Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chapter 40 [middle part]

[How a mysterious knight defeated Agrajes, Galaor, and Amadis in jousts.]

[Jousting shield from Germany from about 1450 on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.] 


Amadis, Agrajes, and Galaor were traveling, as ye hear, and soon they met a damsel. After greeting them, she said:

"Knights, where do ye go?"

"Down this road," they said.

"Then I advise you to leave this road," she said.

"Why?" Amadis said.

"Because for the past two weeks," she said, "no knight-errant has passed down it without being killed or injured."

"And from whom did they receive this harm?" Amadis said.

"From a knight who is the best in arms of any that I know," she said.

"Damsel," Agrajes said, "could ye show us this knight?"

"He will show himself to you," she said, "as soon as ye enter the forest."

So they continued on their way, with the damsel following them, looking everywhere, and when they saw nothing, they doubted her words. But when they left the forest, they saw a large and fully armed knight on a beautiful roan horse, and alongside him a squire with four lances and another in his hand. When the knight saw them, he gave an order to his squire that they could not hear. The squire put the lances in a tree, approached them and said:

"My lords, that knight sends me to tell you that he had to guard this forest from all knights-errant for two weeks, which has gone so well that he has always been the victor. And he has enjoyed jousting so well that he has stayed a day and a half extra. Now, when he wished to go, he saw you come, and he ordered me to tell you that if ye please, he will joust with you, except that the fight will end when swords become necessary, because he does poorly in that and does not enjoy it, and he does not wish to do it anymore."

As soon as the squire had said this, Agrajes put his helmet on his head and his shield on his neck and said:

"Tell him to be on guard, for he shall not lack a joust from me."

When the knight saw him charging, he charged at Agrajes, and as fast as their horses could gallop they struck their lances on each others' shields, and they broke immediately. Agrajes was knocked to the earth so easily that he was amazed and very ashamed, and his horse got loose.

Galaor, when he saw this, took up his arms to avenge him, and the knight of the forest took another lance and came at him. Neither missed in their attack, and they broke their lances. Their horses and their shields collided so hard that Galaor's horse, which was weaker and less rested, was knocked to the earth with its master on it, leaving Galaor on the ground, and the horse escaped across the field.

Amadis, who was watching, began to cross himself, then took up his arms and said:

"Now one may praise that knight against the two best knights in the world."

We went to Galaor and found him on foot with his sword in his hand, calling the knight to fight with him on his horse and Galaor on foot, but the knight laughed at him. Amadis said:

"Brother, do not complain, for he has already told us he would not fight with a sword."

Then he told the knight to be on guard. They charged each other and their lances flew through the air in pieces, and their shields and helmets struck each other such that it was amazing. Amadis and his horse were thrown to the earth, and his horse broke its back. The knight of the forest fell, but he kept the reins in his hand and remounted quickly. Amadis told him:

"Knight, we must joust again, for the fight was not finished, since we both wound up on foot."

"It does not please me to joust any more now," the knight said.

"Ye are not being reasonable," Amadis said.

"Make that joust happen when ye can," he said, "for I, as I have you told, have no further obligation."

Then he left and entered the forest as fast as his horse could gallop. Amadis and his companions watched him go, leaving them on the ground very disgraced, and they could not imagine who the knight was who had departed in full glory. Amadis mounted Gandalin's horse and said to the others:

"Mount up and ride behind me, for it shall deeply trouble me if I do find out who that knight is."

"Truly," the damsel said, "to think that ye can find him, for all that ye may try, is the greatest madness in the world, and if all the knights of the house of King Lisuarte were to look for him, they could search for a year and not find him unless someone were to guide them to him."

When they heard this, they felt angry, and Galaor, who was more irate than the others, told her:

"My dear lady, by chance do ye know who this knight is and where he can be found?"

"If I knew anything," she said, "I would not tell you, for I do not wish to anger such a good man."

"Oh, damsel," Galaor said, "by the faith that ye owe to God and by the thing that ye love most in the world, tell us what ye know of him."

"It does no good to invoke God," she said, "for ye shall not discover the anything about that good knight without something in it for me."

