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THE ORLANDOS
Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, hero of the Song of Roland and of an endless succession of metrical romances, was as popular a character in Italian literature as in the French. The Italians felt a proprietary interest in Charlemagne because he had been crowned emperor of the West in Rome in the year 800, and also because he had taken the part of the pope against the Lombards. Even the names of his twelve great peers were household words in Italy, so tales about Roland—who is known there as Orlando—were sure to find ready hearers.

The adventures of Roland, therefore, naturally became the theme of Italian epics, some of which are of considerable length and of great importance, owing principally to their exquisite versification and diction. Pulci and Boiardo both undertook to depict Roland as a prey to the tender passion in epics entitled Orlando Innamorato, while Ariosto, the most accomplished and musical poet of the three, spent more than ten years of his life composing Orlando Furioso (1516), wherein he depicts this famous hero driven insane by his passion for an Oriental princess.

Assuming that his auditors are familiar with the characters of Boiardo's unfinished epic, Ariosto, picking up the thread of the narrative at the point where his predecessor dropped it, continues the story in the same vein. It therefore becomes imperative to know the main trend of Boiardo's epic.

It opens with a lengthy description of a tournament at the court of Charlemagne, whither knights from all parts of the globe hasten to distinguish themselves in the lists. Chief among these foreign guests are Argalio and Angelica, son and daughter of the king of Cathay, with their escort of four huge giants. The prince is, moreover, fortunate possessor of a magic lance, one touch of which suffices to unhorse any opponent, while the princess, by means of an enchanted ring, can detect and frustrate any spell, or become invisible by putting it in her mouth. On arriving at Charlemagne's court, Argalio stipulates that all the knights he defeats shall belong to his sister, whom in return he offers as prize to any knight able to unhorse him.

Such is the transcendent beauty of Angelica that Argalio is instantly challenged by Astolfo, who is defeated, and then by Ferrau, who, although defeated in the first onset, proves victor in the second, simply because he accidentally seizes the magic lance and directs it against its owner! Since the laws of the tournament award him the prize, Angelica, seeing she cannot otherwise escape, rides hastily away and conceals herself in the forest of Arden. She is, however, pursued thither by many knights who have been captivated by her beauty, among whom are Rinaldo (Renaud de Montauban) and Orlando, who were proposing to challenge her brother next. In the precincts of the forest where Angelica takes refuge are two magic fountains, one whose waters instantly transform love into hate, while the other induces any partaker to love the next person seen.

Prowling around this forest, Rinaldo unsuspectingly quaffs the water which turns love to hate, so he immediately ceases his quest and falls asleep. Meantime Angelica, drinking from the other fountain and coming upon the sleeper, falls madly in love with him and watches for his awakening. But, still under the influence of the magic waters he has imbibed, Rinaldo rides away without heeding her timid wooing, and leaves her to mourn until she too falls asleep.

Orlando, coming up by chance, is gazing in admiration upon this sleeping princess, when Ferrau rides up to claim her as his prize. These knights are fighting for her possession when the clash of their weapons awakens Angelica. Terrified she retreats into the thicket, and, thrusting her ring into her mouth, becomes invisible! Meantime the knights continue their duel until a messenger summons Ferrau to hasten to Spain, where war has broken out.

Angelica, unable to forget Rinaldo since she has partaken of the waters of love, now induces the magician Malgigi to entice her beloved to an island over which she reigns, where she vainly tries to win his affections and to detain him by her side. Still under the influence of the waters of hate, Rinaldo escapes, only to land in a gloomy country, where he is plunged into a loathsome den. There a monster is about to devour him, when Angelica comes to his rescue. But, even though she saves his life, he ungratefully refuses to return her affection, and abruptly leaves her to encounter other untoward adventures. Meantime Orlando, still searching for Angelica, encounters a sorceress who gives him a magic draught which causes him to forget the past, and detains him a captive in the island of Dragontine.

Meanwhile the many knights enamoured with Angelica have gone to besiege her father's capital, but while they are thus employed she escapes from the city—thanks to her magic ring—and goes to deliver Orlando. In return, he pledges himself to drive the besiegers away and save her father's capital, and on the way thither encounters Rinaldo, with whom, not knowing who he is, he fights two days, so equally are they matched in strength and skill. The moment comes, however, when Orlando is on the point of slaying Rinaldo, and refrains only because Angelica opportunely reveals his opponent's name.

Still urged by Angelica, Orlando next hastens off to destroy the magic island and free its captives, who hurry back to France while their rescuer journeys to Cathay. There Angelica pretends she has fallen in love with him, and accompanies him when he returns to France under pretext of becoming a Christian. Their way again lies through the forest of Arden, where this time Angelica drinks from the fountain of hatred. All her former love for Rinaldo therefore vanishes, and, as the latter has at the same time partaken of the water of love, their parts are reversed, for it is he who now pursues Angelica whom he previously loathed. His attentions so incense Orlando that he begins a fight, which Charlemagne checks, declaring that Angelica—who is placed in charge of Duke Namus—shall be awarded to the warrior who distinguishes himself most in the coming war.

