Amadis of Gaul

amadisI am reading Amadis of Gaul, which was written perhaps in the early 14th century in the genre of the post-Arthurian Romances.  It is considered a classic of Spanish chivalric literature, though it may have been originally written in Portuguese.  Cervantes, of course, made it his business to satirize the Spanish Romances.  It seems that the genre was basically an imitation of Amadis for which Cervantes had some respect.  The following is from an old edition of the Encylcopedia Britanica [I have changed the formatting somewhat for the sake of clarity]:

We, of course, in England would place the Morte d’Arthur above all romances of the kind; and the praise that we allow to Amadis of Gaul is precisely that which Cervantes bestows upon it—of being the earliest and best of the Spanish romances. When the licentiate and the barber burnt the library of Don Quixote, they spared from the flames only three romances—-Amadis of Gaul, Palmerin of England, and Tirante the White.

“I have heard,” said the licentiate, “that Amadis of Gaul was the first book of chivalry printed in Spain, and that all the rest sprung from it ; I think, therefore, as head of so pernicious a sect, we ought to condemn him to the fire without mercy.”

“Not so, sir,” said the barber, “for I have heard also that it is the best of all the books of this kind; and therefore—as being unequalled in its way—it ought to be spared.”

” You are right,” said the priest, “and for that reason its life is granted.”

Amadis reads very much like Morte d’Arthur but is far less lurid. Adultery does not seem to be primary preoccupation of the students of ars amoris. In fact, I was struck by the delicacy with which a breach in virtue was addressed by the author.  In a chapter of the first book Amadis’ brother Galaor meets the girl of his dreams and the two of them waste no time with the pleasantries of introductions; however, the author of Amadis is not impressed:

And with that the damsels left them together, and nothing more shall be here related, for these and such like things which are neither conformable to good conscience nor virtue, man ought in reason lightly to pass over, holding them in as little estimation as they deserve.

So much for the decencies of Christian literature.  Those days are certainly gone.

The book is well worth the read by those minded to be knights.  I am still looking for some passages in support of Marian Chivalry.  Our Lady is often invoked by the knights and there is much about the Christian origins and principles of chivalry.  I will post more on this later.

5 thoughts on “Amadis of Gaul

  1. The second link is to an online edition.

    The edition I am reading was obtained through the reference desk at the local library:

    Amadis of Gaul, Books I and II: A Novel of Chivalry of the 14th Century, Presumably First Written in Spanish. Translated by Edwin Place and Herbert C. Behm. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974. 685 pages.

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