"Then ask what ye please of us that we can do," Amadis said, "and we shall agree to do what ye say."

"I shall tell you," she said, "if ye tell me who ye are and where I can find you when I ask for it."

They wished to find out so much that they agreed.

"In the name of God," she said, "now tell me your names."

They told her. When she heard that one was Amadis, she became very happy, and she told him:

"Thanks be to God, for I have been looking for you."

"Why?" he said.

"My lord," she said, "ye shall know when it is time, but tell me if ye remember the battle that ye promised to fight for the daughter of the King of Sobradisa when she rescued you with the lions and saved you from death."

"I remember it," he said, "and I am going there now."

"Then how do ye wish to pursue this knight," she said, "who is not as easy to find as ye think, when the time for the battle is approaching?"

"My lord brother, she is right," Galaor said. "Ye and Agrajes should go there, and I shall look for the knight with this damsel, for I shall never be happy until I find him and, if I can, I shall join you in time for the battle."

"In the name of God," Amadis said, "if that pleases you, so shall it be."

And they said to the damsel:

"Now tell us the name of the knight and where Sir Galaor shall find him."

"His name I cannot tell you," she said, "for I do not know it, although there was a time when I watched him for a month, and I saw him perform such deeds at arms that one who had not seen it could hardly believe it, but I shall guide whoever wishes to go with me to where he is headed."

"I am satisfied with that," Sir Galaor said.

"Then follow me," she said.

They commended each other to God.

Amadis and Agrajes continued on the road as they had been before, and Galaor left guided by the damsel.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What's a masterpiece worth?

Amadis of Gaul inspired many other novels, including Don Quixote.

A two-euro coin commemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

When Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo wrote his version of Amadis of Gaul, he probably wasn't thinking of payment. In medieval times, writing was either a gentlemanly avocation or a vocation sponsored by a gentlemanly patron. Books were hand-copied, so literature couldn't be commercialized. Montalvo was a gentleman whose occupation was managing the city of Medina del Campo near Valladolid.

But only a century later, the printing press had come into being and had turned books into an affordable mass commodity. Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote de la Mancha, a parody of books like Amadis of Gaul, for money. Writing had become a profession, and professionals got paid.

What did Cervantes earn for Quixote? We don't know, but we have enough clues to try to guess. Cervantes was poor before it was published and poor after it was published, so it wasn't a huge amount of money. Everyone agrees on that.

A little background

Don Quixote de la Mancha
was published in two parts, the first in 1605 and the second in 1615. Cervantes didn't plan on a second part, but after another author wrote a continuation, he decided to write his own.

In 1604, Cervantes was 50 years old and living in Valladolid. He had written a short story about Don Quixote, and he presented the idea of a novelization to publisher Francisco de Robles, who agreed and urged Cervantes to get it ready fast. Then the book was hastily edited (which explains the many errors in the text), printed on cheap paper with worn type, and rushed to the market.

Probably no one considered it a universal masterpiece at first, but the first edition of 1,000 copies sold well — in fact, it was immediately pirated in Lisbon. Cervantes had already won notice as a playwright, and this book cemented his reputation as a major writer.

He had received a 10-year royal privilege to print Don Quixote, which he sold to Robles for an unknown amount; the paperwork was lost. But he had sold an earlier novel, La Galatea, to Robles' grandfather for 1,336 reales, of which he eventually only received 1,086.

Nieves Concostrina, a journalist with Radio Nacional de España, reported in the series Acércate al Quijote that he received no more than 100 ducados (which equals 1,100 reales or 37,500 maravedíes) for the copyright, which she estimates is worth only about €200 today.

Daniel Eisenberg, the former editor of Cervantes, the scholarly journal of the Cervantes Society of America, wrote that he probably received 1,500 reales (51,000 maravedíes), which he says would have been worth 500,000 pesetas in 1992, or €5,503.72 today. That's better, but no J.K. Rowling.

Maravedíes today

Their estimates in reales are reasonably close, so that's a start. I don't know how they arrived at modern currency, though. Converting antique currencies into present-day currencies can never be done well because, among other problems, the things that money can buy have changed. Cervantes never bought gasoline, for example. I don't buy firewood.

