Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book I: Canto XVI: Galafrone Routed

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto XVI

Book I: Canto XVI: 1-4: The fortunes of war

All things beneath the Moon, both good and ill,

Great riches, earthly kingdoms, monarchs, all,

Are subject, endlessly, to Fortune’s will.

She views their rise, and she observes their fall,

Darkening when light her shining orb doth fill,

And in war, where she holds the world in thrall,

Ever showing the most fickle, dangerous

Of faces; of all things, the most treacherous.

Such is seen with regard to Agricane,

Whose power in this world was so immense,

Who, as the Emperor of Tartary,

Ruled so many realms, yet lost all sense

Of proportion, pursuing a lady,

Waging war at most profligate expense,

For there the lives of seven kings were lost,

To the Count, and that but part of the cost.

In his camp, feeling desperate, he blew

His great war-horn to summon up the foe,

Challenging the warrior, and those few

That followed the most valiant Orlando.

He proclaimed he would face them anew,

In the field, alone, and deal with them so.

Twas not long ere the mighty drawbridge fell,

And the Count emerged from the citadel.

He was followed by Oberto dal Leone,

And Brandimarte, chivalry’s fair flower,

Then King Hadrian, and bold Chiarone,

All scorning the emperor’s show of power.

Angelica gazed from a balcony,

Thus, her beauty shone out from the tower,  

For Orlando’s sake, as, with lowered lance,

Those five towards the plain did now advance.

Book I: Canto XVI: 5-8: Agricane berates his troops

The emperor gazed towards them, fiercely,

Almost disdainful at facing so few.

His mood was wrathful, his colour fiery,

His mind, filled with anger, raged anew.

He turned a moment to his craven army,

Devoid of virtue, their ranks did review,

Not deigning to commend a single one,

But threatening them aloud, till he was done.

‘Let none of you cowards seek to aid me,

For I seek no help from the likes of you!

Come a million foes, come all who might be

Upon this Earth, in arms, Achilles too,

Samson, Hector, Hercules, that army

I would conquer, and the field I’d bestrew

With the dead. Once these knights are no more,

Guard yourselves, you’ll hear my lion’s roar!

And ere the sun has set, you wretches, I

Will drench your craven ranks in blood and gore,

And leave the wounded, in the field, to die,

So, Tartary shall know your seed no more,

Nor your progeny assemble neath the sky,

Where many finer men have stood before,

To bring shame and disgrace upon your land,

As you curs have done, beneath my command.’

That fearful mass of men was all aquiver,

Like the poplar leaves in a gentle breeze.

They breathed not a single word however,

So great was their dread, their deep unease.

Then Agricane rode, alone, as ever,

Forth from the ranks, and his great horn did seize,

And blew a blast, with one vast endless breath,

That spoke aloud of war, and blood, and death.

Book I: Canto XVI: 9-12: Orlando and Agricane face each other

Orlando who knew the boundless ardour

And strength and vigour of the emperor,

Made request of Jesus Christ, his Saviour,

Of His grace, to convert that warrior

To His faith, then prayed to God as ever,

Made the sign of the cross, as the Tartar

Charged, and then attacked him furiously;

His steed swift as fire, or wind o’er the sea.  

Like two thunderstorms that meet together,

From the east and west, with a lightning-flash,

These two met, and were flung back on the crupper,

In that fierce encounter, midst a mighty crash.

Each broke his solid lance on the other,

While such force was delivered, in that clash,

That all who witnessed it, beneath the wall,

Thought that the heavens were about to fall.

Each addressed his God, and asked for aid,

In this hour of need, and yet neither fell.

Brigliador a sudden stumble made,

(Orlando hauled on the reins for a spell)

But held upright, while Baiardo stayed

On a course aimed towards the citadel,

Then, in a cloud of dust, wheeling again,

Leapt six feet in the air, above the plain,

And sped to meet the Count, who likewise soared

As Brigliador approached the enemy,

Gripped Durindana, once Almonte’s sword,

And prepared to confront Agricane,

Who’d drawn Tranchera. Each valiant lord

Had few equals in this world, certainly;

For that day they gave proof of just how rare

It is for Earth to witness such a pair.

