Orlando Furioso, XXXIV
This canto has something for everyone. Polemic, Romance, Interstellar Adventure.
We start with Astolfo pursuing the harpies down to Hell.
(Actually, we start with Ariosto wailing and gnashing his teeth over the suffering Italy has faced over the years; there’s actually been a lot of commentary on the contemporary politics of his era that I’ve mostly glossed over in my posts. That said…)
We start with Astolfo pursuing the harpies down to Hell. The place is basically a pit belching out toxic fumes. But this isn’t Dante’s Hell, but Chivalric Romance Hell! The outer caverns are haunted by the shades of damsels, while the deeper caves are populated by fallen men. Astolfo stops to listen to one of the shades (who linger around the caves ceiling like bad gas) who goes on to tell him her life story.
She’s Lydia. A princess. She had a knight-lover named Alcestes. He defeats all her dad’s enemies. But then Lydia’s dad refuses to let them marry. Alcestes gets pissed, switches sides, and starts attacking Lydia’s dad. Soon Lydia and family are all holed up in their last castle and the dad’s like “Go forth daughter and give yourself to that knight.” She does, sort of. She goes forth but does no giving. Instead Alcestes is on his knees begging for forgiveness. So Lydia’s like “Forgiveness? After all you did? Go defeat your new allies and then we’ll talk.” So, he does and afterward expects Lydia to be warm to him. But she keeps giving him tasks and quests to perform while plotting against him.
I actually don’t remember how the story ended, but both Lydia and Alcestes are in Hell now, and Lydia feels bad for having been so proud. Astolfo is like, “Sure, Jan” and wants to press on deeper into Hell but the fumes get to strong so he decides to leave. He hops back on top of his hippogriph and decides to fly to top of the mountain. If you remember that’s where Heaven is. But if you also remember, I sometimes feel like this story is a sci-fi story dressed up as a fantasy story, and the whole thing in my head is a space elevator with a space station at the top. Inside the space station are saints and bible prophets, but… eh… whatever. Space elevator!
Astolfo gets to the top and hangs out in Heaven. Saint John tells him how Jesus is punishing Orlando for shirking his Christian duties by putting his love for (non-Christian) Angelica above his love of the Lord. But, that’s gone on long enough the saints say, and they tell Astolfo where he can find Orlando’s lost wits.
And that’s when Astolfo goes to the moon!
You see everything lost on our world is remade on the moon, and not just physical items but ideas and moods. Lost love, broken promises, empty words – they’re all remade on the moon. I’ll give Ariosto props and say these moments are pretty cool. Saint John shows Astolfo where the contents of lost minds have gone and there he finds Orlando’s wits in a bottle. He also finds a vial of his own and takes a good long huff off of it.
Quest complete, he remounts his steed, and sets off back for Earth. Where we’ll likely start again next time.
Until then, keep your swords sharp, but your wits sharper!
CANTO SCORE CARD
KNIGHTS: Asolfo, Alcestes
MONSTERS: the harpies, the hippogriff, Christian saints
MAGIC ITEMS: Horn of Blasting, Elijah’s chariot that they use to fly to the moon, bottled wits, whatever autofac is on the moon making lost things
Orlando Furioso, Canto XXXIII
This canto has three bits. The Bradmante bit, the Rinaldo bit, and the Astolfo bit. The first bit’s the most blah, but they get better as they go on.
We pick up where we left off: after dinner in Tristan’s castle when all the guests are strolling around the hall looking at the paintings. These were all painted by Merlin and show events in the history of Italy yet to come. Ariosto uses the moment to give several cantos worth of history lessons. This is actually a neat trick, since the book he’s writing is taking place in the 8th century and he’s writing in the 15th century so he can write history as if it’s prophecy.
Except it’s not so cool. It’s a whole lot of Italian names and politics I only recognize because I’m a Renaissance dork and I’ve read Barbara Tuchman. It is a bit nice getting the romantic version of events Tuchman writes about as military mistakes, but overall I skimmed. I won’t even attempt to write down all the names mentioned.
That done, Bradamante sleeps and dreams of Ruggiero. It’s not a bad dream, but she wakes, gets angry, and rides forth where she promptly encounters those Arctic Knights who are eager to win back their honor after losing to Bradamante the day before. She kicks their asses again. Bjork then shames them that they got their asses kicked by a girl. The knights grovel. Bjork reveals her name is Ullania. The knights take vows of poverty. Bradamante rides away. She stops at an inn, and Ariosto leaves her there to go back to Rinaldo.