But both Cervantes and I live in Madrid, and we both buy food. The Instituto de Cervantes, in its on-line footnotes to Quixote, has published the prices of several food items in New Castille in 1605. So let's go shopping and do some math.

• A half-kilo of mutton sold for 28 maravedíes, according to the footnote. Mutton is no longer sold here, but a half-kilo of hamburger goes for €2.50 at my local grocery story. On that basis, 1 maravedí equals €0.089

• A chicken, 55m. The average price according to government's Food Price Observatory's latest statistics is €3.52. 1m = €0.064

• A dozen oranges, 54m. Food Price Observatory average is €4.26. 1m = €0.079

• Laying hen, 127m. Common price in local ads is €12. 1m = €0.094

• A ream of writing paper, 28m. A packet of A4 110 gr. Pioneer brand paper at Carlin, a major chain, €2.93. 1m = €0.104

• A dozen eggs, 63m. Food Price Observatory average is €1.33. 1m = €0.021 (This figure is an outlier, as you can see. The price of eggs has gone down a lot over the centuries. These days agribusinesses produce eggs in giant factory farms. Things change. For the better?)

The average of all these prices gives us 1m = €0.075. A weighted average would be better, I know, but how many laying hens do most of us buy now, so how much should they "weigh"? Not to mention the disparity in egg prices.

If we go with 7.5 euro cents, the price of a copy of Quixote, set by law at 290.5 maravedíes, would have been €21.78. That sounds a bit low. We know that books were expensive items in those days. But that price was "en papel," in paper — that is, as loose pages. The purchaser had to have them bound and covered at additional expense.

On the other hand, most people earned rather little. They would have spent a big part of their income, perhaps most of it, merely on food. According to the novel, Don Quixote spent three-fourths of his income on food for his household, and they ate frugally. A book would have taken a big bite out of tight budgets.

Not a get-rich quick scheme

If we accept that exchange rate — 1 maravedí = 7.5 euro cents — then Concostrina's estimate of 37,400 maravedíes yields €2,805. Eisenberg's 51,000 maravedíes yields €3,825.

It's not a lot. Cervantes seems to have had income from other sources at the time. I hope so.

Those of you in the 'States may be wondering what this is in US dollars. Yeesh. The dollar-euro exchange rate fluctuates daily, and there's a worldwide currency war going on now. On December 16, 2010, the value was USD$3,679.01 for Concostrina's estimate and USD$5,016.83 for Eisenberg's, but that will change. Go to Oanda for the latest numbers:

What Cervantes thought

In Book II, Chapter LXII of Don Quixote, our knight-errant meets an author in a printing shop in Barcelona and has this conversation:

"I would venture to swear," said Don Quixote, "that you, sir, are not known in the world, which always begrudges its reward to rare wits and praiseworthy labors. What talents lie wasted there! What genius thrust away into corners! What worth left neglected! ... But tell me, sir, are you printing this book at your own risk, or have you sold the copyright to some bookseller?"

"I print at my own risk," said the author, "and I expect to make a thousand ducados at least with this first edition, which is to be of two thousand copies that should sell in the blink of an eye at six reales apiece."

"A fine calculation you are making!" said Don Quixote. "It seems you don't know the ins and outs of the printers, and the false accounting that some of them use. I promise you when you find yourself weighed down with two thousand copies, you will feel so careworn that it will astonish you, particularly if the book is unusual and not at all humorous."

"Then what!" said the author. "Sir, do you wish me to give it to a bookseller who will give three maravedíes for the copyright and think he is doing me a favor? I do not print my books to win fame in the world, for I am already well-known by my works. I want to get something out of it, otherwise fame is not worth a penny."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chapter 40 [first part]

How the battle came to pass that Amadis had promised the beautiful girl Briolanja in Grovenesa's castle that he would fight against Abiseos and his two sons to avenge the death of her father the King .

[Edmund Leighton's 1900 painting God Speed!] 

