Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book I: Canto VI: The Cup of Forgetfulness

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2022, All Rights Reserved.

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Book I: Canto VI: 1-13: Orlando kills the giant but is caught in his net

Let me tell you, my lords, of that great battle

Than which no other fight was more cruel.

You heard Zambardo’s challenge (and the rattle

Of that iron mace he bore for the duel)

And now you’ll hear of Orlando’s mettle,

How a valiant reply he sought to fuel,

As all of his ill-fortune I rehearse,

For none could have, nor ever has, proved worse.

The Bridge of Death he mounted, while his eye

Followed Zambardo and his vicious mace.

The Count came only half-way to his thigh,

But he leapt up towards the giant’s face.

And struck him on the arm as he passed by.

The giant had swung his weapon, at full pace,

But Orlando saw the blow descending,

And leapt away, ere it made an ending.

The mighty pagan was troubled greatly,

But Orlando soon troubled him the more,

Striking the giant on the arm so fiercely,

That he dropped his iron club to the floor.

The Count rose like a bird, repeatedly,

Redoubling his blows, on high did soar,

But the other’s serpent skin was so tough

No effort of the Count’s seemed enough.

After his mace was knocked to the ground,

The giant, Zambardo, drew his scimitar;

The Count was a valiant knight, he’d found,

But knew that he could use his net later,

In which the man might be caught, and bound.

The knight’s helm he now sought to shatter,

Striking hard with a back-handed blow,

And twenty feet in reverse reeled his foe.

At this, Orlando became quite heated,

Such that his visage commenced to glow;

His eyeballs rolled and, far from defeated,

He swung his bright sword at Zambardo,

So swiftly that, as the move completed,  

Durindana’s light near blinded his foe,

While the sword bent, its blade from tip to head

Four-fingers wide, so Bishop Turpin said.

Zambardo was struck on hip and thigh,

As Durindana cut through serpent-skin,

And serpent-scales, and in its passing by

Cleft a belt, with many an iron pin.

A mail-corselet he wore; the blade, say I,

Cared naught for that, and would have plunged within,

Had not Zambardo a sudden refuge found,

For he dropped, in an instant, to the ground.

He fell by accident or by design,

I know not which, but down the giant went,

While his visage had paled, a telling sign,

On seeing the speed of the blade’s descent.

His heart beat fast, a chill gripped his spine,

Yet he retrieved his mace and, with intent,

Swung it hard like a flail; near burst his veins,

But entwined Count Orlando in its chains.

That side-swipe wrapped Orlando all around.

He fell beside Zambardo, and the pair

Continued their fierce struggle on the ground.

The Count rose to his feet first, and once there,

Grasping Zambardo’s helm, a firm grip found,

But the giant now clasped his ribs like a bear,

And, matching the strength of our warrior,

Sought to drag Orlando to the river.

The Count, who had dropped Durindana,

Beat hard, with both hands, at the giant’s face.

He hit so hard he almost stunned the other,

And Zambardo fell once more, with ill-grace;

Orlando landed on his back, moreover,

And wrapped the giant’s head in his embrace,

Thus, Zambardo’s blindness was near complete;

Yet still the monster staggered to his feet.

The merciless assault began once more,

The giant’s mace against Durindana,

Though Orlando when tied to the floor

Could not reach the giant, so, to further

His attacks, he leapt, as he had before.

No such duel has ever appeared stranger,

Yet Orland put him through his paces,

For he wounded the giant in four places.

Sly Zambardo now feigned to strike his foe,

But chose to pause, half-way through his action,

And, waiting till the Count, to thwart the blow,

Stepped back (anticipating that reaction)

With a two-handed grip, sought to bestow

A like blow, and complete the transaction;

But the Count caught the chains with his blade,

As the mace fell, still wholly unafraid,

And broke the weapon’s shaft quite in two.

But don’t imagine our knight was satisfied,

For he reversed his swing, and wrought anew.

