Romances from a coast of love and wine,
THE literary genius of Catalonia was unquestionably a lyrical one, as befitted a province so happily endowed by nature, clothed with the purple mantle of vineyards, and laved by the calm beauty of a dreamy ocean. Epic has her home in rugged and wind-swept lands, where the elemental trumpets of the air arouse the soul of man to fiercer song and fill the memory with the clash of war. But on sheltered strands, mellow with sun and painted in the ripe colours of plenty, a softer and more dreamy music mimics the æolian sound of the zephyrs which steal like melodious spirits through orchard and vineyard. Yet this province of the Trovadores was not without its legends of chivalric enterprise, and indeed produced two romances of such intrinsic merit that they may be regarded as occupying an unassailable position in the literature of the Peninsula.
Partenopex de Blois
The beautiful and highly finished romance of Partenopex de Blois was written in the Catalonian dialect in the thirteenth century, and printed at Tarragona in 1488. That the tale was originally French is highly probable, but it is no mere translation, and the treatment it has received in the course of adaptation has undoubtedly made it a thing as wholly Catalonian as The Cid
is Castilian. Here is the story of the knight Partenopex.
On the death of the Emperor Julian of Greece the rule of his kingdom devolved upon his daughter Melior, a maiden of extraordinary talents, who was, moreover, possessed of a deep knowledge regarding the hidden sciences. Notwithstanding her ability, however, her advisers did not think it fitting that she should rule alone, and insisted that she should address herself to the task of selecting a husband. They granted her a space of two years in which to make choice of a suitable consort, and in order that she might be able to select a parti of a rank sufficiently illustrious to match with her own, she dispatched embassies to all the principal courts of Europe, bidding their members to inquire diligently into the credentials of all eligible princes.
At this time there lived in France a youth of much beauty and promise in arms called Partenopex de Blois, nephew to the King of Paris. While following the train of his royal uncle in the chase one day, in the green shades of the Forest of Ardennes, he became separated from the rest of the party and lost his way. Forced to spend the night in the forest, he awoke with the dawn, and, in trying to find his bearings, came to the seashore. To his surprise, he beheld a splendid vessel moored near to the land. In the hope that its crew would be able to direct him as to the path he should take to reach home, he went on board the ship, but found her deserted. He was about to quit the vessel when she began to move, and, gaining speed, cleaved the water with such velocity that to attempt to leave her was impossible. After a voyage as short as
it was swift, Partenopex found himself moored in a bay in a country of the most enchanting description.
Disembarking, the youth walked inland, and soon came to the walls of a stately castle. He entered, and, to his surprise, found it as deserted as the vessel which had brought him thither. The principal chamber was illuminated by the sparkle of countless diamonds, and the young knight, who was by this time famished with hunger, was pleased to see an exquisite repast spread on the table before him. He was soon to learn the magical nature of all things in that enchanted castle, for the dainties with which the table groaned found their own way to his lips, and when he had refreshed himself sufficiently a lighted torch appeared as if suspended in the air, and preceded him to a bed-chamber, where he was undressed by invisible hands.
As he lay in bed thinking upon the extraordinary nature of the adventure which had befallen him a lady entered the apartment, and introduced herself as Melior, the Empress of Greece. She told the young knight that she had fallen in love with him from the account of her ambassadors, and had contrived to bring him to her castle by dint of the powers of magic she possessed. She commanded him to remain at the castle, but warned him that if he attempted to see her again before two years had elapsed the result would be the loss of her affection. She then quitted the apartment, which was entered in the morning by her sister Uracla, who brought him the most splendid apparel.
The Mysterious Castle
In the mysterious castle of Melior Partenopex found no lack of entertainment, for the extensive grounds by
which it was surrounded afforded him the pleasures of the chase, and in the evenings he was amused by the sweet strains of invisible musicians. Everything possible and impossible was done to render his stay pleasant and memorable. But in the midst of the delights with which he was surrounded he learned that his country had been attacked by a host of enemies. He communicated to his invisible mistress his desire that he should be permitted to fight for the land of his birth, and when she had received his assurance that he would return she placed at his service the magic vessel in which he had come to her coasts, and by its aid he shortly regained the shores of France.
Partenopex was making his way as quickly as possible to Paris to place his sword at the service of his king, when he encountered a knight whose conduct toward him brought matters to the arbitrament of a combat. When they had fought for a space Partenopex discovered that his opponent was none other than Gaudin, the lover of Uracla, the sister of Melior, and from being at daggers drawn the two young knights became the closest companions, and rode on together to where the Court sat at Paris.