This story has told you that when Amadis was in Grovenesa's castle, he had promised the beautiful child Briolanja to avenge the death of her father the King by returning within a year, accompanied by two knights, to do battle with Abiseos and his two sons. When he had left the beautiful girl, she had given him sword to bear for her love, which he needed because he had broken his own defending himself from knights who had wrongly tried to kill him in that castle. The beautiful girl had mercifully ordered lions released to attack those knights, for she believed that such a good knight as Amadis should not die so wrongly, and thus, with those lions, God had saved him from those knights.

Amadis had broken Briolanja's sword in the castle of the lady whom Angriote d'Estravaus loved when he was fighting a knight named Gasinan, but he had ordered his squire, Gandalin, to keep the three pieces of that sword. Now ye shall be told how that battle came to pass, and of the great danger that befell Amadis because of that broken sword, not due to himself but instead to his dwarf, Ardian, who in his ignorance erroneously believed that his lord Amadis truly loved that beautiful girl Briolanja because Ardian had been present when Amadis had offered to be her knight and undertake the battle for her.

Now know that Amadis, while he was in the court of King Lisuarte, often saw his lady, the very beautiful Oriana, who was the beginning and the end of all his desires. He remembered that he had to fight Briolanja's battle and saw that the date was approaching. So that he would not fail to keep his word, he came to his lady with great affection to ask her permission, although leaving her presence would ache like tearing his heart from his flesh. He told her what had happened in that castle and the promise he had made to avenge the girl Briolanja and restore her to her kingdom, which had been taken from her by great treachery.

Oriana, with tears and sorrow in her heart as if she foresaw the great misfortune that would come between them because of it, considered how wrong it would be for him not go, and she granted permission. Amadis also got the same permission from the Queen, so it would seem as if he were going by her orders.

Early the next morning, with his brother Sir Galaor and his cousin Agrajes, armed and on horseback, they got on the road. When they had gone a half a league, Amadis asked Gandalin if he had brought the three pieces of the sword that the beautiful girl had given him. Gandalin said no, so Amadis ordered him to go back for them. The dwarf said that he would get them, since he carried nothing that would slow him down.

This was when, not due to any fault of Amadis and his lady Oriana or of his dwarf, who acted  out of ignorance, they were both brought to the point of death by cruel Fortune, who pardons no one and who wished to show them the bitter medicine hidden inside the sweetness of their great love, as ye shall now hear.

The dwarf arrived at Amadis's residence, took the pieces of the sword and put them in the pockets of his tabard, then rode past the palace of the Queen. He heard himself being called from its windows, and he turned and saw Oriana and Mabilia. They asked him why he had not left with his lord.

"I left with him," he said, "but I had to return for something which I now bring him."

"And what is that?" Oriana asked.

He showed her, and she said:

"Why does thy lord want a broken sword?"

"Why?" he said. "Because he values it more that two best whole ones that ye could give him, due to she who gave it to him."

"And who is that?" she said.

"The very one for whom he goes to do battle," the dwarf said, "and although ye are the daughter of the best king of the world and with all your beauty, ye would rather possess that which that girl has won instead of all the land that your father has."

"And what valuable thing is it that she won?" she said. "By chance did she win thy lord?"

"Yes," he said. "She has his full heart, and he became her knight to serve her."

And he whipped his horse and, as fast as he could, he went back to his lord, without care or culpability in his mind.

When Oriana heard this, she remembered the great affection that Amadis had shown when he asked permission to go, and she gave complete credence to what the dwarf had said. Her color paled like death and her heart burned with anger, and she began to say bitter words against him, though he thought of himself as in only her service. She wrung her hands together and closed off her heart so that not one tear could fall from her eyes, and by remaining inside her, they made her so cruel and lastingly harsh that she could have been justly compared to the fearsome Medea when she saw her beloved husband married to another woman, having discarded her.

Oriana would not take the good advice of the very wise Mabilia, which took the course of reason and truth, nor that of the Damsel of Denmark. She continued the way that women of impassioned minds are generally accustomed to take, and she fell into such error that it would  would require the mercy the Lord on High to repair.

The dwarf traveled down the road and he soon reached Amadis and his companions, who had ridden slowly until his return. Then they hurried a little more, but neither Amadis asked the dwarf anything about what had happened, nor did the dwarf tell him, only showed him the pieces of the sword.