Durindana sliced through the giant’s side

As it had done before, and passed on through.

What could save Zambardo now? Not mere pride,

For Orlando’s blade had struck so, in its course,

No lightning-bolt e’er sped with greater force.

It had sliced him apart, from left to right,

(Little or nothing held him together).

The giant knew that death was now in sight,

And his whole face showed a ghastly pallor.

But he kicked at the ground beneath the knight,

And released the net from its sandy cover.

It embraced the Count, its throat now taut,

Knocking away his sword, as he was caught.

Book I: Canto VI: 14-19: A passing Friar attempts, but fails, to free him

His arms were pinioned, painfully I’d say,

Such that the Count could hardly move within.

And so strong was the mesh, with little play,

That neither hand could his freedom win.

Orlando took to prayer: ‘Aid me this day,

O Lord in Heaven, O Holy Virgin!’

He cried aloud, as he struggled there inside,

While as he did so, proud Zambardo died.

Now, that ground was deserted, solitary,

For indeed, people rarely ventured there.

Orlando dangled midst the scenery,

Beneath the open sky, of all hope bare.

Naught availed, not his strength or bravery,

Nor his ardour, aided him in this affair.

With naught to eat he hung there, in full sight,

All the day, and he barely slept that night.

He passed a day and night, and then at morn,

His hunger growing, and his hopes no higher,

He believed he heard a noise, in the dawn,

And behold, came an aged, white-haired friar.

The Count saw him and, in a voice forlorn,

Sought to raise a cry, and bring him nigher:

‘Father, friend of God, come, aid me now!

For I am close to death, here, I avow.’

The old friar was quite taken by surprise,

And marvelled at the mesh that held him so.

Twas a solid net of steel that met his eyes,

And he could see no way to free Orlando.

The latter said: ‘Take my sword; there it lies,

And cut the thing, above me or below.’

The friar cried: ‘My son, twould be a sin

If I should wound you as you hung within!’

‘Fear not, you can wield the blade, for I

Am well-protected; you’ll not injure me.’

He replied, pleading so, that, by and by,

The friar took the sword, cautiously,

And, with an effort, hoisted it on high,

And then he swung it, somewhat awkwardly,

But could not aid him, though he attacked it;

The friar’s strongest blow merely scratched it.

On finding his attempts were all in vain,

He let fall the blade, and, speaking gently,

Tried hard to comfort the Count, in pain:

‘If you would die a Christian death,’ said he,

‘Then despair not and, rather than complain,

Have faith in God, and suffer patiently;

Accept your death, as a Christian ought,

And you will be a knight at Heaven’s Court.’

Book I: Canto VI: 20-22: The Friar prepares to tell his tale

Many another thing, he knew, he told,

Well-nigh the whole martyrology;

The sufferings of the Saints, in days of old,

Some flayed, some crucified, savagely.

‘My son,’ he said, ‘if I may be so bold,

Be thankful to the Lord, if equally

You yourself must perish.’ The Count replied,

‘I’ll be thankful to Him on the other side,

Of this mesh! I curse the mule that brought you!

It’s help that I need, not consolation,

A youngster would have sliced the thing in two;

Tis my mischance to suffer your oration!

The friar answered: ‘Ah me, bold knight, renew

Your courage, succumb not to frustration,

And despair, but, since life must be forgot,

Come, think of your soul, and forsake it not.

Can you, who are so valiant a knight,

Allow the thought of death to concern you?

Know that Providence, of boundless might,

Ne’er abandons those that keep hope in view!

I will recount to you the dreadful plight

I’ve found myself in; yet in God, anew,

I placed my trust, as I have ever done,

And so survived a far worse affliction.

Book I: Canto VI: 23-27: The Friar and the Ogre

‘Three friars, and I, left fair Armenia,

To seek indulgence at a holy shrine

In Georgia, yet entered Circassia,

Having lost, of our true road, every sign.

