You have to love Gustave Dore. His illustrations for Orlando Furioso are great. Anyways, The Iliad/Odyssey vibes come fast in this Canto.
We start with moralizing about Polinesso and how justice finds evil ones and punishes them. Before long we return to the mysterious knight who arrived to defend Ginerva. It turns out he is Ariodante, Ginerva’s lover long-believed dead. But wait how could this be? Did that traveler lie who said he saw Ariodante fling himself off a cliff?
No. Not quite.
Ariodante did throw himself into the sea, but regretted the act as soon as it was done. Then surviving his fall he returned to land where he found shelter with a hermit. Soon he heard word about the accusations against Ginerva and the trial by combat to determine her innocence. When no one went to her aid, and still in love (only now thinking I’ll show her I’m better than Polinesso!) he acquired for himself a squire, arms, and armor and set off to fight Lurcanio (despite him being his… brother? I’m not sure if this is literal or not). The rest is no secret.
Hearing all this everyone agrees it is a great turn of events. Dalinda gets pardoned for her role in the plot (and sent off to Denmark) while Ariodante and Ginerva get married. Rinaldo sets off again, but Ariosto says now let’s go back to Ruggiero.
When last we saw Ruggiero he was on board the flying hippogriff setting off for parts unknown. His flight makes him tremble like a leaf despite bearing stalwart and brave, and across the ocean he flies until he lands on a mysterious isle. Hitching the hippogriff to a tree, he’s surprised when the tree starts crying.
And so enters another guy.
This knight’s name is Astolfo and he’s related to Orlando and Rinaldo. He’s also next in line as King of England. During some adventure he got trapped in a cave, then freed by Orlando. Once freed he was heading back to Europe when a cruel sorceress named Alcina kidnapped him by sending him out to swim to an island that turned out to be a whale that carried him to this magic isle far across the ocean.
Now, Alcina is the sister of Morgana la Faye and both of them are bad news.
To my abode I’ll take you and beguile
You with my fish menagerie
I don’t know about you, but I’d nope out at “fish menagerie”.
Morgana and Alcina are evil, but they have a sister named Logistilla who is good, and they being the Mean Girls they are hate Logistilla. But all this is a long digression and at last Astolfo gets back to how he got changed into a tree.
He lands on the island and promptly starts a love affair with Alcina, and all is great until she gets bored with him. Like Circe before her, Alcina likes to change men to beasts/plants when she gets bored with them. Hence Astolfo becomes a myrtle tree. All this and the fact that Astolfo is Bradamante’s cousin makes Ruggiero sad he can’t free Astolfo. But so it goes, and instead Ruggiero asks for directions to wherever Logistilla has her home. Astolfo gives them and Ruggiero sets out.
He sees a fabulous city, but figures he should avoid it since that’s where Alcina lives. So he takes a mountain road where he is promptly attacked by a horde of twisted monsters, gamboling, goatheads, bodies upside down, ogres, and such like, real Realms of Chaos-Hieronymous Bosch-John Blanche type stuff. Ruggiero fights as well as he can, but before long the horde gets the upper hand. All seems lost for Ruggiero, when out from the city comes a pair of beautiful ladies riding unicorns. They “rescue” Ruggiero and take him into the city which is full of “alluring damsels.”
With beckoning gestures and with smiling eyes,
They ushered in the knight to Paradise.
Now the two ladies tell Ruggiero that there’s a monster in the swamp nearby birthing all those horrible monsters that attacked him, and this monster’s name is Erfilla and would Ruggiero be so kind as to kill it. Well, of course, he would! So for the swamp he sets out, but as for the battle? That Ariosto will tell us in the next Canto.
See you there.