Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book III: Canto II: Hector's Armour

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book III, Canto II

Book III: Canto II: 1-3: Mandricardo is guided to the palace

The sun, crowned with many a golden ray,

Now raised its lovely face above the sea,

And soon the rosy sky announced the day

Hiding the morning star, quite suddenly.

Within the garden many a bird did play,

The swallows warbling, as, melodiously,

A wave of birdsong ushered in the dawn,

The heavens glowing o’er the dew-wet lawn.

Mandricardo left, at once, for the field;

Quit his chamber; free from sleep, wet his face

At a fount nearby; grasped his sword and shield;

Donned his armour, adventure to embrace,

As a farewell to the maidens, he did yield;

By the door he’d entered, went from the place;

And was led by the maiden his fair guide,

To the palace, she trotting at his side.

She conversed with him, as they took their way,

Of love and the joust, all that brought delight,

Leading him to the meadow, bright and gay,

Where the palace stood, lovely to the sight.

Before them blazed that edifice, I say,

For its walls of stone shone, a gleaming white,

With tall crenellated towers, like a keep,

None fairer in the world, except in sleep.

Book III: Canto II: 4-8: Hector’s shield and coat of arms

The palace was in the form of a square,

Its walls a quarter of a mile on each side.

Its drawbridge and portal, strong and fair

Faced the east, and to all were open wide;

But lords and knights that entered had to swear,

And to promise, on their faith, so none lied,

That ere they left the courtyard of that place,

They’d touch the shield, that hung before their face.

In the midst of that vast courtyard it was set,

Though I’ll not delay us by explaining how.

There loggias at the four corners met,

Painted with subtle labour, to allow

Description of a chase, where a young cadet

Of a great House, whom Nature did endow

With rare beauty, paraded midst the rest;

And ‘Ganymede’ was writ above his crest.

All the passage of his life was there portrayed,

In all its detail, with nothing hid from view.

It showed how, hunting in a woodland glade,

An eagle snatched him up, of snow-white hue.

That eagle was the emblem e’er displayed

By his kin, and by their descendants too,

Till Hector met Achilles, and was slain;

Then Priam changed the emblem, Hector’s bane.

The eagle’s feathers had, till then, been white,

For white was the bird that from Heaven came,

But on that accursed day when Troy’s true light,

Brave Hector, died, that emblem of his fame

Was altered to appear as dark as night,

To evoke the tragic fate of that same.

That none the memory of his death might lack,

The eagle’s snowy hue was changed to black.

Twas Hector’s shield that hung there, in the court,

Unaltered from when Hector died in war,

At Troy, where the Greeks and Trojans fought,

The one that hero had borne long before.

Upon a pillar, which of gold was wrought,

It hung, and these few words, above, it bore:

‘If you’re no Hector reborn, touch me not!

My lord’s equal this world has ne’er begot.’

Book III: Canto II: 9-16: Mandricardo strikes the shield, and fierce beasts appear

The shield was of the sky’s serene colour.

The maiden dismounted from her palfrey,

And knelt in reverence, the emperor,

Behaving no less reverentially.

And then, since none, it seemed, wished to hinder

His doing so, he drew his sword, swiftly,

And tapped the shield hung amidst the court.

Then he waited, to see what task it brought.

As soon as he had done so, all the ground

Groaned and shook as if the sky had fallen,

And then, as the earth trembled all around,

A portal in the courtyard sprang open,

Revealing a vast field whose crop was crowned

With ears of solid gold, large and swollen,

And golden were the glistening stalks below;

A shining sea, o’er which the breeze did blow.

Yet, the eastern door behind them closing,

The entry path was shut against the knight.

The maiden said: ‘None may boast of leaving

This place, until they’ve harvested, outright,    

The crop, that you see before you gleaming

On all sides, and remove the tree, sir knight,

That you behold in the midst of the field,

By tearing at its roots, until they yield.’

Without further thought, Mandricardo,

Entered the treasure-field, sword in hand,

And scything at the crop, with every blow

Revealed the spell placed upon the land;

For every seed of grain became his foe.

Into some creature each did then expand.

