Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Chapter 85

How Amadis brought together the lords, and the speech he delivered to them, and what they agreed to do. 

[Meeting hall of the Knights of the Military Order of St. James at their headquarters in León, Spain. The building, the San Marcos Hostal, is now used as a hotel.]

Amadis, despite a show of great courage, had thought deeply about how this serious matter might end, since all the responsibility fell on him, in spite of the many princes and great lords and knights of high standing there. He was already condemned to death if it did not turn out well, and his honor was threatened and imperiled. While all the others slept, he lay awake thinking about what ought to be done. With that concern, and with the advice and approval of Sir Cuadragante and his cousin Agrajes, he had all the lords called to Sir Cuadragante’s lodging in the great hall there, one of the finest in the entire island. When they had all arrived and no one was missing, Amadis stood up holding the doctor Elisabad by the hand, whom he always did great honor, and spoke to them this way:

“Noble princes and knights, I have called you here to remind you that your fame and your great lineages and estates have become known everywhere in the world. Each one of you could live in your lands with great ease and pleasure, with many servants and everything that can be acquired for recreation in a delightful and comfortable life, as ye accumulate ever greater riches. But ye understand that the great difference between following the life at arms and the pleasures acquired through temporal goods is the difference between the wise men and brute animals.

“Ye have given up what many lose their souls for, preferring to suffer great adversity in exchange for laudable fame, pursuing the military profession of arms. Since the beginning of time until our own, the good fortune of worldly men never could nor can equal the conquest and glory that it brings. Until now ye have won no profit nor dominions except by putting your persons, covered with injuries, in great dangerous labors, arriving a thousand times at the point and threshold of death, hoping and wishing more for glory and fame than for any other gain that could come to you by it.

“As a reward for that, if ye wish to know, your prosperous and favorable fate has chosen to place the great victory ye have just won in your hands. And I do not say this about your victory over the Romans, for given the difference between your virtues and theirs, it should not be highly considered. I say this because ye have provided the rescue and aid for that high and fine Princess so she would not receive the greatest injury and injustice that any person of great estate has received for a very long time. Because of that, in addition to having greatly added to your fame, ye have done a great service to God by doing what ye were born to do: help the afflicted and put an end to grievances and outrages.

“What is worthy of consideration and should give you happiness is that we have made discontent and angry two high and powerful princes, the Emperor of Rome and King Lisuarte. If they do not wish to be just and reasonable, we will face great combats and warfare. From here on, noble lords, what can be expected? Nothing else, except that as those who support reason and truth, which they disdain, we will win great victories that will resound throughout the world. And although their grandeur may seem fearful, we are not without the support of many other great lords, both family and friends, and we can easily fill battlefields with a great many knights and soldiers. No opponents, no matter how many they may be, could last a day against Firm Island.

“And so, my good lords, may each one say what he thinks best and not what he might wish, which ye know better than I is the desire for virtue to which ye are obliged. Instead speak about what can sustain and advance this cause with the courage and discretion it deserves.”

All those lords willingly heard that gracious and brave speech by Amadis; and believing that among all of them there were many who would know how to respond with great discretion and courage, for some time they were quiet, urging one another to speak. Then Sir Cuadragante said:

“My lords, if ye consider it good, since ye are all quiet, I shall say that which my judgment gives me the understanding to respond.”

Agrajes told him:

“My lord Sir Cuadragante, we all beg you to do so, because given who ye are and the great things that have happened to you and the honor that has come to you from them, ye more than any of us ought to respond.”

Sir Cuadragante thanked him for the honor he had given him, and said to Amadis:

“Noble knight, your great discretion and good moderation have contented all of our wills. Ye have said what ought to have been said, and to respond to it all would be excessive and annoying to everyone here. I can only speak to what ought to be remedied at the present time, which is this: your will in the past has never been to pursue passion or hatred, but only to serve God and follow your oath as a knight, which is to overcome force, especially when applied to ladies and damsels who have no protection except from God and you.

“This should be expressed by messengers to King Lisuarte, and he should be asked on your behalf to recognize his past errors and behave with justice and reason toward his daughter the Princess, removing the pressure he has placed on her and providing such guarantees that with good cause and certainty our honor will not be diminished if we return her to him as we ought. And as for what concerns us, I shall make no mention, because if this is carried out and can be done, I have such faith in your great virtue and courage that King Lisuarte will seek peace with us and will be very content if it were granted by you.

