Orlando Furioso

Orlando Furioso
Ruggiero Rescuing Angelica by Gustave Doré.

Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando, more literally Mad Orlando; in Italian furioso is seldom capitalized) is an Italian epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto which has exerted a wide influence on later culture. The earliest version appeared in 1516, although the poem was not published in its complete form until 1532. Orlando Furioso is a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo's unfinished romance Orlando Innamorato ("Orlando in Love", published posthumously in 1495). The action takes place against the background of the war between, on the one side, Charlemagne and his Christian paladins, and, on the other side, the Saracen army which is attempting to invade Europe. However, Ariosto has little concern for historical or geographical accuracy, and the poem wanders at will from Japan to the Hebrides, as well as including many fantastical and magical elements, such as a trip to the moon and an array of fantastical creatures including a gigantic sea monster called the orc and the hippogriff. Many themes are interwoven in its complicated, episodic structure, but the most important plot is the paladin Orlando's unrequited love for the pagan princess Angelica, which develops into the madness of the title. After this comes the love between the female Christian warrior Bradamante and the Saracen Ruggiero, who are supposed to be the ancestors of Ariosto's patrons, the d'Este family of Ferrara.[1]

The poem is divided into forty-six cantos, each containing a variable number of eight-line stanzas in ottava rima (a rhyme scheme of abababcc). Ottava rima had been used in previous Italian romantic epics, including Luigi Pulci's Morgante and Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato. Ariosto's work is 38,736 lines long in total, making it one of the longest poems in European literature.[2]


Composition and publication

Title page of the third edition of John Harington's translation of Orlando Furioso, 1634. The first edition was 1591.

Ariosto began work on the poem around 1506, in which year he was 32. The first edition of the poem, in 40 cantos, was published in Ferrara in April 1516 and dedicated to the poet's patron Ippolito d'Este. A second edition appeared in 1521 with minor revisions.

Ariosto continued to write more material for the poem and in the 1520s he produced five more cantos, marking a further development of his poetry, which he decided not to include in the final edition. They were published after his death by his illegitimate son Virginio under the title Cinque canti and are highly regarded by some modern critics.[3] The third and final version of Orlando Furioso, containing 46 cantos, appeared in 1532.

Ariosto had sought stylistic advice from the humanist Pietro Bembo to give his verse the last degree of polish and this is the version known to posterity.[4]

The first English translation by John Harington was published in 1591 at the behest of Queen Elizabeth I, who reportedly banned Harington from court until the translation was complete.

Ariosto and Boiardo

Ariosto's poem is a sequel to Matteo Maria Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in Love). One of Boiardo's main achievements was his fusion of the Matter of France, the tradition of stories about Charlemagne and paladins such as Orlando – with the Matter of Britain – the legends about King Arthur and his knights; the character Orlando is a translation of Roland from the 12th-century Song of Roland.

The latter contained the magical elements and love interest that were generally lacking in the more austere and warlike poems about Carolingian heroes. Ariosto continued to mix these elements in his poem as well as adding material derived from Classical sources.[5] However, Ariosto has an ironic tone rarely present in Boiardo, who treated the ideals of chivalry much more seriously.[6] In Orlando Furioso, instead of chivalric ideals, no longer alive in the 16th century, a humanistic conception of man and life is vividly celebrated under the appearance of a fantastical world.


Page from 1565 edition of Orlando Furioso by Francesco Franceschi

The action of Orlando Furioso takes place against the background of the war between the Christian emperor Charlemagne and the Saracen King of Africa, Agramante, who has invaded Europe to avenge the death of his father Traiano. Agramante and his allies – who include Marsilio, the King of Spain, and the boastful warrior Rodomonte – besiege Charlemagne in Paris.

Meanwhile Orlando, Charlemagne's most famous paladin, has been tempted to forget his duty to protect the emperor through his love for the pagan princess Angelica. At the beginning of the poem, Angelica escapes from the castle of the Bavarian Duke Namo, and Orlando sets off in pursuit. The two meet with various adventures until Angelica saves a wounded Saracen knight, Medoro, falls in love, and elopes with him to Cathay.

When Orlando learns the truth, he goes mad with despair and rampages through Europe and Africa destroying everything in his path. The English knight Astolfo journeys to Ethiopia on the hippogriff to find a cure for Orlando's madness.

He flies up to the moon (in Elijah's flaming chariot no less) where everything lost on earth is to be found, including Orlando's wits. He brings them back in a bottle and makes Orlando sniff them, thus restoring him to sanity. (At the same time Orlando falls out of love with Angelica, as the author explains that love is itself a form of insanity.)

Orlando joins with Brandimart and Oliver to fight Agramante, Sobrino and Gradasso on the island of Lampedusa. There Orlando kills King Agramante.

