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Orlando Furioso, Part One by Ludovico…
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Orlando Furioso, Part One

by Ludovico Ariosto

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Orlando Furioso (volume 1)

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This early sixteenth century poem is a wonderful reading experience: some claim it to be at the pinnacle of Italian Renaissance literature and I would not disagree. It certainly is an epic: 46 cantos of varying numbers of stanzas written in ottava rima(a stanza of eight lines, in iambic pentameter, rhyming abababcc) resulting in a poem of 38,728 lines. Barbara Reynolds translation maintains the poetic rhyming scheme and it flows along so beautifully that the reader can easily get so lost in the sheer enjoyment of the reading that the length of the poem does not become an issue. It is longer than the Illiad and the Odyssey together and it was 26 years in the making with the first results published in 1516 and was an instant success.

There has been critical disagreement over the main themes of the poem and Reynolds in her excellent introduction claims them to be chivalry, war and love, but my first impression is that the overarching theme is one of love and the human condition. It is a narrative based on a war between the Christians and the Saracens some time in the chivalric past. Each side has it's heroes and heroines (the female warriors are just as skilled and fierce as the men) who fight and love throughout the poem with a number of set pieces such as: the siege of Paris, the madness of Orlando, the infighting in the Saracen camp, Astolfo's trip to the moon, the final duels to the death between the Saracen and Christian champions and then the resolution of the love affair between Ruggiero and Bradamante. However there are so many stories within stories that the sheer variety will keep most readers amused; there are bawdy tales, moral tales, magic realism, fantasy stories, and some of the most brutal battle scenes all interwoven to provide a tapestry that is both rich and human.

This is the poem that signals the real break from the medieval literature of the past. Although one of it's major themes is chivalry it is couched in a realism that speaks volumes to the modern reader, as the thoughts fears and emotions of the characters come vividly alive. Gone are the lists of characters and the obsession with pedantic heraldry to be replaced with real story telling. Ariosto was a student of human nature and he takes time out in many of the opening stanzas of the canto's to expound on a particular theme, The fickleness of men in love for example:

Be on your guard against those in the flower
Of ardent youth, whose amorous desires
Blaze up and die away in a brief hour,
Just as burning straw at once expires,
The hunter, chasing hares, will gladly scour
The Land, up hill, down dale, through brakes and briars,
In cold and heat, but, once a hare is caught,
He chases others, for this caring naught.


There is much more condensed philosophy; on honour, jealousy, loyalty, hypocrisy, love, the treatment of women and they have a ring of truth about them so that we can identify with Ariosto's thoughts.

A poem that features magic swords, magic rings of invisibility, hippographs (winged horse) a shield that renders enemies unconscious, a magic horn that frightens people into submission and monsters on land and in the seas is rich in the fantasy tradition. It is all due to the art of Ariosto that he can weave these fantasy elements into the sometimes brutal realism of battle scenes and the tragedy of love and death that makes this poem such a joy to read. Astolfo's trip to the moon is a case in point; a chariot piloted by St John Evangelist takes Astolfo on his journey where he meets the inhabitants of the moon who are guardians of the wits of men and women who are insane on earth. they are guardians of many other things that have been lost on earth and are also involved in weaving a sort of tapestry of lives and the fates of human kind. All fantastical stuff but interwoven into the story because here Astolfo recovers the wits of the insane Orlando (he has been driven to insanity by unrequited love)

There is much irony in Ariosto's writing perhaps the supreme example is to name his poem Orlando Furioso, when although Orlando is one of the Christian heroes, he hardly features in the climax to the poem once he is cured of his insanity. The panegyrics dedicated to Ariosto's patrons become increasingly over the top as the poem proceeds and certainly today they read with more than a hint of satire. Irony and a lightness of touch in some of the writing serve to give the poem an added dimension, but it is the deep felt human emotions and the realism of some of the fighting that leaves a lasting impression; here is a stanza from the final epic battle between Ruggiero and Rodomonte:

On cheek and shoulder he receives the blow,
The impact makes him reel from left to right,
He staggers, off his balance to and fro,
And scarcely can he hold himself upright.
Now is the moment for the pagan to
Close in and take advantage of his plight,
He tries to do so, but too hastily:
His thigh wound brings him down upon one knee.


