Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto XVII: The Tale of Narcissus

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

This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
Conditions and Exceptions apply.


Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XVII

Book II: Canto XVII: 1-4: Agramante, Gradasso, Agricane, and Marsilio unite in war

Like to the man who first acquired the art,

And the skill, of navigating o’er the sea,

That at first, sail-less and with fearful heart,

Rowed all about, near to shore, cautiously,

And then, gaining courage, dared to depart

O’er the deep and, of cliffs and shore once free,

Set his course by the stars, and came to view

Things fair, and grand, and glorious, and new;

So, I have seldom, thus far, in my song,

Left the coast, and sought the open water.

And yet, now, I must journey wide and long,

Brave the waves, and speak of endless slaughter;

For Africa comes hither, thousands strong,

And the world, in arms, doth gleam and glitter,

And in every place, in every region,

Fire and the sword bring death and destruction.

In the East, Gradasso forms his army;

In the West, Marsilio, King of Spain,

Grants safe passage to King Agramante;

He, in the South, commences his campaign.

All of Christendom is roused; Germany,

England, France, now the wounds of war sustain.

Nor does peace bless the North; Agricane,

Mandricardo’s son, advances boldly.

They all move against King Charlemagne,

From all parts of the world, in great fury.

Soon streams of blood will drench both hill and plain,

And the high heavens hear the threnody,

Neath the roar of battle; yet I toil in vain,

For I must first continue with my story,

So that you may the vital details know

Of all that involves the young Ruggiero.

Book II: Canto XVII: 5-16: The course of the tourney at Mount Carena

I left him, fully-armed, upon his steed

Frontino, Balisardo at his side,

The fair blade, wrought with such deep art indeed,

That the power of all enchantments it denied.

Now, so you may hear all that you need,

And I speak of those knights, in all their pride,

Listen, as I portray the tournament,

That was hotly fought, and with fierce intent.

The King of Constantine, Pinadoro,

And Puliano of Nasamona,

Witnessed the ruin that, fighting solo,

Agramante wrought; Bellamarina,

Bolga, and Arzila, and Fizano,

Might have viewed their kings, savaged so

By the blows from his mighty lance and sword,

As Agramante sought to sweep the board.

His companions waited to one side,

As if his deeds concerned them not at all,

Thus, his opponents undisturbed did ride

(Pinadoro and Puliano, as you’ll recall)

In an arc round the meadow, long and wide,

And, at the gallop, on those knights did fall,

Driving through them in a forceful manner,

Then, swiftly, downing the royal banner.

By Getulia’s king, one Grifaldo,

It was guarded, that their path sought to bar,

And by a rogue named Bardulasto,

With a wicked heart, King of Alcazar.

Neither withstood their fearsome on-surge though,

And the standard was felled in the fracas.

From his horse to the ground went Grifaldo,

Toppled from his seat by Puliano.

Bardulasto, struck fiercely on the head,

Half-dazed, was on the point of falling too,

For Pinadoro, young and ardent, sped

Between the pair, that fierce stroke to pursue.

The violent blow left him mazed, and half-dead,

As his horse bore him rapidly from view,

While Pinadoro tackled all he found,

Knocking every opponent to the ground.

He encountered the King of Fez, Folvo,

And, from his gleaming helmet, cut the crown,

Which fell, in pieces, to the earth below;

And then he crashed against, and so brought down,

The King of Tremizon, the brave Alzirdo,

Who fell, unconscious, boosting the renown

Of bold Pinadoro, King of Constantine;

He now brought ruin, all along the line.

Pinadoro, was the son of King Balante,

(By Rugiero the Vassal he was slain),

And, arrogant, and proud of his beauty,

He drove the knights before him, o’er the plain,

Like a tribe of goats, now scattered swiftly,

As that mighty charge he sought to maintain;

For not a soul would meet him face to face,

None were so bold, regardless of disgrace.

Agramante was at work, some way away,

And so knew naught of his fallen banner,

For twas King Sobrino, who held him at bay

Whom he sought to down, in martial manner.

Then, from afar, he saw that fierce affray,

Midst rising dust, from which brief encounter

His comrades fled, chased by Pinadoro,

And, at that sight, knew anger and sorrow.

He altered course, gripped the sword in his hand,

And struck Pinadoro a mighty blow,

On his helmet; the latter, nigh-unmanned,

Unconscious, to the solid ground, did go.

But Puliano, on his king, did land

A counter-blow, that cracked his helm also,

And descended, on his back, with such force,

That it almost downed the king and his horse.

