This canto’s odd and not for any good reason.
Ariosto gets political. Except he’s a Christian Monarchist. So in this chapter we learn that tyrants are god’s judgment against evil populations, Christians should invade Africa, and no European ruler should sleep while the Turks hold Jerusalem. Also like Dante, Ariosto has the habit of bringing up some genuinely awful local ruler you’ve never heard of.
That’s the trouble with the age of despots. If everyone’s terrible, it’s easy to get lost in the scrum and not stand out. No matter how Magnifico you might have been.*
After all this it’s back to the action.
Charlemagne rallies his troops. They return to a Paris where Rodomonte has left a trail of slaughter. The only survivors are trapped in the palace with Rodomonte pounding at the doors. No sword, no arrow, no catapult, nor mangonel can injure him. Terror runs rampant in the halls. Charlemagne arrives with his companions and makes some speeches. Then they all charge Rodomonte, and… Ariosto cuts to Grifone and Origille as they enter Damascus.
Damascus is hopping for the festival. Silks and gems adorn balconies, tapestries and brocades hang from every window, fragrant perfumes, gladsome sounds, sumptuous repasts, the whole bit. Grifone wants to know what’s the deal and who’s the party for. A courtier explains. The King (Norandino) married the Princess of Cyrpus. While traveling by ship they put in on an island. While wedding party hunted they encountered a terrible monster.
“It ambles on towards us where we sit,
As though an alp had yawned and given birth,
Its chest is moist with slobber, long its snout,
Whence tusks or fangs, as on a boar, stick out.”
This beast promptly captures heaps of people excluding the king but including the princess and takes them back to its lair for the eating. The king learns all this and sets off to rescue the princess. He encounters the monster’s wife. She tells him the Princess is safe because the monster only eats men, and simply keeps the women imprisoned forever and ever. That’s no good, the King says, but the wife tells him it’s hopeless. The king refuses to believe this, and the wife finally says “Well, I got this idea.”
And so, Norandino King of Syria covers himself in goat shit. Honestly, I don’t know if this is goat shit or not. They take an old goat carcass and remove “stuff” from its buttocks region.
“The beldam urged the king to use the grease
Of an old goat which around its bowels clung.”
The king rubs this all over himself and puts on a goat skin. This done he tricks the monster (the monster’s blind and hunts by smell) into letting the king into its lair where he quickly tells everyone imprisoned there to rub goat shit all over themselves. This done they all sneak away but Lucina gets scared and flees back into the cave. The king lingers. The princess languishes. Tears and sadness abound. This goes on until Mandricardo and Gradasso show up, loot the monster’s lair, and take the princess away. Except this isn’t really explored too much. They give Lucina back to her dad and he gives her back to Norandino, and that’s why they’ve decided to have a party.
Grifone agrees that this was indeed a cool story, bro. He then preps for the coming tournament and we learn Orrigille’s current boy-toy’s name at last. It’s Martano. Grifone and he enter the fray, but Martano gets scared during the first combat and flees. Everyone laughs and jeers at him. All this fills Grifone with shame, but instead of turning tail he uses his shame to fight ever harder. He defeats everyone including a state minister named Salinterno who no one liked. Grifone then goes home to sleep off his rage. While Grifone’s sleeping Martano sneaks in and steals his armor and horse (as yet unnamed). He then goes to the King and convinces everyone that it was himself who defeated all those guys. The King falls for this, and Martano-Grifone takes a seat of honor in the royal tent along with Orrigille.
Back in his room, Grifone wakes up and finds all his stuff stolen. Martano’s stuff however is still there, so he dresses in this and asks the innkeeper about whoever too his horse. He learns where Martano and Orrigille went and sets off after them. Meanwhile the King and Martano complain about that cowardly asshole who ran away. And look isn’t that him riding by now. So they capture Grifone and throw him in a dungeon and heap insults on him and parade him through the square and read his alleged crimes to his face which are in fact not his but Martano’s. The people plan to chase Grifone through the streets, but the moment they cut him free a sword and buckler does he seize.
Now he shall show them real power… well, not now but in the next canto. Ariosto’s tired and says this canto’s gone on long enough.
See you then!
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: Charlemagne, Rodomonte, Charlemagne’s Bros (Namo, Olivier, Ugier, Avolio, Alvin, Otto, Berlinger), Norandino King of Syria, Mandricard and Gradasso, Martano Boy-Toy Miscreant of Antioch, Syrian Knights (Thyrsis, Corimbo, Salinterno, etc)
Damsels: Perfidious Orrigille, Lucina Princess of Cypress
Horses: none named
Swords: none named
Monsters: Another “Orc” who might be the aged cyclops Polyphemus
Magic Items: Grease from an old goat’s bowels, Grifone’s Impenetrable Armor (enchanted by a snow-white maid)
* The person Ariosto brings up is Ezzellino da Romano and I leave it to you to read about him on wikipedia.