In the course of this campaign these two knights meet with many adventures, and are accompanied by Bradamant—Rinaldo's sister—who manfully fights by their side. Among their opponents the most formidable are Rogero and the pagan Rodomont, whose boastful language has given rise to the term rodomontade. During one of their encounters, Rogero discovers that his antagonist is Bradamant—a woman—and falls desperately in love with her.

It is at this point that Boiardo's poem ends; and Ariosto, adopting his characters, immediately begins weaving three principal strands of narrative,—one relating to the wars of Charlemagne, another to Orlando's madness, and the third to the love of Rogero and Bradamant,—Rogero, an ancestor of the Ferrara family (Ariosto's patrons), being the real hero of his poem.

Not satisfied at being placed under the care of Duke Namus of Bavaria, Angelica escapes from his guardianship, only to be pursued by the unwelcome attentions of Rinaldo and Ferrau. While these two fight for her possession, the lady, who spends her time fleeing from unwelcome suitors, escapes, only to fall into the hands of Sacripant, King of Circassia, another admirer, who bears her off in triumph. They meet a knight in white armor (Bradamant in quest of Rogero), ere they are overtaken by Rinaldo. A new duel now ensues, this time between Rinaldo and Sacripant, during which Angelica runs away and seeks refuge with a hermit-magician, who then informs the combatants Angelica has been carried off to Paris by Orlando. Hearing this, the rivals cease fighting and join forces to rescue the lady, but, when they arrive in Paris, Charlemagne despatches Rinaldo to England and Scotland, where, among other marvellous adventures, is told the lengthy and fantastic yet beautiful story of Ginevra.

It seems that, although loved by the Duke of Albany, this lady prefers the knight Ariolant. She thereby so enrages her noble suitor that he finally bribes her maid to personate her and admit him by night to her chamber by means of a rope ladder. With fiendish cunning he has advised Ariolant to watch Ginevra, so this true lover, witnessing what he considers irrefutable proof of his lady-love's unchastity, departs in despair to commit suicide. His brother, deeming him already dead, denounces Ginevra, who, brought before the judges, is sentenced to die unless some champion will vindicate her honor. Having meantime discovered the truth, Rinaldo clears the lady by winning a brilliant victory, and leaves only after she is safely married to the man she loves, who after all has not taken his life.

The poet now picks up another thread and shows us Bradamant seeking Rogero, and discovering, by means of Angelica's magic ring, that he is captive of a magician. After a narrow escape, and a vision of the feats her descendants will perform, Bradamant helps Rogero to escape. Soon after, this reckless man vaults upon a hippogriff which lands him on an island, where an enchantress changes her visitors into beasts, stones, trees, etc. Instead of becoming one of her permanent victims, Rogero, warned by the myrtle to which he ties his steed, prevails upon her to release her captives, and after many adventures is borne by the same hippogriff to the island of Ebuda, where a maiden is daily sacrificed to a cannibal Orc. When Rogero discovers that the present victim is Angelica, he promptly delivers her and conveys her to Brittany.

Meantime Orlando, mad with love, is vainly seeking Angelica. He too visits Ebuda—but too late to meet her there—and delivers another maiden. Then he returns to France to find Charlemagne so sorely pressed by foes, that he has implored St. Michael to interfere in his behalf. This archangel, cleverly enlisting the services of Silence and Discord, brings back Rinaldo and other knights, who drive away the disintegrating pagan force after sundry bloody encounters. After one of these, Angelica finds a wounded man, whom she nurses back to health, and marries after a romantic courtship in the course of which they carve their names on many a tree.

Still seeking Angelica, Orlando in due time discovers these names, and on learning Angelica is married becomes violently insane. Discarding his armor,—which another knight piously collects and hangs on a tree with an inscription warning no one to venture to touch it,—Orlando roams hither and thither, performing countless feats of valor, and even swimming across the Strait of Gibraltar to seek adventures in Africa since he cannot get enough in Europe. In the course of his wanderings, Orlando (as well as sundry other characters in the poem) is favored by an apparition of Fata Morgana, the water-fairy, who vainly tries to lure him away from his allegiance to his lady-love by offering him untold treasures.

Every once in a while the poem harks back to Rogero, who, having again fallen into a magician's hands, prowls through the labyrinthine rooms of his castle, seeking Bradamant, whom he imagines calling to him for help. Meantime the lady whom he is thus seeking is safe at Marseilles, but, hearing at last of her lover's plight, she too visits the magic castle, and would have been decoyed into its dungeons had not Astolfo appeared with a magic horn, whose first blast makes the castle vanish into thin air! Thus freed, the magician's prisoners gaze around them in wonder, and Rogero and Bradamant embrace with rapture, planning to marry as soon as Rogero has been baptized.

