Thursday, January 29, 2015

Four medieval firsts

Inventions we still use today. 

Detail of Visit of the Angel by Master Bertram, from the Buxtehude Altar, Hamburg, 1400-1410. Notice that the Virgin, who is knitting, wears a dress with tight set-in sleeves while the child wears an older-style robe, with buttons.

Knitting seems to have begun around 1000 A.D. in Egypt. Evidence of the first knitting in Europe comes from Moorish Spain in 1275, and it quickly spread around the continent. Central heating was still centuries away, so warm clothing mattered.

In about 1280, the first eyeglasses for reading came into use in Italy, but no one knows who invented them. Although they were useful for monks and scholars, there wasn’t much to read, so they didn’t take off until the printing press made books more available in the late 1400s – and soon Amadis of Gaul had become the Europe’s first best-seller.

Around 1330, the set-in sleeve came into use in Europe, discovered by some brave little tailor. The top of this kind of sleeve is rounded and set into a round armhole, and it’s the way most clothing is made today. Previously, sleeves were straight, often cut at the same time as the garment in a T-shape. This new kind of sleeve allowed both the bodice and sleeve to be fitted more closely, which created a fashion revolution because, at the same time, buttons and buttonholes came into wide use. Combined with the new sleeve design, they allowed garments to be tailored to fit snug to the body. Suddenly clothing got much sexier.

In 1402, Jean de Béthencourt led an expedition to conquer the Canary Islands for the King of Castile. A small yellow-green finch there had an amazingly beautiful song, and the natives had the custom of keeping the birds in cages to enjoy their singing. He brought the birds back to the royal courts of Spain and France. Soon the canary caught on and has since been bred into a variety of colors. They’re still popular pets here in Spain, and it’s common to hear one singing on a balcony as you walk down the street.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chapter 76 [part 2 of 3]

[How Sir Florestan defeated all the knights but was restrained from killing Gradamor.] 

[Knights fighting with a lance, which was usually made of a single long piece of wood tipped with iron or steel.]

The knight rode across the river and prepared his arms to meet Sir Florestan, who, seeing that the knight had crossed the river and was coming toward him, spurred his horse and charged, and the Roman did the same. The lances missed, horses and shields met each other, and the Roman, who was the poorer horseman, went to the ground immediately. It was such a great fall that his right arm was broken and he was dazed. To those who were watching he seemed dead, for that was how it looked.

Sir Florestan ordered one of his squires to dismount and take the shield and hang it from a tree, and also had him take the horse, and he returned to the place where he had been, obviously unhappy with himself for having missed. He put the tip of the lance on the ground and waited.

Then he saw another knight coming at him and charged as fast as his horse could carry him, but he did not miss this time. Instead, he struck the knight so hard on the shield that it gave way and with such force that he was thrown from the horse with the saddle on top of him. The lance had penetrated his shield and flesh and came out the other side. Sir Florestan rode past him looking handsome and riding well, then turned back to him and said:

“Sir Roman knight, the saddle ye wear may be yours, but the horse is mine, and if ye wish to recount this in Rome, I grant you permission.”

He spoke loudly enough that the Queen and her ladies and damsels could hear him clearly. And I tell you that Sir Grumedan was especially joyful to hear the knight from Great Britain say and do this to the knight from Rome. He said to Gradamor:

“My lord, if ye and your companions do not show yourself to be better, ye shall have no reason to bring down the walls of Rome to enter when ye arrive there.”

Gradamor told him:

“You think too highly of what happened, but if my companions complete their jousts well, I shall make ye say otherwise, and not with as much satisfaction as ye have now.”

“We are close to seeing that,” Sir Grumedan said, “for it seems to me that the knight from Firm Island can defend his shield well. I am confident in him and doubt we will have to fight the battle that I have set with you.”

Gradamor began to laugh without humor and said:

“When that time comes true, I shall grant you all that ye have said.”

“In the name of God,” Sir Grumedan said, “and I shall have my horse and my arms ready to fulfill what I said, because it seems to you that the knight in the field will not last long against your fellows, but I believe he thinks of you very differently from how you think of him.”

