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