Orlando, his brother Oliver, and Brandimarte have been fighting King Agramante, Gradasso and King Sobrino on the island of Lampedusa. With Brandimarte just about to cut Agramante’s throat, he is killed by a blow to the head from Gradasso.
When Orlando sees his friend Brandimarte’s body on the sand he flies into a rage. He first beheads King Agramante, then bears down on Gradasso, who is nearly cut in half through the belly. He then returns to his friend, who isn’t quite dead after all. The dying Brandimarte seeks the forgiveness of God, and his last words to Orlando are: “Remember me when you pray, and I commend to you Fiordi…” He is unable to complete his wife’s name (Fiordiligi) before his soul is received into Heaven.
Sobrino lies on his back slowly bleeding to death, and Oliver is still trapped by his leg under his dead horse. Orlando frees his brother, who is unable to walk or even stand without the Duke’s help. Sobrino, his life hanging by a thread, is then carried to a tent for his wounds to be tended. As Orlando stares out to sea, he notices a small vessel heading straight for the island.
Back in France, Bradamante has learned that Ruggiero has broken the vow that he made when about to duel with Rinaldo outside Arles, under which he should have shifted loyalty to Charlemagne. She first condemns his cruelty, then turns to attacking Melissa before calling on Marfisa for her help. Marfisa tries to comfort Bradamante by assuring her that Ruggiero will return to her; if not, she’ll make him. Bradamante calms down.
As the other Christian knights are enjoying a little peace after the defeat of their enemy, Rinaldo is still torn by his love of Angelica, and sends a hundred men to find out what has happened to her. In the end, he goes to Malagigi and asks him. The sorceror recalls that Rinaldo didn’t help him when he needed it, and is reluctant to help at first. Malagigi asks one of his demons, who explains how Rinaldo and Angelica’s hearts had been driven in opposite directions by drinking from two different fountains. He then tells of Angelica’s marriage to Medoro, and how the couple had sailed to India.
Malagigi tells Rinaldo what has happened, and how the knight must now get over it. Rinaldo is struck dumb at the knowledge that it was a Saracen who had taken Angelica’s virginity. In his anger, he heads to the east, having obtained Charlemagne’s consent for his leave of absence. Rinaldo leaves Paris alone, shunning any companion.
When Rinaldo rides deep into the Forest of the Ardennes, a shadow covers the sun, and he sees a female monster emerge from a cave. She has a thousand lidless eyes, a thousand ears, and a mass of snakes instead of hair (she is a personification of jealousy). For the first time in his life, Rinaldo is afraid, although he stands his ground holding his sword. The monster then leaps at him, but each time that he tries to strike her with his sword, it passes through thin air.
The monster then numbs Rinaldo’s heart with her poison, and stings his face with her tail, leaving the knight no option but to ride off. The monster leaps onto the horse behind him, and no matter what the knight tries he can’t get rid of his unwanted companion. Then a passing cavalier comes to his rescue, and removes the monster with a single blow with his lance. When she springs back up, the cavalier rains blows on her using his mace, allowing Rinaldo to make his getaway at last. The monster is driven back down to the Abyss, where she devours herself.
Rinaldo asks his rescuer his name, but he witholds that for the moment. The two ride together to a fountain, the one which removes love, from which Angelica had much earlier drunk and was made to hate Rinaldo as a result. They dismount, and Rinaldo drinks from the fountain, quenching both his thirst and his love for Angelica. At that the cavalier reveals that he is Scorn, who has freed the knight from his burden. The cavalier and his horse then vanish.
Now that he is cured of his obsessive love for Angelica, Rinaldo decides to continue his mission to Sericana to recover his horse Baiardo, which is a matter of honour. When he reaches Basle, he hears of the combat on the island of Lampedusa, and Orlando’s triumph there.
He therefore decides to divert through the Alps down to Italy, changing his horse and guide every ten miles to set a ferocious pace as far as the River Po, where he considers whether to stop for the night.
There on the bank of the river, Rinaldo is approached by a lord who asks if he is married, then invites him to stay the night, so that he can show Rinaldo what all married men would love to see. Rinaldo’s curiosity convinces him to accept, and they ride to a huge and luxurious palace. In the middle of much marble and other finery is a fountain shaped like an eight-sided pavilion, with eight statues of women supporting its golden cupola. Each of those eight statues stands on two more bearing a scroll. Rinaldo reads one in praise of Lucrezia Borgia, another about Isabella d’Este, and so on for other famous figures of Ariosto’s day.
Rinaldo and his host sit and dine, as the knight’s curiosity grows, and he wants to know what it is that all married men would love to see.
Eventually, the lord of the palace looks at Rinaldo and tells him that it’s time to reveal his secret. He explains that every married man should keep a careful watch on his wife, to see whether she is unfaithful. When a husband is certain that his wife is pure, then he will love her more for that. There is also nothing worse than thinking that your wife is true to you when you’re actually being cuckolded.
He then tells Rinaldo that he can test whether his wife is faithful to him by drinking from a special golden goblet, which has been put in front of them. If the wine spills down his clothes and won’t enter his mouth, he’ll know that his wife is unfaithful; if the wine passes cleanly into his mouth, then she’s chaste and true.
Rinaldo reaches out and grasps the goblet, but isn’t sure whether he should take its test.
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.
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.
Malagigi, a sorceror, the son of Buovo.
Marfisa, Ruggiero’s sister, a valiant and fearsome ‘pagan’ warrior.
Medoro, one of Prince Dardinello’s Moorish soldiers, a ‘pagan’, who has married Angelica after she nursed him to recovery from his wounds.
Melissa, a pupil and follower of Merlin, and a good sorceress.
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.
Rinaldo, cousin of Orlando, one of Charlemagne’s paladins and bravest knights.
Ruggiero, son of the King of Reggio, a non-Christian knight who is in love with Bradamante.
Sobrino, an African king, a ‘pagan’.
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.
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.