Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto XXXI: The Phantom Army

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XXXI

Book II: Canto XXXI: 1-4: Orlando and Ferru encounter each other by the stream

The sun that lights the sky with many a ray,

Leaves our brief life behind it in its flight;

A life that barely seems to last a day,

To one who spends it lost to true delight.

So, to all you who gather here, I say,

Lock up your cares and woes that pleasure blight,

All those pensive thoughts that spell misery;

Lock them within, and throw away the key.

And I, in singing here for you, as well,

Will forget all ill thoughts, in my desire,

This tale of wars and loves, long past, to tell.

My aim? That you might learn the facts entire.

I spoke of how brave Ferrau, for a spell,

Much like the Count, had chosen to retire

Within the wood and, when he reached the stream,

Orlando knew him instantly, twould seem.

A spring arose midst the trees, and twas there

That the Count had dismounted, by the shore;

Clad in full armour still, hid from the glare

Of the sun, Durindana he yet bore.

Ferrau came, exhausted, from that affair,

His duel with Rinaldo, the heat of war.

And, burning with thirst, longing now to drink,

Reined in his weary steed beside the brink.

No other aim had he but to dismount.

He then removed his helm, yet, as he sought

To drink full deeply of the gleaming fount,

Either from haste, or stooping without thought

To the water, and failing to account

For the steepness of the bank as he ought,

He dropped the steely casque into the flow,

Which soon buried it neath the silt below.

Book II: Canto XXXI: 5-6: Orlando addresses him

Distressed, he watched the helm sink out of sight,

And to such a depth he knew not what to do,

Except to call on Allah in his plight,

Cry out in vain, and then lament anew.

Meanwhile Orlando recognised the knight,

By the arms on his shield, his armour too,

And so, he approached along the shore,

Saluted him, and said, once he was sure:

‘He who brings aid to mortals, aids you now,

For He shows towards you such great pity

You’ll not end midst the lost souls, I avow,

Since He knows you are a knight full worthy.

With eternal salvation He’ll endow

Those who acknowledge Him, in verity;

Honour on earth, joy in heaven above,

For the flower of chivalry, He’ll approve.’

Book II: Canto XXXI: 7-12: Ferrau taunts the Count for his absence from the field

Brave Ferrau, on raising his eyes to see

Who spoke, with such courtesy, recognised

The quartered arms, and thought himself to be

The son of Fortune to have thus surprised

The greatest knight of all, and thought that he

Possessed the power, or so he now surmised,

To treat the Count, before him, as his foe,

Or demonstrate his courtesy, also.

Happy now, where he had grieved before

(For the helmet he had lost to the flow),

He said aloud: ‘I will complain no more,

About my fortune in this world below.

My good luck was gone, of that I felt sure,

And yet I am more contented, you should know,

Than ever wealth could make me, for I see

Before me the true flower of chivalry.

Yet tell me, if it is my right to hear:

Why are you not contending in the field;

Displaying your knightly skill, where I fear,

Rinaldo alone his prowess has revealed?

He has beaten me soundly, twould appear,

Though but for a single spot, e’er concealed,

I am charmed; an enchantment, it would seem,

That served ill, for the bruising is extreme.

I deem it that on earth there’s not a one

That owns a valour greater than that knight,

Though they claim, everywhere neath the sun,

That you are far more valiant in a fight.

If I were to war with you, as I have done

With Rinaldo, and test the claim outright,

To see who is more agile, brave, and strong,

Though I die, I’d die content to be wrong.

I would challenge, and defy you, indeed,

Now I have you here before my eyes;

Though now I’ve fought Rinaldo, take heed,

I deem those tales of you a pack of lies.’

In the Count’s mind, his words did anger breed,

And his heart within burned with rage, likewise.

He cried aloud: ‘Your praise of him is right,

For, in truth, he is a most valiant knight,

Yet such a speech, that lauds beyond belief

One man, vilely offends another’s name.

If you had but your helm, that source of grief,

I’d be content to see you test that claim,

And thus prove, for the contest will be brief,

The truth or the falsehood of that same.

If Rinaldo’s valour’s so in evidence,

Try mine; perchance, at your own expense.

Book II: Canto XXXI: 13-14: Orlando joins the battle, Ferrau remains in the wood

Yet I’ll not quarrel with you, here and now,

Since you are wearied from your labour.

