Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book I: Canto VII: The Battle at the Gates of Paris

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto VII

Book I: Canto VII: 1-5: Charlemagne prays for the safety of Paris

A harsh, and cruel, and strange war had been born,

As I have said. The Dane now felled Urnasso;

His sword, Curtana, through his mail had shorn,

And pierced his chest; confounded were the foe;

Yet Urnasso’s evil steed, the unicorn,

Struck the Dane and, driving through below

His breastplate, forcing apart his armour,

Wounded his thigh; a vile blow to suffer.

Three separate wounds had brave Uggiero;

He thus retired, to have them dressed and bound.

As Charlemagne now sent against the foe

King Salamone, to regain lost ground,

With bold Bishop Turpin, while, for Gano,

He had the Saint-Denis drawbridge downed,

That he and his strong force might challenge fate.

Ricardo issued through another gate,

With the powerful Angelieri,

Also, mighty Dudon the chivalrous.

Through Porte Royal went Guy of Burgundy,

With Oliviero, the glorious;

While Duke Namo passed the fourth swiftly,

To fight the enemy, in manner furious,

With his sons: Avino, Avorio,

Ottone, and the brave Belengiero.

Charlemagne, the fiercest of them all,

Rode forth to lead the host, in full armour,

Yet, in a humble voice, on God did call,

Asking that Paris be spared dishonour.

Monks and priests upon their knees did fall,

Midst crosses and relics, in deep prayer,

Begging the Lord, and all his Saints, to save

Their Emperor, and his squadrons of the brave.

Now the bells in every bell-tower rang out,

The trumpets blared, drums beat, many a cry

Rising high above; as, with one great shout,

They charged Gradasso’s troops; and, by and by,

All were mingled, midst the ranks and without,

Eager to conquer fiercely, or to die,

While Oliviero, through the host, did bore,  

Like a fierce current that invades the shore.

Book I: Canto VII: 6-11: Oliviero slays Stracciaberra; Charlemagne King Francardo

As knights on horseback crossed his path, he slew

Them, instantly, or hurled them to the ground.

Swinging sharp Altachiera midst that crew,

Often backhanded blows he dealt around,

His mighty sword-strokes ever straight and true;

Then Lucinor’s Stracciaberra he found,

A king in India, whose mouth dripped gore,

And showed protruding fangs like some wild boar.

Brief was the fight; down swept Altachiera,

Between the eyes, down to the jaws below,

Cleaving the face of Stracciaberra,

Shattering the fangs of his swarthy foe.

He turned that fierce blade against another,

Then scattered a whole squadron at a blow.

Twas while he was fighting thus, o’er the plain

That he was joined, there, by King Charlemagne.

The king had bathed his sword in blood that day,

Mounted on that valiant steed Baiardo,

Routing all those who sought to block his way,

Bolder than any king the world could show.

He’d sheathed his sword, his lance was now in play,

When he caught sight of bold King Francardo,

A king, in India, who fought bow in hand,

Elissa his fair realm in that far land.

He fired arrows, without pause; all defied.

Black was his skin; his camel was pure white.

The emperor’s lance pierced him side to side,

As they crossed paths, his own mount in full flight.

The foe thought of his soul, as the flesh died,

Yet Baiardo drove onwards, in his might;

The camel with the dead king blocked his way,

But the eager steed leapt high, and would not stay.

‘Who’ll thwart my passage, now?’ cried Charlemagne,

‘Who is not happy to escape my sword?’

So spoke the king, and plied his blade again,

A shining flame, amidst that alien horde.

Urnasso’s unicorn coursed o’er the plain,

Its saddle empty of its Indian lord,

And pointed its sharp horn towards Baiardo;

That valiant steed was scarcely troubled though,

For, without a sign from the Christian king,

Baiardo turned, and kicked his hooves on high,

Upon the bridge of its shoulder, striking

The horned creature, and downing it thereby.

As King Charlemagne passed on smiling.

But the enemy host increased, and by and by,

Others of Gradasso’s generals, came after,

And, among the first in sight, was Alfrera.

Book I: Canto VII: 12-13: Alfrera captures Bishop Turpin, Ottone and Belengiero

That giant rode his tall giraffe, and fiercely

Swung his gigantic club, beneath the sky.

