Knights in this Canto: 100s (Ruggiero, Astolfo, Bireno, Rinaldo, a few 100 English knights with names like Harold, Herman, or Godfrey, but including Zirbeno and Lurcanio from Cantos 5 and 6)
Damsels in this Canto: 12? (Alcina, 3 unnamed sorceresses, Olimpia, Logistilla, four sorceresses loyal to Logistilla, Melissa, Angelica)
Monsters in this Canto: The Hippogriff that is not at all a private jet plane, the Orc that is not at all meant in the Tolkien sense, but in the Orca sense.
… and a Boat Guy!
Welcome to Canto X. The hottest nightclub this side of Dante’s Inferno. Jousting happens every hour!
Last canto Ariosto left Bireno and Olimpia ready to be wed. This canto we learn Bireno is awful and his whole plan was to seduce Olimpia and abandon her. Which he does, but not before Ariosto warns his readers (listeners?) to be on guard against such men.
“Dear ladies, be less credulous at first;
Be not so readily disposed to please,
For love less likely is to play her false
Who learns at the expense of someone else.”
Thinking they’re heading for her new home, Olimpia boards a ship with Bireno, but when the ship gets blown off course and sets down on an empty island Bireno leaves Olimpia and sneaks away with the ship in the night. Olimpia wakes alone and promptly freaks out as would be normal for anyone in her situation. Ariosto leaves her tearing her hair out on the beach, before returning to Ruggiero. By the way, I should also mention that Ariosto mentions that Olimpia is fourteen years old here. Yikes.
Last we saw Ruggiero he was fleeing the sorceress Alcina’s realm and making for her sister Logistilla’s. He was stuck in some horrid wasteland, plodding along. When we return to him that is where he still is: in the wasteland plodding along. But not all is terrible in the wastelands. Look ahead Ruggiero, there are three ladies there drinking wine. Oh no. Those ladies are in league with Alcina and mean to entrap you.
Run, Ruggiero, run! There ahead is a Boat Guy, get on his boat and he will take you to Logistilla’s realm.
But Alcina doesn’t give up so easily. Alerted to Ruggiero’s location she brings her fleet to bear upon the boat guy’s boat and a chase begins. Boat Guy reaches Logistilla’s realm and then commences a naval battle. Alcina’s fleet is defeated and she flees, wailing and lamenting the loss of Ruggiero. He is glad to meet Logistilla and her four loyal sorceresses. There’s a brief reunion with Astolfo and Melissa, some mention of the wonders in Logistilla’s realm and how sorceresses can never dies, then Logistilla starts training Ruggiero in the ways of controlling the hippogriff. Once that’s done, Ruggiero and Astolfo decide to head back home by different paths. Ariosto says he’ll come back to Astolfo’s journey in some later canto, but for now he plans to stay with Ruggiero.
Ruggiero’s got it in his head to fly back to Europe by following the sun and thereby flying around the world. We get a brief travelogue as he goes, but it’s all names of kingdoms, rivers and mountain ranges. He eventually reaches England, by way of the Baltic because he doesn’t want to return to the war too soon and wouldn’t it be nice to see Germany. He lands outside a castle where an army is forming. There he sees Rinaldo and the whole host of English guys who get names and have their livery described. I skimmed those lines. Ruggiero then takes off again, this time looping around England and Ireland. On a dismal island out at sea he espies Angelica chained naked to a cliff with the dreaded Orc on its way to devour her.
Her lily-white nudity is described.
Ruggiero decides to save her from the Orc, and there’s a battle between knight and beast with the beast being too strong. Ruggiero decides to use his magic shield and daze the orc. He does so, freeing Angelica while the beast thrashes and taking her away in his private jet hippogriff. They set down in a deserted corner of France, and Ruggiero begins pulling off his armor. Of course he now wants to do the dirty with Angelica. But Ariosto stops there.
What will happen next I can’t even guess.
Knights introduced in this canto: 3 (Bireno the Prince of Zealand, Arbante the Prince of Friesland, Cimosco the King of Friesland)
Damsels introduced in this canto: 2 (an as yet unnamed Irish Princess and Olimpia the Princess of Holland).
Horses introduced in the canto: 1 (Brigliador the Horse)
Last canto Ariosto promised more Orlando and this canto he delivered. It’s all Orlando all the time except for those times when he meets someone who gives forth some quest-related exposition.
To start, we last left Orlando abandoning his king to seek Angelica. This then is his madness: to put gals before pals. He starts by entering the Saracen army and searching among the troops for word of Angelica. This was interesting because all Orlando had to do to disguise himself was change his clothes. This makes me think that to Ariosto the visible difference between Europeans and African/Asians was more costuming than skin color. The bigger, unseen factor was a person’s religion, and knights on both sides were converts from the other side so you couldn’t assume anything from simple physical appearance. Interesting.
