If you remember last time, Ariosto teased a big reveal for the Black Knight. Going into the canto I was trying to guess who was it going to be? Brandimarte? Ruggierro? Sacripante? But no, it was none of those guys. It was…
… Guidon Selvaggio!
A. Whole. New. Fucking. Guy.
That’s right. Ariosto’s big reveal is to just add a whole new fucking guy.
But, more seriously, Selvaggio is a chivalric character who was once popular but who hasn’t come down to our era like Lancelot or Parsifal has. At least that’s what this Bodelian Library PDF suggests. Fascinating! Back to the canto, Selvaggio of course has a story to tell and it’s all about how the city of women came about.
It all happened because the Greeks went to fight the Trojan War. After twenty years they came back and found their wives had all shacked up with other men and their houses were full of bastards. The husbands forgave their wives, but couldn’t forgive all the bastards and demanded they die. Some were killed, but others were expelled. These exiles took to the wandering life. And one, Phalanthus by name (bastard son of Clytemnestra), recruited others into a mercenary army. They went to Crete to fight a coming war. There they took wives among the populace. Except the war never happened and the Cretans told the mercenaries to move on. They were happy to go, but their wives weren’t and begged to go with them. The mercenaries refused. The women didn’t care. They robbed their Cretan parents and piled into the boats with the men. For a bit things were okay, but after a time the men grew bored and wanted nothing more to do with their wives. And so they abandoned them on a rocky shore.
Here the women went hysterical for a bit, until they decided to hell with men. Let’s get revenge! And that’s what they did. Any boat that landed on their shore they captured and murdered the crew. This went on a while, but then the women started to realize they needed men if only to keep their country populated. And so the ten champions ritual was established. Before long the whole place took on a eugenics cult kind of atmosphere with the women killing or selling male children and sending agents out into the world to trade for girls and money. Then a stranger showed up, Elbanio a Greek hero descended from Hercules. Of course he’s handsome and beautiful and the local princess, Alessandra, falls for him. She pleads with her mom to spare Elbanio, and after much discourse the City of Women add the smutch ten women bit to the defeat ten champions challenge. Elbanio agrees to the challenge, wins, and the rest is history.
History lesson finished, Guidon then laments how he needs to kill Marfisa and her friends the next day. Also, he’s tired of being a boy-toy sex slave and is ashamed of wasting his youth in that way. Sadness ensues. But Astolfo leans in and tells Guidon that they’re actually cousins and he can free himself from shame if he joins them in destroying the City of Women. And between that and Marfisa’s urging, Guidone agrees to join them. He says one of his lovers (Aleria) can be trusted and she’ll prepare a boat for their escape. But they’ll have to cross the arena to reach the port.
Morning comes. Once more the knights set off for the arena. All the women have gathered there to watch the combat, but what’s this? Guidon’s entered and made for the far door with the captured knights right behind him. Treachery! Soon all the women are shooting arrows at the knights, but the knights give as good as they get. The smiting and smoting begins. Sansonetto’s horse gets killed and the knight thrown. Astolfo realizes they’re in a desperate way and their chance of escape is fast dwindling. He busts out the horn of blasting and lets toot.
People are thrown from windows. Buildings collapse. Everyone panics. Women. Knights. Everyone!
Astolfo’s just done Hiroshima’d the City of Women!
And he doesn’t stop.
He keeps riding around the country blasting things apart. Meanwhile all the other knights have panicked and fled for the ship. They don’t care that Astolfo’s not with them. They haul anchor and go. Only when the ship’s way out on the horizon does Astolfo realize he’s been left behind. And so Ariosto leaves him and follows Marfisa and the other knights as they reach Marseilles. There Marfisa says goodbye to her companions, since she’s technically on the other team being a Saracen and all, and sets off alone.
Marfisa rides for a bit and comes upon an old crone sitting by the road. She’s the crone from Canto XIII And she’s been having a bad time of it. Marfisa tells her to hop on her horse and the two ride off. Soon they encounter a knight and his lady. It’s that asshole knight Pinabello from Canto III and his unnamed asshole girlfriend. The girlfriend sees the crone and laughs at her, which insults Marfisa’s honor. She challenges Pinabello to a joust and trounces him. As a prize she claims the girlfriend’s horse and clothes and gives them to the crone. Eugene Delacroix did a painting of the scene. Marfisa decides to make this her schtick: ride around with a crone, get laughed at by a knight, trounce knight, ride away.
And look, here comes Zerbino. He sees the crone and laughs, and before long he and Marfisa are trading barbs. At last they agree to fight with the loser having to claim the crone as theirs. Both agree and Zerbino gets his ass handed to him. Marfisa reveals she’s a Lady Knight, gives Zerbino the crone, and rides away.
Now if you remember from Canto XIII this crone was kept by a group of bandits to watch over their prisoner, Isabella. Isabella’s Zerbino’s betrothed and the crone had to listen to Isabella go on and on about the guy while they were captives. So she knows who he is and starts using her info to torture him. Stuff like “I saw your girl. She’s alive and she was with twenty dudes. Twenty. Dudes.” Zerbino threatens to kill the crone and she’s like fine kill me, but you won’t learn anything else about Isabella if you do. Knowing he’s beat, Zerbino simply bows his head.
