This canto starts with a bang but ends with a whimper. It also introduces a new character! Well, sort of. It actually names a character we met before. But all that in time. For now, let’s look at Ruggiero setting off for his duel with Erifilla. It’s good stuff. Erifilla makes a grand entrance being both Princess Mononoke and Prince Gaynor the Damned.
“For a mount a horse she does not choose,
But sits astride a wolf, alert and keen,
Upon the richest saddle ever seen.”
They charge each other and blam! Ruggiero proves the stronger. He’s all ready to lop off Erifilla’s head when the damsels stop him saying that the shame of defeat is enough. So, exits Erifilla… for now. I fully expect she will be back to tell her tale in some future canto. But that will happen when it happens. For now Ruggiero is victorious and the damsels lead him to the palace where he is promptly bewitched by Alcina.
“Her person is as shapely and as fine
As painters at their most inspired can show.”
An aside. Ariosto does go big in with whiteness equals beautiful and good while blackness equals grotesque or comical. Alcina’s fairness gets highlighted a lot. Ruggiero is totally bewitched and forgets all about his quest and his betrothed, Bradamante. Instead he and Alcina get into making love and whiling the days away in pleasure.
Meanwhile Bradamante searches for Ruggiero, deciding at last to go back to that enchantress that helped her back in Canto III. We now learn the enchantress’s name is Melissa, and she hatches a cunning plan to free Ruggiero from Alcina’s spell. She asks that Bradamante give her the magic ring, then Melissa transforms herself to look like the evil wizard Atlante before flying over the ocean to Alcina’s realm.
There she finds Ruggiero and gives him a stern lecture about how spending his days having sexy times and wearing silk pajamas are unbecoming of a man. Not only that, but Alcina’s not what she seems and here take this ring so you can see through her enchantments. Ruggiero dons the ring. The next time he sees Alcina he discovers she is not young and fair at all, but withered and old. A crone! Not letting on that he knows her secret, Ruggiero makes for the stables, steals a horse, and sets out immediately for Logistilla’s realm.
And the next Canto will tell us how he found his way!
You have to love Gustave Dore. His illustrations for Orlando Furioso are great. Anyways, The Iliad/Odyssey vibes come fast in this Canto.
We start with moralizing about Polinesso and how justice finds evil ones and punishes them. Before long we return to the mysterious knight who arrived to defend Ginerva. It turns out he is Ariodante, Ginerva’s lover long-believed dead. But wait how could this be? Did that traveler lie who said he saw Ariodante fling himself off a cliff?
No. Not quite.
Ariodante did throw himself into the sea, but regretted the act as soon as it was done. Then surviving his fall he returned to land where he found shelter with a hermit. Soon he heard word about the accusations against Ginerva and the trial by combat to determine her innocence. When no one went to her aid, and still in love (only now thinking I’ll show her I’m better than Polinesso!) he acquired for himself a squire, arms, and armor and set off to fight Lurcanio (despite him being his… brother? I’m not sure if this is literal or not). The rest is no secret.
Hearing all this everyone agrees it is a great turn of events. Dalinda gets pardoned for her role in the plot (and sent off to Denmark) while Ariodante and Ginerva get married. Rinaldo sets off again, but Ariosto says now let’s go back to Ruggiero.
When last we saw Ruggiero he was on board the flying hippogriff setting off for parts unknown. His flight makes him tremble like a leaf despite bearing stalwart and brave, and across the ocean he flies until he lands on a mysterious isle. Hitching the hippogriff to a tree, he’s surprised when the tree starts crying.
And so enters another guy.
This knight’s name is Astolfo and he’s related to Orlando and Rinaldo. He’s also next in line as King of England. During some adventure he got trapped in a cave, then freed by Orlando. Once freed he was heading back to Europe when a cruel sorceress named Alcina kidnapped him by sending him out to swim to an island that turned out to be a whale that carried him to this magic isle far across the ocean.
Now, Alcina is the sister of Morgana la Faye and both of them are bad news.
To my abode I’ll take you and beguile
You with my fish menagerie
I don’t know about you, but I’d nope out at “fish menagerie”.
