Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book I: Canto XI: Agricane within the City

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto XI

Book I: Canto XI: 1-6: Agricane challenges Sacripante

You’ve heard before of the rage and fury

Of King Agricane, that fearsome knight.

Like some great river entering the sea,

Or a cannon that cleaves the ranks outright,

His sword like a scythe, he ploughed on fiercely.

The foe’s standards and banners fell from sight,

He downed his enemies, his own men too,

Quite indifferent as to whose troops he slew,

Those of Tartary or Circassia;

Caring not whether they were foe or friend,

Wishing ill on all, neath every banner,

That delayed his passage, till, in the end,

The mighty monarch, on his great courser,

Reached the place where Sacripante did send

Many a man to earth; Tartars screaming,

As they fled before the Circassian king.  

‘Begone, worthless dogs!’ cried Agricane,

‘You’re no vassals of mine! Away, with you!  

I’ll not play king to a craven army;

To Hell with all the faithless and untrue!

Go, leave me here alone! I’m more likely

To win this thing myself than with a crew

Of cowards; my sword shall gain the battle;

Go your ways, base herd of useless cattle!’

With that, he cleared an open space around,

And challenged Sacripante to advance,

And, be assured, my lords, he quickly found

Himself about to meet the latter’s lance.

First Sacripante had sent o’er the ground

A messenger, to enquire if, perchance,

The lovely lady would watch; the mere sight

Of her would grant him fresh heart for the fight.

The maid thus climbed the steps to the wall,  

While a sword, to the Circassian king,

She sent, sharp, and well-proven above all.

Agricane was aggrieved, but still smiling:

‘What of it? In the end, the man will fall.

Of that same blade I’ll have the winning;

I’ll trounce Sacripante, gain the fortress,

And capture that vile, yet fair, enchantress!

She shows no shame, and feels for another

The very love that she should bear for me,

Yet might share my realm, and govern over

Half the known world, if she had eyes to see.

Indeed, men say, of such women, ever,

That they oft choose the worst, as does she.

The king of kings would have her to wed;

Yet she seeks a Circassian oaf instead!’

Book I: Canto XI: 7-11: And the two Monarchs engage

With this, enraged, the monarch turned away,

And rode some distance from Sacripante.

He lowered his lance, and would not stay,

But charged, in a sudden fit of fury;

While on the other side, to win the day,

The Circassian met his enemy.

Twas as if (the noise and dust so blended)   

The skies had fallen; the world had ended.

Each had struck the other’s helm in fact,

And with the full weight of his mighty lance.

Three palms round, neither weapon was intact,

Yet they fell not, despite their wild advance.

Their lances split, they drew their swords, and backed

Their chargers; for a moment stunned, perchance,

And then returned, to the fight, by and by,

For both knights wished to conquer or to die.

Those who’ve seen two bulls in a meadow,

Driven by their frenzy for a heifer,

Battling, head-to-head, with many a bellow,

Each seeking to disable the other,

Might understand those knights, as blow for blow,

Careless of life, lover fought with lover,

Hurling away their stout shields, the better

To meet in desperate battle together.

Now Sacripante, relinquishing caution,

Using both hands, swung at Agricane,

And struck the crown (his crest), sliced a portion,

And yet failed to pierce the helm entirely,

(Twas charmed); at which, with a quick contortion

Of his shoulders, that king cut him deeply,

On his flank; then both brave knights sought vengeance,

Rendering like for like, and chance for chance.

No rain descends as swiftly from the sky,

No hail e’er falls as thickly to the ground,

As in that contest, dreadful to the eye,

Where blows fell fast, and tempered steel did sound.

Blood bathed both those warriors, by and by,

Head to saddle; twenty wounds, I’ll be bound,

Each received, for ne’er was seen such a fight,

While the battle grew in fury and in might.

Book I: Canto XI: 12-15: Sacripante appears to weaken

Sacripante endured the worst, tis true,

For his flank turned a deeper shade of red,

But careless of his life, he kept in view,

That fair flower, Angelica; in his head

The words sounded: ‘Lord above, all I do

May she see; oh, let me stand in good stead

With my lady; all is done from true love,

I’d be content to die, should she approve.

Yea, gladly I would perish on this field,

If I could please that lovely creature;

If she would but these words of comfort yield:

“I have been too harsh towards him, ever;

I’ve brought about his end, and so revealed

His wish to please me, his loving nature!”

If I knew for such speech she might find breath,

I’d be blessed in life, and as blessed in death.’

Such reflections did his mind so inflame

No heart has ever been so overwrought.