Ariosto enjoys himself with much authorial intervention; either entering his story to encourage or chide his readers or speaking through the voices of one of his characters. Many of the Canto's end with cliff hangers as Ariosto makes some excuse why he cannot continue with this particular thread to the narrative. There are many threads to the narrative and many of the characters have stories to tell of their own, that fly off at a tangent from the main narrative and one suspects that this is Ariosto not being able to resist the sheer delight of story telling. There are two other essential features in this poem that speak to its feeling of modernity. Women are treated on an equal footing to men in many of the battle scenes and Ariosto has no time for the view that women are a lascivious and fickle sex that is so predominant in much medieval and renaissance writing. When he tells a bawdy tale in the vein of Boccaccio he apologises for its depiction of women in the story saying that this is not how they really are, but is how many male authors depict them. He also treats the Christians and Saracens on an equal footing. The Saracen heroes are as well rounded in character representation as the Christians and perform equally brave and chivalric deeds on the battlefield. They have one monster in the brutal Rodomonte, but his excesses are balanced out by Orlando during his period of insanity. Here is Rodomonte creating havoc inside the citadel of Paris:

His cruel sword the Saracen rotates
And few there are he does not leave for dead
A foot with half a leg he here truncates
There from a torso spins a severed head.
He splits them to their haunches from their pates,
Or cuts them clean across with transverse blade
Of all he kills or wounds or seeks to chase
Not one delays to look him in the face


The penguin classic edition with a translation by Barbara Reynolds is in two books, each running nearly to eight hundred pages. There is an excellent introduction and mercifully a list of characters so that the reader can keep a track of who is doing what to whom in the narrative. The list also contains a description of the magic swords, the named horses and other magical items. There are good notes and a copious index. I loved the flow to the translation that Reynolds achieves. When I initially approached this poem I had a couple of other books of lighter reading beside me, but I got so caught up in this magical poem that I stayed with it right to the end. A five star reading experience. ( )
5 vote baswood | Nov 3, 2013 |
Reynold's is one of the classic English translations: I may not have been the only person to have noticed how much the poetry improves in the last half of _Paradiso_ in the Dorothy Sayers translation. This is because Sayers died before completing the last of her translation of the _Divina Commedia_, and her devoted friend and admirer Barbara Reynolds took over. But where Sayers had been technically impressive in matching Dante's terza rima, but pedestrian in the poetry, at the point where (as I guess) Reynolds takes over a new lightness of touch and poetic feel for the language makes itself felt. This Ariosto translation is Reynolds' great achievement. Moreover it is one of the three or four greatest literary translations in English, an achievement to stand beside Dryden's _Aeniad_ and Fairfax's _Gerusalemma Liberata_. (On Pope's _Illiad_, which I'm currently reading, I tend to agree with the contemporary reviewer who commented, "A very pretty poem, Mr Pope, but you must not call it Homer".) She captures Ariosto's wit and lightness, occasionally turning in closing couplets for her stanzas that are as sharp as Byron's in _Don Juan_ (who was in turn also using Ariosto - among others - as a model), but also following Ariosto in allowing the sense to flow from stanza to stanza in a quite un-Byronic way. As well, she manages to transmit Ariosto's graver passages in equally dignified verse, for example some of the set pieces imitated (by Ariosto) from Homer. English readers tend to think of Ottava Rima as a vehicle for comic verse, but in Italian it is a model for epic. It's just that the great Italian epic tradition, unlike the English epic tradition before Byron's great anti-epic, includes humour. As for Ariosto, he is a great poet and story-teller, and (not exactly a literary judgment, this) his authorial "voice" is one whose company you cannot help enjoying. His humour, sometimes sly, is also warmly compassionate; sometimes satirical, sometimes splendidly and deliberately silly. Ariosto knows his flying horses, invisibility rings, sexy sorceresses and the rest are perfectly absurd, but manages to maintain the fantasy elements as wonderful and exciting, without ever undercutting them with mere cynicism or bathos. But most often the humour is warm and character-based. His story has an astonishing range of characters, the Moorish warriors and their lovers depicted as fairly and favourably as his Christian protegonists, and an astonish sweep, all over Europe and the East, with digressions to the Moon and other enchanted places. Another feature of Ariosto is his feminism, which shows in his warrior women, who give and take in battle every bit as well as the men. He also tellingly mocks some of the anti-feminist aspects of chivalry, as in the scene where one of Ariosto's heroes is called upon to champion in a trial by combat a woman who has been accused of unchastity. The hero readily agrees to defend the woman's honour, but only after observing that he would as readily defend her if she were unchaste, as in his view (clearly also Ariosto's) women have a right to make love without being condemned for it. Two last observations. First, I believe that this poem, and not Dante's, is the great Italian epic, superior to Dante for the same reason that Shakespeare is superior to Racine, or Byron's English epic is superior to Milton's or even Spencer's. Dante offers moral allegory (though with a thoroughly repellant worldview), and Ariosto's failure to preach has sometimes been taken as a sign of lack of depth or seriousness. But the great epics are about humanity, not allegory (though I have seen attempts to allegorise Homer, none have done so convincingly); and Ariosto presents one of the widest and greatest human canvases of all epic. It is the most readable long poem since the _Odyssey_. Yes. Second, Amazon has linked this translation to another, a prose translation. I haven't read the prose translation, but I would observe that _Orlando Furioso_ is a poem. To render it as something else is to lose its structure, its purpose and its very nature. To present a prose translation of this poem as a genuine "version of Ariosto" is a bit like presenting Beethoven's Ninth symphony by playing an arrangement for kazoo: some of Beethoven will come through in a kazoo transcription, but you cannot call it the Ninth. Get the Reynolds; it is a great and easy _read_, and it is one of the glories of English poetic translation. Cheers! Laon
  iayork | Aug 9, 2009 |
The brave and handsome Orlando leaves Charlemagne's campaign in France to find his true love, the beautiful Angelica, who was being held by the Duke of Bavaria at the behest of Charlemagne who doesn't approve of the love between Orlando and Angelica. While Orlando is en route to find her, his cousin Rinaldo discovers that she has escaped from the Duke and comes across her in a woods. He tries to pursue the fleeing maiden, with whom he has fallen in love at first sight, but his horse takes another path, and he follows trying to catch the beast. Meanwhile, the maiden Bradamante disguises herself as a knight in order to find her true love Ruggiero, an African knight trapped by an evil sorceress in a magic castle.

