Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chapter 33 [first half]

How, as King Lisuarte was enjoying himself, a damsel dressed in mourning knelt before him to ask for a mercy, which he granted.

[Statue of Violant of Hungary (c.1216-1253). In 1235, she married James I "the Conquerer" of Aragon after James had his marriage annulled to Eleanor of Castile, granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Violant and James had ten children, and she played an important role in the governance of his kingdom.]


As the King and his followers were enjoying themselves, as ye have heard, Fate wished to begin her work and turn the festivities into disorder, so an extremely beautiful damsel dressed in mourning entered the gate of the palace and knelt in front of the King. She said:

"My lord, everyone is happy except me. I must be troubled and sad, and I can be freed from it only by you."

"My friend," the King said, "what is this trouble of yours?"

"My lord," she said, "it is over my father and my uncle, who are imprisoned by a lady, and they can never be freed until she is given two knights as skilled at arms as the one that they killed."

"And why did they kill him?" the King said.

"Because he boasted that he alone could fight them both, such was his pride and arrogance," she said. "He taunted them until, overcome by shame, they met him on the field, where they won and he was left dead. This took place in front of the castle of Galdena, and she, being the lady of the castle, ordered both my father and uncle to be seized immediately. She swore that they would not be released, because they killed the knight that she needed to do battle. My father told her:

" 'Lady, do not hold me or my brother, for I shall fight this battle.'

" 'Truly,' she said, 'I cannot entrust my justice to those such as you. I tell you that ye shall not leave here until I have been brought two knights, each one is as good and as proven at arms as the one ye killed. That way the harm that his death has brought me shall be remedied.' "

The King said:

"Do ye know where the lady wants them to fight?"

"My lord," the damsel said, "I do not know this, I only know that my father and my uncle are being held prisoners completely unjustly, where their friends cannot help them." She began to weep bitterly.

The King, who was very compassionate, felt pity for her and said:

"Now tell me if the place where these knights are being held is far away."

"To travel there and back would take only five days," the damsel said.

"Then choose two knights that ye like from those here and they shall go with you."

"My lord," she said, "I am from a foreign land and I know no one, but if ye please, I shall go to the Queen, my lady, and she shall advise me."

"In the name of God," he said.

She went to the Queen and explained her circumstance just as she had to the King, and finished by telling how he had granted her two knights to go with her. And since she did not know whom to choose, she begged the Queen, by her mercy and by the faith she owed to God and the King, to select the two who could best solve her troubles.

"Oh, damsel," the Queen said, "as ye beg it of me, I must do so, but it hurts me to send them away from here."

Then she had Amadis and Galaor called. They came before her, and she said to the damsel:

"This knight is mine, and that one the King's, and I tell you that these two are the best that I know of here or anywhere else."

The damsel asked what their names were. The Queen said:

"This one is called Amadis, and the other Galaor."

"Why, my lord, are ye Amadis," she said, "the outstanding knight who has no equal among all others? By God, what I ask for shall be done as soon as ye and your brother arrive." She said to the Queen, "My lady, by God I beg you to ask them to come with me."

The Queen asked them, and the damsel blessed her for it. Amadis glanced at his lady, Oriana, to see if she would grant the trip, and she, having pity on the damsel, let her gloves fall from her hands, which was a signal that they had arranged between them of her assent. When he saw this, he said to the Queen that he would be pleased to carry out her order. She asked them to return as fast as they could and forbid them to tarry for any reason.

Amadis approached Mabilia, who was speaking with Oriana, as if he wished to say goodbye to her, and Oriana told him:

"My dear, may God help me, it troubles me to see you go, and my heart feels great anguish. May God grant that it be for the best."

"My lady," Amadis said, "may He who made you so beautiful always give you joy, and wherever I am, I am yours to serve you."

"My love and lord," she said, "since it cannot be otherwise, may ye go with God, and may He keep you and give you honor above all other knights in the world."

Then they left, armed themselves, said goodbye to the King and to their friends, and took to the road with the damsel. They rode where the damsel guided them until afternoon, when they entered a forest named Ill Fortune because no knight errant who had ever entered there encountered good fortune or luck. Indeed, Amadis and Galaor would suffer great troubles before they left it.

After they ate what their squires had brought, they traveled until night fell and was lit by a full moon. The damsel was in a hurry and kept going. Amadis told her:

"Damsel, do ye not wish to rest a while?"

