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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
12.2 (Spring 2012)
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Further Selections from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso: Translation and Commentary
John R. Harris
From Canto 2
Rinaldo is still at large and on foot in the forest. As luck would have it, he encounters Sacripante and Angelica. The two things he desires most on earth—in approximately equal measure—are the recovery of his horse and the possession of the dazzling princess. First things first: he proceeds to charge the pagan king with being a horse thief, and a battle ensues. Sacripante is soon forced to dismount and fight toe to toe with his adversary, not out of chivalry, but because Baiardo refuses to assist in the attack on his proper owner. Angelica is again in the situation of finding herself temporarily free to run for it while two lusty warriors fight over her—and, as in Canto 1, she takes flight. She gallops but a short way, however, before she chances upon an elderly, pious hermit. This “devout” figure gives a new twist to her story.
Emaciated thanks to age and pious fasting,
’Pon a tardy ass he came along the way;
And seemed he by his looks in abstinential practice
Versed more than all others of the human race.
As soon ’s he saw of flesh this masterpiece advancing,
Mounted not on marble but on palfrey gray,
Decrepit as he was and nothing of a courtier,
Charity he felt yet more than seconds earlier.
The lady of this hermit asked as urgent favor
Surest road to reach a port upon the sea,
Because to bid fair France farewell a-weighing anchor
Certain was to leave Rinaldo in her lee.
The brother, who’d read deep in arts both fine and darker,
Vowed of her distress the damsel to relieve,
Possessing (so he said) the solvent of all peril
(Here he tapped a pocket in his thin apparel).
Extracting thereupon a little book, he proved its
Powerful effects; a single page he’d sung
When suddenly appeared a lad of scarce two cubits
Tall whom he commanded what was to be done.
Compelled by magic words, the spirit packed his ruses
Off to where the duel seemed far from being won.
Rampaging through the woods, they’d little left of vigor,
Making him more bold within their midst to enter.
“Could one of you please show me,” said he, “out of kindness,
Should he kill the other, what he will have gained?
What profit will you harvest, charmed by glory’s blindness,
Once of you the best has t’ other fatal maimed?
Orlando, having neither jousted not sword brandished
Nor indented link of mail upon ye chained,
Departed has for Paris with your lass in tether
While ye fight deciding whose right to her’s better.
“Angelic’ and the Count I happened on in tandem
Up the road a mile—the road for Paris bound—
A-laughing at your brawling like a pair of bantams
O’er a hen who’s flown the coop and gone to town.
A better plan (if I might recommend at random)
Were it to pursue instead of slug and pound:
For once arrived in Paris if Orlando beds her,
Both of you were lucky if she reads your letters.”
You would have found the two knights much disturbed hereafter,
Stunned by the announcement and inclined to brood,
Regretting that, obtuse in eye and mind, for laughter
To their common rival they had been rich food.
Rinaldo in especial, shuffling to his prancer,
Heaved sighs no less torrid than Mount Etna’s fumes.
He swore in fit of outrage through which fury seethèd
Out to lift his cousin’s heart next time they greeted.
To where his brave Boiardo waited, he proceeded,
Foot to stirrup, slung a leg, and touched both spurs
Without a by-your-leave to him who stayed unseated—
Much less invitation to behind him perch!
The stallion rare of spirit crumpled or stampeded
Anything obstructive, by his master stirred.
Nor ditch nor ridge nor river would have bent the charger
Hair’s breadth from the path constructed by his ardor.
Milord, I shouldn’t like you curious to think it
That Rinaldo’s horse now suddenly obeyed
Despite evading capture like a windblown leaflet,
Never letting hand be on his bridle laid.
The truth is that his horse-sense human was, though blinkered—
For he purpose had in going far astray:
Because he’d heard his master longing for the damsel,
Figured he to follow anywhere she scrambled.
When she the duke’s pavilion deftly had abandoned,
Saw the noble charger everything occur;
And since his saddle void to be of rider happened—
Lord Rinaldo, much to fence afoot inured,
Engaged was at the time with doughty heathen champion
Nothing less than he in arms adroit and sure—
Decided the resourceful beast, though stalking subtle,
Not to lose the mare his master longed to cuddle.
Attentive to her trail wherever she went hiding,
Through the woods he led Rinaldo day by day
And wouldn’t let him mount and, reins in hand, their guiding
Reassume because he’d steer them off the way.
Results confirmed the knight more apt afoot than riding
Was to find (though she once found, inept) his prey:
Too bad that by Ferrau was first delayed his passion,
Then, as you have heard, by lusty young Circassian.
The demon-lad who dangled now before Rinaldo
Images concocted of his lovely nymph
Deceived, as well, the wits fine-whetted of Baiardo—
Launched the faithful steed upon Parisian trip,
The rider giving spur in needless, heated salvoes
(Heated by desire and rage to fever pitch);
For such Rinaldo’s thirst to catch up with his cousin
Was that on a gale he would have rid a-cussing.
Canto 2 thus opens with a deliberate and ironic reprise of several themes presented in the first canto. Yet another male is called to “noble” intercession (this time by “charity” rather than “chivalry”) as soon as he claps eyes on Angelica’s smoldering beauty. The savior is now a “devout” religious hermit! To protect the girl, he employs precisely the same tactic as had distracted Rinaldo previously: he has the combatants made aware that the girl whom both hope to ravish has fled the scene. Ariosto seems to be emphasizing—about Rinaldo, especially, who has been involved in both incidents—that romantic obsession (and we might as well call it voracious lust in this case) inhibits those it afflicts from finishing the tasks they begin. In the case of the warrior, it actually unmans him, pulling him from the battles he has joined and rendering him utterly ineffective and unreliable.
At nightfall, hardly did the paladin relinquish
Following the footsteps of Anglante’s lord;
E’en so much the demon-messenger had piqued his
Rage with fantasies he trusted to the core.
Continued he to ride till dawn conferred a sheepish
Blush upon the point he’d navigated for:
The city walls, replete with routed troops, where Charles’s
Court (in gayer times) of sycophants and carls is.
Because from Afric’s king the Great One looked for battle,
Siege, and other grief, he now used thoughtful care
In gathering the local stock of men and cattle,
Strengthening the walls, and hasting all repair.
Whatever ploy or gismo might th’ invaders rattle
Drafted he for use, be ’t snatched up here or there.
Particular design he had to beg the English
Loan of fresh reserves his army to replenish…
For fervently desired he second fight to fashion,
Casting war’s red dice again on battle wild.
Dispatched he, then, Rinaldo to that noble nation—
Britain, as they call it: England, ‘tis now styled.
The knight to this assignment brought but little passion—
Not that he the English held as something vile:
But Charles had these travels ordered on the double
Nor would make allowance for one’s girlfriend troubles.
Rinaldo ne’er with heavier heart had an adventure
Started than he now, since he was pulled from quest
Incessant for that visage lovely beyond measure
Thanks to whose keen cutting wounded was his breast.
