First mentioned in V.69; Back story provided in XIII.4-31; Battle of Paris XVI, XVIII, XIX; Gabrina Escort XX, XXI, XXIII; Death XXIV
Prince of Scotland, Brother of Princess Genevra, Betrothed of the Saracen Princess Isabel of Gallicia, Slain by Mandricardo the Tartan
Patroclus (in possession of Orlando’s arms, dies fighting someone wearing Hector’s arms), Sarpedon (a foreign ally who sallies with Hector against the besieging Greeks)
Noble Prince Dies Doing the Right Thing
Prince Zerbino leaves Scotland to seek his fame on the continent. He attends a tournament in Gallicia and falls in love with the king’s daughter, Isabel. After returning to Scotland, Zerbino arranges an elopement with his friends Almonio and Odoric. The ship bearing her to Scotland is lost at sea and Zerbino assumes her dead.
He later joins Rinaldo’s banner and leads the knights of Scotland against the siege of Paris. Three Spaniards gang up on him but, in his best battle scene, Zerbino dispatches them all with ease (XVI.61-63). With only Lurcanio and Ariodantes he bravely stands against the terrifying Saracen counter-assault, but Rinaldo swoops in to rescue them and the mighty deeds roll on to the first victory for the Christian armies.
At night after the battle he stumbles upon Medoro and Cloridano. One of his men gravely and cravenly wounds Medoro (setting up the Angelica pastoral scene at the heart of the poem). Zerbino tries to avenge the near-murder but his man escapes.
While looking for the rogue Scotsman he encounters Marphisa and Gabrina. He foolishly mocks Marphisa, gets rekt, finds out Marphisa is a woman, and becomes Gabrina’s escort. Gabrina, after realizing who he is, taunts him about the fate of Isabel in the hands of the brigands. He attempts to find Isabel, but is greatly slowed by his oath to escort the old crone.
He encounters Hermonides of Holland. Gabrina convinces him that Hermonides is an old enemy who means her harm, so Zerbino fights and nearly kills him. Before his servants carry him off on a litter, Hermonides reveals that Gabrina is the most evil woman who has ever lived by a lot. In spite of this, Zerbino continues to uphold his oath to protect her and travels on.
They next discover the corpse of Pinabel, recently slain by Bradamante. Gabrina steals Pinabel’s girdle and then, at Count Anselmo’s castle, frames Zerbino for the murder of Pinabel. Just before he is executed, Orlando rolls into town with Isabel and hacks up most of the army to free Zerbino. Orlando soon departs to seek out Mandricardo and finish a duel with him, leaving Zerbino and Isabel behind. (His next stop will be the grotto of Angelica and Medoro, at which point he will officially become Furioso)
Re-united with his true love at last, Zerbino agrees to help Orlando seek out Mandricardo for three days, then return to Paris to continue the battle. In a twist of fate later to be renamed Shakespearean, Zerbino and Isabel come upon Odoric, the man who betrayed them both and attempted to rape Isabel after the shipwreck. Almonio and Corebo (mentioned in the XIII backstory) escort the prisoner. In a further twist Gabrina shows up again, and Zerbino hits upon a proper punishment for Odoric: rather than kill the traitor, Zerbino requires him to take his place as the awful hag’s escort.
(Ariosto gives us a one stanza summary of their future together: Odoric strings her up from a tree; Almonio finds out about it and does the same right back to him)
Zerbino and Isabel resolve to fulfill the three days oath given to Orlando, and come upon the scene of his madness. While investigating the awesome carnage they encounter Flordelice, who is searching for her love Brandimart, who had been searching for his friend Orlando
(Brandimart has just returned to Paris after being stuck in the Villa, but Flordelice does not know this. I’m pretty sure this is the first time we’ve seen Brandimart’s name since Canto VIII).
Zerbino gathers up Orlando’s arms and labels them to ward off thieves. Before he can go, Mandricardo shows up looking for Orlando. When Mandricardo takes the sword Durindane from the pile, Zerbino fights to defend Orlando’s honor. Mandricardo, encased in magical arms and wielding the world’s mightiest sword, slays him and departs with Durindane.
Judgment: He has an air of the ridiculous so that I cannot quite tell if Ariosto is satirizing chivalry through him. His commitment to the oath is admirable and his hopeless battle against Mandricardo is quite awesome.