Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto VI: Rodomonte in Provençe

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto VI

Book II: Canto VI: 1-10: Rodomonte defies the weather and sets sail for France

I must raise my voice to the heights of song,

And seek for nobler words to match my theme.

My swift bow must sweep more grandly ere long

O’er the lyre; I must show, within my scheme,

A youth, so harsh and vicious, and so strong

Of will, that to raze the world was his dream;

Rodomonte, that advocate of war,

Whom I have spoken of, to you, before.

In the city of Algiers, I left that king,

Determined to cross o’er the sea to France,

For, there, he’d had success in gathering

A mighty host equipped with sword and lance.

Longing for that ill hour when he might bring

Fire and ruin to that land, in swift advance,

He cursed whoe’er had wrought the wind and sea,

That saw him setting forth so tardily.

More than a month, now, he’d lost in Sarza,

That distant land, opposed by many a gale,

(North-winds: Greco, Maestro, Tramontana)

But he had sworn that he would drown or sail

To Christendom, ere he’d tarry longer,

And told the helmsmen that they must prevail,

And cross under canvas, in spite of all;

No matter how close the wind they must haul.

‘Blow, wind! Blow high,’ he cried, ‘if you know how!

For, I say, we set sail this very night.

I’m not your slave or the sea’s thus to bow

To ill-Fortune and your pretence at might.

Agramante’s rule, alone, I’ll allow,

And am content, for he’s a king who’ll fight,

With a scant love of peace; all his commands

Ne’er fail to please, no matter his demands.’

With that, he called a helmsman, old and grey,

A Moroccan, whose name was Scombrano,

Skilled in the art, and prudent, I might say,

For he was cautious whate’er winds did blow.

Rodomonte asked: ‘Why then, all this delay?

Why do you hold me here, and e’er cry no?

Six whole days but brief might seem in your view;

Yet six provinces were mine, save for you!

So be ready, this same evening, to set forth,

Make sure these vessels are all set to go.

Don’t tell me of your winds from out the north;

If I’m to drown, then mine shall be the woe.’

I care not what men are lost; for, henceforth,

Tis mine to say if all shall sink below.

And if I plunge downwards so, to the deep,

Then I’ll dictate what company I’ll keep!’

‘My lord,’ Scombrano, humbly, made reply

‘The wind indeed is wrong; we should not sail.

The waves increase, the gale, would, by and by,

O’erwhelm us; and, worse portents now prevail:

The sun was drowned in cloud, and, like to die,

The moon arose deep red, and now grows pale;

Ne’er have I seen so wan and strange a moon.

Tis, since the sea now rises all about,

An omen of ill-fortune, without doubt;

And then the coots, not swimming on the sea,

But pecking on the dry and sandy shore,

The gulls crying overhead, raucously,

The heron, rarely seen, trouble me more,

And tell me the gale approaches swiftly;

While the dolphins, hid from our view before,

Here and there, upon every side, now, leap;

And show the sea sore troubled in the deep.

We’d be sailing beneath darkening skies,

If that’s your will, and, of a certainty,

We’d all perish; and there’s no man denies

My skill in things pertaining to the sea.

And, by my faith, I swear, if any dies

In such a manner, it shall not be me.

Though Allah might assure us we’d prevail,

I’d say: ‘I’ll rest in harbour; you may sail!’

Rodomonte answered: ‘Alive or dead,

Tis no matter; I would cross to France.

And if, living, to that far shore I’m sped

Then, in three days, twill fall to sword and lance.

If my corpse to that doomed land is led,

Then, in that form, I’ll nonetheless advance,

Inspiring dread, in every single one

Of those Franks. I would conquer, and they’d run!’

Book II: Canto VI: 11-15: His fleet is scattered by the gale

So, from the harbour, issued that vast fleet,

And close to the wind all those vessels sailed.

A north-westerly, at first, ruled complete,

But, in time, a north-easterly prevailed.

Forced then to come about, twas but to meet

A gale from the south-west at which they quailed

For they were caught between, no course could keep

Blown wildly, thus, about the troubled deep.

The sailors cried aloud, amidst a roar

Of the wind in the rigging, while the sea

Grew darker and the heavens even more,

With deathlike hue, looming evilly.

Hail and rain lashed the ships far from shore,

Now this, and now that, wind blew more fiercely.

And, here, a tall wave seemed to drown the sky

There, the sea-bed was revealed to the eye.  

