This is one of those cantos where I wonder if I should be looking up all the Italian historical figures Ariosto name drops because maybe when he has one of his stories about some horrible kingdom he’s actually throwing shade at some 15th century contemporary he mentions. But I feel like looking every one up goes against the nature of this project, which is that people should pick up old books and read them because they’re entertaining af and not because they’ll give you culture.
On to our canto…
Ariosto starts by extolling the virtues of women and saying that we don’t know the whole of all their great deeds because men suppress their accomplishments. A notion Joanna Russ would agree with.
“For Woman’s merits many a man will not
Proclaim, though gladly ill of her he says.”
Ariosto then goes on to say how it’s impossible to pick one women to hold aloft as the greatest, since there are so many who could be called so. But if forced to pick, well, the answer would be obvious: his patrons wife!
“She is Vittoria and justly crowned, As one to victory and triumph born.
Where’er she walks, the laurel-leaves abound.”
This whole bit fills the first twenty plus stanzas of the canto. Once that’s done, it’s back to our story…
We pick up where we left off with Bradamante, Marfisa, Ruggiero reconciled and preparing to split up. They had heard a shout in the woods and gone off to investigate. And promptly came upon Ullania (handmaid of the Queen of Iceland) and maids. They’d been beaten, whipped, and had their skirts cut short up to the “umbilical”. Exposed, they try to cover up. Bradamante recognizes Ullania and wants to know what happened. And the tale is a familiar one: an awful kingdom ruled by a vicious tyrant with inhuman laws did this to them. Where’s the kingdom? Just over there.
And so, our heroes find some clothes for Ullania and her maids, and all set off for this awful kingdom. When they get close they reach a village full of sad women, and there they learn more about this vicious tyrant by the name of Marganor. Marganor HATES women and forbids any to come into his kingdom. Those who do arrive must be beaten or killed. Meanwhile the village men are forbidden to go near their wives and if Marganor learns of any who do it’s more beating and killing ensues.
Our heroes are like WTF? So the villagers give some backstory for Marganor because of course they do.
Marganor had two sons: Cilandro and Tanacro, who were really good boys until they met women and became rapists. Not that Ariosto calls them that, but that’s pretty much what they are.
First Cilandro falls for a Greek lady and tries to assault her, but gets killed by her knight protector. Marganor falls sad, but at least he has another son. But soon Tanacro falls for a Byzantine lady, Drusilla. She’s already married to a knight named Olindro, but Tanacro doesn’t care. He figures that Cilandro failed because of a lack of planning, so he decides to smarter in his assualt attempt. He sets up an ambush, kills Olindro, and would do the deed with Drusilla there except she pitches herself off a cliff. Only she doesn’t die, but survives. Tanacro brings her back to the castle where he pays to have her treated. In time she heals, and Tanacro presses for marriage. Drusilla agrees, but only as it suits her desire for revenge. She gets some poison and concocts a ritual where she and Tanacro need to drink before her late husband’s tomb. Tanacro agrees and this gets worked into the wedding ceremony. They drink their cup in front of everyone. Drusilla reveals the cup was poisoned. Tanacro dies. Drusilla dies. Marganor does a misogyny and starts killing every women in the church. (He even assaults Drusilla’s dead body.) After that he starts making his decrees banishing women from the kingdom and saying he’ll kill any knight who comes here with one.
Well, our heroes hear all this and think, yeah, we need to stop this. So when morning comes off they ride straight for Marganor’s castle. On the way they come upon a bunch of soldiers escorting an old woman under guard. Turns out that’s Drusilla’s maid (and the one who brewed the poison) and they’re bringing her back to be tortured. Our heroes ride straight into the soldiers and start killing. They free the old woman, then continue on to the castle. Where by now Marganor has had time to march out with his troops.
But, c’mon, this is Bradamante, Marfisa, and Ruggiero.
First, Marfisa charges straight at Marganor and punches him straight in the face. Then Bradamante and Ruggiero charge and clean up all the soldiers. That done, they don’t kill Marganor but strip him naked and have every in the kingdom come around and abuse him. Kids throw rocks at him. Maidens heap garbage in his face. The old women poke him with sharp sticks and Ullania kills him by making him jump from a high tower. After all this Marfisa writes some new laws that put wives in charge of husbands. She says she’ll be back to check if they’re followed. We’ll see if that ever happens. Deeds done the heroes ride forth, making haste to the crossroads where they part and the canto ends.
See you next time! Until then enjoy this knight riding a wolf. A whole nickel to anyone who can guess what canto it’s an illustration from.
CANTO SCORE CARD
KNIGHTS: Bradamante, Marifisa, Ruggiero, Marganor (Cruel Tyrant), Cilandro and Tanacro (Marganor’s rapist sons), Olindro
DAMSELS: Ullania, Drusilla,
HORSES: Frontino (Ruggiero’s horse)
MONSTERS: King Marganor and his rapey sons Cilandro and Tanacro
MAGIC ITEMS: Bradamante’s golden lance, Ruggiero’s everything