"I will," she said, "but farther on, where we will find some tents and people who will be glad to see us. Continue at your speed, and I shall go forward to arrange your reception."

Then the damsel left and they went more slowly, but they had not gone far before they saw two tents near the road, and they found the damsel and other people there who waited for them. She said:

"My lords, dismount and rest in this tent, for today ye have traveled far."

They did that, and they found servants who took their arms and horses and who went outside with them.

Amadis told them:

"Why did ye take our arms?"

"Because, my lord," the damsel said, "ye shall sleep in the tent where they have put them."

Then, disarmed, they were seated on a rug awaiting dinner, when soon some fifteen men including knights and well-armed foot soldiers entered and said:

"Be prisoners. If not, ye are dead."

When Amadis heard this, he rose and said:

"By Holy Mary, brother! We have been brought here falsely to the greatest treason in the world!"

Then they stood close to each other, wishing to defend themselves, but they had nothing to fight with. The men pointed their lances at their chests and their swords at their faces. Amadis was so angry that blood flowed from his nose and eyes, and he said to the knights:

"Oh, traitors! Understand this: if we had weapons, this would end differently."

"That will not help you," a knight said. "Give yourselves up as prisoners."

Galaor said:

"If we did that, it would be by treachery. And I will prove this against your two best knights, even your best three, if ye would give me my arms."

"That proof will not be necessary," the knight said. "And if ye keep talking that way, ye will be harmed."

"What do ye want?" Amadis said. "We would sooner be dead than prisoners, above all by treachery."

The knight turned to the entrance of the tent and said:

"My lady, they do not wish to surrender. Shall we kill them?"

She said:

"Wait a bit, and if they do not do my will, cut off their heads."

The lady entered the tent. She was very beautiful and angry. She told King Lisuarte's knights:

"Be my prisoners. If not, ye are dead."

Amadis did not speak, and Galaor said to him:

"Brother, now we need not doubt, since the lady wishes it so." He told her: "Order them to give us our arms and horses, my lady, and if your men cannot take us, then we shall go to your prison, for we have done nothing up to now by you to deserve it."

"I do not think so," she said. "Instead, I advise you to be my prisoners."

They agreed, since they saw they could do nothing else. This way, as ye hear, they gave themselves up without the lady knowing who they were. The damsel did not wish to tell her because she knew for certain that the lady would immediately wish to kill them, and that would have left the damsel without any good fortune in the world, since these two knights would have died because of her. She would have rather died than done what she had done that day, but she could only keep their secret.

The lady told them:

"Knights, ye are now my prisoners, and I wish to propose a deal. If you grant it, ye shall be free, but otherwise, know that I shall place you in a prison so vile that it will seem worse than death."

"My lady," Amadis said, "if your deal can be done without great distress, we shall grant it, but if it is to our shame, we would rather suffer death."

"I know nothing of your shame," she said, "but if ye agree to go to King Lisuarte and declare that ye are no longer his vassals and tell him that ye do this by order of Madasima, the lady of Gantasi, I shall order you freed."

She said this because the King had as one of his men the knight who killed the good knight Dardan.

Galaor told her:

"My lady, if ye order this because of the King, it is sad, and do not believe otherwise. We are just two knights who have only arms and horses, and since he maintains many others of great valor to serve him, he will care little if we stay or go, but for us this would be a great shame, so much that we in no way shall do it."

"What?" she said. "Ye would rather be put in that prison than be parted from the most dishonest king in the world?"

"My lady," Galaor said, "we cannot agree with you, for the King is good and loyal, and I would prove that there is not one bit of falsehood in him to any knight in the world."

"Truly," she said, "at a bad moment ye have loved him so much."

And she ordered that their hands be tied.

"I shall do this happily," said a knight, "and if ye order it, I shall cut off their heads."

He grabbed Amadis by the arm, but Amadis pulled back and tried to strike him in the head. The knight dodged the blow and hit him on the chest so hard that Amadis fell to the ground, stunned. Then there was a great commotion in the tent, and everyone tried to kill Amadis, but an old knight put his hand on his sword and began to threaten those who wanted to harm him and made them pull back, but not before they had injured Amadis on the right shoulder with a lance, although not badly.

The old knight said to the lady:

"Ye do the greatest devilry in the world to keep noble knights as your prisoners and let them be killed."

