Orlando Furioso: Discord among the Saracens

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Michael Finds Discord Presiding Over and Election in the Monastery (Canto 27:37) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

After Ruggiero had rescued Bradamante’s brother Ricciardetto from being burned at the stake, and heard his account of how he came so close to death by posing as his sister, the two knights rode to Aldigiero’s citadel of Agrismonte, which is surrounded by deep ravines.

Aldigiero welcomes them, and immediately tells them that his two half-brothers have been captured by Ferraù and are about to be sold. He had already sent word to Rinaldo, but cannot see how he can rescue them. Ruggiero offers to go with a guide and bring them back alive, in spite of his duty to ride away to support King Agramante, and his pledge to meet his beloved Bradamante for their marriage. He writes her a letter explaining his delay, undertaking to return in fifteen to twenty days, once he has liberated the Africans trapped outside Paris by Charlemagne.

Ruggiero sets off at dawn the following day, with Aldigiero and Ricciardetto, and rides to the barren and dry Bayona, where the two half-brothers are due to be sold that day. They see a knight bearing the emblem of a phoenix crossing this plain, and ride to meet them. The knight challenges them to fight, but when Aldigiero explains the reason for their presence, the knight agrees to join them: it is Marfisa, although at the time the others don’t know her identity.

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

Soon, a group of Saracens approach, with the two captive brothers in the middle of them. From the other direction comes a group of Maganzans, bringing the gold and other precious goods with which they intend to buy the prisoners from the Saracens. With Aldigiero in the lead, the four knights attack both groups. Although so few in number, they quickly despatch their opponents, who, having suffered many casualties, turn and flee, leaving their two prisoners and all the booty which had been brought to buy them.

Their mission accomplished, the knights adjourn to a nearby fountain to cool off and eat. This is one of only four fountains in France which had been made by Merlin. In its polished marble surround, the magician had carved figures showing a monster which kills Popes in Rome until it is destroyed by King Francis I of France, and a succession of other monarchs across Europe. One of the group explains that these figures prophesy the future, and puts names to the leaders who have yet to come, each of who will slay this beast in turn.

As this draws to a conclusion, they see a lone woman riding quickly towards them: Ippalca, who was bringing Ruggiero’s horse to him but had it taken from her by Rodomonte. She explains this to Ricciardetto, pretending that she doesn’t know Ruggiero. She had followed Rodomonte for a long time in the hope that he would return the horse to her, and left him in a fight not far away. Ruggiero excuses himself to the other knights, and rides off with Ippalca in search of his missing horse.

Once they are away from the fountain, Ippalca tells Ruggiero a personal message that she brings from Bradamante. They reach a fork in the track, where Ippalca chooses the shorter, uphill route, unaware that Rodomonte, with Ruggiero’s stolen horse, has taken the other way.

Meanwhle, back at the fountain, Aldigiero and Ricciardetto have persuaded Marfisa to doff her weapons and dress up in the fine clothes and jewellery which had been brought by the Maganzans in their booty. Mandricardo sees her as he approaches in company with Rodomonte, and decides to abduct this fine-looking damsel. He therefore challenges her companions to fight for her.

Mandricardo quickly defeats the knights, wounding Aldigiero in the shoulder, and Ricciardetto’s horse falls, putting the rider on the ground. Mandricardo assumes that the damsel is his and goes to the fountain to claim her, but she challenges him to fight once she has donned her armour and weapons. They are more evenly matched, making Rodomonte intervene and call for a truce for the day, reminding them of King Agramante’s summons for aid. They agree to that.

Ruggiero had followed Ippalca, and realised that they had missed Rodomonte. He sends Ippalca back to Montalbano, giving her the letter he had written to Bradamante, and turns back to head for the fountain, where he catches his quarry at last. Rodomonte is riding Ruggiero’s horse, so the latter challenges him for the mount. For the first, and last, time Rodomonte refuses on grounds of King Agramante’s summons, knowing also that he would have lost the stolen horse. Ruggiero accepts this on the condition that Rodomonte returns his horse.

To this, Mandricardo challenges Ruggiero to fight for his emblem of an eagle, which both claim should be theirs. Drawing Orlando’s sword, Mandricardo joins combat with Ruggiero forthwith, but Rodomonte and Marfisa intervene, reminding them of Agramante’s summons. As angers rise, Marfisa is left to plead with them to delay their fight. Rodomonte then attacks Ruggiero, and the two fight viciously until Rodomonte is stunned and left dangling from his horse. Marfisa takes Mandricardo on, but her horse slips, and Ruggiero kindly strikes her opponent a heavy blow to buy her time to recover.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Discord and Pridefulness are Pleased at the Mêlée Between Christian and Moorish Heroes (Canto 26:122) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

One of Aldigiero’s companions then starts casting spells in a bid to bring this to an end. He puts a demon into Doralice’s horse, sending it charging off, leaping into the air. Rodomonte and Mandricardo both give chase, leaving Marfisa and Ruggiero still wanting to settle their arguments with the two. They decide to hold fire until they reach Paris. The others too split up, leaving the wounded Aldigiero to make his way more slowly.

The palfrey bearing Doralice doesn’t stop until it has passed through the warring Christian forces and reached King Agramante himself. Rodomonte and Mandricardo follow it closely for a day, then continue at a steadier pace towards Paris, where Gradasso and Sacripante are also heading. There the Christians are in disarray, with Orlando mad, and Rinaldo now riding back and forth between castles looking for him in vain.

Satan sees the opportunity to give the Saracens the upper hand again, and sends his demons to encourage those travelling to Agramante’s aid, and to slow the progress of Marfisa and Ruggiero to prevent them from catching Rodomonte and Mandricardo and renewing their quarrels. As they reach the Saracen troops, they’re enthused to launch an attack on the Christians, who wonder what is going on.

