At the end of the first of these two plot summaries of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, Marfisa and the others had escaped from the land ruled by women to Marseilles, leaving Astolfo wondering where they’d all gone.
Marfisa travels on alone and comes across a sad old woman who had been the servant of pirates previously wiped out by Orlando when rescuing Isabella. The knight gives the old woman a lift and they meet Pinabello, who mocks the old woman. Marfisa challenges him, and knocks him to the ground; she then makes the knight’s damsel strip and hand over her fine clothes for the old woman to wear.
The same happens when they meet Zerbino. This time, Marfisa takes the opportunity to give the old woman over to his care. The old woman is at least able to reassure the prince that his beloved Isabella isn’t dead. Another encounter reveals that the old woman is evil, and had a man killed by poison because he wouldn’t commit adultery with her.
Astolfo returns through eastern Europe until he too is tricked into being a prisoner in Atlante’s magic palace, but he then uses his magic horn to frighten the magician away and make the building vanish. He discovers his hippogriff there. Bradamante and Ruggiero are also freed from the palace, and agree to marry once Ruggiero is baptised a Christian. Bradamante then takes him on a quest to rescue a young man who is to be burned at the stake at dawn.
On the way, they take a short cut which leads them to a castle where Pinabello, Grifone, Sansonetto and Aquilante are captive and force Ruggiero to fight them, or surrender his weapons and Bradamante’s clothes. During this, the cover on Ruggiero’s magic shield is torn away and his opponents rendered senseless by its red light. Ruggiero is embarrassed that he didn’t beat them in fair combat and sinks the shield to the bottom of a deep well.
Bradamante catches the treacherous Pinabello and kills him. Separated from Ruggiero again, she discovers Astolfo and takes charge of his horse and weapons so that he can fly off on the hippogriff. She then returns to her mother in their family castle at Montalbano.
Zerbino passes by the body of Pinabello, and the old woman steals a jewelled belt from the body. When Pinabello’s father hears of the murder he calls for the capture of the killer. The old woman provides the belt as evidence that it was Zerbino, who’s sentenced to die in the morning. As the execution gets under way, Orlando and Isabella (Zerbino’s lover) arrive. Once the situation is clear, Orlando halts the execution, killing many of the rabble in the process. Isabella and Zerbino are reunited.
Mandricardo then appears wanting to kill Orlando; the two fight over Orlando’s sword Durindana. After much confusion, Orlando retains his weapon and rides off into the wood. There he starts seeing trees with Angelica’s name on them, together with that of Medoro. He rests in a cave where the couple made love and Medoro recorded the event in Arabic on its wall. He next stays with a shepherd in a nearby cottage, who tells him about Angelica and her marriage to Medoro, and shows him the bracelet which he’d been given by the woman.
Orlando realises what has happened, and his initial grief turns to a raging madness. He removes his armour, abandons his sword Durindana, strips, and starts to uproot whole trees in his madness.
Orlando’s madness rages throughout France, leaving a trail of destruction.
Isabella and Zerbino ride on, and bump into a captive who had betrayed their trust and let Isabella fall into the hands of pirates. As a penalty for that, Zerbino makes the man care for the evil old woman, and both end up being hanged. Zerbino gives up waiting for Mandricardo to return, then discovers the same inscriptions on trees and in the cave that Orlando had found. The same shepherd tells him the story of Angelica, and of Orlando’s madness.
The wife of Brandimarte, Fiordiligi, meets them. She’s searching for her husband, but he’d been in Atlante’s castle; when freed he returned to Paris, where he couldn’t find her.
Zerbino gathers up Orlando’s discarded weapons and hangs them on a tree with a warning. As he’s about to leave, Mandricardo shows up and takes Orlando’s sword. Zerbino challenges him, but is wounded by Durindana before their damsels force them to stop. Zerbino weakens rapidly from his wounds, and dies in Isabella’s arms.
When his old adversary Rodomonte approaches, Mandricardo challenges him too. They’re soon interrupted by a messenger from Agramante summoning all his supporters to the siege of Paris. The same summons puts Ruggiero in a quandary, with his commitment to baptism and marriage to Bradamante. He opts for the latter, and on the way to her rescues her brother Ricciardetto – who looks just like her – who had been condemned to death for impersonating his sister and cohabiting with a local princess.
On the way to Montalbano, Ruggiero, Marfisa and Ricciardetto rescue two half-brothers who have been captives of Saracens. Afterwards they persuade Marfisa to dress up in some of fine clothes they’ve captured. Mandricardo and Rodomonte arrive and the former decides to abduct Marfisa, unaware that she’s a knight. After initial success against weak opposition, Mandricardo goes to claim his reward, but Marfisa proves a tougher match. They disengage to allow the knights to obey Agramante’s summons.