"How can they not kill the most mad knight in the world, "she said, "who at a bad time did something so wild?"

Galaor said:

"My lady, we do not consent to have our hands tied by anyone but yourself, for you are our lady and very beautiful, and we are your prisoners, thus we must owe you obedience."

"So be it," she said. "I shall do so."

She took them by the hands and tied them tightly with a leather strap. She ordered the tents struck. She had them put on palfreys with their hands tied, had men take the reins, and began to travel. Gandalin and Galaor's squire went on foot, tied with rough rope. Thus they traveled all night through the forest.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Without her, Amadis of Gaul would never have been written.

[The tomb of Eleanor and Henry II in Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France.]


God save Lady Eleanor,
Queen who art the arbiter
of honor, wit, and beauty,

of largess and loyalty.

Lady born in happy hour
and wed to our King Henry.

– Phillipe de Thaon in a dedication of his Bestiary.

Few women have shaped history as much as Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was born in about 1122, and, at about age 15, became Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Pointiers. She died on April 1, 1204; she had been queen of France and England; and her children included King Henry the Young King of France, Kings Richard I and John of England, Queen Eleanor of Castile, and Queen Joan of Sicily.

She had also gone on a Crusade, affected the course of great affairs of state, blinded two kings with her beauty and charm and then drove them to despair with her shrewd but flighty behavior, and most important of all (for our purposes, at least) provided a link between British literature and the European mainland.

Eleanor didn't do it alone, though. She had been born into a French ducal court whose involvement in culture eclipsed even the crown's. Her grandfather, Duke William IX, had achieved lasting fame as "the Troubadour" for his poetry about courtly love, some of it apparently based on his many amorous adventures.

Charlemagne and ancient Greece and Rome had already inspired important literary cycles in Europe. Then, in 1155, the Anglo-Norman poet Wace dedicated his Roman de Brut, based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, to Eleanor, then the Queen of England. She brought it to her court in Poitiers. This British romance added the Welsh tales of King Arthur and Merlin to the French literary mix. Wace's work also included the first mention of the Round Table.

This "matter of Britain" caught on fast in France. Eleanor's daughter, Marie of France (1145-1198), Countess of Champagne, served as a patron to poets and troubadours, including Chrétien de Troyes from 1160 and 1172. He wrote works about such Arthurian figures as Perceval and Lancelot.

From there, Arthurian tales quickly traveled north to Norway and Germany, south to Italy, Spain, and Portugal, and eventually back to Britain with Thomas Malory's Le Mort d'Arthur in 1485. In Spain, in the early 1300s, the first tales of Amadís de Gaula appeared about a knight who had lived many years before Arthur reigned and who inhabited the same literary landscape.

In our own time, King Arthur and his associated knights and legends live on in endless retellings.

These tales might have flourished without Eleanor's influence, but since we can't conduct controlled experiments with history, we'll never know for sure, although their spread would have been different. We can be sure that without her, our world would be different in many ways.

That's what one intelligent, educated, strong-willed, charming, rich, and powerful woman can do.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chapter 32

How King Lusarte, having convened his court, wished to learn the counsel of his nobles about what he should do.

[A 1483 depiction of the imprisonment of Charles, Duke of Orléans, in the Tower of London. London Bridge is shown in the background.]


King Lisuarte remained with his noblemen to speak with them, and he said:

"My friends, since God has made me a rich and powerful man with more land and subjects than any of my neighbors, it is right for me, in His service, to try to do better and more praiseworthy things than any of them. Thus I want you to tell me all that ye judge wise so that ye and I may achieve greater honor, and I promise that I shall do it."

Barsinan, the lord of Saxony, who was attending the council, said:

"My good lords, ye have heard what the King has charged us with, which I hold to be good, and if he wishes, he should leave you so that ye may discuss what he asks without his presence and your judgement may be guided by reason rather than timidity, and afterwards he may take your counsel as it seems best to him."

