent them threats, and that is why we took him from there."

"I am very sorry that I did not see you," Galaor said.

"What?" he said. "Are you the one we saw asleep, lying on his helmet?"

"I am," he said.

"And why did ye remain there?" the knight said.

"To avenge his death, if it can be justly done," Galaor said.

"Ye are willing to do that now?"

"Yes, truly," he said.

"Why, my lord," the knight said, "may God in His mercy let you do so in honor."

He took him by the hand, brought him to the bier, made the mourners be quiet, and said to the lady:

"My lady, this knight says he will do his best to avenge the death of your husband."

She fell at his feet to kiss them, and said:

"Oh, good knight! May God give thee thy reward, for my husband has no family or friends in this land to do it for him because he is a foreigner here, but when he was alive, many looked well on him."

Galaor said:

"My lady, he is from the land where I am from, so I have more cause to avenge him, since I was born where he was."

"My dear sir," the lady said, "by chance are ye the son of the King of Gaul, who my lord said was in the court of King Lisuarte?"

"I was never in his court," he said, "but tell me who killed your husband and where I can find him."

"My good sir," she said, "I shall tell you and guide you there, but I am afraid that ye may fail to do your duty out of fear, as did others who were sent there."

"My lady," he said, "this is what separates good men from bad men."

The lady ordered two damsels to guide him.

"My lady," Galaor said, "I arrived here on foot." He told her how he had lost his horse, and said, "Order one to be given to me when I go."

"I shall do so willingly," she said, "provided that if ye do not avenge him, ye shall return the horse to me."

"I agree," Galaor said.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Index of dramatis personae, Chapters 0-24

A list of the major characters, to help those who have gotten confused or who have just joined.

[Tomb of El Doncel (the Young Nobleman) Martín Vázquez de Arce in the Cathedral of Sigüenza, Spain. He served as a pageboy to Queen Isabel of Castile and died in 1486 at age 25 while fighting in the conquest of Granada.üenza]


As is typical of medieval novels, Amadis of Gaul features a number of intertwining plotlines and an enormous cast of characters and families. Here is an alphabetical list through Chapter 24 of the major protagonists and antagonists who will appear in subsequent chapters.

Agrajes: Son of King Languines of Scotland, cousin of Amadis, and a fine knight. He is in love with Olinda, Princess of Norway. He and his uncle Galvanes free a damsel from being burned at the stake in Chapter 16, which earns them the sworn enmity of the Duke of Bristol. In Chapter 23, Agrajes, Galvanes, and a knight named Olivas arrive at the royal court.

The greatest knight in the world. He is born out of wedlock to King Perion of Gaul and Princess Elisena of Little Brittany. As a newborn, he is cast into the sea in a wooden ark and recovered by a Scottish knight, Gandales, who raises him as a son. From Chapter 2 to 10, he is known as Childe of the Sea. At age 12, he meets Princess Oriana of Great Britain and they fall in love, but he is a boy with no name or estate and she is the daughter of a powerful king, so theirs is an impossible, secret love. He grows up to be handsome, brave, and a fierce protector of all women as well as the oppressed. His love for Oriana can overcome his senses, however, and he hopes that as a knight, he can achieve such feats as to be worthy of her. In Chapter 10, he learns who he is. In Chapter 15, he agrees to serve Queen Brisena, Oriana's mother. He leaves Windsor to search for his brother Galaor. In Chapter 24, he has found Galaor and they are returning to the royal court when he goes dashing off to rescue a damsel in distress.

Angriote d' Estravaus:
He loves Grovenesa, who hates him, so she orders him to guard a valley and make all knights who pass through it swear that she is the most beautiful woman in the world, and if they refuse, Angriote must fight them; she hopes that someone will kill him. In Chapter 18, Amadis, who cannot bear to say that any woman is more beautiful than Oriana (no woman is, actually), defeats Angriote but spares his life and thus wins his everlasting loyalty. In Chapter 23, Angriote arrives at the royal court.