Now, back to the action…
Orlando has no luck and starts getting desperate, roaming this way and that. Eventually he spies a ship out at sea with a damsel on it and parleys with her. She’s not Angelica, but she needs a hero to help her. Orlando being a hero agrees to hear her story, and she tells him she’s from the King of Ireland and how that land is plagued by the terrible Ebudans who kidnap women to feed to their terrible sea beast, the Orc. Orlando figures maybe Angelica has been captured by the Ebudans and agrees to help the damsel. They set off for Ireland but a storm blows them off course and they end up in the Netherlands. There another damsel appears. Her name’s Olimpia and it’s her troubles that give this canto its action.
Her story is familiar. She’s a princess and fell in love with a guy. His name’s Prince Bireno and he went away to fight in Spain. That left room for another guy, King Cimosco, to demand Olimpia marry his son, the Prince Arbante. She refused. War broke out. Cimosco killed the princess’s brothers and father (all unnamed) with a terrible magical weapon he had (a big gun) and demanded the princess agree to the marriage. She still refused, because Bireno was on his way to rescue her, but then Cimosco captured Bireno. Olimpia finally agreed, but on the night when Arbante came to consummate the marriage, Olimpia slit his throat and fled. (RIP Prince Arbante). Now Cimosco wants revenge and says he will free Bireno if Olimpia gives herself up for execution. He gives her a year and a day to think on it, which is of course running out when Orlando appears.
Not one to let a damsel down Orlando agrees to assist her and sets off on a new horse, Brigliador, to fight. King Cimosco goes full Snidely Whiplash and lays ambushes and traps. But Orlando is Orlando and he impales villains 5, 6, 7 on the end of his lance. Cimosco flees back to the castle to get his gun. Orlando pursues. The guy shoots… and misses (RIP Brigliador the Horse). Orlando hies up and lops off Cimosco’s head. (RIP King Cimosco) Olimpia and Bireno are reunited. Orlando takes Cimosco’s gun and rejoins the first damsel. Once at sea he tosses the gun overboard, damning it back to the deep hell from which it was forged.
And so Orlando sails on, but Ariosto takes us back to the Netherlands to spend time with Olimpia and Bireno.
“For new disturbances arising there
Will interrupt my story for a bit.
Of all these happenings I’ll give you news
If my next canto you will now peruse.”
This Canto is a whirlwind of plate spinning. Ariosto has a lot of character to keep in rotation, and sometimes, True Believers, I can even hear Stan Lee coming through the prose.
This Canto gives us more of the same except maybe more so.
Ariosto is tying up some story lines while laying the groundwork for others. And as always, he introduces a half-dozen new characters into the plot. So buckle on your swords and let’s go!
I could’ve sworn the last canto ended with Melissa about to tell her story, but I was wrong. Instead, we stay with Ruggiero. And Astolfo comes back. Remember him? He’s the guy who was turned into a bush and warned Ruggiero of Alcina? He comes back and gets some hints that he might be an important guy to pay attention to. Then we get Rinaldo. Then, Angelica. Remember her from Canto I? Then we get some Orlando who we haven’t seen in a long time. He’s sad and starting to go furioso. Then we get some new guy and his girlfriend!
I am starting to come to the conclusion that this book is not a single story but a series of nested prologues and the real story will never start!
To start, let’s return to Ruggiero fleeing Alcina’s realm for Logistilla’s. He is making speed when some elf spies him and wonders what’s all the rush for. Finding Ruggiero less than willing to talk the elf pursues him. Falcons get used as weapons. Magic makes people speedy. Ruggiero is not happy and unveils the magic shield he has and knocks the elf, his falcon, and his dog out.
Who was this elf? We don’t know yet.
Meanwhile Alcina learns of Ruggiero’s flight and promptly slips into a rage and rends her clothes. But she doesn’t know where he went so she divides her forces and sends some over land and the others over sea to find him.
Seeing Alcina’s city is now defenseless, Melissa saunters in and starts freeing prisoners and casting dispel magic (a 3rd level abjuration spell according to 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons) all around the place. This means all those knights formerly turned into animals and trees are now human again. Hurray! More characters for Ariosto to introduce! One of these guys, Astolfo, is currently next in line for the throne of England and he has a magic lance that it’s important Melissa find for him. That done she hies off to Logistilla’s realm, and we switch back to Ruggiero long enough for Aruisto to say how hard the miserable landscapes Ruggiero has to cross are. But enough of that guy, let’s go to Britain and check on Rinaldo.
