Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto XXIX: Agramante in Spain and France

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XXIX

Book II: Canto XXIX: 1-3: The vast size of Agramante’s host

Of the greatest, and most stupendous, war,

That has e’er been told, in prose or rhyme,

I now shall tell; it shakes me to the core,

Ere I’ve begun. Not at this present time,

Not in days past, has king or emperor,

Amassed as great a force, or as sublime,

To equal that which I’ll describe to you;

Agramante’s host we shall now review.

Not when barbarous Hannibal first crossed

The Ebro, Spain and Africa behind,

And then with fire and acid, midst the frost,

A path, o’er the snowy Alps, cleft and mined;

Not when great Xerxes, careless of the cost,

At that pass where the Spartans were confined,

Brought Ethiopians and Scythians to bear;

Did it match what was seen in this affair;

Where Agramante judged its size by sight

Alone, so vast was his disordered host.

For the shadows of his sails stole the light,

And obscured the trembling waves, almost,

While the mighty vessels were packed so tight,

That scarce a vessel clear water could boast.

When the wind rose astern, to the drums beat,

The monarch’s admiral led forth the fleet.

Book II: Canto XXIX: 4-20: The roll-call of naval commanders

He was bold Argosto of Marmonda,

And flew his royal ensign, a Siren

On a field of pure green; o’er the water

King Gualciotto sailed beside him; chosen

Warriors filled his ship, and his banner

Was a black field that bore white doves; and then

Came Mirabaldo whose flag did unfold

To reveal a black ram with horns of gold,

A golden-horned ram on a field of white.

Not far from them sailed King Sobrino;

A flame on a black field proclaimed the knight,

The emblem of that wise king of Garbo.

Half a mile behind, but easily in sight,

Next in line came King Bambirago,

Of Arzila, and his banner revealed,

A dragon vert upon a crimson field.

Brunello, King of Tingitana,

Had, but lately, wrought his banner anew,

To seem far finer than any other.

He had planned it himself, as many do

In our own age, vanity their prompter,

Believing that their House will, to the view,

Appear nobler, worthier, midst the rest,

With both lions and lilies as their crest!

And so, Brunello, but a recent king

As you know, displayed, on a field of red,

A goose (‘oca’), wings and tail covering

A golden egg, regarding which he said,

Jokingly: ‘My emblem’s an ancient thing.

Here’s the proof: for in the Gospels I’ve read,

John the Evangelist proclaims it so,  

Oca (Hoc!) erat in principio.

After him came Getulia’s Grifaldo,

His bold emblem, a dishevelled maiden;

All his vessels that same banner did show;

She was grasping, by the ears, a dragon,

Though his own device was not ordered so;

Its field was black, with a white bar thereon.

Near him, was Garamanta’s young king,

Martasino his name, his vessel flying

The emblem, on a vermilion field

Of a gryphon’s bold head, and neck, and claw.

A mile behind, Dorilone was revealed,

Ceuta’s king, and his mighty banner bore

A lily, white on blue, as on his shield.

Now, Sorridano departed the shore,

A white lion, on a field vert, he showed,

The Hesperides his distant abode.

Then Constantina’s King Pinadoro’s

Two-headed yellow eagle did unfold

On a crimson field; then came Alzirdo’s

Pure vermilion rose, on a field of gold,

His fair emblem; and then Puliano’s

Banner, next in line; he was the bold

Monarch who held power in Nasamona,

His arms an azure field, a crown in silver.

Nor was Arigalte absent from sight,

Nor his men, their heads with lice replete;

That King of Amonia’s banner was white,

A blank square. Manilardo joined the fleet,

A gold claw, on a field of blood, that knight

Showed on his flag, a lion’s claw complete;

And, behind him, sailed King Prusione,

Seeking now to gain upon him swiftly.

King Manilardo ruled Norizia,

Alvarrachie honoured Prusione.

Tell me: which of those two was the bolder?

Neither, I’d say, had the supremacy.

The King of the Canary Isles, slower

O’er the water than that pair, clearly,

Came next (so Bishop Turpin claims, I mean),  

His arms a black crow on a field of green.

His name was Bardarico, and his land

Lay in the west; next old Balifronte

Led, from Dudrinasso, who had command

Of Libicana; he ploughed on swiftly.

The ancient monarch’s vessels were all manned

By men of Mulga, a fountain had he

On an azure field as emblem; the other,

A naked boy filled his scarlet banner.

