Amadis de Gaula

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Amadís of Gaul
Spanish edition of Amadis of Gaula (1533)
Author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo (printed version)
Original title Amadís de Gaula
Country Spain / Portugal
Language Old Castilian / Old Portuguese
Publication date
1304 (first release)
1508 (earliest surviving printed book)
File:Amadís de Gaula 1508.PNG
First surviving edition, 1508; University of California, Berkeley

Amadis de Gaula (original Old Spanish and Galician-Portuguese spelling; Spanish: Amadís de Gaula, IPA: [amaˈðiz ðe ˈɣaula]; Portuguese: Amadis de Gaula, IPA: [ɐmɐˈdiʒ dɨ ˈɡawlɐ]; "Amadis of Gaul") is a landmark work among the chivalric romances which were in vogue in sixteenth-century Spain, although its first version, much revised before printing, was written at the onset of the 14th century.

The earliest surviving edition of the known text, by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo (not Ordóñez de Montalvo), was published in Zaragoza in 1508, although almost certainly there were earlier printed editions, now lost.[1] It was published in four books in Castilian, but its origins are unclear: The narrative originates in the late 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. Additionally, in the Portuguese Chronicle by Gomes Eannes de Azurara (1454), Amadis is attributed to Vasco de Lobeira, who was knighted after the Battle of Aljubarrota (1385). However, although other sources claim that the work was, in fact, a copy of one João de Lobeira, not troubadour Vasco de Lobeira, and that it was a translation into Castilian Spanish of an earlier work, probably from the beginning of the 14th century, no primitive version in the original Portuguese is known. The inspiration for the "Amadis de Gaula" appears to be the blocked marriage of Infanta Constanza of Aragon with Henry of Castile in 1260 (See Juan Manuel's Libro de las Armas of 1335), as blocked was also Oriana's marriage to Amadis. A more recent, minority opinion attributes "Amadis" to Henry of Castile and León, due to evidence linking his biography with the events in "Amadis". Henry of Castile died in 1305.

In his introduction to the text, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo explains that he has edited the first three books of a text in circulation since the 14th century. Montalvo also admits to adding a fourth as yet unpublished book as well as adding a continuation (Las sergas de Esplandián), which he claims was found in a buried chest in Constantinople and transported to Spain by a Hungarian merchant (the famous motif of the found manuscript).

Characters and plot

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 Scotland 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 and a talent for prophecy. Knighted by his father King Perión, Amadís overcomes the challenges of the enchanted Insola Firme (a sort of peninsula), including passing through the Arch of Faithful Lovers.

Despite Amadís' celebrated fidelity, his childhood sweetheart, Oriana, heiress to the throne of Great Britain, becomes jealous of a rival princess and sends a letter to chastise Amadís. The knight (later famously parodied in Don Quixote) changes his name to Beltenebros and indulges in a long period of madness on the isolated Peña Pobre.

He recovers his senses only when Oriana sends her maid to retrieve him. He then helps Oriana's father, Lisuarte, repel invaders. A short time later he and Oriana scandalously consummate their love. Their son Esplandián is the result of this one illicit meeting.

Rodríguez de Montalvo asserts that in the "original" Amadís, Esplandián eventually kills his father for this offense against his mother's honor; however, Montalvo amends this defect and resolves their conflict peaceably.

Oriana and Amadís defer their marriage for many years due to enmity between Amadís and Oriana's father Lisuarte. Amadís absents himself from Britain for at least ten years, masquerading as "The Knight of the Green Sword". He travels as far as Constantinople and secures the favor of the child-princess Leonorina, who will become Esplandián's wife. His most famous adventure during this time of exile is the battle with the giant Endriago, a monster born of incest who exhales a poisonous reek and whose body is covered in scales.

As a knight, Amadís is courteous, gentle, sensitive and a Christian who dares to defend free love. 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 is invincible in battle and usually emerges 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 Iberian hero of chivalric romance. His adventures ran to four volumes, probably the most popular such tales of their time. François de la Noue, one of the Huguenot captains of the 16th century, affirmed that reading the romances of Amadis had caused a "spirit of vertigo"[2] even in his more rationally-minded generation. 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 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 allegorical style of the 15th century.