He met brave Bishop Turpin, and swiftly

Tucked him in his belt, dangling waist-high,

And, as if that was naught, seized Ottone,

And bold Belengiero, neath the king’s eye;

Then, gathering up all three, on he went

Depositing them at Gradasso’s tent.

He at once returned to the battlefield,

Where on other Christians he might prey,

While Marsilio his brave sword did wield,

And, with his Moorish troops, now joined the fray.

Life and limbs were at risk, but none would yield;

Each Christian did all he might, that day;

Oliviero and the knights nigh formed a ring,

Gathered there to defend their lord and king.

Book I: Canto VII: 14-18: The Kings and Lords duel one another

The king rode Baiardo (French fleurs-de-lys

Adorned his caparison from hoof to mane);

Oliviero at his side he could see,

While Dudon kept his back; behind him came

Brave Ricardo and Angelieri,

Duke Namo, and Gano; Charlemagne

Led his small squadron in close formation,

As they advanced on the Moorish nation.

Ferrau encountered Oliviero;

The former possessed some small advantage,

But not enough to lay the Christian low.

Then they fought with swords; by that stage

Spinella was Angelieri’s foe,

While gainst King Morgante Gano did wage

Fierce war; Namo faced the Argalifa,

As the other ranks converged together.

When the squadrons met, beneath the sun,

Dudon attacked the brave Grandonio,

And the two battled fiercely, once begun,

With iron clubs, that dealt a mighty blow.

All the lords and knights duelled, one on one.

King Charlemagne fought King Marsilio,

And would have beaten him, it appeared,

If Ferrau towards his uncle had not veered;

For troubled by the Moorish monarch’s plight,

Ferrau had broken from Oliviero,

And so, in turn, that marquis joined the fight

On the side of Charlemagne, gainst the foe.

Each one of them was a valiant knight,

Brave-hearted, skilled, and strong of arm also,

Charlemagne braver than ever, I may say,

For he rode on bold Baiardo that day.

Each one of them, great lord or mighty king,  

Ever strove for high esteem and honour,

Nor sought to employ the shield when fighting

But, two-handed, swung the blade e’en harder.

Then the Christians sent their foes fleeing,

Routing the ranks, and hastening after,

Though back to the field came bold Alfrera,

To see the fall of Marsilio’s banner.

Book I: Canto VII: 19-23: The Moors flee, all but Ferrau; Alfrera is driven from the field

The Moorish army raced across the plain,

Nor could Grandonio stem their retreat.

They sped past Marsilio King of Spain;

He joined them; his misery complete.

The Argalifa fled from Charlemagne,

As did Morgante, their men reaped like wheat,

While Spinella too, the field now disdained;

Till Ferrau alone, that brave knight, remained.

He held firm, with the semblance of a lion,

Never turning his back upon the foe,

Though most fiercely attacked by bold Dudon,

By King Charlemagne, and Oliviero.

Ferrau advanced, lunging with his weapon,

And fought them all, veering to and fro,

But on the point of losing one enemy,

Was once more surrounded by all three.

Captured then, or slain, of a certainty,

Ferrau had been, but Alfrera, I say,

Swinging a club, both immense and weighty,

With his first great blow nigh-on won the day.

Guy of Burgundy surrendered swiftly,

Joined by Duke Namo, nearly swept away,

But Dudon, and brave Oliviero,

With Charlemagne, charged at this mighty foe.

From three sides they came, confidently,

Seeking to thwart the man, and lay him low,

Alfrera could not counter them, nimbly;

His mount, the giraffe, was far too slow.

But he could swing his club, and wildly,

Though Charlemagne, and the rest, dodged each blow.

Unable to do more, his head bowed low

He turned his mount, and fled to King Gradasso.

The monarch glared at him, as he drew near,

Revising his former good opinion,

Met him head on, and angered did appear:

‘Base wretch,’ he cried, ‘sad, useless minion,

Unashamed at fleeing such fools, in fear.

Monstrous coward! Off, to my pavilion,

Take yourself, you giant with half a brain,

And never let me see you armed again!’

Book I: Canto VII: 24-26: Gradasso unseats Charlemagne, but is forced to retire briefly

With that, Gradasso spurred on his brave mare,

And showing his strength, nigh superhuman,

He drove back Dudon here, Ricardo there,  

Then Salamone; his Sericanan

Forces at his heels, none did he spare,

A warrior with the heart of a dragon.

