Orlando Furioso: Rinaldo in combat, and Charlemagne’s palace under threat

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872), Orlando Furioso (detail) (1822-27), fresco, Casa Massimo, Rome, Italy. Image by Sailko, via Wikimedia Commons.

While the Saracens have been making a major assult on the besieged city of Paris, Ariosto took time out to tell the story of the knight Astolfo, and his adventures in Egypt during his return journey to Europe, following a period as a myrtle bush on Alcina’s island.

Grifone, one of two brothers accompanying Astolfo to France, had fallen in love with Orrigille, who has run off with another lover to Antioch. When Astolfo and his brother are preparing to leave Jerusalem, Grifone sneaks off in secret to try to win back Orrigille. As he approaches the city of Antioch, he comes across the knight who has seduced his lover, travelling with her at his side. She pretends to be overjoyed at meeting him again, blames him for abandoning her a year ago, and leaves Grifone thinking that her lover Martano is her brother. They ride on together to the gate of Damascus.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), The Great Battle at Paris (Canto 16:19) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Back at the siege of Paris, French arrows are raining on the Saracens who are trying to take the city. Rodomonte continues his extraordinary progress through the defences, though, slaughtering Christians with his sword as fast as they can come at him.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Inside the City, Rodomonte Wreaks Havoc (Canto 16:24) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

He runs on towards the bridge of Saint Michel, where he enters the citadel and murders priests, women, children and the elderly with complete disregard. He sets the wooden houses on fire, and clambers over the tops of the buildings pushing their rooves into the fires below.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Rodomonte Continues His Vandalism in Paris (Canto 16:85) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

While Rodomonte is busy destroying the city, Agramante’s forces are caught out by the arrival of Rinaldo’s Scots and English warriors, who have been brought to the city thanks to the Archangel Michael’s deployment of Silence. Rinaldo had divided his troops to bring six thousand archers and over two thousand light cavalry to bear on the attacking Saracens. They had destroyed bridges over the River Seine to prevent the enemy from using them to their advantage. Before his men attack, Rinaldo addresses them in an impassioned speech, telling them that they were fighting for the safety of the whole of Europe.

His troops set in place, they engage their enemy in combat. Rinaldo quickly comes under attack, but dispatches a knight who charges at him, then kills the King of Oran with his lance. The advance forces of the ‘pagans’ fall back, leaving Prince Zerbino and his Scottish forces to advance to contact, and slay their enemy mercilessly in the mêlée.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872), Orlando Furioso (detail) (1822-27), fresco, Casa Massimo, Rome, Italy. Image by Sailko, via Wikimedia Commons.

At times, the sky grows dark as dense volleys of arrows fly from the archers to kill another squadron of Saracens. They are replaced by more who come up to fight the Scots. Two bastard sons of the late King of Aragon throw themselves at Zerbino’s horse, killing it. But the prince is back on his feet very quickly, spears one, and leaves the other to be trampled to death by a horse.

Next, the English Dukes lead their men into battle, and after a period of ebb and flow, the Saracens are overwhelmed. Ferraù sees a young friend of his slain, and flies into a murderous rage as a result, killing Christians by the handful and stemming the Saracens’ retreat. Agramante himself leads a company against the Scots and Irish. Prince Zerbino is beginning to get into difficulty until Rinaldo comes to his aid, and clears some space around them. Rinaldo soon finds himself a horse to mount, just as Agramante and his troops arrive to tackle him.

Rinaldo takes on Agramante next, as Rodomonte’s one-man wave of destruction continues inside the citadel.

A messenger brings news of the havoc being wrought within Paris by Rodomonte to Charlemagne himself. The emperor selects his finest paladin to accompany him and sort the growing carnage out. As they approach, Charlemagne tells fleeing Christians that this is the work of but a single man, and angrily orders his soldiers back. They reach the palace, which Rodomonte is attacking with flaming missiles, and now stands at its great door, battering it open.

Charlemagne leads a group of eight of his best warriors in an attack on Rodomonte, to stop him from entering the palace.

Principal Characters

Agramante, King of Africa, who is leading the war against Charlemagne in revenge for the killing of his father, Troiano. Non-Christian.

Alcina, sister of Morgana and King Arthur, a treacherous and evil sorceress.

Astolfo, son of the King of England who is abducted by Alcina then turned into a myrtle bush.

Charlemagne, Charles the Great, Christian King of France and Emperor.

Ferraù, nephew to Marsilio, King of Spain, and a non-Christian.

Grifone, son of Oliver, a Christian knight.

Martano, the lover of Orrigille, and elopes with her to Antioch.

Orrigille, loved by Grifone, the treacherous lover of Martano, with whom she elopes to Antioch.

Rinaldo, cousin of Orlando, one of Charlemagne’s paladins and bravest knights, and commander-in-chief of the Scottish and English forces who come to Charlemagne’s aid.

Rodomonte, the African King of Sarza and Algiers, the son of Ulieno.

Zerbino, son of the King of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish forces.

The artists

Gustave Doré (1832–1883) was the leading French illustrator of the nineteenth century, whose paintings are still relatively unknown. Having produced large sets of illustrations for classics such as Dante’s Divine Comedy earlier in his career, he started work on a set for Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in the late 1870s, for publication in 1879. These are the last major illustrations which he made. This article looks at his paintings.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872) was a German painter who trained at the Vienna Academy, from where he went to Rome in 1815 to join the Nazarene movement there, with Johann Friedrich Overbeck and others. He was involved in the campaign to re-introduce traditional fresco painting, and in 1822 was commissioned to paint frescoes depicting Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in the entrance hall to the Villa Massimo in Rome. He completed these by 1827, when he returned to Munich to paint frescoes for the new palace there showing scenes from the Nibelungenlied. He later turned to Biblical illustrations and designs for stained glass windows.


Wikipedia on Ariosto
Wikipedia on Orlando Furioso

Barbara Reynolds (translator) (1975, 1977) Orlando Furioso, parts 1 and 2, Penguin. ISBNs 978 0 140 44311 0, 978 0 140 44310 3. Verse translation with extensive introduction and notes.
Guido Waldman (translator) (1974) Orlando Furioso, Oxford World’s Classics. ISBN 978 0 19 954038 9. Prose translation.