And yet, because to service called him Faith and Emp’ror,
Sprang he to the challenge (somewhat out of breath):
To Calais in mere hours carried he his baggage,
Asked along the shore, and bargained instant passage.
Against the best advice of every seasoned sailor,
All because he wanted back to come post haste,
Persuaded he a crew t’ ignore the ever paler
Heavens and the wind’s shrill singing ’round the brace.
Aeolus from on high—of gusts and gales the jailer—
Seeing their contempt, of terror gave them taste:
Gigantic rose the waves in his indignant protest,
Soaking e’en the lookout clinging to the crow’s nest.
The mariners on cue struck mainsail and to’gallant.
Quickly they assessed the need to come about,
Abandoning this passage far less wise than valiant
For the port whose peace none but a fool would flout.
“Such hubris,” frowned Aeolus, “rates a few more gallons:
Think not so at ease to ’scape my wrath, ye louts!”
And more he howled and shouted, menacing a shipwreck
Should from him another try to take the poop deck.
The Captain of the Clouds, however, not restricted
Was to turn by wheel, but by the bowsprit’s pale
Also revolved the craft as crewmen ran conflicted
What next to attempt once they had shortened sail.
Yet let me trim the story’s ship as I have rigged it—
Foul the lines I must if caught on one detail.
’Tis proper for Rinaldo ’tween the waves to fester
While I Bradamante follow, his brave sister.
Ariosto’s almost flippant dismissal of Rinaldo in what seems a very tight spot may well be intended to parody the romance’s flirtatious habit of keeping the audience always on the edge of its collective seat with manipulative tricks. Yet the author may also be implying that Rinaldo, particularly, passes his whole life hanging over cliffs, since he cannot employ sufficient judgment to steer clear of patent risks. The tempest may even symbolize the passionate forces in his breast that drive him hither and yon—for this ill-advised passage was not undertaken in a zeal to help Charles instantly, but rather in a blind giddiness to return to Angelica-hunting as soon as possible.
The female paladin, I mean, who Sacripante
Planted on his pants for cluttering her way—
The sister of Rinaldo, yes, by old Amone,
Duke of Montalban, and Beatrice once made.
The vigor of this lass her horse to spur avanti
Charles did impress though effort of a maid:
Rinaldo, her big brother, was not greater warrior
(Proof than Sacripant’s defeat there was much gorier).
A knight who Moorish shores had left with Agramante
Was to this knight-lady pledged in secret vows:
The son of Galaciella, child of Agolante
(Wedded to Ruggiero, though death soon him found).
Herself born not of wolf nor lion, Bradamante
Welcomed such a suitor, chivalrous and proud,
Although that stingy spinster Fortune single meeting
Had allowed, where eyes did most of the entreating.
Because of this young lover, named for his sad father,
Bradamant spent weeks a-riding far and wide,
As safe in all her travels from attack or bother
As a king with thousands trotting at his side.
No sooner had Circassia’s king (from ’s thousands wandered)
Smacked our ancient mother ’neath his horse’s hide,
Than Bradamant continued ’cross the woods to mountain,
Scaled a bosky glen, and came to glassy fountain.
The fountain’s spill meandered round about a meadow
Graced by ancient arbors with a wealth of shade
Where travelers invited were by gurgle mellow
Begging them from haste to make a sweet delay.
A mild escarpment southward, terraced with plowed furrows,
Spared from torrid noon the pleasant corner’s glade.
’Twas here the lady-knight with eye alert and nymphan
Spied an unknown wight strange placed in setting sylvan…
A lonely youth, himself as cavalier accoutered,
Sat (as in the shadows clearer she him found)
A-pondering the crystal mirror in a stupor,
Red, white, yellow flowers bloss’ming all around.
His shield and helmet hanging from a beech tree tutored—
’Long with tethered steed to same location bound—
The thoughtful eye that all with him not as it should be
Was: the dampened cheeks scarce drooping lower could be.
The native disposition driving every person
Toward investigation when the facts seem odd
Enticed the armored maiden soft to pose a question
Of the cavalier about his stifled sobs.
The latter made an answer full in mild inflections,
Than a gentle query needing no more prod—
Though further still persuasion lay in the arrival’s
Noble manner, suited more to friend than rival.
Another reprise: lovely maiden eavesdropping on knight in despair by rustic fountain—only Bradamante quickly makes her presence known and honestly poses her questions. Unlike Angelica’s dealings with Sacripante, hers with Pinabello (the current stranger) will be entirely genuine and well intended. The immediate consequence: Pinabello, a born and bred Judas, will play her an almost fatal trick and leave her for dead; yet she not only survives to pay him his just due later, but the information he provides will lead her to Ruggiero. It would seem, then, that honesty is eventually rewarded in Ariosto’s when attended by persistence.
So he began, “Milord”—her face unseen—“to pilot
Soldiers horse and foot from mountains to the plain
(The passage being twisty) was my high assignment—
Urgent reinforcements meant for Charlemagne.
With me, a comely maid—of joy my pretty islet—
Trotted ’long: for her I burn a fervent flame.
Just then, close to Rodonna—What name should I call ’m?—
Rider mounted came on something horse-or-falcon!
“As soon as this rude raptor—mortal or, more likely,
Predator from Hell in mold of devils forged—
Beheld my precious beauty, plunging like a Harpy
Comes he in descent more quick than hand draws sword.
He stooped, and next was soaring: scarce I heard brush lightly
Feathers—then my lady, saddlebow slung o’er,
Devised I from fast-dimming cries and waving figure
Caught upon a griffin fading through the azure.
“A mother hen must in such desolation rampage
When she sees her chick receding in the claws
Of vulture pitiless who of her took advantage,
Nest but briefly left: now she can only squawk.
Not well-equipped am I to rise on airy voyage
Through the mountain peaks to this fiend’s lofty rock—
My horse from scaling slopes of scree already weary
Past the point of stagg’ring farther up this quarry.
“Howe’er, like someone troubled less if knife had lifted
Heart from out his breast, I weeping ‘llowed to ride
My other comrades witless of their route, unfitted
Though they without leader were way out to find.
Through disarray of foothills—path that best permitted
Horseback climb—I then, with Love my only guide,
To navigate attempted where the thieving tercel
Might my soul’s delight have swept up in his circles.
“For six days had I wandered—morning, noon, and twilight—
Up ravine and chasm desert and severe—
And never passage, path, or goat track to my eyesight—
Never single human footprint—had appeared.
Then came I to a vale whose depths lay e’er in nighttime,
Hemmed by cliffs and caverns breeding shapeless fears,
Upon whose central crag there sat a potent castle,
Solid and erect—a structure made to dazzle.
“While distant, gave it image of a flame fast frozen,
Not of marble block or baked earth something wrought.
And e’er as I picked closer to my North Star chosen,
More its lustrous arches wonder to me taught.