And in silence the two ride on until the canto ends.
What will happen next?
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: Guidon Selvaggio Sex Slave Knight, Phalanthus an Ancient Greek Bastard, Elbanio a Greek descended from Hercules, Astolfo, Aquilante, Grifone, Sansonetto, Marfisa the Lady Knight, Pinabello an Asshole Knight, Zerbino
Mages: Atlante and Knight Motel Magic Castle mentioned in passing
Damsels: Orontea founder of the City of Women, Alessandra daughter of Orontea, Aleria Betrayer of the City of Women and Guidon’s favorite, Pinabello’s unlikable girlfriend
Horses: Sansonetto’s unnamed horse (RIP)
Swords: None named
Monsters: The Man-Hating Lesbians of the City of Women (the city’s named Alessandretta), A Crone (currently my favorite character)
Magic Items: Marfisa’s Hell forged magic armor, Astolfo’s Horn of Blasting
Once upon a time I regularly posted my favorite reads here every month. Then for no reason at all I stopped. Now for even less reason I’ve decided to start again. A reminder that these aren’t reviews so much as reactions. And I likely read other stuff during the month, but these are what I finished and now admit to having read.
Viscera by Gabrielle Squailia
Take a bit of Leiberesque sword & sorcery, mix it with Patricia McKillip style fantasy by way of William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch, let ferment, and serve with slivers of calcified god-flesh. There are bug-drugs, cults, gender identity exploration, and a whole lot of grotty weirdness. If you like your fantasy world to make sense (who’s growing the grain in this world?) and have logical magic rules than you won’t much enjoy this. But if you like reading things and saying “That’s messed up” then give this a shot. It’s a book that’s much more about the ride than the destination.
Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica
This book is not at all pleasant. Remove all the humor of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and replace it with the all brutality of McCarthy’s The Road and Orwell’s 1984 and you’ll have some idea of what to expect. A plague causes the death of all animals, but it’s okay because we can just eat people. But first we must change the language so we can differentiate between people and “special meat”. Yes, Tender is the Flesh is also satire, but in a horror movie way. The whole book is one grisly depiction of dehumanization after another until an ending that leaves you feeling awful. Despite all that, if you appreciate how horror let’s us explore our own broken world, then give it a read.
The Saga of Grettir the Strong by Anonymous
This is a must-read for anyone into low-fantasy or sword and sorcery. Grettir’s not a bad guy, he just solves all his problems with violence. The setting’s decidedly local despite international travel occurring. Many of Grettir’s adventures detail him trying to get a position in some lord’s household and failing due to bad luck or his bad temper. The whole thing has a Western feel to it with one gang of landowners fighting against another for grazing rights and each supplementing their households with violent men except when ghosts, trolls, or berserkers get involved. If you’ve ever been curious to read a Viking Saga, then Grettir’s absolutely the place to start. I read this copy off Gutenberg and had no complaints with it.
Another week. Another canto. This one brings back some of that weirdness. Also… it has Sword Lesbians!
We start with Medoro and Cloriando in running in the woods. Cloriando is far ahead, while Medoro is struggling to catch-up because he’s carrying Darindello’s body. Close behind are Zerbino and his rowdy Scotsmen. They corner Medoro in a clearing, where he drops the body and prepares to defend it with his life. Hearing the tumult behind himself, Cloriando returns stealthily. He sees Medoro’s about to get killed so he starts shooting arrows into the Scots. Zerbino then goes to kill Medoro, but can’t because the boy is just too beautiful. Medoro begs that he may at least bury his king before he dies. Zerbino’s moved by the boy’s loyalty and ready to allow the boy his wish. But an uncouth Scotsmen steps up and stabs Medoro. Cloriando sees this, leaps out of hiding and starts doing the stabby. Unfortunately, he’s outnumbered and the stabby gets done to him and he dies beside his friends. The Scots ride away, leaving Medoro to bleed out.
But he doesn’t bleed out, because a shepherdess comes traipsing through the woods. Only it’s not a shepherdess. It’s Angelica in disguise!
She comes upon the scene and is moved by the sight of the dying boy. In fact, that wee bastard Cupid’s shown up here because he thinks it’s time Angelica quits being such a virgin tease. PEW goes Cupid’s arrow straight to Angelica’s heart. She’s like I need to save this boy-guy. (I think they’re both like 16 and it might be like only the second age appropriate relationship in this meshugganah book so far.) Healed a bit, he does his duty by his friends and buries them. Then he and Angelica ride off.
Angelica’s been hiding in the woods with an old shepherd and his family. She takes Medoro back to the hut, and before long they’re doing the sexy.
She lets Medoro pluck the morning rose
Which no despoiling hand had ever touched;
No one so fortunate that garden knows,
No one its virgin flowerbeds has smutched.
The two are inseparable after that (for now? Angelica is described as the “tragic” heroine of the story… so good luck Medoro! Smutch that flowerbed which you can!) One fun thing they like to do is wander around the woods carving their names surrounded by hearts in trees. After much smutching, Angelica says she wants to go back home to India. Yeah, Angelica is Asian and Medoro is African but you’d never guess that from any of the artworks inspired by these two.* They set out for Spain where they will take ship for the east, but as they near the port they come upon a mad man who leaps towards them ready to attack.