Norandino and Lucina Discovered by the Ogre, from Canto XVII, by Giovanni Lanfranco, 1624

Another important plotline involves the love between the female Christian warrior Bradamante and the Saracen Ruggiero. They too have to endure many vicissitudes.

Ruggiero is taken captive by the sorceress Alcina and has to be freed from her magic island. He also has to avoid the enchantments of his foster father, the wizard Atlante, who does not want him to fight. Finally, Ruggiero converts to Christianity and marries Bradamante.

Rodomonte appears at the wedding feast and accuses him of being a traitor to the Saracen cause, and the poem ends with Ruggiero slaying Rodomonte in single combat. Ruggiero and Bradamante are the ancestors of the House of Este, Ariosto's patrons, whose genealogy he gives at length in canto 3 of the poem.

The epic contains many other characters, including Orlando's cousin, the paladin Rinaldo, who is also in love with Angelica; the thief Brunello; and the tragic heroine Isabella.


Later literature

Orlando Furioso is "one of the most influential works in the whole of European literature"[7] and it remains an inspiration for writers to this day.

In 1559, Laura Terracina wrote the Discorso sopra il Principio di Trutti I Canti di Orlando Furioso which was linked to Orlando Furioso and in which several of the characters appeared[8].

The Italian novelist Italo Calvino drew on Ariosto for several of his works of fiction including Il cavaliere inesistente ("The Nonexistent Knight", 1959) and Il castello dei destini incrociati ("The Castle of Crossed Destinies", 1973). In 1970 Calvino brought out his own selection of extracts from the poem.[9]

Orlando Furioso was a major influence on Edmund Spenser's epic The Faerie Queene. William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing takes one of its plots (Hero/Claudio/Don John) from Orlando Furioso (probably via Spenser or Bandello). In 1592, Robert Greene published a play called The Historie of Orlando Furioso. According to Barbara Reynolds, the English poet the closest in spirit to Ariosto is Lord Byron.[10]

In Spain, Lope de Vega wrote a continuation of the epic (La hermosura de Angélica, 1602) as did Luis Barahona de Soto (Las lágrimas de Angélica, 1586). Góngora wrote a famous poem describing the idyllic honeymoon of Angelica and Medoro (En un pastoral albergue).[11] Orlando Furioso is mentioned among the romances in Don Quixote. Among the interpolated stories within Don Quixote is a retelling of a tale from canto 43 regarding a man who tests the fidelity of his wife.[12] Additionally, various literary critics have noted the poem's likely influence on Garcilaso de la Vega's second eclogue. The modern Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges was also an admirer of Orlando and included a poem, Ariosto y los árabes (Ariosto and the Arabs), exploring the relationship between the epic and the Arabian Nights in his 1960 collection, El hacedor. Borges also chose Attilio Momigliano's critical study of the work as one of the hundred volumes that were to make up his Personal Library.[13]

In France, Jean de la Fontaine used the plots of some of the bawdier episodes for three of his Contes et Nouvelles en vers (1665–66). The modern Russian poet Osip Mandelstam paid tribute to Orlando Furioso in his poem Ariosto (1933).

Salman Rushdie's 2008 novel The Enchantress of Florence was partly inspired by Orlando Furioso.


In the Baroque era, the poem was the basis of many operas. Among the earliest were Francesca Caccini's La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina ("The Liberation of Ruggiero from Alcina's Island", 1625) and Luigi Rossi's Il palazzo incantato (1642). Antonio Vivaldi wrote three operas on themes from Ariosto: Orlando furioso (1713), Orlando finto pazzo (1714) and Orlando (1727). Perhaps the most famous operas inspired by the poem are those by Handel: Orlando (1733), Ariodante and Alcina (1735). In France, Jean-Baptiste Lully turned to Ariosto for his tragédie en musique Roland (1685). Rameau's comic opera Les Paladins (1760) is based on a story in canto 18 of Orlando (though Rameau's librettist derived the plot indirectly via La Fontaine's Contes). The enthusiasm for operas based on Ariosto continued into the Classical era and beyond with such examples as Niccolò Piccinni's Roland (1778), Haydn's Orlando paladino (1782) and Méhul's Ariodant (1799). Ambroise Thomas wrote a comedic one act Angélique et Médor in 1843.[14]


Orlando Furioso has been the inspiration for many works of art, including paintings by Tiepolo, Ingres, Redon, and a series of illustrations by Gustave Doré.


In 1975, Luca Ronconi directed an Italian television mini-series based on Orlando Furioso, starring Massimo Foschi (it) as Orlando, and Silvia Dionisio as Isabella.[15]

In the late 1960's / early 1970's, the Bob and Ray comedy parody radio show Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife centered around the Backstayge's stage production of the fictional play "Westchester Furioso", an updating of Orlando Furioso that somehow involved musical numbers, tap dancing and ping pong.

