Thursday, September 30, 2010

Summary, backstory and Chapters 31 to 35

King Lisuarte's festivities turn into a total disaster, but fear not. Amadis will save day!

A map of London in 1300 from the historical atlas of William R. Shepherd.


The backstory

Amadis is born out of wedlock to King Perion of Gaul and Princess Elisena of Little Brittany, and as a newborn he is cast into the sea. He is rescued, raised by a Scottish knight, and called Childe of the Sea. At age 7, he and the knight's son, Gandalin, are taken by the King of Scotland to be raised in his court. There, at age 12, he meets Princess Oriana of Great Britain, then 10 years old, and they both fall in love at first sight, but they dare not tell anyone, even each other.

Later, to try to be worthy of her and despite still being a teen, the Childe of the Sea becomes a knight, and Gandalin becomes his faithful squire. After several adventures in which Amadis proves his extraordinary valor and skill, he saves King Perion's kingdom from invasion and learns his true identity. Many more adventures follow, and he makes some lasting friends – and enemies, including Arcalaus the Sorcerer.

Meanwhile, his brother Galaor, who had been kidnapped as a toddler by a giant, also becomes a knight. He is the equal of Amadis in valor, skill, and good looks, though not in intellect – and while Amadis is true to his love Oriana, Galaor tends to bed every damsel in distress that he rescues.

By then, Amadis and Oriana have declared their love to each other, though it remains a secret to all but their closest friends. Amadis learns that he has a brother, so he goes in search of him and has many thrilling adventures on the way. In one, he promises a beautiful girl, Princess Briolanja, that he will return to help her take back her kingdom, which had been stolen from her by her uncle.

Amadis finds his brother Galaor, and they go to King Lisuarte's court together, rescuing some damsels in distress on their way. Meanwhile, back at the palace, Lisuarte, King of Great Britain and Oriana's father, has promised a mysterious young damsel that he will prove to her that he is worthy to reign over Great Britain in the court that he will soon hold in London.

Amadis and Galaor are received with joy at Windsor Palace. Amadis and Oriana confess their urgent carnal desire for each other and agree to do something about it the first chance they get.

Chapter 31

King Lisuarte holds court in London, and everything is going splendidly – or so it seems. Barsinan, the Lord of Saxony, arrives, and he has schemed with Arcalaus the Sorcerer to take the throne of Great Britain: Arcalaus will kidnap the King and Oriana, and, while Barsinan is fighting to take the crown, Arcalaus will behead the King and send Oriana to marry Barsinan. In exchange, Barsinan will make Arcalaus rich and powerful.

The next day, Queen Brisena, wife of Lisuarte, discovers that the beautiful crown and cloak, which she and the King had bought from a visiting knight, has disappeared, apparently by magic.

Later that day, a lady named Grovenesa arrives to the court to tell her story. A knight named Angriote d'Estravaus had long entreated her to marry, but she despised him, so she tried to get him killed. He fought with Amadis, who defeated him, but then they became good friends, and Amadis promised Angriote to help him wed Grovenesa. Later she met a brave knight who promised to do all he could to free Amadis from his promise, whether by persuasion or force, under the condition that she come to the King's court and fulfill a boon he would ask of her there. So she has come, and she sees the knight standing alongside the King, though she doesn't know his name.

That knight, Amadis, asks her as his boon to marry Angriote and convinces her that Angriote will be her ideal husband, thus freeing himself of his promise. The author attributes this marriage more to the will of God as a reward for Angriote's good behavior than to the cleverness of Amadis.

Chapter 32

The King asks for the advice of the noblemen attending his court on what he should do to maintain and increase his honor. Barsinan tries to give bad advice, but the King in his wisdom ascertains the correct action, which is to hire the best knights he can afford from all lands. The Queen asks them to forever protect all ladies and damsels in Britain.

Chapter 33

A damsel comes to the King and says she needs two skilled knights to free her father and uncle, who are being wrongly imprisoned by a lady named Madasima. Lisuarte sends Amadis and Galaor. But it turns out to be a trap. They are taken prisoner en route by Madasima, who says she will hold them in a vile dungeon forever unless they promise to leave the service of King Lisuarte. She is angry with the King because one of his knights, Amadis, killed a knight she esteemed, and she really wants to kill Amadis, but she will settle for this.

