Amadis of Gaul, excerpt from Chapter 35

In 2009, I began translating a medieval Spanish novel of chivalry, Amadis of Gaul, and posting it online. It falls within the Arthurian tradition, telling the story of the greatest knight in the world, Amadis, who lived in an era before King Arthur. (The once-upon-a-time setting doesn’t bear scrutiny; the Kingdom of Gaul is also imaginary.)

The earliest existing copy of the novel dates to 1508, but the story originated two centuries earlier, a truly medieval tale of sword and sorcery. Once the printing press was invented, the novel became one of Renaissance Europe’s first best-sellers.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter XXXV, and it illustrates one of the reasons that eventually, these books fell afoul of critics and censors: There’s sex! Out of wedlock! And it is beautiful.

Cover of 1508 edition.

Chapter 35

[The knight Amadis and his squire Gandalin have rescued Princess Oriana and her companion, the Damsel of Denmark, from an evil sorcerer. Amadis and Gandalin are accompanying the two women through a forest to safety. Many years ago, Amadis and Oriana, the most beautiful maiden in the world, fell in love at first sight. They are still madly in love but have not yet been able to act on their feelings.]

So they rode three leagues until they entered a thick forest of trees that was a league away from a village. Oriana felt very tired, as someone who had not slept at all the night before, and she said, “My dear, I am so sleepy that I cannot go on.”

“My lady,” he said, “let us go to that valley, and ye shall sleep.”

And they left the road and went to a valley, where they found a small stream and very fresh green grass.

There Amadis helped his lady from her horse and said, “My lady, the afternoon is becoming very warm. Sleep here until it becomes cooler. Meanwhile, I shall send Gandalin to the village to bring us something to refresh us.”

As he was leaving, he said quietly to Amadis, “My lord, he who has a chance and loses it, shall regret it later.” And having said this, he left, and Amadis understood well why he had said it.

Oriana lay on the cloak of the Damsel, while Amadis removed his armor and the Damsel helped him, which he needed. After he was disarmed, she went to sleep in some thick brush.

Amadis turned to his lady, and when he saw her so beautiful and in his possession, having given herself to his will, he was so struck by joy and shyness that he did not dare even to gaze at her. So it could well be said that in that green grass, on that cloak, more by the quiet grace of Oriana rather than the bold courage of Amadis, did the most beautiful maiden in the world become a woman.

And though they thought that with it, the flames of their passion would be cooled, instead they grew even bigger, brighter, and stronger, as will happen with healthy and true love. Thus they were together in loving acts, which he and she whose hearts have been wounded by similar arrows of love can understand and share, until Gandalin’s return made Amadis arise.

He called to the Damsel and they prepared something good to eat, which they all needed. There, though they had no staff of servants nor grand gold and silver dinnerware, nothing could diminish the sweet delight that that meal gave them in the green grass. And so, as ye hear, the two lovers enjoyed such pleasure than neither the one nor the other would have left that forest for the rest of their lives if need and shame would have permitted.

We shall leave them there to rest and be happy…