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Epic romance Orlando Innamorato was written by the Italian poet Matteo Maria Boiardo who plaited together characteristic features of Carolingian epic and Arthurian legend with the classical tradition of Virgil, Homer and Ovid. He created a great and complex story praising love in a variety of its forms. Moreover, professor of Italian at Columbia University Jo Ann Cavallo claims that Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato is not a simple ode to love; this amusing tale of damsels and knights in love and war comprised expressive moral lessons for the courteous society of Renaissance Italy.
Romance Orlando Innamorato quickly became an extremely popular in that – day Italy. The famous literati of the time and members of the court, among who was Isabella d’Este, read it enthusiastically. Numerous writers tried to translate the romance into the new Tuscan standard language; others wrote continuations, while others simply imitated it.
Ariosto was one of those continuators with his Orlando Furioso, one and, in fact, the greatest of six well – known continuations of the poem. Nevertheless, Boiardo couldn’t even surmise that one day of the sixteenth century his poem would be “put aside in favour of Ariosto’s continuation” (Wilkins,1974).
Canto I opens with the scene at the court of King Charlemagne:
All of the paladins came to court
to celebrate that holiday.
From every region, every nation,
numberless people entered Paris,
and there were many Saracens,
because court royal was proclaimed:
anyone not an apostate
or renegade was promised safety (Canto I, ottavo 9, lines 1 – 8).
A great number of men, friends and enemies, from different countries gathered together and were having fun when absolutely unexpected meeting happened. The daughter of the king of Cathay Angelica appears at Charlemagne’s Pentecost tournament with her brother Argalia.
The young lady is the most desirable treasure, she is the most beautiful woman have ever seen:
She seemed to be the morning star,
the lily and the garden rose.
In short, to tell the truth of her,
never was so much beauty seen (Canto I, ottavo 21, lines 5 – 8).
There were lots of beautiful women among guests, but none of them could be comparable with the maiden beauty of Angelica:
I say that each seemed beautiful
before that flower reached the hall
to take the beauty prize from all (Canto I, ottavo 22, lines 6 – 8).
It’s naturally that everyone wants her. To get the desired prise men have to pass an extremely difficult trial, they must overcome Argalia in a harsh combat so that to take Angelica as wife. Orlando and Ranaldo are the two most touched by Angelica’s beauty:
I cannot from my heart displace
the sight of her—her sweet, bright face—
because I think I’ll die without her;
I think my soul will disappear.
Now neither strength nor courage helps
against the bridling force of Love.
Knowing’s no help, nor men’s advice.
I see what’s best. I pick what’s worst (Canto I, ottavo 31, lines 1 – 8).
Orlando accepts Angelica’s challenge without moment’s hesitation; he and all the others at once fall in this marvellous young lady. They know nothing about her brother Argalia. Men do not consider the trial to be really hard one. Orlando can’t even suppose that Argalia’s spear is spell-bound. Argalia establishes rules of the trial knowing beforehand that this trial will be fraudulent.
So, the tournament is appointed and the rules are established. Argalia let everybody know that they are to follow rules in order to take part in the combat with him, and everybody accepted that rules:
“However, there is one condition;
whoever wants to try must listen!
Once beaten from his saddle, none
may fight again for any reason.
He must submit and go to prison.
Yet one who can unhorse Uberto
will win, as his reward, my person.
My brother will recall his giants” (Canto I, ottavo 28, lines 1 – 8).
However, at the very beginning of the trial many participants forgot about all the regulations and decided to play against them, regardless of the fact that they had given their words of honour. What incited them to do that? The answer is simple – burning, blind and all-absorbing passion.
The author widely uses metaphors and personifications in his poem. Such poetic method provides readers with realistic image of the facts which were depicted by Boiardo. In addition to metaphors, colourful epithets are frequently used by author in the poem. Use of numerous epithets gives readers the impression that they see events and characters by Boiardo’s eyes.