She doesn't know that she has Amadis and Galaor, and the damsel doesn't tell her, but the damsel's uncle tells them what to do to be freed, and Galaor volunteers to do it: seduce Madasima. Galaor does that easily, being skilled at such tasks, and agrees that he and the other knight will indeed leave King Lisuarte's service. Thus they are freed.

Chapter 34

Meanwhile, back in London, the knight who had sold the King and Queen the beautiful crown and cloak has come to collect the goods or the payment, and since they no longer have the goods, he demands Princess Oriana in payment. So the King sends Oriana with him, accompanied by the Damsel of Denmark. Ardian, the dwarf in service to Amadis, rides off to tell him what has happened.

The King has accompanied Oriana to the forest so that no one will try to rescue her. There he meets the damsel to whom he had promised to prove he is worthy to reign over Great Britain. She asks him to avenge her by fighting a knight who has killed her father and raped her. But the King must come alone, and she has a magic sword and lance to him to use.

Of course it's a trick. The magic weapons break immediately, and the King is taken prisoner by Arcalaus and his knights, though he resists bravely. Arcalaus already has Oriana, since the knight who took her works for the sorcerer. All seems lost.

But, the author assures us, God is about to send help.

Chapter 35

Ardian meets Amadis and Galaor on the road and tells them the news about Oriana. They ride to London, where they learn the King has been taken. Amadis's squire, Gandalin, gets the King's sword for Amadis from the Queen. As the brothers and their squires ride off in pursuit, they pause to talk to some woodsmen, who say that Arcalaus has taken both the King ... and Oriana.

The brothers split up, Galaor to rescue the King and Amadis to rescue Oriana. After a long chase, Amadis finds Oriana and defeats Arcalaus's knights. He almost kills Arcalaus, but the sorcerer gets away.

As they are traveling back to London, Amadis reminds Oriana that they had promised to consummate their love. So they leave the road and find a pleasant valley. Gandalin and the Damsel of Denmark make themselves scarce. And thus, in that green forest, the most beautiful damsel in the world becomes a woman, and, briefly, they are happy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chapter 36 [final part]

[How Galaor found the King and, with help, saved him.]

[Illustration for Chapter 36 from the 1526 edition, printed in Seville.]


Galaor lay down in his armor next to the fire to sleep, and when dawn began to break, he got up, for he had not slept deeply, as one who was worried he would not find what he sought. He mounted his horse, took up his arms, and commended the mule drivers to God, and they him. His squire could no longer keep up with him, and Galaor promised then and there, if God kept him safe, to get his squire a better horse. He went directly to a tall hill, and there began to study the land all around.

At that time the two cousins left the house where they had lodged to sleep. It was now morning. They saw Galaor, recognized him by his shield, and rode toward him. But as they did, they saw him descend from the hill in the other direction as fast as his horse could go. The knight who had been knocked down said:

"He just saw us and fled. Truly, I think that he is fleeing and hiding because of some evil deed. May God not help me if I can catch him and do not learn what this is about and make him pay, for I would not deserve God's help. Let us go after him."

But Sir Galaor, who was far from worrying about them, had finally seen some knights at a pass that led from the forest. Five rode ahead and another five rode behind, and between them rode some unarmed men, and he realized that they were the ones who led the King. He rode toward them as one who had already offered up his life to save another. When he neared, he saw the King in chains and felt so troubled by it that, not fearing death, he charged at the five who went ahead and said:

"Oh, traitors! Ye shall pay for laying a hand on the best man in the world!"

The five came at him, but he struck the first on the chest such that the iron and a piece of the shaft came out of his back, and he threw him dead on the ground. The others struck Galaor so hard that they knocked his horse to its knees with him on it. One thrust his lance between Galaor's chest and shield, but he lost it, for Galaor took it and went to strike another with it on the thigh, and it passed through his chain mail and leg and into the flesh of the horse, and so the knight was trapped. The lance broke there, and as Galaor put his hand on his sword, he saw all the rest coming at him. He entered in combat with them so bravely that no man could have watched it without being amazed by how he could suffer the many great blows that they gave him.

And as he was in this mortal danger, for there were many knights against him, God chose to help him with the two cousins who had followed him. When they saw him, they were amazed by the great skill of the knight, and the one who had followed him said:

"Truly, we had no reason to call that man a coward. Let us go help him in his great peril."

"Who would do anything other than help the best knight in the world?" said the other. "And do not believe that he would attack so many men except to right some grave misdeed."