Nevertheless, there is a breach of style when Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo presents the fourth book. It becomes dull and solemn, reflecting the nature of the intruding writer. The first three books are inspired in deeds and feats by knights-errant, dating back to the 13th century, while the fourth book emerges as a less brilliant attachment of the 15th century. The pristine style of "Amadís" can be perceived in the few original famous pages analyzed by Antonio Rodríguez Moñino: It is lively and straight to the facts of war and love, with brief dialogs, all quite elegant and amusing. Amadís of Gaula is frequently referenced in the humorous classic Don Quixote, written by Miguel de Cervantes in the early 17th century. The character Don Quixote idolizes Amadís, and often compares his hero's adventures to his own.

Historically, Amadís was very influential amongst the Spanish conquistadores. Bernal Díaz del Castillo mentioned the wonders of Amadís when he was marveled by his first site of Tenochtitlan (modern Mexico City) – and such place names as California come directly from the work.


As mentioned above, the origin of Amadís and his adventures is disputed. Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, a Spanish writer, is traditionially the author of the version whose earliest surviving edition is 1508. He claimed sole ownership only of Book IV. The existence of a prior version of Books I to III has been supported by Antonio Rodríguez Moñino's identification of four 15th-century manuscript fragments (ca. 1420). The name "Esplandián" is clearly visible in one of these. The fragments belong to the collection of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. They show that contrary to the usual view that Montalvo expanded the first three books, they show that he abbreviated them.[citation needed]

In the Spanish translation of Egidio Colonna's De regimine principum, Amadís is mentioned and also the poet Enrico, who could well be Enrico de Castiglia. Egidio Colonna was in Rome 1267 when Henry of Castile was elected Senator. The translation was made around 1350 under King Peter the Cruel. This is the oldest mention of Amadís.[citation needed]

A Portuguese origin has been most widely accepted but Amadís has been justly claimed by the Spanish, due to the fact that there is no trace of any early Portuguese manuscript. The French and Italians have also claimed to have created Amadis. Also, the action seems, from the names of characters and places, to be supposed to be set primarily in England, and it is usually accepted that the name "Gaula" is related to "Wales". The plot ranges across the continent to Romania and Constantinople, and in the continuations as far as the Holy Land and the Cyclades. However, the romance's geography cannot be mapped onto the "real" Europe: it contains just as many fantastic places as real ones. Nevertheless it appears that the Island of the Boiling Lake is Pantelleria by Sicily.[citation needed]

Recently, a new theory of the work's authorship has been proposed by Santiago Sevilla, claiming that the Infante Enrique of Castile was the original writer of the epic. Enrique of Castille lived for four years at the court of Edward I of England, who was married to his sister, queen Eleanor of Castile. According to this theory, the character Lisuarte is Edward, Oriana is Eleanor of England, the maid of Denmark is in fact the Maid of Norway, and Amadis is modelled after Simon de Montfort, the heroic Norman earl of Leicester. Furthermore, Esplandian could be his infamous warrior son, Guy de Montfort, count of Mola, Brian de Monjaste is in fact Enrique of Castile himself, and the battle against the Arabic king is the Battle of Benevento against King Manfred of Sicily, who had a host of Arabian light cavalry and Arab archers. The historical Enrique of Castile wandered, as knight-errant and poet, to wage wars in Tunis, Naple,s and Sicily where he fought in those Battles of Benevento and Tagliacozzo, and became a prisoner of the Pope and Charles d'Anjou in Canosa di Puglia, and Castel del Monte, from 1268 to 1291, where he would have reputedly written a good part of Amadis, before returning to Spain to become Regent of Castile, before his death in 1304. According to the author of this theory, it would have been inconvenient for Enrique of Castille, due to his high office, to declare his authorship, but the work bears his marks as a poet and troubadour. It appears that Henry of Castile handed the manuscript of Amadis to King Diniz of Portugal in 1295, according to "O Romance de Amadis" by Afonso Lopes Vieira, and the account of the visit of Henry of Castile in Portugal to his nephew, the king.[citation needed]

Despite the various theories of the work's origins, Rodríguez de Montalvo's Spanish version, as the only complete edition known, is considered definitive, and it was the one which made the character widely known on a European scale. Unfortunately Rodríguez de Montalvo allowed the original manuscript to disappear, and only a few pages of the a lost prior version were discovered in Spain by Antonio Rodríguez-Moñino, and are now conserved at the University of California, Berkeley. These reveal that rather than enlarging on the source text, Montalvo abbreviated it.[3]

Sequels and translations

Amadís 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 burlesque attack on the resulting genre. Cervantes and his protagonist Quixote, however, keep the original Amadís in very high esteem.