Concluded I at last that engineers disposing
Fumes, charms, spells, and skills from Devil’s workshop brought
Imported had a steel once molten in Hell’s foundry,
Dipped in River Styx, and raised to these high bound’ries.
Pinabello has indeed mastered the art of abandoning people who trust him. Note that he actually admits—even describes in some detail—his betrayal of the reinforcements whose sole hope he was to navigate treacherous mountain passes, leaving all concerned not only to miss their rendezvous with a hard-pressed Charlemagne but perhaps to perish in a natural labyrinth. His excuse is again love. None of these woman-hungry courtiers, however, has left more people in a greater danger of closer imminence. He is always quick to exculpate himself with vivid theories of the Devil’s involvement, hellish tampering, etc. Nothing is ever his own fault (a very fine touch of characterization: the traitor often pictures himself the victim of an evil conspiracy).
“This perfect steel in seamless sheets on every tower
Glistens without trace of rust or dint or stain.
The wingèd thief’s retreat is here, although he scours
All surrounding country by both night and day.
Whatever he selects to seize is quick o’erpowered,
Leaving on the ground shrieks, cries, and curses vain.
Aloft must stay my love, though ’dmission is it brutal—
For to get her back all hope I hold as futile.
“Aye, me! What more can I but sit and eye the prison
High up in the sky where all my good is sealed?
Just so, the fox who, out of reach but not of vision
Or the length of screams, observes the eagle steal
His cub, and can but pace the earth in indecision,
Nature having fixed no feathers on his heels…
For, with such dizzy height of precipice and fortress,
Only birds alight may ever on that doorstep.
“As here I lingered pining, came a pair of valiants
Mounted well. A dwarf to guide them did they trust.
The two with hope and daring puffing like their stallions—
Yet their hope and daring proved less than enough.
Delighted them high risk as much as others dalliance:
One, a Chinese king—Gradasso—liked not rust
Upon his fame; the virile paladin Ruggiero
Likewise prized in Afric’s courts as mighty hero.
“The dwarf confided, ‘Came they here to try their prowess
’Gainst the lord of yonder castle in the clouds
Renowned for how he strange, incredible, and reckless
On a wingèd quadruped prefers to joust.’
At this I cried, ‘Good sirs, my misery endoweth
All who me behold with pity: so you now,
I pray. If you succeed, as fervently I wish for,
Please return my lady—anything I’d give for ’er!’
“Proceeded I to tell them next how she was stolen,
Weeping all the while: my grief would not subside.
Their merciful assurance left me deep beholden.
Then into the valley baleful did they ride.
Afar removed, I watched the battle quick unfolding,
Praying God His strength to cast upon our side.
Beneath the castle stretched as much of open campus
As a practiced hand might two times throw a discus.
Pinabello continues to paint his despicable character—unwittingly—with his own words. The ironies fall fast and thick here. He has just deserted the relief column bound for Charlemagne’s Christian forces: now he not only embraces the arrival of the two Muslim warriors, but prays to his God on their common behalf, all three of them now being allies in his mind. He might have done them more good by actually lending a hand in the fight, since three against one would presumably yield superior odds to two against one; yet he lacks the intestinal fortitude, and indeed makes a sad spectacle of himself when weeping over his lost lady (whom he has not yet lifted a finger to help at any time). Such are the kinds of clue that Ariosto sows for the astute.
Note, too, the wholly gratuitous description of the plain at the end of Stanza 47: these dimensions will be completely irrelevant in the contest that ensues. In fact, over the next several stanzas, Pinabello clearly warms to his story, even wandering into a fulsome digression about Gradasso’s mare. This distraught lover is fully capable, it seems, of embellishing a long tale before a captive audience.
“Arrived beneath the stronghold’s vertical beginning,
Each of the contestants wanted to go first.
Gradasso bolted forward, whether after winning
Cast of lots, or since he vanity more nursed.
The Chinaman a horn set to his mouth, a-spinning
Echoes off those ramparts stony and accursed.
Behold, the cavalier appeared in shining armor
At the airy gate upon his wingèd charger.
“The airborne rider bit by bit climbed in a spiral
As migrating storks accustomed are to launch.
We see their running jump, then scarce they may aspire all
Dozen feet of leap to hold beneath their paunch.
Yet once their arching wings embrace a balmy thermal,
Swift as catapult aloft they are ensconced.
In such a way, where eagles fly the necromancer
Steered with steady rein his elevated prancer.
“When moment seemed him right, he turned his flying stallion,
Spurred him wings to close, and fell to earth like lead.
As tumbles out of heaven trained and practiced falcon
’Pon a dove or mallard, so this rider sped.
The lance down firmly settled of this armored halcyon
Split the air with whistle—sound of doom and dread.
Gradasso to locate its source no time to squander
Had before he felt a smack upon his collar.
“Upon Gradasso, yes, the magus broke his poker:
King Gradasso’s counter met but wind and air.
The avian assailant smoothly glided over,
Spreading wing again, then to the skies repaired.
The ponderous encounter forced to dip her crupper
All the way to earth Gradasso’s Arab mare—
An Arab mare Gradasso rode, if I may tattle:
Never finer horseflesh saw I under saddle.
“Aloft unto the stars the feathered charger cantered;
Then he turned about and plunged in steep descent.
Ruggiero this time ne’er saw coming the encounter,
Fully on Gradasso’s swordsmanship intent.
The blow, it seemed, disposed him poppies ’mong to saunter
While back was his horse a full step rudely bent;
And by the time he’d waked himself to pay th’ addition,
Far into the sky the knight had steered his griffin.
“And now upon Gradasso, now upon Ruggiero,
Leveled he a blow to forehead, chest, and spine,
Nor e’er could they deliver ’gainst the caballero
Brisk a repartee, since ne’er they swung in time.
Persisted he in spinning eights and spacious zeroes,
Often smiting one when t’ other feint had primed.
Of one and other both so busied he the eyeballs
That to glimpse his tail was unexpected windfall.
“Between the earthbound warriors and the airborne lancer
Lasted match one-sided till such time as dusk,
Deploying gauzy curtain o’er the world, enhances
Nothing but the shadows’ trove of starry dust.
Consider not my speech now tale of a romancer:
Saw it I and know it, though true scarce I trust
To seem unto another at the deed not present:
Less like fact than fancy far–conceived and pleasant.
“The cavalier celestial had a silken banner
Kept across the shield that on his arm found rest:
If asked how it stayed put in fight of such a manner—
Zooming sky-to-earth—I couldn’t make a guess.
In final light of day the shutter of this lantern
Opened he abrupt: a beam it did project
Anesthetizing every mind whose eye was sentient,
Leaving the magician victor in an instant.
“The splendor of the shield, like everlasting gemstone,
Beamed with inner ardor steadily renewed.
Beholding its candescence, one must needs his shinbones
Touch to earth and bow, as if God nearby loomed.