But enough about those two.
Let’s see how Asolfo, Marfisa, and friends are doing.
Last we left them, they were on board a ship making their way for Europe. But lo, a storm struck them and for a good bit I was ready for them to have some kind of underwater adventure. After three days the storm lets up and after some competent sailing, the ship hobbles towards a port. Except the captain recognizes the place and wants nothing to do with it. Why? The knights ask. Because Lesbians the Captain says. Although I think Ariosto calls them Amazons even though they are in Syria. They hate men and either kill or enslave them, unless they can survive the challenge. It’s some real death by bumwah shit!
All prisoners were killed, or must remain
As slaves; and freedom only he could boast
Who of the captive males could vanquish ten;
And further labor too was his that night:
Ten women he must serve for their delight.
The penalty for failure in either test is death!
Well, the knights hear this. Kill ten guys. Smutch ten ladies. They think it sounds great and command the captain put into port. The ship lands. Astolfo doesn’t play around and gives a loud toot with his horn. The Lesbians approach. Their leader, an old crone, walks up and makes the usual challenge. Outdo ten men. Satisfy ten women. Which of you knights is man enough to accept.
Marfisa and the boys gather round and decide to draw lots for who will be the one to accept the challenge, and the boys are like but how are you going to satisfy any women Marfisa, and she’s like let me worry about that. So they draw lots and of course Marfisa wins.
Needless to say my prurient interests have started paying close attention. Is a maci sex-toy going to show up? I don’t think one will, but if there ever was a 15th century story that had a magical sex-toy this would be it!
All go to the arena where the Lesbians pack in eager to watch the killing. Marfisa rides in and no one knows she’s a woman, because her armor was forged in Hell and tempered by Avernus and has a helm like this.
The first nine men Marfisa defeats easily enough, but the last, a knight all in black, has hung back believing it not chivalric to fight in anything less than single combat.
Now alone together, the two start to size each other up. Marfisa’s tired and the black knights suggests they halt until the next day. Marfisa says no, and the two engage. Crash. Bam. Lances the size of pine trees gets shattered. But neither has been outdone. They switch to swords. Slash. Clang. Still neither yields. At last the sun goes down and it’s too dark to keep fighting. Marfisa and the Black Knight end their fight for the night. The Black Knight invites everyone back to his place, because he’s come to respect Marfisa that much. All the knights agree and away they go.
Once settled in, Marfisa takes off her helmet and the Black Knight’s like “You’re a lady!” Then he takes off his helmet, and Marfisa’s like “You’re just an 18-year old boy!”
Marfisa asks for his name and story, and he says…
… a name Ariosto will tell us in the next canto.
* Ariosto does talk about how white and blond these two are, so it’s an eye-roll from the source.
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: Medoro and Cloriando, Zerbino, Astolfo, Aquilante, Grifone, Sansonetto, Marfisa the Lady Knight, an as yet unnamed Black Knight
Horses: None named
Swords: None named
Monsters: Man-Hating Lesbians
Magic Items: Marfisa’s Hell forged magic armor
This canto’s a long one full of death and mayhem. Or more death and mayhem. There’s been plenty to go around. What makes this canto different is that we are hopping from one violent adventure to another. Rodomonte kills a bunch of people. Grifone kills a bunch of people. Astolfo kills a bunch of people. Zerbino kills a bunch of people. Darindildo (not his real name) kills a bunch of people. Etc. Some new people show up who seem a bit more like actual characters than names on a list.
To start we get some more monarchist boot-licking from Ariosto. A lot of “Magnanimous Signor…” and all that. His point being only bad monarchs jump to conclusions without making thorough investigations, which is exactly what King Norandino did and now he’s pissed off Grifone and the heads of his people are getting lopped off and their brains bashed in. It’s gory with heads being cloven down to the teeth, limbs hewed hither thither, and people being chopped in twain. Grifone’s killed everyone who’s come at him and now holds a defensive position on a bridge. The king approaches to see who this knight is, but enough of that let’s leave Damascus and go back to Paris where Charlemagne’s cornered Rodomonte.
Charlemagne’s whole crew attacks Rodomonte but he shrugs it all off since he’s in his dragon armor. More heads get severed (goodbye Hugh of Dordogne), Rodomonte wades through corpses, reaches a wall, and leaps over it into the Seine. He swims ashore and thinks of redoubling his attack, but who does he see? A dwarf, come to him bearing a message (and carrying Discord with him.) This dwarf tells him that Doralice has been “abducted” by Mandricardo. Rodomonte’s anger shifts away from the Christian army and he demands the dwarf take him to Doralice. And away they go.
Meanwhile, back inside Paris, Charlemagne’s rallied the troops and it’s time to counterattack. More names! Falsiron, Serpentino, Balugante! More limb loppery!
The biggest part of this bit besides all the killing is Darindildo, I mean Dardinello. He’s a new guy, one of the Saracens, and a courageous knight. He kills Lurcanio. Remember him? He was the guy back in England who accused that damsel of cheating and driving poor prince Ariodante insane (way back in cantos V and VI) until Rinaldo showed up and set things straight. Well, Darindello kills him, and then Rinaldo makes to kill Darindello. (The two having to cleave through the massed soldiers to fight each other.)