Morgana and Alcina are evil, but they have a sister named Logistilla who is good, and they being the Mean Girls they are hate Logistilla. But all this is a long digression and at last Astolfo gets back to how he got changed into a tree.
He lands on the island and promptly starts a love affair with Alcina, and all is great until she gets bored with him. Like Circe before her, Alcina likes to change men to beasts/plants when she gets bored with them. Hence Astolfo becomes a myrtle tree. All this and the fact that Astolfo is Bradamante’s cousin makes Ruggiero sad he can’t free Astolfo. But so it goes, and instead Ruggiero asks for directions to wherever Logistilla has her home. Astolfo gives them and Ruggiero sets out.
He sees a fabulous city, but figures he should avoid it since that’s where Alcina lives. So he takes a mountain road where he is promptly attacked by a horde of twisted monsters, gamboling, goatheads, bodies upside down, ogres, and such like, real Realms of Chaos-Hieronymous Bosch-John Blanche type stuff. Ruggiero fights as well as he can, but before long the horde gets the upper hand. All seems lost for Ruggiero, when out from the city comes a pair of beautiful ladies riding unicorns. They “rescue” Ruggiero and take him into the city which is full of “alluring damsels.”
With beckoning gestures and with smiling eyes,
They ushered in the knight to Paradise.
Now the two ladies tell Ruggiero that there’s a monster in the swamp nearby birthing all those horrible monsters that attacked him, and this monster’s name is Erfilla and would Ruggiero be so kind as to kill it. Well, of course, he would! So for the swamp he sets out, but as for the battle? That Ariosto will tell us in the next Canto.
See you there.
In Canto V we meet the greatest young knight in all of Italy and his name is Ariodante. And, boom, like that Ariosto drops an author self-insert character! Truly this is a work of fan fiction. I might start doing this myself.
Which sounds the most modest: Justemingway, Justespeare, F. Scott Justgerald? But I get ahead of myself.
Last canto we ended with Rinaldo rescuing a damsel from some ruffians while on his way to rescue a different damsel. In this Canto, the rescued damsel tells her story and how it relates to that other damsel that needs rescuing. That damsel’s name is Ginerva. This damsel’s name is Dalinda. And this is her story. But first Ariosto gives us a bit of digression on how weird it is that animals have sex without any problems, but for humans it’s a battlefield between the participants. Ariosto even takes the radical stance of saying it’s a bad thing to kill your lover. All this should clue us readers in for what’s to come.
Dalinda is Ginevra’s maid, and the two had a very close relationship, so much so that Ginerva gave Dalinda access to her old clothes and chambers. Dalinda was very pleased, and turned the spare rooms into her personal rendezvous spot to meet with her lover Polinesso , the Duke of Albany. There no “no amorous game was left untried”, but, of course, Polinesso’s love was not true. He’s using Dalinda to get access to Ginevra. She is the real person he wants to wed. But Ginevra loves another man: Ariodante, the GREATEST KNIGHT ITALY EVER HAD. Machinations ensue. Polinesso convinces Dalinda to go along with him, telling her he’s only feigning love for Ginevra in order to gain social position. He has Dalinda dress up as Ginevra one night in their love nest, but not before telling Ariodante how his love is untrue to him. Ariodante expects some shady dealings and brings a bodyguard with him (Lurcanio, greatest knight in Scotland and yadda yadda yadda). Polinesso then dons a disguise and climbs up the tower where he and Dalinda do the pornhub. Ariodante sees all and flips out. Dalinda realizes what Polinesso’s up to, and Lurcanio thinks someone’s trying to kill Ariodante. He goes to save Ariodante and spies the whole thing. At first, he tries to tell Ariodante that all woman are evil and should die. But Ariodante chooses instead to disappear. Ginevra has no idea what’s happened, only that this guy she loves now flees from her. A bit later word comes back that Ariodante threw himself off a cliff and is now dead. (I doubt it.) When Lurcanio hears this he denounces Ginerva to the king. It would usually be her brother (Prince Zerbino) who would defend her honor, but he’s momentarily absent from the kingdom.
But what about Dalinda and the ruffians?