Though distant, I myself fell strangely into limbo,
Where my mind remained for longer than I knew.
When I revived, the warriors and their dwarfish lackey
Vanished were, the plain a void, and night come blackly.
“I reasoned from these sev’ral clues that the magician
Both the paladins had swept up on his own;
By virtue of his marvel’s luminous precision
Captive had he ta’en them: with them, my last hope.
And so the place I gave my weeping benediction—
Damnèd place, but holding now my heart and soul.
Of all the woes that Cupid ever caused a mortal,
Judge thou, sir, if ever heard’st one half so brutal.”
The causes of his grief thus told, in bended elbows
’Gain the cavalier surrendered to his gloom.
The Maganzese count and son of one Anselmo,
Pinabel, was he who such despair resumed.
The scion of a scoundrel tree, ne’er would the fellow
Treason play his tribe by word or deed of truth:
Instead, in all the vices most abhorred and vulpine,
Equal had he none, but left all at the start line.
The lovely lady-knight with quite polite appearance,
Never rolling eye, was following this yarn;
Ruggiero’s name once said, however, keen impatience
Seized her close to follow how the sock was darned.
At first rejoicing, quick she registered disturbance
Learning him she sought imprisoned and disarmed:
A time or two, and more, she asked him to unravel
Just recounted deeds and o’er the same words travel.
When finally she thought all facts to grasp precisely,
Said she, “Cavalier, let peace possess thy mind.
For much my passing by is like to gratify thee—
Thou’lt recall this day as luckiest of its kind.
Now take me where that vault, more miserly than wisely,
Seals its treasure, sure that none its walls may climb.
The effort you expend will amply be rewarded
If I have but friend lukewarm in Lady Fortune.”
Canto 2 concludes before Bradamante has an opportunity to effect her lover’s rescue. She and Pinabello are approached by a messenger who stresses to the female champion Charlemagne’s urgent need of her valorous assistance. Bradamante weighs the two conflicting obligations to king and lover, like so many of the romance’s knights; and, as have her predecessors, she chooses the latter. Yet there are two major differences in her choice: Ruggiero’s complete welfare concerns her—he is not a sexual adventure; and besides, her plan of rescue is quite realistic and can be fulfilled in mere hours, if all goes as she foresees. She certainly does not contemplate turning her back on her sovereign for weeks in favor of a wild goose chase.
Yet an unexpected delay does indeed occur—and almost a fatal one. Overhearing the messenger, Pinabello at last becomes aware that the famous lady-warrior is his benefactor—and he is consumed by a craving to exact revenge upon her for some obscure grudge between their families. (Since Ariosto has indicated that Bradamante already knows Pinabello’s name, she obviously does not rate the feud at a very high level of intensity under the present circumstances of personal and national crisis.) Despite the traitorous count’s repeated and prolonged insistence that he cares only for his captive mistress—that he has even deserted hundreds of comrades in dire need to go seek her—a blood-feud of hazy origin now seems more important to him than enlisting the services of a skillful knight who has promised him help. An ever-treacherous guide, he pretends to lead her along tortuous paths to the magical fortress. When she is in a particularly exposed position, scaling down a deep chasm as he steadies her descent with the aid of a dead limb, he releases his hold, trusting that the brave damsel will fall to her death.
From Canto 3
Most of this canto is devoted to a lavish praise of Bradamante’s descendents, viewed prophetically through a tour de force of magic. Recall that Pinabello had allowed the female knight to slide into a deep cavern and had left her there for dead. Yet Bradamante is only stunned. Upon regaining consciousness, she investigates her mysterious dark surroundings and finds strange lighting in a certain quarter. The benign sorceress Melissa (not actually named until a later canto) appears as if she were expecting her guest. Intending to restore Bradamante’s confidence in the future generally and also to hearten her in the search for Ruggiero, she introduces the maiden into the chamber where the legendary Merlin is buried. As his priestess, Melissa can call upon the entombed corpse to project images of the future onto the cave’s wall. A marvelous display ensues (remarkably like a modern slide-show: more than once in his epic does Ariosto anticipate twentieth-century technology, as with the dive-bombing hippogryph of the previous canto). Bradamante is given a glance at one distinguished generation after another destined to flow from her and Ruggiero. The effect upon the young heroine is indeed restorative.
Contemporary students can scarcely resist the view of such writing as adulation bordering on servility—for Ippolito d’Este, of course (Ariosto’s patron), will be among the Olympian progeny of this union. Yet a couple of points should be borne in mind. First, Ariosto is herein following the epic program laid out in Aeneid 6, where the hero visits the Underworld with the Sibyl and is allowed to see generations of glorious Romans yet unborn. (Virgil, to be sure, had taken Odyssey 11 as his precedent—but Homer provides no look into the future.) The literary game involved in genre-writing dictates that the author should touch as many bases of the classical precedent as possible. Hence the present trip to the Underworld, though tedious, is somewhat to be expected as a bid for “credentials”. Secondly, one must wonder how sincerely the ever-subtle Ariosto intended the canto’s nearly sycophantic level of implied flattery. The surrounding notion of a master-magician’s quasi-living corpse responding to the petitions of his “priestess” reeks of an extreme paganism that we must assume tongue-in-cheek to some extent. Had Ariosto truly wished to worship at the altar of Cardinal Ippolito, he would surely have cast this bombastic vision in terms less doctrinally objectionable.
The lion-hearted girl remained here through the evening,
Much of it in parley with the deathless corpse
Of Merlin (as the priestess did the intervening),
Who extolled her focus on Ruggiero’s course.
The underground retreat she left upon perceiving
Dawn, though having neither buckler, lance, nor horse:
The priestess took her hand like ministering angel
’Long a labyrinthine corridor of angles.
They surfaced in a narrow, serpentine arroyo
’Mid the peaks, and never seen by other folk;
Throughout the day—sans quibble, clause, pause, or proviso—
Straddled they ravines and leapt across dark gulfs.
That they might strike a rhythm something in allegro,
Both to nullify the weary body’s bulk
Employed their minds, exploring reasoned themes and pleasant
Whose excursions made their toil less depressant.
Of these, the greater part would qualify as lessons
Bradamante needed from her maga wise
Were ever she to rescue from his charmed oppression
Brave Ruggiero; only guile and planned surprise
Would serve, she warned: “Such magic no mere muscle lessens,
Though you led fierce Mars with army of allies.
So plan we must. To batter down this necromancer,
Charles, Agramante—no one has the lancers…
“For over and beyond the steel-walled fabrication
Perched upon a cliff that rises to the stars,
And quite beside his palfrey’s gift of levitation
Opening the lanes of eagles to its charge,
The wizard has the shield whose sudden revelation
Cripples any wight who sees it near or far,
Depriving mortal eyes of sensatory vision
While relieving mind of living comprehension.
