Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto XV: The River of Love

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

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Book II: Canto XV: 1-10: Rinaldo and Rodomonte continue their duel

You that love to hear of bitter conflict,

Savage onslaughts, immeasurable blows,

Draw forward, since the like I now depict;

For none more fierce or ardent, I suppose,

Than that pair, e’er sought death to inflict;

To conquer, or to die, the path they chose.

Rinaldo, I mean, and Rodomonte,

Labouring for honour, and their country.

Both the combatants were filled with such ire,

That the features of their visage altered,

The very light in their eyes turned to fire,

As from out each fierce dark face it glittered.

Those men close to them now sought to retire;

Drawing back in fear, at once, they scattered.

Saracens and Christians fled the scene,

As if, that pair, from out Hell’s dark ravine

Had risen, two infernal demons, now

Suddenly, revealed to the light of day.

The squadrons fled; scant time did fate allow;

Careless if steeds lost a shoe. Once away

From the field though, distance somehow

Made them turn, to gaze on, at that display;

For, with naked blades, the warriors there

Rendered shield, plate, and mail, beyond repair,

As they both pressed forward, furiously,

To bring that desperate fight to an end.

Their first stout blows, simultaneously,

Struck each other in the visor, to send

Sparks flying to the heavens, in fiery

Showers. And, quite unable to defend

Themselves for a moment, both retired

A good ten paces, while fresh heart they acquired.

Yet both their helms were finely wrought,

And not easily destroyed by a blow.

Rinaldo wore Mambrino’s when he fought,

Of steel at least two inches thick; his foe,

The Saracen, his magic casque had brought

To French shores, forged with dark spells, below

The earth, where rarest diamonds are found.

Nimrod forged it, in that pit neath the ground.

As I told you, their first blows, landing square

On their helmets, tore the visors away.

Thereafter their sharp blades sought not to spare

E’en an inch, as they let their weapons stray,

Scattering steel-plate and an equal share

Of fragments of fine mail; both held at bay,

As their armour fell piecemeal to the field,

While neither gripped more than half a shield.

Rinaldo, never pleased by such constraint,

Swung a two-handed blow at Rodomonte.

He’d decided to attack, first made a feint,

Then delivered a stroke, more than fiercely,

Such that their swords collided; the complaint

Their steel blades made, rose high and, surely.

Ne’er has a louder noise disturbed that land.

The heavens rang, sparks flew on every hand.

Rodomonte, accustomed to conquer

His opponents with one tremendous blow,

Now received but verjuice from the other

For his sour plums, as the bold Rinaldo

Matched him stroke for stroke, till, beyond measure,

The King of Sarza raged; he cursed his foe,

Heaven too, calling out: ‘No God can save you!

I’ll quarter you! I’ll bury you from view!’

And, with this cry, the cruel Saracen,

Launched a two-handed swipe, in his fury.

But fierce Rinaldo, dealing the like again,

Whirled his vicious blade, such that, momently,

Their blades clashed violently; descending then

To each other’s shield, to split both neatly.

And yet, despite ruin and destruction,

They both kept their swords in constant motion.

Neither man wished to see his foe attain

E’en the slightest advantage, if he could,

Their armour shed like paper o’er the plain,

The pieces piled about them where they stood.

The air was filled with mail that fell like rain,

On their heads, and amidst the distant wood

Steel plates troubled the branches, with the sound

A shower of hail makes as it hits the ground.

Book II: Canto XV: 11-16: Charlemagne’s army arrives, and attacks

As I’ve said, those who’d fled now watched in fear,

While that battle unfolded, ere evening fell;

Judging the sword-strokes, though, it would appear,

As regards an advantage, none could tell.

Behold! An army on the ridge showed clear,

That descended like a horde out of Hell,

To the sounds of the trumpet, horn and drum,

Shaking the sea and sky as they did come.

There was ne’er a more tremendous display,

As this fresh force descended to the plain.

In gleaming armour, neath the light of day,

With bright lances and shields, the shore to gain.