Book I: Canto XVI: 13-19: They fight but fail to cause much harm

Neither warrior sought to dodge a blow,

But redoubled their strokes, ceaselessly

Striking hard; as upon the grove below

Falling hail strips the leaves from every tree,

So those brave knights, so beat upon the foe  

With their great swords that both, relentlessly,

Split shield and plate but for the helms alone;

All torn away, while sparing flesh and bone.

Thinking one stroke might end the whole affair,

For the fight had continued far too long,

Orlando sought the other’s head to bare,

But his blow to the helm, though true and strong,

Saw his sword rebound, sparks flew; for his share

His foe muttered: ‘Wait, and you’ll find you’re wrong,

If you think yours the better helmet here;

For you’ll find that the matter’s far from clear.’

So, saying, with both hands, he swung his blade,

Thinking Orlando would be sliced in two

From his crown to the saddle, and so laid

On the earth below, yet naught could he do.

Tranchera failed to pierce that helmet, made

By Albrizac the enchanter, which, when new,

Was gifted by that wizard to Almonte,

The warrior son of King Agolante.

He’d lost it at that fount where Orlando

In King Charlemagne’s armour took his life.

But no more of that; the resounding blow

The Count had felt; the pain was like a knife,

And he was sweating now from head to toe;

Yet, undamaged, he returned to the strife,

Seeking for revenge, as his anger grew,

Swinging his sword with both hands, fired anew.

The cruel blade across the helm did slide,

And travelled on to strike the left shoulder,

Then downwards, to split the shield, did glide,

Slicing a third away, with cloth and armour.

The skin showed white along his naked side;

The blade spared his flesh but, passing over

The hip, tore his mail coat; though, unharmed

As such, it seemed the monarch’s life was charmed.

Agricane felt the full weight of the blow,

And, to himself, said: ‘Tis a breathing space,

Yet if I hasten not to thwart the foe,

I’ll not live beyond the eve, at this pace;

Great is the prowess this brave knight doth show,

A swift passage to hell, though, he shall face,

For there’s no armour thick enough, no mail

That against Tranchera’s blade can prevail.’

And, with that, he swung the sword through the air,

Striking, likewise, at the Count’s left shoulder,

The stroke cleaving the shield and laying bare

All beneath, thus, shattering the armour,

Ripping the hauberk from his body where

It struck, and sliding dangerously lower,

Taking plate and mail together in its fall,

Though the bare flesh it scarcely touched at all.

Book I: Canto XVI: 20-25: They temporarily stun each other

Orlando’s four companions watched the fight,

And, viewing the ferocity of each blow,

Declared, as one, that there was ne’er a knight

As strong as either of those two, and no

Such duel e’er compared to that brave sight,

So fiercely did they battle to and fro;

While their Muslim foes cried aloud: ‘By Allah,

Each of this pair’s a match for the other!’

They criticised the moves that each man made,

As folk will do whose lives are not at stake,

While that brave pair their own successes weighed

Measured in deeds not words, gainst each mistake.

After six hours employment of the blade,

(For neither tempered sword was like to break)

They seemed as fresh and strong, or even more

So, than that mighty pair had seemed before.  

As when the demon, deep beneath Mount Etna,  

Hammers great bolts of lightning, wreathed in flame,

Following one huge blow with another,

In swift succession, so from those two came

A like infernal noise, as both together

Swung their sharp blades, while taking careful aim,

Such that the sparks flew upwards, furiously,

As sword met sword and rang out endlessly.

The Count, with a two-handed backhand blow,

Struck Agricane neath his helmet’s crown,

So fiercely that his head rang; in his woe

The king, bowed on Baiardo’s neck, slumped down

In the saddle, small sign of life did show,

Stunned utterly; that warrior of renown

Would have been cleft in two by that sharp blade,

But for the helm that Solomon had made.

His valiant steed now bore the king away,

And, in a brief while, his confusion cleared,

He returned on the Count, to make him pay.

Like a vicious snake, wrathfully, he reared

And swung his gleaming sword, without delay,

To strike Orlando on the helm as he neared,

So forcefully, with such a show of ardour,

It struck the very centre of the visor.

The Count, in turn, was dazed by the attack;

The blow had been struck with so much force,

The warrior was laid flat upon his back,

Head ringing, on the crupper of his horse.

He knew not if twas day; for all seemed black.

Though the sun was now high upon its course,

And the sky was bright; Orlando saw stars,

Or, perchance, the flickering of scimitars.

