Ariosto is infuriatingly adept at juggling with the multiple narrative threads in Orlando Furioso: as we start Canto 18, Orlando himself, and Angelica, are fading from memory, and the siege of Paris is at a critical moment as Charlemagne’s eight knights try to stop Rodomonte from battering his way into the palace. But we’re about to discover what became of the knight Grifone, who has been cheated out of recognition as the victor of a jousting contest by his cowardly rival Martano, who had eloped with Grifone’s treacherous lover Orrigille to Antioch.
Martano had stolen Grifone’s clothes, armour and horse and pretended to be the victor of the tournament, leaving Grifone condemned as the coward who ran away from his joust, as Martano had done. The following morning, Grifone was paraded through the city of Damascus in shame, until he finally managed to retrieve a sword that had been trailed through the dust behind the cart on which he had been carried.
Grifone is armed again, and still under attack by a group of townspeople. He quickly kills thirty of them, leaving the rest to scatter. The city’s gate is closed by pulling its drawbridge up, in a bid to keep Grifone outside the walls. Those inside call for help to defend the city from the knight’s revenge.
At this point, Ariosto quickly switches back to his account of the siege of Paris, where Charlemagne has led eight Christian knights to tackle Rodomonte, who is intent on battering down the door to the palace so he can slaughter its occupants and wage his one-man war of terror in the heart of the city.
When the eight knights charge at Rodomonte with their lances, he leaps up uninjured. Two more join the group trying to destroy him, but his armour made from dragon skin is proving perfect protection, and he beheads one of his attackers, Hugh of Dordogne. The whole population of the city is summoned to converge on the wild Saracen, to the point where the streets are packed with armed men. He then tries to fight his way through the crowd, killing many in his bid to escape.
He carves his murderous way to the river, where he enters the water in full armour, and swims across to the opposite shore. Once there he looks back at the citadel, still standing undamaged despite his destructive efforts, and for a moment he thinks of storming it again, before walking away.
Dame Discord then sows enmity among Agramante’s leaders, accompanied by Pride and Jealousy. These three meet a dwarf sent out by Doralice, and set out to make trouble between Mandricardo and Rodomonte, who asks the dwarf how his beloved Doralice is. The dwarf tells Rodomonte how Mandricardo had killed the lady’s escorts and abducted Doralice. Rodomonte is furious, and, demanding to be taken to the lady, he rushes off in haste.
Rodomonte’s departure from the siege enables Charlemagne to stand his defences down, and for Rinaldo’s forces to engage the Saracens again. Whilst they are so engaged, Charlemagne is planning to attack his enemy’s rear. After fierce fighting, the Christians put the African forces to rout.
Meanwhile, back in Damascus, Norandino has brought a thousand men to deal with Grifone, who has found some discarded armour to wear and now stands in control of a bridge beside a temple. When the king’s men reach the road below him, Grifone drops down to halt their advance. He repeats this, building a large pile of bodies as a result.
Grifone fights on, collecting a series of wounds but not letting them diminish his valour. The king is impressed by this, and realises that this is no coward. The knight fights on like Horatius defending his bridge in Rome, so the king admits his error of judgement and offers up to half his kingdom in recognition of his mistake. Norandino summons his doctor to attend to Grifone’s wounds, and has him taken back to his palace to recover. It takes a full week before Grifone is able to don his armour again.
While Grifone has been away, his brother Aquilante and Astolfo have been looking for him throughout Palestine. They had discovered from a Greek traveller that Grifone had learned that Orrigille had gone to Antioch, and were sure that was where the brother had gone. Aquilante then travelled by ship to find his brother, leaving Astolfo awaiting his return.
Aquilante sailed from Jaffa, and completed the journey overland to Antioch, where he heard that Orrigille had gone with Martano to Damascus. As Aquilante presses on in pursuit of his brother, he comes across the couple, the imposter Martano still wearing Grifone’s clothes and armour. Aquilante sees Martano for the liar that he is, and demands to know where he got his clothes and armour. Hearing this, Orrigille tries to flee, but is blocked by Aquilante.
Martano is terrified when the knight puts his sword to his throat and threatens to behead them both. The coward then tries to lie his way out of the situation, claiming that he had rescued his ‘sister’ from the clutches of Grifone. Aquilante already knew that Orrigille wasn’t his sister, and had earned the reputation of being promiscuous, so saw straight through those lies.
Instead of killing them there and then, Aquilante knocks two of Martano’s teeth out, trusses them up and makes them walk alongside his horse to Damascus, where he intends handing them over to his brother. This ensures that the two villains are exposed for what they are in every village on the way there.
When Aquilante reaches the city, he is welcomed by the king, and his prisoners are thrown into the dungeon. The two brothers meet, Grifone still recuperating from his wounds, and they agree they must devise an appropriate punishment for Martano and Orrigille. Following discussions with the king, they decide that Martano is to be flogged, and Orrigille will be sentenced by Queen Lucina when she returns.