And, that you may know whom they did obey,

Let me state they were led by Charlemagne,

For that mighty ruler brought there the flower

Of France and Christendom, in all their power;

Seventy thousand valiant knights and more,

(The flower, I say, of every Christian land)

All fierce and brave; not only on that shore,

But, through the wide world, suited to command.

The Marquis of Vienne was to the fore,

Oliviero, while, at his left hand,

Rode the Dane, then came the lords of the court;

The fleurs-de-lys, on their flags, they did sport,

A golden lily on an azure field.

The African who’d paused in his advance,

Learned, from Rinaldo, that those revealed

Rode with the army of the King of France.

The Saracen, scorning them, scarce concealed

His disdain, fuelled by matchless arrogance.

He said no more, departing, instantly,

Longing to meet with this bold enemy.

Swiftly, on his way, went the Saracen,

At a pace Rinaldo failed to equal,

With longer leaps than a leopard, and again

Commenced to deal wounds light and mortal,

And if the sun had not begun to wane,

I’d have more to offer as a sequel,

But the light drained from the darkening sky,

And the fierce struggle ceased, by and by.

Nonetheless, the Dane was pierced in the arm,  

(Twas his left) and his thigh slashed also,

While, though, in truth, receiving little harm,

His gryphon shield lost, Oliviero

Viewed the state of his armour with alarm,

Twas cut to pieces, and meanwhile the foe

Had wrought endless slaughter, the dead heaped high,

Though Saracens and Christians there did lie.

Book II: Canto XV: 17-21: Rodomonte is misled as to Rinaldo’s whereabouts

As I’ve related, the shadows of evening

Ended the battle, for the sunlight fled.

I’m left to marvel at that valiant king

That fought all day and, ever-restless, sped

About the field, fighting without ceasing,

For the conflict having ended, instead

Of resting he searched, o’er hill and plain,

For Rinaldo, the victory to gain.

He questioned every captive Christian,

For he counted them, now chained, by the score,

Searching swiftly for some news of the man.

Some he thrashed, though he terrified far more,

Till, at last (perchance fear was the reason),

One claimed to have seen him, and was sure

Rinaldo had fled to that great tract of trees,

The Ardennes, yet might still be caught with ease.

The man lied (Rodomonte could not know,

But his foe had gone to retrieve his steed,

For, you’ll recall, he’d abandoned Baiardo).

Believing him, the king, now having need

Of a valiant mount, seized Dudon’s, and so,

Saddling that fierce horse, whose turn of speed

Was wondrous, the Saracen prepared

To pursue Rinaldo, and first repaired

To his ship where his mighty lance was stored.

Then, not waiting to enjoy the light of day

Quite determined to overtake that lord,

He grasped the weapon, and was on his way.

His troops whom he’d abandoned on board

The fleet, without orders, filled with dismay,

Chose at last to set sail for Africa,

And the masts were raised, to seal the matter.

They raced to load their captives, and their gear,

And the young and courteous Dudon,

Was among the first batch to disappear

To the hold, his fierce captors bent upon

Making sail; to their homeland they’d steer.

To the tardy, there came swift retribution,

For others, slow to climb aboard, soon saw

Rinaldo, spurring fast, along the shore.

Book II: Canto XV: 22-27: Rinaldo sets out in pursuit of him

The knight was searching for Rodomonte,

By the light of the moon; and everywhere

Crying out the king’s name, calling loudly,

Gazing down on the strand through darkening air.

Below, he could see the Saracen army,

Gathering up its weapons, and here and there

Labouring to load the ships speedily,

Thence to pass to Africa, o’er the sea.

He chose to strike (it needed little thought

Once he was certain of their true intent)

And, on those wretches, swift revenge he wrought,

While many fled, at the warrior’s advent.

A host clambered aboard, while others sought

Safety in the waves, seemingly content

To abandon their burdens, and their friends,

Their efforts bent on serving their own ends.

Those vessels that stood ready to make sail,

Now swung away, abandoning the shore,

And so Dudon, a ship’s hold now his gaol,

Was trapped, amidst the captives that it bore.