“And while these negotiations are underway, since we, not as knights errant but as princes and great lords, do not know if they will succeed and what may be required of us if they fail, it would be good if we were to notify our friends and families, who are many, so if they should be called upon, they may arrive in time for their labor to have the necessary effect.”


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chapter 84

How Princess Grasinda, when she learned of Amadis’s victory, attired herself and went to meet Oriana, accompanied by many knights and ladies. 

[Gardens of Generalife Palace, part of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Photo by Cindy Van Vreede.]

Among those whom I spoke of and who had remained on the island was the very beautiful Grasinda. When she learned of the arrival of the fleet and of everything that had happened at sea, with great diligence she immediately prepared to meet Oriana, whom she wished to see more than anyone else in the world because of the great things that had been said about her everywhere. And as she was a lady of great means and very rich, and she wished to show her wealth, she quickly put on a gown and an overdress with a pattern of golden roses created with superb art, decorated and surrounded by pearls and precious stones of great value, which until then she had not worn nor shown to anyone because she was keeping it for the test of the forbidden chamber, which she would do later.

On her beautiful hair she wished to wear none other than the very costly crown that by her beauty and by the great skill of the Greek Knight she had won in an outstanding victory for both of them from all the damsels who at that time were in the court of King Lisuarte.

She rode on a white palfrey whose saddle and reins and other adornments covered with enameled gold worked with great artifice. She had this clothing and saddlery so that if by good fortune she were able to successfully complete the test of the forbidden chamber, she could return to the court of King Lisuarte with this grand and fine attire to make her achievement known to Queen Brisena, her daughter Oriana, and the other princesses and ladies and damsels, and with great glory return to her lands. But things seemed to be happening very differently from what she had thought, because although she was finely attired and beautiful in the opinion of many people, and even more beautiful in her own opinion, she was far from equal to the beauty of Queen Briolanja, who had already tried that test and failed.

So with this grand attire, as ye hear, she left her lodging, attended by her ladies and damsels, also richly dressed, and ten knights on foot, who carried the reins and accompanied her so no one could approach her. She went to the seaside, where with great haste they had constructed the bridge ye have heard of to the ship that carried Oriana. When Grasinda arrived, she stood at the entrance to the bridge waiting for Oriana, who by then was ready, and all the knights had gone to her ship to accompany her.

Dressed more in keeping with her misfortune and her modesty than to accent her beauty, Oriana saw her and asked Sir Bruneo who that lady was who had come to the court of her father the King and won the crown from the damsels. Sir Bruneo told her who she was, and that she should be honored and welcomed, for she was one of the finest ladies in the world in her condition. And he told her a great deal about her and of the great honors that Amadis and Angriote and he himself had received from her.

Oriana told him:

“It is very proper that ye and your friends honor her and love her dearly, and so I shall myself.”

Then Sir Cuadragante and Agrajes took her by the arm, Sir Florestan and Angriote took Queen Sardamira, Amadis took Mabilia, Sir Bruneo and Dragonis took Olinda, and other knights took the rest of the princesses and ladies. All the knights wore their armor and were very happy, laughing to give courage and pleasure to the ladies. When Oriana neared the land, Grasinda dismounted from her palfrey and knelt next to the bridge, and took her hands to kiss them. But Oriana pulled her hands back and did not wish to give them; instead she embraced her with great love as one who was customarily very humble and gracious toward those whom she ought to be. Grasinda, seeing her so close and looking at her great beauty, was startled, although she had heard her thoroughly praised. She found her so much different in person that she could not believe that a mortal person could achieve such great beauty.

And, on her knees, for Oriana could not make her rise, she said:

“Now, my good lady, I must rightly give great thanks to our Lord and serve him for the great kindness he did me in not having you in the court of your father the King when I came there, for surely, although I brought the best knight in the world as my guard and protector in my quest to be judged for my beauty, I say that he could have been in great danger if God had helped the knight at arms who was in the right, as God is said to do. If I had been trying to win the honor that I won given the extreme disadvantage that my beauty has to yours, I would have failed in my quest, and it would not concluded as it did, even if the knight fighting for you had been very weak.”

Then she looked at Amadis and told him:

“My lord, if ye have received any offense from this, forgive me, because my eyes have never seen anything like that which is before them now.”

Amadis, who was very joyful to see his lady receive such praise, said:

“My lady, it would be a great injustice to take wrongly what you have said to this noble lady, and if I were to complain about that, I would speak against the greatest truth that has ever been said.”