Yet such was Agramante’s strength, the man

Gripped his steed, and so retained the saddle,

While a most vicious duel now began

With Puliano; to this fresh battle,

Came Bambirago (mount-less for a span

Now astride), Sobrino, full of mettle

Despite his age, Bolga’s Mirabaldo,

And Fizano’s king, Mulabuferso.

They all now attacked King Agramante;

One promised a blow, another dealt one,

With near-mortal hatred, and savagery.

They fought on, without restraint or pardon,

Sliced through the king’s helmet crest completely,

Shattering the crown, its royal emblem;

Five kings, as I said, hammering away,

Their monarch striving to keep five at bay.

And they might have captured him despite

His valour, and his wish to stay alive,

(For he would happily have sought to fight

Any one of them, indeed, but not all five)

But, at this point, our young and untried knight,

Ruggiero, descended, there to strive

Against the five assailants in plain sight,

Crossing the plain in his shining armour

(That bore the emblems of Tingitana!)

Book II: Canto XVII: 17-27: Ruggiero joins the fight, wearing Brunello’s emblems

When he entered the joust, he fell upon

Those who were ranked gainst Agramante.

He urged his valiant steed Frontino on,

With all the ardour of youth, and neatly

Struck Puliano’s head; that king was gone

To solid earth, half-dead, downed completely.

And then he knocked Malabuferso flat,

As he had the first, and, not content with that,

He made Frontino soar above the ground.

Leaping like a stag; thus advanced the steed,

While the many knights who wheeled around

Marvelled at this Brunello’s every deed!

Then King Sobrino, old, yet strong and sound,

Lowered his lance, and charged him, at full speed.

Twas Sobrino who tumbled to the field,

He and his mount, forgoing lance and shield.

Prusione, of Alvarracchie

(The Isles of Larache), was the next to fall.

As when a hawk in merciless display

Swoops through the air to strike and maul

A flock of rooks, that flee in disarray,

Scattering, midst the trees, with strident call;

So, all those in the tourney sought to win

Free of this fierce, and ruthless, paladin.

Arzila’s king, the mighty Bambirago,

Whose crest was a dragon, as I’ve said,

Had that emblem sent, by Ruggiero,

Spinning earthwards, cut from the royal head.

The youth continued on, to meet Tardoco,

Then Marbalusto, both laid flat, half-dead;

The first was the valiant King of Djerba,

The monarch that ruled Oran, the other.

Next King Baliverso of Normandy

Flew far from the saddle, against his will.

Watching these duels, King Agramante

Marvelled greatly at the knight’s strength and skill.

‘This is Tingitana’s king,’ he mused, wholly

Deceived by the emblems, thinking them still

Borne by Brunello, whom he had conceived

To be no such force as he now believed.

You may recall the rules of engagement,

In such a tourney, that all there obeyed:

That none might be wounded, of intent,

All must utilise the flat of their blade.

And if one cheated, who had shown consent,

A shameful death was the price to be paid.

Ruggiero knew the penalty sought there,

For any that the edge or tip might dare.

With the flat of the blade, he dealt fierce blows,

Thus, at Dardinello, Almonte’s son,

Whose arms were quartered with Orlando’s.

Ruggiero downed him, in a trice twas done.

‘Allah be praised! I ne’er thought Brunello’s

Value rested on the jousts that he’d won!’

Cried Agramante, ‘He’s a man of honour,

Right worthy to be crowned an emperor!’

With that, he turned aside so he might view

Every fearsome stroke, and each skilful deed,

Many more than I dare describe to you;

Lo! Before his eyes Ruggiero, whose speed

And strength was great, downed Argosto, too,

Argosto of Marmonda, now decreed

Commander of his navy, by his king,

A ship’s rudder was his heraldic bearing.

Now, King Arigalte of Amonia,

With Noritia’s king, Manilardo,

And Dudrinasso of Libicana,

Charged together at this fearsome foe.

Of the pagan lands, the very flower,

These three cared not a fig for all below,

Hence, seeing the havoc wreaked by this knight,

They vowed to change the martial odds outright.

They each attacked our bold Ruggiero,

Who first unseated King Arigalte,

His shield was white, and there did show

His emblem, the head of a fair lady.

This first joust brought the young knight little woe,

And so, he struck Dudrinasso fiercely,

Slicing through his crest, and his royal crown,

Rendering him half-dead, as he tumbled down.

Last of the three, he faced Manilardo,

Who did no better than the first had done,

Remaining outstretched on the field, although

Stronger than the rest; that the knight had won,

Riled Agramante, observing their foe,

For he wished to end there as he’d begun,

And so found himself more than envious,

Lessened by one who seemed as valorous.