Ruggiero then challenges Rodomonte, who is riding his stolen horse. Mandricardo in turn challenges Ruggiero, with Marfisa also getting involved in the fracas. Eventually they agree to postpone their duels until they reach Paris. When they do, Agramante has just mounted a major attack. The Archangel Michael tells Discord to get on with her job of creating dissent among the Saracens, who now have the upper hand once again.
Ruggiero, Mandricardo, Rodomonte and Marfisa ask King Agramante if they can settle their grievances, but can’t even agree who should go first. As they prepare to fight one another, more disputes break out over who has the right to Durindana, who has Ruggiero’s horse, and their partners. When Doralice chooses Mandricardo rather than Rodomonte to be her partner, the latter storms off in grief.
When Rodomonte reaches the River Saône, an innkeeper tells him a long story about women.
The innkeeper’s story concerns the unfaithfulness of women, most of whom (he claims) appear insatiable and welcome invitations to adultery. The king in this tale toured Europe with his friend on a quest for unlimited adultery. They even found one woman who wasn’t satisfied having them both in bed with her, and welcomed a third lover in the same bed.
This does nothing to diminish Rodomonte’s grief over Doralice. He stops for a while in a town near Aiguesmortes, where Isabella arrives with Zerbino’s body. Rodomonte tries to seduce her, but she decides to die rather than give in to him, and tricks him into beheading her. He decides to have a mausoleum built for the couple, and has the small bridge nearby widened so he can exact a toll. He fights anyone who tries to cross, and forces many to fall into the ravine containing a fast-flowing river. Non-Christians are then stripped of their weapons, but all Christians he keeps as prisoners in the mausoleum before sending them to Algiers as slaves.
When Orlando in his madness tries to cross Rodomonte’s bridge, he ignores Rodomonte’s instructions and both fall into the river below. Orlando rushes off, leaving Rodomonte struggling to reach dry land. Eventually Orlando reaches a beach near Tarragon in Spain, where he sees Angelica with her husband Medoro. She escapes using the magic ring to make herself invisible, and Orlando flies on in his madness.
Orlando continues his rampage through Spain, swimming across the Strait of Gibraltar to reach Ceuta on the coast of North Africa. Meanwhile Angelica and Medoro reach India, where he is made king.
Agramante has been trying to settle the many disputes between his knights. After drawing lots, Ruggiero is severely wounded in his duel with Mandricardo, whom he kills. Ruggiero is now unable to fight for Agramante until he recovers. When Bradamante hears that her lover is with the main Saracen force, she’s convinced that he loves another.
Rinaldo arrives at Montalbano to lead a party of six with a private army of about seven hundred to support Charlemagne in Paris. On the way, Rinaldo ends up fighting his own brother, Guidone, when they fail to recognise one another. Later they meet Fiordiligi, who’s still searching for her husband Brandimarte; she breaks the news to them that Orlando has gone mad.
When Rinaldo arrives outside Paris, Fiordiligi finds Brandimarte at last. Rinaldo then leads a daring nighttime attack on the rear of the Saracen forces there.
Brandimarte leaves immediately with Fiordiligi to look for Orlando at Rodomonte’s bridge, where he was last seen. Both Brandimarte and Rodomonte end up in the river, with the former then made prisoner, so his wife rides off to get help to release him.
Rinaldo’s night attack catches the Saracens by surprise, and rapidly turns into their defeat, in a mass slaughter which sees few survivors among the Moors and Saracens. Agramante has no choice but to withdraw those still alive to Arles to recover, including the wounded Ruggiero. Gradasso seizes the opportunity to find Rinaldo and demand Orlando’s sword Durindana from him. For that, they fight at dawn.
Bradamante grows increasingly anxious for Ruggiero’s return, and her suspicions are fuelled when she hears a rumour that he’s now betrothed to Marfisa. Taking Astolfo’s golden lance with her, she rides off for Paris to look for him. She meets the King of Iceland’s messenger, with three Nordic kings, who are taking a golden shield to Charlemagne. She has to prove her right to a room in a castle by defeating those three in jousts. She repeats the process when leaving the following morning.
Outside Paris, Rinaldo and Gradasso start their duel. As Gradasso is already in possession of Durindana, when Rinaldo’s horse bolts he rides off and doesn’t return, but heads back to Sericana with the sword.