A lion, a panther, or a unicorn,

From the strangest of harvests, there was born.

Those seeds fell to earth and were transformed

To beasts, that encircled Mandricardo,

About the valiant warrior they swarmed,

Rendering his prowess vain, they battled so.

The emperor’s defences, thus, they stormed,

Their numbers increasing gainst their foe,

Wolves and lions, fearsome bears and wild-boars,

Engaged him, with tusks, teeth, and razor claws.

That most cruel and bitter battle raged on,

In which bold Mandricardo nearly fell,

Much the loser gainst that vicious squadron,

That fierce harvest of beasts wrought by the spell.

He found himself defenceless, whereupon

He grasped a stone, their bold attack to quell,

Twas a stone of power, wrought by magic art,

Though naught was known of the fact, on his part.

This stone, I speak of, was marked with colours

Of green and azure, gold, and red, and white,

And when he hurled it amidst those creatures

It sowed confusion; they commenced a fight

Among themselves; wrath in all their features,

Bears, lions, boars, with many a lunge and bite,

Savage bulls, and all those others, head-to-head,

Raging madly, till all the host were dead.

In no time at all they had slain each other;

Naught was left for Mandricardo to do,

Who took scarcely a moment to linger,

For the next adventure occupied his view.

I mean that tall, impressive tree, bearer

Of a thousand flowering branches, that grew

Amidst the field, to which, he understood,

He should make his way, as fast as he could.

Book III: Canto II: 17-19: Having slain the beasts, he uproots the tree

He seized the trunk, exerting all his force,

Then he sought to uproot it from the ground,

But as he shook the huge tree, to divorce

It from the earth, blossom fell all around,

Downwards the flowers flew, and, in their course,

As they cascaded o’er his head, he found

(Where have you heard a tale that equals mine?)

Them changed to birds, crows, falcons, all malign,

Eagles, and owls, with other birds of prey,  

All, seemingly, determined to assail

Mandricardo. Although, they found no way

O’er his steel-plate, and his mail, to prevail,

Their numbers were so great, as to dismay

The warrior, striking at him like hail,

And distracting him from the task in hand,

To tear those golden roots from out the land.

But, being a man of vigorous cast,

Fearing naught, with redoubled ardour

He strained away, and dragged it free, at last,

With a tearing noise, like peals of thunder.

A mighty wind arose, and its fierce blast,

Blew all that vicious host of birds asunder.

That gale issued (in Turpin’s text, I find)

From the crater that the roots left behind.

Book III: Canto II: 20-24: From the crater a serpent emerges, which is slain

Out of that pit the roaring tempest came,

Catapulting great stones, through the air;

And as the knight gazed down into that same,

He perceived a mighty serpent lurking there,

That now crawled above, the light to claim;

And the creature, as it emerged, laid bare

Not merely a single tail, or even two,

But a mound of lengths and coils, of livid hue.

Let me be clear, that out of that dark cave

Came a creature with but a single head

While a single body slid from that enclave,

Though ten long tails behind its haunches spread.

Mandricardo slowing not, an end did crave

To such assaults, so, with raised sword, he sped

Towards the loathsome snake, and struck his foe

Upon the neck, with his first mighty blow.

It fell upon the nape, as intended,

Yet a charmed hide that fell serpent possessed;

Against the knight, its length it extended,

And like a ship that some rock doth arrest,

Struck him a resounding blow, that ended

With two of its coiled tails tightly pressed

About his legs, and others round his chest,

And arms, by which he found himself oppressed.

Bound by brute force, he was dragged to the floor.

The serpent’s jaws were long, its eyes aflame

Its sharp white teeth it fastened, their grip sure,

In his flank, and chewed his armour; its game

The warrior perceived; wearily he bore

Its weight, and as he struggled with that same,

Turning and twisting, into the hole he fell,

From which the snake had crawled; yet all was well,

For by good fortune, plunging through the air,

(Twould have surely meant his death, otherwise)

Landing heavily, in that brief affair,

He crushed the serpent’s head, in no small wise,

And drove its eyeballs, with their fiery glare,

From out the sockets. Robbed of its eyes,

Its skull shattered, its tails twitched, and then

The creature died, never to rise again.