Book I: Canto XVI: 26-30: Galafrone’s army arrives, including Marfisa

There rose in him an excess of fury,

His eyes crossed, he gripped Durindana tight,

But, at that moment, a bell sounded loudly,

From the tall keep, interrupting the fight.

The noise of war-cries increased, and swiftly

O’er the plain, an endless horde came in sight,

With great standards, and bright pennants, on high,

As trumpets, drums, horns, echoed from the sky.

These were the troops of King Galafrone,

(Angelica’s father) each division

Of the three larger than the last; rightly,

Albracca was his, his now the mission

To regain the place from the enemy;

And so, he’d drawn men from every region.

Half India was in arms; some fought for gain,

Some from fear; rich and powerful his reign.

These warriors came from the Sea of Gold,

On India’s border. Archiloro,

A giant, led the van, fearsome and bold;

The second force, a warrior-maid, and no

Armed knight, in all the East, if truth be told,

Could match her in the saddle, gainst the foe,

For she was brave indeed and, certainly,

As fair as she was brave; nay, twice as lovely.

She, of whom I speak, was named Marfisa,

And the maid was so eager for the fight,

Five years in arms, clad in steel plate ever,

From the break of dawn to the fall of night,

She remained, and she had sworn to Allah

To go thus armoured, as a valiant knight,

And ne’er leave off her breastplate and mail,

Till o’er three kings her valour might prevail.

Those three were the King of Sericana,

The mighty Gradasso; Agricane,

The northern emperor, the Tartar;

And Charlemagne; later in our story,

Her vast pride, her strength, and her character

Will be shown; for she was bent on glory.

Such matters for the moment I’ll retain,

And return to tell of those upon the plain.

Book I: Canto XVI: 31-35: Uldano and Poliferno attack Archiloro  

With vast commotion, and many a cry,

The army now crossed the swollen Drada,

While the sounds re-echoed from on high,

As if the sky might fall; marching after

Marfisa’s force, the king’s own men passed by.

Galafrone led beneath his banner,

A golden dragon on a sable ground.

To Archiloro we return, the Devil’s hound.

For he was a mighty giant in stature,

And showed respect to neither God nor man,

Cursing Mohammed, blaspheming Allah,

Threatening both; this demon led the van,

Thus, the first attack was his, as ever.

Though twas a wild assault, devoid of plan,

He fell, like an imp from Hell, upon the foe,

And slaughtered an enemy at every blow.

For Archiloro wielded a great hammer,

No anvil ever weighed as much, and he

Swung it oft, at one man then another,

Laying the Tartars low, mercilessly.

Uldano moved against him, however,

And King Poliferno, angered, swiftly,

With two squadrons that occupied the field,

Thousands in each, little disposed to yield.

From two different sides came their attack.

And neither, at first, perceived the other.

They aimed at Archiloro’s front and back,

Who swayed but then managed to recover,

Being saved by their blows, dealt with no lack

Of force, one counteracting the other,

Knocked in one direction by Uldano

Then righted again by Poliferno.

Held upright by their lance strokes, he plied

His hammer still, an instrument of dread,

Swinging the huge weapon from side to side,

Then pounding Poliferno on the head.

Another blow, another, some fell wide,

In the end he left the warrior half-dead,

And gave Uldano’s cheek-guard a rattle,

Driving that warrior from the saddle.

Book I: Canto XVI: 36-42: Agricane addresses Orlando  

The pair of kings were left upon the field,

While Archiloro displayed his prowess;

Like a dragon, struck sparks, as helm and shield

He splintered, strong steel plate, and mail no less.

Those who tried to counter, were forced to yield,

Though he slew them, one by one, midst the press.

All ran, few could evade his serpent’s eye;

King Agricane watched them turn and fly.

Then he addressed the Count, courteously:

‘Of your good grace, sir knight, I ask of you,

If you have ever loved a maiden deeply,

Or if you love one now, to her are true,

That we postpone our duel (by her lovely

Sweet face; and may Love sway her heart anew)

That, by deferring our battle slightly,

I may grant fresh succour to my army.

Although I know you not, but for the fact

Than you are a brave and a noble knight.

I shall grant you fair Moscow for that act;

Its realm extends to the Ocean; twould be right,

For in Hell’s darkness its last king is racked,

Whom yesterday you banished from the light,

The giant, Radamanto, whom your blade

Cleft to the waist, your prowess thus displayed.

