Orlando Furioso Canto XI: Looney Tunes Orlando

The week before Easter vacation, my ERC nerds gathered without me under the able guidance of a colleague.  They had the treat–heu, heu mihi!–of reading Orlando’s insanely muscular exploit with the maid-devouring Orc of Ebuda.

As summarized by my friend: like a good Catholic Italian, Orlando serves up fish for Friday and then beats the holy hell out of a bunch of Irishmen.

This is a great scene but hard to capture graphically (this is as good as I’ve seen).  For one thing, the Orc is forever ambiguous in description, leaving us to combine whatever aquatic-terror elements we have picked up over the years.  For another, the sheer physicality of the encounter is purely in the realm of the comic book–stuff so crazy, it could only ever be drawn.

It would be almost exactly 400 years before anyone could handle this properly in art–E.C. Segar, the creator of Popeye the Sailor.  Orlando tosses aside his armor and dives in to kill a whale/kraken/cyclops with his bare hands!  He wedges its jaws open with an anchor!  The only thing missing is the spinach and the twister punch.

Orlando doesn’t have much in common with Popeye in the characterization department–although I note with some amusement that Popeye’s earliest incarnations had him indestructibly durable rather than impossibly strong–but where else do we see someone grab a whale by the tail and swing it around in defiance of all physics?  I think all the comps are in Looney, H-B, etc.: Bam-Bam, Tasmanian Devil, Popeye.

On a slightly more  highbrow note, one of Ariosto’s nice moves is here: Orlando’s complete mastery is underscored by Rogero’s earlier attempt to kill the Orc.  Rogero had pegasus and the gorgoneion and failed; Orlando does it shirtless by diving in and giving that fish what for.  What force on earth could possibly stop him?  A rabble of grumpy corsairs?  They are lucky he didn’t just pick up the island and drop it on them.

A few stanzas to round this one out.  Here’s how big the orc is (XI.34-36):

But now the winding beach is heard to roar,
And wood and cave the mighty noise return;
The billows swell, and, lo! the beast! who pressed,
And nigh concealed the sea beneath his breast.

As cloud from humid vale is seen to rise,
Pregnant with rain and storm, which seems withal
To extinguished day, and charged with deeper dyes
Than night, to spread throughout this earthly ball,
So swims the beast, who so much occupies
Of sea, he may be said to keep it all.
Waves roar: collected in himself, the peer
Looks proudly on, unchanged in heart and cheer.

He, as one well resolved in his intent,
Moved quickly to perform the feat he planned;
And, for he would the damsel’s harm prevent,
And would with that assail the beast at hand,
Between her and the orc the boat he sent,
Leaving within the sheath his idle brand,
Anchor and cable next he takes in hold,
And waits the foe with constant heart and bold.

Sword, muscles, swimming…skip to the ending (XI.41-43):

So swimming till the island is attained,
With this towards the rock Orlando speeds:
He hawls the anchor home (a footing gained),
Pricked by whose double fluke, the monster bleeds.
The labouring orc to follow is constrained,
Dragged by that force which every force exceeds;
Which at a single sally more achieves
Than at ten turns the circling windlass heaves.

As a wild bull, about whose horn is wound
The unexpected noose, leaps here and there,
When he has felt the cord, and turns him round,
And rolls and rises, yet slips not the snare;
So from his pleasant seat and ancient bound,
Dragged by that arm and rope he cannot tear,
With thousands of strange wheels and thousand slides,
The monster follows where the cable guides.

This the red sea with reason would be hight
To-day, such streams of blood have changed its hue;
And where the monster lashed it in his spite,
The eye its bottom through the waves might view.
And now he splashed the sky, and dimmed the light
Of the clear sun, so high the water flew.
The noise re-echoing round, the distant shore
And wood and hill rebound the deafening roar.

Bam-Bam!  And Proteus runs off to Ethiopia in terror.  Piece of cake, Orlando!

(And he’s still not furioso)

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