The ships were so tightly-packed with men,

With horses, provisions, arms and armour,

They’d have proved hard to sail not just then

But even in the calmest summer weather.

The only light they saw, now and again,

Was a flash of lightning; heard only thunder

And the gale, as the ships were tossed about,

All commanded, none obeyed; twas shout on shout.

Yet Rodomonte was scarcely dismayed.

When all seemed dire, he acted as needed,

Hastening everywhere to grant men aid,

Commanding clearly, his orders heeded,

Tightening, slacking ropes, his ire displayed

In threats and menaces whene’er impeded.

He stayed on deck, his head bared to the sky,

Despite the tempest raging there on high.

His hair, iced about with freezing hail,

Sounded in his ears; he cared as little

As if seated in his cabin, and the gale

A following breeze bearing him to battle.

His mighty fleet as one, had sought to sail,

But now was scattered, midst the sea’s upheaval,

His force surviving, though at heavy cost;

For every ship still afloat, one was lost.

Book II: Canto VI: 16-25: Charlemagne addresses his war-council

I shall leave that valiant warrior out at sea,

With his vessels yet in a parlous state:

I’ll tell you more, if you’ll bear with me,

But now I must turn to Charles the Great,

Who’d had news of this fleet, and Rodomonte,

And had summoned all his Council of State;

For though he feared naught, and was undismayed,

He desired that fitting plans might be laid.

He said: ‘My lords, the news has come to me,

That King Agramante would go to war!

Undeterred by that rout of his army,

In which numbers of his folk died before,

Nor the examples of Agolante

And his own father, he whom, as we saw,

You slew, in defending king and country;

Since now, it seems, he’d keep them company!

Yet to meet our needs, we must now address

The state of our defences everywhere,

For shame and blame both attend on weakness,

And heavy then the losses we would bear.

Overland through brave Gascony they’ll press,

Or a landing at Aigues-Mortes they prepare,

Thus, invading fair Provençe from the sea.

In arms, we must bar them from the country.’

With this, he called out to Duke Amone,

And commanded: ‘Since your son, Rinaldo,

Ever self-indulgent, I now fail to see,

Take good care that you hold Montalbano.

Send your men to every nook and cranny

Of that land, and the movements of the foe,

In Spain, that realm which borders yours,

Report to me; scan all its heights and shores.

Your sons are there, each a fighting man,

So, you need scant resource to hold your land.

If you need assistance, then you may plan

On support from these two knights, near at hand,

Ivone, I mean, your friend and kinsman,  

And Angelieri, here, whom I command

To obey your orders as they would mine,

At risk of offending me, and our line.  

And let William, the Lord of Roussillon,

And Arricardo of Perpignan, both go

With all their men, with full amour on,

To lodge with you at Montalbano.’

Charlemagne, the emperor, thereupon,

Turned to his other side and spoke so:

‘My lords, I look to you, now, to defend

Fair Provençe and the coast; and thus, my friend

Lord Namus, the Duke of Bavaria

I wish to take command, on land and sea,

And guard against the Africans further,

And so, hold all our southern shores for me.

Though I deem twill be an easy matter,

To hold their first assault, yet to foresee

Where they’ll come ashore, may prove much harder,

Than repelling their invasion thereafter.

For this great task I’d have him take all four

Of his sons to accompany him there,

And the brave Count of Lorraine, there, shall war,

My dear Ansuardo, the labour to share,

And Rinaldo’s sister, I would implore

To join that fight, Bradamante the Fair,

With the strength and courage of her brother;

May God preserve her to me, forever!

The Duke of Savoy, brave Amerigo,

And Guy of Burgundy shall aid you too,

Bovo of Dozona, and Roberto,

He of Asti, should that same aim pursue.

Beware, the crown will treat as rebels though,

All those who shall refuse, no matter who.

Lastly, Duke Namus, hearken now to me,

Keep a sharp watch! Bar the shore utterly;

For you must not be taken unaware,

But must guard every last creek and harbour,

For let the foe disembark anywhere

It shall prove to be no laughing matter.

Post wakeful lookouts, scan both shore and sea,

And keep me informed, upon your honour.

I shall remain in camp, prepared to aid

Any front where bold incursion is made.’

Book II: Canto VI: 26-27: And his forces take up position

Their dispositions were determined so,

According to the wish of Charlemagne.

All took their leave; and to Montalbano

Almone went, his fortress to attain,

With his large force, while Duke Namus did go

To Marseille, o’er many a hill and plain,

With the larger part of the king’s army,

Composed of infantry and cavalry.