His realm then I shall grant to you, freely,

Nor could it be ruled by a finer knight,

For none, in all your sphere of chivalry,

Shows greater skill and valour in a fight.

And I promise, and will swear, equally,

To seek another chance to prove our might,

So that we may know for sure, and be clear,

Of us two, which is the lord without peer.  

To more than human strength, I thought I owned,

Till I encountered the power of your blade.

I had never thought, since I was enthroned,

That any could my lance or sword have stayed;

And hearing of Orlando, I but groaned

To hear the endless tales that men relayed,

Of his prowess in the West, in fair France,

Believing I would down him at a glance.

Yet this contest between us, your assault

The bitter blows, the valour you have shown,

Revealed to me that I was then at fault;

I find I’m but a man of flesh and bone.

At dawn then let us fight, nor call a halt,

And make a final proof, we two alone,

Of strength and skill; then you or I shall be

The flower, and the crown, of chivalry

But now, that you let me go in safety

Is all that I request of you, sir knight,

And, if you have ever loved a lady,

By her I conjure you to aid my plight;

For you view the ruin of my army

At the hands of that giant whom they fight,

And should I rescue them, I’ll not forget

That I shall owe, to you, a mighty debt.’

Book I: Canto XVI: 43-45: The Tartar emperor goes to encounter Archiloro

Though the Count was troubled by the pain

Of the blow he had suffered, and indeed

Would have sought revenge and fought again,

He could not scorn the king, and so agreed.

For a noble knight in love must maintain

A lover’s courtesies in thought and deed,

And so, Orlando released the king, and made

Him an offer of assistance; but his aid

The king refused, as a man full of pride,

And, in doing so, showed his arrogance,

For he swiftly turned Baiardo aside,

And took, from a squire, a proffered lance.

His appearance gave new heart to his side,

For they shouted, and began to advance,

Their cries echoing from the hills around,

While those who’d fled returned at the sound.

Thus, Agricane of the golden crown

Re-ordering his ranks as best he might,

Seeking ever to swell his own renown,

Spurred swift Baiardo on towards the fight.

He thought to bring this Archiloro down,

This bold giant afoot, who faced the knight

With shield on arm, and hammer in his hand,

Drenched in blood, to make a final stand.  

Book I: Canto XVI: 46-51: And defeats him

That great shield was a palm-width in thickness,

Made of elephant-hide and solid bone,

Though Agricane pierced it, nonetheless,

With his brave lance, his skill and power shown.

Yet the giant was unmoved by his success,

Yielded not a single inch, but stood, alone,

Hammering at the lance-shaft till it broke,

Sending sharp splinters flying at each stroke.

Agricane esteemed all this but little,

Despite the giant’s massive show of force,

And had scarcely lost his lance in that battle,

Ere he’d unsheathed his sword, and wheeled his horse,

Circling his foe, revealing his true mettle,

Maintaining a close guard but, in his course,

Still striking, ceaselessly, with bold attack

Upon the giant’s front, and sides, and back.

The giant yet stood firm, on planted feet,

Like a tower rooted in the rock below,

And never shifted his ground, in retreat,

As he swung his great hammer to and fro,

While the Tartar circled, his passage fleet.

Like a hawk on the wing, flew Baiardo,

The steed so agile in veering aside,

That Archiloro’s blows ever fell wide.

Both armies were watching the battle,

That of India, and that of Tartary,

Pausing in their harsh and bitter struggle,

As if this duel would end it, finally.

They gazed on, at metal striking metal,

Praising their own champion quietly,

And as the weapons swung to and fro,

Saw Archiloro deal a mighty blow.

With a two-handed stroke (he’d dropped his shield)

He might have slain Agricane, but no,

His hammer was half-buried in the field,

And he was fully exposed to his foe.

His vulnerability thus revealed,

The Tartar emperor was scarcely slow

To swing sharp Tranchera, grasped in both fists,

At those hands, so severing both the wrists.

The hands yet gripped the hammer as before,

But now the soldiers sought revenge, in full,

For their friends those hands had slain, score on score.

They dragged him down, battered at his skull,

And he was quickly bathed in blood and gore,

From a host of wounds, stranded like the hull

Of a shipwrecked vessel, while Agricane

Not deigning to slay him, rode on swiftly.  

Book I: Canto XVI: 52-54: Galafrone’s van is routed

At the hands of cowards Archiloro died,

For the weakest attacked their fallen foe.