Arcalaus the Sorcerer:
He fights Amadis in Chapter 18 and defeats him with an evil spell, but Amadis is rescued from death by two nieces of the sorceress Urganda. Amadis then frees 115 men and 30 knights held in a horrible prison in Arcalaus's castle. In Chapter 20, Arcalaus goes to the royal court to announce that he has killed Amadis, but everyone hates Arcalaus for it, so he leaves; the truth is soon known. Expect more trouble from Arcalaus.

A dwarf who becomes Amadis's vassal in Chapter 18.

Balais of Carsante:
One of the knights freed by Amadis from Arcalaus's prison. He intervenes in a fight between Amadis and Galaor in Chapter 22, then joins them on their trip to the royal court in Windsor. In Chapter 24, he rides off after a knight who attacked their horses.

Wife of King Lisuarte of Great Britain, daughter of the King of Denmark, mother of Oriana. Amadis is her knight.

Damsel of Denmark: She serves Oriana. Always level-headed, she has upbraided Amadis, Oriana, and Mabilia when they were acting foolish.

Galaor: Legitimate son of King Perion of Gaul and Queen Elisena. He is stolen as a toddler by a giant in Chapter 3. He is knighted by Amadis, who does not know him, in Chapter 11. He is an excellent and fearless knight, but not especially intelligent and not at all chaste. Galaor serves as a comic foil to his brother. He and Amadis meet in Chapter 22 while wearing helmets and thus fail recognize each other, and they fight to near death. In Chapter 24, Galaor is traveling to Windsor with Amadis and Balais when they find a murdered knight beneath a tree.

Son of the Scottish knight Gandales, who found Amadis as a newborn in the sea. They were raised together as brothers, and he has become Amadis's loyal squire.

King of Great Britain, husband of Brisena, father of Oriana.

Daughter of King Languines of Scotland, close friend of Oriana.

The most beautiful woman in the world. Daughter of King Lisuarte and Queen Brisena. She falls secretly in love with Amadis as a child, and, as adults, they confess their love to each other in Chapter 14. When Arcalaus says in Chapter 20 that he has killed Amadis, she almost dies of grief.

Urganda the Unrecognized: Sorceress who can assume any disguise and thus pass unrecognized; protector of Amadis and Galaor.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chapter 24 [first half]

How Amadis, Galaor, and Balais decided to go to King Lisuarte, and the adventures that happened to them on the way.

[The tomb of William de Valance the Younger, who died in 1282, in Dorchester Abbey, Dorchester-on-Thames, England. Photo by Sean McLachlan, ]


Amadis and Galaor remained in the house of Balais of Carsante until their wounds were healed, then they decided to leave for the court of King Lisuarte before they became involved in other adventures. Balais greatly wished to be at that court, especially since he had met two knights such as these, so he asked them to take him with them, which they willingly granted.

The three heard Mass, armed themselves, and took the most direct road to Windsor, where the King was. They traveled so fast that within five days they arrived at a crossroads where there was large tree, and they saw below it a dead knight on a rich bier. A candle burned at his feet and another at his head, and they were made so that no wind, no matter how strong, could have blown them out.

The knight was fully armed and not covered by a sheet. He had many blows on his head, and a piece of iron lance had pierced his throat and come out of the back of his neck. Both his hands were placed on it, as if he wished to pull it out.

They were astonished to see the knight like that and wanted to ask about him, but they saw no one and nothing around them where they could find out. Amadis said:

"Not without great cause would this knight be dead here this way, and if we wait, some adventure will come along soon."

Galaor said:

"I swear by the faith that I have as a knight to remain here until I know who this knight is and why he was killed, and to avenge him if reason and justice demand it."

Amadis, who dearly wished to continue on the road to see his lady, to whom he had promised to return as soon as he had found Galaor, felt distressed to hear this, and he said:

"Brother, what you have promised troubles me greatly, for I fear that ye will be detained here for some time."

"It is done," Galaor said.

He got off his horse and stood next to the bier, as did the other two so as not to leave him alone. This was sometime between the ninth hour and vespers. As they looked at the knight, Amadis said that he must have reached with his hands to remove the piece of lance while he was still breathing, and his hands had remained there.