I’ll seek the foe, while time doth allow,

And grant them an exercise of valour.

Ill luck for those that meet me, for I vow

To show my blade’s as sharp as another!’

With that, in haste, and filled with anger,

The Count leapt aboard his valiant charger.

Ferrau remained there, silent, midst the trees,

Exhausted from the duel, as I’ve said,

But recovering his strength, by degrees,

And, regretting the bareness of his head,

Striving to find his helm; while, without cease,

Orlando spurred his steed, and onward sped,

Until he arrived where much as before

The armies were engaged in bitter war.

Book II: Canto XXXI: 15-19: The Count sweeps all before him

All that long day, as I’ve described to you,

Charlemagne and Agramante in turn

Drove their forces that battle to pursue,

And no conflict with fiercer flame did burn.

All seemed prepared to die, the cowards few;

Shame, and their monarch’s scorn, none wished to earn,

But rather they would set their spirits free,

Than yield an inch to their fierce enemy.

Many a shattered lance, and broken shield,

Many a dusty standard and banner,

Many a body, prone upon the field,

Of man or steed, decked that scene of horror.

The warriors fought on, disdained to yield,

Their broken ranks in ruin and disorder,

The noise of battle, the cries, so profound,

It seemed the earth would open at the sound.

Charlemagne sought to govern, everywhere

Fighting with intelligence and ardour,

Yet his fierce commands faded in the air,

While all ignored the last shouted order,

And though he feared naught, in despair

He was thinking to retreat, in swift manner,

Leaving Agramante’s host the blood-wet field,

When he caught sight of the quartered shield

That signified the Count, who forged ahead,

With his proud and threatening attitude.

And where Anglante’s lord to battle sped,

There rose a fearsome cry, as others viewed

His advent; fearful hearts his presence fed

With new courage, who now his steed pursued,

While Charlemagne fresh hope it did afford;

He lifted up his hands, and praised the Lord.

What pen could describe that fiery attack;

The sword-blows that descended from on high?

I would need God’s aid, for the skill I lack

To tell of it; no lightning from the sky,

No tempest o’er the sea, no thunder-crack,

No wave that o’er the cliffs in spray doth fly,

No pounding of the gale, no angry fire

Compared with the Count; his fury higher.

Book II: Canto XXXI: 20-25: He downs Grandonio, slays Cardorano, Dudrinasso and Tanfirone

That giant from Volterna, Grandonio,

Had fought fiercely till now in the war,

Wielding his great cudgel gainst the foe,

Covering the field with bodies; before,

Orlando he now came, to his great woe,

And found but scant success there, to be sure,

For upon encountering Orlando’s lance,

He tumbled from his horse, by that advance

Rendered half-dead; thus stunned, the warrior fell,

While Orlando passed on by, with drawn sword,

Dealing such strokes as if the bounds of Hell

Had oped, and the world a glimpse did afford

Of all therein; he lopped arms and heads as well,

None could hide; Durindana roamed abroad,

And shield and plate and mail were all in vain

As that blade brought rack and ruin to the plain.

Horse and riders tumbled to the ground,

As Orlando, in frenzy, cleft the foe.

There amidst the violent melee he found,

Cosca’s bearded lord, King Cardorano.

With a two-handed stroke, at a bound,

He split the man to the saddle below,

And relieved his charger of him, stone-dead.

Then he chased Gualciotto in his stead.

Gualciotto of Bellamarina

Fled before him (at faster than a trot!)

For Orlando had resolved to further

His defeat, though other proved his lot.

He hunted him midst the host; however

Dudrinasso blocked him, whether or not

By design or blind chance, I cannot say,

Nonetheless, the latter stood in his way.

Dudrinasso ruled in Libicana.

His cruel mouth was wider than a span,

And no face on earth was ever fiercer;

The muscles fairly rippled on that man.

Orlando struck him with Durindana,

And severed his head, such was his plan,

The helm, and all within it, soaring high,

Though Orlando was scarce detained thereby.

For he had espied King Tanfirone,

The fearsome ruler of Almasilla,

Five feet high above the saddle, surely,

With a beard to the waist; a born killer.

Yet Orlando now assailed him fiercely,

Not merely to scare the fellow either,

For he struck his face between the eyes,

And so cleft his head in two, lengthwise.