Norandino reinstates Grifone in public, then announces a tournament in his honour. News of that reaches Astolfo, who travels from Jerusalem with Sansonetto to join them. During their journey, they meet a fine knight, who turns out to be the lady Marfisa, someone brave and valiant enough to give Orlando and Rinaldo a run for their money. Astolfo and Marfisa already knew one another, and when he tells her that he is heading to a tournament, Marfisa decides to join them.
The morning after they arrive in Damascus, the tournament begins. King Norandino hopes and expects Grifone to win again, so puts up a mace, sword and horse as the prize. He has them hung together with the weapons which Martano had cheated from them in the first tournament. When she sees them on display, Marfisa recognises them as her own, which she had abandoned some time ago in order to pursue a thief on foot.
Marfisa goes up to take her armour back, but the king sees her and an angry mob quickly gathers. She delights in combat, so rides her horse at the threatening mob, killing a few of them with her lance before finishing others off with her sword. Seeing this, Astolfo and Sansonetto go to her aid. The other knights waiting for the start of the jousting quickly join in, turning the occasion into a violent affray. Grifone and Aquilante join in too, only to be unseated in disgrace from their mounts by Astolfo’s lance.
One by one the knights disperse, most leaving the city. But the brothers Grifone and Aquilante, having lost their honour, decide to pursue Marfisa, Astolfo and Sansonetto as they try to move off. Grifone then recognises Astolfo, and asks who his companions are. Eventually, all are recognised, including the fearsome Marfisa, who explains to King Norandino that she is the owner of the armour. Honour is reconciled, allowing Marfisa to reclaim her arms and armour at last.
The king starts the tournament, which is won by Sansonetto, who manages to beat them all, even Marfisa. Just over a week later, all five including Marfisa depart for France, to join the forces there. They first travel overland to Tripoli, where they board a cargo ship, which also accommodates their horses. They stop first at Paphos on the island of Cyprus, where they hear the story of Lucina again.
They return to their ship and set sail again, running straight into a severe storm with thunder and lightning. The following day the storm worsens, so the captain heaves to and lets their ship drift, waiting for the weather to improve.
Back outside the besieged city of Paris, Rinaldo goes into combat against Prince Dardinello, whose emblem he must challenge for reasons of chivalry. The prince rushes at Rinaldo with his sword and lands the first blow, which makes Rinaldo laugh, charge at Dardinello, and run his body through with his sword, killing him instantly. Their leader dead, the Africans quickly disperse, leaving the English to finish off those who are slow to flee.
Elsewhere the Moors are in trouble too, and retreat to cut their losses. King Agramante is dismayed, but relieved that at least some of his troops remain secure. When night falls, only a third of his men remain, and rivers of blood flow through fields. Charlemagne spends the night outside the city, planning a dawn attack as the weeping and groaning of injured and defeated Saracens can be heard in the distance.
Two of the Moors there, Medoro and Cloridano, had been deeply loyal to the dead Prince Dardinello. When on guard, Medoro proposes to his friend that they should search for the prince among the dead to give him an honourable burial, or die in the process of trying. When relieved of their guard, they cross no-man’s land on their mission. Passing sleeping Christians, they take the opportunity to stealthily kill some on their way.
Eventually they come upon the field of corpses among which they believe the prince’s body to be. Medoro then prays to the moon for them to be shown their leader’s body. At that moment, the moonlight shines bright between the clouds, lighting up the city before them, and putting a spotlight on the body of Dardinello. The two then bear him back through the darkness. But by this time the first light of dawn has arrived, and Prince Zerbino, leader of the Scots, is already awake. Cloridano decides to abandon the body there and then, but Medoro takes the weight and hurries on faster, until they both enter an old wood.
Agramante, King of Africa, who is leading the war against Charlemagne in revenge for the killing of his father, Troiano. Non-Christian.
Aquilante, son of Oliver, a Christian knight, and brother of Grifone.
Charlemagne, Charles the Great, Christian King of France and Emperor.
Cloridano, one of Prince Dardinello’s Moorish soldiers, a ‘pagan’.
Dardinello, son of King Almonte and cousin of King Agramante, a ‘pagan’ prince.
Gradasso, King of Sericana, an ‘oriental’ and non-Christian.
Grifone, son of Oliver, a Christian knight, and brother of Aquilante.
Lucina, daughter of the King of Cyprus, who marries Norandino.
Mandricardo, King of Tartary and son of Agricane, an ‘oriental’ pagan knight.
Marfisa, Ruggiero’s sister, a valiant and fearsome ‘pagan’ warrior.
Martano, the lover of Orrigille, and elopes with her to Antioch.
Medoro, one of Prince Dardinello’s Moorish soldiers, a ‘pagan’.
Norandino, the King of Damascus, who marries Lucina.
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.
Sansonetto, envoy to Jerusalem, son of the King of Persia, who was baptised by Orlando.
Zerbino, son of the King of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish forces.
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.
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.