But, on their way to Vallombroso where this sacrament is to take place, the lovers meet with other adventures and are again separated. Under escort of Astolfo, Bradamant sadly returns home, where her mother decrees she shall remain until Rogero can come and get her. Meantime Rogero has again joined the Saracens, just as Discord has succeeded in kindling a quarrel between Rodomont and Mandricar, who both admire the same lady. They are about to fight for her favor, when the umpire of the lists pertinently suggests the lady be allowed to express her preference! She frankly does so, and Rodomont, rejected, departs in high dudgeon. In this unhappy frame of mind he attacks everybody he meets, and after many victories is defeated in a battle with the Christians. During this last encounter Rogero is too grievously wounded to be able to join Bradamant, who, hearing a fair lady is nursing her lover, is consumed by jealousy. She therefore—notwithstanding her mother's decree—sets out in the garb of a knight to challenge her recreant lover and defeat him by means of her magic lance.

After unhorsing on the way all those who venture to tilt with her, Bradamant meets Rogero, who, recognizing her in the midst of their duel, flatly refuses to continue the fight, and implores her to accompany him into a neighboring forest, where he promises to explain all to her satisfaction. They are, however, followed thither by the maiden who has nursed Rogero, who, jealous in her turn, now attacks Bradamant. Rogero, infuriated by Bradamant's imminent peril, is about to slay his nurse remorselessly, when an enchanter's voice proclaims she is his sister, stolen in infancy! All excuse for mutual jealousy being thus removed, the two women agree to join forces and fight in behalf of Charlemagne until Rogero can discharge his obligations to the Saracens, receive baptism, and join the Christian ranks.

Meantime Astolfo has ridden off on the hippogriff to the earthly paradise, where he has interviews with sundry saints and apostles, and whence St. John conveys him up to the moon. In that appropriate region the apostle explains that Orlando's insanity is due to the fact he loves an infidel! He further points out where the hero's stray wits are stored, and directs Astolfo how to catch them in a vial and restore them to their rightful owner. Then, before conveying Astolfo back to earth, St. John vouchsafes him a glimpse of the Fates, wearing the web of Destiny, which they cast into the stream of Oblivion, whence only a few shreds are rescued by poets!

On returning from this eventful trip to the moon, Astolfo joins the Saracens. When they finally capture the mad Orlando, he produces his vial, and, making his friend inhale its contents, restores him to his senses. His mad passion for Angelica being now a thing of the past, Orlando concentrates all his efforts to conquer the Saracens and triumphs in many a fight.

Meantime Rogero, on his way to join Bradamant, has been shipwrecked on an island, where a hermit converts him to the Christian faith. While he is here, Orlando and Rinaldo arrive with their sorely wounded friend, Oliver, whom they entrust to the hermit's care. Not only is Orlando sane once more, but Rinaldo, having drunk the waters of the contrary fountain, no longer loves Angelica, and willingly promises the hand of his sister Bradamant to the new convert. But, when brother and prospective bridegroom reach court, they learn Charlemagne has promised Bradamant to a Greek prince, to whom the lady has signified that ere he wins her he must fight a duel with her. On hearing that the Greek prince is at present besieging Belgrade, Rogero hastens thither, and performs wonders before he falls into the enemy's hands. But the Greek prince has been so impressed by Rogero's prowess that he promises him freedom if he will only personate him in the dreaded duel with Bradamant. Rogero immediately consents to fight in the prince's armor, and defeats Bradamant, whom Charlemagne thereupon awards to the Greek prince.

In despair at having forfeited his beloved, Rogero rides off to die of grief, but the Greek prince, riding after him to thank him, not only discovers the cause of Rogero's sorrow, but generously relinquishes all claim to Bradamant and volunteers to witness her marriage to Rogero. The courage shown by the bridegroom while at Belgrade has meantime so impressed the Bulgarians, that an embassy arrives to beg him to mount their throne. But before Rogero can assume the Bulgarian crown he is forced to conquer and slay the boastful Rodomont, who envies his exalted position.

Many other characters appear in this poem, complicating the plot until it seems hopelessly involved to most modern readers, but, owing to the many romantic situations, to the picturesque verse, and to the unflagging liveliness of style, this epic is still popular in Italy. It has besides given rise to endless imitations, not only in Italian but in many other languages. It forms part of the great Charlemagne Cycle, of which the last epic is Ricciardetto, by Fortiguerra, a priest who wagered he too could compose a string of adventures like those invented by Ariosto. He won his wager by adopting the characters already made famous by Boiardo and Ariosto, and selected as his hero a younger brother of Rinaldo mentioned by his predecessors.


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