Rinaldo is dueling Gradasso. They’re away from their respective armies and with Durindana (sword) and Baiardo (horse) as the prizes. Gradasso currently has Durindana and he’s giving Rinaldo a time of it. Rinaldo’s doing his best to dodge the slashes, when suddenly Baiardo starts making a fuss. Both knights turn and see a terrible bird attacking the horse. Rinaldo secretly thinks it’s Malagigi the Wizard playing tricks again, but Gradasso and he quit their duel to save the horse, which has run off into the forest. The two say they’ll fetch the horse and come back to continue their fight, but of course it’s more complicated than that. They get separated. Rinaldo gets lost. Gradasso finds the horse, but instead of going back to the fountain he decides to ride home saying if Rinaldo really wants the stuff he can come get them.
From there it’s on to Astolfo.
He’s the guy who got turned into a bush, got better, found a flying horse, and took off around the world on its back? I think he’s also a Prince of England. Well, he’s still flying around and we get some more travelogue scenery. Look it’s the Pyrenees! He flies in to Africa where he reaches Ethiopia and the Kingdom of Prester John. I’ll assume you know who that is. If not, to Wikipedia with ye.
Astolfo lands and goes to meet the king, but finds him terribly afflicted. Every day when he tries to eat a whole flock of demon harpies attacks his table and shits all over everything. This is his punishment for trying to attack heaven which is accessible from a mountain nearby. Astolfo says he’ll take care of things and at first he tries to do the slashy-slashy but that fails, so he uses his horn and does the blasty-blasty and that works. The demon harpies flee. They fly into caves in the mountainside that go to Hell and Ariosto stops there, promising to continue on with Astolfo in another canto.
CANTO SCORE CARD
KNIGHTS: Bradamante, Arctic Kings, Rinaldo, Gradasso, Astolfo, Prester John/Senapo (astute readers will notice Ariosto cribs the story of King Phineas from classic myth for the Prester John section)
MAGIC ITEMS: Merlin’s magic paintings, Durindana the sword, Astolfo’s horn of blasting,
MONSTERS: The Harpies
Orlando Furioso, Canto XXXII
This book has broken my brain. At last! You would think it would have happened sooner. But it’s happened.
Earlier this week, I dreamed I was reading Orlando Furioso and Gradasso was doing something. It had a rhyme-scheme and everything. Exciting!
Let’s get to it.
Ariosto doesn’t pick up where he ended last canto with Rinaldo and Gradasso facing off. Instead, he goes back to Bradamante, pining away for Ruggiero back in her castle at Montelbano. Ariosto then turns to King Agramante regrouping his forces in Spain where he’s sent out messengers to once more to marshal his champions to him. Rodomonte ignores him but Marifisa arrives with Brunello the thief. She turns him over to the king who promptly has the thief hanged.
“The hangman left him in a lonely place
As food for vultures, as a meal for crows.”
Back to Bradamante.
There’s lots of gnashing and wailing and overwroughtness. Especially after she hears more about how Marfisa is spending all day tending to the wounded Ruggiero. This really sends her spiraling and she decides to die. And what better way to die than by riding into battle, killing her rival, and having her ex-lover stab her to death or die trying. Talk about big emotions. Resolved now to enter the fray, Bradamante grabs the horse and lance left to her by Astolfo (remember him?) and sets forth.
Soon enough she comes upon a trio of knights escorting a lady along with a host of vassals. Bradamante asks who they are and learns the group comes from north of the Arctic circle and are the kings of the Lost Isles, while the woman is a messenger sent by the queen of the Lost Isle, which also might actually be Iceland. They’ve come to give Charlemagne a magic shield to help him in the war. There’s also a whole thing about the queen not marrying anyone unless they best all others in battle. The usual Red Sonja chivalric nonsense. Bradamante lets them pass on unchallenged and continues on her way, not caring what path her horse chooses. At last it gets dark and she needs to find a place to stay. Some shepherds point her to a castle, but warn her about the rules of the place.
This castle’s owned by Sir Tristan. He has hospitality rules and the back story to justify them. Knights must fight anyone who challenges their right to stay there. Ladies must have no one else there more beautiful than themselves.
Neither thing stops Bradamante and she rides up on the place. The guards say she’ll have to fight the other guests for the right to stay there. She says fine, and out ride the three kings from the Arctic circle. She beats them all because Astolfo’s lance is magical, then goes inside to claim their place. At the feast the lady from the lost isle arrives and the host says, well, Bradamante’s actually prettier than you, so get ready to be thrown out in the rain. Bradamante though says she fought as a knight and not as a lady, therefore the lady has no challenger to take her place. This reasoning is deemed sound and everyone enjoys their dinner.