He’d a good thirty thousand mounted men,

A further twenty thousand trod the road,

And each of the attendant noblemen

Was thinking of some title he was owed,

And which city he’d govern, as and when;

Yet as one undivided force they rode,

Each content to accept Namus’ command,

And take whate’er position he’d demand.

Book II: Canto VI: 28-31: Meanwhile Rodomonte’s fleet reaches France

Let us now return to Rodomonte

Who’d met with much ill-fortune out at sea.

The sky was black, the stars veiled completely,

No moon shone; not a thing could they see.

Their ears filled with the sounds of tragedy,

Ships colliding, then wildly breaking free,

Midst a dreadful clamour, as hail, and rain,

And the storm-wind, their assault did maintain.

The mutinous waves combined together,

As the wind grew fiercer, there on high,

Hour on hour, with no break in the weather,

As if the ocean would drown the very sky,

Helmsman and crew often lost moreover,

From some vessel, there in the depths to lie.

The rest, in deep despair, scant help did prove,

While Rodomonte cursed the clouds above.

The men uttered vows, and many a prayer,

But he launched threats gainst the world of Nature,

And cried such blasphemies, his heart laid bare,

As made the bravest souls blanch in terror.

Three long days and nights they thus did fare,

Tempest-tossed, amidst the troubled water,

With never a sign of a calmer sky,

But wind and rain that did their spirits try.

The fourth day was most perilous of all;

Ne’er such a storm did any fleet endure.

One whole squadron the fearsome winds did maul,

And drove it neath Monaco’s rocky shore.

On no wise aid or counsel could they call,

While the tempest each hour but waxed the more,

Broke apart the vessels on some jagged reef,

Or in some cove, where none could bring relief.

Book II: Canto VI: 32-35: He beaches the surviving ships

All who recognised the Saracen fleet,

Cried: ‘Drive the dogs away!’ and, to the shore,

Descended, the invading force to meet.

They hurled mighty rocks, from slings, by the score,

At the vessels, which fiery darts did greet,

Arrows that burning pitch-soaked wrappings bore,

While Rodomonte lacked means to counter

The menace they presented, midst that furore.

High on his vessel, standing near the prow,

Clad in full armour, he surveyed the scene,

While arrows rained down upon the bow,

Cross-bow bolts, and rocks, great stones, I mean,

So heavy they’d have brought a giant low.

Yet undaunted, his mind still clear and keen,

He reflected, then issued his command,

For good or ill, to steer the ships to land.

His men, who feared him, sped now to obey.

The sails filled, and the vessels, one and all,

Turning shoreward, then rapidly made way,

Running their bows aground. Whole masts did fall,

As the southerly gale drove them on that day,

And freezing rain yet cloaked them in its pall.

Naught but the wind was heard, and mortal cries,

As the vessels were beached, neath foreign skies.

The Saracens, weighed down by their armour,

Drowned in the waves that beat upon the shore,

Or sought in vain to launch some dart or other,

That wave and wind far from the mark now bore.

Every Frenchman, soldier or shore-dweller,

Countered their fire, and destruction swore,

While with his Lombards, forth from Monaco,

Without delay, came Count Arcimbaldo.

Book II: Canto VI: 36-42: And leads his remaining troops ashore

Arcimboldo, the Count of Cremona,

And the son of King Desiderio,

Marvellously strong, a bold warrior

Skilled in warfare, leaving Monaco,

His steed’s vermilion carapace brighter

Than the sun, down along the coast did go.

He sought the place where war was to be found,

Where ill-fate had ordained a killing-ground.

To Monaco, so ordered by his father,

(Tis on the border of Provençe) he’d gone,

The latest information to gather,

So that Pavia’s king might act thereon.

Desiderio was in Savona,

From there, he’d lead his army in person,

On sea or shore, to defend that country,

And deny the roads to Agramante.

Now Arcimbaldo, as I said, descended

Upon the coast, with a fighting force,

And his knights, in three platoons, defended

All the shore-road, while, on his splendid horse,

He led his archers and soldiers, extended

O’er the cliffs, to aid the locals in due course,

Since a fierce conflict had ensued below,

Though their landing had depleted the foe.

Twas Rodomonte, that savage creature,

Who, alone, achieved more than all the rest,

Standing there, waist-deep in shallow water,

By spears and stones and fiery darts oppressed.