“You might suppose a contest possible with eyelids
Tightly closed to shield you from the shield’s effect;
But how could you determine when the equine hybrid’s
Moves required pursuit and when to blows reject?
Allow me how you may this sorcerer compilèd’s
Blinding tricks and charms dismantle to suggest:
A strategy I’ll show you—really very simple:
Nothing more complex would profit you a wimple.
“Of Africa the ruler, haughty Agromante,
Had in his possession stolen merchandise—
The ring from an exquisite Indian infante
Snitched by one Brunello, giv’n him back as prize.
The ring hath secret powers: other talisman may
Ne’er lay claim enchantments so to neutralize.
By chance, Brunel is near us—he who picking pockets
Offsets any wizard’s art of charms and lockets.
“Brunello, Master Fingers, slippery and clever,
Has the magic ring on loan to do a job:
He swears to Agramante that his sly endeavors
May, with ring in hand, the whole world blindly rob;
In special, from the castle lofty he assevers
That he will Ruggiero free—all problems solved!
Already you must know that to this king Ruggiero
Valued is more high than any other hero.
“But lest your beau beholden to the king’s vile sergeant
Be more than to you (whose love of him is pure),
Outraced in our designs by magic ring of argent
Be we not: his freedom quick you may procure.
The first thing is to reach the seashore’s sandy margin—
Waiting o’er this peak a two days’ walk: the third
Delivers you unto a comfortable hostel
Where goes with his ring the Thief of Hell’s apostle.
“Brunello—him I mean: below six feet in stature
(So you may him know), of thickly curling hair
Than ebony more black, of swart skin, and a texture
Woolen in his beard; a forehead oddly fair,
As if unknown to blushes; pinched eyes bright with torture,
Long blade of a nose, dense brows to veil his stare.
If to this whole I must add ref’rence to his clothing—
Tight and short, of leather, nothing loose or flowing.
“With this poltroon to reason you will have occasion
Touching on the spells that th’ eerie cliff do cloak;
As you sincerely feel, win him to the persuasion
That the sly magician you would love to choke.
Beware, however, lest you give least indication
’Bout his spell-dispelling ring that you’ve heard spoke:
You’ll find that to the rock he’ll all-too-kindly offer
Guidance, and suspicious friendship to you proffer.
“So go you him behind until he there approaches
Where the castle’s steel you see above you loom.
Dispatch him then to death: let pity none reproacheth
What you do: ‘twere worse by far to let him loose.
As well, let not him guess your manner somewhat coached is,
Lest you of his ring’s potential see the proof:
For he would make an exit from all objects solid
Merely if the ring in ’s mouth he should deposit.”
Discoursed they on these matters and a host of others
’Fore a final ridge spread at their feet Bordeaux.
’Twas here their journeys twained (not every sob was smothered).
One to backward plod, one tracking the Garonne.
The daughter of Amone, zealous more than brother
For her knight’s redemption from th’ accursed chateau,
Persisted in her travels till, an evening later,
Comes she to the lodging where Brunel awaits her.
She recognized the thief as soon as e’er she saw him:
Sculpted in her mind was every feature sharp.
Whence come and whither going asked she as a solvent
Common ’tween full strangers: falsehood spun with art
Responded he unfailing. Primed for lies so maudlin
By the prophetess, she likewise played a part.
Her family and homeland—faith, sex, and religion—
All she feigned while ‘s fingers e’er she kept in vision.
Although she kept his fingers under close surveillance,
Nagged her oft the sense that something had been nicked;
Whene’er he near would crawl with sleek, servile obeisance,
Step back would she draw, well knowing of his tricks.
They thrust and parried thus in mannerly complaisance
Quite a while, till blast their ears like thunder pricked.
Milord, I’ll let you know precisely what the cause was
If upon this stanza break we brief may pause us.
An ostentatious break where the poet abruptly, rather humorously reminds us of his role in telling the yarn is typical of Ariosto’s interruptions between cantos. The succeeding canto will just as often begin with a certain amount of sententious overview on the verge of sermonizing (also with a subtly humorous intent, no doubt) before the poet resumes his narrative. The following overture is an excellent example.
From Canto 4
Dissimulation thought and taught is to be sinful,
Granted, and considered sign of ill intent;
And yet, examples of its benefits and windfalls
Have we hundreds that scarce move us to repent—
Disaster, death, and outrage dodged with gesture simple.
Even with our friends, confession we relent
Before of truth it spills too much. Such is existence:
More of shade than peace, the shadows slick with vengeance.
And so, if after long assay and mighty effort
Only may we find a steady friend and true
Whose loyalty we trust with secrets dark and desp’rate
Wholly without worry that his smile is ruse,
By how much should Ruggiero’s faithful lover better
Guard her secrets from Brunello’s probing shrewd?
’Twas only sane that she dissemble her objectives,
Just as the benign magician had directed.
Dissemble did she, yes—and well advised to do so
With the most prolific sire of fraud alive;
His fingers, as I said, forever seeking loophole
For a sudden snitch, also required her eye.
And then—from out of nowhere petrified the duo
Cannon-shot or quake. The virgin in disguise
“Oh, Mary!” cried. “Oh, God in Heaven! What was that, then?”
Not for long the source she helpless was to fathom.
At once she saw the hostel’s keeper and his fam’ly
Rushing this to window, that one through a door,
In hope a comet or eclipse to study grandly
Arching overhead, it seemed—for gazes soared
Aloft, where them the wonder of the maiden manly
Followed to a sight she’d not believed before:
For sure enough, on wingspan broad, a mighty charger
Bore a cavalier into the sunset’s ardor.
Of broad span were the wings and wrought of many colors,
Rider ’tween them perched in saddle like a knight
And clad in luminous and highly polished armor
Which, proceeding west, reflected day’s last light.
The object disappeared ’mid mountainous gray borders
High on the horizon. Said th’ host (and said right)
That this the necromancer was who made such journeys
Often, varying naught but th’ angle of returning.
Occasionally high he climbed into the heavens;
Later almost razed he treetops ’long the ground.
Yet always would he carry—days a week all seven—
One of many belles encircled by his rounds.
To such a pass had come things that of twelve, eleven
Beauties would refuse outdoors e’er to be found
(Including some whose beauty gained from being hidden:
Little had they risked to walk his paths most ridden).
“The cavalier a Pyrenean fort inhabits,”
Tattled the innkeeper, “summoned up by spells:
A miracle of steel not reared with cranes and davits,
Brilliant as a star. Its like no mortal dwells.
Adventure-seeking knights have multiplied like rabbits
‘Neath its cliffs, yet none returns his tale to tell:
From which we must conclude, most estimable visitor,
All slain to have been or quickly taken prisoner.”
The lady heard him out with secret satisfaction,
Utterly convinced (and why should she be not?)
That empty would be left the high, enchanted bastion
Once the magic ring her hands on she had got.
