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!