While Agricane turned Baiardo aside,

And then shattered the ranks, blow by blow,

Till those of India ebbed like the tide,

Or were sent to join their comrades below.

Poliferno and Uldano joined the king,

As death, and destruction, he did bring.

For a long while those warriors had lain

Senseless and half-dead upon the ground,

For each had felt that hammer, though not slain,

As I said before; recovered, they now found

The emperor, and charged across the plain,

As, fleeing like the hare before the hound,

Ran each coward before them; thus, they gained

Their revenge, as the field of war they stained.

The fugitives were as powerless to defend

Themselves as straw before the angry blaze.

Agricane gazed on, and scorned to send

Men in pursuit; he let them go their ways.  

Meanwhile, our tale to Marfisa must wend,

For that warrior-maid, avoiding the rays

Of the sun, was resting in a grassy glade,

Two leagues off, by the river, in the shade.

Book I: Canto XVI: 55-57: Marfisa disdains to join the battle

So arrogant at heart was that proud maid

That she disdained to fight with any there

Upon whose head a crown was not displayed,

And so had turned aside from that affair,

And walked by the stream, and found the glade,

Where she now rested, in the cooler air

Beneath a pine, though, ere that, she had told

The squire her wishes, that her horse did hold.

(This squire was, in truth, her chambermaid)

Marfisa said: ‘Now listen, and give heed;

If you should see our army flee, dismayed,

Galafrone slain, captured, or, indeed,

His banner toppled, then be not afraid

To wake me, and to bring me my good steed.

Until that time, speak not a word to me:

I am all they’ll need, then, for victory.’

With this, the fair warrior-maid, once more,

Lay down to rest, fully armed, on the grass,

And slumbered by the river, as secure

As if resting in her keep; let us pass

To the shattered forces, hastening from the war,

Those troops of India who fled en masse,

Streaming, in fear, without regard to aught,

Past the royal banner, where men yet fought.

Book I: Canto XVI: 58-60: Angelica seeks Orlando’s help

Galafrone foamed at the mouth to see

His forces so readily put to flight,

Then spurred on his brave steed, despairingly,

Seeking to conquer, or die in the fight.

His daughter watched from the wall, and she

Seeing him in grave peril, felt it right

To send a message to Count Orlando

Requesting his prompt help against the foe.

Thus, she sent a messenger without delay,

To ask that the Count might aid her father,

And to show his strength and valour that day,

If he would seek their goodwill thereafter.

That she could view his efforts, midst the fray,

She begged that great warrior to remember,

And that if he craved love from such as she,

His labours would be judged by his lady.

The Count, deeply enamoured, lingered not,

But drew Durindana and, with fury,

Fought a harsh and bitter fight, on that spot,

That you shall hear far more of, from me.

Now, however, lest Rinaldo be forgot,

I’ll leave Orlando there, and turn swiftly,

To the former, who had come upon a knight,

As I’ve told, by a spring, in sorry plight.

Book I: Canto XVI: 61-64: We return to Rinaldo and the mournful knight

This knight was weeping so piteously

That a dragon might have felt compassion.

Lord Rinaldo’s approach he’d failed to see,

His head being in an inclined position.

The cause of his distress and misery

Rinaldo sought to earn, to his question,

So soft in tone was the sad knight’s reply

It could scarce be distinguished from a sigh.

So, Rinaldo dismounted from his steed,

And, greeting the knight most courteously,

Asked him what might such depths of sorrow breed,

What the cause of such sore lament might be.

The wretched man now raised his face, indeed

He gazed at Lord Rinaldo mournfully,

In silence, and then, sighing, said: ‘Ill-fate

Will drive me to slay myself, soon or late.

Yet, by the true God, and my faith, I swear,

That such is not the cause of my distress;

To say true, I should find that death as fair

As ever pleasure was, void of duress.

No, the matter that drives me to despair,

Is what is bound to follow, I confess,

If I die; since a brave and courteous knight

Must die with me, for his defence is slight.’

Rinaldo said: ‘By God above, I pray,

That you’ll tell me the tale of what occurred,

For I wonder at the cause of your dismay,

Seeing you languish, and at what I’ve heard.’

The knight, who upon the grass yet lay,

Raised his head, at this gentle tone and word,

And offered the reply, midst sighs of woe,

Which I’ll repeat, in the very next canto.

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

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