Orlando Furioso: Saracens forced to retreat to Arles

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

Orlando had continued his rampage through France and Spain, and discovered Angelica and her new husband Medoro on the beach at Tarragon in Spain. She escaped from him by putting her magic ring in her mouth and becoming invisible, but Orlando rode her horse away, eventually driving it to its death. He carried on his murderous journey, towing the horse’s carcass behind him.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Mad Orlando Continues to Drag a Dead Horse After Him as He Wanders (Canto 30:4) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Orlando arrives at a river, and is forced to abandon the horse’s body so he can take to the water and swim to the opposite bank. There a shepherd has brought his horse to water, and the naked Orlando tells him that he wants to exchange his dead horse on the other bank with the shepherd’s.

Daniel Berger (1744-1824), Plate 10 for Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso’ (1772), etching, 9.1 x 5.1 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA. Wikimedia Commons.

When the shepherd walks away, Orlando flies into a rage, kills him, and rides away on his horse to continue his rampage. The horse, deprived of food and rest, soon dies, and Orlando proceeds on foot to sack Malaga, where he destroys a third of its dwellings.

When he reaches Algeciras, near the Strait of Gibraltar, he hails a boat and commands it to wait. At that, the vessel shoots off at speed, and Orlando drives his horse into the sea until it sinks under the water and drowns. Fate saves Orlando, who swims on to reach Ceuta on the coast of North Africa.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Angelica and Medoro Escape Happily to India (Canto 30:16) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Revealing in passing that Angelica and Medoro voyage by ship to India, where she makes him the King of India, Ariosto returns to the tribulations of Mandricardo. Now that Doralice has chosen him, he has other obstacles to overcome: Ruggiero’s challenge over use of the eagle of Troy as his symbol, and Gradasso’s claim to Orlando’s sword, Durindana. Under King Agramante’s supervision, they draw lots and it’s decided that Mandricardo will first face Ruggiero. Although Gradasso is disappointed at this, he provides help to Ruggiero.

The King is invited to reconsider, and ask the knights to postpone their combat. Doralice implores Mandricardo to agree to this, and succeeds: he says that if the king asks him again, he will consent to delay.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Doralice Tries to Keep Mandricardo from his Duel With Ruggiero (Canto 30:45) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

The following morning, though, Ruggiero is adamant that they must fight and settle the matter. Once they’re prepared and mounted, they both fly their flags bearing the disputed eagle. They charge at one another, scattering the shards of their lances high into the air. They switch to swords, and start striking heavy blows on their opponent’s armour. Mandricardo lands a fearsome blow which cuts through to Ruggiero’s flesh. But that doesn’t stop the latter from bringing his blade down flat onto Mandricardo’s helmet, stunning him.

When Mandricardo recovers, he prepares to bring Durindana down with even greater might on his opponent, but Ruggiero seizes the moment and sinks his sword into the Saracen’s armpit, drawing blood. Ruggiero is momentarily disabled by the blow which follows, but resumes his attacks on the Saracen, wounding him again in the side.

Mandricardo casts aside his shield with its contested symbol, and grasps Durindana with both hands to deal Ruggiero a terrible blow which splits his armour and wounds him gravely. In return, Ruggiero’s sword pierces the Saracen’s heart, and kills him – not before he lands one last blow to Ruggiero’s head, knocking him unconscious and pouring with blood.

Although Ruggiero falls first, when Mandricardo follows him to the ground, the Saracen is well dead. A doctor examines Ruggiero and, whilst he is clearly badly wounded, his life is not in any danger. He is carried to the king’s tent, together with his trophies, except Orlando’s sword Durindana which naturally passes to Gradasso.

Meanwhile, Bradamante’s messenger Ippalca has returned to her mistress, and passed on to her all that Ruggiero had told her, including his letter. Bradamante reads that through repeatedly, with tears in her eyes. She laments that he loves not another woman but his foes, and reveals that it was Troiano who had killed his father. Ippalca and Bradamante’s brother Ricciardetto rekindle her hope, although Bradamante starts to wonder if her lover has perhaps fallen for Marfisa.

While Bradamante waits for Ruggiero’s return, Rinaldo arrives, having heard that Ruggiero and Marfisa had saved his brother and cousins. Rinaldo then leads a party of six, including Ricciardetto and his cousins, to give support to Charlemagne in Paris, leaving Bradamante pining still for her lover. Following Rinaldo’s group is his private army of about seven hundred.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Rinaldo and His Men Meet a Strange Knight With a Lady (Canto 31:8) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

On the group’s second day out from Montalbano, they meet a knight and his damsel, who challenges Ricciardetto to a fight. When the latter is thrown from his horse by the unknown knight’s lance, a second rises to the challenge and also ends up on the ground. Despite Rinaldo wanting to take the knight on next, a third is tossed aside by the knight’s lance. The others want to follow suit, but Rinaldo reminds them of their duty to head for Paris.

Rinaldo and the knight charge, and their lances are shattered by the impact, leaving both firmly on their mounts. But the shock kills the unknown knight’s horse, breaking its back. The knight tells Rinaldo that he cannot leave that unavenged. To that, Rinaldo offers him a replacement, but the knight won’t relent, and insists that they continue to fight.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Rinaldo Fights the Strange Knight, Who Proves to be his own Half-Brother (Canto 31:22) (c 1878), engraving in book published by Hachette et Cie, Paris, 1879, dimensions not known, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica collection. Via the Internet Archive.