This all gets important later, but for now it’s back to Damascus!
Grifone’s killed a bunch of people but now he’s trapped on the bridge. Norandino eventually parlays with him and it’s a lot of chivalrous nonsense about honorable foes and all that. But he admits his mistake in thinking Grifone a base coward, and really he had to kill every one he killed, because it’s the only way to repay the insults he suffered. Such is the reasoning of kings. He offers Grifone half his kingdom and the two put aside their differences. Norandino invites Grifone back to the palace where they set about feasting. (Orrigille and Martano having high-tailed it as soon as Grifone returned.)
But enough about them… let’s go to Jerusalem and see what’s happening there!
Aquilante’s discovered Grifone’s disappearance and very quickly realizes the cause of it. He sets off in pursuit and comes upon Martano wearing Grifone’s armor. At first Aquilante thinks it’s his brother and goes to embrace him, but soon realizes that this isn’t his brother, it’s that boy-toy miscreant Martano. Martano and Orrigille make to flee, but get caught and brought back to Damascus for punishment. There’s a warm reunion between Aquilante and Grifone then they and Norandino talk of what to do with Martano and Orrigille. Aquilante and Norandino favor torture before execution. Grifone pleads for mercy. The others relent. Martano gets publicly flogged and Orrigille locked away in prison. That done, Norandino suggests they throw another tournament with some awesome weapons (a sword and a mace) he found as a prize.
Word of the tournament reaches Jerusalem, so Sansonetto and Astolfo depart for Damascus. On the road they meet Marfisa. She’s a lady knight and Saracen, but she’s pals with them and joins their party because she’s heading to Damascus too. We learn a bit about her prowess: strong enough to make Orlando sweat, and that she was robbed of her weapons by the dwarf Brunello offscreen sometime ago. So of course when they reach Damascus, it’s her weapons Norandino’s offering as a prize… and since everyone in this book responds to every inconvenience with violence Marfisa, Astolfo, and Sansonetto attack and we’re back to the loppery. That goes on for a while. The trio wins the weapons and makes their escape. Grifone and Aquilante hear about this and pursue, thinking these knights are bad news. But then when they reach them, they see it’s their old buddies and there’s a reunion. They get the trio to ride back with them to Damascus, which they do, and Norandino forgives them and claims it was all a misunderstanding. He’s also scared shitless of Marfisa. Tempers cooled, the tournament begins, and every one’s happy. Afterward, they set off back for France and the war, but of course a raging storm throws them off course.
But wait there’s more…
Back on the battlefield outside Paris, Rinaldo and Dardinello are advancing towards each other. They boast. They jeer. Then Rinaldo takes his sword Fusberta and splits Dardinello’s head in twain. And the Saracens flee at the sight of this. Night starts to fall and the battle ends, each army digs in, the Saracens much worse off then the Christians. And so, having a quiet moment in his narrative Ariosto does what Ariosto does best: introduce more mothertruckin’ characters.
Enter Medoro and Cloridano.
These two guys were Dardinello’s best friends in that Cary Grant/Randolph Scott kind of way. Cloridano’s a tall huntsman, and Medoro’s a beautiful youth. These two are having a bad time of it because they loved Dardinello and now he’s dead. Medoro is especially upset and he can’t stand thinking about Darindello’s corpse being left out on the battlefield for the scavengers. They sneak away and enter the Christian camp, Cloridano says they should take the opportunity to kill as many knights as they can. And they do. A dozen death scenes later, they reach the battlefield and Medoro prays to the moon to lead them to Darindello’s body. It does and they lift up the body, seeking to return home. But lo, what’s that? It’s Zerbino come back from killing Saracens. He sees the two and approaches. Cloriando is for abandoning the body and fleeing, but Medoro refuses. They make for a nearby tangled wood of labyrinthine twists… and what happens there will be revealed in another canto.
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: Oodles! Christian and Saracen! Charlemagne, Rodomonte, Charlemagne’s Bros (Namo, Olivier, Ugier, Avolio, Alvin, Otto, Berlinger), Norandino King of Syria, Martano Boy-Toy Miscreant of Antioch, plenty who were named in those lists from earlier cantos who get name checked again before they get deaded, Dardinello is the most important of these, Astolfo, Aquilante, Sansonetto, Marfisa the Lady Knight, Medoro and Cloriando
Mages: Alfeo, a shitty soothsayer killed in his sleep by Cloridano
Damsels: Orrigille that Jezebel, others like Doralice mentioned in passing
Horses: none named
Magic Items: none we haven’t seen already
This canto’s odd and not for any good reason.
Ariosto gets political. Except he’s a Christian Monarchist. So in this chapter we learn that tyrants are god’s judgment against evil populations, Christians should invade Africa, and no European ruler should sleep while the Turks hold Jerusalem. Also like Dante, Ariosto has the habit of bringing up some genuinely awful local ruler you’ve never heard of.
That’s the trouble with the age of despots. If everyone’s terrible, it’s easy to get lost in the scrum and not stand out. No matter how Magnifico you might have been.*
After all this it’s back to the action.