Astolfo flies on the hippogriff to visit Emperor Senapo (Prester John) in Ethiopia, who was blinded, and condemned to remain hungry by harpies attacking him whenever he tries to eat. Astolfo drives the harpies away with his magic horn, relieving the emperor’s hunger.
After a quick visit to Hell, Astolfo goes to Earthly Paradise, where Saint John the Evangelist explains that they have to fly to the moon to retrieve Orlando’s lost wits.
Once they’ve obtained Orlando’s wits in a bottle from the moon, they return to earth.
Bradamante is nearing Paris when she hears of the wounding of her lover Ruggiero and the Saracens’ retreat to Arles. She then heads for Provence, meeting Fiordiligi, who begs help to release her husband Brandimarte. They travel to Rodomonte’s bridge, where Bradamante accuses its guardian of killing Isabella and tells him she will avenge her death by killing him. The woman knight swiftly knocks Rodomonte to the ground, forcing him to release all his prisoners including Sansonetto and Oliver, but not Brandimarte, who’s already been shipped to North Africa as a slave.
They ride on to Arles, where Fiordiligi enters and gives Ruggiero Bradamante’s challenge to come out and fight his lover. After a series of substitutes are unhorsed by Bradamante, Ruggiero gets ready to meet her outside.
Before Ruggiero has got himself ready, Marfisa tries her luck against Bradamante, and is immediately thrown to the ground. Instead of accepting defeat, Marfisa draws her sword, and second and third blows from the lance are required. The duel is halted because of an enemy attack, allowing Bradamante to find her lover and charge at him with her lance ready, but she stops short and is unable to hurt him.
The lovers ride off to a cypress grove to talk things out. They’re caught up by Marfisa, and at first the two women brawl bitterly. When Ruggiero’s sword hits one of the trees the voice of the dead Atlante reveals that Ruggiero and Marfisa are twins who were suckled by a lioness after their mother died. This defuses the situation, and Marfisa resolves to be baptised, although her brother remains loyal to Agramante.
They find the messenger from Iceland and two women companions with their skirts cut short to the waist. This takes them to overpower a misogynist ruler who put all women into exile. His laws are revoked, and he is trussed up naked for anyone to torment.
Ruggiero returns to the Saracen forces, and Bradamante and Marfisa go to the Christians. Marfisa comes before Charlemagne, who welcomes her, and she’s baptised the following day.
After Astolfo returns from the moon with Orlando’s lost wits, he’s shown a herb which will restore Senapo’s sight. In return for that, the emperor gives him a large army of infantry to fight in North Africa.
Astolfo leads his huge army to the Atlas Mountains, where stones rolling down the slope of a hill turn to horses for his cavalry.
Agramante hears of this move against Moorish lands in North Africa. After discussing it with other kings, he decides to abandon the war in France and to propose settlement with Charlemagne on the outcome of one-to-one combat with Ruggiero as his representative. The King of France accepts, and nominates Rinaldo for the duel. Given his earlier promise to Bradamante, Ruggiero knows that he can’t win, whatever the outcome.
The two paladins fight outside Arles, first taking a solemn oath that if their own leader should remove them from the duel, then they would owe their allegiance to the other side.
Rinaldo fights ferociously, but Ruggiero is almost timid in his response. Melissa then disguises herself as Rodomonte and insists to Agramante that he should stop the duel and attack with his army. He orders that, and the two paladins cease combat, wondering which of the leaders gave that command, and whether they need to change allegiance as a result.
The Saracen army’s attack is weak, and Marfisa and Bradamante slaughter many of its soldiers. This proves disastrous for Agramante.
In North Africa, Astolfo’s huge army has a clean sweep to reach the city of Biserta. He gathers many leaves and casts them on the sea where they transform into a large fleet of warships, which his men crew under the leadership of Dudone. At the same time, a ship arrives from France carrying the captive Brandimarte and Sansonetto, who are freed, allowing Fiordiligi once more to be reunited with her husband.
Suddenly, there’s commotion as the mad Orlando appears swinging a club. Oliver manages to bind him so he can be washed seven times in the sea, before his wits are restored from the bottle Astolfo brought back from the moon.
Back in Arles, Agramante has been abandoned by all his allies, and sails for the Mediterranean to make his escape with his surviving forces. When their fleet of battered ships nears the coast, they meet Astolfo’s new navy. Battle ensues and most of Agramante’s ships are destroyed.
Orlando decides to raze the city of Biserta to the ground. Christian forces scale its walls, batter through points of weakness, and the ships are brought in to attack from the sea.