Book II: Canto XVII: 28-36: He is wounded by Bardulasto, whom he slays

He vowed to see if this King Brunello,

Could suffer encountering him in the field.

He flew like a hawk at Ruggiero,

And dealt a blow that well-nigh made him yield,

For it struck him in the side, to his woe,

And almost made him lose both sword and shield,

But he gripped his horse’s flanks tightly,

And turned, and then swung at Agramante.

Three spindles and a distaff were displayed

On Agramante’s shield, and formed his crest.

Ruggiero sent this flying, and repaid

The monarch’s blow with a stroke that expressed

His wrath; he struck the visor with his blade,

(At least the flat) which disturbed all the rest

Of the king’s friends, who charged him; Alzirdo,

Joined Bardulasto, and Sorridano.

The latter ruled the far Hesperides;

Tis where the Balcana flows, a river

That folk mistake for the Nile, if you please,

Though simply from ignorance, as ever.

Now, as I said, his foes (who came in threes)

Charged the young knight, and sought to deliver

Some punishing stroke; to and fro they sped;

One sword-blow struck his arm, and one his head.

Ruggiero turned to counter Alzirdo,

Striking the latter with such skill and force

He sent him flying; then struck Sorridano,

A back-hand blow that knocked him from his horse,

And laid him prostrate, like his previous foe,

Yet was nigh undone by Bardulasto,

For, lacking courage, that traitor, declined

To face the knight, but struck him from behind.

He wounded Ruggiero in the side,

Betraying him with that treacherous blow.

The bold youth, feeling the pain, swerved wide,

Then, enraged, turned to face Bardulasto.

The latter, wheeling, rode at him, and tried

To deal a second stroke and lay him low,

Or such was now the content of his thought;

Yet the outcome was other than he sought.

For, coming face to face with Ruggiero,

Now advancing to meet him, furiously,

Bardulasto was struck with fear and woe;

While earth and sky seemed threatened equally.

Thus, he wheeled his steed, turning from the foe,

And fled, while Ruggiero chased him wildly,

Speeding swift as an arrow through the air,

And crying: ‘Turn, traitor! Turn, if you dare!’

But the latter, it seemed, cared not to wait,

And raced for a woodland glade nearby,

Seeking, thus, to escape the traitor’s fate;

But brave Frontino like a bird did fly,

And Bardulasto’s efforts came too late,

For Ruggiero overtook him, by and by,

Close to the treeline; and once there, hard-pressed,

He was forced to reply, and face the test.

He turned around then, in fear and fury,

And struck at the youth, once more, but in vain.

The contest between them ended swiftly,

Bardulasto cleft in two, despatched in pain.

Thus, Alcazar’s king, who’d treacherously

Flouted the tourney’s rules, was caught and slain;

While Ruggiero’s blood poured from his side.

He, weak and faint, was roused by his pride,

To seek some immediate remedy,

And rode to the cliff, knowing the power

Of the herbs deployed by old Atlante;

The virtues of each were in his dower.

Ruggiero sought the mage, and quickly,

Believing he might not outlast the hour;

For the wound pained him, more than I can say,

And the lad could scarce endure long delay.

Book II: Canto XVII: 37-40: We return to Orlando and Brandimarte

Thus, Ruggiero, wounded, left the field,

Yet the rest of the knights in that tourney,

Unaware that he had gone, still revealed

Their apprehension, while Agramante,

Wholly discomposed (though this he concealed),

Remounted his steed, disgraced utterly;

And while he felt discomfort, even pain,

His shame was such, he’d rather have been slain.

But let us leave him and his company,

For I’ve spoken of them enough, for now;

While Count Orlando, and Brandimarte,

Require me to conduct them, with a bow,

To France, so that each disparate story

Gathered in, may be united, somehow,

To all the rest; then, we may turn again

To such worthy deeds as few books contain.

Bold Brandimarte and Count Orlando,

Had gone to seek the fair Angelica,

Leaving behind Rinaldo, Astolfo,

And Dudon; I now turn to the former,

For through far lands and realms they did go,

And met with many a strange adventure,

In which they found many a deed to do,

The gist of which I would relate to you.

One day, in India, while travelling

Those two comrades came upon a great stone,

And there, beside a fountain, was sitting

A queen, who hung her head, and wept alone;

While upon a bridge nearby, defending

The way o’er, as if the ground were his own,

Was a knight, mounted, clad in full armour.

To meet him seemed a matter of honour.