One of us went ahead, who was bolder,

Seeking a path, as the place seemed benign,

And yet he soon came racing back again,

Pale of face, and seeking aid, o’er the plain.

We watched, in fear, as from a peak on high,

Descended an Ogre, vast in size,

Whose forehead bore a solitary eye.

He was armoured, perchance (I but surmise)

With dragons’ claws, united to deny

A weapon entry, and was armed likewise,

With triple darts, and iron club, thus he

Soon captured, and bound, him; then us three.

He dragged us all behind him to his cave,

Where dwelt many another prisoner,

And with these eyes I saw him eat that brave

Young friar, who had just led us hither.

He consumed him savagely, all save

His torn robe, and cruelly he did suffer.

Then the Ogre regarded me, but cried,

‘I’d starve before I ate this, fresh or dried!’

And with his foot he sent me flying

From the summit of that cliff, steep and high.

Three hundred yards, I went soaring,

But put my trust in God, as from the sky

I fell, and, lo, his aid was forthcoming,

My robe caught on a bramble, by and by,

A thorny bush, deep-rooted in the stone.

I hung beneath, concealed, but quite alone.

Not daring to breathe, suspended there,

I stayed till darkness came, but that night…’

As he told his tale, while taking great care

To keep a strict watch, suddenly, in fright,

He cried: ‘Ah me, behold him, and despair,

The evil creature comes, a fearsome sight!

Sir knight, may the Lord above preserve you!’

He cried, as to the nearby woods he flew.

Book I: Canto VI: 28-35: Orlando is released by the Ogre, and slays him

He paused not a moment, and with that cry,

He plunged amidst the trees, and disappeared,

Long before the cruel giant wandered by,

Whose beard and jaws with crimson blood were smeared.

The Ogre gazed, from his solitary eye,  

At Orlando, hanging there, as he neared,

Then grasped the net and shook it, and again,

Unable to disturb its strands of chain.

‘This one is far too fine to leave’, he thought,

‘Now I’ve found him; he’s as fat as a sheep,

He’d make a good dinner; he’s well-caught;

A shoulder might taste well, the rest will keep.’

Then some means to extract the Count he sought,

Turning his glance about and, in its sweep,

Seeing Durindana, there, on the ground,

Set down his club, and picked up what he’d found.

He propped the club, and the three darts he bore,

Against an oak-tree, and then swung the blade,

Two-handed, then employed it like a saw,

Till a wide, and substantial, hole he’d made.

He freed the Count intact, though somewhat sore,

(With his charmed hide, of death quite unafraid).

While the mesh had been cut, and pounded hard,

He was but drenched in sweat, and little marred.

While his joy was so great at being free,

That the Count cared not a fig for the pain.

Rather he broke from the Ogre, swiftly,

And seized the iron club, and not in vain.

While the heartless giant was more than angry,

Who’d thought a fat and helpless sheep to gain,

Finding now that the facts were otherwise:

He’d have to fight, his gain to realise.

As you know, each held the other’s weapon,

And Orlando was afraid of his own sword,

Therefore, he danced about, hither and yon,

And some distance did the Ogre afford.

The latter swung the blade in desperation,

While Orlando great respect did accord

To Durindana, though seeking his chance,

And so hesitated oft in his advance.

He struck the giant with the club, however

It did little to blunt his fierce attack,

Due to those griffon claws worn as armour,

(For naught’s as strong as those) on front and back.

Yet, the Count knew in the end he’d conquer;

In a day, or two, or three, his foe would lack

The stamina required, but then he thought,

(Continuing to exercise his art)

Of seizing, and then employing, a dart.

At the first chance that he had, it was done,

Snatched up, from where it leant against the tree.

Aiming carefully, he hurled the weapon

At the giant’s eye, and did so perfectly,

(As you’ll recall he only had the one,

Set high above his nose, with which to see).

The dart pierced the socket, then the brain,

And the Ogre toppled to the dusty plain.