And that's just for starters.

The tale follows each of these characters, switching back and forth, weaving in more and more characters (including Merlin), confounding and confusing the story more and more with each new twist in the tale. By the time I thought I'd finally caught onto a bit of the story, the narrator tells the reader that he is going to leave those characters and describe the events of another, and by the end, I finally didn't care much what was happening to whom. "Orlando Furioso" read like a Renaissance soap opera, with all the men being incredibly, ruggedly handsome and chivalric, and all the women miraculously fair of face, so much so that men fall hopelessly in love with a single glance. Don't get me wrong; I usually enjoy these types of multiple-stories-in-one, but I couldn't keep track of who was who and more than once mixed up which character was where.

I have a feeling, though, that back in the 16th Century, this would have been incredibly popular, and I can picture ladies of the court marveling over the heroic deeds and daring do. In fact, "Orlando Furioso" by Ludovico Ariosto, first published in 1516, is actually a sequel to "Orlando Innamorato" written by Count Matteo Maria Boiardo in the late 1400s. An incredibly popular sequel, I might add.

But for me, it was a bit too busy. ( )
  ocgreg34 | May 20, 2009 |
Orlando Furioso, translated in two parts by Barabara Reynolds, is a sprawling work. A romance of the Renaissance period (first published in 1516 but written over 25 years), it covers the chivalrous and not-so chivalrous deeds of a huge cast of characters. The themes of the book are love, war and chivalry although one suspects Ariosto, the author, might have just enjoyed telling a good yarn, one tale leading to another in a vast jumble which, while not entirely undirected, only moves gradually towards a rather dimly seen goal.

Ariosto picks up from Boiardo's Orlando Innamoratto and assumes the reader has some knowledge of that poem, alluding tangentially to it throughout the work. The basic plot revolves around Charlemagne's defense of France from the Saracens, although, for most of the book, this is just back story. The siege of Paris is described in detail as are several smaller engagements - although their veracity is questionable - but primarily the story follows a panoply of characters through numerous quests, conflicts and magical interludes. The tales are drawn from many sources, contemporary to the time as well as historical and mythical. The Greek myths, in particular are woven throughout, although often gloriously unrecognizable. The tale jumps around the world - literally, as characters fly and sail from Europe to Africa, Asia and the newly discovered North America. Even the moon is a destination.

