Orlando Furioso, Canto I

Welcome to this year’s self-imposed task! 

Feel free to occupy yourselves as you see fit!

As mentioned before, this year I’ve decided to read Orlando Furioso, the 16th century over-the-top chivalric romance by Ludovico Ariosto. 

Who’s that? 

Dante lived  from the 13th to 14th century. Chaucer in the 14th century. Ariosto lived from the 15th to 16th century. He was a contemporary with Erasmus, Martin Luther, and Machiavelli. So that’s a thing to remember: While princes learned to murder and terrorize, and Catholics and Protestants murdered each other, they all relaxed and entertained themselves with chivalric ideals and heroic deeds. The poem was his gift to his patrons, the ruling D’Este family of the city Ferrara. But you can read all about that on Wikipedia.  

So what is Orlando Furioso

It’s a mess. It’s a book about knights fighting each other with dozens of named characters who ride dozens of named horses and carry dozens of named swords.

Your typical fantasy novel then.

It’s also the sequel to a book I haven’t read called Orlando Innamorato by another guy, so it starts right in the middle of the action with people running around already hating each other. 

Of ladies, cavaliers, of love and war, 

Of courtesies and of brave deeds I sing…

In times of high endeavour when the Moor

Had crossed the sea from Africa to bring 

Great harm to France, when Agramante swore 

In wrath, being now the youthful Moorish king, 

To avenge Troiano, who was lately slain, 

Upon the Roman emperor Charlemagne. 

That’s the big picture, but behind it is Orlando, the greatest knight in Christendom, being in love with Angelica, the pagan princess. She hates him and fled to Cathay where she married the king, Ruggiero. This made Orlando mad (hence the Furioso) and he has abandoned Charlemagne’s cause to pillage the land. Another knight, Rinaldo, then fell in love with Angelica. And to keep everyone in his army, Charlemagne had Angelica captured and imprisoned, figuring to award her as a prize after the battle. Except the Saracens (fugg, am I going to have to write this word all year?) win the day and Angelica seizes her chance and escapes.

She, who was promised as a victor’s bride,

Into the saddle leapt and straight away, 

Choosing her moment well, set out to ride.

While everyone is a dick, she must rely on cunning to get away from all the knights that would capture her. And have no doubt most of these knights are eager to assault her.

These guys go on and on about purity and the beauty of virgins, but are quick to get to the assaulting when they see any woman. Angelica realizes she needs a protector and finds a Saracen knight she recognizes, Sarcripante (and yes he’s in love with her too), and decides to manipulate him.

How, by her charm, her servant she can make him, 

And then, ungrateful, afterwards forsake him. 

Unfortunately, Sacripante figures he needs to strike now and take the opportunity to commit the “sweet assault,” but before he can do the deed he hears the drumbeat of horse’s hooves and knows another knight is nearby. More eager to make war than “love” he rides off to find the knight. This knight is dressed in snow white armor and seems to be a formidably built man. Soon the two take to jousting and Ariosto brings the action.

The mountain trembles, as the knights engage,

From its green base to the bare peak it rears.

And well it is the haubreks stand the test,

Else would each lance be driven through each breast.

Both horses fall, but the white knight’s rises again. Sacripante, pinned beneath his dead horse, watches as the white knight rides away. He climbs free, unwounded, save for his pride. Angelica saw the whole thing and he’s ashamed. An envoy rides by and Sacripante asks who was that white knight, to which the envoy says it was Bradamante, as beautiful as she is brave. 

To be unseated by a woman!?! 

Sacripante’s shame intensifies. Angelica and he ride away, his ardor much cooled. After a bit they find a war horse roaming free. Angelica recognizes it as Baiardo, Rinaldo’s horse, and hops into the saddle. Then she spies Rinaldo. And he espies her, and of course he’s in love with her and she hates him, but there she is on his horse with some  knight.

And that’s where it ends. 

Next time, Sacripante and Rinaldo start with the “come at me bro”.

* For the sake of proper record keeping all the quotes come from the Penguins Classic edition translated by Barbara Reynolds. And the illustrations come from the Spanish edition over on Project Gutenberg.

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