No second blow was needed. Orlando

Knelt and gave thanks to God; and, only then,

The friar emerged, to view the fallen foe;

But, on viewing the Ogre once again,

Who still seemed fierce whether dead or no,

He uttered a brief prayer, and cried amen,

And fled till, reassured smilingly

By our Count, he returned, reluctantly.

Book I: Canto VI: 36-38: The Count frees the captives from the Ogre’s cave

And then he cried: ‘O Knight of the Lord,

As I must name you for your valiant deed,

To free the souls trapped in that abhorred

Villain’s cave, would, according to our creed,

Prove a noble work, and pious; rest assured.

I can guide you to the place, but, take heed,

Should we meet another giant, on the way,

Expect but little help from me, this day.’

So, the friar led Orlando to the cave,

And while he remained, himself, well behind,

Orlando approached the place to save

The prisoners, though was dismayed to find

Its entranced sealed with stone, much like a grave.

He heard the cries of those captives consigned

To its depths, but a vast slab served to block

Its mouth, ten feet by ten of solid rock.

A good foot and a half thick, was that stone,

With a pair of bolts, that barred it like a door.

But here the Count showed that he alone,

Of valiant knights, possessed the strength and more,

To move it, though a man of flesh and bone.

He cut the bolts with Durindana, and once sure

Of his ground, dragged it open, and set free,

Those behind, to enjoy their liberty.

Book I: Canto VI: 39-42: He hears news of Angelica

Orlando quit the friar, and off he sped,

Down a trail, that seemed to lead through the wood,

But, coming to a crossroads, he stopped dead,

And, pondering there as to the way he should

Pursue, musing on which of these paths led

To habitation, all three seeming good,

Saw a messenger hastening on his way,

And sought to learn his news, without delay.

‘I journey,’ said the man, ‘through Media,

With a message seeking prompt assistance,

From the sovereign king of Circassia;

Tis my lady, the queen, in this instance,

That requires his help; for hear me further,

The emperor of Tartary from a distance

Desires her; thoughts of her fill his head,

While the lady would wish to see him dead.

The fair maiden’s father, Galafrone,

Is an ancient man and a peace-lover.

He has no wish for war with Tartary,

For a mighty lord is this emperor;

So, he’s told his daughter she must marry,

Though against her will, this hated other,

Which the maid would rather die than do,

Refusing, when her father asked her to.

She fled to the city of Albracca;

Tis only a day’s journey from Cathay,

Yet so strongly fortified, however,

A besieger would meet with long delay.

And there the fair maid has taken cover,

(Angelica she is named, I should say)

Who shines brighter than the brightest star,

More beautiful, more radiant by far.’

Book I: Canto VI: 43-46: He drinks from the Cup of Forgetfulness

Once the messenger had left, Orlando

Galloped along the road, at full speed,

For he thought he had won the maid (or so

It seemed in his mind) but for some deed.

His musing was soon interrupted though,

For he saw a high walled turret o’er the mead,

Above a bridge, that spanned a deep river,

By which one might safely cross the water;

And, on the bridge, there stood a lovely maid;

She held a crystal goblet in her hand,

And on seeing the Count, a bow she made,

And welcomed him, with an air of command.

Sweetly, she said: ‘Sir knight, I am afraid,

That you will seek in vain to cross our land,

Unless you follow ancient custom here;

For none by force or cunning shall win clear:

Our custom is that you must stop and drink

From this crystal cup, of the river’s water.’

Of neither fraud nor magic did he think,

And innocently drank deep, as ever.

Yet, in an instant, his eyes began to blink,

His thoughts now seemed those of another,

He knew not how he’d come there, when, or why,

If he was still the Count, or changed thereby.

Angelica had vanished from his thought,

His memory, with all the boundless love

That had troubled his life; the emperor’s court,

He forgot, for that deep draught did remove

Everything from his heart he’d ever sought,

Except this new lady; strange that did prove,

For he harboured no hope he might win her,

Yet seemed subject to her will forever.

