Orlando Furioso: Canto XIII

Remember Zerbino?

Of course you do!  You have a memory like a steel trap.  When a name bubbles out of nowhere, unconnected with any character or action of the story, you don’t forget.  You store every proper noun and its tenuous relation to the main story for safe retrieval at the proper time.

Zerbino.  Right?

Ok, EIGHT CANTOS AGO Rinaldo saved Princess Genevra from the cruel machinations of Duke Polinesso in Scotland.  There were body doubles and duped lovers and a trial by combat in which her devastated lover, thought dead by suicide, came back to save her because he loved her so much.  Rinaldo played a low-key role, bringing in the star witness and then challenging Polinesso to a trial by combat which ended…predictably.

Remember?  It was awesome!  Ok, well in the course of getting caught up on events in Scotland, we learned in passing that Genevra had a brother named Zerbino who was totally capable of saving her…but he was off adventuring around Europe.

All caught up?  Orlando rescues Zerbino’s girlfriend Isabel in Canto XIII.


The canto opens with Back Story: while Zerbino was on his continental walk-about, he came to a tourney in Gallicia.  He stomped all over everyone and won the heart of the Saracen king’s daughter, Angelica Clone Isabel.  Religion-crossed from ever marrying, they agree to an elaborate elopement.  Zerbino has some friends spirit her away on ship, which wrecks in a  storm, but a small handful escape in a skiff, but then Zerbino’s buddy Odoric decides Angelica Clone Isabel is so beautiful that he is going to get rid of the rest of the survivors and rape her (being beautiful sucks in this poem).  There’s a now-familiar run through the forest and gruesome struggle before Isabel is saved…by brigands who intend to sell her into slavery.  Orlando finds her stuck in a cave with an old crone, nameless for now, with the cyclopes brigands out and about.

The brigands show up and threaten Orlando.  He smiles, we skip forward a bit, and (XIII.37-38):

A spacious table in mid cavern stood,
Two palms in thickness, in its figure square;
Propt on one huge, ill fashioned food and rude,
Which held the thief and all who harboured there.
Even with such freedom as his dart of wood
We mark the nimble Spaniard launch through air,
The heavy table Roland seized and threw,
Where, crowded close together, stood the crew.

One had his belly crushed, and one his breast;
Another head or arm, or leg and thigh.
Whence some were slain outright, and maimed the rest,
While he who was least injured sought to fly.
’Tis so sometimes, with heavy stone oppressed,
A knot of slimy snakes is seen to lie,
With battered heads and loins where, winter done,
They lick their scales, rejoicing in the sun.

Some of his more tastefully understated work so far, no?  He actually drags out the survivors and hangs them.

Canto XIII is a switching station outside the Villa Rest Stop of Canto XII.  A lot of characters shake hands here.  I’ve already mentioned the look back to Rinaldo and Genevra.  The old crone escapes and will show up again in the care of Marphisa (in seven cantos!).  Orlando and Isabel cross paths with a knight in chains whom we will get to know in a few ten cantos.  How are we going to delay these events for such a preposterous amount of time?  Why, by introducing a raft of new characters to follow!

The second half of the canto, however, follows the exploits of Bradamante.  Let’s see, where was she…?

In Canto 2 she had abandoned her duty in Marseilles to rescue Rogero.  Now that she knows he is safe, she has returned to her duty of jacking up Moors.  But the days and weeks run by and Rogero never shows up to thank her (he’s a bit occupied trying to save “her” from the villa trap).  So we team up Melissa and Bradamante again, and once again the women will ride to the rescue to destroy the magical trap holding Rogero.  Those d’Este women must have been something else, eh!

Sadly we have to suffer through another genealogical “prophecy” about the d’Este line.  They must have been paying Ariosto by the name-drop.  If I had a hard copy of Rose I would find some way to mark these sections so I can skip them.  Stanzas 55-73 are skippable, but we should note that now Bradamante asks for a “prophecy” about d’Este women.  Proto-feminist indeed!

Bradamante loses her nerve–breaking the spell requires killing “Rogero” and she can’t do it–so she falls into the villa trap as well and won’t be freed until Astolpho comes along in nine cantos.  Amor vincits omnia indeed!

But now we need to tip the hat toward our epic source material.  Time to move on to Canto XIV and count the ships at Paris!



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