If Rinaldo had known this, without fail,

He’d have mounted a rescue, seized an oar,

Or swum to reach that prison, but merely

Sought, in ignorance, for Rodomonte.

A Saracen, who knelt before the knight

In fear, when he was asked about his king,

Replied, and truthfully, that he’d had sight

Of that monarch, on the cliff road, seeking

A path which led, o’er the mountain height,

To the Forest of Ardennes; not in flight,

But, in pursuit, so ran the last account,

Of Rinaldo, who had left for Merlin’s Fount.

Merlin’s Fount was a feature of that place;

You’ll have heard me remark on it before.

The lover, that to drink there bent their face,

Tasting enchanted water, loved no more;

While distant from it, by a little space,

A stream the opposite enchantment bore.

Better tasting, yet worse, that draught might prove,

For whoever drank there felt the fires of love.

Now Rinaldo, learning the king had gone

In pursuit of him, to the gloomy wood  

Cared naught for the rest, and thereupon,

Sped on his way to that neighbourhood,

Faster than I can utter; hastening on,

To find the man, and finish him for good.

Galloping thus, a fine pace he could boast,

As he rode westwards, all along the coast,

Book II: Canto XV: 28-32: En route to Merlin’s Fount, Rodomonte meets Ferrau

Rodomonte, at the same time, was en route

For the forest and the fount, inwardly

Saying, to himself, in his swift pursuit:

‘May the heavens grant this one gift to me,

Of finding this bold knight; our dispute

Will then end in his death; or peacefully,

For, with him, I might conquer earth and sky.

Yet I’ll remain unmatched here, should he die,

For I doubt Orlando is his equal,

Famous though he is; this warrior I’ve fought,

Both with the lance and sword, his brave mettle

Is such that he’s the better, I’d have thought.

Allah aid you Agramante, should you settle

On invading this fair land, for, in short,

You’ll lose many a man, on that ill day,

If, as now, I’m many a long mile away!

It seems Sobrino told the truth, indeed:

“Trust to the man of wise experience”.

If Orlando can match him, deed for deed,

This warrior I fought, with his immense

Skill in warfare, and a like strength and speed,

Let Agramante look to his own defence,

When he lands! “I’ll seize them all”, was my boast,

Yet this one man’s more than enough, almost.’


So musing, Sarza’s king went on his way,

Although the path, to him, was quite unknown,  

And reached a wide plain, at the break of day,

O’er which a knight came, travelling alone.

Rodomonte (in his own tongue, I might say)

Asked the man (perchance native to his own

Country) the distance to the forest gate,

And had he taken the right path of late.

The warrior answered swiftly: ‘I know not

The proper way; I am a stranger here,

As you appear to be; such is my lot

That I go weeping and in woe. I fear

I note not paths or roads, all are forgot,

For where fate carries me, there I appear,

Led, to destruction, death, and despair,

By faithless love, that strips the poor heart bare.’

Book II: Canto XV: 33-37: The king learns Ferrau was once in love with Doralice

That you may recall the facts of the case,

Let me say that the knight, lamenting so,

Was the lovelorn Ferrau, betimes the grace

And light of chivalry, now grieving though,

Who’d returned to France, seeking any trace,

Or news, of Angelica, while none did know

Of his presence there; he journeyed secretly,

Never declaring his name to any.

He loved that maid, as deeply as before,

(I told you of his passion, at the start)

But he’d heard naught of her, upon that shore,

After learning she’d chosen to depart.

Yet he hoped she might have returned, once more;

Asked all he met; and suffered, for his part;

Adventuring, while grieving, day and night,

Languishing, sighing, in a woeful plight.

Now, the young man met the king, on the plain,

And they passed the time together, awhile,

For each of Love’s sorrows did complain,

Which neither could explain, or reconcile.

Ferrau mentioned that he was of Spain,

Bound for Granada after many a mile,

Which was a fair place in his own country,

And where he’d once loved a certain lady;

Sweet Doralice was this lady’s name,

She, the daughter of King Stordilano.

