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