Book II: Canto XVII: 41-45: In India, they encounter Sacripante

Now Brandimarte and Count Orlando,

Each maintained they should be the first to fight.

And, while they conferred, and eyed the foe,

A lone pilgrim with a staff came in sight.

He seemed weary and much travelled, although

He strode by, unspeaking, and neared the knight

As if to cross the bridge, quite lost in thought.

At once, the latter his attention sought.

‘Turn back, now, if tis not your wish to die.

Turn back, you rogue!’ cried the warrior.

‘Even a valiant swordsman passing by

Would scarcely commit so vile an error!

Turn not to your side, or a fond goodbye

You’ll receive from me, such that you’ll never

See such a bridge and stone again but you

Will recall my farewell, and weep anew!’

The pilgrim, who looked much like a beggar,

Thus replied: ‘By God, sir knight, let me go;

For I journey to the shrine in Sericana

By the shore; that is sacred to Apollo.

If you know another bridge however,

That I might use, and so pass o’er the flow,

Reveal it, and be praised and thanked this day,

For if not, I cross here; nor can I stay.’

‘Yet stay you will, you kitchen scullion!’

The knight, now angered, shouted in reply,

And charged at him, in a fit of dudgeon,

To send him flying from the bridge thereby.

The pilgrim, though, now revealed a weapon;

For a sword he had; twas sheathed at his thigh,

And, throwing off his cloak, showed the armour

Beneath, all set to defend his honour.

No leopard, nor no whippet was e’er seen

To be as swift in leaping to the chase,  

As that pilgrim, who was rangy and lean,

A man of courage, bold and fierce of face,

That showed him scant regard (the knight I mean).

Each the fight, with fury, did now embrace,

And landed many a fierce and cruel blow.

In charging forward, neither man was slow.

Book II: Canto XVII: 46-48: Who defeats the Knight of the Bridge

From his saddle, now, descended the knight,

Fearful that his courser might be slain,

And had he not been valiant in a fight,

The pilgrim would have downed him, I maintain.

Brandimarte and Orlando, at the sight,

Were astounded that either could sustain

Such blows, and agreed no two on earth

Were fiercer, or seemed of greater worth;

While, they thought, they recalled the pilgrim’s face,

From some quite other time and location,
Though his beard and apparel, for a space,

Had consigned his name to oblivion.

The duel was hand to hand, and fought at pace,

For the windblown leaves in their motion,

Nor rain nor snow ever fell as densely,

As the blows from those swords, or as fiercely.

Slowly the pilgrim o’er the bridge advanced,  

Revealing both his courage and his strength,

Wondrously fierce, now to and fro he danced,

While the knight, revealing scarcely a tenth

Of the other’s skill, seemed as if entranced.

Cut about head, arms, and belly, at length,

Forced to retreat, despite his valiant show,

He abandoned the bridgehead to his foe.

Book II: Canto XVII: 49-58: The tale of Narcissus

Beyond the bridge, there lay a level plain,

All about the rock and fount; there, did stand

A marble sepulchre, of subtle grain,

One not fashioned by any human hand.

Bright, polished letters, a fair golden vein,

Ran o’er its surface, like a glittering band:

‘Vain is that soul that loves its own fair face;

Of Narcissus, behold the resting place.’

This Narcissus was a handsome young man

Of times past; so fair, his form so graceful,

That no painted portrait even began

To compare with a face so beautiful.

Yet his vanity, as it often can,

Matched his beauty; of pride the lad was full.

Pride and beauty are seldom found apart,

Boding painful death for the loving heart.

The then Queen of the Orient loved

The handsome Narcissus beyond measure.

But the boy to vain cruelty was moved

For he scorned her passion altogether,

Till but a creature of sorrows she proved.

From morn to night, in grief and displeasure,

She wept, and prayed to the disdainful one,

In words that had the power to veil the sun.

Yet twas as if she cast them to the breeze,

For, in his great pride, he heard them no more

Than deaf asps do the sage enchanter’s pleas.

Day by day, she drew closer to death’s door,

Until, ere her tormented breath did cease,

As she gave her parting sighs upon that shore,

She prayed to Love, and the heavens on high,

For just vengeance, since unjustly she must die.

Her wish was granted; Narcissus, one day,

Came suddenly upon the fountain there.

Chasing a deer, he, o’er that plain, did stray.

And stopped to drink, and saw a face so fair

(Twas his own, scarce viewed till then, I say,

Now seen reflected, in the sun’s bright glare)

That gazing at this vision of true grace,

He fell in love, yet with his own fair face.

Who has ever heard of so strange a thing?

O, how Love, truly, strikes to bring distress!