With each blow he called out the lady’s name,

And swung his blade for her sake as he fought,

For naught so possessed his heart as that same.

He ignored wounds and blood; twas her he sought,

Yet, little by little, strength and spirit failed,

While, unknown to himself, his visage paled.

The other kings stood round, and viewed the fight,

But not without fear and apprehension.

To each it seemed a shame if such a knight,

Daring and bold, were to face extinction.

While Torindo, could scarcely bear the sight

Of the danger presented, yet what action

He might take to end the duel he knew not,

For it seemed all caution they’d long forgot.

Book I: Canto XI: 16-21: Torindo the Turk seeks to interrupt the duel

He spoke then, to the other lords, and said,  

What a sin it was to watch while their king

Was weakening thus, and might soon be dead.

‘Ungrateful folk, who see, yet do nothing,

But merely gaze on your saviour instead,

One who rescued you from rout and ruin.

He preserved both your life and your honour,

You merely stand by, while he must suffer.

Oh, rid yourselves of that cowardly hue,

Though our enemies seem beyond measure,

Let us assail their serried ranks anew;

We can slay these weaklings at our leisure,

Nor think there’s treachery in what we do,

Should we interrupt this duel, for our pleasure.

Treachery is not the word, be assured,

For actions aimed at rescuing our lord.

If there is blame to come, the blame be mine,

And let yours be the complement of praise.’

With this, he executed his design,

And spurred to where he yet cast his gaze,

Lance lowered to pierce the enemy line.

As fiercely as the lightning bolt doth blaze,

He downed the first, and second, of his foes,

The third, and fourth; and a great cry arose.

The forces of Turkey and Circassia,

With those of Syria and Trebizond,

And others of their host, without number,

Charged with Torindo, eager to respond,

Driving against the ranks of the Tartar,

And of Russia, and Mongolia, beyond.

Behold the dust on high, the fray below,

As others joined, led by Truffaldino,

He of Baghdad, a most powerful knight,

As an immeasurable brawl began.

A hundred thousand he brought to that fight,

In close formation, eager every man.

Agricane saw his troops recoil in fright,

Scattering o’er the battlefield, e’er they ran,

And facing Sacripante cried: ‘Beware,

Tis an error to disturb our sole affair,

And the reward I shall grant you is this:

To fight against my whole army, instead.’

Knights engaged on every side; with a hiss

The swinging blades cut the air overhead,

Wreaking destruction, seldom did they miss

Their target, adding ever to the dead.

More men they slaughtered, there, than in a day

Thirty scythes could reap, in their gleaming play.

Book I: Canto XI: 22-25: Agricane’s troops press towards the city

Agricane encountered Truffaldino,

Who, on perceiving no means of retreat,

Faced the latter, and demanded to know:

‘What honour will you gain by my defeat,

And by toppling me to the ground below,

When you ride a steed so strong and fleet?

None on earth can compare! I challenge you,

To fight me on foot, as you ought to do.’

King Agricane who ever sought fame,

Dismounted swiftly and gave his courser

To a lord nearby, to protect that same.

At that moment, indifferent to honour,

As if the art of war were but a game,

Truffaldino seized the chance to scarper,

Swung his heels and, with a flick of the rein,

Was long gone, ere the king could mount again.

The action now turned towards the city.

The Bagdad hounds, and the Circassians,

Fled before Agricane, with the weary

And woeful remnants of the Syrians,

Jettisoning their shields, mail, and every

Weapon they yet gripped in their hands;

All fled the Tartars, none sought to respond,

The Turks turned heel, with those of Trebizond.

Twas not long ere they reached the city wall,

But had, first, to cross the encircling moat,

For the drawbridge had been raised against all;

The gates were barred, the foe was at their throat.

What could Angelica do to forestall,

Their destruction? For few could keep afloat,

That leapt or fell; the portals were thrown wide,

The bridge was lowered; the troops fled inside.

Book I: Canto XI: 26-31: King Agricane enters but is trapped within

Once the bridge was down, the gate unbarred,

Damned was the warrior that lagged behind;

Yet those Tartars who were pursuing hard,

Entered in, midst those to defeat resigned.

A portcullis was lowered by the guard,

Trapping Agricane (now a king confined),

With three hundred of his Tartar army,

All shut tight, with him, within the city.

He rode the caparisoned Baiardo,

Never was seen so proud a warrior.

The ruler of Damascus, Bordacco,

Knew his face; he’d entered a while before,

And viewing Agricane, that fierce foe,

Called out: ‘Now we’ll prove your strength, for tis sure

Baiardo will not save your skin this day;

You’ll die, sir knight; here you came, here you’ll stay!