Book II: Canto XXXI: 26-32: And then encounters Ruggiero

Not e’en so great a stroke as landed there,  

Caused the Count’s valiant attack to slow.

No king, no knight could be found anywhere,

That sought to meet him, and feel such a blow.

When young Ruggiero that deed did dare,

He saw his soldiers scattered to the ground,

Or heaped high, in some gory blood-wet mound.

A very mountain, all stained crimson red,

By the streams pouring from the piles of dead.

He knew the emblem that Orlando wore,

Though now it could barely be discerned,

For, the white quarters of the shield he bore

Had been reddened, by the gore through which he’d churned.,

Ruggiero came on, his movements sure,

And, I can tell you, every skill he’d learned,

All his fierce courage, and strength, and valour,

Was expended there, and all his vigour.

As they met, no tempest was e’er so wild,

Not even when opposing gale meets gale,

Tramontana and Libeccio; no mild

Encounter was that, each keen to prevail.

Their blades were sharp; Balisardo beguiled

The watchful eye, its edge could never fail,

Nor proof against it was mail or armour;

While you know the strength of Durindana.

That blade, Balisardo, was forged to slay

The Count; in Orgagna, in that garden,

Twas made. Brunello gained it on a day,

And to Ruggiero gave that weapon,

The where and when of it, I need to say.

To return to the duel, those two laid on;

A fight so cruel it was, so fierce and raw,

Naught like it had the world e’er seen before.

Their steel plates and iron mail were torn

Like fragile spider-silk, and fell away,

Strewing the plain, as on a summer morn,

Till both were stripped of armour; held at bay

Neither knight won advantage, both were shorn,

They traded cruel blows in that affray,

And each was in such haste to land a blow

They swung at will, not waiting for the foe.

Thus a stroke, two-handed, caught Orlando,

And cut his helmet open, rim to chin;

No enchantment was on it, even so

He received no wound, the blade slid within;

Between his hood and jaw, its steel did go,

Flaying his whiskers, but not his bare skin,

And, as God wished, the Count was unharmed,

Despite the fact his helmet was un-charmed.

Orlando replied with a blow so great

That it tore Ruggiero’s shield apart,

Slicing the thongs, and shattering the plate,

Falling to his saddle where like a dart

Its sharp point slid along his thigh; the weight

Of the blade scored his armour, for its part,

Cut the harness, but failed to sink deeper;

Heaven aids the bold, the Lord their keeper.

Book II: Canto XXXI: 33-36: Atlante conjures a phantom army, and saves Ruggiero

The hosts on either side ceased warring,

To watch the progress of that bitter fight.

Meanwhile, wise old Atlante came seeking

His beloved Ruggiero; once in sight

Of the duel, where the risk of dying

Was immense, so fierce the blows from each knight,

Instantly dismayed, the mage clasped his head,

And well-nigh fell from his charger, half-dead.

Yet, in a moment, that false enchanter,

Creating a deception, through his art,

Conjured up a phantom army, larger

Than the Saracen forces at the start,

That seemed to be routing our emperor,

Who cried for: ‘Aid!’ while, some distance apart,

A giant had captured Oliviero,

Dragged away, it seemed, in chains, midst the foe.

Rinaldo appeared wounded mortally,

Pierced by a spear, and he seemed to cry:

‘My dear cousin, how can you bear to see

Me treated with such contumely; I die!’

Orlando was overwhelmed, utterly,

By the outrageous sights that met his eye,

And his face turned a sudden fiery red,

As tempestuous anger filled his head.

In a moment he’d turned Brigliador,

Quitting his duel with Ruggiero,

And spurred on the steed; a moment more

And he was fast upon the seeming foe,

Fleeing, driving their captives on before

Their phantom forms, herding the prisoners so.

Borne on the wind, it seemed their army sped,

So strong the enchantment the mage had bred.

Book II: Canto XXXI: 37-42: Who then wreaks havoc on the real Christian army

Ruggiero, abandoned by Orlando,

Confused in mind, now seized a gleaming lance,

Then wheeled about, upon bold Frontino,

And swept away our ranks in his advance.

He found our Bishop Turpin, midst the foe,

Whose prayers, in this dire circumstance,

Vespers, masses, paternosters, helped not;

A swift descent, feet in air, was his sad lot.