Well, Polinesso true to douchebro-form realizes one person can keep a secret better than two and hires a couple of thugs to abduct Dalinda and kill her out in the wilderness somewhere. He doesn’t want anyone to ask her any questions. What he didn’t count on was Rinaldo showing up.
Rinaldo rescues Dalinda and gets the whole story from her. He decides he’ll fight as Ginevra’s champion and sets off to where she’s imprisoned. But when he gets there he finds another knight has already become her champion. This knight doesn’t give a name and keeps their visor down. It’s this knight Lurcanio’s fighting when Rinaldo arrives. Rinaldo promptly goes to the king and tells him to stop the fight, because the whole thing’s a mistake. Rinaldo then tells everyone about Polinesso’s plot and challenges him to a duel. They fight and Polinesso gets run threw. He confesses before dying. Ginevra’s name gets cleared. Everyone then turns to the unknown knight.
“How the flip do you fit in this?” they ask.
And the knight says, “I’ll tell you in the next canto.”
I made the comment on twitter that I am glad I skipped the introduction because I fear it would’ve tried to make me think this was a book to be taken seriously. A Dante’s The Divine Comedy, instead of what it actually is: a 16th century run of Avengers comics. The whole thing reads like Ariosto took all the legends and epics he knew and mashed them into one continuity Crisis on Infinite Earths style. And I’m here for it.
Plus it’s really good bedtime reading.
Last canto we ended with Bradamante meeting Brunello. Surprisingly in this Canto we stay with them. The crashing that ended Canto III turns out to be the necromancer flying by on his winged horse.
“Sometimes high up among the stars he flies
At other times close to the ground he’ll skim,
And any lovely woman whom he spies
He snatches up and carries off with him.”
Bradamante and Brunello agree to join forces and travel together to the necromancer’s castle. Both have their own reasons to want Ruggiero freed. Surprising me again, nothing happens to them on the road and after about three dozen lines of hill and dale climbing descriptions, the pair come to in sight of the necromancer’s castle. Promptly, Bradamante attacks and defeats Brunello, stealing the magic ring he carries. However, contrary to the enchantress’s advice Bradamante doesn’t kill Brunello but leaves him tied to a tree. She then goes on to the necromancer’s castle and blows her horn in challenge.
“Not long the man of sorcery delayed
When he had heard the challenge of the horn.
On his winged horse, towards the warrior Maid,
Whom he believes to be a man, he’s borne.
A word here about our necromancer: it’s hard not to read him in science-fictional terms as someone from an advanced tech civilization living on a primitive world. He has a winged “horse” that makes a loud booming roar when it flies, access to magic items (a shield that shoots a stunning light and a book he uses to conjure weapons), and he lives in a towering castle made of steel. I’ve read Gene Wolfe. I’ve played Numenera. I recognize this guy.
“His shield in a vermilion cloth was draped.
In his right hand he held an open book,
Whence marvelous phenomena he shaped:
A lance which hurtled through the air and took
His adversary by surprise, who gaped
At nothingness, with an astonished look;
Or with a dagger or a club he smote
From far away, by a control remote.”
By a control remote. . .
You can’t fool me Ariosto! This ain’t no wizard. This is a traveler from the far future fighting with a stun ray and nanite swarm. There’s also something, something about his horse.
Bradamante and the necromancer fight, and the necromancer enjoys himself, drawing the duel out to get his cruel kicks. Bradamante however feigns being worse off than she is, and when she swoons before the stun ray she does so while completely unscathed. But the necromancer doesn’t know this and goes to claim his prize when Bradamante leaps upon him and strikes the magic book from his hand. She quickly subdues him and claims his gear as her own, then gets ready to chop off his head only to realize he’s a withered old man. He’s like kill me already, and she’s like no. You need to tell me why you’re kidnapping knights. And he’s like I kidnapped the knights to keep Ruggiero company. And Bradamante’s like why are you keeping Ruggiero captive? And the guy is like because if Ruggiero becomes a Christian he’ll die. He also says his name’s Atlante. Bradamante commands him to open his prisons and PLONK, out come a host of knights and their horses.