Though you may defend yourself with valour,

It weighs not; for death you’ll find, in the end.’

Agricane laughed, this speech did utter:

‘Rather than war with mere words, my friend,

Why not seek to kill me? Twould be better,

If on this battle your thought you did spend.

Try your best; you’ll be first to sink below,

And walk, there, where I’ve sent many a foe.’

Now, King Bordacco’s weapon was a flail,

A great ball of lead, on the end of a chain,

And, two-handed, he whirled it, to assail

Agricane, and deal him a weight of pain,

But his mighty effort proved of no avail,

The latter’s sword cut the steel links in twain,

And it fell to the ground; Agricane

Cried: ‘Come then, let’s see who fights most bravely!’

And, with that, he struck a two-handed blow

Hard against Bordacco’s helm, cutting through,

Slicing, from the crown of his head, below,

Both jaw and neck, to the chest, straight and true.

Those about, who saw the strength of this foe,

With frightened faces, began fleeing anew,

King Agricane, now, threatening their rear,

As he hunted them, and they ran in fear.

His was a proud, and most impulsive, heart,

Thus, one that often carried him away.

If he’d but stopped to reflect, at the start,

And had won the gate, he’d have gained the day.

With but a little more thought on his part,

He’d have held the city; none to tell him nay;

And gained Angelica, alive or dead,  

Yet, in senseless wrath, pursued those that fled.

Book I: Canto XI: 32-38: The wounded Sacripante rouses his men

Beyond the wall furious contests raged,

Cruel, dreadful, and yet diverse in kind.

Each force regrouped, then once more re-engaged.

Some men drowned neath the bridge, others lined

The moat, and died, their vengeance unassuaged.

So many were the dead, their blood combined

In crimson streams, to fill that castle moat

To the brim; there, many a corpse did float.

But the war was as vicious in the city,

Where a crueller sight could yet be viewed,

As that great king on Baiardo, in his frenzy,

Terrified that crew, hounded and pursued.

No war e’er saw the death of so many,  

None was greater; he slew a multitude.

No man dared face Agricane that day;

Midst the dead, Baiardo scarce made his way.

Before he was confined thus, in Albracca,

The Tartar king, and wrought as you have heard,

King Sacripante, who had fought with honour

In the duel, had sought the city, nor had stirred

From his bed, while striving to recover,

(As yet obeying the surgeon’s every word)

Still lacking the strength to stand upright,

So profusely had he bled in the fight.  

Agricane seemed like some great storm at sea,

As he raged in his fury through the city,

Two-handed blows of his sword, frenziedly,

Dealt wounds, death, and ruin, without pity.

On his bed, still in pain, King Sacripante,

Heard the sounds of lament, cries for mercy,

As the Tartar slew his men, far and near,

And sought to know the reason for their fear.

A squire, weeping, brought his lord the news:

‘King Agricane fights within the gate;

That cursed knight our soldiers doth abuse;

Death, and desolation will prove our fate!’

Sacripante rose, every cut and bruise

Bringing pain, and, despite his present state,

Issued forth, with naught but his sword and shield,

And, bare but for his nightshirt, took the field.

Everywhere he met hordes of frightened men,

So dismayed that they knew not what to do.

He cried loudly: ‘Dull wretches! Turn again!

Tis but one knight alone seeks to pursue!

Will you burrow in the mud? Find some den

To hide in? Make no stand, fight not anew?

Throw down your weapons! Tis no coward’s game,

To be played by gross fools, devoid of shame!

See how I go, unarmoured, to the fight,

Half-naked to seek the field of honour!’

The fleeing host stood gazing at the sight,

Full of wonder, now roused from their stupor,

All suddenly arrested in their flight.

The high renown of that man of valour

(For true deeds tell no lies) gave men such heart

Even cowards were roused to play their part.

Book I: Canto XI: 39-46: Agricane is forced to retreat

Behold King Agricane, midst the street,

Who had routed those who would block his way,

Yet encountered, now, resistance to defeat,

As Sacripante sought to save the day.

Here began another fight, and at red heat,

The cruellest yet, the fiercest, I may say,

For though the Tartar forces were but few,

Their mighty leader roused them all anew.

On the other side raged the countrymen

Of Sacripante, their Circassian king,

Who believed they’d indeed be shamed again,

If they held not firm, whate’er fate might bring.

The bolts and darts fired swiftly and often,

The clash of arms, and armour, resonating

Enough to fill the bravest heart with dread,

Appalled the mind; the streets filled with the dead.