In 1966, Italian Disney comics artist Luciano Bottaro wrote a parody of Orlando Furioso starring Donald Duck, Paperin Furioso.[16]

Critical reception

Orlando Furioso won immediate fame. Around the middle of the 16th century, some Italian critics such as Gian Giorgio Trissino complained that the poem failed to observe the unity of action as defined by Aristotle, by having multiple plots rather than a single main story. The French poet Pierre de Ronsard and the Italian poet Torquato Tasso both felt that Orlando Furioso lacked structural unity.[17] Ariosto's defenders, such as Giovanni Battista Giraldi, replied that it was not a Classical epic but a romanzo, a genre unknown to Aristotle; therefore his standards were irrelevant.[18] Nevertheless, the strictures of the Classical critics influenced the next great Italian epic, Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata (1581). Tasso tried to combine Ariosto's freedom of invention with a more unified plot structure. In the following decades, Italian critics argued over the respective merits of the two epics. Partisans of Orlando praised its psychological realism and the naturalness of its language. In the 19th century, Hegel considered that the work's many allegories and metaphors did not serve merely to refute the ideal of chivalry, but also to demonstrate the fallacy of human senses and judgment. Francesco de Sanctis and Attilio Momigliano (it) also wrote about Orlando Furioso.[19]


There have been several verse translations of Orlando Furioso into English. The first one was by John Harington, published in 1591.[20] William Huggins' and Henry Boyd's translations were published in 1757 and 1784, respectively.[21] John Hoole's 1783 translation used rhyming couplets.[21] William Stewart Rose produced an eight volume translation beginning publication in 1823 and ending in 1831.[22] Barbara Reynolds published a verse translation in 1975, while the most recent verse translation (extremely abridged), by David Slavitt, was published in 2009.

A few translations have also been made in prose format. A.H. Gilbert's translation was published in 1954.[22] Richard Hodgens planned a multivolume translation, whose first volume, subtitled The Ring of Angelica, was published by Ballantine Books as the fifty-fourth volume of its celebrated Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in October, 1973.[23] The remaining volumes do not appear to have seen print. Most recently, Guido Waldman's complete prose translation was first published in 1973.[24]

See also

Major characters



  1. ^ Waley's introduction, passim
  2. ^ Reynolds p. 12
  3. ^ Ludovico Ariosto,"Cinque Canti/Five Cantos" Translated by Alexander Sheers and David Quint, 1996, California Press (ISBN 978-0-520-20009-8). The page also contains excerpts from various reviews.
  4. ^ Reynolds, vol.1, pp. 72–73; Waley's introduction
  5. ^ Reynolds pp. 53–67
  6. ^ The Reader's Encyclopedia (ed. Benet, 1967)
  7. ^ Reynolds, back cover
  8. ^ Robin, Larsen and Levin. p. 357. 
  9. ^ Turchi, p. xl
  10. ^ "The Orlando Furioso and English Literature" in Reynolds, Vol. 1, pp. 74–88
  11. ^ Text: Angélica y Medoro. In the notes to Góngora: Antología poética (Castalia, 1986), Antonio Carreira comments: "Amongst the numerous works inspired by Ariosto in Spain (a subject to which M. Chevalier has dedicated two volumes) none has been so successful as this poem by Góngora, a lifelong admirer of Orlando Furioso".
  12. ^ Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, translated and annotated by Edith Grossman, p. 272
  13. ^ Biblioteca personal (1988), pp. 72–74
  14. ^ See entries on individual works in Grove or The Viking Opera Guide (ed. Holden, 1994).
  15. ^ Orlando Furioso (TV mini-series 1975) at the Internet Movie Database
  16. ^ "Paperin furioso". INDUCKS. http://coa.inducks.org/story.php?c=I+TL++544-AP. Retrieved 24 January 2011. 
  17. ^ Reynolds, vol. 2 p. 7
  18. ^ Waley pp. 24–25
  19. ^ Turchi pp. xxxii–xl
  20. ^ Reynolds, pp. 88–97
  21. ^ a b Reynolds, vol. 1 p. 92
  22. ^ a b Reynolds, vol. 1 p. 88
  23. ^ Reynolds, vol. 1 pp. 88–89
  24. ^ Reynolds, vol. 1 p. 89

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Orlando Furioso — es un poema extenso escrito por Ludovico Ariosto en 1516. Se trata de una gionta , una continuación del Orlando Innamorato de Matteo Maria Boiardo, pero se mantiene muy distante de la primera obra, de la que no conserva los conceptos humanistas… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Orlándo furiōso — (ital., »der rasende Roland«), Epos von Ariosto (s. d.); Orlando innamorato (»der verliebte Roland«), episches Gedicht von Bojardo (s. d.) …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Orlándo furioso — Orlándo furiōso (ital.), Rasender Roland, romantisches Epos von Ariosto; O. innamorāto, Verliebter Roland, Epos von Bojardo …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Orlando furioso — Orlando furioso, s. Ariosto …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

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