Oriana, who was a little embarrassed to hear herself praised like that, and thinking more about the misfortune she had just suffered for being so appreciated for her beauty, answered:

“My lady, I do not wish to respond to what you have said about me, for were I to contradict you, I would err against a person who was very wise, and if I were to agree, it would be a great shame and dishonor for me. I only wish that ye know how much I am happy that your honor was increased, inasmuch as I can as the poor and disinherited damsel that I am.”

Then she asked Agrajes to place Grasinda next to Olinda, which he did, and she remained with Sir Cuadragante. They all left the bridge and Oriana mounted a palfrey more richly adorned than any that she had ever seen, adornments that her mother Queen Brisena had provided for her entrance into Rome. They put Queen Sardamira on another horse, and all the ladies on other horses, and Grasinda on hers. And no matter how much Oriana objected, she could not disuade all those lords and knights from accompanying her on foot, which made her very upset, but they considered that every honor and service they could give her would be returned to them in their own praise.

And so, as ye hear, they entered the island through the castle, and they took the ladies with Oriana to the tower in the garden, where Sir Gandales had prepared their lodgings. It was the main tower of the entire island, and although in many other places there were rich and elaborately made houses that Apolidon had enchanted, as Book II has recounted in greater detail, his principal place of residence and where he spent the most time was that tower. For that reason he had decorated it with such things and riches that the greatest emperor in the world would not dare even to try to reproduce.

It contained nine rooms, three on each floor, one above another, each one different, and although some of them had been made with the ingenuity of men who were very wise, all the rest was done by the art and great wisdom of Apolidon, so amazingly worked that no one in the world would be able to appreciate it, much less understand its great subtlety. And because it would be very tedious to describe in detail, it will only be said that this tower was located in the middle of a garden. A very beautiful masonry wall surrounded the garden, which contained the most beautiful trees and other plants of all types ever seen, and fountains flowing with very sweet water. Many of the trees bore fruit throughout the year, and others lovely flowers. Inside this garden, an arcade along the wall was wrought with gold grillwork through which greenery could be seen, and one could walk within it around the garden and could only enter and leave by a single doorway.

The ground was paved with stones, some white and like glass, some colored and clear like rubies, and others of various kinds, which Apolidon had ordered brought from islands in the Orient where precious stones and other amazing things are produced and transported to other lands. They are created by the great heat of the sun that burns there continuously, but the islands are only populated by fearsome beasts. People living nearby had warned about them and had never gone there themselves. But that wise Apolidon ingeniously made artifices so his men could move among them without fear of being killed. And since that time, many things have been brought to the rest of the world that had never before been seen, and from them Apolidon earned great wealth.

The four sides of this tower were encircled by four fountains with water from the high mountains, brought by metal pipes, and the water fell from high up on pillars of gilded copper, from the mouths of animals. From the first floor windows, water could easily be reached, which was collected in round golden basins that were set into the pillars themselves. From these four fountains the entire garden was watered.

In this tower that ye hear of were lodged Princess Oriana and the other ladies that ye know of, each one in her chamber as she merited and as Princess Mabilia ordered. There they were served by ladies and damsels with everything they could possibly need, which Amadis had ordered supplied for them. And no knight could enter the garden or the chambers at Oriana’s preference. She sent word to those lords to ask for their understanding, for she wished to remain there as if cloistered until her father the King offered some promise to agree to peace and concord. They all held her idea to be very virtuous and praised her good intentions, and they sent a message to say in that, as in every other thing in her service, they could do nothing but follow her will.

Amadis’s anguished heart could nowhere find repose nor remedy except in the presence of his lady, because she was the only source of his rest, and without her presence he was continuously tormented by and suffered from great mortal desires, as ye have heard many times throughout this great story, but he wished even more for her contentment and feared more the loss of her honor than dying himself a hundred thousand times. So, beyond anyone else, he showed contentment and pleasure at what that lady considered proper and honest. As a remedy for his passions and anguish, he knew that he had her in his power and in a place where she had nothing to fear in the world, and where before losing her he would lose his own life; at death, the great flames that continually seared his sad heart would cool and grow still.

