Damascus XVIII, Laiazzo XIX, Gabrina and Pinabel XX, Four-way dispute XXVI, Tournament XXVII, Mentioned XXX, XXXI, Rejoins Agramant at Arles XXXII, Duel with Bradamante XXXVI, Ulania and Marganor XXXVII, Baptism XXXVIII, Battle at Broken Truce XXXIX, Hermit’s Prophecy XLI, Bradamante’s Comfort XLII, XLIV, Appeal to Unite Bradamante and Rogero XLV, Leo and Rodomonte XLVI
Rogero’s long-lost sister (spoiler!), Daughter of Elder Rogero and Galaciella
Coat of Arms:
Gold Phoenix on Green Field
Penthesilea, Valkyrie, Achilles, Princess Leia Organa
Knight-Errant Teaches Men a Lesson, Discovers Her Noble Heritage, Helps Unite Brother With His True Love
When Sansonetto and Astolpho travel from Jerusalem, they cross paths with the dame-knight Marphisa. Initially eager to test them in battle as previously she had battled Orlando and Rinaldo, she soon recognizes Astolpho as the duke with whom she had made alliance in Catay (Orlando Innamorato). The three travel on to Damascus in search of Gryphon, where King Norandino is about to award a beautiful set of arms to the winner of the second tournament.
A melee breaks out as Marphisa realizes those arms are hers, recently lost, and attacks to regain them. After Gryphon brokers peace with Astolpho, Marphisa stakes her claim: her arms had been stolen in Armenia when she dropped them to chase down Brunello and her lost sword. In proof she points out an impressed crown as her ensign on the armor. When Norandino and the people of Damascus learn that this is Marphisa, they are terrified that this scourge of the Levant will kill them all. Marphisa and Gryphon one-up each other in generosity with the end result that the arms are back in her possession (this part is very unclear). She sits out the ensuing celebratory tournament, allowing Sansonetto to win.
After a tenday rest Marphisa intends to travel to Europe to test her might against the many great knights gathered there for the war. She (along with Gryphon, Aquilant, Sansonetto, and Astolpho) take a boat to Cyprus and beyond but a storm drives them for four days. St. Elmo sends his fire, prayer abates the storm, and the ship drifts to a forsaken shore of the Anatolian coast: the bay of Laiazzo. The amazonian kingdom requires men to win 10 fights in sequence or be put to death; a winner, by contrast, becomes a stud for the propagation of the kingdom.
Faced with a choice between fighting an army of 6000 amazonians and participating in the contest, the knights accept the contest. At first they think to exclude Marphisa because she cannot complete the second half of the challenge, but she insists and takes the field as their champion. She massacres 9 of the 10 knights at the same time and then confronts their leader, a knight in black named Guido. They fight to a draw only to be interrupted by nightfall. Guido invites the troupe back to his estate to protect them from the wrath of the 90 widows Marphisa has created that day.
After Guido relates the twisted history of the place, Marphisa leads the knights in resolve to escape their captors and take Guido with them. The next day, just as they are about to resume their duel, Marphisa and Guido turn on the amazonian crowd and attempt to carve their way to freedom. The enormous number of enemies and arrows overwhelms all the knights and they are saved only by Astolpho’s use of the magical horn of dread which afflicts friend and foe alike.
After escaping the amazons she comes to Europe with Gryphon, Aquilant, Sansonetto, and Guido. She parts ways to test herself in battle alone. She soon encounters the evil crone Gabrina, whom she ferries across a river. On the other side they run into Pinabel and his paramour, who insults Gabrina. Marphisa, offended, unhorses Pinabel and requires the two women–the old crone and the wicked courtesan–to switch clothing. Taking her horse as well, Marphisa sets off with a finely-arrayed Gabrina riding her own horse like an aged dame.
She next encounters Zerbino (searching for the Scot who wounded Medoro), who mocks Marphisa for traveling with a woman not dressed in accord with her age. After an exchange of barbs, Marphisa unhorses Zerbino and forces him to become the escort of Gabrina.
Coming upon Rogero, Richardetto, and Aldigier, she challenges them to battle to test her might. When they inform her that they are on a mission to rescue their friends Malagigi and Vivian from an armed troupe of Saracens and Maganzese, she joins with them. In the assault she is unstoppable, felling three knights with one lance and then fighting back-to-back with Rogero. She is caught up in mutual admiration of Rogero as they rout their enemies, then shocks the knights by removing her helmet after the battle and revealing her sex.
The five knights set down to a banquet near a mystical fountain. After Rogero departs with a messenger to seek Rodomonte and his horse, Mandricardo and Rodomonte arrive. Mandricardo, seeing her out of her armor, thinks to win Marphisa as a consolation prize for Rodomonte. After he unseats the four Christian knights, Marphisa arms herself and engages him in a bitter duel to teach him a lesson. They break lances and then close for sword-play when Rodomonte interrupts the duel, insistent that Mandricardo fight none but him.
