Orlando Furioso, Canto XV
This one’s long and has a bajillion names in it so buckle up kids, it’s time to get FURIOSO!
Last we left off, the Saracen army was attacking the walls of Paris. Knights were dying every which way and Rodomonte was leaping over flaming trenches to get inside the city. We get back to that in this canto, but first Ariosto has to do some ass-kissing/state craft commentary. Lots of advice against killing everybody including your own troops in order to achieve your goals and stuff like that. Basically, don’t be a Rodomonte.
“Eleven thousand men and twenty-eight
Amid that raging holocaust lay dead.
Unwillingly they went to meet their fate,
Unwisely by so great a leader led.”
Then of course we hear about another bajillion named knights: King Bambirago, Baliverzo, Corineo, Prusion, Malabuferso, Ugier the Dane, Salamone, the Guidos, both Angelins, Namo and his sons Avolio, Otto, Avino, and Berlingier, and many more. Are any of these people important? I don’t know. It’s a mad brawl and everyone is killing everyone, but Ariosto decides he wants to go back to Astolfo.
Who is Astolfo you ask? Well, he is a guy from a few cantos ago.
To refresh your memories he was one of Alcina’s former lovers who got turned into a tree and told Rindalo? Ruggiero? Ruggiero to watch out for her. I think he’s also related to the king of England and might be in line for the throne. After Alcina’s defeat, he’s hung around with Logistilla and her people, but now it’s time to go back home. So he sets sail with a couple of Logistilla’s handmaidens (Sofrosina and Andronica) and because Alcina’s power doesn’t extend to Persia and Arabia he figures he can sneak past her by going that way. Logistilla also gives him a couple of magic items: a book (a Guide Against Enchantment) and a horn (pretty much a Horn of Blasting for you gamer nerds). Once outfitted, and “with a favourable wind to poop,” Astolfo is off. As they go Andronica talks about Italian explorers who she sees in the future discovering a new land somewhere in the sea and how great it is that Christianity will be brought to these places.
There’s also a long aside here about a historical figure named Andrea Doria. He was a statesman/mercenary captain from Genoa, and I only bring him up because I want to share this painting of him as an elderly thirst trap.
Once all that’s done and the travelogue finishes up, Astolfo reaches the east coast of Africa (around Ethiopia) and disembarks. At which point he is given a horse, and not just any horse, but a *magic* horse named Rabicano. Now Astolfo is ready. First person he encounters is a holy man who says there’s a terrible giant nearby who kills all travelers so wise-up son and don’t go that way. But Astolfo is a knight and he says that sounds like someone that needs killing! So the holy man tells Astolfo how the giant has a magic net (forged by Vulcan) he lays under the sands to trap his victims before taking them back to his lair for slaughter. Astolfo thanks the hermit and makes for the giant’s abode.
The giant’s name is Caligorante and his place is covered in bones and grisly trophies, naked torsos and limbs and all that mess. He sees Astolfo approaching and gets giddy anticipating the killing. But Astolfo uses his horn first and the blast scares Caligorante so bad he takes off running, only to get caught in his own trap. As Caligorante struggles, Astolfo approaches with sword in hand ready to lop off his head – but at the last minute Astolfo relents. Instead, he keeps the giant bound and decides to parade him throughout the land. So that’s what he does, making straight for Cairo. Everyone there is very impressed, and they tell Astolfo about another horrible giant named Orrilo.
Orrilo lives in the dread domain next door and is the enchanted offspring of a sprite and a fairy, born to do men spite. His magic power is that he can reattach limbs when they get chopped off. This is described as like when two beads of mercury draw together and rejoin, so I imagine him sort of looking like Odo from Deep Space 9.
When Astolfo gets there he finds two knights already fighting Orrilo. These guys are the sons of Oliver (?) and they’re names are Grifone the White and Aquilant the Black. They’ve already killed Orrilo’s giant crocodile and now are making to fight the giant. But no matter how many times they lop off his head or hack off a limb, Orrilo laughs and simply reattaches it.
“Down to his teeth Grifone splits his skull
And Aquilante splits it to his chest,
On him such mortal blows are void and null.
He laughs: the sons of Oliver are vexed.”
While the knights fight Orrilo their adoptive moms watch from nearby. Like plenty of others in this fakakta book Grifone and Aquilant have the Achilles problem where bad things are prophesied to happen to them if they leave home, so their moms are doing what they can to prevent their going. The moms step in when their knights are near to exhaustion and tell Orrilo to go home, which he does. Astolfo then rides up, glad to see the brothers, and all return to a nearby castle to recover. (They leave Caligorante tied up outside.)
Over dinner Astolfo pulls out Logistilla’s magic book and reads the entry for monsters like Orrilo. He discovers the giant can be killed if a certain hair is plucked from his head. But which one? That’s the puzzle. He asks the brothers if it would be all right if he fought Orrilo tomorrow. The brothers are like go ahead, it’s cool. So next day Astolfo and Orrilo in combat engage.
There’s stabbing and smacking, Orrilo’s dismembered like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but no matter how many times he slices the giant Astolfo can never figure out which hair he needs to pluck from the beast’s head. Finally he chops off Orrilo’s head and runs away with it while the body chases after him. Astolfo hops on Rabicano and as he rides away he searches the head for the hair. In the end he can’t find it so he decides to shave the entire thing. He sticks his fingers up the giant’s nose to hold it steady (a detail apparently forever lodged now in my head). This works, because once the head is shaved the giant’s torso falls down dead. Astolfo then rides back to town to show off, because why not?
But wait! There’s more!
Astolfo convinces Grifone and Aquilant to leave home and come with him back to Europe by way of the Holy Land. Their moms are sad, but so it goes. Along the way they meet a knight from Mecca named Sansonet, who converted to Christianity at Orlando’s request. Sansonet is helping to build a fort against the Caliph and he welcomes the travelers and escorts them to Jerusalem. Once there Astolfo gives Caligorante to Sansonet as a gift and Sansonet gives Asolfo a sword (so far unnamed) and a set of spurs that once belonged to Saint George. And being Christian knights in the Holy land, all three tour the sites and spend time mediating in monasteries. As they prepare to leave they run into a Greek traveler who tells them all about the girl Grifone loves. Her name’s Orrigille and she’s BAD.
“For she, a woman in the bloom of youth,
No more could bear to sleep alone, in truth.”
And before anyone can stop him Grifone sneaks off to Antioch where he knows Orrigille has gone.
But that’s a story for another canto.
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: A bajillion (the Guidos!), Rodomonte, Astolfo, Grifone the White and Aquilant the Black, Sansonet
Mages: Queen Logistilla and her hand maidens Sofrosina and Andronica, a holy hermit, the evil Alcina mentioned in passing
Damsels: Orrigille the not-so-innocent
Swords: As yet unnamed sword Sansonet gives Astolfo
Monsters: Caligorante the Giant, Orrilo the non-dismemberable Giant, Orrilo’s giant crocodile
Magic Items: Logistilla’s Guide Against Enchantment (it counters spells and is full of magic lore), a horn of blasting, Vulcan’s Net of Entrapment, the Spurs of Saint George