Book I: Canto VI: 47-53: He views a fresco portraying Circella’s history

Our Count of Brava, the bold Orlando,

Passed beyond the gate, on Brigliador,

Dismounting at a palace in a meadow.

So fine was that place, he gazed in awe.

Amber columns, on gold bases below,

Supported a fair loggia, whose floor,

Was rich with green and white polished marble;

Its ceiling with blue and gold enamel.

A garden near the loggia showed fair,

Shaded by nodding palms, and green cedar,

Midst many a fine tree, planted with care.

The meadow beneath the trees, moreover,

Was verdant, spring ever blossoming there.

A wall of marble was the garden’s border,  

And, from every flower, and every tree,

A sweet and subtle fragrance floated free.

The Count admired the loggia’s walls within.

All three had been adorned by some master

Of the painter’s craft, who’d wrought therein,

With such skill that his art eclipsed Nature.

Orlando viewed the work, and sought to win

A reading of the tale, through every feature.

Of fair ladies, and brave warriors, it told,

And every figure’s name was wrought in gold.

A lady was shown there, beside the sea,

Her face so lifelike, and without a flaw,

That he thought she spoke, melodiously;

And this maid drew mariners to the shore,

Only to turn them to creatures, clearly

Depicted, so their altering forms he saw.

Some were changed to wolves, or winged griffons,

Others to bears, wild boars, savage lions,

The painting showed a ship there at anchor,

From which had disembarked a handsome lord,

Whose fair looks, and sweet speech, in the other

Inspired love; for this knight she now adored.

She was seen proffering the key, moreover,

That opened the lock to her secret hoard,

Where lay the potion that she used to alter

Many a guest of hers to some wild creature.

And then the lovely maiden was portrayed

As blinded by the love she bore this knight,

Such that she was deceived, herself betrayed

By her own subtle spell, and drank outright

From the magic cup; as a white deer, strayed

Then, into a hunter’s net; while her plight,

The lord grieved over now, who loved that same

Circella, for such was the lady’s name.

All of their history was shown, entire:

How the knight fled; how she her form regained.

The work was rich with gold; it shone like fire,

And lit the garden, which fresh glory gained.

The Count was stunned; he did naught but admire

That wondrous art, no other thought sustained.

But as he stood, and viewed the paintings so,   

He heard a great noise that filled the meadow.

Book I: Canto VI: 54-58: Marsilio joins forces with King Gradasso

The source of those same sounds you shall know,

And the reason for that noise, and its nature;

But first I turn again to King Gradasso

Who clad as a champion, in full armour,

Had gone to the shore to face Rinaldo.

He waited all that day for him; however,

He was unlikely to arrive, you’ll agree,

Being two thousand leagues away, at sea.

And once the stars appeared in the sky,

Yet there was still no sign of Rinaldo,

He knew he’d been deceived and, by and by

Returned to camp, quite furious with his foe.

And, as the heavens darkened there, on high,

Yet his brother came not, Ricciardetto

Believed that he’d been taken, or been slain,

And so, his mind and heart were filled with pain.

You can imagine how the youth did suffer;

Yet his state of grief was not so complete,

As to fail to call his men together,

And make preparations for safe retreat.

Their force then departed, under cover

Of the darkness; their going so discrete,

The troops heard not that served Marsilio,

Camped three miles from these of Rinaldo.

They travelled without rest till they came

To the border with France; and in the morn,

King Gradasso heard the news of that same

Withdrawal, and a fresh campaign was born;

For Marsilio fearing that he’d lost the game,

(Of Serpentino and Ferrau now shorn;

With his troops disinclined to face the foe;

All the Christians gone; and no Rinaldo)

Hastened to bow low before Gradasso,

And, humbly, sank down on bended knee,

And spoke of the falseness of Rinaldo,

Telling a tale of Christian perfidy.

He promised homage to his erstwhile foe,

To be his vassal, and hold the country.

In brief, the two were swiftly in accord,

And both camps soon united neath one lord.