All the great lords and knights and the common men were given lodging according to their tastes in places on the island that were appropriate for their conditions and qualities, and they were supplied generously with everything necessary for a good and pleasant life. Although Amadis had always traveled as a poor knight, he had found on that island great treasures to provide him income, and he had many jewels of great worth that his mother the Queen and other great ladies had given him, and since he had had no need for them, they had been sent there. And besides that, all of the residents and inhabitants of the island, who were very rich and prudent with their wealth, were happy to serve him by providing generous provisions of bread and meat and wine, and the other things that they could give him.

And so as ye hear Princess Oriana was brought to Firm Island with those ladies and was given lodging, as were all the knights who were in her service and assistance.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chapter 83

How by agreement and on order of Princess Oriana, the knights took her to Firm Island. 

[The Wheel of Fortune. From Troy Book and Siege of Thebes by John Lydgate, c. 1457, at the British Library.]

After Amadis and the other knights left the ship carrying Salustanquidio and saw that they had control over the entire Roman fleet without opposition, they all met on Sir Florestan’s ship. They agreed that since Oriana wished to go to Firm Island, which seemed wise to them, they should do so immediately. They ordered that all the prisoners be put on a ship guarded by Gavarte of the Fearful Valley and Landin, Sir Cuadragante’s nephew, with a great many knights to watch over them.

They ordered that the spoils, which were plentiful, be placed in another ship, to be guarded by Sir Gandales, Amadis’s foster father, and Sadamon, one of the most sensible and faithful knights there was. In all the rest of the ships they split up the men at arms and sailors to take them to port, and they still had all the ships that had left Firm Island.

When everything was ready, they asked Sir Bruneo of Bonamar and Angriote d’Estrauvaus to let Oriana know that they would carry out what she had ordered, so she would feel content. Those two knights got on a boat to go to the ship where she was, and entered her chamber. They knelt before her and told her:

“Good lady, all of the knights who came to rescue you in your service wish you to know that the fleet is ready and prepared to leave. They wish to know your will, which they will carry out with complete devotion.”

Oriana told them:

“My good friends, if I am never able to reward you for this love that ye all show me and what ye have done for me, I would now despair of my life. But I have faith in our Lord that by His mercy, He would wish it be done just as it is my will. And tell these noble knights that our agreement should be carried out, which is to go to Firm Island, and when we arrive, we shall hold counsel about what should be done. I have faith in God, who is the just Judge and knows all things, that He will guide what now seems so shattered and turn it into great honor and pleasure. All things just and true, like this, may seem harsh and laborious at the beginning, as things seem now, but in the end we should only hope for good results. And things that are unjust and false yield only lies and disloyalty.”

The two knights returned with that answer. When those awaiting the reply heard it, they ordered the trumpets to sound, of which the fleet had many, and with great joy and with the shouts of the common men, they set sail. All the great lords and knights were very happy and had great spirit, since it had been their desire to remain with each other and the princess after they had successfully achieved what they had begun. As they were all of fine lineage and accomplished at deeds at arms, their courage and hearts grew knowing that their side was in the right and seeing that they were in discord with two such high princes, for they only expected to gain great honor whether things went well or poorly, since great deeds are always praised and remembered wherever they happen.

And as they all wore very fine armor and were great in number, even to those who did not know of their grand and great deeds, they would have seem like the army of a great emperor, for truly it would be hard to find in the house of any prince, no matter how grand he was, so many knights of such lineage and such worth.

Then what can be said here except that thou, King Lisuarte, should have thought about the time when thou wert a prince without inheritance. Thou ventured out into great reigns and realms, making use of thine intelligence, strength, virtue, temperance, and precious honesty more fully than any of the mortals of thy time did. Then thou took the diadem and precious crown and made thyself lord of so many knights, for which in all parts of the world thou wert praised and held in great esteem. It is not known if thou lost this because thy same fate was turned into misfortune, or whether thou suffered a great reversal in thy esteem and honorable fame from thy lack of understanding, for it is in the hand of God to give this to thee or to take it from thee.

Instead, I testify that I believe it occurred so that thou wouldst suffer, reduced from that height in which thou wert placed, so thou should especially regret those prosperous times when thou faced no opposition that might hurt thee.

And if thou hast complaints over this, complain to thyself, for thou wished to subject thy ears to men of little virtue and less truth, believing what thou heard from them instead of what thine own eyes saw. And along with this, without any pity or conscience, thou gave such latitude to thy free will that, not letting thy heart be touched by the admonishments of many people or the painful sobbing of thy daughter, thou wished to disinherit her and place her in tribulation, she whom God had adorned with so much beauty, nobility, and virtue, exceeding all women of her time. If anything in her honor could be reproached, given her excellence and sound thinking, in the end, the outcome should be more attributed to the permission of God, who wished it so according to His will, rather than to any error or sin, since if the wheel of fortune turned against thee, thou wert the one who let it loose from its mechanism.