King Dardinello then, both young and bold,

Joined his ships with theirs; the ensign he bore

Was quartered scarlet and white, for of old

Those arms Almonte, his dear father, wore,

The very same that the Count’s shield did hold,  

The like exactly, neither less nor more;

For one of them twould prove a costly thing.

That bold young monarch was Zumara’s king.  

Nearby, sailed Cosca’s lord, Cardorano;

A dragon with a human head his sign,

On a field vert, followed by Tardoco

King of Djerba, who sailed the next in line,

And then Oran’s monarch, Marbalusto.

King Tardoco’s shield carried a malign

Serpent, its head concealed behind its tail,

That, deaf to every spell, none might prevail.

King Marbalusto’s showed a noble queen,

With a fair garland encircling her head.

Farurante of Maurina next was seen

His shield vert, with a single stripe of red.

Alzirdo then came swift upon the scene,

An acorn on his banner there outspread,

Gold on blue; Tanfirone hove in sight,

His emblem a lion’s head, the field white,

Of Almasilla he was king. From court,

Came the elected council all complete.

Mordante’s emblem their ships did sport,

King of Tolometta, he led their fleet;

Its vessels bore his emblem from the port,

Two red moons on a field ‘or’; six feet

And more in height that king, a fierce foe,

The bastard son of Carogiero.  

Next followed the bold men of Tripoli,

And no vessels on that sea were as fair,

Or as fine, they lacked naught equally,

For Ruggiero led them, his arms, there,

The white eagle on azure, borne proudly

By his ancestors; he that pride did share.

While, next, beneath Agramante’s banner

Came Bizerte’s fleet, following after.

Nearby, the fleet from Tunis left the port,

Commanded by old King Daniforte,

He, the High Steward to the royal court,

Wise and experienced; a crimson lily

On a field vert, his arms, to France he brought,

Seeking to die, or deal death, equally.

Next came, from Bernica and from Rassa,

One fleet chasing the sterns of another.

Barigano was both fleets’ commander,

(He had raised Agramante from a child)

A white mastiff, displayed on his banner,

On a red field, the martial eye beguiled.

And last came Fizano’s mighty ruler,

Malabuferso, not quite reconciled

To his place at the rear; upon his shield,

And flag, a leopard on an azure field.

Book II: Canto XXIX: 21-23: Agramante’s army reaches Montalbano

In the order that I’ve described to you

That mighty armada sailed forth to Spain,

Led by Agramante, presenting a view

The likes of which none here may see again.

Twas as if Hell’s gate had opened, anew,

And the martial host its depths did contain

Had poured forth, to wage war on Paradise,

Of many a hue, bearing every device.

That mighty host, that fierce and darksome foe,

Could only have been matched, Turpin claims,

If the dead, and the demons down below,

Had quit their sepulchres, and their flames,

And filled those vessels, riding with the flow.

Marshalled by that band of famous names,

A hundred thousand strong, they made harbour,

From fair Malaga to Tarragona.

Neath Tortosa, the Ebro meets the sea;

And twas there, his armies, with sword and lance,

Gathered to the flag of Agramante.

Without resting, they began a swift advance,

From the Pyrenees viewed all Gascony,

And then descended, joyously, to France,

In marching order, took the road below,

And so crossed the plain to Montalbano.

Book II: Canto XXIX: 24-29: Where the various duels are still being fought

Below that famous castle, on the plain,

The fierce battle yet raged, of which I’ve told,

Between the mighty kings of France and Spain,

A mortal contest twixt the brave and bold;

For they, their courts, and their armies were fain

To make war upon each other as, of old,

Their ancestors had and, upon that field,

Nigh a foot deep, their noble blood congealed.

Rinaldo and Ferrau duelled together;

Which man might prove the fiercer none did know,

While Grandonio, savage as ever,

Fought gainst the Marquis Oliviero;

Not one was in need of aid, however.

Charlemagne battled with Marsilio,

While Serpentino and the valiant Dane

Hammered at each other, o’er that plain.

Twixt Rodomonte and Bradamante

The duel yielded much the finest sight.

As for Orlando, struck ferociously,

You’ll recall, I think, his perilous plight;

Stunned by that blow, dealt thunderously

By the African, who’d toppled the knight.

Of the history of that, I’ll say no more,

For, indeed, tis a tale I’ve told before.