He sighed beside the fount, desire took wing,

He craved for that which none can e’er possess.

That soul so cruel, that such deep pain did bring

To maidens, praying on their knees no less,

Adoring him as twere some deity,

Loved himself alone, and perished swiftly.

For, astonished at his own fair aspect, he

Languished away, consumed by deep delight,

Finding no equal to his peerless beauty,  

Like a lily, or a cut rose, once so bright,

Fading in but a short while, utterly,

Until his fair visage, its red and white,

His dark eyes, that fair glances once unfurled,

Death destroyed, that destroys all the world.

By mischance, the Faery, Silvanella,

To her woe, came upon that very place

Where they beheld the youth’s sepulchre;

Midst the flowers, the Fay perceived his dead face.

She who’d loved the lovely boy with ardour,

Bewept that loss of beauty, form, and grace,

Neither able to remain there nor depart,

Burning still for him, in her anguished heart.

Though he lay dead, she longed for him, alas.

Her mind yet conquered by love and pity,   

And she lay down beside him, on the grass,

And kissed that face, those lips, pale and icy.

She knew, full well, that mortal things must pass,

That twas foolish to love a soul-less body,

Yet, while no blood within his veins did move,

Though she would not love, she was forced to love.

She spent that eve and night, and all next day,

Consumed by her grief, and then the Faery

Created, by enchantment, where he lay,

The marble tomb in the meadow, then she

Wept and mourned by the fount, till the Fay

(No great length of time passed, assuredly)

Melted, like the snow in spring in the sun,

No longer to be seen, her life here done.

Book II: Canto XVII: 59-62: Of Calidora and Larbino

Yet, ere that, she sought company, and relief

From the sorrow that, thus, consumed her heart.

And angered by a love that brought but grief,

Cast a spell on the fount, with subtle art,

Such that the man who passed that way, in brief,

And, halting there, drank and gazed, for his part,

Saw the faces of fair damsels in that glass,

Gentle, and sweet, and beautiful, alas.  

For those maidens had eyes that shed such grace

That the man who perceived them was held fast,

Fated to pine away, in some short space,

And die of heartbreak, by the fount, at last.

Twas by mischance there came, to that same place,

A noble king, in wisdom unsurpassed,

Brave, and ardent, with a lady doomed to woe;

She was Calidora; he, Larbino.

Larbino chanced on the spring, as I say,

Knowing naught of its enchanted nature,

And languished, and died within a day,

Entranced by that vision in the water.

The fair lady, who loved him, chose to stay

Beside the fount, bereft of her lover,

Grieving upon that bank till, by and by,

She too, languishing, should sadly die.

This was the maiden weeping by the stone,

Who had set the knight as a guardian there,

So that those to whom the tale was unknown,

Were made to halt, and of the fount beware.

For, having seen Larbino overthrown

By the enchantment, and been forced to share

His pain and woe, she had vowed, from pity,

To stay, and warn others, by her story.

Book II: Canto XVII: 63-67: Orlando recognises Sacripante

This history, that I’ve recounted, briefly,

Of fair Narcissus, and his strange demise,

She related, in its entirety,  

To the Count, and Brandimarte likewise.

She pointed out that the pilgrim, fiercely

Engaged in battle, in more martial guise,

Was waging war with such ire and might,

He was surely about to slay her knight.

In fear of this, she asked that Orlando

Might forge a peace twixt the two, and explained

That, in pity for others, he should know,

She’d barred the bridge, and that guard maintained.

Thus, right and reason jointly should bestow

Honour upon him, and not see him pained;

For what the young knight did there was no crime;

It had saved good men’s lives, many a time.

Orlando knew she spoke the truth, and so

He stepped between the pilgrim and the knight,

And ended their fierce duel without a blow,

Telling the former why he should end the fight.

Then, observing him closely, Orlando

Recognised Sacripante, with delight;

While, sporting several wounds now, the other,

Proved bold Isolier, Ferrau’s brother.

That youth had come from India to Spain

To guard the bridge for Calidora;

(Twould weary me to tread his steps again!)

Twas Love that had brought him there, moreover.

Sacripante his search did yet maintain

For Gradasso, sent by Angelica

To seek aid from that king, when Brunello

Stole his horse, and her ring, to both their woe.

I told you how he started on his journey:

Though I know not how closely you recall

The pilgrim’s clothes he donned; now full many

A far land he’d crossed, ere it did befall

That he reached the bridge, in this same country.

Fair lords, who’ve listened to my verses; all  

That desire to hear a further measure,

With my next canto, I’ll seek your pleasure.

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