Then they let their horses gallop and went to attack bravely, as those who are very valiant and wise about such things, for each had been a knight-errant for more than ten years. And I tell you that the first was named Lasadin the Swordsman and the other good knight Sir Guilan the Pensive.

At that moment Galaor was in great needed of their help, for his helmet had been cut and damaged in many places, and his chain mail rent everywhere, and his horse injured and close to falling, yet for all this he did not cease to work wonders and deliver such great blows to all those he could reach that they hardly dared approach, and he thought that if his horse could endure long enough, they would not defeat him, and in the end he would kill them.

But with the two cousins' arrival, as ye have heard, the battle became more fair, for they fought so well and with such strength that he was astonished, and thus he found he was freed from many blows which were now directed at them. Then he achieved rare deeds, for he could strike at will, and the damage he caused with the cousins in his aid was so great that very soon their opponents were all killed or defeated.

When Arcalaus's cousin saw this, he galloped at the King to kill him, but since all those who had been guarding him had fled, the King dismounted from his palfrey with the chain around his neck and took the shield and sword from the first knight who had died. The cousin tried to strike him on the top of his head, but the King raised the shield, which took the blow, but the sword sank a palm deep into its center and its point reached the King's head and cut the skin and flesh down to the bone.

But the King gave the cousin's horse such a blow with the sword in its face that he could not withdraw the blade. The horse bucked and fell on top of the knight. Galaor, who was now on foot because his horse could no longer move, had been running to rescue the King. He approached the knight to cut off his head, but the King shouted not to kill him.

The two cousins had chased a knight who was fleeing from them and killed him, and when they turned and saw the King, they were shocked, for they had known nothing about his captivity. They immediately dismounted, pulled off their helmets, and knelt before him. He recognized them, lifted them up by the hands, and said:

"By God, friends! At a good moment ye saved me. Sir Guilan's lover did me great wrong, for she separated him from my company, and because of her I lost you, Ladasin."

Guilan felt great shame and his face turned red, but not even because of this did he cease to love his lady, the Duchess of Bristol, and she him, for they had already achieved the aim that their love desired. The Duke always supected that it was Sir Guilan who had entered his castle when it was really Galaor, as this story has already told you.

But let us leave this now and return to the King and what he did after he was set free. Know that Sir Galaor got Aracalaus's cousin out from under his horse, removed the chain from the King, and put it on him. They took the horses of the dead knights, one for the King and another for Galaor, for his could no longer move, and with great joy they began to ride toward London.

Lasadin told the King everything that had happened with Galaor, and the King praised him highly for waiting to see what Galaor was doing. Guilan himself told him how he had been thinking so intently about his lover that he had noticed nothing else, and the knight had knocked him down without saying anything. The King laughed heartily at that and told him:

"Although I have heard of many things that men do for their beloved, I have never heard anything like that, so with good reason, as I see it, they call you Guilan the Pensive."

And of these and other pleasant things they spoke until they arrived at the house of Ladasin, who lived very near, and soon Galaor's squire arrived, then Ardian, Amadis's dwarf, who thought he might find his lord along that road.

Galaor told the King how he and Amadis had separated, and that the King ought to send an envoy to London, because the woodsmen would have spread the news and the entire court would be in an uproar.

"Since Amadis has gone to rescue my daughter," the King said, "I know I shall not lose her unless that traitor by deceit does some sort of sorcery. And as ye well said, the Queen should know what became of me."

So he sent one of Ladasin's squires who knew the land well to go at once with the news. Then the King lodged there that night, where he was well served. The next day they returned to the road, and as they went, Arcalaus's cousin told them how everything that had happened had been at the counsel of Barsinan, the Lord of Saxony, who had planned to become King of Great Britain. Thus the King decided to ride faster than ever to find him there.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Original text, Chapter 35

The polished elegance of Amadis of Gaul set the style for gracious writing and conversation in the 16th century.

[The final text of the chapter, starting with "Oriana mas lieve este mi anillo..." from the edition printed in 1526 in Seville.]


After a summer break, Amadis of Gaul is back. Translations will be again posted every other Tuesday, but the demands of other writing projects mean that I will only be able to post commentaries on occasional Thursdays. Commentaries can be more time-consuming to prepare than the translations.

