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.”