Italian poet, remembered primarily for his ORLANDO FURIOSO, published in its final version in 1532. Ariosto’s work was the most celebrated narrative poem of the Italian high Renaissance, and the first example of modern poetry to provoke widespread critical controvesy.
Ariosto was born in Reggio Emilia, as the son of Count Niccolò Ariosto. At the age of then his family moved to Ferrera, where he studied law from 1489 to1494. There he also started to study Latin and Greek language and literature. When his father died in 1500, Ariosto assumed for some years the management of family estates as the eldest of 10 children. In 1502 he became commander of the fort of Canossa, and the next year he entered the service of Cardidal Ippolito d’Este. In 1513 Ariosto met Alessandra Benucci. After the death of her husband, Tito Strozzi, she became Ariosto’s mistress.
Because the family had settled comfortably in Ferrara, Ariosto refused to accompany Cardinal d’Este to Hungary, and entered the service of Alfonso I, Duke of Ferrara, Cardinal’s brother. In 1522 he was sent to govern the Garfagnana region in the wildest part of the Apuan Alps. He returned after three years from the bandit-ridden post to Ferrara.
In about 1505 Arisoto began writing Orlando Furioso. The poem was a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Orlando innamorato. Its first edition appeared in Venice in 1516 and was later revised in 1521 and 1532. The main character, Orlando, goes mad (furioso) because his love for the beautiful Angelica is not returned. Other themes are the war between Christians and Saracens, and the secondary love story of Ruggiero and Bradamante. Orlando Furioso presented a rich variety of characters, mixed romance, epic, and lyrical poetry, and made fun of outmoded chivalric manners. Later the poem had a profound influence on such poets as Tasso, Spenser, and Lope de Vega. It also fascinated artists, and in the mid-1700s G.B. Tiepolo painted in Villa Valmarana in Vicenza frescoes illustrating its scenes.
Ariosto also wrote seven satires, begining in 1514, and five comedies. As a member of a group organized to produce plays by Plautus and Terrence at the Este court of Ferrara, he became especially familiar with their approaches to comedy, and their work later became the model for his own dramas. In LA CASSARIA (The Coffer, prose version in 1508, verse version in 1531) two servants succeed in arranging desirable marriages for their masters. IL SUPPOSITI (The Pretenders, prose version 1509, verse version 1528/31) was based on Terence’s The Eunuch and Plautus’s The Captives. Shakespeare used parts of the work in his play The Taming of the Shrew. IL NEGROMANTE (The Necromancer, 1520), centered on a marriage kept secret, GLI STUDENTI (The Students, 1519), was an unfinished comedy of frustrated love, and LA LENA (Lena, 1528) was based on the story of Peronella in Boccaccio’s Decameron.
Around 1527 Ariosto secretly married the widow Alessandra Benucci, and spent the last part of his life revising and enlarging Orlando Furioso. Ariosto died in Ferrara on July 6, 1533.
a chi piace la chierca a chi la spada,
a chi la patria, a chi gli strani liti.
Che vuole andare a torno, a torno vada;
vegga Inghilterra, Ongheria, Francia e Spagna;
(from Mal può dirar il rosignuolo in gabbia)
Orlando Furioso (“Orlando Enraged”)
This work is a continuation of the “Orlando Innamorato” of Matteo Maria Boiardo, which was left unfinished upon the author’s death in 1494. It begins more or less at the point where Boiardo left it.
This is a brief synopsis of Boiardo’s work, omitting most of the numerous digressions and incidental episodes associated with these events: To the court of King Charlemagne comes Angelica (daughter to the king of Cathay, or India) and her brother Argalia. Angelica is the most beautiful woman any of the Peers have ever seen, and all want her. However, in order to take her as wife they must first defeat Argalia in combat. The two most stricken by her are
Orlando and Ranaldo (“Rinaldo” in Rose).
When Argalia falls to the heathen knight Ferrau, Angelica flees — with Orlando and Ranaldo in hot pursuit. Along the way, both Angelica and Ranaldo drink magic waters — Angelica is filled with a burning love for Ranaldo, but Ranaldo is now indifferent.
Eventually, Orlando and Ranaldo arrive at Angelica’s castle. Others also gather at Angelica’s castle, including Agricane, King of Tartary; Sacripant, King of Circassia; Agramante, King of
Africa and Marfisa (“Marphisa” in Rose), an Asian warrior-Queen. Except for Orlando and Ranaldo, all are heathen Meanwhile, France is threatened by heathen invaders. Led by King Gradasso of Sericana (whose principal reason for going to war is to obtain Orlando’s sword, Durindana) and King Rodomonte of Sarzia, a Holy War between Pagans and Christians ensues. Ranaldo leaves Angelica’s castle, and Angelica and a very
love-sick (but very chaste and proper) Orlando, set out for France in search of him. Again the same waters as before are drunk from, but this time in reverse — Ranaldo now burns for
Angelica, but Angelica is now indifferent. Ranaldo and Orlando now begin to fight over her, but King Charlemagne (fearing the consequences if his two best knights kill each other in combat)
intervenes and promises Angelica to whichever of the two fights the best against the heathen; he leaves her in the care of Duke Namus. Orlando and Ranaldo arrive in Paris just in time to repulse an attack by Agramante. Namus’ camp is overrun by the heathen. Angelica escapes, with Ranaldo in pursuit. Also in pursuit is Ferrau, who (because he
had defeated Argalia) considers Angelica his. It is at this point that the poem breaks off.
While the Orlando-Ranaldo-Angelica triangle is going on, the stories of other knights and their loves are mixed in. Most important of these is that of the female knight Bradamante
(sister of Ranaldo), who falls in love with a very noble heathen knight named Ruggiero (“Rogero” in Rose). Ruggiero, who is said to be a descendent of Alexander the Great and Hector, also falls
in love with Bradamante, but because they are fighting on opposite sides it is felt that their love is hopeless.
Nevertheless, it is prophecised that they shall wed and found the famous Este line, who shall rise to become one of the major families of Medieval and Renaissance Italy (it is worth noting
that the Estes where the patrons of both Boiardo and Ariosto). Opposed to this prophecy is Atlantes, an African wizard who seeks to derail fate and keep Ruggiero from becoming a Christian.
By the end of the poem, Ruggiero is imprisoned in Atlantes’ castle. However, Bradamante (who has decided to follow her heart) is in pursuit of her love, and is not too far away. It is the
Bradamante-Ruggiero story that eventually takes center stage in Ariosto’s work.
Other characters of importance: Astolfo, a Peer and friend of Orlando, who is kidnaped by the evil witch Morgana and her sister Alcina; Mandricardo, a fierce but hot-headed heathen; and a young knight named Brandimarte, who falls in love with (and wins the heart of) the beautiful Fiordelisa (“Flordelice” in Rose).
Allplay major or semi-major roles in the events of Ariosto’s poem.