Twas Bradamante who now fought the king,

And their duel had continued such a space

That the Count had arrived to join the ring,

Desiring to wreak revenge, and save face.

His anger and his shame he sought to bring

To the encounter, grieved at the disgrace,

For the pagan had mazed him with that blow;

But he’d deal him like for like, even so.

Nonetheless, Orlando now felt it wrong,

To make a third, in the duel being fought,

So, he stood and watched, while hoping, ere long,

To engage the Saracen; and, thus, he thought

To sheathe Durindana. They duelled among

The flowers of a field, a pleasant court,

Far from the other knights, so there was none

To trouble them ere the contest was done.

For three hours or more, the warrior-maid

Had defied the pagan king, most bravely,

When the Count raised his eyes, and duly paid

Attention to the slopes above; there, swiftly

Descending, came a host, their flags displayed,

In such numbers, war-horns sounding loudly,

That it seemed, as he viewed the endless tide,

The Heavens shook, and all the Earth beside.

Book II: Canto XXIX: 30-35: Orlando conquers King Pinadoro

Orlando cried: ‘O Lord of Eternity,

Whence comes this ill wind that now doth blow?

Yet however great that mighty host may be

It shall not serve to save Marsilio.

From Hell itself they come, it seems to me,

Yet they’ll find a better welcome below,

For ill they’ll receive, if Durindana

Slices flesh and bone as well as ever.’

Uttering this, with much pride and disdain,

He urged his steed towards the mountainside.

He saw a lance stuck upright in the plain,

And leant down to take it, as he did ride;

I mean a Christian lance, not one from Spain,

And since it was abandoned, once he’d spied

The brave weapon, he plucked it from the field,

Found it entire, and chose that spear to wield.

He galloped with it seated next his thigh,

On Brigliador who flew much like a bird.

Meanwhile, Agramante, mounted nearby,

Watched the duelling below, without a word.

Twas the kind of sight that much pleased his eye.

He called King Pinadoro, and conferred

With that knight; Constantia’s ruler he;

Then ordered him to find whom these might be.

He commanded that king to go alone,

And ride fearlessly amidst those few,

Where the greatest ferocity was shown,

And the battle bloodiest, and bring him two

Or three of those knights, their names unknown,

Though five or six, would be best, in his view,

And alive, so that he might discover

The details of the contest, and its nature.

Pinadoro rode swiftly down the hill,

And, as fast again, o’er the level ground,

Nor rested from spurring his steed, until

A knight (twas Count Orlando) he had found.

He shouted a challenge, advancing still,

As if he’d come to joust, to the air around,

And then charged on to the encounter,

To be met by a fierce blow from the other.

To be clear, there was no one else about,

At that moment, though the conflict was near,

And the Count replied with a mighty shout,

Then rode at Pinadoro, without fear

Of the man, and without a qualm, or doubt.

Both shields rang, as the Saracen flew clear,

For his lance had been splintered to the hilt,

While he left his seat cleanly, swiftly spilt.

Book II: Canto XXIX: 36-39: And learns from him of the invasion

Orlando constrained the fallen king;

He, who offered no defence nor sought

To escape, acquiesced in everything,

Knowing he was well and truly caught.

From him Orlando learned much regarding

Agramante’s invasion, and his court;

How o’er the sea he’d made his advance

To conquer both Charlemagne and France.

At this news, the Count felt great delight,

And lifted his joyous face to the sky,

Murmuring: ‘You send aid in grievous plight,

And help where there is need, O Lord on high!

For, if I err not, that treacherous knight

Rinaldo, much discomforted hereby,

And King Charlemagne too, and all the rest,

Will seek my aid, that ever prove the best;

By many a valiant deed, therefore,

I’ll win the lady I love so deeply;

Then, let the whole world, waging war,

Come fully armed, seeking to destroy me;

I shall, should such occur, but gain the more,

Dismaying all those that would annoy me.’

This speech to himself the Count muttered;

Pinadoro heard naught that he uttered.

Then Orlando turned to the knight, saying:

‘Go swiftly, and seek out Agramante,

Since he has sent you here to learn a thing,

You may give your report, and truthfully.

Say that you found Marsilio waging

War on Charlemagne, as in a tourney,

And if a kingly valour fills his heart,

Let him join the fight, and reveal his art.’

