1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Amadís de Gaula

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AMADÍS DE GAULA. This famous romance of chivalry survives only in a Castilian text, but it is claimed by Portugal as well as by Spain. The date of its composition, the name of its author, and the language in which it was originally written are not yet settled. It is not even certain when the romance was first printed, for though the oldest known edition (a unique copy of which is in the British Museum) appeared at Saragossa in 1508, it is highly probable that Amadís was in print before this date: an edition is reported to have been issued at Seville in 1496. As it exists in Spanish, Amadís de Gaula consists of four books, the last of which is generally believed to be by the regidor of Medina del Campo, Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo (whose name is given as Garci Ordoñez de Montalvo in all editions of Amadís later than that of 1508, and as Garci Gutiérrez de Montalvo in some editions of the Sergas de Esplandián). Montalvo alleges that the first three books were arranged and corrected by him from “the ancient originals,” and a reference in the prologue to the siege of Granada points to the conclusion that the Spanish recast was made shortly after 1492; it is possible, however, that the prologue alone was written after 1492, and that the text itself is older. The number of these “ancient originals” is not stated, nor is there any mention of the language in which they were composed; Montalvo's silence on the latter point might be taken to imply that they were in Castilian, but any such inference would be hazardous. Three books of Amadís de Gaula are mentioned by Pero Ferrús who was living in 1379, and there is evidence that the romance was current in Castile more than a quarter of a century earlier; but again there is no information as to the language in which they were written. Gomes Eannes de Azurara, in his Chronica de Conde D. Pedro de Menezes (c. 1450), states that Amadís de Gaula was written by Vasco de Lobeira in the time of king Ferdinand of Portugal who died in 1383; as Vasco de Lobeira was knighted in 1385, it would follow that he wrote the elaborate romance in his earliest youth. This conclusion is untenable, and the suggestion that the author was Pedro de Lobeira (who flourished in the 15th century) involves a glaring anachronism. A further step was taken by the historian João de Barros, who maintained in an unpublished work dating between 1540 and 1550 that Vasco de Lobeira wrote Amadís de Gaula in Portuguese, and that his text was translated into Castilian; this is unsupported assertion. Towards the end of the 16th century Miguel Leite Ferreira, son of the Portuguese poet, Antonio Ferreira, declared that the original manuscript of Amadís de Gaula was then in the Aveiro archives, and an Amadís de Gaula in Portuguese, which is alleged to have existed in the conde de Vimeiro's library as late as 1586, had vanished before 1726. In the absence of corroboration, these dubious details must be received with extreme reserve. A stronger argument in favour of the Portuguese case is drawn from the existing Spanish text. In book I, chapters 40 and 42, it is recorded that the Infante Alphonso of Portugal suggested a radical change in the narrative of Briolanja's relations with Amadís. This prince has been identified as the Infante Alphonso who died in 1312, or as Alphonso IV. who ascended the Portuguese throne in 1325. Were either of these identifications established, the date of composition might be referred with certainty to the beginning of the 14th century or the end of the 13th. But both identifications are conjectural. Nevertheless the passage in the Spanish text undeniably lends some support to the Portuguese claim, and recent critics have inclined to the belief that Amadís de Gaula was written by João de Lobeira, a Galician knight who frequented the Portuguese court between 1258 and 1285, and to whom are ascribed two fragments of a poem in the Colocci-Brancuti Canzoniere (Nos. 240 and 240b), which reappears with some unimportant variants in Amadís de Gaula (book II, chapter 11). The coincidence may be held to account in some measure for the traditional association of a Lobeira with the authorship of Amadís de Gaula; but, though curious, it warrants no definite conclusion being drawn from it. Against the Portuguese claim it is argued that the Villancico corresponding to João de Lobeiro's poem is an interpolation in the Spanish text, that Portuguese prose was in a rudimentary stage of development at the period when—ex hypothesi—the romance was composed, and that the book was very popular in Spain almost a century before it is even mentioned in Portugal. Lastly, there is the incontrovertible fact that Amadís de Gaula exists in Castilian, while it remains to be proved that it ever existed in Portuguese. As to its substance, it is beyond dispute that much of the text derives from the French romances of the Round Table; but the evidence does not enable us to say (1) whether it was pieced together from various French romances; (2) whether it was more or less literally translated from a lost French original; or (3) whether the first Peninsular adapter or translator was a Castilian or a Portuguese. On these points judgment must be suspended. There can, however, be no hesitation in accepting Cervantes' verdict on Amadís de Gaula as the “best of all the books of this kind that have ever been written.” It is the prose epic of feudalism, and its romantic spirit, its high ideals, its fantastic gallantry, its ingenious adventures, its mechanism of symbolic wonders, and its flowing style have entranced readers of such various types as Francis I. and Charles V., Ariosto and Montaigne.

Bibliography.—Carolina Michaëlis de Vasconcellos and Gottfried Baist in the Grundriss der romanischen Philologie (Strassburg, 1897), ii. Band, 2. Abteilung, pp. 216-226 and 440-442; Ludwig Braunfels, Kritischer Versuch über den Roman Amadis von Gallien (Leipzig, 1876); Theophilo Braga, Historia das novelas portuguezas de cavalleria (Porto, 1873), Curso de litteratura e arte portugueza (Lisboa, 1881), and Questões de litteratura e arte portugueza (Lisboa, 1885); Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, Origenes de la novela (Madrid, 1905); Eugène Baret, De l'Amadis de Gaule et de son influence sur les mœurs et la littérature au XVIe et au XVIIe siècle (Paris, 1873).
(J. F. -K.)