The city soon falls and is sacked. Agramante is forced out to sea, where a storm blows his ship to the east. He comes up with a plan in which he, Sobrino and Gradasso will challenge Orlando plus two knights of his choosing to fight on the nearby island of Lampedusa. Orlando is delighted with this, and selects his brother Oliver and Brandimarte as his colleagues, but they are short of arms and armour, which they have to scrounge.
Ruggiero, still in France, is trying to work out who gave the order for his duel with Rinaldo to be stopped. He hears everywhere that this was Agramante’s command, which would mean that he now owes allegiance to Charlemagne, but isn’t sure whether he should keep his oath. He rides to Marseilles where he gets into a fight over mistreatment of seven Saracen kings. This brings him into combat with Dudone, a relative of Bradamante’s mother, and he feels unable to risk killing his opponent.
Dudone recognises what’s going on, and makes a deal with Ruggiero to release the seven kings and let them return to North Africa. Ruggiero joins them, but a storm drives the ship towards a rock, and all on board abandon into the water. Ruggiero is the only survivor, and washes up on the lonely rock, where he finds a hermit and is baptised a Christian.
The deserted ship reaches calmer weather and beaches at Biserta, where Orlando and his companions board it. They find Ruggiero’s horse, arms and armour which they divide among themselves ready to sail for their duel on Lampedusa. As they prepare to depart, Fiordiligi is fearful and dreads the outcome.
Orlando, Oliver and Brandimarte arrive on Lampedusa first. When Brandimarte tries to persuade Agramante to call it off he is rebutted, and the following morning they are armed and mounted ready. Orlando’s horse is soon on the ground, forcing him to fight on foot. He wounds Sobrino and knocks him unconscious. When Sobrino recovers, he fells Oliver’s horse which traps its rider’s leg under the body.
The fight between Gradasso and Orlando is more desperate, with the former covered in blood from his wounds. Orlando’s horse bolts just as Brandimarte is about to cut Agramante’s throat. But Gradasso gallops back and kills Brandimarte with a heavy blow which splits his skull.
Orlando flies into rage at the death of his friend, and beheads Agramante before killing Gradasso. Sobrino is slowly bleeding to death, and is taken away for his wounds to be tended, while Orlando helps Oliver extract his crushed leg from under the horse.
Bradamante learns that Ruggiero has broken his vow over transferring allegiance to Charlemagne. Marfisa comforts her.
Rinaldo is still torn by his love for Angelica, but a sorceror reveals that she is now married to Medoro and living in India. He angrily heads east, but is stopped in a forest by the monster of Jealousy. The knight Scorn gets him to drink from another fountain which removes his love for Angelica at last. He decides to divert to Sericana to retrieve his horse, but hears of Orlando’s duel on Lampedusa, so rides at speed through Italy towards the island.
He encounters a lord who invites him to stay the night, and offers him an enchanted goblet which can reveal whether his wife is faithful.
Rinaldo’s host explains the story behind the goblet, but the knight decides not to take its test after all.
Rinaldo reaches Lampedusa just as Orlando is helping Oliver back to their tent. He cries at the corpse of Brandimarte. When Orlando and Sansonetto break the news to Fiordiligi she collapses in shock. The funeral is arranged, and his body laid to rest in the cathedral. A marble mausoleum is planned, but shortly afterwards his widow dies.
Orlando takes his brother Oliver and King Sobrino to the hermit who baptised Ruggiero for Oliver’s crushed foot to be healed. Sobrino converts and is baptised, and they discover Ruggiero on the island. Because he too has now been baptised, the knights accept Ruggiero as Bradamante’s fiancé, and return his arms, armour and horse.
Astolfo releases his Nubian army to return home. All their ships are paid off, and turn back into leaves. His job done in North Africa, Astolfo mounts the hippogriff and flies back to Marseilles, where Orlando and the others are just arriving. Charlemagne and his court head south and make a triumphal entry into the city with his paladins.
Rinaldo raises the matter of his sister Bradamante’s marriage to Ruggiero. He’s surprised when his father Count Aymon reveals that her marriage has already beem arranged to Prince Leon, son of Emperor Constantine of Greece. Their parents refuse to change their mind, and Bradamante is speechless at first. She asks Charlemagne to grant her a boon, in which no man can marry her unless he demonstrates his skill at arms in combat with her and forces her to submit. The king grants her that, even though her parents are furious.
Ruggiero dons his arms and armour and, travelling in disguise, he heads east to Belgrade, where Constantine is fighting the Bulgars. He watches the Bulgars lose their king and run away in retreat. Ruggiero takes command of them and leads them to victory, forcing the Greek emperor and Prince Leon to withdraw. Ruggiero them stays the night in a city loyal to the Greeks, where his presence is reported to its ruler.