Matteo Maria Boiardo praises love which is the main theme of his poem. He shows us that the strong and frank feeling has an ability to work wonders. Nevertheless, the author lifts the veil from another side of the wonderful feeling. Canto I is some kind of an introduction to the poem “Orlando in love”, it is its beginning. Here the readers become acquainted with characters and the area where events take place; an entanglement of the plot occurs here. And this is where the author shows his readers a blind and unseasoned feeling. Here we can most probably see not a love yet, but ardent and burning passion instead. From the one hand it is wonderful; it inspires to do heroic deeds, arouses courage even in cowards; and from the other hand it makes people blind, makes them to forget about everything – about their dignity, principles, convictions, given words and vows. Such metamorphoses are well shown in Canto I. Bad influence of the passion can be seen at the episode with Malagise, who disclosed the intensions of Angelica’s father, King Galafrone. He decided to punish Angelica:
… Then Malagise said, “You rabble,
I’ll capture you without a battle!
Your clubs and chains will be no use,
nor will your darts and twisted swords.
I’ll punish you when you’re asleep.
You will be killed like gelded sheep” (Canto I, ottavo 43, lines 7 – 8, ottavo 44, lines 1 – 4).
As we can see, he wanted to kill the lady, but when Malagise stooped close to her and saw her beauty he changed his mind:
…he neared the woman
stealthily and drew forth his sword
to slit her throat, but when he saw
her close—so pretty!—he delayed.
His spirit weltered back and forth.
At last, he said, “Here’s what will happen:
I’ll make her sleep by magic, then
I’ll have her. I’ll indulge my passion” (Canto I, ottavo 45, lines 1 – 8).
So, in that episode we can see the side of passion which cannot be called tender and loving on any account.
The Carolingian epic was actually turned on its head by Boiardo who created his own updated version of the Orlando/ Roland story. Orlando Innamorato is some kind of an unauthorized biography which showes how the pure paladin had left Charlemagne’s court to pursue a marvellous princess from Cathay across whole Eurasia. The author rewrote classical texts of, for instance, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Homer’s Odyssey, and readers can find such rewrittings at the text.
Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato has preserveded its freshness and popularity for 500 years in popular culture of Italy. In Sicily’s puppet theaters Italians and tourists travelling to that country today can up to now come across Rinaldo and Orlando fighting over the marvellous princess Angelica. The characters depicted by Boiardo and later developed in Orlando Furioso, Ariosto’s continuation, have reappeared in melodrama, opera, folk operas, and also in recitations by singers and story-tellers. The first full-length theatrical alteration of Orlando Innamorato has only recently been presented to a contemporary audience.
Materials from the chivalrous tradition, expressing the Carolingian epic of Charlemagne and his knights, and the Arthurian romances of Lancelot, King Arthur and even Tristan were taken by Boiardo for writing his epic poem. The author also used incorporated stories and classical tradition from Homer. Most of Homer’s themes were taken by Boiardo from the Odyssey and Iliad, which wasn’t in such an extent romance-oriented as the first one. Some episodes were rewritten from the epic model excellence in the Italian Renaissance, Virgil’s Aeneid, and also from Ovid, as The Metamorphosis was a manual of mythological stories. The readers interpreted these stories allegorically. They are use by Matteo Maria Boiardo to create a play with firm allegorical tradition.
The lyrics of Petrarch and the novella tradition of Boccaccio also were among sources from which Boiardo borrowed some elements for his poem. He practiced creative imitation and reworking of earlier texts in order to provide his own text with richer meaning. It’s rather interesting for modern reader to try to recognize the source and read both versions in comparison.
Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato brought certain ammount of novelty in epic romances. It frankly describes human’s intimate feelings such as the desire for revenge or glory, erotic desire, sympathy and ambition. The author makes subtle analisis of these feelings, he offers the readers to perceive this world without any borders. The poem is alive owing to the fact that Boiardo allows readers to make their conclusions and observations without obtruding his own ones.