All had such dread of that warrior,

None would approach too near, but wrought their best

From a distance, with missiles they could throw,

While the archers fired upon the ships below.

Rodomonte seemed a rock amidst the sea,

With mighty strides he drew nearer the sand,

As proud and scornful, spite the treachery

Of the rocks beneath him, he made dry land.

Now, fair lords, I can’t deny that, sadly,

The Christians failed to battle hand to hand,

With the man, for the ground was difficult,

Though his reaching the shore was the result.  

Behind the king, came the rest of his men,

Abandoning the vessels, now destroyed.

And regrouped in the shallows, though again

Many were struck by the missiles deployed

By the defending host, and drowned; and when

The remainder reached dry land, overjoyed,

They were still dazed from the storm; twas no more

Than a third of his army reached the shore.

So strong was this son of Ulieno,

He not only protected his army

As they waded to the shore, from the foe,

But turned to the attack, furiously

Dealing the Christians blow upon blow,

Raging like a fire in straw, so fiercely,

And rousing such dread, you understand,

That he easily drove them from the sand.

Book II: Canto VI: 43-45: He wounds Arcimbaldo

By now Arcimbaldo had returned

To his horsemen and led them to the beach

In orderly fashion, having learned

From experience (which the wise doth teach),

How to act in battle; his spurs he’d earned.

Their pennants fluttered, they filled the breach,

The Count spurring on now, in advance,

At Rodomonte, wielding his sharp lance.

The African ne’er moved from where he stood,

When bold Arcimbaldo’s blow struck his shield,

Though the strike was firm, and the aim was good,

And enough to make a lesser man yield.

Rodomonte had a giant’s strength, his blood

Was up, and his vast power he now revealed,

Dealing a stroke, two-handed, that cut through

Arcimbaldo’s shield, splitting in in two,

Then travelling onwards, scarcely slowing,

After that destruction, to the Count behind,

The steel-plate and mail, loudly, shattering;

And then carving across his flank to find

The flesh beneath; and soon his men, bearing

The Count back o’er the stony road, did wind,

To Monaco; and while not in his last throes,

With ‘death in his mouth’, as the saying goes.

Book II: Canto VI: 46-50: Rodomonte reassures his men

Six thousand six hundred men, of France

And Monaco, were slaughtered on the shore.

In the face of Rodomonte’s advance,

A mere forty-five fled on foot, no more,

To the castle, abandoning sword and lance,

And fled within the walls they’d left before,

While had their foes but had steeds to pursue,

The cavalry might well have perished too.  

They were followed, nonetheless, to the keep,

Then the invaders returned to the sand;

The sky was calm; smooth and silent the deep,

And Rodomonte set up camp on dry land.

His men carved out warm places to sleep,

And retrieved supplies and stores, near to hand,

That the briny sea now, gently, did lave,

Which before had been thrust beneath the wave.

A hundred and ninety ships had the king

When he left Algiers, vessels large and small;

Better furnished, his fleet, with everything,

Than had e’er been seen there, men, stores and all.

Nigh on a hundred and thirty were missing,

A good two-thirds; now lost beyond recall,

And those left were not fit for peace or war,

Since most lay aground, close by the shore.

All the horses were dead, the food was gone,

Much tackle and gear, yet Rodomonte,

Scarcely took the time to think thereon,

Caring not a straw, but choosing, wisely,

To move among his troops, cheer them on

To win all required: ‘My brave company,’

He cried, ‘We’ll swiftly seize a thousand more

Of everything we’ve lost on this cruel shore.

We’ll not rest here for long, midst poverty;

These peasants have naught, little will they yield.

I’ll lead you to treasure, and in plenty,

That in France’s rich realm lies unconcealed,

Where those lying dogs wear, openly,

Gold about their necks, as you’ll see revealed,

So, give nary a thought to what we’ve lost;

Here is a land of wealth, and theirs the cost!’

Book II: Canto VI: 51-55: Desiderio and Namus join forces

Thus, King Rodomonte solaced his men

With brave talk, addressing several by name,

And told them to rest until, as and when,

Their marching orders he chose to proclaim.

Let me speak of Arcimboldo again.

The fort of Monaco he’d reached, in the same

State I told you of, wounded and defeated;

By his surgeon, midst others, to be greeted.

On entering, he sent a messenger

To tell the king of their near-disaster,

With many a detail of the invader,

His fleet’s grounding, and the fight thereafter.