The Queen felt sorrow to hear the mad words of Gradamor and the other Romans. Sir Florestan had the shield and horse taken from the knight, who lay as if dead and senseless on the ground, but when they pulled the piece of lance from him, the knight shouted in a pain-filled voice asking for confession.

Sir Florestan took a lance and returned to the same place where he had been. Soon he saw another knight on a large and handsome horse coming toward him, but with less valor than the first. He charged at Sir Florestan as fast as he could, but the encounter came at an angle and his lance was knocked aside and broken. Sir Florestan struck him on the helmet, broke its laces, and knocked it from his head to roll on the field, and made the knight grab the neck of the horse, although he did not fall.

Sir Florestan raised his lance and came at him with ire, and the knight, who saw him coming, raised his shield. Sir Florestan struck it so hard that the shield hit him in the face, stunning him, and he dropped his reins. When Sir Florestan he was addled, he dropped the lance and grabbed the other knight’s shield so hard that he pulled it from his neck, then struck two blows with it on his head so hard that they made him fall from his horse senseless, and he rolled across the field.

He ordered that the other knight’s horse and shield be taken from him, and he went to the Roman and told him:

“From this day on, if ye lose, ye may return to Rome and praise the Knights of Great Britain.”

He straightened himself in the saddle and charged at the fourth knight, whom he saw coming at him. But the joust was determined at the first encounter, when Sir Florestan met him so hard that he and his horse were thrown to the ground, and the knight had his leg broken near his foot. When the horse stood up, the knight remained on the ground, unable to arise.

Sir Florestan had his shield and his horse taken like the rest.

He took a very good lance from his squire and saw that Gradamor was coming at him wearing handsome new arms and riding a large, beautiful, peach-colored horse, brandishing a lance with the hope of breaking it on him. The threat filled Sir Florestan with anger.

Gradamor shouted:

“Sir Grumedan, do not bother to put on your armor, for before you can mount your horse I shall make this knight before me need your help.”

“Now we shall see,” Sir Grumedan said, “but despite your praise of yourself, I do not know if my help will be needed until I see what happens.”

Gradamor, who had already crossed the river, saw Sir Florestan charging at him as fast as his horse could gallop, well covered with his shield, his lance lowered to attack, and he rode toward him as fast as his horse could go. Both knights were strong and valiant, and Gradamor’s lance passed through his shield a good palm-width deep, and there it snapped off. Sir Florestan’s passed through his shield from right to left and broke the plates on Gradamor’s armor by the force of the blow, which threw him from the saddle into a ditch full of water and mud.

As he passed, Sir Florestan ordered his squires to take his horse. Sir Grumedan, seeing this, told the Queen:

“My lady, it seems to me that ye may rest for a bit while Gradamor dries his armor and seeks another horse on which to fight.”

The Queen said:

“May their madness and arrogance be damned, with everyone becoming irate at each other and then falling into shame.”

Gradamor spent a while struggling in the water and mud, and when he was able to get out, he felt great sorrow over what had happened to him. He took off his helmet and wiped the water and mud from his eyes and face with his hand, shook his hand clean as best he could, and laced his helmet back on. When Sir Florestan saw that, he rode to him and said:

“My lord threatening knight, I tell you that if you do not help yourself better with your sword than with your lance, ye shall not take my shield or my name to Rome.”

Gradamor told him:

“I regret the test of the lances, but I did not bring this sword for any other reason than to avenge myself, and with it I shall soon see if you dare to maintain the custom of this land.”

Sir Florestan, who knew it better than he did, told him:

“And what custom is this that ye speak of?

“Either give me my horse,” he said, “or dismount from yours, and on feet we shall test our swords. The game shall be equal and the one who plays more poorly shall be left without blessing or mercy.”

Sir Florestan told him:

“I well believe that ye would not maintain this custom if ye were victorious, but I wish to dismount because it would not be right if a handsome Roman knight like yourself were to mount a horse only to be knocked from it again.”