Book II: Canto XXIX: 40-45: Sobrino taunts his comrades to fight

Pinadoro thanked him courteously,

As any polished nobleman would do,

Then wheeled about and sought Agramante

And having found him told all that was new,

Saying: ‘Sire, I went where you despatched me;

My report will assuredly prove true;

Marsilio, and bold King Charlemagne,  

Are now battling each other on the plain.

I know not what you think of the fact,

But my firm counsel is: seek not that field!

For I met a brave knight, and was attacked;

To his wondrous skill, I was forced to yield.

Splendid the martial joust he did enact;

Quartered red and white, the arms on his shield,

And if he but shows what the rest can do,

Then our campaign is lost, I swear to you.’

Sobrino, who was present, merely smiled,

And said: ‘Those are the arms of Orlando.

He’ll lower the pride of those who’ve reviled

The Christian ranks; for that lord I know,

And have done, since the Count was but a child.

May Allah bring him fear, and lay him low,

For in trials, with sword and lance, I attest,

He ranks amongst the fiercest, and the best.

Now you shall see if I but spoke in vain,

In Bizerte, where you made mock of me,

When I described the power of Charlemagne,

And praised his knights, though perchance too loudly.

Come Alzirdo, Puliano, maintain

Our honour; Martasino speaks bravely;

For Rodomonte whose fire was so extreme,

Must be dead, or captive, now, it would seem.

Urge on the other youths, who also claim

To be so bold and fearless, who delight

In jousting at tourneys, seek lasting fame,

And bear their lances like a proper knight.

And if any think I call upon those same

Because I fear to go down there, and fight,

I’ll be riding with them, and stake my soul

None will be ahead when I reach the goal.’

Martasino, hearing this, shook with anger,

And said proudly: ‘Well, I shall go and see

If this Orlando is possessed of great valour,

Or a creature of flesh and bone, like me.

Sobrino will, no doubt, out of honour,

Ne’er attack one he’s known since infancy.

Let those who wish descend now to the plain,

Let those that court dishonour here remain.’

Book II: Canto XXIX: 46-50: Martasino leads an attack

Thus, spoke brave and daring Martasino,

And none in this world e’er showed greater pride.

He was a weighty man, small in height though,

Dextrous yet ponderous, bold and wild-eyed,

Aquiline his nose, all his face aglow,

Haughty and reckless, both those traits allied.

He tossed his head, cried out and, shouting still,

Flourished his lance, and galloped down the hill.

Marbalusto followed; Farurante,

Alzirdo, Mirabaldo at his side,

Bambirago, and Grifaldo, quickly

Pursuing, but Sobrino swift did ride;

Not a trace of hesitation showed he,

All fear of Count Orlando he denied.

And with such speed and ardour he did go

He passed them all, even Martasino.

Agramante recalled his knights in vain;

That bold company but rode the faster.

Like unleashed hounds they coursed o’er the plain,

Though, ere they struck, it seemed forever.

Gazing on, the king now ceased to maintain

His stance, and all the court followed after.

No semblance of order could he decree,

But urged them on, riding furiously.

Yet more wildly and fiercely than the rest

The monarch rode, passing Sisifalto,

Who was spurring his mount on with the best,

Beside Atlante and Ruggiero.

The cries rose high, the very skies, oppressed,

Shook with the sound, as did the earth below,

Echoing the riders, and the chargers,

The horses’ hoofbeats, their yelling masters.

To the trumpet, the war-horn, and the drum,

All Agramante’s host sped on apace,

Few of the soldiers armed with swords, though some

Bore a heavy club, or an iron mace.

To the high heavens rose the constant thrum

Of pounding feet, as they filled that space

Of open ground, far and wide, spears in hand,

Striving to catch, not pass, that eager band.


Book II: Canto XXIX: 51-57: Charlemagne breaks off the duel, and summons Rinaldo

Marsilio by now was faring ill,

A monarch doomed to die, it would seem,

For he clung to his mount by force of will,

Swaying from side to side, as if in dream.

Charlemagne was belabouring him still;

With two-handed strokes, his skill supreme,

He wrought such damage at every breath

That Marsilio was on the brink of death.

Yet, raising his eyes, the Christian saw

King Agramante coursing o’er the field,

Neath a host of standards, emblems of war,

Leading a band of knights with lance and shield.

Seeing that company speed on before

A greater force, its passage now revealed,

Pipin’s son crossed himself, astounded,

Shocked, by the alarms and cries that sounded.

He quit Marsilio and, at a thought,

Rode to rally and to aid his army.