Shortly after his return to the capital Partenopex was presented to the Lady Angelica, niece of the Pope, who promptly fell in love with him. Animated by the mistaken belief that ' All's fair in love,' she intercepted his letters from Melior, and thus learned of his passion for the wonder-working Empress of Constantinople. Enlisting on her side a hermit of great sanctity, she bade him repair to Partenopex and denounce his lady-love as a demon of darkness, who was so lost to all good that she even partook of the outward semblance of a fiend in
possessing a serpent's tail, black skin, white eyes, and red teeth. This story Partenopex stoutly refused to credit, but when hostilities had come to an end and he had returned to the enchanted castle the hermit's tale still agitated his mind, and he resolved to put it to the test, for Melior had visited him in the dark and he knew not how she appeared.
So one fateful night, when all the castle was plunged in slumber, the young knight equipped himself with a lamp and made his way to the chamber where he knew Melior slept. Entering softly, he held the lamp above the form of his sleeping mistress, and when he beheld her warm human beauty he knew that false slander had been spoken of her. But, alas! as he gazed at her recumbcnt loveliness a drop of oil from the lamp he held fell upon her bosom and she awoke. Furious that her commands had been broken, she would have slain her unhappy lover on the spot, but at the intercession of Uracla, who had entered the chamber on hearing her sister's exclamations of anger, the incensed Empress at last permitted him to depart without scathe.
The unfortunate Partenopex quitted the castle in all haste, and in time came once more to the green shadows of Ardennes, where he resolved to perish in strife with the savage beasts which haunted its dark recesses. But although they devoured his steed they seemed unwilling to encounter the knight himself. The neighings of his charger brought Uracla, who had been searching for him, to the spot, and she succeeded in inducing him to accompany her to her castle in Tenedos, there to await a more complacent attitude on the part of her sister. Returning to the wrathful Empress, she at last persuaded her to send forth a decree that she would
bestow her hand upon the victor in a tournament she was about to proclaim.
Preparations for the tournament proceeded apace, and Partenopex awaited the day in Uracla's castle in Tenedos. But he was not permitted to remain in peace, for Parseis, one of Uracla's maidens, conceived a passionate attachment to him, which she avowed to him while they were taking a short trip in a boat. Partenopex, taken aback, was about to protest, when the frail vessel was caught up by a terrific tempest, and the pair were driven upon the coast of Syria. On landing they were seized by the people of that country, who bore the knight to their king, Hermon, and he was cast into prison.
A sad plight was that of Partenopex, for he heard that Hermon and other knights had departed to the tournament of Melior at Constantinople, while he had perforce to remain in durance vile and renounce all hope of regaining his place in the affections of his lady by force of arms.
But Partenopex succeeded in interesting the Queen in his affairs, and she assisted in his escape from his Syrian prison. He arrived at Constantinople just in time to participate in the tournament. Many and powerful were his opponents, the most formidable being the Soldan of Persia, but at length he overcame them all and when he asked to be permitted to claim his reward he was received by Melior with every mark of forgiveness and rejoicing.
The Type of Partenopex
The romance of Partenopex is undoubtedly of the same class as those of Cupid and Psyche and Melusine, in
which one spouse must not behold another on pain of loss. The loss invariably occurs, but poetical justice usually demands that recovery should take place after many trials. Frequently the husband or wife takes beast or reptile shape, as in the grand old romance of Melusine, to which Partenopex bears a strong resemblance, and by which I think it has certainly been sophisticated. But in the story with which we have been dealing the reputed semi-reptilian form which the heroine is said to possess is proved to be the figment of the brain of a jealous rival, and in this we have a valuable variant of the main form of the legend, illustrating the rise within it of more modern ideas and the skilful utilization of an antique form to the uses of the writer of fiction. The tale of Partenopex de Blois certainly deserves fuller study at the hands of folk-lorists than it has yet received, and I hope they will peruse its Catalonian as well as its French form, thus rendering their purview of the tale more embracive.