Then he dismounted and gave his horse to his squires and put his hand on his sword. He covered himself carefully with his shield and strode toward him with rage, and their swords struck bravely. The battle was fierce and dangerous to all watching due to the anger between the two knights. But it did not last long, for Sir Florestan, who was stronger and more robust in use of arms, knowing that the Queen and her ladies were watching him along with Sir Grumedan, more knowledgeable in combat than them, used all his exertion, delivering such great and weighty blows that Gradamor, although he was valiant, could not withstand them. He retreated from the field of combat in the direction of the Queen’s tent, trusting that Sir Florestan, out of respect for her, would not follow him.

But Sir Florestan stopped him and made him turn back, and soon Gradamor was exhausted and dropped to the ground, having lost all his strength. His sword fell from his hand. Sir Florestan took his shield and gave it to his squires, and grabbed the other knight’s helmet, pulling so hard that he dragged him for a while around the field, took it off, and threw it into the muddy ditch ye have already heard about. He came back to Gradamor and took him by a leg and wanted to throw him into the same ditch as the helmet. Gradamor began to shout to have mercy on him in the name of God.

The Queen, who saw that, said:

“That wretch bargained poorly when he declared that the winner should have no quarter nor mercy on the loser.”

Sir Florestan said to Gradamor:

“A pact that such an honorable knight as yourself proposed ought not be broken, and I shall fulfill it with you completely, as ye shall now see.”

When Gradamor heard this, he said:

“Oh, poor me! I am dead.”

“So it shall be,” Sir Florestan said, “if you do not follow my orders about two things.”

“Give the orders,” he said, “and I shall obey.”

“First,” Sir Florestan said, “by your hand, and with the blood of yourself and your companions, write your name and theirs on the bosses of the shields, and when this is done, I shall tell you the second thing I want you to do.”

As Sir Florestan said this, he waved his sword over Gradamor, who trembled beneath it in fear. He called his scribe and ordered him to empty the ink from his inkwell and fill it with his blood and write his name on his shield, since he could not, and all the names of his companions on the other shields, and to do so quickly because he did not wish to have his head cut off. This was immediately done, and Sir Florestan cleaned his sword and put it in its sheath. He mounted his horse so easily it seemed he had done no labor that day. He gave his shield to his squire, but he kept on his helmet so Sir Grumedan would not recognize him.

The horse he rode was large and handsome and of an unusual color, and the knight was of a size and height so attractive that few could be found that looked as good as he did in armor. He picked up a lance with a fine and handsome pendant and held it over Gradamor, who had by then stood up.

Waving the lance, Sir Florestan said:

“Your life is not safe unless Sir Grumedan asks me not to kill you in front of him.”

Gradamor began to shout, calling on Grumedan to help him in the name of God, for it was a matter of life or death. Sir Grumedan came immediately on foot and said:

“Truly, Gradamor, if you do not deserve mercy or pity, this is proper, for in your arrogance this is what you asked from this lord, but I shall ask him to let you live because in that way he shall please me and serve me.”

“I shall happily do so for you,” Sir Florestan said, “as I would in everything that may be to your honor and pleasure.” Then he said:

“Ye, Sir Roman knight, from this day on, when ye are judged in Rome, if ye go there, ye may tell them of the great arrogant threats that ye declared against the knights of Great Britain, and what happened with them, and of the great praise and honor ye achieved in the short space of a single day. Ye may say so to your Emperor and to his potentates so that they may take pleasure in it. And I shall make it known on Firm Island how the knights of Rome are so generous and giving that they gladly present their horses and arms to strangers. But I do not have to thank you for your gifts, instead I shall thank God, who wished you to give them to me.”

Gradamor was so badly injured that his soul was about to leave him, but when he heard this, the words hurt more than his injuries.