‘Speak not another word, here, of that same!’

Cried Rodomonte: ‘Fight one, now your foe!

What brought you here, alas, but death to claim,

You man of misfortune, drowned in sorrow?

No other man shall e’er remain alive,

That loves the maiden; nor shall you survive!’

Bold Ferrau replied: ‘You are so mighty

That your effrontery discredits you.

But since you seek battle, so politely,

For good or ill, we shall a duel pursue;

And the insolence you show, may rightly

Turn to pain and grief ere we are through.

I loved her; tis past now, and out of sight,

But I’d love her yet, to spite you, sir knight!’

Book II: Canto XV: 38-41: Rodomonte and Ferrau commence a duel

In such angry words, and with many more

The warriors challenged one another.

They both had lances, as I said before,

Now, they wheeled around, and met together.

Their chargers, accustomed to bitter war,

Advanced; no crueller joust was there ever;

Chest encountered chest, and both steeds fell,

The thunderous sound of it too great to tell.

Their lances, though immeasurably strong,

Splintered wholly, and split along their length.

They moved to disengage and, before long,

Were wielding their sharp swords, with all their strength.

A hard-fought duel began, one worth a song,

Mighty swings despatching at least a tenth

Of their plate and mail to the ground below.

Like smiths, they struck many an anvil-blow.

The whirling blades rarely stopped or slowed,

For what one promised the other would deal.

While that fight was heard all along the road,

And the trees, and hills, echoed, peal on peal.

I’ll not say who the greater daring showed,

Or proved superior in strength, or zeal,

So high were both their hearts, so great their power,

The world’s not seen their equal, to this hour.

Their pride was immense, their anger hot,

They fought with pure disdain, both filled with ire,

Each one determined to endure his lot.

Yet, for now, no more, such is my desire

To find Rinaldo, ere he be forgot.

I’ll return, to tell of all that did transpire,

(Such is my way) and the outcome of the fight,

For the end to it will surely bring delight.


Book II: Canto XV: 42-46: Rinaldo encounters the Love-God with three maidens

Rinaldo sought, as you already know,  

The Forest of Ardennes, towards the west.

Twas Rodomonte he thought to follow,

But the former had gone astray, at best,

Had somehow lost the direct path, and so,

Had met Ferrau, and was put to the test.

Rinaldo, riding onwards, passed them by,

Though the duel was taking place nearby.

One he’d reached the leafy forest, our knight

Made his way to Merlin’s Fount, swiftly,

Whose waters extinguish Love’s delight,

Or will kindle that same, he rode directly

To the place, but came on a wondrous sight,

That captured his attention, completely.

For, a meadow full of flowers met his view,

Of white, and crimson, and of every hue.

And in this meadow stood a naked boy,

Singing, for his pleasure, a cheerful air,

And the love of three maids he did enjoy,

Who danced, naked, all about him, there.

Neither sword nor shield did the lad employ.

His eyes were dark, his flowing locks were fair.

Whether a downy beard he did display,

Was unclear, some might say yea, and some nay.

With violets, roses, flowers of every sort,

In woven baskets, dancing they did go,

Those three amorous maids, who paid him court.

Entering upon the glade, came Rinaldo.

They cried: ‘The traitor comes! The beast is caught!

Here’s a man that finds joy in pain and woe!

Behold! The one that prizes not delight,

We have yet ensnared, in his own despite!’

With their baskets, they approached Rinaldo,

One threw roses, another, violets,

One hyacinths and lilies, while each blow

Struck at his heart, engendering regrets.

Pain to the marrow of his bones did flow,

(Tis how a man that scorns love pays his debts)

As if each flower, each leaf, a fire did start,

Kindling a searing flame, in every part.

Book II: Canto XV: 47-51: The Graces punish him for scorning love

Once the three maidens’ baskets were empty,

The naked youth drew near to Rinaldo,

And with the long, leafy stem of a lily,

Struck his helmet, once worn by Mambrino.

