Orlando Furioso: Travellers’ tales

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Anselmo's Servant Tells Argia to Pray Because His Master Has Ordered Him to Kill Her for Her Adultery (Canto 43:126) (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.

Rinaldo, riding furiously down Italy towards Orlando, has been put up for the night in a palace, where he’s shown an enchanted goblet which his host promises will tell whether his wife is faithful. When he drinks from that goblet, if the wine refuses to enter his mouth and spills over his clothes, he knows that she is unfaithful; if the wine enters his mouth instead, then it will tell him that she’s chaste. He reaches out for the goblet, unsure of whether to take its test.

After careful thought, he decides not to raise the goblet to his lips.

His host is bitterly disappointed at his choice, and tells Rinaldo that he wishes that he had made the same decision ten years ago. He then tells the knight a little of his life story. He had been raised in relative poverty, but had attracted all the women by his good looks. There lived in the city an old sage who at the age of 128 bought himself his first wife, by whom he had a daughter. To protect his daughter’s innocence, the sage decided to have a palace built – the same palace in which they’re now sitting – in which to isolate her from men.

The sage’s daughter was raised by a team of old spinsters, but as she grew up, the dangers of men grew with her. He had sculptures made of women who had defended their chastity placed around the palace to serve as role models. When she reached marriageable age, the sage decided that Rinaldo’s host should be her husband. She proved a beautiful, well-educated bride, and they lived happily together for five years until after her father had died.

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Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Rinaldo’s Host Tells Him of a Woman Skilled in Magic Who Fell in Love with Him (Canto 43:21) (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.

Then everything went wrong for the couple. A local lady, Melissa by name, lusted after him, and tried all manner of charms and magic to seduce him. One day she caught him wandering outside, and challenged him to discover whether his wife was true to him. She suggested that he should go away for a while and see if, in his absence, his wife would prove unfaithful. To enable him to determine that, Melissa gave him the enchanted goblet, which had originally been made by Morgana for King Arthur, to demonstrate Guinevere’s lack of chastity.

He took the goblet and tested his wife’s faithfulness: it showed that she was pure and chaste. He couldn’t bear to proceed with the next part of Melissa’s test, by leaving his wife alone for a couple of months. Melissa proposed instead that she changed his appearance, dress, and manners so that his wife wouldn’t recognise him.

The husband left his wife, ostensibly to go on a journey. Melissa transformed him to appear to be the young lord of a nearby city, who had already taken a fancy to his wife, and the sorceress changed herself into his page. They walked in on his wife, unrecognised by her, giving her precious stones, and promising more where they came from. Those gifts melted her resistance, and she succumbed to his advances.

At that moment, as Rinaldo’s host was still shocked by the ease of his wife’s seduction, Melissa reverted him to his real appearance and form. Husband and wife looked at one another, as pale as death at the revelation and his wife’s shame. She grew angry at the trick he had played on her, and before dawn left him and sailed off to the cavalier who’d taken a fancy to her, the same man her husband had been impersonating in Melissa’s test. She has lived with her lover ever since.

Over the following years, he had entertained many travellers who had undertaken the goblet test, each of them discovering their wife’s unfaithfulness, but Rinaldo is the first to have had the good sense to refuse and avoid the inevitable disappointment it would bring. At this, Rinaldo accuses his host of being unfair in the deception which he had played on his wife, and announces his intention to retire to bed. However, his host offers him a boat to take him by river through the night. Rinaldo accepts, and he is soon being carried along as he sleeps.

As they draw closer to Ferrara at dawn, Rinaldo awakes. The boat speeds on along the River Po, and he recalls a prophecy made by his brother Malagigi of Ferrara’s role in the future. He thinks through the decision he’d made not to take the goblet test, but to place his trust in his wife Clarice. He discusses this with the boatman, who agrees with Rinaldo that his host’s test of his wife had been unfair.

The boatman then tells Rinaldo the story of a young wife condemned to death for the same sin that she had caught her husband committing – the tale of Adonio, who gave the wife of a judge a most unusual dog.

Anselmo was a local noble and judge who found himself a noble and virtuous wife, who was rather more amorous than he. She fell in love with a local knight named Adonio, who spent his entire inheritance on clothes and banquets for her. Once his friends realised that his money had run out, they abandoned him, so he decided to run away to somewhere that he wasn’t known.

As he was on his way, thinking still of Anselmo’s wife, he came across a peasant beating a bush with a club. The man explained that he had seen a snake in the undergrowth, and wouldn’t leave until he had found the reptile and killed it. Adonio saw red, as he had a fondness for snakes, which were his family emblem. He eventually persuaded the peasant to stop, and they left the snake alone.

Adonio made his way to an area where he wasn’t known, and lived there in poverty for seven years, still yearning for his lover. He therefore decided to return to her, even though he was now older, bearded and wearing rough clothes. When Adonio arrived back in the city, Anselmo had just been sent against his wishes as its legate to the Papal court in Rome. His wife had insisted that she would remain faithful to him during his absence, but Anselmo remained concerned and untrusting. He even had an astrologer advise whether she would prove faithful to him, but that only confirmed his fears that she wouldn’t.