Ruggiero passed by like a torrent

Raging down a mountainside, and surged on;

And now the armoured breast he pierced and rent,

Of bold Uberto, the Duke of Bayonne.

Salamone his crowned head did present

As a target; in a moment he was gone.

Ottone, and his brothers, Avino,

Avorio, and Belengiero,

All four together, tumbled to the ground,

Heels kicking the air, as Ruggiero

Swept onwards; new purpose and strength he’d found,

And fresh courage, as he conquered the foe.

Gualtiero of Monleone, downed

By his stout lance, writhed in pain there below.

Such speed as he revealed was rarely seen.

The field littered with foes where he had been.

Meanwhile the other Saracens, who’d fled

Before frenzied Orlando, turned once more,

Showing their valour, as they drove ahead

With greater force and spirit than before.

Ruggiero’s blows, to arm, and chest, and head,

Were so mighty, they shook men to the core.

None could resist his power and, at his back,

The pagan force now pressed home its attack.

King Agramante, with Martasino,

Sobrino, Barigano, Mordante,

That bold Saracen Malabuferso,

Dardinello, and wise old Atlante,

Now supported young Ruggiero,

King Brunello cheering them on, loudly;

Though he indeed encountered some delay

Pursuing ever chance that fell his way!

Ruggiero wrought such harm, in his advance,

Those following had little left to do,

Yet still intact was his sovereign lance,

His sword still sheathed, onwards the young knight flew.

Defeat looms now for the brave court of France,

Charlemagne well-nigh overcome; tis true!

Yet that’s a weight, as yet, I cannot bear;

Tis my third book must tell of that affair.   

Book II: Canto XXXI: 43-50: Meanwhile, Orlando reaches an enchanted fount

First, I’ll say what happened to Orlando,

Who’d swiftly pursued the ghostly army,

That had seemingly conquered, as you know,

Routing Charlemagne’s forces utterly.

Now the phantom host fled before their foe,

Appearing to lack courage, suddenly,

Until they reached a slope not far away

From the Forest of Ardennes; there, I say,

They entered a fine grove of green laurel,

Midst which pooled the water from a spring,

And there that evil host, scarcely mortal,

Vanished, in smoke, like some empty thing.

The count was astounded by that marvel,

As he saw the crowd of phantoms take wing.

Then, parched from the heat, he made his way

Amongst the trees; ill was his luck that day!

He quit Brigliador beside the stream,

And prepared to drink the pond’s clear water,

Tying his mount to a laurel, I deem,

And then kneeling where the bank was lower.

But then, beneath the little pool’s bright gleam,

He saw a sight that filled him with wonder:

In a glassy hall, as he viewed, entranced,

Fair ladies played on instruments, and danced.

Lovely the maidens seemed, all dancing there,

Singing songs of love, harmoniously,

In that palace of crystal, set with rare

Gems and gold; twas a scene of great beauty.

The sun was setting, shadows filled the air,

As the Count decided twas his duty

To know more of this wonder, and he sought

So, to do; thus, without another thought,

He leapt into the lake, still in his armour,

And plunged to the enchanted depths below,

Where he found himself in a lovely arbour,

A fair field, where many a flower did grow.

He sped towards the palace, in his ardour,

Joy in his heart, so great, you should know,

That his every sad care away did fly,

And he knew not how he’d come there, nor why.

Before the Count, there stood an open door,

All of gold set with sapphires it was wrought,

Through which he went, smiling to be sure.

The maids danced in a ring midst that court,

Then all about him. I can sing no more,

For I’ve approached the end, not giving thought

To the length of this book; the tale I’ll rhyme

In my third, for you, at another time.

Then with choice words I’ll seek, and finer verse,

To tell of darksome war, and ardent love.

Though our own times their evil now rehearse,

Our troubles, from my song, shall not remove

My mind; though we sink from bad to worse,

And to clear my ill thoughts a task doth prove.

In my head, Italy’s sad cries now ring,

And I but seek to sigh, my lords, not sing.  

For you, sweet maids and lovers, everywhere,

Of noble and amorous hearts possessed

Was created all this history, so fair,

Of courtesy, and valour, and the rest.

Those who war, in rage and spite, I declare

Harken not to such things as I’ve expressed.

Farewell, lovers and maidens, e’er my friends;

In your honour begun, this book now ends.

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

Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XXXI - End