Charlemagne rallies his troops. They return to a Paris where Rodomonte has left a trail of slaughter. The only survivors are trapped in the palace with Rodomonte pounding at the doors. No sword, no arrow, no catapult, nor mangonel can injure him. Terror runs rampant in the halls. Charlemagne arrives with his companions and makes some speeches. Then they all charge Rodomonte, and… Ariosto cuts to Grifone and Origille as they enter Damascus.
Damascus is hopping for the festival. Silks and gems adorn balconies, tapestries and brocades hang from every window, fragrant perfumes, gladsome sounds, sumptuous repasts, the whole bit. Grifone wants to know what’s the deal and who’s the party for. A courtier explains. The King (Norandino) married the Princess of Cyrpus. While traveling by ship they put in on an island. While wedding party hunted they encountered a terrible monster.
“It ambles on towards us where we sit,
As though an alp had yawned and given birth,
Its chest is moist with slobber, long its snout,
Whence tusks or fangs, as on a boar, stick out.”
This beast promptly captures heaps of people excluding the king but including the princess and takes them back to its lair for the eating. The king learns all this and sets off to rescue the princess. He encounters the monster’s wife. She tells him the Princess is safe because the monster only eats men, and simply keeps the women imprisoned forever and ever. That’s no good, the King says, but the wife tells him it’s hopeless. The king refuses to believe this, and the wife finally says “Well, I got this idea.”
And so, Norandino King of Syria covers himself in goat shit. Honestly, I don’t know if this is goat shit or not. They take an old goat carcass and remove “stuff” from its buttocks region.
“The beldam urged the king to use the grease
Of an old goat which around its bowels clung.”
The king rubs this all over himself and puts on a goat skin. This done he tricks the monster (the monster’s blind and hunts by smell) into letting the king into its lair where he quickly tells everyone imprisoned there to rub goat shit all over themselves. This done they all sneak away but Lucina gets scared and flees back into the cave. The king lingers. The princess languishes. Tears and sadness abound. This goes on until Mandricardo and Gradasso show up, loot the monster’s lair, and take the princess away. Except this isn’t really explored too much. They give Lucina back to her dad and he gives her back to Norandino, and that’s why they’ve decided to have a party.
Grifone agrees that this was indeed a cool story, bro. He then preps for the coming tournament and we learn Orrigille’s current boy-toy’s name at last. It’s Martano. Grifone and he enter the fray, but Martano gets scared during the first combat and flees. Everyone laughs and jeers at him. All this fills Grifone with shame, but instead of turning tail he uses his shame to fight ever harder. He defeats everyone including a state minister named Salinterno who no one liked. Grifone then goes home to sleep off his rage. While Grifone’s sleeping Martano sneaks in and steals his armor and horse (as yet unnamed). He then goes to the King and convinces everyone that it was himself who defeated all those guys. The King falls for this, and Martano-Grifone takes a seat of honor in the royal tent along with Orrigille.
Back in his room, Grifone wakes up and finds all his stuff stolen. Martano’s stuff however is still there, so he dresses in this and asks the innkeeper about whoever too his horse. He learns where Martano and Orrigille went and sets off after them. Meanwhile the King and Martano complain about that cowardly asshole who ran away. And look isn’t that him riding by now. So they capture Grifone and throw him in a dungeon and heap insults on him and parade him through the square and read his alleged crimes to his face which are in fact not his but Martano’s. The people plan to chase Grifone through the streets, but the moment they cut him free a sword and buckler does he seize.
Now he shall show them real power… well, not now but in the next canto. Ariosto’s tired and says this canto’s gone on long enough.
See you then!
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: Charlemagne, Rodomonte, Charlemagne’s Bros (Namo, Olivier, Ugier, Avolio, Alvin, Otto, Berlinger), Norandino King of Syria, Mandricard and Gradasso, Martano Boy-Toy Miscreant of Antioch, Syrian Knights (Thyrsis, Corimbo, Salinterno, etc)
Damsels: Perfidious Orrigille, Lucina Princess of Cypress
Horses: none named
Swords: none named
Monsters: Another “Orc” who might be the aged cyclops Polyphemus
Magic Items: Grease from an old goat’s bowels, Grifone’s Impenetrable Armor (enchanted by a snow-white maid)
* The person Ariosto brings up is Ezzellino da Romano and I leave it to you to read about him on wikipedia.
And here we are again.
Ariosto starts by telling us that he’s been unlucky in love too. He’s a sensitive guy after all and has felt the pain of being spurned. That done it’s back to Grifone sneaking away to Antioch to meet-up with the brazen Orrigille. She’s there with her new beau (as yet unnamed) to take part in a joust hosted by the King of Syria. Grifone’s itching to fight, but Orrigille doesn’t want him to kill her current boy-toy. She puts on a fake smile and embraces Grifone, saying how awful it was that he abandoned her. Her lover plays along, and they cool Grifone’s temper. In the end it’s himself who feels like he’s done wrong. The trio enters Antioch, and that’s where Ariosto leaves them.
Time to go back to Paris where a bajillion knights battle on.