Not that the helm was of aid; instantly,

Helpless as a child, he fell to the blow,

And he had scarcely tumbled to the ground,

Ere Love seized his feet, and dragged him around.

Each maiden had a garland on her head,

A wreath of roses, white and crimson in hue,

Which she now removed, and employed instead

Of a lash, with which to strike him anew.

Though Rinaldo begged for mercy, as he bled,

They whipped the knight, till they were weary too,

Circling round him on the grass, where he lay,

Thrashing him with thorny stems, till midday.

Neither his breastplate nor his coat of mail

Protected his body from their assault.

The fallen knight they continued to assail,

Nor for a moment did they think to halt,

Till he was a single bruise; of no avail

His fierce writhing; suffering, for his fault,

More than a damned soul burning in Hell’s fire,

Ready from fear, pain, anguish, to expire.

Unsure if they were human or divine,

In vain, our knight begged and prayed for mercy.

Lo, from their shoulders, wings, of strange design,

Unfolded, without warning; things of beauty.

In white and gold and crimson these did shine,

And, set in each plume, an eye showed clearly,  

Not like those that peacocks show, but truly

Like those of some fair and gracious lady.

The maidens lingered not, but rose in flight,

Lifting, in turn, to the skies, high above.

Alone, upon the grass, remained the knight,

Weeping bitterly, scarce able yet to move,

For anguish filled his heart, sore was his plight.

Little by little, his spirit sought to prove

That he still lived, as, robbed of all pride,

He lay upon the ground, like one that’s died.

Book II: Canto XV: 52-56: Two depart but Pasitea returns to instruct him

While he was lying thus, among the flowers,

Believing that his death must now be near,  

One of those three celestial powers

Returned; and goddess-like she did appear,

Too fair to portray in such verse as ours.

She said: ‘I am Pasitea, yet have no fear;

Though I attacked you first, as you deserve,

I am Love’s companion, and him I serve.

Twas he that struck you, and made you suffer

That fall from your steed, like some enemy.

Yet if you’d oppose him, you’d be in error,

In times ancient or contemporary,

None, could succeed, in so doing, ever.

Now listen to what I tell you, carefully,

For I seek to save you from a painful death.

Fail me, and you’ll ne’er take one peaceful breath.

This is the law and statute, Love conceived:

Those who are loved, and love not in return,

Must, themselves, feel love; yet ne’er be believed;

Thus, with the fire they kindled, they must burn.

No torment, no ill wound that you’ve received,

No dreamed-of punishment, that one may earn,

Can weigh in the scales against such disdain;

Heartache strikes deeper than all other pain.

To love someone yet not be loved, I say,

Is the greatest hurt of all, that one can know.

This you must prove yourself, if you, someday,

Would be free of Love’s disdain, here below.

That you may learn, you must wander, astray.

Through this shadowy woodland, you shall go,

Until you find, where a fountain flows free,

A lofty pine, and a green olive tree.

From there a river rises and, joyously,

Sparkles amidst the flowers and fresh grass.

Its waters hold the sovereign remedy

For the pain no other will e’er surpass.’

Such were the words of that lovely lady,

Who, like a bird, through the clear air, did pass,

And, rising higher, as she gained the sky,

Vanished, in a trice, from Rinaldo’s eye.

Book II: Canto XV: 57-60: Rinaldo drinks from the River of Love

In his anguish, he knew not what to do,

On encountering so great a misadventure,

Nor could the warrior comprehend, tis true,

How such beings could exist in Nature;

How, through the air, such lovely creatures flew,

That could so prevail against strong armour.

Those naked maids had robbed him of his power,

With lilies, roses, many a fair flower.

Wearily, he raised his aching body,

From the meadow-grass on which he lay,

And through the leafy woods, dense and shady,

He, painfully, set out upon his way.

He found the tall pine, and the olive tree

By whose gnarled, twisted roots, by night and day,

A clear water’s distilled, sweet to the taste,

But bitter to the heart by love thus graced.

For, love’s bitterness strikes deep at the heart

Of one who drinks of that delicious stream.