Now that everything is all right in the land, Rinaldo brings up Charlemagne’s scheme to recruit English and Scottish knights to the war against the infidel. The King is all for it and plans get made. All the knights are to set out for the continent on such and such a day. And that’s enough of Rinaldo. Let’s check on Angelica.
Angelica’s been on the run since Canto 1. Last we saw her she’d found help from a hermit. And while at first that hermit seemed all right, it now turns out not to be the case. Angelica’s beauty has inflamed his heart and he’s conjured up a devil and put it in a horse’s body to keep her from staying in any one place. At last the horse reaches the sea and dives in, carrying Angelica far out to sea to an empty island. She laments her fate and how everywhere she goes men slander and seek to abuse her. The hermit reappears dressed as a monk and she ceases her complaints and beseeches the good man to assist her. Instead, he starts feeling her up. When she protests he pulls out some “magic juice” and knocks her out. He then goes full-on molester and would penetrate her if he could, but the “years have undermined his aptitude”.
Then the pirates appear.
The pirates come from Ebuda an island far beyond Ireland and the Hebrides where the God Proteus keeps the orc and all the other monsters of the deep. This is because long ago Proteus raped the island king’s daughter only to have the king kill her and the unborn child. This sent Proteus in a rage and he unleashed the seas and all its creatures on the Edudians. It was bad for them, so they went to an oracle and the oracle said you need to sacrifice a maiden to the sea beast every day. Before long the Ebudians ran out of their own maidens so they started raiding and taking captives. Imagine how glad they must have felt finding Angelica and the horny hermit there on the desert island. They gather them right up and set off for home where the sea beasts wait.
Time to look at Orlando, who’s back with Charlemagne in Paris. Orlando’s in a glum place due to desire for Angelica. He’s sad and despondent, sifting over his past and lamenting fate. He tosses and turns. He dreams, and in his dreams Angelica is calling to him for help. He wakes and decides to abandon Paris, setting off without a word to anyone except some other guy. This guy is Brandimarte and to be honest at first I thought he was a horse, but no he is a knight and Orlando’s friend. In the morning when Charlemagne wakes up and asks where Orlando is, Brandimarte tells the king and the old man rages. Brandimarte promptly sets off to find Orlando, a task he expects will be easy, but of course it isn’t. He’s gone for so long that Ariosto gives him a girlfriend, Fiordiligi, and has her set out after him, promising MORE STORIES ABOUT THEIR ADVENTURES. I can’t wait!
But enough of these jerks. It’s Orlando the book’s named after, so let’s spend more time with him. And we will… in the next canto!
Until then True Believers,
This canto starts with a bang but ends with a whimper. It also introduces a new character! Well, sort of. It actually names a character we met before. But all that in time. For now, let’s look at Ruggiero setting off for his duel with Erifilla. It’s good stuff. Erifilla makes a grand entrance being both Princess Mononoke and Prince Gaynor the Damned.
“For a mount a horse she does not choose,
But sits astride a wolf, alert and keen,
Upon the richest saddle ever seen.”
They charge each other and blam! Ruggiero proves the stronger. He’s all ready to lop off Erifilla’s head when the damsels stop him saying that the shame of defeat is enough. So, exits Erifilla… for now. I fully expect she will be back to tell her tale in some future canto. But that will happen when it happens. For now Ruggiero is victorious and the damsels lead him to the palace where he is promptly bewitched by Alcina.
“Her person is as shapely and as fine
As painters at their most inspired can show.”
An aside. Ariosto does go big in with whiteness equals beautiful and good while blackness equals grotesque or comical. Alcina’s fairness gets highlighted a lot. Ruggiero is totally bewitched and forgets all about his quest and his betrothed, Bradamante. Instead he and Alcina get into making love and whiling the days away in pleasure.
Meanwhile Bradamante searches for Ruggiero, deciding at last to go back to that enchantress that helped her back in Canto III. We now learn the enchantress’s name is Melissa, and she hatches a cunning plan to free Ruggiero from Alcina’s spell. She asks that Bradamante give her the magic ring, then Melissa transforms herself to look like the evil wizard Atlante before flying over the ocean to Alcina’s realm.
There she finds Ruggiero and gives him a stern lecture about how spending his days having sexy times and wearing silk pajamas are unbecoming of a man. Not only that, but Alcina’s not what she seems and here take this ring so you can see through her enchantments. Ruggiero dons the ring. The next time he sees Alcina he discovers she is not young and fair at all, but withered and old. A crone! Not letting on that he knows her secret, Ruggiero makes for the stables, steals a horse, and sets out immediately for Logistilla’s realm.
And the next Canto will tell us how he found his way!