Rinaldo was nearby; for he yet fought

With Ferrau, who was suffering badly,

Such that the knight had lost his sword, yet sought

To defend his honour still, manfully,

With huge swings of his cudgel, yet, I fear,

Found that death seemed ever hovering near.

Rinaldo might have slain him, then and there,

As I say, since he had the upper hand,

For the cudgel wrought little, in that affair,

While Fusberta, many a stroke did land

That pierced chain mail; ill then Ferrau did fare.

But then Rinaldo heard his king’s command,

For Charlemagne had cried his name aloud,

And the knight heard his voice above the crowd.

‘My son, the king called out: ‘my dear son,

On this day, we must needs be gallant men.

If we seek not deliverance, as one,

What awaits is but lasting shame, and then

Twould prove the blackest of nights, darker none,

Whence the bright sun might never rise again,

If Montalbano, and all Gascony,

Were doomed to die with Christianity!’

At this cry from the emperor, Rinaldo

Turned from smiting Ferrau, though the fight

Was still continuing and his brave foe,

While beset, still fought on with all his might.

Yet whatever enchantment helped him so,

And protected him from death, the bold knight

Had never been more bruised in all his life,

Though many a time found midst war and strife.

He was so weakened from his hard labour,

He longed for the duel to reach an end,

So dented and shattered was his armour,

He wished for rest, the damage to amend.

Rinaldo left him reeling, his honour

Yet intact, and turned to aid and defend

Charlemagne, his monarch, who boldly

Faced, now, the advancing Agramante.

Book II: Canto XXIX: 58-61: The emperor sends him to fight Sobrino

When Rinaldo reached him, Charlemagne

Gave him the first squadron to command

That he’d gathered, and decreed: ‘O’er the plain,

To that cliff-slope ride where on every hand

The enemy descend, for your task is plain.

Head for that narrow cleft, you understand,

And against that bold king mount an attack,

Whose emblem is a flame on a field of black.

Tis clear Agramante has crossed the sea,

For the banner is that of King Sobrino,

That warrior I know and his bravery,

A valiant Saracen, a worthy foe.

Away, my son, win me a victory!’

Spurring Baiardo, off sped Rinaldo,

While the monarch gave the second squadron

To a pair of dukes, from Arles and Bayonne.

They were of the House of Mongrana,

Sigieri, and his kinsman Uberto.

King Otho and his men led another,

The third squadron to ride against the foe.

Then the fourth was granted as its leader,  

The brave King of Frisa, Daniberto,

While Manibruno of Ireland laid claim

To the fifth force assigned by Charlemagne.

The sixth the King of Scotland led, as he,

Charlemagne, urged the seventh o’er the field.

And now the shouts and war-cries rose, loudly,

As Montalbano’s knight, with lance and shield,

Spurred Baiardo o’er the ground, full swiftly;

Ill fared the man who gainst him spear would wield!

Some men he unhorsed, some he left half-dead,

Some skewered like a frog, as on he sped.

Book II: Canto XXIX: 62-65: Sobrino duels with Rinaldo

His lance broke, and so he drew Fusberta,

Clearing a path, and striking far and wide.

‘Who slays so many, in his mad fervour?’

Thought Sobrino, as he viewed that fierce ride,

‘A barred shield with a lion? Its bearer,

I know not. Through all that countryside

Of France, where I have been, I never saw

This warrior, nor viewed such arms before.

Yet surely that knight must be Rinaldo,

Whose fame, it seems, is bruited everywhere.

Perchance now I’ll discover if tis so,

If his heart is such, that lions he may bear.’

He spurred on his war-horse gainst the foe,

That monarch who’d boasted he would dare

To be the first to battle; split was his lance,

With sword alone he now thought to advance.

Rinaldo viewed Sobrino, and admired

Both his bold appearance and his armour.

He thought to himself: ‘One is oft inspired

By a fine beginning, that’s built on later.

So, I’ll not let you win the start desired;

He who’s first to reap, oft proves the gainer!’

With that he swung his sword at Sobrino,

That struck the gleaming helmet of his foe.

The casque was so finely wrought, in its fall

The sharp blade cleft it not, despite the blow.

The effect of the stroke appeared but small,

Raising scarce a murmur from Sobrino.

Now, the limit I’ve reached, as I recall,

That I set myself for this whole canto;

And perchance a little rest would delight,

Ere you hear the remainder of the fight.

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