And so she answered, “Prithee, know’st thou man of action
Who of this fantastic peak might find the spot?
For I can scarcely stand it, so my heart doth anguish
For to issue challenge and this magus vanquish.”
“A guide will not be lacking, if you take me with you,”
Intervened Brunello, quick to overhear.
“For I have mapped directions… and in other issues
You will find me versed—a guide extraordinaire!”
He almost of the ring had spoken, but continued
Coy, lest courting favor make him too sincere.
The lady-knight replied, “Your kindness is my profit”—
Meaning that the ring was good as in her pocket.
She added whatsoever thought she would advance her,
’Pon what might betray her likewise turning mum
In time to fool the heathen. Bridled, saddled prancer
Sold her the innkeeper (not quite for a song).
The next day, then, they started for the necromancer
As a dawn broke lovely past comparison.
Brunello brought her tightly through a valley winding,
Now the lead assuming, now behind her riding.
Through mountain after mountain moved they, wood to thicket
Passing in and out, until the Pyrenees
Attained an altitude where, if the clouds permit it,
French and Spanish coastlines both you might perceive.
(The Apennines, you know, show Slavic and Hellenic
Waves where Camaldoli sits upon a peak.)
From here by arduous and wearisome declension,
Down they plunged into the valley oft forementioned.
Indeed, disposed dead-center, vertically rising,
Stood the cliff whose summit wore a steely crown
Aloft so near the sun that casual surmising
Would have judged that distance less than fall to ground.
To reach it seemed absurd without the gift of flying:
Every other effort futile would be found.
Brunello said, “Behold the fort where the magician
Captive holds the knights and damsels of the region.”
A tetragon perfected was the wondrous edifice,
Seemingly constructed straight as lines could snap;
From angle none could feet have clambered up the precipice,
Nor could any rope or ladder bridge the gap.
Indeed, the dizzy gate was senseless but as orifice
Ushering some beast on wings back home to nap.
The lady, as they stared, knew this to be the corner
Where Brunello’s ring and ’s life must leave their owner.
And yet, she thought it vile to stain her noble weapons
In the blood of one unarmed, from churls begot—
It seemed she could as well obey the maga’s lessons
If, instead of slashing, she untied the knot.
Brunello had for once his stealth allowed to lessen:
Easily enough, she seized and bound him taut
Unto a massive fir, majestic-high and rigid.
First she slid the ring, however, from his digit.
Refused she to release him, though in varied order
Tried he tears, laments, and groans to move her heart.
Descended she the mountain then into the corridor
Stretched below the warlock’s magic work of art;
And that he might an airborne joust forthwith accord her,
Blew she on her horn a blast that shook apart
The valley’s eerie peace—next shouted for good measure
That upon the field she waits his feathered pleasure.
The master of enchantments made her wait but little,
Having heard her blast and voice, ’fore out the gate
He sallied on his flapping horse into the middle
Heavens, ’gainst the sun projecting baleful shape.
And yet, the maid appraised his threat as rather brittle,
Seeing as he carried naught that wound could make:
Of lowered lance, or mace a-twirl, or broadsword waving—
Nothing thus at first saw she in his behaving.
Upon his leftward forearm, shield alone he carried,
Covered top to bottom in vermillion silk;
A book was all his right conveyed—but such as married
Weaponry together of whatever ilk.
He now indeed a mace maneuvered; thrust and parried
Next with blade; then headlong with a lance he tilts—
The whole succession changing quick as a mirage’s
Waves, its blows and jabs all play, like a dressage’s.
Yet not of fraud the charger but of teeming Nature
Consequence grotesque: a griffin was his sire,
From whose wild seed he wings and plumes, a beaky denture,
Aquiline caput, and clawed forepaws acquired;
His horsey dam’s the other members. Nomenclature
None but “hippogryph” I know for ’s odd attire.
They say the Hyperborean region breeds the species
Rarely, where the meeting of sheet ice and seas is.
This thoroughbred bizarre the conjurer had summoned
Forcibly from parts far north; and, once possessed,
With regimen routine and strict of flight and running,
Tutored him in saddle, bridle, and the rest.
A month of this, and from their Pyrenean dungeon
Horse and rider coursed the world from east to west.
The beast, I will repeat, was not of incantation
Product, or a figment of imagination.
The castle, yes… and weapons, charges—insubstantial
Feints of a magician who turned yellows red;
But all such hocus-pocus nothing fooled the damsel
Once the ring illusions of their falsehood bled.
In nakedness unwitting, round about with dazzle
Dealt the magus blows and spurred his steed ahead.
For her part, Baradamante wisely battled furious,
Just as if his antics took she fully serious.
So having staged a valiant, agile show equestrian,
Following the orders of the witch benign,
The lady reined her steed and switched to fight pedestrian
Better that she might the clever snare design.
As planned, in for the kill she lured the master-histrion—
Her kill, as he thought: for smelled he naught malign.
Assured of the result, he drew the veil vermillion.
Knowing that its charm failed not once in a million.
He might, of course, have flashed it at the pass initial
Rather than with warriors trained and true to spar;
But it amused him, sheltered safe in prejudicial
Spells, to raise his flimsy hand in feats of arms.
The proverb says the cat before he makes official
Mincemeat of the mousie likewise plays at harm
Until the pastime’s pleasure turns at last to boredom
And, with single bite, he terminally gores ’m.
My simile would make a cat of the magician,
While his adversaries mice were in past bouts;
But in the circumstances present, a logician
Challenge must the likeness, since the terms around
Had turned upon the ring. Its minuscule addition
Gave the maid an edge as long as she watched out.
She saw the magus reach to activate his beacon,
Shut her eyes, and fell as though unconscious beaten.
The splendid metal’s brilliance couldn’t her awareness,
As it had the others’, paralyze, of course;
But so she had pretended that the charmer careless
Nothing would suspect and wander from his horse.
The bait was laid so shrewdly that the flyer snare-less
Thought the earth to be; a-waiting like a corpse,
She heard acceleration in the flap of feathers,
Then, in closing loops, a search for place to tether.
He left on ’s saddlebow the shield that was already
Covered once again; like Alexander strode
He now to Bradamant, who caught her breath as ready
Wolf in underbrush awaits a straying goat.
No sooner does he reach her than in arm-lock steady
Seizes she her prey and fast upon him holds.
The wretch allowed his book of secrets and enchantments
By the way to fall with cry dismayed and plangent.
A chain that wont to carry was she for such crisis
Whipped she from her waist and wound about the cad:
Aware she was that pity dangerous entices
Sometimes—and the wizard’s gray hairs no less bad
His practice rendered. Diff’rent nothing my advice is
Than her act: to stretch him nose into the grass.
And as for him, I’d counsel not to lift a finger—
Warrior young, though female, trumps a silver senior.
Decapitation struck her first as payback licit:
Impulse drove her bright, triumphant blade aloft.