As I said in July, I think Chapter 35 ends with one of the most beautiful and joyous passages of the novel. I translated it with care, but if you understand Spanish, you may enjoy the original more. This passage begins with: "Amadis led his lady's horse by the reins and she told him how she was so frightened..."


Amadís llevava a su señora por la rienda, y ella le iva cuán espantada iva de aquellos caballeros muertos, que no podía en sí tornar, mas él le dixo:

—Muy más espantosa y cruel es aquella muerte que yo por vos padezco; y señora, doledvos de mí y acordaos de lo que me tenéis prometido, que si hasta aquí me sostuve no es por ál sino creyendo que no era mas en vuestra mano ni poder de me dar más de lo que me davades; mas si de aquí adelante veyéndovos, señora, en tanta libertad no me acorriéssedes, ya no bastaría ninguna cosa que la vida sostenerme pudiesse. Antes sería fenecida con la más rabiosa esperança que nunca persona murió.

Oriana le dixo:

—Por buena fe, amigo, nunca, si yo puedo, por mi causa vos seréys en esse peligro. Yo haré lo que queréys y vos hazed como, aun que aquí yerro y pecado parezca, no lo sea ante Dios.

Así anduvieron tres leguas hasta entrar en un bosque muy espesso de árboles, que cabe una villa cuanto una legua estava. A Oriana prendió gran sueño, como quien no había dormido ninguna cosa la noche pasada, y dixo:

—Amigo, tan gran sueño me viene, que me no puedo sufrir.

—Señora —dixo él—, vayamos aquel valle y dormireys.

Y desviando de la carrera se fueron al valle, donde hallaron un pequeño arroyo de agua y hierba verde muy fresca. Allí descendió Amadís a su señora y dixo:

—Señora, la siesta entra muy caliente, aquí dormireys hasta que venga la fría. Y, en tanto, enbiaré a Gandalín aquella villa y traer nos ha con que refresquemos.

—Vaya —dixo Oriana— ¿mas quién gelo dará?

Dixo Amadís:

—Dar gelo han sobre aquel caballo y venir se ha a pie.

—No será así —dixo Oriana— mas lieve este mi anillo, que ya nunca nos tanto como agora valdrá.— Y sacándolo del dedo lo dio a Gandalín.

Y quando él se iva dixo a passo contra Amadís: —Señor, quien en buen tiempo tiene y lo pierde, tarde lo cobra.— Y esto dicho, luego se fue, y Amadís entendió bien porque lo él dezía.

Oriana se acostó en el manto de la Donzella en tanto que Amadís se desarmava, que bien menester lo avia, y como desarmado fue, la Donzella se entró a dormir en unas matas espessas.

Y Amadís tornó a su señora y cuando assí la vio tan hermosa y en su poder, aviéndole ella otorgado su voluntad, fue tan turbado de plazer y de empacho que sólo catar no la osava. Assí que se puede bien dezir que en aquella verde yerba, encima de aquel manto, más por la gracia y comedimiento de Oriana que por la desenboltura ni osadía de Amadís fue hecha dueña la más hermosa donzella del mundo.

Y creyendo con ello las sus encendidas llamas resfriar, aumentándose en muy mayor cuantidad más ardientes y con más fuerça quedaron, assí como en los sanos y verdaderos amores acaescer suele. Assí estuvieron de consuno con aquellos autos amorosos quales pensar y sentir puede aquel y aquella que de semejante saeta sus coraçones feridos son, hasta que el empacho de la venida de Gandalín hizo a Amadís levantar.

Y llamando la donzella, dieron buena orden de aderezar cómo comiessen, que bien les hazía menester, donde aun que los muchos servidores, las grandes vaxillas de oro y de plata allí faltaron, no quitaron aquel dulce y gran plazer que en la comida sobre la yerba ovieron. Pues assí como oídes estavan estos dos amantes en aquella floresta con tal vida cual nunca a plazer del uno y del otro dexaba fuera, si la pudieran sin empacho y gran verguença sostener.

Donde los dejaremos holgar y descansar, y contaremos qué le avino a don Galaor en la demanda del Rey.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chapter 36 [first part]

How Sir Galaor freed King Lisuarte from the captivity in which he was being treacherously held.

[This road up Fuenfría Valley in the Guadarrama Mountains has existed since Roman times. It was the main road between Madrid and Segovia throughout the Middle Ages, and the yellow arrow marks the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Photo by Sue Burke.]

