Orlando Furioso: Death on Lampedusa

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

With Orlando and two colleagues preparing for a duel with Agramante’s trio on the island of Lampedusa, Ruggiero made his way to Marseilles, where Dudone had just arrived from North Africa with his fleet of warships. When Ruggiero tried to free seven kings from among the defeated Saracen forces, he kicked up a fight to which Dudone responded and they moved to a duel. After discovering one another’s identity, Ruggiero had to be careful not to kill Dudone, who is a cousin of his fiancée Bradamante’s mother.

Dudone realises what is going on, that his opponent had ample opportunity to defeat him but is avoiding doing so. He therefore proposes a truce between them, but Ruggiero will only agree if the seven kings are freed and allowed to return to Africa. That deal is done, and the seven together with Ruggiero board a ship which sails immediately. At first, a strong wind on the ship’s stern drives it rapidly out into the Mediterranean, but when night falls the wind shifts and turns the vessel about, threatening to capsize it.

The next day, the storm worsens, driving the ship towards a rock. At that point, the captain and his crew abandon in the ship’s boat, leaving Ruggiero and the other passengers to their fate. He takes to the water to swim to the shore, as do the others, leaving the ship sailing on without a soul on board.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), The Ship is Abandoned (Canto 41:18) (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.

It soon reaches calmer seas, and travels on to ground in soft sand near Biserta, where Orlando and his companions board it to sail to their duel on Lampedusa. When they search the vessel, they discover Ruggiero’s horse, sword and armour, which he’d abandoned in his haste. Orlando takes the sword for himself, gives the horse to Brandimarte, and the armour to his brother Oliver, as his own enchantment prevents him from being wounded. The three ensure that they have fresh and splendid surcoats to wear for the fight. Fiordiligi makes one for Brandimarte, in a state of fear and dread of the outcome. As the three paladins sail away she watches in grief until their sails vanish over the horizon.

Orlando and his colleagues arrive on Lampedusa first, and set up their tent on the eastern side of the island. When Agramante and his colleagues turn up, they pitch camp on the west. As it’s late in the day, they agree to leave their combat until the following morning. During the evening, Brandimarte speaks with Agramante, as they are old friends. The knight tries to persuade the King to abandon the fight without bloodshed, as it can’t reverse his defeat by Charlemagne. Agramante is unmoved, even making a sarcastic remark about Brandimarte’s skill of persuasion. At first light, the kings and paladins are armed and mounted ready to fight.

Meanwhile, Ruggiero has battled his way through the waves to reach land at last, promising God that should he do so he will immediately convert to Christianity and forsake any remaining support for the Moors. With that in his mind, his strength is doubled, and of all who were on the ship he alone has survived. As he climbs up the rock, he meets a hermit, who greets him. The elderly man tells Ruggiero that he’d been expected, as that had been predicted in a dream he had the previous night.

The hermit then rebukes Ruggiero for his refusal to convert until his life was under threat, and comforts him with the benefits of repentance. The hermit takes the knight inside and warms him in front of a fire to dry him out. He tells Ruggiero that he is only going to live for seven years after his baptism, and will die in an ambush laid by Maganzans in revenge for the deaths of Pinabello and Bertolagi. His body will be buried secretly where he falls, but his wife Bradamante will find the grave. The hermit then predicts the destiny of his descendants, leading to the d’Este family, Ariosto’s patrons.

On the island of Lampedusa, Orlando, Brandimarte and Oliver launch their charge at Agramante, Gradasso and Sobrino. When the six meet, fragments of their lances fly high into the air in a mighty crash that is heard as far away as France.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), The Christian Champions Orlando, Brandimarte and Oliviero Combat the Valiant Moors Gradasso, Agramante and Sobrino (Canto 41:69) (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.

Gradasso is evenly matched against Orlando, apart from the former’s superior mount. Orlando’s horse is soon knocked to the ground and doesn’t get up, leaving him to fight on foot. Agramante and Oliver appear equals, but Brandimarte’s lance throws Sobrino to the ground, where he is quickly taken on by Orlando. The Count carves the African’s shield in two and wounds him deeply in the shoulder, then smashes his helmet in, knocking him unconscious.

Orlando presumes Sobrino is dead and hurries to the aid of Brandimarte, who is tackling Gradasso, both still on horseback. Orlando quickly mounts Sobrino’s horse and rides at Gradasso, who aims his weapon at Orlando but fails to wound him thanks to his enchantment. Orlando strikes back at Gradasso, cutting him from face to thigh with his sword.

Sobrino finally stands up and strikes Oliver’s horse behind its knees, bringing it to the ground and trapping the knight’s leg underneath its body. Sobrino tries to cut Oliver’s head off, but fails to make a mark. Brandimarte knocks Sobrino down again, but the African gets up immediately and attacks the immobilised Oliver repeatedly. Agramante wounds Brandimarte in the right shoulder, for which the Christian knight wounds the king in his left arm and slashes the hand in which he holds his sword.

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

The fight between Gradasso and Orlando has become desperate: Orlando’s armour has almost been destroyed, although his body remains unmarked. Gradasso is covered in his own blood from numerous wounds. One mighty blow stuns the Count and makes his charger bolt. When Orlando regains control he looks back to see Brandimarte about to cut Agramante’s throat. Gradasso sees this too, and gallops back to surprise Brandimarte with a mighty blow to split the Christian’s helmet and his skull within it.

Brandimarte falls from his horse, blood pouring from his head into the sand. He is dead.

Principal Characters

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

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.

Dudone, son of Ugier the Dane and a Christian.

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

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

Oliver, Orlando’s brother and almost as effective in combat as him.

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

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

Sobrino, an African king, a ‘pagan’.

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.