Book III: Canto II: 25-29: Hector’s armour

With the serpent done for, Mandricardo

Searched around the deep cavern, high and low.

(A ruby blazed like a torch, as he did so,

That shed light, as the sun does with its glow)

The cave was solid stone, above and below

Carved from the rock, but adorned also

With amber, coral, and burnished silver,

That all the surface of the place did cover.

A platform rose at the cave’s centre,

Wrought of perfect, snow-white ivory,

On which an outspread cloth of bright azure,

Starred with gold, lay, much like a canopy.

And thereon, it seemed, a knight in armour

Lay, indifferent to all, sleeping soundly.

Seemed, I repeat; for the thing was not so,

The plate and mail but empty, you should know.

These were the arms of that knight of renown,

That on Earth gained honour, and endless fame.

Brave Hector, I mean, who was once the crown

Of those virtues to which Man may lay claim.

The suit of Hector’s armour, there laid down,

Lacked a shield and sword; that very same

Shield we have observed, the sword, however,

Was now Count Orlando’s Durindana.

The steel-plate and mail were luminous and bright,

And all adorned with precious gems and gold,

Such that the eye could scarcely bear the sight,

Rubies, and emeralds, and pearls untold,

And a longing, thus, arose within the knight,

To clad himself in that gear, wrought of old.

He gazed at the breastplate, and all thereon,

But more so at the helm, that gleamed and shone.

At its summit was a gold lion crest,

With a silver banner gripped in one paw,

And the rim at is base was gold, impressed

With six and twenty matching clasps, no more.

In front was that ruby, with brightness blessed,

That glowed, like a fiery torch borne before,

And with so fierce a power shed its light

Each corner of the cave was clear and bright.

Book III: Canto II: 30-34: A bevy of maidens welcome him to the palace

While the knight stood admiring the armour,

And, indeed, it was beautifully wrought,

Behind his back he heard a sudden clamour,

For a steel door opened, and, as he sought

The cause, maidens, one after another,

In strange frills and ruffles, entered the court,

In a line, while joyfully advancing,

Playing fifes and castanets, and dancing.

Stepping here and there, in carefree manner,

Springing aloft, and landing gracefully,

They commenced singing sweetly together,

In clear and varied tones, harmoniously.

Their voices o’er the instruments ever

Rose in consonance to fill the lonely

Cavern, till at last they ceased their singing,

And ended in silence, humbly kneeling.

Then one of the beauteous maids arose,

And lauded the valiant Mandricardo.

To the stars, she praised him, heaven knows,

For the wonders he’d performed here below.

And when she fell silent, two others chose

To remove his armour, willing or no,

Then escorted him, unarmed, from the cave,

Through that door reserved for the bold and brave.

And they pinned a fine cloak to his shoulder,

The silk embroidered with many a sign,

And perfumed the happy knight all over,  

With sweet scents, and odours most divine.

While festive songs were sung in his honour,

Horns, tambourine and flutes, in a line,

Bore him up the marble staircase that led,

To the palace, whose courtyard, as I’ve said,

Displayed famed Hector’s shield; there cavaliers,

And damsels, sang, and danced, and laughed, and played.

Ne’er was a nobler court known, it appears,

For as soon as the knight his entrance made,

They ran to honour him, ladies and peers,

And reverential obeisance displayed;

To the knight all courtesy did afford,

Welcoming him as their sovereign lord.

Book III: Canto II: 35-37: The Fay charges him with gaining Durindana

Seated upon a rich throne, was the Fay,

And she beckoned forth Mandricardo,

And proclaimed: ‘Cavalier, upon this day,

You have won a prize finer than aught below.

Yet you yourself must add the sword, I say,

For you must pledge to win from Orlando

That enchanted blade, fierce Durindana.

Upon your faith swear it, and your honour,

And until the thing is done, the task complete,

You must ne’er allow yourself to seek rest;

Nor with another sword in hand compete;

Nor wear the crown at any man’s behest;

Nor let the snow-white eagle meet defeat,

That stands upon this shield to guide your quest.

For these fair arms, and this insignia,

Deserve to triumph o’er every other.’

