A single original to this text has been lost. What most modern English readers have is an abridged 1803 translation by the poet Robert Southey of a Spanish work published in Saragossa in 1508 by Garcia Rodríguez de Montalvo. Southey’s work superseded an earlier English translation by Anthony Munday, dating from the Elizabethan era, while Montalvo claimed to have derived his version from a work by the Portuguese writer Vasco de Lobeira. This attribution is dubious because Vasco de Lobeira was active in the latter part of the fourteenth century, and the earliest references to the text date from the first half of that century.
If the work did originate in Portugal, a more probable author might be Juan Lobeira, who was active in the latter part of the thirteenth century and who is credited elsewhere with the composition of a song whose Spanish translation can be found in the Montalvo version, although Vasco de Lobeira might conceivably have done a later version of it. There is no way of knowing for sure where the original version of the story was written down, by whom, or when. Montalvo does tell his readers, however, that in translating Lobeira’s work he has considerably modified its supposedly outmoded style, and modern commentators believe that the fourth volume of his version consists of material added by him.
In its form and content Amadís of Gaul is an imitation of the tradition of French chivalric romances concerning the exploits of Charlemagne and his knights, which expanded to take in such figures as Alexander the Great and the English King Arthur and such motifs as the quest for the Holy Grail. As in many such romances, the protagonist, Amadís, begins in “Lesser Britain” (Brittany), at the interface of Anglo-Norman and Gallic culture. Amadís, the son of Perión of Gaul, is brought up on the barbarous fringe of the Norman sphere of influence but must eventually seek his fortune on a hypothetical island that has been settled by a prince of Greece and the daughter of the emperor of Rome. In this manner the plot bridges the whole spectrum of imagined European traditions and values (tacitly extended to include the eastern domains of Constantinople and Bohemia). The central figure, Amadís, symbolizes, among other things, the union of all Christendom. His natural nobility must perforce be hidden under various guises—most notably that of the Green Knight—but it...
(The entire section is 988 words.)