Category Archives: medieval romances

A Chapter Translated from Amadis of Gaul

When I was young I used to think that world literature would be full of fabulous tales of magic and adventure from the Middle Ages in the form of Romances and tales of chivalry.  I read as many as I could find in English translations, usually done some time in the 19th century, and hopelessly turgid in style and pacing.  And I thought there must be more in other languages if I could only find and read them.

Then Lin Carter told me about Amadis of Gaul, and finding an edition of it became a personal quest.  Well, I found one, in Spanish, in the University of Arizona library stacks while I was Library School student there, getting my Master’s degree.  I read as much of it as I could, and I translated some of it.  Going through some old papers, I found this translated chapter.  Maybe I thought I could turn it into a short story.  So the following translation is kind of crude, but I bet I could rewrite it into something more interesting if I tried.

Eventually I found a translation of the whole book by the English poet Robert Southey.  Reading it pretty much killed my desire to do anything with Amadis of Gaul.

Who is Amadis of Gaul?  Let wikipedia tell you more about him.

It appears that someone named Sue Burke has also rediscovered the Amadis of Gaul story, and has been translating it into (mostly) modern English for the last two years.  She has finished Book 1 (of 4), and is offering it for sale.  If your interest has been aroused by this, you can start your own researches into the tale of a knight as famous as Lancelot at this location:  I took this painting from one of her blogs, as it was far superior to the other pictures of Amadis that I found on the internet.

Amadis, of course, would be riding the white horse. He was always the pure-hearted good guy.

And now for our story:

Book One: Chapter 25  The Abducted Damsel

Amadis overtook the knight who was mistreating the damsel and said to him, “I advise you to leave that damsel.”

“I advise you to go back where you came from,” the knight answered.

“Now we’ll see.”

They lowered their lances and struck each other’s shields  The knight fell to earth.  Amadis, who was still mounted, was about to hit him again, but the knight begged for mercy.

“Well, promise that you’ll never go against the will of lady or damsel.”

“I swear.”

Amadis approached him to take the oath, but the other, who had sword in hand, struck Amadis’s horse and made it fall.  Amadis sprang free from the falling horse, drew his sword, ran at the man, and struck him on the helmet, splitting the man’s head to the nostrils.  The knight fell to the grass.  Still angry, Amadis then cut his head off.

Gandalin took the damsel on her palfrey and started for the nearest castle.  Around midnight they arraived at a beach, and as the girl was sleepy, they decided to stop and sleep there.  Gandalin put his cape on the ground.  Amadis took off his helm and slept on one side of her with Gandalin on the other side.  When they were asleep, another knight approached and  rested the point of his lance on her arms.  She came half awake, and believing it was Amadis, asked, “Do you want to go on?”

“Yes, I desire it,” answered the stranger.

He took her by the arm and lifted her up behind him on his horse, and then spurred it to a gallop.  She realized her mistake and screamed, but he galloped on.

The screams woke Amadis.  He put on his helm, took shield and lance, and galloped in the direction where the knight had vanished.  He soon found himself among some thick trees, far from the road, and although he was the most suffering knight in the world, he was very angry with himself.

He went on part of the day through the country until he finally heard a horn blowing.  Attracted by the noise, he arrived at a fair castle situated on a small hill.  The wall was high, the towers strong, and the gate well shut.  The guards on the parapet  said they had seen no damsel.  Amadis circled the castle, and found on the other side a small door that was open.  The kidnapper was there inside the door.  Amadis challenged him to come out, but the knight said he would not, and if Amadis wanted to enter, he would have to submit to the custom of the castle, and that he should return on the following day.  The knight closed the gate.  Amadis and Gandalin made camp and waited under some nearby trees.

At dawn they opened theg ate.  Amadis approached and saw an armed knight on a big horse.  The porter said, “Knight, if you wish to enter, the custom is that you first fight with this knight.  If you are beaten, you must do the command of the lady of the castle, or be put into a hard prison.  If you win, you must fight at the other gate with two knights, and within the castle, you must battle three.  If you conquer all, in addition to winning great praise or arms, we will concede whatever you demand.”

“You buy it dearly,” said Amadis.  “More than anything, I want to recover the damsel that I had if I can.

Amadis entered the first gate and jousted with the first knight.  Amadis overthrew him, and broke his right arm.  With lance on the man’s breast, Amadis said, “You are dead if you don’t yield.”

The knight begged for mercy and showed the broken bone sticking out of his arm.  Amadis went on to the second gate where he met two knights.  Covering himself with his shield, he lowered his lance and charged them.  One he threw down, man and horse, and left senseless on the ground.  And, returning toward the other, Amadis’s lance struck the man’s helm, and knocked it off his head.  Both drew swords, and Amadis said,  “Knight, it is madness to fight with a bare head.”