Mandricardo, with reverence, obeyed

The Faery’s firm command, and so he swore,

And then the maidens the armour displayed,

And clad him in that breastplate, wrought of yore.

And when he was in all those arms arrayed,

He bid farewell, now bent for foreign shore,

Having achieved that most fine adventure,

And viewed the release of every prisoner.

Book III: Canto II: 38-39: The captives are released and the company heads for France

All the captives were freed; there were many

Imprisoned knights; for, King Gradasso,

And Grifone and bold Aquilante,

And Spain’s Isolier, our mighty foe,

And folk of great worth, he saw in plenty,

Released from that enchanted place also;

Full many a name of equal glory

To those I’ve mentioned in my story.

King Gradasso rode with Mandricardo,

And kept him company, day by day,

Nor will it be too long ere I must show

What those bold knights encountered on the way.

No more valiant pair did Pagandom know,

No greater warriors in fierce affray.

Great and wondrous deeds, without sword or lance,

They performed before they entered France.

Book III: Canto II: 40-44: Aquilante and Grifone meet two ladies, one dressed in black, one in white

But bold Aquilante, and Grifone,

Rode together, and went another way.

Many languages they spoke fluently,

And, through Pagandom, could in safety stray.

One morning they encountered, suddenly,

Two ladies, with two dwarves in their pay,

One lady dressed in garments black as night,

The other wearing pure and gleaming white.

The dwarves, dark-skinned and pale respectively,

Black as coal, white as snow, and each fine steed

Matched their female garb, while each lady

Showed a welcoming manner (one glance indeed

Could steal the heart away) and spoke sweetly

With warm and kindly gestures; they agreed

In their looks so well, and seemed so lovely,

Each was the other’s equal in beauty.

The courteous knights bowed their heads in greeting,

At which the two ladies exchanged a glance,

And she who was dressed in black, speaking

To her companion, said, ere she did advance:

‘Not a thing can we do, there’s no hiding

From the vicissitudes of circumstance,

From what Heaven and Earth prophesy,

Spinning endlessly, our fates wrought on high.

And yet we can prolong life, you’ll admit,

And, perchance, change our fortune, if we’re wise,

While the world’s Creator can alter it,

And exchange the sun and moon in the sky.’

‘So, regarding these knights, we should commit,

To thwarting their journey, or we should try,’

Said the other, ‘you’ll agree, since, by and by,

Fate would lead them to France, where they would die.’

Book III: Canto II: 45-48: Who set them the task of slaying their persecutor, Orrilo

Now, the ladies’ whispered conversation

Went unheard by the knights, till she in white

Turned and beckoned, as an indication

That she wished to address them, if she might:

‘I would ask,’ she said, ‘if tis your vocation,  

To enhance your fame, and defend the right,

If honour you both love, and chivalry,

To defend my companion here, and me.’

The knights spoke, well-nigh in unison,

And offered their assistance, in a trice.

She in black said: ‘Since you speak as one,

And show willing, we need not ask you twice

To pursue a task, and swear twill be done,

Upon your faith, and no matter the price;

For we’d have you slay a most treacherous

Villain, who oppresses and torments us.

The name of this traitor, whom we revile,

Is Orrilo, and no man is worse, I say.

In a tower, the imp dwells, beside the Nile;

A dragon-like beast guards it, night and day.

That creature is called the Crocodile,

It feeds on human flesh and blood alway.

Twas a strange spell made the imp; he was born

Of a goblin, and a fay, that ill spawn.

Born of an enchantment, as I’ve said,

The villain is so devoid of mercy

He has wrecked this whole realm, and evil bred.

Every knight and maiden that would journey

Through the land is imprisoned, and then fed

To his creature to eat. So, endlessly,

We have sought for any that might help us,

And free us from a plight so perilous.

But we have long lacked any remedy

Or repair for the ruin he has wrought,

Through magic, he has immortality;

Though slain he renews; death to him is naught.

Yet you are champions, men of chivalry,

Capable of mighty deeds in short,

Which you’ll prove, if your hearts give not the lie

To your looks (or so we hope) by and by.’