Afterward, all the guests get up to admire the wall decorations, and that’s where the canto ends.
CANTO SCORE CARD
KNIGHTS: Bradamante, King Agramante, a Gascon knight who tells stories, Marfisa, Sir Tristan, Sir Clodion (part of Tristan’s back story), the Arctic Kings
DAMSELS: The Lady of the Lost Isle (Bjork?)
HORSES: Rabicano (Astolfo’s horse, now Bradamante’s)
MAGIC ITEMS: Bradamante’s lance
DECEASED: Brunello the Thief
Orlando Furioso, Canto XXXI
This canto is all about the fights.
It has about half the surviving cast in it and there all getting in each other’s faces. But first we get a bit about Bradamante feeling sad and jealous. Oh no! Ruggiero saw another woman! Oh no! He is obviously now in love with her. Ariosto foreshadows it’s only going to get worse. But that doesn’t stop him from leaving her and following after Rinaldo.
Rinaldo and the Gang are off to Paris to help King Charles kill Saracens. Ricciardetto’s there, Viviano, Alardo, Malagigi, the whole gang. They promptly find their progress blocked by a knight with a damsel riding behind him. Challenges ensue. Damsels dismount. The Gang decides who will be first to joust and so on. Of course this knight’s awesome and unseats everyone until Rinaldo gives it a try.
Slash. Bang. Boom. Etc.
Neither can beat the other. Rinaldo invites the knight to camp with them. The knight says sure and when he takes off his helmet everyone’s happy to see that it is Sansonetto. (Remember him? He was the champion boy-toy back in the city of women.) He and Rinaldo exchange the kiss of peace and Sansonetto joins the gang. There’s a whole thing here about how Sansonetto and Rinaldo are related.
All continue on to Paris where they come upon Grifon the White, Aquilant the Black (Sansonetto’s pals), and Fiordiligi.
Fiodiligi’s still looking for her husband Brandimarte and she’s quick to tell the other knights how furioso Orlando was the last time she saw him (back on the bridge fighting with Rodomonte). Rinaldo corroborates. Fiodiligi then says how the Saracens took all Orlando’s stuff and now his horse is here, his armor there, and the sword with this other guy. Rinaldo weeps, but then resolves to reach Paris by any means.
So there’s a night raid on the Saracen camp. Mayhem ensues. People die. Limbs are hewn. King Charles rallies and rides forth to assist. With him comes Brandimarte (Fiordiligi’s husband). Fiordiligi rushes forward. There are hugs and kisses, and Ariosto does two things: highlights the May/December nature of their relationship, and starts insinuating that he has a new pair of tragic lovers to torment.
Fiordiligi tells her tale again, and Brandimarte, being a great pal of Orlando’s, decides to rescue him. He and Fiordiligi ride forth to the bridge where Rodomonte fought Orlando. Rodomonte is still there. He has that whole tower nearby where he lives beside the mausoleum that houses Isabella and Zerbino. Brandimarte issues a challenge and another duel ensues.
Smash. Bang. Boom. Etc.
The two fall off the bridge, but Rodomonte recovers while Brandimarte can’t. Fiordiligi wails and begs Rodomonte to save her husband, and so he does, stripping him of arms and armor and taking him back to his tower as a prisoner. Fiordiligi flees to seek help.
Back to Paris…
Maim. Slash. Stab. Etc.
Rinaldo’s slaughtering people. The Saracen camp’s in disarray. King Agramante flees along with the unconscious Ruggioro, but Gradasso doesn’t flee. He’s eager to fight Rinaldo and straps on his arms and armor.
The two were supposed to fight once before but Malagigi used Phantasmal Force to trick the two out of fighting. Both agree that won’t happen this time. They’re actually quite cordial and polite to each other in their chivalric way. They meet at the appointed place, embrace, and take their places.
Where Ariosto leaves their fate for another canto to reveal.
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: Bradamante, Rinaldo and the Gang, Sansonetto and the Gang (anyone else think Sansonetto sounds like an upscale brand of ice cream cone?), Brandimarte, Rodomonte, King Agramante and the Gang, Gradasso
Damsels: As yet unnamed damsel who rode with Sansonetto, Fiordiligli
Horses: Baiardo (Rinaldo’s Horse), Batoldo (Brandimarte’s horse – RIP)
Swords: Durindana, which is currently in Gradasso’s hands
Mages: Malagigi who gets blamed for every sneaky dishonest thing the Christian knights do.