Book I: Canto VI: 59-61: Gradasso and Marsilio advance on Paris

Thus, Marsilio pledged that, thereafter,

He would follow Gradasso, loyally.

Grandonio yielded Barcelona,

And Gradasso swore to move, instantly,

Against Charlemagne, and moreover

To gain the steed Baiardo; if not, he

Would lay France waste, destroying all he found,

And raze the walls of Paris to the ground.

Ricciardetto and his men had, by now,

Re-joined the Emperor Charlemagne’s army,

Though unable to explain to him how

Rinaldo had vanished, and thus many

A rumour sped, while Gano did avow

He was a traitor; so, did his whole family;

While others cried ‘nay’, called him a liar,

To fight those who claimed so, their desire.

Gradasso swiftly crossed the Pyrenees,

And led his troops on the road to Paris.

Charlemagne reinforced his brave armies,

Content to simply strengthen the city’s

Defences, issuing numerous decrees,

And manning all the towers and bridges.

All was in order, when behold one morn

The invaders of France appeared at dawn.

Book I: Canto VI: 62-65: The two armies engage

Positions had been chosen days before,

And all were ready to defend the wall.

Now the trumpets summoned men to war,

While the banners were unfurled at their call.

The citizens, in the squares, weapons bore.

Saint Marcel’s gate was oped wide; standing tall,

The infantry marched out, knights at their back.

Uggiero the Dane led their attack.   

Gradasso had divided his army

Into five regiments, each one was vast.

The first held men of India only,

Dark-skinned troops, of the warrior caste,

Joined under two kings, one Cardone,

A baying hound, howling as he went past,

His companion, the merciless Urnasso,

Axe in hand, waving six spears at the foe.

The second force was led by Stracciaberra,

(Most wild and brutal of mortal creatures,

His teeth were like a wild boar’s and terror

He struck in all those who viewed his features)

And Francardo, whose long arrows ever

Seemed to strike a city’s farthest reaches;

The third host was that from Taprobana,

Commanded by their fierce king Alfrera;

While the fourth was the regiment of Spain;

Marsilio led forth many a knight.

The fifth regiment clothed hills and plain,

And bore Gradasso’s banners to the fight,

So vast a host that monarch did maintain,

It defied description, ranked beyond sight.

Now let us gaze on Uggiero’s army,

As he engaged with that of Cardone.

Book I: Canto VI: 66-69: Uggiero the Dane fights Cardone and Urnasso

Uggiero led ten thousand men to war,

In well-ordered ranks, and close array.

Through the armies of India they tore,

And sent the foe fleeing on their way.

He himself, upon the hound Cardone, bore,

Who, on an armoured camel, yet did bay,

And turned his lance against that giant’s breast,

Spearing him in the centre of his chest.

Both shield and armour proved of little aid,

He was flung to the sand in that attack,

Legs flailing at the air, his debts repaid,

For the lance had pierced him front to back.

Urnasso, his ally, a spear-throw made,

Nor strength nor accuracy did he lack;

It pierced the shield, plate, mail, and naked skin,

Drawing hot blood from the Dane’s flesh within.

Enraged, Uggiero, spurred-on his steed,

As, with great force, a second spear was thrown,

That caused the Dane savage pain, indeed,

For it pierced his left shoulder to the bone.

‘You, traitorous dog,’ he thought, ‘if tis decreed

That I reach you, I’ll make you sigh and groan!’

His foe hurled his other spears to the ground,

Gripped his axe in both hands, and whirled it round.

Know, my lords, that he rode a unicorn,

A valiant steed, and filled with ardour.

Upon its brow it bore a yard-long horn,

With which it could pierce through shield and armour.

But here I’ll pause my verse, and rest till dawn,

For too lengthy a canto wearies ever,

While the fierce contest, now beginning,

Must prove long, and cruel, in the winning.

The End of Book I: Canto VI of ‘Orlando Innamorato’