Returning to our purpose, as ye have heard, the fleet was sailing in the sea, and in seven days at dawn it entered the port of Firm Island, where as a sign of joy many shots were fired from their cannons. When the island’s populace saw so many captured ships, they were alarmed, and everyone with their weapons rushed to the docks. But as soon as they arrived, they knew the ships belonged to their lord Amadis by the pendants and flags that flew from the crow’s nests, which were the same as those he had taken with him.

And then they launched boats, and men got out, Sir Gandales among them, to arrange for lodgings as well as to have a bridge of boats made from the land to the ships so Oriana and the ladies could disembark.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

An overview of Book IV

Hints of current affairs and new attitudes seep into the text. 

Queen Isabel I at prayer, as portrayed in the altarpiece at the church of the Miraflores Charterhouse in Burgos. She commissioned it in honor of her parents, who are buried in the church. Photo from ArteHistoria.

In the late 1400s and early 1500s, Europe developed an interest – a fandom, in fact – for knighthood and chivalry. Tournaments, festivals, and new literary works dedicated to knights in armor and their feats entertained everyone. It was fueled both by a revitalized interest in historical traditions and by the newly invented printing press, which brought the price of books down to levels so low that the merely modestly wealthy could afford them. The reach of the printing press even extended to illiterate people, who could attend public readings of rented books, which became a popular form of entertainment.

In Britain, Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory was published in 1485, along with other chivalrous works; in France, Tristan was republished in 1489 and Lancelot in 1494; and in Austria, Emperor Maximilian I called himself the last knight and patronized chivalry in literature and art.

During those heady times, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo decided to set his hand to renewing an old, prestigious Spanish chivalric classic, Amadis of Gaul.

As you may know, the novel originally consisted of three books. Book I is the oldest and dates back to around the 1330s. It tells how Amadis is born and raised, how he falls in love with Oriana, and how he saves her father, King Lisuarte, from a rebellion sparked by the evil sorcerer Arcalaus. Before the turn of the century, Books II and III were added. Book II tells how Oriana mistakenly spurns Amadis, who retreats to a distant hermitage, and after that misunderstanding is settled, treachery drives him from the court of King Lisuarte. Book III follows Amadis’s pursuit of fame as an anonymous knight-errant, eventually returning to rescue Oriana from a forced marriage to the Emperor of Rome.

Actually, the original Book III had a much different ending – more about that soon. No spoilers, but think in terms of George R.R. Martin: lots of death. Montalvo, writing at the end of the 1400s, changed the ending so that a fourth book could be added, as well as changing or adding occasional details in the earlier books. Then he wrote another novel, Las serjas de Esplandián (The Exploits of Esplandian), about the adventures of Amadis’s son, Esplandian.

One reason for these changes may have been the waning of the Middle Ages and the new sensibilities of the coming Renaissance: more triumphalism and apparently more aggressive piety as well. In the earlier books, Amadis is inspired by the frivolities of love, but Montalvo inserts, as best he can, inspiration in the glory of God and in the protection of Christendom, especially in the novel about Esplandian. Those moralizing little sermons that appear here and there even in the earlier books of Amadis come from Montalvo’s hand. It is also possible that Oriana’s conflicts to achieve the throne in Book IV mirror those of Queen Isabel I of Spain, whom Montalvo admired. Fighting styles change, too, with fewer one-on-one fights and more grand battles, reflecting new real-world warfare techniques, which had been used in the reconquest of Granada by Queen Isabel and King Fernando in 1492.

Montalvo also focuses more on Amadis, while earlier books featured an ensemble of characters in interlacing stories. The prose style in Book IV differs, too: Montalvo’s is more complex and less elegant, with a more Latinized syntax, than the earlier medieval prose. This does not always come through in the translation, which might not be a loss for you.

These changes in focus and attitude gave the novel new life and made it Europe’s first bestseller. Its popularity remained high throughout the 1500s. It also served as the inspiration for more than two dozen sequels and a hundred new chivalry novels with different characters in various languages all across Europe.

And now, the fourth and final book of the story of the greatest knight who ever lived is underway. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy bringing it to you.