Thus, Merlin wrought a fountain, by his art,

Nearby, that counters the first, so twould seem,

Removing what the former doth impart,

All this I told you, on the day, I deem,

That Rinaldo drank deep from Merlin’s fount,

And loathed Angelica, on that account.

Now Rinaldo had lost all memory,

Of that past moment, at the present time,

And when he reached the stream, in agony,

(So rudely punished for his former crime,

That every bruise tormented him sorely)

He lay down on the turf, amidst the thyme,

Then that valiant prince, resting on the bank,

In his great thirst, bowed his head, and drank.

Book II: Canto XV: 61-66: Repentant, he sets out to seek Angelica in India

When he’d drunk the water, he raised his face

And found that all his former pain had gone,

Though his thirst was not yet slaked, twas the case

The more he drank, the more he would go on

Drinking thus, and so thanked God of His grace;

Then, content, his mind, at ease, dwelt upon

The former time, now gradually recalled,

When he’d been there before, and, unenthralled,

While sleeping there, in the flowering grass,

By Angelica’s lilies and roses,  

Had been roused; and then how he’d fled, alas,

Though now he repented, one supposes,

For his heart was wounded; love for the lass

Possessed him, with all that love imposes.

Now humbled, he longed for what was not,

That maiden midst the flowers, erstwhile forgot;

And, blaming himself for his cruelty,

And the hatred towards her he’d displayed,

And all the times he’d treated her badly,

He deemed that, pitiless, he should be flayed.

An hour before he’d loathed her intensely,

Now, far more than himself, he loved the maid,

And feeling a deep longing to see her,

Wished to travel, once more, to India.

But to see fair Angelica, once more,

To India he now longed to journey.

He mounted brave Baiardo, as before;

He was saddled, and waiting patiently.

Now, as he rode on, a damsel he saw,

Though unable to view her face clearly,

For she rode midst the wood, beyond a stream,

Beside a fount, much like a maid in dream.

Her hair flowed down, on her left-hand side,

Falling loose, and blowing with the breeze.

One a white, long-maned palfrey she did ride,

Caparisoned with gold. She rode with ease,

An armoured knight, beside her close allied,

Accompanied her, boldly, through the trees.

Mount Etna’s image formed his helmet crest,

And adorned his shield, and his over-vest.

The emblem, I mean, that the rider showed,

Was of a mountain, spurting crimson flame,

And the caparison of the mount he rode,

And his shield, bore a likeness of that same.

Now, most gentle lords, my own steed has slowed,

And I must leave their story; cast no blame

For I must end one half-told earlier:

That of Brunello, chased by Marfisa.

Book II: Canto XV: 67-70: We return to Marfisa, pursuing Brunello

That proud warrior-maid, relentlessly

Pursued the wicked thief, both day and night,

O’er high hills, through torrents raging wildly,

Marshland, and forest, she pursued his flight.

But his speedy courser, Frontalate,

Rendered her quest vain; he fled from sight.

That horse was Sacripante’s, and ever

Flew like a bird, galloping on before her.

For fifteen days she had pursued the steed,

And chewed a leaf or two; twas all she ate.

The cunning thief was better off, indeed;

He’d other means of maintaining his state.

Being much speedier, when he found need

For sustenance he briefly chanced his fate,

By entering some inn, and dining there;

Then fleeing, never paying for the fare!

And when the host, and the servants, pursued

With pots and pans, he simply sped away,

And licked his lips, and smiled as he reviewed

His pleasant meal, reluctant to delay.

He smirked at them all; such his attitude,

Spoleto’s women, and Foligno’s, they

That serve the breakfast egg for dinner,

Could scarce escape the tricks of that sinner.

Yet still Marfisa followed at his back,

Now far off, now labouring to draw near.

‘Stop, thief! Stop, thief!’ she’d cry, and ‘Woe, alack,

Some voice would rise: A thief he is, I fear!’

The glutton brought them grief, his least attack

Purloined the choicest morsels they held dear.

Naught could they do but give him the finger!

No more. This canto’s done. I’ll not linger.

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