There’s Gradasso, Sacripante, Prasildo, and Iroldo, all people I assume had their own comic books in the 16th century. At last, there’s Ruggiero. And there’s much gladness when he sees Bradamante – but Atlante escapes and takes his steel castle with him. The winged horse however stays behind and all the knights try to catch it. It flies in little hops, first here, then there, all the while it’s being controlled by an invisible Atlante. At last the horse lands in front of Ruggiero, and he climbs astride it. At which point, Atlante launches the horse straight into the sky. Atlante hasn’t given up on his mission yet.
And then Ariosto does a scene change…
When last we left Rinaldo he was on a boat making for England and the waves were high and all looked lost, but it actually wasn’t that bad. They land and Ariosto’s Britain is a chivalric hellscape of Arthuriana where the never ending clash of arms echoes through the forests. All of which sounds great to Rinaldo who sets off at once to seek adventure. Staying one night at a monastery he learns how the local king has condemned his daughter to death because she slept with her boyfriend, and Rinaldo is like you’re king’s an ass. He then gives some sex positivity discourse on how it’s no big deal that a damsel gave her lover solace in her bed. Long story short, Rinaldo sets out to rescue the princess. And promptly assists another damsel in distress being attacked by ruffians.
How did she end up here? Well, that’s what Canto V will attempt to make clear.
Until next time! May your sword stay sharp!
Did you know that Ariosto was sponsored by the D’Este family?
Do you know who the ancestors of the D’Este family were?
Turns out they were Bradamante, that lady knight of great virtue, and Ruggierro, that guy knight of great virtue. But wait you say, aren’t they on opposite sides of this war between Christian and Saracen? Why yes, that’s true. They are on opposite sides of the war, but they have destinies, and one of them is to get married, found the D’Este family, more to Ferrara, and make it the best place on Earth to live, or at least so says Ludovico Aristo, native of Ferrara and proud supporter of the D’Este family.
And that’s this canto.
Pinabel suspects Bradamante is still alive and decides he should vacate the premises. He does so, but not before stealing Bradamante’s horse. Bradamante survives her fall and discovers a door in the cave. This door leads to a bigger, better cave of finely crafted columns. In the center is an altar with a lamp burning on it, and the sight of this makes Bradamante kneel and pray. A sorceress appears and starts talking. The sorceress knows many things. For one she knew she and Bradamante were destined to meet. She also knows the cave was built by Merlin and serves as his tomb, since it was here that the Lady of the Lake betrayed him (???), and it’s here in this cave that his spirit will forever dwell until Judgment Day. She says Merlin’s spirit still talks and that’s why she was here, to get some magical advice. Merlin’s spirit then appears to say hey, and the sorceress offers to conjure a vision of all Bradamante’s heirs.
Here are the wiki pages for the House of Este and the Dukes of Ferrara. If they lived before the 16th century Ariosto mentions them. It’s like that bit in the Iliad where Homer lists all the boats and who was on which so his audience can be like “That guy came from my hometown!” Except it’s more ass-kissy.
D’Este propaganda concluded, the sorceress escorts Bradamante out of the mountains towards the Castle of Steel (where Ruggierro is imprisoned). The way is hard and to pass the time the sorceress tells Bradamante how to defeat the necromancer who lives in the castle. This is the knight on the flying horse from Canto II who has that shield that knocks people out with laser beams or something. However, there is a ring and it can defeat the necromancer. This ring protects the wearer from enchantment and all evil spells.
And where is this ring? It’s currently in the possession of an awful man named Brunello.
Brunello (as we’d know from the first Orlando book that we didn’t read) is a master thief employed by Agrimante the King of Africa. Brunello is also a dwarf and very ugly. Agrimante wants Ruggierro freed because he’s the greatest knight in the African army. To that end he gave Brunello the magic ring and the mission to bring back Ruggierro. Now what Bradamante needs to do is meet Brunello at a nearby lodging, keep him away from her wallet, and join him in this mission, then, according to the enchantress, when they reach the castle Bradamante should kill Brunello and steal the ring. Sounds like a plan, so the two women part company. Bradamante rushes on to the hostel and meets Brunello. The two don’t trust each other and it looks like they won’t join forces at which point a mighty uproar smites the ear. Its cause?
Maybe Aristo will tell us in the next canto.
Or maybe we’ll be off to some other knight having a bad time of it.
I look forward to finding out.