The other retorted, “I’ll guard my head better than you guard yours.”

Amadis struck over the shield so hard that the knight lost his stirrups and almost fell.  When Amadis saw him so embarrassed, he struck with the flat of his sword and left him stunned.  Approaching and putting his hand on the man’s shoulder, Amadis said, “Poorly do you guard your head, knight, that if I had not struck with the flat, you’d have lost it forever.”

The beaten knight didn’t want to do any more folly.  He dropped his sword and let Amadis pass.  Upon arriving at another gate, Amadis saw above the wall ladies and damsels who were saying, “If this knight passes this point, he will have done the best deed in the world.”

Amadis faced three more knights.  They were all well armed, well mounted, and fair to see.  They called upon him to yield himself prisoner or to accept the commands of the lady of the castle.

He answered, “As long as I can defend myself, I will never submit to an unknown command.”

Amadis fought and killed one of them.  The other two fled before him until he reached a door where there were twenty ladies and damsels waiting.  One of them spoke to him.  “Wait, knight who has done so much.”

“Lady,” said Amadis, “your knights are defeated.”

The lady asked what he demanded, and he told her he wanted the damsel that had been taken from him.

“I will send for the knight who brought her so he can tell his reason, and you can tell  yours.  Each of you will have his right.  So, dismount and sit down.”

Soon, an armed knight arrived, but his head and hands were uncovered.  He was a large man, and obviously very strong.  He spoke, “Knight, they tell me that you demand the damsel I brought here.  She wanted to come with me, and I will not give her up.”

“Well, show her to me.”

“I don’t have to.  And if you say that she shouldn’t be mine, I will prove the contrary in battle.”

“That pleases me.”

The lady, whose name was Grovenesa, and who loved Angriote de Estrevaus, wanted to avoid the battle. The knight was Gasinan, her uncle.  But, he didn’t want to give up the damsel.  They brought him a big horse.  Amadis mounted and took his weapons.  The ladies went aside.

The knights encountered at full gallop with lowered lances.  The lances broke on the shields, and they collided.  Gasinan fell off his horse.  He arose, drew his sword, and climbed on a pillar of stone that was in the middle of the courtyard.  Amadis approached, and then Gasinan wounded Amadis’s horse on the face.  Amadis, with great rage, wanted to strike with all his might, but he missed his target and struck the pillar instead.  That broke his sword into three pieces.  Amadis saw himself in danger of death, and dismounted as quickly as he could.

“Yield the damsel to me or you die,’ said Gasinan.

“That will never happen if she doesn’t tell me that you please her.”

Gasinan began then to strike on all sides, but Amadis covered himself well with his shield and sometimes struck with the hilt of his broken sword.  This went on for a long time, and the women marveled at how Amadis could defend himself.  But, his armor was also so broken, and his shield so diminished that he was put in danger of death.  Then Amadis hurled himself with great rage against Gasinan and wrapped his arms around him, trying to throw him.  They were close to the column of stone, and Amadis, who had more strength than can be imagined, although he was not of large body, took all that he had, and threw Gasinan against it, leaving him stunned on the ground.  Amadis took the sword, cut the laces of the helmet, and when Gasinan recovered his senses, he said, “You have done me great wrong for no reason, and now I will avenge myself.”

He raised the sword, but Grovenesa began to yell loudly, begging mercy, and she started weeping.  Amadis made a motion of wanting to cut off his head, but then said, “Lady, in this world there are only two things that will keep me from killing him.  You will give me the damsel, and you will swear as a true lady that  you will go to the court of King Lisuarte and there you will give him the gift I demand of you.”

Gasinan recovered his senses, and on seeing his danger, cried “Oh, niece, do not let me be slain!”

The lady swore, and then Amadis left the knight.

“I have kept my promise,” said Amadis.  Now keep yours, and do not fear that I will ask anything against your honor.”

The lady made the stolen damsel come forward.  She fell on her knees before Amadis.

“Lord, much anxiety have you borne for me, and although Gasinan took me by deceit, I see that he loves me well.”

Gasinan cried out to her, “Darling, I beg you to remain with me.”

“I will do it if it pleases this knight.”

“You choose one of the best knights that  you could find,” said Amadis.  “But if he is not to your liking, tell me now, and do not blame me if I avenge you.”

“Lord,” she smiled. “I consent that you leave me here with him.”

(The chapter ends rather abruptly here.  It reads as straight chivalric romance although there is a supernatural element to it.  The Castle of Maidens with its champion knights that must be defeated is surely more than it seems.  It is interesting to note that the original tale of Amadis is a piece of Spanish chivalric romance, and the Spanish take care to set their wild and improbable adventures in distant lands like England, Africa, and Byzantium.  These kind of wild and improbable antics would never happen in Spain.)