Book III: Canto II: 49-56: The knights attack Orrilo, who perpetually renews himself

A great longing possessed the martial pair,

To attempt that most wondrous enterprise.

The ladies led them to the tower; once there,

They could hear Orrilo, with dreadful cries

Of rage and fury, sending through the air

His great roar, like the north wind as it flies.

For a sound the imp made, grinding his teeth,

Like driven waves that churn the shore beneath.

A horned owl was the villain’s helmet crest,

With its feathers, and its eyes, all ablaze,

And a noisome breath issued from its chest

Though our two knights it scarcely did amaze,

For they’d faced wolves, and assailed the best

Of knights in other lands, in other days,

And held the danger to themselves at naught,

So, swiftly gave their challenge ere they fought.

Orrilo scorned to offer a reply,

But merely gripped his cudgel and attacked,

While Aquilante at the man did fly,

Dropping the lance his opponent lacked,

And swinging his great sword; and by and by

The duel developed, each advanced and backed,

Giving and receiving many a blow;

The blade and cudgel, dancing to and fro.

Grifone gave no heed to those that landed

On his brother’s enchanted plate and mail,

As Aquilante sword dealt two-handed

Blows against the other, much like a flail,

Till the blade, that his strong arm commanded,

Sliced his foe at the waist; like a piece of sail,

He severed him, like taut canvas; at last,

His top part fell, the rest to his mount stuck fast.

The half with a head twitched upon the sand,

Meanwhile the steed kicked and leapt around,

And arched its back, freed from all command,

Till the other half was thrown to the ground.

Yet once fallen to earth, you understand,

The first piece joined it, and, made whole and sound,

Jumped to the saddle rendered good as new,

As intact as it had been; one piece, not two.

Need I say how wondrous the matter seemed

To our warriors, how strange and curious?

Though Bishop Turpin, that most esteemed

Of authors, is my source, the marvellous

Aftermath of the blow (as if twere dreamed)

Embarrasses in the telling. The furious

Aquilante cried: ‘Is this mere phantasy?’

And struck once more at his base enemy.

Orrilo replied, and they laboured on,

Though the pagan had the worst of the fight,

For Aquilante would see the fellow gone,

And Orrilo’s plate and mail soon took flight.

Determined the imp should die, thereupon,

A fierce two-handed swing dealt the knight,

O’er the shoulder of his foe, to see him dead;

And, from the villain’s neck, sliced his head.

Now hearken to a wonder, for that devil,

Enchanted, yet accursed (I mean the part

That still remained seated in the saddle)

Gripped his club in one hand, lest it depart,

And then seized his head as it came level

With his other hand, and, by some strange art,

Re-joined it to his neck, then raised his weapon,

And resumed the fight, the nett damage: none!

Book III: Canto II: 57-60: Orrilo sets loose the Crocodile

The maid dressed in white smiled, sadly, and said:

‘Friend, leave alone that which will not yield;

You’ll not conquer him. Though he were dead,

Strewn in a thousand pieces o’er the field,

Milled finer than the grain is for your bread,

You’ll not see him perish; the wretch, instead,

Though divided, will be renewed again,

And, despite your slaying him, life retain.’

Aquilante cried: ‘Such disgrace, such shame,

Has ne’er been suffered in this world before.

Though I be attacked by fire and flame

I’ll not cease from battling with this boor.

And though I see no end to it, this same

Base villain I’ll fight, though my death be sure.

God may do as he pleases with my life;

To neither truce nor peace shall yield this strife!’

And with that, he turned, to renew the fight,

But Orrilo sped from the battle-ground,

And headed for his tower where still in sight

He freed the Crocodile, which, once unbound,

Crawled, from the door, towards our valiant knight,

While Orrilo rode behind his wondrous ‘hound’.  

Aquilante meanwhile prepared for war,

And raised his yet gleaming blade as before.

When Grifone saw the creature advance,

And that villain riding close upon its tail,

He set forth and, lowering his bright lance,

As if equipped with wings, onwards did sail

To aid Aquilante, for ne’er, perchance,

In this world did a battle e’er entail

Such effort, and against so strange a foe;

I’ll give you the tale, in my next canto.

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