A lot of these guys get named only to get killed a few lines later. The main part though is Rodomonte killing everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY he meets in Paris. Old man? Dead. Child? Dead. Fair maiden? Dead. He’s also setting fire to the city as he goes. It’s a grisly scene full of terror, and the Saracens would’ve won if they had followed behind him, but Rinaldo and his English reinforcements appeared. Rinaldo rallies the troops with a long speech and then the battle starts.
This is the meat of the canto, but difficult to summarize. I’ll say it’s a montage of mayhem. Spears break. People die. It’s grisly.
“And where you see one dying soldier lie,
Another he has slain lies stretched near by.”
Ferrau’s favorite lyre-boy dies. Zerbino is unhorsed and nearly killed. Bambirago and Agricalt, whoever the heck they are, die. Pauliano, too. Did I make up that last guy? I don’t know. At last, Charlemagne hears word that Rodomonte’s killing everyone and the city’s on fire. The king pulls back to save the city, and the tide of battle turns again.
But that’s a story for another canto.
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: Grifone, Orrigille’s as yet unnamed current beau, Rodomonte, Rinaldo, Zerbino, Lurcanio, Ariodante, Ferrau, a bajillion others (the Guidos! AGAIN!) some of whom are only named a line or two before they die.
Damsels: Orrigille the not-so-innocent
Horses: Baiardo, Rinaldo’s horse
Swords: Fusberta, Rinaldo’s sword
Monsters: None really, although some of the Saracen knights are descended from giants
Magic Items: Rodomonte’s Dragon Power Armor either burns and/or makes its wearer immune to fire
(My favorite thing about this canto is the illustration above. It could literally be captioned, “Holy shit! Is that your ex?”)
This one’s long and has a bajillion names in it so buckle up kids, it’s time to get FURIOSO!
Last we left off, the Saracen army was attacking the walls of Paris. Knights were dying every which way and Rodomonte was leaping over flaming trenches to get inside the city. We get back to that in this canto, but first Ariosto has to do some ass-kissing/state craft commentary. Lots of advice against killing everybody including your own troops in order to achieve your goals and stuff like that. Basically, don’t be a Rodomonte.
“Eleven thousand men and twenty-eight
Amid that raging holocaust lay dead.
Unwillingly they went to meet their fate,
Unwisely by so great a leader led.”
Then of course we hear about another bajillion named knights: King Bambirago, Baliverzo, Corineo, Prusion, Malabuferso, Ugier the Dane, Salamone, the Guidos, both Angelins, Namo and his sons Avolio, Otto, Avino, and Berlingier, and many more. Are any of these people important? I don’t know. It’s a mad brawl and everyone is killing everyone, but Ariosto decides he wants to go back to Astolfo.
Who is Astolfo you ask? Well, he is a guy from a few cantos ago.
To refresh your memories he was one of Alcina’s former lovers who got turned into a tree and told Rindalo? Ruggiero? Ruggiero to watch out for her. I think he’s also related to the king of England and might be in line for the throne. After Alcina’s defeat, he’s hung around with Logistilla and her people, but now it’s time to go back home. So he sets sail with a couple of Logistilla’s handmaidens (Sofrosina and Andronica) and because Alcina’s power doesn’t extend to Persia and Arabia he figures he can sneak past her by going that way. Logistilla also gives him a couple of magic items: a book (a Guide Against Enchantment) and a horn (pretty much a Horn of Blasting for you gamer nerds). Once outfitted, and “with a favourable wind to poop,” Astolfo is off. As they go Andronica talks about Italian explorers who she sees in the future discovering a new land somewhere in the sea and how great it is that Christianity will be brought to these places.
There’s also a long aside here about a historical figure named Andrea Doria. He was a statesman/mercenary captain from Genoa, and I only bring him up because I want to share this painting of him as an elderly thirst trap.
Once all that’s done and the travelogue finishes up, Astolfo reaches the east coast of Africa (around Ethiopia) and disembarks. At which point he is given a horse, and not just any horse, but a *magic* horse named Rabicano. Now Astolfo is ready. First person he encounters is a holy man who says there’s a terrible giant nearby who kills all travelers so wise-up son and don’t go that way. But Astolfo is a knight and he says that sounds like someone that needs killing! So the holy man tells Astolfo how the giant has a magic net (forged by Vulcan) he lays under the sands to trap his victims before taking them back to his lair for slaughter. Astolfo thanks the hermit and makes for the giant’s abode.
The giant’s name is Caligorante and his place is covered in bones and grisly trophies, naked torsos and limbs and all that mess. He sees Astolfo approaching and gets giddy anticipating the killing. But Astolfo uses his horn first and the blast scares Caligorante so bad he takes off running, only to get caught in his own trap. As Caligorante struggles, Astolfo approaches with sword in hand ready to lop off his head – but at the last minute Astolfo relents. Instead, he keeps the giant bound and decides to parade him throughout the land. So that’s what he does, making straight for Cairo. Everyone there is very impressed, and they tell Astolfo about another horrible giant named Orrilo.
Orrilo lives in the dread domain next door and is the enchanted offspring of a sprite and a fairy, born to do men spite. His magic power is that he can reattach limbs when they get chopped off. This is described as like when two beads of mercury draw together and rejoin, so I imagine him sort of looking like Odo from Deep Space 9.