Before Anselmo left for Rome, he gave his wife gold and jewels so that she wouldn’t be tempted to be unfaithful in return for riches. He told her she could spend what she wished, and pleaded that she left the city and stayed in their country villa while he was away. They parted swearing faithfulness to one another, tears in their eyes.

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Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Illustration for Orlando Furioso (Canto 43:96) (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.

When Adonio arrived at the spot where he had spared a snake’s life seven years before, he bumped into a young woman named Manto who said she was related to him, and was in his debt. She explained that she was a sorceress who, for one day a week, had to assume the form of a snake. This exposed her to danger, as others who encountered her on that day are unaware that she was really a human, and some tried to kill her.

It so happened that, seven years earlier, when Manto had been a snake for the day, a peasant tried to club her to death, but Adonio had intervened and saved her life. For that kindness, she promised to make him richer than he ever had been, and the more that he tried to spend, the richer he would become. Furthermore, she knew of his love for Anselmo’s wife Argìa, and had worked out a plan which would enable Adonio to make love to the woman while her husband was away.

Manto dressed Adonio as a pilgrim, and changed herself into a dog smaller than any that had been seen before. They arrived at the gates of Argìa’s villa, where Manto did some tricks to the sound of Adonio’s pipes. Argìa saw them and welcomed them in, so they could entertain her with the tiny dog’s dancing. Through her nurse, Argìa told Adonio that she wanted to buy his dog, but he refused, and demonstrated how he could draw golden coins from its coat. Adonio then told the nurse that his price for the dog would be for him to spend a night with Argìa.

At first Argìa wasn’t sure what to do, but with her nurse’s encouragement she agreed in the end. Adonio and Argìa then spent a night of great pleasure together, and she got his dog in return.

A year later, Anselmo managed to tear himself away from his duties in Rome and return to his wife. He checked with his astrologer, who regretted to inform the judge that, as he had predicted, his wife had strayed during his absence. Anselmo then interrogated the nurse, but couldn’t get the truth out of her until his wife and her nurse fell out: the nurse returned and told Anselmo the whole story.

Anselmo flew into a rage, wanting to end his life, but decided to have his wife executed first. He sent orders to a local henchman to go to his wife at their villa and tell her that he was dying of a fever, and that she must go with him. Once they were in a secluded spot, the henchman was to cut her throat.

Argìa believed this story, and hurried off in the company of the henchman, taking her tiny dog. The man led her off the road until they reached a lonely stream in a dark wood. As he drew his sword to kill her, he explained why she was to be killed, giving her a last chance to repent for her sins.

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Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Anselmo’s Servant Tells Argia to Pray Because His Master Has Ordered Him to Kill Her for Her Adultery (Canto 43:126) (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.

Just as his blade was about to strike her neck, she vanished.

The henchman hurried to Anselmo and told him of this unexpected turn of events, but neither was aware that it was Manto who had magicked his wife away at the point of death. Anselmo didn’t know what to do for the best: his anger remained, but with his wife still at large, his attempt to have her killed wouldn’t remain a secret for long, so he sent word out to look for her. He also took the henchman back to the spot where his wife vanished, and they searched the surrounding bushes for clues.

Anselmo then noticed a sumptuous palace in the middle of the forest nearby, an obvious building which he’d never seen before. In front of it was an Ethiopian with an ugly face and dressed as a beggar. Anselmo asked whose the palace was, to which the Ethiopian replied that it was his. The judge didn’t believe this, but accepted the invitation to look round it.

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Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Anselmo Would Love to Acquire the Riches of the Strange Palace Through Which He is Conducted by His Ethiopian Host (Canto 43:138) (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.

As they toured its decorations of gold, gems and other riches, the Ethiopian said that he wouldn’t accept any amount of money for it, but something which would cost him nothing: for the Ethiopian to sodomise Anselmo.

Anselmo rejected that with disgust, but the Ethiopian wouldn’t take no for an answer, and pressed him several times until Anselmo’s desire for the palace got the better of him. Just as the Ethiopian had his evil way with Anselmo, the latter’s wife leaped out and caught him.

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Gustave Doré (1832–1883), After Anselmo Has Submitted Carnally to the Ethiopian as Payment for the Palace, His Wife Argia Appears Accusingly (Canto 43:140) (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.

Argìa asked what punishment would be appropriate for his sin. If she had deserved to die for her infidelity, then surely he should die a hundred times for his offence. She then proposed that they should forgive one another, and consign their past sins to Limbo. They did, and lived happily ever after.

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Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Anselmo Asks Forgiveness and the Couple Are Reconciled (Canto 43:143) (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.

Rinaldo praises Argìa for her clever plan, and thanks the boatman for his tale. The boat speeds on, reaching Ravenna at midday, where they stop for the knight to disembark and proceed on horseback. By morning, he’s at Urbino, and presses on with frequent change of horse, over the Apennines to Ostia. There he transfers to ship again, and by sea to the island of Lampedusa. As he arrives there, Orlando and Oliver have just won their victory, and Agramante and Gradasso lie dead.

Principal Characters

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.

The artist

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.

References

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.