Yet as she viewed the face more reverend than wicked,
Stayed she her vendetta, and her grip grew soft.
For much of the paternal registered implicit
In his visage mournful, sadly sighing oft:
A glance would guess his wrinkles, stoop, and lack of levity
Tallied to a sum in years of nearly seventy.
Bradamante has now declined to slay two desperados out of chivalry (or three, if we figure in Sacripante lying helpless under his fallen horse). Not all of these decisions will prove harmless in the future; but we may assume that she knows herself to be taking a calculated risk, and that she is willing to pay a modest—or even substantial—price for not banishing “common” humanity from her soul. Needless to say, that virtue is far from common in Ariosto’s cast of characters.
“Remove my head and life, for God’s sake, noble rider,”
Rasped he in a voice contemptuous of grace.
Yet Bradamant as much resistance felt inside her
’Gainst the blow as he for mercy felt distaste.
She told him that she first desired a knowledge wider
’Bout his necromancy: what his name, the place
To build his fort why chosen far from towns and roadways—
Most of all, the reason for his ruthless forays.
“Alack-aday! Malign intention had I neither,”
Sighed the old enchanter, sobbing as he spoke,
“In balancing my fort sublime amid the ether
Nor a pirate’s craving for rapine and gold—
But rather that I might as to a son bequeather
Be of better life to one whom dear I hold:
A knight (if my prophetic arts do not delude us)
Doomed to die when, Christian turned, he meets his Judas.
“The sun warms not a youth more handsome or arresting
From our northern lights t’ Antarctica’s white pall.
Ruggiero is his name: from baby prepossessing
Up I raised the boy. Atlante, I am called.
Bestirred by love of honor, off he goes a-questing—
Led by Agramant and Fate—for France’s fall;
While I, who love him more than son of my own body,
Try to countermand his stars’ alignment shoddy.
“The citadel I built magnificent and splendid
Only to preserve Ruggiero from his doom,
For his disastrous transit harm-ward I’d amended
When I took him captive, as I near did you.
The noble knights and ladies whom I apprehended
Company supplied him in those lofty rooms
In order that, when longing after banished follies,
Others might distract him from his melancholy.
“Yet lest he suffer ever bouts of such depression,
Sought I every pleasure upward to convey;
For any joy derived from party, game, procession—
Any in the world—you’ll find there every day.
Be ’t lute, drum, silken vestment, sugary confection,
Hornpipe, wine, or chess—you’d see but cause to stay!
My garden well I planted and expected harvest…
Your arrival crushes all like hail in August.
“If thou hast heart within as noble as thy visage,
Stranger, pray permit this honest fraud to stand.
The magic shield I give thee—nothing need thou pillage:
Take the hiippogryph, and from the skies command!
The castle’s to thy honor rubbish and persiflage—
Or if friends a few wouldst claim, I them remand.
A hundred take—take all and drop their sum to zero:
Only take not from me my ill-starred Ruggiero.
“Or take him, if your haughty will must so arrange it—
Only, ’fore you lead him to his fate in France,
Perform a simple favor, though of all the strangest
Ever asked: away, please, hack this rotting branch.”
The lady answered, “Take thy hippogryph and cage it;
Liberty take, too—and shield, and what of chance
I offer: for thy mantic prattle notwithstanding,
Give me may’st thou nothing in thy present standing…
“Not even if to give or keep were in thy power
Would thy offer strike me as a bargain sane.
Assume we held Ruggiero lest his final hour
Come untimely, thanks to star-distillèd bane.
Yet either know the future can we not, or cower
Need we not, evasion being wholly vain.
The former seems more likely, judging by this skirmish:
Why about thyself did stars no warning furnish?
“And spare me, furthermore, thy pleas for instant slaughter:
Breath too precious is—or speak, and suffocate!
Though all the world deplore an action so improper,
Spirits resolute can always their life take.
But while thou ponder’st if to end one’s life one ought or
Linger on—release those captives from thy gates!”
The maiden-knight thus spoke and, lifting the magician,
Marched him toward the rock to consummate her mission.
Although her chain his fingers largely kept immobile,
Prestidigitation Bradamant concerned.
She gave but little credence, therefore, to his docile
Manner, for surrender phantom she discerned.
A step or two behind—but not naively ductile
Like a sheep—he led her round a secret turn.
They left the mountain’s landing on a spiral staircase
Till not heaven’s reached they but the castle gateway’s.
A stone from o’er the threshold shifted old Atlante
(Freed of chains) inscribed with mystic signs and runes;
Beneath it, urns a-smoking (vessels known as olle)
Vented from their mouths of hidden fire the fumes.
The wizard kicked them over. Suddenly the monte
Visage of a desert—flat and bleak—assumed.
Nor battlement nor drawbridge, wall, redoubt, or tower—
Nothing of a castle—stayed behind to glower.
The magus also vanished once the web of dream-work
Swept away like spider’s was by Bradamant:
In one and selfsame moment he and castle steam were
Like: reduced to vapor. Now the elegant
Parades of cavaliers and ladies less serene were,
Seeing their retreat transformed to wasteland scant:
The greater part regretted freedom’s restoration
Bought at such a cost of burst exhilaration.
Among the royal worthies: Sacripant, Gradasso,
One—Prasildo named, who rode from the Levant
In tandem with the lady’s brother brave, Rinaldo—
And Iroldo: close these latter as two hands.
At last, as in a haystack comes a pin, Ruggiero
Stood before his beauty armored, Bradamant.
The hero, once recovered from the shock of meeting,
Gave to his fiancée well-deservèd greeting:
Desert, I mean, as measured by a love exceeding
Pleasure in one’s sight, breath, lifeblood—all less dear
To Ruggier than this maid e’er since that fateful meeting
When her helm she lifted at his beck (severe
Almost was the cost in wounds). By what proceeding
Subsequent they wandered forests, wastelands sere,
Defiles, swamps, valleys—searching either for the other—
Were a road too long that I should with it bother.
It all seemed but a trice, besides, now that reunion
Finally they’d won—though she had won it most,
He reckoned, by dispelling Atlant’s fierce illusions:
Never could a man of truer lover boast!
The happiest pair alive, descended they in union
Till they reached the vale of many battle’s ghosts.
’Twas here, alas, that stood beneath th’ enchanted megalith,
Shield on saddlebow safe wrapped, the wondrous hippogryph.
The lady forward stepped and took him by the bridle;
Tamely he awaited till she stretched to mount.
A sudden flutter freed him in an airborne sidle:
Down he came at half the distance he was found.
Again she neared, her manner nowise hippocidal:
His wings deployed again—he dropped just out of bounds.
A gleaning crow such lessons teaches dogs at harvest
When he shows his farther quick exceeds their farthest.
Gradasso, Sacripante, and the bold Ruggiero—
Not to mention all the other knights new freed—
Competed, circled up and shouting, for primero
In the race to snatch on his descent the steed.