Tirante the White
The grand old tale of Tirante the While was the work of two Catalonian authors, Juan Martorell and Juan de Gilha, the latter completing the work of the former. Martorell states that he translated the romance from the English, and it certainly seems as if portions of the work had been sophisticated or influenced by the old English romance of Sir Guy of Warwick. I cannot, however, discern any signs of direct translation, and think it very probable that the author's statement in this regard is one of those polite fictions employed by the romance-writers of Old Spain to render their efforts more mysterious or to guard themselves against the merciless
critics with whom the Peninsula seems to have swarmed in a period when well-nigh everybody was bitten with the craze for belles-lettres. The romance was first printed at Valencia in 1490. It contains reference to the Canary Islands, which were first discovered in 1326, and were not well known even in Spain until the beginning of the fifteenth century, so that we may perhaps be justified in fixing the date of its composition about that period, especially as it alludes to a work on chivalry entitled L'Arbre des Batailies, which was not published until 1390. The book was translated into Castilian and produced at Valladolid in 1511, and was followed by Italian and French translations by Manfredi and the Comte de Caylus respectively, but the latter has dread. fully mutilated the original, and has even altered its main plot as well as many of its lesser incidents, and has imported into it an unhealthy atmosphere which we do not find in the work as given us by Martorell.
On the occasion of the marriage of a certain King of England with a beautiful and accomplished princess of France the most extraordinary efforts were made to signalize the entente thus ratified by a tournament of the most splendid description. Learning of these martial preparations, Tirante, a young knight of Brittany, resolved to participate in them, and with a number of youthful companions who had a like object in view he took ship for England, where in due time he landed, and proceeded to Windsor. But the fatigues of the voyage overtook him and he fell asleep, lulled into slumber by the jog-trot of his weary charger.
It is not to be wondered at that in this manner he became 9eparated from his brisker companions, and that on awaking he found himself alone on the broad
highway. Setting spurs to his destrier, he pushed on for a few miles, but feeling the necessity for rest and refreshment he cast about for a halting~place, and was cheered by the sight of a humble lodging, which he believed to be a hermitage, nestling among the trees at some distance from the roadside and almost concealed in the leafy shadows. Dismounting, he entered the place, and was confronted by a person whose hermit's garb ill suited him, and whose disguise was soon penetrated by the practised eye of knighthood, so that Tirante was scarcely surprised to observe that the recluse was engaged in reading the book known as L'Abre des Balailles, a work which descants with learning and insight upon the precepts and practice of chivalry.
The Hermit Earl
The hermit was, indeed, none other than William, Earl of Warwick, a renowned champion, who, tired of the frivolities of the Court, had gone on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Arrived at the Holy Sepulchre, he had spread a report of his death, had returned to England in the disguise of a pilgrim or palmer, and had taken up his abode in the hermitage where Tirante discovered him, and which was not far from the castle where his countess resided. But his retirement was not destined to last long, for when the great King of the Canary Islands landed in England with a formidable army, the Earl, beholding the widespread consternation occasioned by his invasion, took up arms once more. The advance of the raiders was, however, so swift that the King of England was speedily driven from Canterbury and London, and was compelled to seek refuge in the town of Warwick, where he was hotly besieged by the [paragraph continues]
Canarese forces. At this crisis the Earl came to his assistance, slew the King of the Canaries in single combat, and dispersed his army in a pitched battle. This accomplished, he revealed himself to his countess, and once more retired to his hermitage. All of these details agree in a measure with those of the old English romance of Sir Guy of Warwick.
Tirante made himself known to the hermit Earl, told him that he was so called because his father was lord of the marches of Tirraine, situated in that part of France which was opposite the coast of England, and that his mother was daughter to the Duke of Brittany. He further told his host that he was resolved to take part in the great tournament held to celebrate the royal wedding, whereupon the Earl read him a chapter from the book he had been perusing regarding the whole duty of a knight. This he followed by a lecture upon the use of arms and the exploits of ancient paladins. When he had finished he observed that the hour was late and that as Tirante was ignorant of the roads he had better hasten upon his way, and, pressing the youthful champion to accept the book from which he had been reading, he bade him farewell.
A twelvemonth passed. Tirante, having shown his superiority at the tournament, was returning with some forty of his companions from the Court, when they once more passed the Earl's retreat, and halted to pay their; duty to him. Interested to learn of the warlike pageant,; he inquired who had most distinguished himself, and was told that Tirante had borne off the prize. A French lord called Villermes, having objected to his wearing a favour given him by the fair Agnes, daughter of the; Duke of Bern, had defied him to mortal combat, and
had required that they should fight armed with bucklers of paper and helmets of flowers. Villermes was slain in the encounter, but Tirante, having recovered from eleven wounds, shortly afterward slew four knights, brothers-in-arms, who proved to be the Kings of Poland and Friesland and the Dukes of Burgundy and Bavaria. A certain subject of the King of Friesland, rejoicing in the name of Kyrie Eleison, or 'Lord have mercy upon us,' and descended from the ancient giants, now arrived in England to avenge his master's death. On beholding his sovereign's tomb, however, he expired from grief on seeing the arms of Tirante suspended over the Frisian standard. His place was supplied by his brother, Thomas of Montauban, a champion of stature still more gigantic, who was, however, defeated by the young Breton knight and forced to sue for his life.