Second installment and I am noticing a pattern. Introduce knight. Make the knight fight. Put knight in hole. Introduce another knight or switch to one you already had in a hole. Rinse and repeat. It’s a neat formula. I can see why the book’s been so popular.
This chapter has a lot of that. It also has wizards, sprites, dwarfs, and a winged horse. A veritable monster manual of stuff.
So strap on your sword belts and let’s go!
Rinaldo and Sacripante are getting ready to duel. The cause? Angelica (and the fact that Sacripante is on Rinaldo’s horse):
“Let us then have recourse
To combat, to decide which of us is
More worthy of the lady and the horse.”
Lady? Horse? Same same.
So the two knights hurl themselves at each other. Rinaldo on the ground, Sacripante on a horse. Except it’s Rinaldo’s horse, Baiardo, and refuses to harm its master. Sacripante dismounts and now they hurl themselves at each other with all their fury. There’s lots of clashing. Rinaldo’s sword is named Fusberta. Sacripnate’s shield gets smashed and his arm broken. Angelica sees Rinaldo is about to win and does what she does best: hightail it out of there as fast as she can and make straight for the forest. In there because the wilderness is a wild place where anything can happen, she promptly finds a hermit who turns out to be a wizard and kindly deposed to her.
“As soon as the fair damsel he had seen
Approaching him, though weaker than of yore,
That organ, by such tender beauty spurred,
With warmth of feeling and compassion stirred.”
(Ariosto’s talking about the hermit wizard’s heart you pervos.)
The wizard throws his lot in with Angelica and goes with her to the nearest port. He also conjures up a sprite to go distract the still fighting Rinaldo and Sacripante. The sprite takes on human form and tells the knights that they have no reason to fight since Angelica’s gone to Paris with Orlando. If they hurry though it’s possible they could catch them. The knights feel like fools and quit the field. Rinaldo reclaiming Baiardo the Horse and we get a bit then about how great Baiardo is. Smart too. Except not this time. Baiardo falls for the sprite’s trick as well. When they get to Paris, they find no Angelica there only King Charlemagne and he’s preparing for siege. Rinaldo’s quickly ordered off to England on a diplomatic mission. Rinaldo set off and puts to sea where a storm promptly starts, and as the waves mount and threaten to sink the ship Ariosto says “Enough of this guy, let’s talk about that lady knight Bradamante.”
Bradamante is Rinaldo’s sister and equal in power, courage, and virtue. I don’t know the name of her sword or horse… yet. She’s in love with and loved by Ruggiero one of the greatest knights in the African army. I suspect we will see more of him later when someone else gets put in a hole. As it is Bradamante finds another knight looking doleful. She asks what’s wrong and the knight tells a tale of how he and his girl were riding along when a knight on a winged horse flew down and stole his girl. He tried to fight the guy, but he was too fast. Now the knight’s girl is locked up in yonder castle and there’s no way to save her. Already the knight told some other knights (Gradasso and Ruggiero) and their dwarf buddy (name as yet unknown) about the flying menace (name also unknown at the moment) and those guys said they would take care of things, but sadly the flying knight kicked their asses (he has a shield that shoots energy beams by the way) and kidnapped them too. Woe. Woe. Boo hoo.
Being a hero Bradamante’s ready to set off and fight this flying menace. The knight agrees to be her guide. But wait! What’s this the knight is not who he claims! He is Pinabel the Maganzan and he doesn’t have good intentions.
“Named Pinabel, of all true knights the foe.
Born a Maganzan, he obeyed no laws
Of chivalry, and of that breed accurst
In acts of treachery he was the worst.”
The two set forth towards the castle, but on the way the envoy from the first canto shows up and tells Bradamante that she’s needed in Marseilles. Pinabel seethes, and Ariosto explains how there’s hatred between the two families. He gets so vexed that they soon get lost in a wood. There after some maneuvering Pinabel spots a ravine and decides it’s as good a place as any to do away with Bradamante. He tells her a story about a damsel trapped in the hole and convinces Bradamante to climb down there. Except when she does, he cuts the tree branch they’re using and lets her drop.
“And how she later fared I’ll later say”
Next week… new knights? New horses?