The Spanish volumes, with their authors and the names of their main characters:

  • Books I–IV : 1508 (Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo) : Amadís de Gaula
  • Book V : 1510 (Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo) : Esplandián
  • Book VI : 1510 (Páez de Ribera) – this volume was universally maligned[citation needed]
  • Book VII : 1514 (Feliciano de Silva) : Lisuarte de Grecia
  • Book VIII : 1526 (Juan Díaz) – Diaz had Amadis die in this volume which was much criticized
  • Book IX : 1530 (Feliciano de Silva) : Amadis de Grecia (Amadis of Greece)
  • Book X : 1532 (Feliciano de Silva) : Florisel de Niquea
  • Book XI : 1535 & 1551 (Feliciano de Silva) : Rogel de Grecia
  • Book XII : 1546 (Pedro de Luján) : Silves de la Selva

The Italian Continuation:

  • Books XIII–XVIII (Mambrino Roseo da Fabriano)

The German Continuation:

  • Books XIX–XXI : 1594–5

In Germany and England, Amadís was known chiefly through its French translations, sometimes much revised, and in England the cycle was generally referred to by its French title Amadis de Gaule. The French translations did not follow the Spanish book divisions exactly, and the entire cycle in the French version extends to 24 volumes. Note that the volume numbers of the French translation do not always correspond to the volume numbers of the Spanish originals.

French translations, with their translators:

  • Book I : 1540 (Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts)
  • Book II : 1541 (Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts)
  • Book III : 1542 (Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts)
  • Book IV : 1543 (Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts)
  • Book V : 1544 (Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts)
  • (Spanish book VI was rejected as apocryphal)
  • Book VI : 1545 (Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts) (actually Spanish Book VII)
  • (Spanish Book VIII was rejected because it told of the death of Amadis)
  • Book VII : 1546 (Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts) (actually Spanish Book IXa)
  • Book VIII : 1548 (Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts) (actually Spanish Book IXb)
  • Book IX : 1551 (Giles Boileau & Claude Colet) (actually Spanish Book Xa)
  • Book X : 1552 (Jacques Gohory) (actually Spanish Book Xb)
  • Book XI : 1554 (Jacques Gohory) (actually Spanish Book XIa)
  • Book XII : 1556 (Guillaume Aubert) (actually Spanish Book XIb)
  • Book XIII : 1571 (Jacques Gohory) (actually Spanish Book XIIa)
  • Book XIV : 1574 (Antoine Tyron) (actually Spanish Book XIIb)
  • Books XV–XXI : 1576–1581
  • Books XXII–XXIV : after 1594

In Portugal, and other parts of Iberia, the Amadis cycle also launched other adventure series, such as:

  • Palmerin de Olivia (not "Oliva") – original anonymous text in Castilian: 1511
  • Primaleon (son of Palmerin de Olivia) – original anonymous text in Castilian: 1512
  • Palmeirim de Inglaterra (Palmeirim of England) – original Portuguese text by Francisco de Morais Cabral : c.1544 (published 1567)
  • Dom Duardos – original Portuguese text by Diogo Fernandes
  • Dom Clarisel de Bretanha – original Portuguese text by Gonçalves Lobato
  • Crónica do Imperador Clarimundo (Chronicle of Emperor Clarimund) – original Portuguese text by João de Barros
  • Sagramor – original Portuguese text by Gonçalo Fernandes Trancoso





  1. Daniel Eisenberg and Maricarmen Marín Pina, Bibliografía de los libros de caballerías castellanos, 2000,*/
  2. "Un espirit de vertige"; noted in Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919) 1924:68.
  3. Antonio Rodríguez-Moñino, "El primer manuscrito del Amadís de Gaula. (Noticia bibliográfica)," in Boletín de la Real Academia Española, 36 (1956), pp. 199–216, collected in his Relieves de erudición (del "Amadís" a Goya). Madrid: Castalia, 1959, pp. 17–38

External links