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Amadis of Gaul

Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote as a parody of the the mediaeval romance genre in general and the Amadís de Gaula in particular. [Apr 2006]

There is usually at least one damsel in distress per chapter in the classic chivalry epic Amadis of Gaul. [Aug 2006]

adventure - hero - love - Romance (genre) - 1400s - 1500s - 1600s - written in vulgar Latin

Amadis of Gaul

Amadís de Gaula (English, Amadis of Gaul) is a landmark work among the knight-errantry tales which were in vogue in 16th century Spain, and formed the earliest reading of many Renaissance and Baroque writers. It was first published in Zaragoza in 1508 by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo (or Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo). It was published in four books in Castilian, but its origins are unclear: The narrative comes from Portugal, originates in the post-Arthurian genre, and had certainly been read as early as the 14th century by the chancellor Pero López de Ayala as well as his contemporary Pero Ferrús. Montalvo himself confesses to have amended the first three volumes, and to be the author of the fourth. What's more, in the Portuguese Chronicle of Gomes Eannes de Azurara (1454), the writing of Amadís is attributed to a Vasco de Lobeira, who was dubbed knight after the battle of Aljubarrota (1385). However, it seems that in fact it was Juan de Lobeira, and not the troubadour Vasco de Lobeira, and that rather than originating with him it was the revision of an earlier work from the beginning of the 14th century.

Characters and Plot
After an introduction in which it is claimed that the text was found in a buried chest (the famous motif of the false document), the story narrates the star-crossed love of King Perión of Gaul and Elisena of England, resulting in the secret birth of Amadís. Abandoned at birth on a barge in England, the child is raised by the knight Gandales in Gaul and investigates his origins through fantastic adventures. He is persecuted by the wizard Arcalaús, but protected by Urganda la desconocida (Urganda the unknown or unrecognized), an ambiguous priestess with magical powers allowing her to change her aspect at will. Knighted by his father King Perión, Amadís battles and kills the Firm Island's terrible Endriago, a winged abomination born from two ogres; crosses the enchanted arch of true lovers; and passes through all kinds of dangerous adventure in search of his beloved Oriana. After many hardships, he finds and marries her.

As a knight, Amadís is courteous, gentle, sensitive and a devout Christian. Unlike most literary heroes of his time (French and German, for example) Amadís is a handsome man who would cry if refused by his lady, but invincible in battle, usually drenched in his own and his opponent's blood.

Literary Significance
Called also Amadís sin Tiempo (Amadis without Time) by his mother (in allusion to the fact that being conceived outside marriage she would have to abandon him and he would probably die), he is the most representative hero of the Cavalier novel genre. His adventures ran for three books, probably the most popular of their time.

The books show a complete idealization and simplification of knight-errantry. Even servants are hardly heard of, but there are many princesses, ladies and kings. Knights and damsels in distress are found everywhere. The book's style is reasonably modern, but lacks dialogue and the character´s impressions, mostly describing the action.

The book's style was praised by the usually demanding Juan de Valdés, although he considered that from time to time it was too low or too high a style. The language is characterized by a certain "Latinizing" influence in its syntax, especially the tendency to place the conuugated verb at the end of the sentence; as well as other such details, such as the use of the present participle, which bring Amadís into line with the Dantesque or allegorical style of the 15th century, though the Spanish is considered by some more clear and direct.

As mentioned above, the origin of Amadís and his adventures is disputed. A Spanish writer, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, edited and published the first printed edition (and earliest extant version) in three volumes in 1508. While the third volume is generally regarded as Rodríguez de Montalvo's own work, he claimed to be publishing earlier sources and it is generally accepted that the first two volumes derive from a previous manuscript or oral tradition.

A Portuguese origin is most widely accepted but Amadis has also been claimed by the Spanish, French and Italians. Also, the action seems, from the names of characters and places, to be supposed to be set in England — Gaula, for instance, seems to be a distortion of Wales.

In any case, Rodríguez de Montalvo's Spanish version, as the only complete edition known, is considered definitive, and it was the one who made the character widely known on a European scale.

Sequels and Translations
Amadis of Gaul's popularity was such that in the decades following its publication, dozens of sequels of sometimes minor quality were published in Spanish, Italian and German, together with a number of other imitative works. Montalvo himself cashed in with the continuation Las sergas de Esplandián (Book V), and the sequel-specialist Feliciano de Silva (also the author of Second Celestina) added four more books including Amadis of Greece (Book IX). Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote as a parody of the resulting genre. Cervantes and his protagonist Quixote, however, hold the original Amadís in very high esteem.

The later books increasingly use techniques and incidents borrowed from the ancient Greek novel (Heliodorus, Longus and Achilles Tatius) and the pastoral novel from Italy and Spain (Jacopo Sannazaro and Jorge de Montemayor).

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadis_de_Gaula [Nov 2005]

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