Sir Florestan told him:

“My lord knight, ye make take back to Rome all the arrogance that ye brought from there, for they love and value it there. The knights of this land care not for it, and prefer that which ye abhor, which is courtesy and good will. And if ye, my lord, have a beloved equal to your courage at arms, and if ye wish me to take you to Firm Island, ye may try the enchanted arch of loyal lovers there, where men test their faithfulness to their beloved ladies. With the praise and honor that ye take from Great Britain, your beloved ought to love you more, and if it is true, she shall not leave you for another.”

I tell ye that Sir Grumedan felt great pleasure to hear those words, and laughed heartily to see the Roman’s pride broken that way. But Gradamor did not feel the same. Instead, those words broke his heart, and he said to Sir Grumedan:

“My good lord, by God, order me taken to the tents, for I am badly hurt.”

“It seems that ye are, from your appearance and your armor,” he said, “and it is your own fault.”

Then he had the squires take him away.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Chapter 76 [part 1 of 3]

How Queen Sardamira and the other ambassadors from the Emperor of Rome arrived in Great Britain, having been sent to bring him Oriana, the daughter of King Lisuarte; and what happened to them in a forest where they had gone for recreation involving a knight-errant insulted by the ambassadors, and how he repaid them for their lack of respect. 

[An illustration from Codex Manesse, a German songbook written and illustrated between about 1304 and 1340. This miniature depicts the Alemannic poet Winli.]

When Emperor Patin’s ambassadors arrived in Lombardy, they hired ships and sailed to Great Britain, landing in Fenusa where King Lisuarte was. He received them with great honors and ordered them to be very well-provisioned and given fine lodgings and everything they might need. At that time, many noblemen were with the King, and he awaited others whom he had sent for to advise him about the marriage of his daughter Oriana. He promised the ambassadors a reply within a month, giving them great hope that his decision would make them happy.

He also decided that Queen Sardamira, whom the Emperor had sent with twenty ladies and damsels to accompany Oriana by sea and serve her, should go to Miraflores where Oriana was and tell her about the grandeur of Rome and the high station she would have with the marriage, reigning over many kings and princes and other great lords. King Lisuarte did this because he knew his daughter’s will was deeply opposed to the wedding, but the Queen, who was very wise, might be able to convince her. Indeed, Oriana was so anxious and anguished that she could not think or speak, believing that her father would deliver her to the Romans entirely against her will, and for her and her beloved Amadis, that would mean death.

So Queen Sardamira left for Miraflores. On orders of the King, Sir Grumedan accompanied her to serve her, and in her guard she had knights from Rome and from Sardinia, where she reigned. It happened that they were on a green riverbank with beautiful flowers waiting for the heat of the afternoon to pass, and her knights, who were esteemed in arms, put their five shields outside the tent.

Sir Grumedan told them:

“My lords, have your shields placed inside the tent if ye do not wish to uphold the custom of this land, which is that any knight who puts his shield or lance outside the tent, house, or hut where he is lodging must joust with any knights who ask him to.”

“We fully understand that custom, and that is why we had them put outside,” they said. “God willing, before we leave, we will be asked to joust by someone.”

“In the name of God,” Sir Grumedan said, “some knights usually travel here, and if they do, we shall see how ye shall fight.”

While they waited, as ye hear, soon came the esteemed and valiant Sir Florestan, who had traveled many lands looking for his brother Amadis but had never learned any news about him, so he rode with great sorrow and sadness. And because he had heard that people from Rome and other places beyond the sea were in the court of King Lisuarte, he was going there to see if any of them had news about his brother.

When he saw the tents near the road he came down, he approached to learn who was there. He arrived at Queen Sardamira’s tent and saw her on an estrado, and she was one of the most beautiful women in the world, and the tent had its side raised, so he saw all her ladies and damsels. To see the Queen better, who seemed so fine and well-attired, he rode on horseback between the ropes of the tent to gaze at her.

And as he did, a damsel came to him and said:

“My lord knight, ye are not very courteous to be on horseback so close to such a good Queen and the other high-born ladies who are here. Ye would do better to study those shields over there, which pose a challenge to you, as do the knights they belong to.”