Sacripante, beyond all others, showed

Proof of his character and reputation.

Though lacking armour, at their head he strode,

Yet survived, to the foe’s consternation.

And such was his pace, which barely slowed,

Such his strong right arm, war his vocation,

He not only shielded himself, but he

Saved many another from the enemy.

He’d hurl some great rock, or launch a dart,

And then pursue the missile, spear in hand,

Or, covered by his shield, would split apart

The hostile ranks, forge on, and make a stand.

So much so, that Agricane, for his part,

Found naught that he attempted worked as planned;

His men fought on, in vain, though fierce and brave,

Three hundred strong, to gain a common grave.

Nor could he prevail against so many,

Darts and arrows now fell on him like rain;

(Sacripante dealt more blows than any,

While the rest their fierce assault did maintain).

His royal crest was shorn away, wholly,

His shield broken on his arm, and, again,

From his armour, a cloud of darts did hang,

While, against his bright helm, the slingshots rang.

As a raging lion issues from the glade,

When flushed thence by the clamour of the hunt,

And, seeking to show itself as unafraid,

Paces slowly, shakes its head at the affront,

Roars, and thrashes its tail and, undismayed,

Halts and turns, at every shout, to confront

Its assailants, so the king, forced to flee,

Showed his fierce disdain for the enemy.

At every thirty steps, he turned around,

And threatened them, in a scornful voice,

But was closely pursued still o’er the ground,

While at his plight all the city did rejoice.

Men arrived from every side, and he found,

As fresh troops emerged, he had little choice

But to drive onward while, forcing the gate,

His troops yet scorned to leave him to his fate.

Dreading naught, Agricane forged ahead;

He raged in fury, downing many a knight.

Two-handed blows he dealt, to chest and head,

Seeing the means, thus, of escape in sight.

And there I’ll leave the monarch, and instead,

Turn to Rinaldo (I’ll resume the fight

Hereafter) who was walking on the shore;

Having quit Castle Cruel not long before.

Book I: Canto XI: 47-50: Rinaldo seeks to aid a lady in distress

I’m sure that I’ve told you, previously,

How he encountered, there, a lovely maid.

She sought to die, weighed down by misery.

He called to the lady gently, and displayed

Signs of pity, begging her, courteously,

By all that she most loved, and here obeyed,

By Allah, by the Lord in Heaven above,

To tell him what so irksome, thus, did prove.

Disconsolately, the fair maid replied:

‘I shall do as you request of me, sir knight.

Indeed, I wish I’d ne’er been born, or died

At birth, my joy is lost! In dreadful plight,

I’ve searched the world, search yet, on every side,

But find no aid, cannot my loss requite,

For tis my task to find a lord who will

Fight nine great warriors, yet conquer still.’

Said Rinaldo: ‘I cannot claim I’ll gain

The victory gainst two, let alone nine,

But your sweet speech, your flowing tears, your pain,

Have moved my heart to pity and, in fine,

Though I may fail your honour to maintain,

My ardour makes me boldly thus opine,

That the help you seek is thus found nearby,

For I will either down those nine, or die.’

The maid cried: ‘To your God, I commend you!

And, for your kind offer, thank you deeply,

Yet yours are not the means I should pursue;

Such a man will ne’er be found, believe me;

For Orlando’s among those nine; you too

Have heard of him, perchance; not only he

But all the rest are, likewise, known to fame;

Small honour’s won in fighting those same.’

Book I: Canto XI: 51-53: Fiordelisa yields news of Orlando

Hearing her speak of the Count Orlando,

Brave Rinaldo addressed the maid once more,

Seeking to learn of aught that she might know,

As to his location, where and on what shore.

And so, she told him where that stream did flow,

The River of Forgetfulness, and more,

For she explained how the Count, and the rest,

By a wicked enchantment were oppressed.

And he learned that she was Fiordelisa,

And of how she’d abandoned Brandimarte.

Rinaldo then strove hard to persuade her

To lead him to that place, swearing, truly,

By God, he’d free them from Dragontina,

By strength or art, by fighting or by simply

Feigning love, and so break the spell, perforce,

And set those captives on a truer course.

The maiden looked the knight up and down,

And saw he was well-formed in his person,

And fit enough to seek such brave renown,

While armed with not too feeble a weapon.

Yet this canto with its ending I’ll crown,

For the next, as you’ll find, will prove a long one;

Its purpose being to relate the story

Told to my lord Rinaldo, by the lady.

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

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