Charlemagne is mystified as to why the Saracens have suddenly attacked. He sees scenes of horror, with his dead forces immersed in a great pool of their own blood. The four Saracen knights lead another assault on the Christians, taking them ever closer to the walls of the city. Charlemagne’s forces withdraw within the walls and prepare to defend them against the surging warriors who are coming at them.

The Archangel Michael is dismayed, having failed in his mission for God. He blames Dame Discord, who instead of bringing division among the Saracens, had clearly brought them together. Michael flies to the monastery where Discord frequents, and discovers an election in progress in its Chapter House. Discord sits smiling and watching, so Michael pulls her by the hair and attacks her. He takes her to the Saracen camp and tells her to get on with her task.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Michael Finds Discord Presiding Over and Election in the Monastery (Canto 27:37) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Now the Saracens have the upper hand again and Charlemagne has retreated into his citadel, Ruggiero, Mandricardo, Rodomonte and Marfisa ask King Agramante if they can settle their disputes with one another. They can’t even agree which should be settled first, so the king leaves the choice to the goddess Chance, in a drawing of lots. They find an open space not far from Paris, and prepare it for the jousts to take place.

As Gradasso is arming Mandricardo, he notices that his sword is Durindana, which had been given to Orlando when he was young. Gradasso had previously tried to recover it unsuccessfully, and can’t understand how Mandricardo acquired it. The latter explains how he had fought for it only to take it once Orlando had gone mad. At that, Gradasso takes the sword and tells Mandricardo that it was he who had won it by rights, and he wouldn’t return it unless Mandricardo were to win it in combat.

Ruggiero objects to the two knights fighting first over the ownership of the sword. As this argument proceeds, Mandricardo jumps at Gradasso and strikes his arm so forcibly that the latter drops the sword. Gradasso sees red and draws his scimitar, prepared to fight both Mandricardo and Ruggiero, who fall into dispute over who should fight first. The three then attack one another, until King Agramante and Marsilio enter and restore order.

While King Agramante tries to get the knights to agree a compromise, Rodomonte and Sacripante start brawling in the next tent over the rights to Ruggiero’s horse, which Sacripante claims is his. Although happy to lend the horse to him for this jousting, Sacripante won’t let Rodomonte keep it without winning it in a fight. So they proceed to unequal combat, as Sacripante is wearing no armour. Despite that disadvantage, the latter compensates by his great agility.

Agramante is brought in to intervene between the two, but to no effect. While they are arguing, a thief steals the horse from under Rodomonte, and their shouts draw Marfisa into the tent. She discovers that Brunello had stolen her sword, he whom Agramante had crowned King of Tangier. With her armour secured, Marfisa then goes over and grasps Brunello by the chest and lifts him up, as he cries for mercy. Marfisa carries the thief to the king and demands to hang her prisoner for his crime.

She rides off with Brunello draped over her saddle, to a nearby tower, where she will wait three days for any challenger before hanging the King of Tangier. Agramante is advised not to challenge her, but to request that he, the King, should be the judge over Brunello’s fate. If she refuses that, then he should let her hang the man, and not lose her as a friend. Dame Discord and Pride are both delighted.

King Agramante next turns his attention to resolving the issue of the order of combat. He first proposes a compromise over the issue of which knight should win Doralice’s hand, and gets Mandricardo and Rodomonte to agree that she should express her preference, which they will be bound to accept. In front of the King, she chooses Mandricardo, and Rodomonte leaves the Saracen army in deep grief.

At first, Ruggiero sets out to follow him and recover his horse, but reminds himself of his forthcoming fight with Mandricardo; in turn, Sacripante gives chase to the departing Rodomonte. He is delayed rescuing a woman who falls into the River Seine, and then has to capture his own vagrant horse before he can resume the pursuit. Rodomonte rides on, venting his anger at Doralice, women in general, and King Agramante. After long days and nights in the saddle, he arrives at the River Saône, which is bustling with craft moving supplies for the Saracen army in France.

Rodomonte decides to stay at an inn there for the night, and when dining with the landlord drinks alcohol, against his faith. He becomes out of sorts as a result, and starts asking others there about their wives and their fidelity. The landlord casts doubt on the faithfulness of wives, telling a story of a Venetian gentleman who he once met, who was well versed in the deceits of women. He offers to tell Rodomonte one of the most remarkable stories of all – which is sufficiently worrying that Ariosto warns his female readers to skip the whole of the next Canto, in which he relates the Venetian’s tale.

Principal Characters

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

Aldigiero, bastard son of Buovo, and master of the castle of Agrismonte.

Angelica, beautiful daughter of the ruler of Cathay, who is loved and pursued by innumerable knights both Christian and not, and marries Medoro.

Bradamante, Rinaldo’s sister, “the celebrated Maid”, a brave Christian knight who is the equal of her brother. She is loved by Ruggiero.

Brunello, a non-Christian knight who was made King of Tangier by Agramante.

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

Doralice, daughter of the King of Granada, and Mandricardo’s damsel.

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

Gradasso, King of Sericana, an ‘oriental’ and non-Christian.

Ippalca, a member of Bradamante’s household.

Mandricardo, King of Tartary and son of Agricane, an ‘oriental’ pagan knight.

Marfisa, Ruggiero’s sister, a valiant and fearsome ‘pagan’ warrior.

Merlin, the good sorceror from Arthurian legend, long dead but still active in spirit.

Orlando, the hero, Charlemagne’s nephew and his most outstanding paladin.

Ricciardetto, Bradamante’s brother, who appears identical to her.

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

Ruggiero, son of the King of Reggio, a non-Christian knight who is in love with Bradamante.

Sacripante, King of Circassia, an ‘oriental’ and non-Christian.

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.