His lance was bound about with iron bands,

And a weapon of might in those strong hands.

Count Gano was the next he encountered,

Striking the falcon emblem on his shield,

Knocking him from his steed, his legs outspread.

He then saw Charlemagne far o’er the field,

And so, with lowered lance towards him sped,

Downed him at a blow, and would see him yield,

But first seized hold of brave Baiardo’s rein;

Yet the steed turned its rear, and kicked again,

Neighing loudly, hooves flying, at his knee,

Catching him there, and like to prove his bane.

His greave was strong, wrought with spells, and weighty,

Yet it buckled, sparks flew; such was the pain

He’d ne’er known the like, it flared endlessly;

While he yelped, the steed did his freedom gain,

And then, with loose bridle, and flying mane,

Baiardo ran for Paris, o’er the plain.

Book I: Canto VII: 27-29: He returns and routs the Christian army

Gradasso retired to his pavilion,

(Seek not to plumb the depths of his great woe!)

One who’d followed his court he did summon,

Wise in medicine, who doctored the blow.

He bandaged the knee, and on his wisdom

Drew to concoct an elixir also,

Which the king drank, then cried, to one and all,

It felt as if he’d ne’er been kicked at all.

He re-joined the battle, a fiercer foe  

It seemed; for none could counter his advance,

The first to try was bold Oliviero,

But he went down before that mighty lance.

Angelieri, Guy, Avorio,

Avino, followed; all met with mischance.

In short, none could escape the man that day,

All captured in the heat of that affray.

The whole Christian army took to flight,

There was no defence gainst this Gradasso.

And there scarcely remained a single knight,

For the best were slain, or taken by the foe.

The noblemen were captured in the fight,

Leaving the common soldiers to their woe,

While those left standing could ne’er attack,

Since the enemy, on all sides, drove them back.

Book I: Canto VII: 30-36: Uggiero defends the gate but is captured

In Paris it was known their host had fled,

And Charlemagne was taken prisoner.

Uggiero, still recovering, quit his bed,

His thigh was dressed, he then donned his armour,

And full of woe, ordered his courser led

To the main gate; he himself sped thither,

On foot, to review the situation,

Not long passing ere he was on station.

When he reached the gate itself, it was barred,

And beyond it he could hear screams and cries.

The baptised were dying there, while the guard

Let them die, lest opening it prove unwise.

And thus, through fear, his own honour marred;

The French perished, neath the defenders’ eyes,

Till the Dane commanded him to throw it wide,

His to defend, and let the troops inside.

The guard refused, lacking pity, as before,

And, scowling, cried he’d not unbar the gate,

(With proud and threatening words) and what is more,

Had he not abandoned it to its fate,

There and then, he would have perished, for sure.

The Dane seized an axe; the guard did not wait,

But quit his post, and fled, running hard,

While Uggiero had the gate unbarred;

It was opened, and the drawbridge let down.

Then the Dane mounted it, with axe in hand.

Care was needed now; into the town

Fled the Christian troops, a frightened band.

All would be first that in that sea did drown,

Yet amongst these men, lost and unmanned,

Were their foes, who now met brave Uggiero,

That, with his axe, dealt them many a blow.

Gradasso’s men attacked the bridge with fury,

Serpentino ahead of all the rest,

Leaping o’er the bridge, tempestuously.

Uggiero sought his course to arrest

With his axe, striking at his helm, fiercely.

Sparks flew from its steel, twas of the best,

And enchanted, so saving him from harm,

As was all his armour; he felt not a qualm.

Uggiero now faced the main attack,

Led by Ferrau, and King Gradasso,

A great host of men at that monarch’s back;

And knowing he could not beat back the foe,

The Dane had the drawbridge raised; no lack

Of courage did that brave warrior show;

For, standing tall against the swelling throng,

He held the moat alone, but not for long.

Gradasso ne’er moved from before the Dane,

Telling his soldiers to stand back the while,

Till, hearing the gate behind him barred again,

Uggiero swung his axe, though not with guile,

For Gradasso grasped it, some time did strain,

Then snapped it, dismounting in fine style,

And that fine champion, brave Uggiero,

Was swiftly taken captive by his foe.  

