(Always, always read Orlando Furioso in Rose’s translation, link in sidebar)
Our titular hero, bewitched by magic/love/take your pick, is tossing and turning on his bed while Paris is under siege. Luckily he’s in town to shut down any enemy offensive, so Charles the Great can sleep well, right?
Well, then he dreams, super-emo style, of looking up into the eyes of Angelica in a garden bower (8.71-83—that’s a long dream!). The dream’s finale (8.81-83):
He with the fullest pleasure overflows,
That ever happy lover did content:
But, lo! this time a mighty tempest rose,
And wasted flowers, and trees uptore and rent.
Not with the rage with which this whirlwind blows,
Joust warring winds, north, south, and east, unpent.
It seemed, as if in search of covering shade,
He, vainly wandering, through a desert strayed.
Meanwhile the unhappy lover lost the dame
In that dim air, nor how he lost her, weets;
And, roving far and near, her beauteous name
Through every sounding wood and plain repeats.
And while, “Oh wretched me!” is his exclaim,
“Who has to poison changed my promised sweets?”
He of his sovereign lady who with tears
Demands his aid, the lamentation hears.
Thither, whence comes the sound, he swiftly hies,
And toils, now here, now there, with labour sore:
Oh! what tormenting grief, to think his eyes
Cannot again the lovely rays explore! —
Lo! other voice from other quarter cries—
“Hope not on earth to enjoy the blessing more.”
At that alarming cry he woke, and found
Himself in tears of bitter sorrow drowned.
We have not seen Orlando in action at all so far in the poem—eight whole cantos of Angelica, of Rinaldo’s quest to England, of Rogero and Bradamant and Merlin’s tomb and all sorts of magic-y goodness. Now, finally turning to our hero and the supposed heart of the story (more on that another day), we get this. In good epic fashion, it tells us the entire Orlando story. Let’s admire this “mighty tempest” for a bit.
Obviously we’ve got the literal storm raging around Paris which put an end to the near-victory of Agramant’s army (8.69, just a few stanzas prior). But that’s not the storm that tore Angelica from his grasp—that’s the war raging across Europe and now besieging Paris. In the pre-poem Orlando brings Angelica back from the east (Orlando Innamorato) but Charlemagne confiscates her to prevent Orlando from fighting with Rinaldo. The poem opens with Angelica on the run, because the man in charge of keeping her safe has been attacked by Agramant’s forces and she escapes in the chaos. The tides of war move each of them far from each other. When Orlando does set out to find her, “roving far and near,” he is constantly waylaid by feats his honor demands him to perform.
But the tempest is also the passion for Angelica raging in Orlando’s heart (and Rinaldo’s, as we saw in the first canto). Charlemagne wouldn’t have taken Angelica if Orlando had his heart under control. After the dream he abandons his post to search for her, leaving Paris to fend for itself against the mighty army of Agramant. There’s a narrative necessity there—Rodomonte couldn’t rampage all over Paris in his aristeia if Orlando were there to shut him down—but it’s also one of the primary themes of the poem. The passion-love, the “magical” side of love, is destructive of individual souls and of society.
And then there’s the struggle with Rinaldo. Europe’s two greatest knights are paralyzed with passion and are fighting each other instead of, like, invading armies. So the tempest is also the disarray of the Christian armies, quite a bit of which is caused by the love of Helen Angelica (Helangelica? Done!).
It’s also amusingly meta-narrative, which I am certain Ariosto intends. This poem is a colossal, meandering mess which lacks the Aristotelian unity according to Tasso (really man, no need to throw shade when you can just write La Gerusalemme Liberata and let the res loquitur for itself). It is fiendishly difficult to keep track of when and where we are, who has done what and who has met whom. The poem itself is the storm, and Helangelica’s key scene is at its eye (Canto 23, the exact midpoint, in which she is ironically absent, permanently, from the action).
And that brings us to the foreshadowing. In 23.116 Orlando finds the bower where Angelica gave her love freely to Medoro, a complete nobody in the scheme of the poem (we set aside interesting commentary on that for another day). Once Orlando confronts the truth, it triggers this (23.130-131):
So scathed, that they to shepherd or to flock
Thenceforth shall never furnish shade or bed.
And that sweet fountain, late so clear and pure,
From such tempestuous wrath was ill secure.
For he turf, stone, and trunk, and shoot, and lop,
Cast without cease into the beauteous source;
Till, turbid from the bottom to the top,
Never again was clear the troubled course.
At length, for lack of breath, compelled to stop,
(When he is bathed in sweat, and wasted force,
Serves not his fury more) he falls, and lies
Upon the mead, and, gazing upward, sighs.
Look at those parallels to the dream in canto 8! Orlando is the storm!
Orlando is officially Furioso at this point—indeed, bereft of reason, he can only play the role of comic relief for much of the second half of the poem. His reason is lost, “vainly wandering,” on the desert of the moon and only rescued by the heroics of Duke Astolpho putting to good use Elijah’s chariot of fire (srsly) in canto 34. Five cantos after that Astolpho and his men stage a bro intervention with the insane Orlando, pouring sense down his throat (actually they just make him breathe it back in through his nostrils).
You’d think we’re done at that point, but there’s more foreshadowing to be done. Orlando’s heroic moment comes on a desert beach in canto 41-42, which can only happen after the storm of Helangelica (and the complexities of the poem as a whole) is resolved. So the desolation of the dream turns out to be a kind of redemption, and what seem like losses turn out to be victories. To make that link smoother, I’d need to bring in the Rogero tale, which makes the beach-desert link more explicit and whose tale directly ties into the battle of canto 41.
Surely there’s a dissertation out there on this topic, so perhaps I should stop trying to make every literary observation possible. It’s a neat poem!
And it’s neat to read it with kids who actually get the symbolism.