Orlando Furioso, Canto XXIV
“For what is love but madness after all”
Welcome to Orlando Furioso, Part 2.
We’ve come a long way, but have further still to go. Come on!
Ariosto didn’t intend his epic to be split into two parts, but publishing wants what publishing wants. This volume has a whole new dramatis personae. Oh boy!
When we last saw Orlando he was running wild smashing things. When we return to him now he’s still doing it. Knocking down trees. Smashing rocks. Sullying rivers. Eating animals raw, innards and all. The shepherds don’t much like that and try to stop him, but he just attacks them, killing one and using the corpse as a weapon to kill the others. Soon the whole landscape is up in arms against Orlando and marching against him. But Orlando don’t give a sh**. He’s like a honey badger. You come at him. He comes at you. And he’s impervious to weapons except on the soles of his feet or something. He slaughters many, wanders far, reaches a bridge, and there Ariosto leaves him for Zerbino.
Zerbino and Isabella ride along and find a trio of knights in the woods. It’s actually two knights and a third kept prisoner. Both Orlando and Isabella know them. The prisoner is Odorico, the guy Zerbino left Isabella with and who promptly tried to assault her. I think this happened in a canto we read, but I’m too tired to look it up. The other two guys are Corebo and Almonio, Zerbino’s other pals. They explain how they captured Odorico and were bringing him to face justice. But now that Zerbino’s there, they can give the miscreant over to him for judgment.
Odorico promptly begs for his life. Zerbino listens, but knows only death will right the wrong done. Still for friendship’s sake he stays his hand. Then, as if sent by God to deliver him from this decision, a horse and rider appears. Who can this be who will solve all his problems? Why it’s none other than Grabina, our favorite evil crone! They catch her horse and drag her down. By rights Zerbino should punish both, but instead he gives them to each other. He makes Odorico pledge to protect Gabrina for a year just as Marfisa made Zerbino pledge. Odorico accepts and rides away with Gabrina, and out of the story they go! Ariosto can’t say what happens to them, but he read a story in a book that killed Odorico killed Gabrina a day later and then Almonio killed Odorico. But it’s a story he heard and can’t say whether it’s true or not.
Goodbye, Gabrina! You will always be my #1 meanie.
All that done, Zerbino sends Almonio and Corebo away and continues on (with Isabella) looking for either Orlando or Mandricard. Soon they come upon the devastated landscape left by Orlando’s passage and find his horse, armor, and weapons. They gather it all up and put a sign over it saying don’t touch property of Orlando. Then Fiordiligi arrives. Who’s she? She’s Brandimarte’s wife. Who’s Brandimarte? He’s a knight, Orlando’s best friend gone to in search of him, and most recently seen as prisoner in the knight motel. This all happened in Canto whatever. Really, people, try to keep up!
Fiordiligi rides up all weepy because she’s been searching for her husband for months. (He’s actually back in Paris by now according to Ariosto.) I suspect she and Brandimarte are to be another pair of tragic lovers in this story. She recognizes all Orlando’s gear and fears what must have happened, but before she can do anything up rides Mandricard and Doralice. He asks what’s going on and whose stuff is all this? Zerbino explains it’s Orlando’s, and Mandricard says well, Orlando stole my dad’s sword so I’ll be taking it back now and if Orlando wants it back he can come find me. And Zerbino’s like the hell you will. And Mandricard takes the sword and says come and stop me.
So before long the two are duelling and I will tell you true: this is actually a great bit.
Both knights have been set up as interesting characters over multiple cantos, and the fight is depicted in heaps of the swordporn of smoting and smiting. Lances shatter. Horses die. The damsels look on awestruck and afraid. At last, Mandricard wounds Zerbino so savagely, Isabella screams at Doralice to do something. Doralice implores Mandricard to show mercy. He does and leaves with Doralice. Fiordiligi also leaves. But what of Zerbino?
First, Isabella urges him off his horse. Then he lies in the grass and the two share sweet words and weep together. Isabella says she’ll kill herself right after Zerbino dies and maybe some pious folk will come by and bury their bodies together. More weeping, then Zerbino dies and Isabella prepares to kill herself when a hermit appears. He talks her back from the brink and convinces her to join a convent. He says he knows just the one and will take her there. And for once the hermit seems all right. He doesn’t try to rape Isabella. He has a casket made for Zerbino. They then ride south through the devastated countryside where a knight appears and insults them. But enough about them. What about Mandricard?
Doralice and he ride away straight into Rodomonte. To remind you, Doralice was betrothed to Rodomonte before Mandricard “seduced” her. Soon another duel begins and this one is like a storm. More horses die. It looks bad for Mandricard, when up rides an envoy from Agramant, the Saracen King. Agramant needs them both back with the army to defeat the French. So Rodomonte and Mandricard swear an oath before Doralice to call a truce to their strife until the war is ended, and off to Paris they ride.
Until next time!
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: Orlando, Zerbino, Odorico, Corebo, Almonio, Mandricard, Rodomonte
Damsels: Isabella, Gabrina, Fiordiligi, Doralice
Horses: Brigliadoro (Orlando’s horse)
Magic Items: Mostly magic armor