When Rogero shows up looking for his horse, a four-way duel breaks out. Marphisa is the odd man out as the other three care more about their feuds with each other, but Marphisa is deadly intent on teaching Mandricardo a lesson anyway. She tries to convince them all to put up swords until they reach Agramant, but a melee breaks out among them. After a spirit leads off Doralice’s horse, the four ride to Agramant’s war camp outside of Paris.
Marphisa and the other three knights quickly rout the Christian forces counter-attacking Agramant’s army. Agramant arranges a tournament near the city to settle the many feuds among his greatest knights. They draw lots to determine the sequence of battles, which have Mandricardo fighting first Rodomonte, then Rogero, and finally Marphisa. Certain that Mandricardo will not live to fight her, Marphisa dons lady’s garb and watches from the royal seats.
While Sacripant disputes the ownership of Frontino with Rodomonte, Marphisa recognizes the thief Brunello as the one who stole also her sword and caused her to lose, for a time, her armor. She suits up and plunges into the stands to arrest Brunello and drag him onto the field for grim justice. Marphisa announces to the king that she will execute Brunello in three days unless someone comes to stop her by contest of arms. She then rides off leaving behind an offended Agramant and the knights to their tourney.
[In Canto XXX Bradamante learns of her as the beautiful superknight who fought alongside Rogero. This causes Bradamante to become jealous of Marphisa, sowing the seeds for their future conflict.]
Ten days later, after Agramant retreats to Arles, Marphisa returns to his aid with the still-living captive Brunello in tow. Agramant, sorely lacking knights of renown, hangs Brunello to regain Marphisa’s affection.
[Again Bradamante hears rumors of a close bond and certain betrothal between Marphisa and Rogero, this time from a Gascon knight who fills her in on the Mandricardo duel. She resolves to kill Marphisa and then die in battle against Rogero for the heart-wound.]
When Bradamante comes to Agramant’s camp to challenge Rogero, Marphisa rides to his defense and takes the field against her. She is twice unhorsed by the magical lance and enraged by Bradamante’s insults to her honor, but before she can make good on her sword Bradamante rides off to confront Rogero. Marphisa chases them down and grapples with Bradamante to kill her. Rogero entreats them to put up arms and disarms them, enraging Marphisa so that she turns to kill him.
At last a disembodied voice–the shade of Atlantes–interrupts their duel and reveals that they are brother and sister. The back story of the children of Rogero the Elder is revealed. Marphisa swears to join Charlemagne, be baptized, and avenge the death of her father. She ominously promises that Rogero will soon not have to follow Agramant any longer.
Before the three can part ways, they are arrested by a scream in the woods. Ulany and two of her companions are half-naked and hiding in shame, having been maltreated by the ruffians of a nearby castle. Ulany leads them to the hamlet of abandoned women, cast off here for two years by the insane tyrant Marganor. Being told the long tale of Marganor’s cruelty to women, Marphisa leads the trio in a lightning assault that kills his men and overthrows the tyrant. She imprisons Marganor and sets a new law over the land, which she promises to avenge if they fail to discharge: women will rule the town and castle, equal to men in every way, and no visitor will be spared unless he first swear to uphold this law and fight as Woman’s champion. Marphisa promises to slaughter the entire town if she ever returns to find it not so, and then heads off to Charlemagne’s camp. There she declares her family history, is welcomed by the knights of France, and receives Baptism.
In the chaos following the broken truce at Rogero’s duel with Rinaldo, Marphisa carves a path toward Agramant to kill him. She fails to catch up to the fleeing king before he boards a ship and flees Arles.
She appears a few times in the context of her growing friendship with Bradamante: a hermit prophesies that she teams up with Bradamante to avenge the death of Rogero; when Rogero does not return to Bradamante as promised, Marphisa consoles her and promises to kill Rogero if he does not return for her.
Her final role of the poem is to help Rogero and Bradamante overcome the many obstacles to their marriage. She appears, without role, in the assembly of heroes at Marseilles and is present for the dispute about Bradamante’s marriage to Rogero. After Leo secures his claim to marry Bradamante, Marphisa intervenes with the teensy deception that the two of them are already married in all but name at this point. Marphisa insists that Leo fight Rogero for the right to wed Bradamante.
When Rogero appears to be absent and incapable of fighting for Bradamante against Leo’s champion, Marphisa steps in to serve as his champion. After Leo reveals that his champion is Rogero and that he will forego his claim to Bradamante after all, Marphisa is the first to embrace her brother and commence the happy ending. When Rodomonte intervenes to ruin the ending, Marphisa and many others surge forward to fight as Rogero’s champion. Rogero refuses, Marphisa helps Bradmante arm him for the final battle of the poem, and Ariosto ends things in pure Aeneid style.
Judgment: My favorite of the lady-knights by a country mile and maybe my favorite character in the poem. Ariosto has developed her from Boiardo, where she is a female Rodomonte. She is the most “modern” of the proto-feminist characters, fighting her way free of oppression as a child and then becoming a solitary knight-errant. There are hints of romantic interest in Guido, but after her confused love story with Rogero nothing ever comes of it. She becomes something of a Melissa figure, assisting the love story of Bradamante and Rogero. Martial Nun?