Book I: Canto VII: 37-39: Paris awaits its fate

No noblemen were left to hold the city.

Now the shades of night shrouded all the land.

The citizens, paraded, penitently,

In white robes, deeply chastened, cross in hand.

The churches were full, the prisons empty;

All waited for the dawn that would command

Their fate, the gates must open, they would know

Death and destruction, in those streets of woe.

Astolfo too was freed from confinement,

Who had long lain, neglected, in his cell,

Since the day of his disgrace (the tale went

That he had died, for such the guards did tell).

The man was nothing if not eloquent,

A great boaster indeed, when all was well,

And on hearing the news, he cried: ‘Alas!

Tis through my humble self this came to pass!

Gradasso must have known I was confined,

Or he’d never have fought King Charlemagne;

Though I can amend it, yet; tis in my mind

To meet Gradasso and then seize that same.

At dawn tomorrow, then, you’ll surely find,

Myself armed, riding forth, that right to claim.

Watch from the walls, the hour of vengeance share;

Woe to the monarch that awaits me there!’

Book I: Canto VII: 40-43: Gradasso offers peace, in exchange for the steed and the sword

Beyond the walls, joy filled the enemy,

They clustered now round King Gradasso,

Who sat tall, amidst his generals, proudly,

Planning to take Paris on the morrow.

He pardoned Alfrera, his manner kindly,

While, to the captives, honour he did show.

Seating Charlemagne, at his command,

Beside himself, and taking his foe’s hand,

He said: ‘Wise emperor, every lord,

Every brave nobleman, desires glory

And feeds on honour; kings who would but hoard

Wealth, at ease in their own territory,

Rather than have their valour known abroad

And have their name and fame sung in story,

Deserve to be deposed. I might have stayed

In the East; I sought the West, to win a blade,

And gain a steed, and not to conquer France

Or Germany, or Spain, or Hungary.

What I shall do, and not with sword or lance,

But in the way of true diplomacy,

Will show I have no wish now to advance

On Paris; honour gained suffices me.

Thus, I order that you and your lords stay

Here with me, as my guests, for but one day,

And then to Paris you may go, for I

Have no wish to seize your realm outright;

On this condition: that none shall deny

Me Rinaldo’s steed, for I gained that right,

When he deceived me, and chose to fly;

Which makes but a villain of any knight.

And I wish, that similarly, Durindana

Shall be mine, and sent to Sericana.’

Book I: Canto VII: 44-48: Charlemagne accepts, but Astolfo issues a challenge

Charlemagne said he should have Baiardo,

And Orlando’s sword also would be his.

Then, Gradasso desired some knight to go

And bring the steed, for twas his fondest wish.

So, to the city went Lord Ricardo;

But Duke Astolfo, on hearing of this,

In full command now, scornful of the pact,

Had Ricardo detained, while his next act

Was to send a herald to Gradasso,

Issuing his firm challenge to that king

And all his camp; saying, if Rinaldo

Was claimed by them to be fleeing,

Or captive, or slain, then all should know

It was a lie, scarcely worth repeating,

Nor was the courser owned by Charlemagne;

And he must fight, if the steed he would gain.  

Gradasso then demanded to know who,

And of what rank, was this Astolfo?

Charlemagne explained, though his view

Of the challenge he suppressed, but Gano

Cried: ‘He is a mere buffoon, I tell you,

Who fools about at court; that being so,

Pay him no heed nor, on account of this,

Cease from fulfilling your firm promise.’

Gradasso replied: ‘You speak well, and yet,

Think not that speaking well will free you.

Tis on Baiardo that my heart is set;

And, say what you wish, the fellow seems true,

And brave; for you were captured, don’t forget,

With a deal of pain, yet he would pursue

The battle with myself; let him, indeed,

Play the warrior; but, bring me the steed.

For if I have to fight to win the horse,

Then I shall deal with you all as I choose.

If you seek to pursue this other course,

The terms of our agreement I refuse.’

How King Charlemagne was troubled, perforce!

Having thought, by this, to pay his dues,

Regain his freedom, realm, lords, wealth and all,

He might lose all, through this fool, and his gall.