Ruggiero is seized when asleep and thrown into prison, later being taken to the emperor’s dungeon, where Constantine’s wife wants him put to death in the cruellest way possible.
Back in Paris, Bradamante is wondering where Ruggiero has gone, and preparing herself to face suitors in combat.
Constantine’s son Prince Leon, Ruggiero’s competitor for the hand of Bradamante, recognises the knight’s valour on the battlefield and rescues him from his father’s dungeon. He then takes him to Paris so that Ruggiero can pose as Leon to fight Bradamante and win her as Leon’s bride. This once again puts Ruggiero in an impossible position: he can neither use his own armour, weapons or charger for fear of being recognised, nor can he run any risk of wounding Bradamante in combat.
On the other hand, Bradamante believes it’s Leon that she’s fighting, and goes for the kill. In the end, she’s unable to get past her opponent’s defences, and at the end of the day Ruggiero, posing as Leon, is judged to have been successful in winning her hand in marriage.
Ruggiero rides away from Paris, having secured Leon’s marriage and killed his own prospects. He ends up in a dark wood trying to starve himself to death.
Marfisa then claims to Charlemagne that Bradamante and Ruggiero are already married, invalidating Leon’s claim. She says the only way that the victor of that duel can marry Bradamante is by killing Ruggiero in combat. Although Bradamante’s father objects, Leon agrees to meet Ruggiero in combat, and searches for his stand-in (not knowing he’s actually Ruggiero) so that he can fight Ruggiero on his behalf.
Melissa the sorceress wants Bradamante and Ruggerio married, and travels to find the knight. She meets Leon, and together they persuade Ruggiero to start eating again and to return to Paris with them. When Leon hears the full story, he stands by Ruggiero and insists that he (Ruggiero) is far more worthy a husband for Bradamante.
In Paris, Leon admits his deceit to Charlemagne, and it’s agreed that Ruggiero should marry Bradamante, who is overjoyed. The King of France arranges the wedding as if she were his own daughter, with nine days of festivities.
At the final grand banquet, Rodomonte interrupts by challenging Ruggiero for being an apostate. They proceed straight to combat, which is bitter and dominated by hand-to-hand combat. Ruggiero throws the injured Rodomonte to the ground and holds his dagger above his forehead. When he sees his opponent reach for his own dagger, rather than accept defeat, Ruggiero plunges his dagger into Rodomonte’s head and despatches him to Hell.
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.
Aquilante, son of Oliver, a Christian knight, and brother of Grifone.
Astolfo, son of the King of England who is abducted by Alcina then turned into a myrtle bush.
Atlante, an evil magician who is in fact an old man, but abducts people to keep in his magic palace, where he tries to protect Ruggiero from his future.
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.
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.
Grifone, son of Oliver, a Christian knight, and brother of Aquilante.
Guidone Selvaggio, illegitimate son of Count Aymon, a Christian knight.
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.
Leon, Prince of Greece, the son of Emperor Constantine, with whom Bradamante’s marriage is arranged.
Mandricardo, King of Tartary and son of Agricane, an ‘oriental’ pagan knight.
Marfisa, Ruggiero’s sister, a valiant and fearsome ‘pagan’ warrior.
Medoro, one of Prince Dardinello’s Moorish soldiers, a ‘pagan’, who marries Angelica.
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 and his most outstanding paladin.
Pinabello, son of Count Anselm Altaripa, a treacherous Maganzan who doesn’t follow the laws of chivalry, although a Christian.
Ricciardetto, Bradamante’s brother, who appears identical to her.
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.
Sansonetto, envoy to Jerusalem, son of the King of Persia, who was baptised by Orlando.
Senapo, Emperor of Ethiopia, also known as Prester John. Although a Christian, punished by blindness and harpies for sins as a young man.
Sobrino, an African king, a ‘pagan’.
Zerbino, son of the King of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish forces.
Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901) was a Swiss symbolist and mythological painter who trained at the Düsseldorf Academy, and worked in Italy, Switzerland (Basel and Zurich), and Germany (Munich). I have recently written two articles about his symbolist paintings, and have also looked at his narrative works.
Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) was a major French painter whose Romantic and painterly style laid the groundwork for the Impressionists. In addition to many fine easel works, he painted murals and was an accomplished lithographer too. Many of his paintings are narrative, and among the most famous is Liberty Leading the People from 1830. This article looks at some of his narrative works.
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.
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.