The King said he spoke wisely, asked Barsinan to stay with them, and went to another tent while the nobles remained in that one. Then Serolois of Flanders, who at the time was the Count of Clare, said:

"My lords, the King has ordered us to advise him, and it is plainly known what will best maintain and increase his grandeur and honor. Men in this world cannot be powerful except by having large military forces to serve them or by having great treasuries, and since treasuries serve to find and pay these forces, this is the most fitting way temporal powers should expend their funds. It has long been fully proven that a large force of men is the principal means by which kings and grandees are not only protected and defended but also by which they are able to subjugate and reign over distant lands as well as their own. For this reason, my good lords, I would hold the King our lord wise if he took no other counsel but this: to look everywhere for good knights and pay them generously, hold them in esteem, and give them honors. This way foreigners in other lands will be moved to serve him hoping that their work will obtain the fruits it deserves. If ye look back, ye shall remember that never, even now, has any king been grand or powerful except those who sought and retained famous knights in their service, and by spending their treasury, they brought in the finest ones from abroad."

There was no man in the council who did not hold wise what the Count had said, and they supported him. When Barsinan, lord of Saxony, saw how everyone was agreed, his heart was heavy because by that means it would prove very difficult to bring about his plans, so he said:

"Truly, I have never seen so many noblemen so madly agree with a speech, and I must tell you why. If your lord were to do what the Count of Clare has said, within two years there will be so many foreign knights in your land that not only will the King give them that which he ought to give to you, but since he will naturally wish to make them grateful and contented as newcomers, ye shall be forgotten and bereft. So look well and more carefully at what ye must give as counsel. For me, nothing would make me more satisfied and content, finding myself here, than if my advice were to prove useful to you."

Some who were envious and greedy heeded to this advice, and soon there was discord among the nobles. Finally they agreed to have the King come so that with his great discretion he could chose the better council. When he came, he heard out in their differences, and the right course presented itself clearly before his eyes. He said:

"Kings are not only great for how many men they obtain but for how many they keep, since as a single individual, what could they do? Fortune may provide more or fewer, but how many would be enough? And to govern their estate, which as ye can see is the concern, would great riches be enough to free them from care? Certainly not, if these riches were not spent where they ought to be. Thus we can well believe that men's wisdom and endeavor is the true treasure. Do ye wish proof? Look at the feats of Alexander the Great, mighty Julius Caesar, proud Hannibal, and many others who could be recalled, whose money made them very rich and great in the world, and who freely shared it with their knights as each deserved it, whether more or less. It may be believed that they gave away most of it, for more than others they were loyally served and respected. Thus, good friends, I not only ought to try to have good knights but ye ought to try to bring them to me, for when I am more honored and feared in foreign lands, ye are more honored and safe. If any virtue resides in me, I shall never forget old friends for new. Now name me the best knights ye know of among those who have come to be present here in my court so that, rather than depart afterwards, they may remain in my service."

This was then done, and the King had the names taken down by a scribe. He ordered the knights to be called to his tent after he had eaten, and he asked them to render him loyal service and not to leave his court without orders. He promised to love and esteem them and give them many honors and gifts, so that by protecting his possessions they could maintain their own estates.

All who were there agreed except for Amadis, who, being the Queen's knight, could be excused.

After that act, the Queen asked them to please listen to what she wished to say to them. They all came close and grew quiet. She said to the King:

"My lord, since ye have so praised and honored your knights, it would be wise for me to do the same for my ladies and damsels, and on their behalf all women in general wherever and however they may be. For this I ask you and these good men to grant me a gift, for in celebrations like this one ought to request and grant good things."

The King looked at the knights and said:

"My friends, shall we do what our lady the Queen requests?"

"Let us grant everything she may ask," they said.

"Who would do anything other than serve such a good lady?" Sir Galaor said.

"Then, since it pleases you, the gift shall be granted," the King said, "even if it may be hard to do."

"So be it," they all said.

Having heard this, the Queen said:

"The gift that I ask of you is for ladies and damsels to always be well protected and defended by you from anyone who would do them injury or injustice. And in the same way, if ye have promised something to a man and something to a lady or damsel, fulfill hers first, for she is weaker and needs more assistance. By doing this, ladies and damsels shall be more favored and protected as they travel, and neither wild nor cruel men will dare to do them violence or harm, knowing that they have such defenders as yourselves on their side."

The King, having heard this, felt very content with the gift that the Queen had asked, as were all the knights who were before him. Thus he ordered them to maintain what she had asked, and so it was in Great Britain for a long time, and never did any knight break his vow after. But how it came to be breached we shall not tell you, since it does not serve the purpose of this tale.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Quixote Out Loud

"...I don't plan to earn my fame by being brave but by being the best and most loyal squire who ever served a knight-errant..." – Sancho Panza.