Book I: Canto VII: 49-55: Astolfo and Gradasso take to the field

At first light, Astolfo clothed Baiardo

In a brave leopard-skin caparison.

The duke’s helm was adorned with a fine show

Of giant pearls; a gilded sword he had on.

He bore so many gems to meet the foe,

He seemed a king beyond comparison,

A king of all the world, his shield golden,

His lance, Argalia’s gilded weapon.

The sun arose at the very moment

That he entered the field where they would fight.

He sounded his brave horn with bold intent,

And shouted a challenge with all his might:

‘O King Gradasso, if you’re less than content

To encounter me alone, twould be no slight

If you brought that giant Alfrera along.

Or come, if you wish, a thousand strong;

Bring Marsilio, his brother Balugante,

The latter’s son, brave Serpentino;

Bring Ferrau’s father, Falsirone,

And him I conquered, giant Grandonio.

Let the proud Ferrau himself join the fray,

Your lord and paladins, the rest also;

Lead forth your crew entire, in fine parade,

Of neither you nor yours, am I afraid.’

Through the air, Astolfo’s challenge pealed.

How King Gradasso laughed at his call!

For, fully armed, he entered on the field

To win Baiardo, and see this jester fall.

He spoke courteously, disinclined to yield:

‘I know not who you are; have asked of all,

Concerning your name, and your condition.

Gano tells me you adopt the fool’s position

At their court; yet as brave, full of ardour,

Others speak of you, more generously,

One chivalrous, free, a man of valour;

And yet what is said matters not to me,

I shall ever seek to treat you with honour,

And say this to you, most politely,

For brave you may be: I’ll have you know,

In winning, I seek naught but Baiardo.’

‘Not host as yet, and you present the bill!’

Cried Astolfo, ‘let’s try the thing once more;

I’ll have you from your saddle, at my will.

But since you speak so well, I’ll ask no more

Than that you free your prisoners; that fulfil,

And you may safely seek some foreign shore,

I shall let you and yours depart the kingdom,

And sail you may for furthest Pagandom.’

‘By Allah, I’m content,’ replied Gradasso,

And so, I swear.’ And then he wheeled around,

Lowering his great lance, as he did so,  

That was strong, and solid, and iron-bound,

Such that he thought to lay high towers low,

Not merely spill Astolfo on the ground.

Astolfo readied himself, for his part;

Lacking strength, but neither spirit nor heart.

Book I: Canto VII: 56-63: Astolfo defeats Gradasso, and teases Charlemagne

Gradasso spurred on his Arab mare,

While Astolfo was no mere spectator;

In the midst of the ground, they’d chosen there,

With thunderous force, they met together.

Astolfo, seeking to end the affair,

Struck the tight-clasped shield of the other,

Down low, a mere touch of the (magic) lance,

And swiftly brought a halt to his advance.

Gradasso, finding himself on the ground,

Could scarcely believe the thing was true.

He’d thought himself the stronger, yet he found

The duel was done, and he’d lost Baiardo too.

He rose, then the mare’s rein he wrapped around

His fist, and turned towards Astolfo: ‘You,

Sir knight, it seems, have conquered me, with ease;

Come, set free the prisoners, as you please.’

They clasped hands, and then returned together;

King Gradasso showing him much honour

Nor King Charlemagne, nor any other,

Knew yet of the outcome; in a whisper,

Astolfo asked that Gradasso smother

The news, and let him tell the emperor

What had occurred (he wished for the task;

He’d tease Charlemagne, when he did ask).

He soon stood before that king, with a wry face,

Crying: ‘See now, your sins have found you out,

So haughty and so proud of your high place,

That naught has your esteem; why, no doubt,

That of brave Orlando, we find no trace,

And why Rinaldo we are yet without.

And now you have lost his steed, Baiardo,

To this bold warrior king, Gradasso.

You had me imprisoned, wrongly, solely

That you might please the House of Maganza.

Well, go ask Gano and his company

To regain your realm of France, hereafter.

The Count’s whereabouts are a mystery,

And Rinaldo’s too, no cause for laughter.

If you’d not treated them with such disdain,

You’d not have suffered all this shame and pain.

To Gradasso has gone Rinaldo’s steed,

And we are in accord now, he and I.