When Astolfo gets there he finds two knights already fighting Orrilo. These guys are the sons of Oliver (?) and they’re names are Grifone the White and Aquilant the Black. They’ve already killed Orrilo’s giant crocodile and now are making to fight the giant. But no matter how many times they lop off his head or hack off a limb, Orrilo laughs and simply reattaches it.
“Down to his teeth Grifone splits his skull
And Aquilante splits it to his chest,
On him such mortal blows are void and null.
He laughs: the sons of Oliver are vexed.”
While the knights fight Orrilo their adoptive moms watch from nearby. Like plenty of others in this fakakta book Grifone and Aquilant have the Achilles problem where bad things are prophesied to happen to them if they leave home, so their moms are doing what they can to prevent their going. The moms step in when their knights are near to exhaustion and tell Orrilo to go home, which he does. Astolfo then rides up, glad to see the brothers, and all return to a nearby castle to recover. (They leave Caligorante tied up outside.)
Over dinner Astolfo pulls out Logistilla’s magic book and reads the entry for monsters like Orrilo. He discovers the giant can be killed if a certain hair is plucked from his head. But which one? That’s the puzzle. He asks the brothers if it would be all right if he fought Orrilo tomorrow. The brothers are like go ahead, it’s cool. So next day Astolfo and Orrilo in combat engage.
There’s stabbing and smacking, Orrilo’s dismembered like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but no matter how many times he slices the giant Astolfo can never figure out which hair he needs to pluck from the beast’s head. Finally he chops off Orrilo’s head and runs away with it while the body chases after him. Astolfo hops on Rabicano and as he rides away he searches the head for the hair. In the end he can’t find it so he decides to shave the entire thing. He sticks his fingers up the giant’s nose to hold it steady (a detail apparently forever lodged now in my head). This works, because once the head is shaved the giant’s torso falls down dead. Astolfo then rides back to town to show off, because why not?
But wait! There’s more!
Astolfo convinces Grifone and Aquilant to leave home and come with him back to Europe by way of the Holy Land. Their moms are sad, but so it goes. Along the way they meet a knight from Mecca named Sansonet, who converted to Christianity at Orlando’s request. Sansonet is helping to build a fort against the Caliph and he welcomes the travelers and escorts them to Jerusalem. Once there Astolfo gives Caligorante to Sansonet as a gift and Sansonet gives Asolfo a sword (so far unnamed) and a set of spurs that once belonged to Saint George. And being Christian knights in the Holy land, all three tour the sites and spend time mediating in monasteries. As they prepare to leave they run into a Greek traveler who tells them all about the girl Grifone loves. Her name’s Orrigille and she’s BAD.
“For she, a woman in the bloom of youth,
No more could bear to sleep alone, in truth.”
And before anyone can stop him Grifone sneaks off to Antioch where he knows Orrigille has gone.
But that’s a story for another canto.
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: A bajillion (the Guidos!), Rodomonte, Astolfo, Grifone the White and Aquilant the Black, Sansonet
Mages: Queen Logistilla and her hand maidens Sofrosina and Andronica, a holy hermit, the evil Alcina mentioned in passing
Damsels: Orrigille the not-so-innocent
Swords: As yet unnamed sword Sansonet gives Astolfo
Monsters: Caligorante the Giant, Orrilo the non-dismemberable Giant, Orrilo’s giant crocodile
Magic Items: Logistilla’s Guide Against Enchantment (it counters spells and is full of magic lore), a horn of blasting, Vulcan’s Net of Entrapment, the Spurs of Saint George
This one has everything.
We get some historic details, some ass-kissing by Ariosto for his patrons. We get a list of names, all knights fighting for or against Charlemagne. We get a damsel being “rescued”. We get massive grand battles. We even get some of that yesterweirdness I love.
After the historic details (the state of the war this far), some ass-kissing (dealing with his patron’s sacking of Ravenna: “We feel too much the anguish and the woe // Of weeping women garbed in widows’ weeds, // The sad young victims of your valiant deeds.”), and a roll call of the Saracen army (Marsilio, Agramante, Brunello, Isolier, Folvirant, &c), we come at last to the Saracen knights who are the primary movers of this canto, Mandricardo and Rodomonte.
Orlando killed Mandricardo’s father at some point earlier. Now Mandricardo wants revenge. Driving home the Iliad homage, Mandricardo wears Hector’s armor after finding it in a tower in Syria and has recently arrived in Europe. He is not happy to sit in a siege, so he decides to hie off and seek adventure/glory/Orlando elsewhere. Very soon he finds survivors of Orlando’s earlier onslaught and they point Mandricardo on to where the battle was fought. Unfortunately, Orlando’s already gone by the time Mandricardo arrives, and so the search continues. Soon he comes upon a band of knights camped by the Tiber.