They had not waited long before they saw a knight and two squires coming down one of the roads. One squire had a damsel sitting in front of him on his horse, and the other carried the knight's shield and helmet. The damsel was sobbing, and the knight struck her on the head with his lance, which he carried in his hand.

As they passed the bier where the dead knight lay, the damsel saw the three companions, and she said:

"Oh, good knight who hath come to lie there in death! If thou wert alive, thou wouldst not let them take me this way, instead thou wouldst place thy body in the face of any danger. The deaths of these three would be worth more than thine alone!"

The knight struck her even more angrily with the shaft of his lance, and blood ran down her face. They passed by so quickly it was amazing.

"Now I say to you," Amadis said, "that I have never seen a knight as vile as this to injure a damsel that way. God willing, I shall not let this violence continue." He said, "Galaor, brother, if I do not return soon, go to Windsor, and I shall come when I can. Balais will keep you company."

Then he mounted his horse, took up his arms, and said to Gandalin:

"Ride after me."

And he galloped after the knight, who had already gotten far ahead. Galaor and Balais waited there until nightfall. Then a fully armed knight came down the road that Amadis had taken, groaning over an injury to his leg, and he said to Galaor and Balais:

"Do ye know who the knight who is that went galloping down this road?"

"Why do ye ask?" they said.

"Because I wish him a bad death," he said. "He rides so bravely that it seems that all the devils ride with him."

"What brave act did he do to you?" Sir Galaor said.

"He did not wish to tell me where he went so fiercely," he said. "I took his horse by the reins and I told him to either tell me or fight with me. He angrily told me that if I did not let him go, it would take him longer to tell me than to free himself from me by battle. He drew back and we charged at each other, and he struck me so hard that he threw me and my horse on the ground and left my leg as ye see it."

They began to laugh, and Sir Galaor said:

"Next time it would be better to suffer not knowing what another man is doing than to demand an answer against his will."

"What!" the knight said. "Ye laugh at me? Truely, I shall make you less willing."

And he went to where the horses were and slashed Galaor's on its face with his sword, which made it rear up and break its reins. It fled into the fields. The knight wished to do the same to Balais's horse, but he and Galaor took their lances, ran at him, and stopped him.

The knight left, saying:

"If I did anything wrong to the knight, I paid for it, and so ye paid for laughing at me."

"May God not help me," Balais said, "if ye do not give up your horse for the one that ye let loose."

Immediately he mounted his horse and told Galaor that he would return the next day, if fate did not prevent it.

"Go with God," he said.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Five links to the past

Some interesting websites related to Amadis or medieval times.

A detail from an illumination in The Romance of Alexander the Great.


The Romance of Alexander the Great
BibliOdyssey has reproduced some stunning pages from a manuscript of The Romance of Alexander the Great, produced by the workshop of the Flemish illuminator, Jehan de Grise, between 1338 and 1344. Click on the photos for the large and very large images to appreciate the gold-leaf detail.

History Cookbook's Normans/Medieval section
This site offers English recipes and podcasts of their preparation, along with food facts, health facts, and notes about life in those times. It's aimed at British school children, but we're never too old to learn. The whole site covers Britain from prehistoric to postwar/modern times.

The F-Word: The Problem with Feudalism
Historian Melissa Snell explains why the word feudalism "has the power to annoy, disgust, and even upset the ordinarily cool and collected medievalist." The problem, she says, that feudalism never existed in medieval Europe.

Exposición Alfonso X el Sabio
An exhibit in Murcia, Spain, open now through January 31, recounts the life and contributions of Alfonso X the Wise (1221-1284), King of Castilla y León. He led developments in literature, science, scholarship, music, and law. The site is in Spanish, but non-Spanish-speakers can still enjoy the music and images.

Semi-staged Handel, with care
The Boston Globe reviews a recent performance of Handel's Amadigi de Gaula, a Baroque opera loosely based on Amadis of Gaul. The reviewer concludes that the music was better than the plot. The libretto leaves out the frequent blood-spattered jousts and focuses on a love story, and the role of Amadigi is written for a castrato. (!)