Saturday, July 02, 2011

A Joyous Exercise in Futility

Well, hey--I am now the proud owner of yet one more book in a language that I cannot read. The new acquisition is my first in the category--a copy of Tirant Lo Blanc, the White Tyrant, the great Catalan* epic by Joanot Martorell (1410-1465).

Or sort of. What I got is a kind of student edition from Angle Editorial, with some text and notes--don't know what it proves but I find I can often dope out the teaching notes in unfamiliar texts even if I can't read the text itself. I was torn: they also had a Penguin-like "reader's edition." But the cover picture was the Piero picture of the Duke of Urbino and his son; the dates (1422-82) match well enough but it still seems like a stretch to me.

I really don't know this book all that well, not even in translation.  I've got a battered old paperback (second hand from the Palookaville book emporium) on the top shelf in the office at home, which I've dabbled at from time to time. The best thing I can say on fragmentary exposure is that it has a kind of brio and earthiness that you don't get in most medieval narratives--little by way of edifying instruction, lots of unvarnished Good Story.

The hermit soon returned with the ingredient for the explosives.  Then he told the king: "Sire, we lack only one item, but I know the countess has it.  Her husband, William of Warwick, stored it in great quantity, as it has  a great many uses."

The king replied: "Then let us visit the countess and request it."

The king sent word to the countess that he wished to speak with her.  Upon laving her chamber, she saw him standing with the hermit.

"Countess," the king said, "by your kindness and virtue, grant me a little of that sulfur that never stops burring, he sulfur your husband used to make torches the strongest wind could not extinguish."

The countess replied: "Who told Your Highness that my husband knew how to make such torches?"

--Tirant lo Blanc, blurbed as "The Lusty Medieval Classic,"
translated by David H. Rosenthal 
and published by Warner Books, 1985.
*A purist might say "Valencian," treating Valencian as a separate language, not merely a dialect of Catalan.  Wiki offers the intriguing observation that "[Valencian] is frequently spoken of as a separate language, the llengua valenciana, though opposition to the use of standard Catalan occurs primarily among those who do not regularly use the language."

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