After Sir Galaor departed from his brother, as ye heard, he got on the road down which the King had been taken. He was anxious to ride as fast as he could, as one whose only concern was to overtake them and who thought about nothing that he saw except their trail. Thus he rode until the hour of vespers, when he entered a valley and found the hoof prints of the horses where they had stopped. Then he followed that trail as fast as his horse could carry him, for it seemed that they could not be far ahead.

But soon he saw before him a well-armed knight on a good horse, who came toward him and said:

"Stay, my lord knight, and tell me what concern makes you gallop so."

"By God!" Galaor said, "free me from your question, for if I were to delay with you, much evil could come from it."

"By Holy Mary," the knight said, "ye shall not pass from here until ye tell me or fight with me."

Galaor did not respond, and rode on. The knight of the valley said to him:

"Truly, knight, ye must be fleeing some evil deed. Now protect yourself, for I wish to learn of it."

Then he came at him with his lance lowered and his horse galloping at full speed. Galaor turned, but he threw his shield to his back, and when he felt him close, took his horse off the road and waited there. The knight missed him and passed him fast, as one who had a valiant and rested horse. He stopped a little beyond Galaor, turned around, raised his lance high, and said:

"Oh, vile and cowardly knight! Thou canst not avoid me by any means. Tell me what I ask of thee or die."

Then he charged, but Galaor, who had the better-trained horse, sidestepped the encounter and continued on as soon as he could. The knight could not stop his horse quickly, and when he turned around, he saw that Galaor had gotten far ahead. He said:

"May God help me, ye shall not leave me thus!" And since he knew the landscape well, he took a shortcut and went to block a pass. Galaor felt unhappy to see him there. The knight told him:

"Vile and heartless coward, now pick which of these three things ye wish: Or ye shall fight, or turn back, or tell me what I ask."

"Any of them troubles me," said Galaor, "and ye do me no courtesy. But I shall not turn back, and it would not be my wish to fight you, but if ye wish to know why I hurry, follow me and ye shall see it, for I would spend much time telling you it, and besides ye would not believe it, such is the disaster."

"In the name of God," the knight said, "ye may pass, but I tell you that ye shall not be rid of me for three days."

Galaor continued on with the knight behind him, and when they had gone a half-league, they saw a knight on foot chasing the horse from which he had fallen, and another knight was leaving him as fast as he could. The knight following Sir Galaor knew the knight who had been knocked down, who was his first cousin, and as fast as he could he went to catch the horse. He gave it back and said:

"What was this, my lord cousin?"

"I was riding," he said, "thinking about that of which ye know, so I was not thinking about myself, and I noticed nothing until that knight gave me a lance-blow on the shield. My horse was knocked to its knees and I fell to the earth, and my horse fled. Then I put my hand on my sword and called him to battle, but he did not wish to come and instead told me to remember to respond when someone called out to me. And by the faith that ye owe to God, let us go after him if we can, and ye shall see how I avenge myself."

"I cannot do this," said the cousin, "for I must follow this knight for three days." And he told him what had happened.

"Truly," said the knight, "either he is the greatest coward in the world or he is going to do some great deed, for if this is how he acts, I will leave aside avenging my injury to see what happens with this plight."

They saw that by then Galaor was far ahead, since he would not stop for anything, and the two cousins went after him. By then it was close to nightfall. Galaor entered a forest, and in the darkness lost the trail and did not know which way to go. Then he began to ask for the mercy of God to guide him so that he could be the first to arrive in rescue. He thought that the knights had gone off somewhere with the King to sleep, so he rode listening through several valleys from one side to another, but he heard nothing.

The two cousins rode on, thinking that Galaor was traveling ahead on the road, but after they had gone a league, they left the forest and did not see him, so they thought he had hidden from them, and they went to take shelter in the house of a lady who lived nearby.

Galaor rode everywhere through the forest, but since he had found nothing in it, he decided to leave and, in the morning, to climb a high hill to survey the land. He returned to the road which he had taken earlier and rode until he came out onto a plain.

Then he saw a small fire in a valley ahead, and when he went there he found a camp of mule drivers. When they saw him coming armed, they became afraid and took lances and hatchets and came at him, but he told them to fear no harm and instead asked them to give him a little barley for his horse. They gave it to him and he fed it to his horse. They asked him to eat, and he said no, but he would sleep a little if they would wake him before dawn. By then two-thirds of the night had passed.