“Truly, my very good lady,” Sir Florestan said, “what ye say is true, but the blame is in my eyes, wishing to see the beautiful Queen, and that has caused me to fall in such a great error. I ask forgiveness from the good lady and from all of you, and I shall make amends in any way she may order.”

“Ye speak well,” the damsel said, “but before forgiveness, ye must make amends.”

“Good damsel,” Sir Florestan said, “I shall do this right away, if I can, provided that it does not require failing to do what I must about those shields, or else they must be put inside the tent.”

“My lord knight,” she said, “do not believe that the shields were put there by mistake. Before they are removed, their owners in their great courage will have defeated all the knights who have passed here and wished to fight. They will take those knights’ shields to Rome with their owners’ names written on the bosses to show how the skills of the Romans overshadowed those of the knights of other lands. If ye wish to avoid falling into dishonor, turn back toward where ye came from, and your shield and name shall not be taken to where your honor will be declared null.”

“Damsel,” he said, “may it please God, I shall protect myself from the dishonor ye speak of, but I cannot trust in your kindness or take any of your counsel. Instead, I intend to take those shields to Firm Island.”

Then he said to the Queen:

“My lady, may ye be commended to God, and may He, who made you so beautiful, give you great joy and pleasure.” And he rode toward the shields.

Sir Grumedan, who had heard everything he said to the damsel, held him in high regard, especially when he mentioned Firm Island because he immediately thought him to be of the valiant Amadis’s lineage, and he believed the knight would truly be able to do what he had told the damsel and take the shields to Firm Island. He was also happy because he would see how good the Roman knights were at arms. He did not know that the knight was Sir Florestan, but the knight seemed marvelously well-armed and was riding handsomely, and Sir Grumedan considered him very courageous to attempt such a great thing and wished him all the best. He would have thought even higher of him if he had known that he was Sir Florestan, whom he loved and esteemed greately.

When Sir Florestan saw Sir Grumedan before him, knowing that in the entire court there was no knight with greater knowledge of arms than him, his heart grew in ardor until no trace of cowardice could be felt in it. He rode to the shields and put the tip of his lance on the first and second and third and fourth and fifth, and he did this because thus they would have to joust one after the other according to the order in which the shields were touched.

This done, he rode the distance of the flight of an arrow into the field, hung his shield from his neck, took a good, thick lance, sat straight in the saddle, and waited. Whenever he could, Sir Florestan brought two or three squires to be better served so they could carry lances and battle axes, and he knew well how to use them, for in many lands another knight could not be found who jousted as well as he could.

The Romans were also waiting, armed in a tent, and hurried to mount and ride to him. Sir Grumedan told them:

“What is this, my lords? Do all of ye wish to charge together against one? That would violate the custom of these lands.”

Gradamor, a Roman knight who was in charge of the others, asked Sir Grumedan how they ought to do things, since he knew better than anyone. Sir Grumedan told him:

“In the order than the shields were touched, one after the other, the knights must go to joust. And if ye take my word, do not go wildly, for judging by the appearance of that knight, he will not wish to be dishonored.”

“Sir Grumedan,” Gradamor said, “the Romans are not like you, who praise yourselves before the deed. Even after we complete the deed, we let it be forgotten. That is why there are no knights who are our equal. May it please God that our fight with that knight be in accord with that, even if my companions do not lend a hand.”

Sir Grumedan told him:

“My lord, may what happens to that knight be as God pleases, and if he remains free and healthy after these jousts, that shall tell me whether what ye say is true. And if by chance he is impeded from doing so, I shall undertake the battle myself in the name of God. Now go to your joust, and if ye leave it well, we shall come before this noble Queen, so we shall not be able to back out of our agreement.”

Gradamor laughed with disdain and said:

“I wish we had that battle as close as this joust, if that the idiot knight waiting there dares to fight.” Then he said to the knight of the first shield that had been touched, “Go now and fight in a way that frees us from the little praise we would win from defeating that knight.”

“Relax,” the knight said, “for I shall bring you what ye wish, and his name shall be placed on his shield as the Emperor ordered us. And his horse, which looks good, shall be mine.”