I’ll stay with him, and be his fool indeed,

Thanks to Gano’s fulsome praise; for I’ll ply

That trade, and on that monarch’s favour feed.

He’ll be pleased; I’ll recommend, by and by,

Yourself to serve, the Dane to carve his meat,

Oliviero to cook, and all’s complete,

But for Gano; for weighty things he’s good,

And, so his strength and prowess may be known,  

He can heft water-jars, and bear the wood.

The rest of all those gossipers you own,

He’ll grant to his lords, so I understood

Him to say, and if there’s pleasure shown,

By them, all at my jests, and foolery,

I trust we’ll prove a merry company.’


Astolfo uttered this without a smile,

As if in all he said there lay no jest.

Don’t ask if Charlemagne he did beguile!

He was in anguish, as were all the rest

Of those nobles, and, in a little while,

Bishop Turpin spoke, as one distressed:

‘Have you turned apostate?’ ‘Why yes, sir priest;

I’ve quit Christ, on Mohammed’s words to feast.’

Book I: Canto VII: 64-69: He confesses to the jest, but sets terms for Gano’s release

Now all were troubled, stunned, and pale of face,

Oh, how they all lamented, wept and sighed.

But soon Astolfo tired, and showed them grace,

Confessed to his jest, and to his king he cried:

‘My lord, you are generous, if in this place

I have distressed you, and your patience tried,

For God’s sake, let your mercy here be shown,

Whate’er else I may be, I am your own.

Nonetheless, your court shall feel the lack

Of my presence, nor shall I come there more,

(Instead let those who render white as black,

Gano, and his folk, praise you and adore,

For I’ll leave you to rule, till I am back,

All of my lands, here and on England’s shore)

Till I find (I leave at dawn) Orlando,

Spite heat or cold, and likewise Rinaldo.’

None knew if he jested still, or spoke true,

Until that great and mighty king, Gradasso,

Demanded that the peace they now renew;

And so, they were released, and Count Gano

Was the first to mount his courser anew,

But seeing him about to leave, Astolfo

Caught the reins, halted him, and said: ‘Dear sir,

The rest are free, you’re still a prisoner.’

‘Whose prisoner am I, sir? Gano cried.

‘Why Astolfo of England’s!’ came the answer.

Gradasso then the terms of peace supplied,

For the benefit of each ex-prisoner.

Taking Gano by the arm ere he could ride,

Astolfo, and he, knelt before their master.

The former cried: ‘My lord, upon my knees,

I ask, that he goes free, yourself to please,

But on my terms, thus with this condition,

That, with his hands twixt yours, he shall swear

That he will pass four days in your prison,

When and where I require it, and prepare

To take an oath (for he breaks his word often!)

By your knights, and your crown, to lie there;

Surrendering himself, as duty bound,

Whene’er and where’er he may be found.’

Charlemagne replied: ‘I will that this be done.’

And had Count Gano, instantly, swear so.

The prisoners sped to Paris, every one,

Where the only cry heard was: ‘Astolfo!’

Embraced by all, the gauntlet he did run,

Of vast acclaim, this conqueror of the foe,

For he had saved, his was all the honour,

The Christian faith, and their wise emperor.

Book I: Canto VII: 70-72: Gradasso’s armies depart

The king tried hard to keep him there, perforce,

Upon him Ireland seeking to bestow,

But he was set upon his chosen course,

Of finding brave Rinaldo, and Orlando.

To his wanderings I’ll later have recourse,

But shall say no more here, and let him go.

That same night, evading the light of morn,

Gradasso and his men left, ere the dawn,

For Spain, where they found King Marsilio

With his noblemen and knights at his feet.

Aboard his flagship, went King Gradasso,

And departed with his vast and mighty fleet.

I’ll say naught of the voyage they did go,

To those lands that bake in the sun’s fierce heat;

Lest you grow weary of my verse, I’ll seek

Rinaldo, rather, ere my strength grows weak,

And recount the tale of high adventure,

Of which he had the pleasure and the pain,

For the story’s marvellous in nature,

While Rinaldo the brave, I would maintain,

Had encountered the like of it, never,

So cruel and harsh it seemed; but now, again,

I must rest awhile, ere the next canto,

Tells its wondrous story, of joy and woe.

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

Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto VII - End