A parley starts with Mandricardo asking who they are. They say they’re from Granada and have come to escort the King’s daughter to Rodomonte since the two are betrothed. Mandricardo asks if he might maybe possibly get a peek at this princess, but the guard refuses. So Mandricardo kills him and all the other guards. Stabby. Stabby. Stabby (with a spear because Mandricardo doesn’t use a sword for reason’s mentions under Swords below). Killing done he goes to find the princess. Her name’s Doralice. She woke mid combat, tried to flee, but failed. Now she cowers from Mandricardo, but her beauty is so great it weaves a web of love around his heart. And so he abducts her. Content with his prize, he’s less keen on finding Orlando and he starts to pitch woo to Doralice. Eventually the two shelter in a cottage for the night.
“What in the darkness of the night befell / Between the Tartar and the young princess / I cannot, I regret, precisely tell, / So everyone must be content to guess. / I think that they agreed together well / For in the morning they arose no less / But rather more content”
In the morning they return to wandering and soon come upon two knights and a fair maid, but you’ll have to wait to hear about that later, because now it’s time for CHURCH!
King Agramant has heard that Rinaldo and a host of fresh knights are on the way from England to help Charlemagne, so Agramant wants to attack Paris in the morning. Knowing that the Saracens plan to attack, Charlemagne goes to mass. A whole lot of Catholic pomp gets described, communion hosts, confessions, how all the paladins and princes in Paris went to church too. And the prayers are so loud they reach the Big G, God Himself, in heaven. He hears all this and sees the threat to Christendom and decides to join the fray. (This is more inspired by the Iliad than by either Testament). God commands the Archangel Michael to find Silence and Dame Discord, the first to help the English knights sneak across France, the second to sow strife among the Saracens.
This bit delivers the weird.
Michael flies around searching for Silence. At first, he hears that Silence likes to hang out in monasteries, but when Michael arrives at one he discovers that Silence, Peace, Quiet, and Love have all left the monasteries and been replaced by Greed, Wrath, Cruelty, and the rest. In fact who should he find in the monastery but Dame Discord hanging around with a pack of lawyers. Well, Michael figures, that’s half the task done and he tells her what God wants from her. She sets off, but not before telling Michael that Fraud might know where Silence can be found. Michael finds Fraud and she tells him how Silence had taken up with Treachery and Homicide, but still visits the House of Sleep. Off then Michael flies to the House of Sleep where he finds Silence working as something of a security guard in slippers. Silence via gestures asks what Michael wants, and when Michael tell Silence God’s orders (in a whisper natch) Silence sets off right away.
Meanwhile, Agramant’s attack is ready. This guy is over there, this guy is over there, Charlemagne does this and barricades that and for a bit it’s like listening to war gamers go on but eventually Ariosto takes us into the action of siege warfare where Rodomonte (Algerian King, betrothed to Doralice who unbeknown to him Mandricardo is likely diddling at that very moment) hews down Christians right and left. His armor is made of ancient dragon skin, crafted by his ancestor who on the plain of Babel built a tower to challenge God’s majesty. It grants him great strength and invulnerability as if he was a Space Marine.
More hewing and more death ensues. It gets quite grisly. But…
“Discordant concert and harsh harmony / Of shrieks and wailing, fearful to relate, / Of anguished victims in their agony, / Led by so great a leader to their fate, / Were mingled in a strange cacophony / With raucous roarings of primeval hate. / My lord, this canto has now run its course, And I must rest awhile, for I am hoarse.”
CANTO SCORE CARD
Knights: A skazillion named Saracen knights, a skazillion earlier named English Knights, a skazillion Christian knights named as they die, Rodomonte, Mandricardo, Rinaldo
Damsels: Doralice, princess of Granada, betrothed to Rodomonte, abducted by Mandricardo
Mages: None except those Monsters below
Monsters: God (the Big G), Angels, personifications of various things like Silence, Fraud, and Dame Discord who are described as sitting squarely between Ovid’s cosmology and Neil Gaiman’s Endless.
Horses: None are named, but there’s one I’m keeping my eye on because it might be important.
Swords: Durindana lore (this is Orlando’s sword now but once belonged to Mandricardo’s dad, and way long ago belonged to Hector.)
Magic Items: Hector’s Armor (worn by Mandricardo), Rodomonte’s dragon-scale power armor
Despite the awesome illustration this canto was another yawn.
There’s a damsel (Isabella). She has relationship problems. Yadda yadda. There’s a super awesome knight (Ruggiero). He solves the damsel’s relationship problems by killing people (Pirates). Then it’s off to another knight (Bradamante). This one does something that necessitates the name dropping of a whole heap of names. They’re all Bradamante’s wicked awesome female descendants. None of whom have any bearing on the story. The knight then gets some advice from a mage (Melissa). Of course the knight ignores this advice and the bad thing happens (Bradamante gets caught in the Knight Motel.) Then it’s off to someone or someplace else, before Ariosto calls it quits and promises he’ll get back to the good stuff in the next Canto. Just let him rest a bit.
Going with my Marvel comics Stan Lee comparison I’d say this is pretty much a filler issue where the characters you love are there punching the villains you hate, but it’s neither the first awesome take on the story or the startling re-imagining; it’s just Spiderman punching the Vulture. Again.
But, it’s not dull enough to make me stop reading.
Canto Score Card
Knights: A bunch
Damsels: A few
Mages: A Melissa
Old Ladies: One
Horses: I suppose
Monsters: Pirates and the Knight Motel