Although the beast in sport one lively caballero
After ’nother led through ditches, rocks, and weeds,
He for Ruggiero made distinctly more allowance,
Letting him approach and in a stirrup balance.
You might perhaps discern Atlante in these tactics—
Schemed incessantly the old man to arrest
Ruggiero from fulfilling death writ in galactic
Red: the wizened wizard never took a rest.
His latest trick: to teach the hippogryph these antics.
Fate thought he to cheat with magic of the best.
When like a mule the creature would not heed the halter,
Caution’s hold upon Ruggiero quickly faltered…
For then it was that, leaping from his barb Frontino
(All of them a-horse had played the game), he vaults
Upon the pinioned wonder, not a momentino
Waits before he spurs, and rides without a thought.
The beast a distance canters, then gives hoof where he no
Other horse might chase, and soars without a fault
To regions where the falcon waits to see her trainer
Signaling the prey with cap aloft to aim her.
The lovely lady-knight, upon Ruggiero’s sighting
High up in the blue at risk of fatal plunge,
Was thunderstruck to such extent that into hiding
For a minute full her senses took a lunge.
The myth of Ganymede, whose graces so inviting
Were that Father Jove snatched him to pour and sponge
At supper on Olympus, seized her when she wakened
(For the magus was with Ruggier no less taken).
With eyes affixed to heaven, traced she him as far as
Vision would permit; and once he disappeared,
Continued she to follow in her soul, bizarre as
It may seem to say that love through voids can peer.
Refused she to indulge such comforts to the heart as
Moans and wails, however; for a flood of tears
She knew would not avail Ruggiero; turned she, rather,
To the swift Frontino in so fleet a matter.
Decided she to leave him not as lucky plunder
For the first unworthy lout to stumble by;
To alternate her mounts would haste her chase from under,
Saving one for her fiancé by and by.
As this she settled, higher rose the wingèd wonder,
Nor Ruggiero use of reins knew up so high.
He watched the grandest summits gradually flatten
Till nor height nor depth of land mass could he fathom.
Ascended he so far that tiniest scintilla
Were he to sharp eye preparing an “ahoy!”
Their journey took them west, where sometimes a flotilla
Down upon the ocean looked like children’s toy.
Indeed, as driving wind abaft might steady fill a
Barque’s array of sails, so sped they full deployed.
Now let us leave them running handsome to the leeward,
While we to Rinaldo’s voyage make a detour.
A great many moral lessons are implied in these last few stanzas. Seldom is the Furioso less romantic and more deeply infused in wry common sense than when Bradamante confronts Atlante. The latter seems fully sympathetic at first—yet Bradamante quickly nails his absurdity through the heart. If he truly believes in his dire prophetic vision, then he should know that resisting it must be futile. (A similar lesson lurks behind Croesus’s tragic loss of his son in Herodotus, a text which many of Ariosto’s audience would have known.) Furthermore—and more implicitly (for Bradamante doesn’t say this in so many words)—a life lived in idle pleasure and utter fantasy is no life at all. Atlante is thus himself already shortening Ruggiero’s living time. We shall see that most of the young hero’s flaws are indeed due to his pampered, over-protective upbringing. Certainly his rash mounting of the hippogryph just above shows the foolhardiness of a boy. All the same, the poet takes care to point out casually that the other boy-knights joined in the game with equal enthusiasm (just as they had at first brooded over their “rescue” as if called in from playtime: they would have preferred years of living in a state of delusional pleasure!).
It seems fair to conclude that Atlante represents a doting parental figure who is apt to make things worse by trying to spare his young charge. (Bradamante considers Ruggiero’s wild ride on the hippogryph to be extremely dangerous, and there is no indication that he stays in the saddle by virtue of anything but his horsemanship.) Should the lady-warrior have slain the meddling old wizard? However convenient this would have proved, it would still have been murderous. Note that Bradamante’s response to the new complication in her turbulent courtship is not to regret her clemency, but to collect Ruggiero’s magnificent horse and resume her relentless search.
The rest of Canto 4, all of Canto 5, and about the first quarter of Canto 6 digress lengthily from Ariosto’s main plot (insofar as he can be said to have one). Of his primary characters, only Rinaldo participates in the sequence—and he mostly as listener to what seems a very tragic tale.
Rinaldo’s ship makes landfall at last after being blown off course in the direction of Scotland. In a dense forest, he overhears the screams of Dalinda, whom he rushes to rescue from several brutes attempting to murder her. The comely girl recounts to him her betrayal of her mistress Ginevra at the behest of her lover, the wicked Polinesso. This young courtier had hopes of wedding Dalinda’s mistress: it was while pursuing her, in fact, that he inaugurated the affair with Dalinda herself. Ginevra had too much taste and sense, however, to listen to his suit. Instead, she chose the dashing Ariodante. Aflame with jealously, Polinesso compacted with the servant to stage a scene of infidelity which Ariodante would see from a hidden vantage. Dalinda dressed herself as her lady; then Polinesso planted the unbelieving fiancé where he could witness the seduction of his lover, and proceeded—in the “friendly” spirit of saving the young knight from marrying a trollop—to signal, approach, and embrace the disguised handmaiden. Shocked beyond endurance, Ariodante leaves the court and apparently commits suicide without revealing any details of his misery. Yet his faithful brother Lurcanio happens to have eavesdropped on most of the fateful evening’s events and supposes himself fully possessed of the truth. He accuses Ginevra publicly, and she will be executed unless a champion is found to oppose the brother. Polinesso, meanwhile, has undertaken to have his henchmen do away with the doting, foolish Dalinda lest she testify against him at some point. He has used her to the fullest extent and no longer needs her.
This knotty tale’s dénouement scarcely requires Rinaldo’s heroic intercession, though he is prepared to ride to the wronged lady’s rescue. Ariodante, it turns out, has not committed suicide. He hears of Ginevra’s impending execution and, although continuing to believe in her infidelity, show up incognito to defend her against his own brother’s charges. The truth comes out before any mortal blow is struck, Rinaldo dispatches the evil Polinesso almost in an anticlimax, and the lovers are reunited.
This sequence is fairly well represented in Western folklore and romance. A version of the story appears in Boccaccio’s Decameron, and also in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. (We do not know if Shakespeare might have read or heard of Ariosto’s Canto 5, but the possibility is substantial.) The excursion is very entertaining, and is even instructive in that it shows us a rare pair of lovers in the Furioso whose courtship ends happily. Patience and trust in the face of overwhelming evidence borne by “the world” seem to be the key to success. Rinaldo, of course, appears neither to learn anything from the encounter nor even to appreciate the real virtues on display within it. His all but irrelevant contribution to these events in England may be Ariosto’s way of implying to us that he is a moral ignoramus behind his mighty feats of arms and his swaggering offers of assistance.
Dr. John Harris, founder and current president of The Center for Literate Values, is also Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Texas at Tyler.