The characters range from the well known Orlando (Roland of the Charlemagne legend) and Charlemagne himself, to lesser known lights of the time drawn from other romances. The Saracens and Christians are treated almost equally - at times you have to refer to the dramatis personae to figure out which side an individual is on - and there is very even-handed treatment of both sides. Ariosto also has a rather advanced, for his time, view of women, casting several as military heroes every bit the equal of men and giving almost all of his female characters strong, independent roles. No fainting wall-flower princesses here. Even the modern Disney princess pales in comparison to the fierce Marfisa (Saracen and female and a knight) and the magnificent force that is Bradamante.

The male characters are also headstrong, proud to a fault and seem more like rutting mountain goats at times, than men. They display few weaknesses, and are always ready for a challenge. The complicated plot seems designed to pit each of the heroes against each other in a complicated play-off scheme worthy of college football.

The tale ranges from brutal to poetic with scenes of beauty, nobility, cruelty and violence juxtaposed in close succession. The occasional bawdy interlude lightens the mood occasionally but this is no Decameron. The emphasis here is on chivalry and nobility of heart. Comparisons with Tasso are inevitable but probably unfair. Tasso's work is a much tighter, uniform work which reads more like a modern novel. Ariosto's work, in my opinion, belongs to a different genera entirely, consisting, as it does, of a loosely woven set of tales, held together by the slenderest of threads. Tasso and Ariosto each have their own particular charm but should not be ranked against each other.

Repeated encomiums for the house of Este, Ariosto's patrons, cloud the narrative somewhat. The fawning praise and false histories do, however, weave the thing into a whole, providing an overarching theme (the union of Ruggiero and Bradamante) which is otherwise somewhat lacking. The madness of Orlando, which lends the poem its title is really only one of many threads in the tale.

This version of the poem, translated as it is into 4000 octavo stanzas, is remarkably readable. The translation manages to retain a noble air, not sounding forced, in spite of rhyming lines and fixed form. The end notes are long enough to aid the reading and short enough to avoid snowing the reader under with useless details. Many pertain to Ariosto's use of historical figures and places of his own time. The two books of Reynold's translation each have an introduction. The first introduction is lengthy but very readable while the second is brief but fills in the gaps of the first quite nicely. A dramatis personae is presented in each book as well although the second only covers new characters introduced in the second half of the poem. These character lists are actually quite necessary for an intelligent reading of the poem as the number of characters approaches infinity. Finally, the book contains a lengthy index which concentrates on the characters and their actions.

The two volume translation is, I imagine, a bit daunting to the average reader, being nearly 1400 pages in length. It is a fairly smooth read, however, and rewards with many literary jewels. The book can be read as a whole quite easily but would also be useful to the scholar given its fairly extensive notes and indices. The one drawback for scholars would be that the paperbacks, given their enormous length, are unlikely to survive repeated readings. A hardcover version of this translation would, however, be an excellent investment. ( )
1 vote Neutiquam_Erro | Sep 29, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ludovico Ariostoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hippeau, C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reynolds, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Segre, CesareEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I celebrate the ladies, knights, arms, affairs, ancient chivalries and brave deeds of that tiem when the Moors of Africa crossed the sea and ravaged France, following the wrath and youthful fury of agramante, their king, who boasted that he would avenge the death of his father, Troiano, on Charlemagne the Roman Emperor.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140443118, Paperback)

One of the greatest epic poems of the Italian Renaissance, Orlando Furioso is an intricate tale of love and enchantment set at the time of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne's conflict with the Moors. When Count Orlando returns to France from Cathay with the captive Angelica as his prize, her beauty soon inspires his cousin Rinaldo to challenge him to a duel - but during their battle, Angelica escapes from both knights on horseback and begins a desperate quest for freedom. This dazzling kaleidoscope of fabulous adventures, sorcery and romance has inspired generations of writers - including Spenser and Shakespeare - with its depiction of a fantastical world of magic rings, flying horses, sinister wizardry and barbaric splendour.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:22 -0400)

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