[A high school student reads at the podium while the next volunteer receives her assignment. Photo by Sue Burke.]


For the past 14 years, to celebrate the anniversary of Cervantes' death (actually, his interment) on April 23, the Círculo de Bellas Artes of Madrid organizes a marathon reading of Don Quijote de la Mancha. Each volunteer reads a short portion of the work. I volunteered in 2008 and again this year.

I arrived at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, a seven-story cultural center in downtown Madrid, a little before 10 a.m. on a warm, sunny spring day. The sidewalk and the lobby were bustling, and TV news crews busily recorded the scene. I recognized two prominent Spanish politicians on my way to fifth-floor Hall of Columns where the reading was taking place. April 23 was World Book Day, and a cultural center was the place to be seen.

I registered in the lobby outside the hall. Some readers and groups pre-register, and some like me walk in off the street. The volunteers handed me my volunteer-off-the-street ticket, Number 176, and apologized. "It will take a long time to get to that number, an hour, maybe more."

One of them pointed out an electronic display board and explained that they were all over the building including the cafés. He said they would alert me when my number was coming up if I wanted to go relax elsewhere. I said I would enjoy watching the reading. He apologized again because the hall, with more than 100 seats, was filled to standing-room-only.

But I had read two years ago and expected all this. I went into the hall and found a comfortable place to stand. The brightly lit stage held a table and lectern. Above it was projected an old movie version of Don Quijote. At the dimly lit sides of the hall, technicians managed equipment for Radio Círculo and Instituto Cervantes TV, and staff organized the readers waiting to go on stage.

On the podium, high school students were reading the sonnets at the end of Part One with varying degrees of confidence as their friends in the audience snapped photos. Each volunteer read until the woman who was assigning the readings said "Muchas gracias." Then the reader stepped off the stage to applause, and it was the next volunteer's turn.

At the start of Part Two, Chapter II, the Cervantes Institute connected to its Pekin branch, where three people active in Spanish literature – Dong Yanshen, Fan Hong Yu, and Xu Ying – each read a section. They spoke Spanish with good accents.

The reading returned to the room. A few VIPs slipped in among the students, along with some volunteers from the street. At the start of Chapter IV, Radio Círculo connected to the Madrid Women's Penal Institute, where two inmates read.

At 11:15, my number came up. I signed in, and then sat next to the woman assigning the readings. She followed along in a large-print text as the person ahead of me read. When he reached the end of a sentence, she said, "Muchas gracias." It was my turn.

The book on the podium was the same large-print edition. My section began with the words "Yo, señor Sansón" halfway down the page in the middle of a line. I found it and began reading with as much inflection as I could, though I was reading only a half-word ahead of where my finger was following the text.

I reached the end of the long sentence. "Muchas gracias," the woman said, and I stepped down from the stage to applause.

I remained to listen to Chapter V. Most of the high school students had left. The Ambassador of Ireland read a few paragraphs; so did another VIP and a lot of ordinary people.

When I left the hushed hall for the busy lobby, I got a gift of a paper doll reading a book from the Guild of Madrid Booksellers. Downstairs, in the even more busy main entrance, a television displayed someone reading from Chapter VI. Sixty-eight chapters remained.

Here's the section I read:

"...Yo, señor Sansón, no pienso granjear fama de valiente, sino del mejor y más leal escudero que jamás sirvió a caballero andante; y si mi señor don Quijote, obligado de mis muchos y buenos servicios, quisiere darme alguna ínsula de las muchas que ha de topar por ahí, recibiré mucha merced en ello; y cuando no me la diere, nascido soy, y no ha de vivir el hombre en hoto de otro, sino de Dios; y más, que tan bien y aun quizá mejor me sabrá el pan desgobernado que siendo gobernador; ¿y sé yo por ventura si en esos gobiernos me tiene aparejada el diablo alguna zancadilla donde tropiece y caiga y me haga las muelas?..."

"...I, Senor Samson, don't plan to earn my fame by being brave but by being the best and most loyal squire who ever served a knight-errant; and if my master Don Quixote, in consideration of my many fine services, is pleased to give me some island of the many that must be around these parts, I will take it as a great favor; and if he does not give it to me, I was born to suffer, and a man must not live depending on others, only on God; and what is more, my bread will taste as good and perhaps even better without a government than if I were a governor; how do I know but that in these governments the devil may have prepared some trick to make me trip and fall and knock out my molars?..."