And then a note he sent, by another,

To Duke Namus, like that to his father,

To reach him at Marseille, he being there,

That told the story of the whole affair.

Desiderio heard the news with dismay,

And, greatly grieved, departed Savona,

With all his army, and so lead the way,

To Monaco, neath his royal banner.

He thus brought his forces into play,

While Duke Namus hastened from the other

Side; now quitting Marseille with his men,

To take revenge upon the Saracen.

Those hosts took to the road with great ardour,

The French and the Italian, I mean,

And one dawn, approaching one another,

From the coast near about, they could be seen.

Rodomonte, thus able to discover

Their presence, his camping-ground caught between,

Scowled, as he perceived Desiderio,

Upon the cliffs, as he gazed on below.

The mass of men, each with lance or spear,

Formed a dense forest on the mountainside,

While steel-plate and mail, in the sun, showed clear,

As along the slopes the king’s host did ride.

Rodomonte called for his squire to appear,

And, in a trice, that bold warrior defied

The whole world, clad in armour, with his sword;

A savage weapon from his royal hoard.  

Book II: Canto VI: 56-59: Rodomonte’s men fight Desiderio’s squadrons

He was on foot, since his steed had drowned,

Ere the passage they had made to the shore.

Now, at his back, he heard the trumpets sound,

As Duke Namus appeared, who rode before

Ottone, Belengiero, o’er the ground

On his other flank, and behind came more

Fine knights, Lorraine’s count, Asti’s Roberto,

And Bradamante, keen to face the foe.

That lady, prouder than many another,

Resembled bold Rinaldo, on her steed;

She was the very image of her brother,

And yet a maid most beautiful indeed.

She now led the squadron, as below her

Rodomonte to the looming threat gave heed,

Seeing the troops ride in from either side,

Nigh on creating a pen, with him inside.  

He turned towards his men, with darkened face,

And cried: ‘Attack whichever force you please,

Right or left, I care not, leave me but space

The other host of Christians to seize,

For whichever you choose, by the grace

Of Allah, mine I’ll destroy, and with ease!’

So spoke the bold youth, and his small army,

Hearts aroused, charged at that of Lombardy.

At one the drums beat, and the trumpets cried,

Desiderio hastening to the fight,

Wreaked havoc there, on the right-hand side,

Descending swiftly with many a knight.

Though the Saracens fought with ample pride

With their king’s fine example yet in sight,

They were fewer than the Lombards they found,

And, foot by foot, they steadily lost ground.

Book II: Canto VI: 60-65: While he himself challenges Namus and his company

Yet the contest there was but slight to view

Compared, I mean, to what took place nearby,

Where Rodomonte fierce war did pursue

With the French, his emotions running high.

For his prowess was greater, his courage too,

Than any other Saracen, say I.

There was ne’er such a fight gainst the foe;

And I’ll seek to tell of it, blow by blow.

Duke Namus, who was prudent and wise,

Observing the Saracens on the shore,

Had halted his men on the nearby rise,

And then, in three divisions, waged his war.

The first squadron was led, in fearless guise,

By Bradamante, who a sharp lance now bore,

Which she lowered, that daughter of Amone,

And then spurred her steed, advancing swiftly.

There, beside her, rode the Count of Lorraine,

That veteran warrior Ansuardo;

He stormed downwards, in a trice, to the plain.

Then came Asti’s count, the bold Roberto.

This was the first force the shore to gain,

With sixteen thousand fighting men or so.

The second to attain the sands below,

Was led by Guy, beside him Amerigo.

The first was the Duke of Burgundy,

And the Duke of Savoy, was the other,

Both strong knights; Bovo too, assuredly,

Deserves a mention, he of Dozona;

And they too met the invading army.

Old Namus led the third, fierce as ever,

With his sons, the brave Belengiero,

Ottone, Avorio, and Avino.

The father and his four sons held the rear,

With their Bavarians, upon that field.

But we turn to Rodomonte, free of fear;

He bore no banner, only sword and shield.

Alone he charged them all, as they drew near.

He, disposed to conquer, and ne’er to yield,

Was swift to attack, as they descended.

And fought alone, on foot, undefended.

Fair lords, be pleased to return once more,

When the story of that battle I’ll relate;

For, if you’ve ever heard a tale of war,

Of furious blows, dealt by men and fate,

Of shattered armies on a distant shore,

Twas nothing to the scene I’ll recreate.

And I’ll tell you more of Count Orlando.

Addio, signori! Till the next canto!

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