Once on foot, the two lay into one another ferociously, smashing the corners from their shields, and battering their armour. By now, it’s starting to get dark, but neither is prepared to call a halt until Rinaldo proposes that they take a break until dawn the next day. The unknown knight agrees, and the two walk away to rest. As they talk together, the unknown knight realises that he has been fighting his own brother: Rinaldo and Guidone Selvaggio, as his brother is named, then embrace one another with tears of joy.

Guidone apologises, and Rinaldo assures him that no pardon is required. The following morning, instead of returning to combat, they ride on furiously towards Paris. When they are about ten miles from the city, they meet Grifone and Aquilante, the sons of Oliver, who are speaking with a finely-dressed woman with sadness in her eyes. Sansonetto joins them, and the woman, who is Fiordiligi, breaks the news to Rinaldo that his cousin Orlando has lost his reason, and is on the rampage.

She also tells the knights that Orlando’s sword, Durindana, has been taken by Mandricardo, who also stole the paladin’s horse Brigliadoro. She goes on to relate how she had seen Orlando a few days earlier, when he fell from the bridge by Isabella and Zerbino’s mausoleum. At her news, Rinaldo is struck by grief, and weeps openly at Orlando’s fate.

Before Rinaldo can do anything about Orlando, he wants to attack the pagan forces surrounding Paris. He decides to do this at night, to surprise them when they’re asleep, so waits until darkness falls and all goes quiet. Then they, with their small army, make their way silently into the midst of the enemy and set about slaughtering Moors and Saracens where they lie. He orders a trumpet blast to strike terror into their hearts, and they press on bringing swift death to the pagans.

Rinaldo had sent word to warn Charlemagne of his imminent attack, so that the forces in the city could take advantage of it. Among them is Fiordiligi’s husband Brandimarte, for whom she has been searching throughout the land. They are joyously reunited at last, and she tells him of the terrible news of Orlando’s madness.

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

As one of Orlando’s closest friends, Brandimarte decides to leave immediately with Fiordiligi to search for Orlando and try to help him. They ride quickly to the bridge where Fiordiligi had last seen him. As soon as Brandimarte arrives there, Rodomonte appears and demands that he dismounts and disarms. Brandimarte will have none of that, and charges at him with his lance at the ready. But their horses are unable to balance on the stone, and riders and their mounts fall in a heap.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Illustration for Orlando Furioso (Canto 31:70) (c 1878), engraving in book published by Hachette et Cie, Paris, 1879, dimensions not known, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica collection. Via the Internet Archive.

Both knights spur their horses to stand up again, they slip, and all four fall into the river below, where they vanish under the surface of the rushing water. Rodomonte has been there before, and soon emerges onto the bank. But Brandimarte can’t extract himself, sinking further, until his horse comes to the surface with the knight trapped underneath. Fiordiligi appeals to Rodomonte to save him, which he does, dragging the almost lifeless knight from the water and locking him away in his tower.

Blaming herself for Brandimarte’s imprisonment, Fiordiligi rides off for help to release him.

Back in the fields around Paris, Rinaldo and his knights continue to strike terror into the hearts of the Saracen forces, killing them through the night. King Agramante is woken up and warned that he should flee too, as he is at great risk of being captured. While his squire dresses him quickly, the king’s trusted knights arrive and reinforce the warning, saying that he should go to Arles or Narbonne with the remains of his troops, and regroup there.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Illustration for Orlando Furioso (Canto 31:84) (c 1878), engraving in book published by Hachette et Cie, Paris, 1879, dimensions not known, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica collection. Via the Internet Archive.

Agramante has no choice, and heads straight for Arles in the south with his surviving forces, numbering in all about a hundred thousand. Ruggiero, still recovering from his wounds, is moved carefully on horseback then by boat to join the king.

The only exception to this retreat is Gradasso, who has been looking forward to the opportunity to challenge Rinaldo now that he has got possession of Orlando’s sword Durindana from the dead Mandricardo. Gradasso mounts his horse and goes in search of his opponent, whom he finds in the midst of the carnage.

Gradasso accuses Rinaldo of cowardice in hiding from him, but Rinaldo accuses the Sericanian knight of abuse, and explains what happened. The two agree to fight to settle their dispute, on these terms: if Gradasso defeats Rinaldo, then the former will take the latter’s horse, Baiardo; if it is Rinaldo who triumphs, then Gradasso will give him Durindana. They then part to prepare themselves to fight soon after dawn.

Principal Characters

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

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.

Brandimarte, knight and close friend of Orlando, husband of Fiordiligi.

Charlemagne, Charles the Great, Christian King of France.

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

Fiordiligi, daughter of the King of Lizza and wife of Brandimarte, who has gone missing.

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

Guidone Selvaggio, illegitimate son of Count Aymon, a Christian knight, and (half-)brother to Rinaldo.

Ippalca, a member of Bradamante’s household.

Isabella, daughter of the King of Spain, who falls in love with Zerbino, son of the King of Scotland, and tries to elope to him.

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

Medoro, one of Prince Dardinello’s Moorish soldiers, a ‘pagan’, who has married Angelica after she nursed him to recovery from his wounds.

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

Rinaldo, cousin of Orlando, one of Charlemagne’s paladins and bravest knights.

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.

Zerbino, son of the King of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish forces, only to die of his wounds sustained in a fight with Mandricardo.

The artists

Daniel Berger (1744-1825) was a German engraver who was sufficiently eminent to be appointed professor of the Prussian Academy of Arts.

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.