Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato


Boiardo - Orlando Innamorato - Frontis

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

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Matteo Maria Boiardo (1440-1494), the son of Giovanni di Feltrino and Lucia Strozzi, ranked as a member of the nobility as Count of Scandiano, his birthplace. He studied at the University of Ferrara, acquiring knowledge of Latin, Greek and other languages, and becoming a doctor of law and philosophy. He found favour with Borso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara (d.1471) and his successor, Ercole d’Este, both patrons of the arts, and in 1473 he was a member of the retinue that escorted Eleonora of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand I, to meet Ercole, her spouse, at Ferrara. Five years later Boiardo was invested with the governorship of Reggio, an office which he filled with noted success till his death, except for a brief interval (1481–86) when he was governor of Modena. His minor literary works, pursued from his youth upwards, consisted of love poetry in imitation of Petrarch, adaptations of Herodotus, Apuleius, and others, and a set of eclogues. He married Taddea Gonzaga in 1472.

His unfinished romance ‘Orlando Innamorato’ (or ‘Orlando in Love’) which was published posthumously in 1495 borrows its setting from the 11th Century ‘Chanson de Roland’, written in Old French, which tells of the death of Roland at the Battle of Roncevaux (Roncesvalles). Orlando is here an Italian version of Roland the Christian knight who, in the French epic poem, fights for Charlemagne in a battle between the Christian paladins and the invading Saracens. The historical battle in 778, was actually with the Basques, retaliating after the destruction of Pamplona by Charlemagne’s army. Here follows a brief synopsis of Boiardo’s story:

The beautiful Angelica (daughter to the king of Cathay) and her brother Argalia arrive at Charlemagne’s Court. To win her hand a knight must first defeat Argalia in single-combat. Orlando and Rinaldo are in love with her, but when Argalia is slain by the heathen knight Ferrau, Angelica flees pursued by them. Angelica and Rinaldo drink the waters of enchantment, and Angelica is filled with a burning love for Rinaldo, while Rinaldo is now indifferent to her. Orlando and Rinaldo arrive at Angelica’s castle where the company also includes Agricane, King of Tartary; Sacripante, King of Circassia; Agramante, King of Africa; and Marfisa an Asian warrior-queen.

Meanwhile, France is threatened by heathen invaders led by King Rodomonte of Sarza, in company with King Gradasso of Sericana whose principal reason for going to war is to win Orlando’s sword Durindana (Durandel in the French epic). Rinaldo leaves the castle and Angelica and Orlando set out for France in search of him. Rinaldo and Angelica again drink the enchanted waters, reversing their state; he is now in love with her, but she is indifferent to him. Rinaldo and Orlando fight for her hand, but King Charlemagne intervenes and promises Angelica’s hand to whichever of the two wins most honour in the battle against the heathen. He leaves her in the care of Duke Namus. Orlando and Rinaldo arrive in Paris in time to repulse an attack by Agramante. Namus’ camp is overrun but Angelica escapes, with Rinaldo in pursuit, followed by Ferrau who, having defeated her brother Argalia, considers Angelica his. Ariosto pursued their story at the start of his own epic.

Of Boiardo’s other characters the most important is the female knight Bradamante, Rinaldo’s sister, who loves the heathen knight Ruggiero. Ruggiero, who is claimed to be a descendent of Hector, and of Alexander the Great, has also fallen fatally in love with the Christian Bradamante. It is prophesied that they will wed and found the Italian House of Este. Opposed to this outcome is Atlante, an African wizard who seeks to prevent Ruggiero from converting to Christianity. By the end of Boiardo’s poem, Ruggiero is imprisoned in Atlante’s castle, however, Bradamante is close by.

Other characters of importance in Boiardo’s work, who also appear in Ariosto’s, are: Astolfo, a friend of Orlando, who is captured by the sorceress Morgana and her sister Alcina; Mandricardo, a Tartar king; and a young knight named Brandimarte, who is in love with the beautiful Fiordelisa.