This one has everything.
We get some historic details, some ass-kissing by Ariosto for his patrons. We get a list of names, all knights fighting for or against Charlemagne. We get a damsel being “rescued”. We get massive grand battles. We even get some of that yesterweirdness I love.
After the historic details (the state of the war this far), some ass-kissing (dealing with his patron’s sacking of Ravenna: “We feel too much the anguish and the woe // Of weeping women garbed in widows’ weeds, // The sad young victims of your valiant deeds.”), and a roll call of the Saracen army (Marsilio, Agramante, Brunello, Isolier, Folvirant, &c), we come at last to the Saracen knights who are the primary movers of this canto, Mandricardo and Rodomonte.
Orlando killed Mandricardo’s father at some point earlier. Now Mandricardo wants revenge. Driving home the Iliad homage, Mandricardo wears Hector’s armor after finding it in a tower in Syria and has recently arrived in Europe. He is not happy to sit in a siege, so he decides to hie off and seek adventure/glory/Orlando elsewhere. Very soon he finds survivors of Orlando’s earlier onslaught and they point Mandricardo on to where the battle was fought. Unfortunately, Orlando’s already gone by the time Mandricardo arrives, and so the search continues. Soon he comes upon a band of knights camped by the Tiber.
A parley starts with Mandricardo asking who they are. They say they’re from Granada and have come to escort the King’s daughter to Rodomonte since the two are betrothed. Mandricardo asks if he might maybe possibly get a peek at this princess, but the guard refuses. So Mandricardo kills him and all the other guards. Stabby. Stabby. Stabby (with a spear because Mandricardo doesn’t use a sword for reason’s mentions under Swords below). Killing done he goes to find the princess. Her name’s Doralice. She woke mid combat, tried to flee, but failed. Now she cowers from Mandricardo, but her beauty is so great it weaves a web of love around his heart. And so he abducts her. Content with his prize, he’s less keen on finding Orlando and he starts to pitch woo to Doralice. Eventually the two shelter in a cottage for the night.
“What in the darkness of the night befell / Between the Tartar and the young princess / I cannot, I regret, precisely tell, / So everyone must be content to guess. / I think that they agreed together well / For in the morning they arose no less / But rather more content”
In the morning they return to wandering and soon come upon two knights and a fair maid, but you’ll have to wait to hear about that later, because now it’s time for CHURCH!
King Agramant has heard that Rinaldo and a host of fresh knights are on the way from England to help Charlemagne, so Agramant wants to attack Paris in the morning. Knowing that the Saracens plan to attack, Charlemagne goes to mass. A whole lot of Catholic pomp gets described, communion hosts, confessions, how all the paladins and princes in Paris went to church too. And the prayers are so loud they reach the Big G, God Himself, in heaven. He hears all this and sees the threat to Christendom and decides to join the fray. (This is more inspired by the Iliad than by either Testament). God commands the Archangel Michael to find Silence and Dame Discord, the first to help the English knights sneak across France, the second to sow strife among the Saracens.
This bit delivers the weird.
Michael flies around searching for Silence. At first, he hears that Silence likes to hang out in monasteries, but when Michael arrives at one he discovers that Silence, Peace, Quiet, and Love have all left the monasteries and been replaced by Greed, Wrath, Cruelty, and the rest. In fact who should he find in the monastery but Dame Discord hanging around with a pack of lawyers. Well, Michael figures, that’s half the task done and he tells her what God wants from her. She sets off, but not before telling Michael that Fraud might know where Silence can be found. Michael finds Fraud and she tells him how Silence had taken up with Treachery and Homicide, but still visits the House of Sleep. Off then Michael flies to the House of Sleep where he finds Silence working as something of a security guard in slippers. Silence via gestures asks what Michael wants, and when Michael tell Silence God’s orders (in a whisper natch) Silence sets off right away.
Meanwhile, Agramant’s attack is ready. This guy is over there, this guy is over there, Charlemagne does this and barricades that and for a bit it’s like listening to war gamers go on but eventually Ariosto takes us into the action of siege warfare where Rodomonte (Algerian King, betrothed to Doralice who unbeknown to him Mandricardo is likely diddling at that very moment) hews down Christians right and left. His armor is made of ancient dragon skin, crafted by his ancestor who on the plain of Babel built a tower to challenge God’s majesty. It grants him great strength and invulnerability as if he was a Space Marine.
More hewing and more death ensues. It gets quite grisly. But…
“Discordant concert and harsh harmony / Of shrieks and wailing, fearful to relate, / Of anguished victims in their agony, / Led by so great a leader to their fate, / Were mingled in a strange cacophony / With raucous roarings of primeval hate. / My lord, this canto has now run its course, And I must rest awhile, for I am hoarse.”
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: A skazillion named Saracen knights, a skazillion earlier named English Knights, a skazillion Christian knights named as they die, Rodomonte, Mandricardo, Rinaldo
Damsels: Doralice, princess of Granada, betrothed to Rodomonte, abducted by Mandricardo
Mages: None except those Monsters below
Monsters: God (the Big G), Angels, personifications of various things like Silence, Fraud, and Dame Discord who are described as sitting squarely between Ovid’s cosmology and Neil Gaiman’s Endless.
Horses: None are named, but there’s one I’m keeping my eye on because it might be important.
Swords: Durindana lore (this is Orlando’s sword now but once belonged to Mandricardo’s dad, and way long ago belonged to Hector.)
Magic Items: Hector’s Armor (worn by Mandricardo), Rodomonte’s dragon-scale power armor