Having paid his respects to the Earl, Tirante returned to his native Brittany, but he had been only a few days in the castle of his fathers when a messenger arrived with the news that the Knights of Rhodes were closely besieged by the Genoese and the Soldan of Cairo. Accompanied by Philip, youngest son of the King of France, Tirante set out to the relief of the island, and in the course of the voyage anchored in the roads of Palermo, where he sojourned for a space. When at length he arrived at Rhodes the besiegers beat a hasty retreat, and having freed the island from their presence Tirante and his men returned to Sicily, where Prince Philip espoused the princess of that country.
But the wedding festivities had scarcely come to an end when a herald from the Emperor of Constantinople arrived at the Sicilian Court with the moving information that his master's territories had been invaded by the [paragraph continues]
Grand Turk and the Soldan of the Moors. Once more chivalric honour demanded that a Christian land should be rescued from the clutches of the paynim, and Tirante, setting sail for Constantinople, was, on his arrival there, entrusted with the supreme command of the Hellenic forces. A great part of the romance is occupied by the details of the war carried on against the Turks, who were invariably defeated in battle after battle, so that at length they called for a truce. This was granted, and the interval of repose was occupied with splendid festivals and tournaments.
At this juncture of affairs no less a personage than the celebrated Urganda arrived in Constantinople in quest of her brother, the renowned Arthur, King of Britain. The Emperor, searching among those of his prisoners who were kept in the most obscure dungeons, found the hero of heroes pining out his old age in an iron cage, reduced to the lowest level of physical debility. Restored to his ancient weapon, the good sword Excalibur, the hapless monarch was able to answer any questions put to him with address. But when the blade was withdrawn from his grasp he sank ever lower into the second childhood of senility. After giving a splendid supper, Urganda disappeared with her ancient brother, nor was anyone aware whither they had gone. Up to this time Tirante had contrived to remain fancy. free, but at last he fell a willing victim to the bright eyes of the Emperor's daughter, the Princess Carmesin. His affair went smoothly enough until one of her attendants, Reposada, having fallen passionately in love with the young knight, succeeded in arousing his jealousy by a wretched stratagem, and, offended to the soul at what he believed to be the baseness of his mistress, he set out
once more for the army without taking his leave of her. But the vessel in which he set sail was caught in a violent tempest and driven upon the coasts of Africa. Wandering disconsolate on the shore, Tirante encountered an ambassador of the King of Tormecen, who conducted him to Court and presented him to his master, whom he assisted in the wars in which that monarch was naturally engaged. On one occasion he besieged the city of Montagata, when a lady issued from its gates to sue for peace on behalf of its inhabitants. To his surprise he found her to be one of the Princess Carmesina's attendants, who told him the truth regarding the trick played upon him by the false Reposada. He at once raised the siege, and returned to Constantinople at the head of an enormous army to succour the Greek Emperor. Burning the Turkish fleet, he rendered the retreat of the Soldan's forces impracticable, and secured an advantageous peace.
Splendid preparations were now made for the wedding of Tirante and Carmesina. But while on his return to Constantinople after the conclusion of the treaty he received orders, at the distance of a day's journey from the city, to wait until the completion of those preparations before entering Constantinople. While walking on the banks of a river in conversation with the Kings of Ethiopia, Fez, and Sicily, he was seized with a deadly pleurisy, and, despite all the efforts of his attendants, expired shortly afterward. The Emperor and Princess, on learning of his demise, were unable to restrain their grief, and died on the day they heard of his death.
We have at last encountered a romance which does not end happily. In what manner such a dénouement was received by the Spanish public we know not, but at
least they cannot but have been struck by its originality. That Tirante the White was a popular favourite, however, is clear from the praise lavished upon it Cervantes. "By her taking so many romances together," he says, "there fell one at the barber's feet who had a mind to see what it was, and found it to be Tirante the White. 'God save me,' quoth the priest in a loud voice, 'is Tirante the White there? Give me him here, neighbour, for I shall find him a treasure of delight, and a mine of entertainment.'" He then advised the housewife to take it home arid read it, "for though the author deserves to be sent to the gallows for writing so many foolish things seriously, yet in its way it is the best book in the world. Here the knights eat and sleep and die in their beds, and make their wills before their death, with several things which are wanting in all other books of this kind."
Is not this the essence of the revolt against the unnatural absurdities which so often characterized romance, expressed succinctly by the man who headed the mutiny?