Disambiguation: NOT the Isabel (d’Este) mentioned by Melissa in Canto XIII.
Orlando finds XII, Backstory and travels with Orlando XIII, mentioned in XVIII as Zerbino’s lover, Gabrina lies to Zerbino about her XX, Rescues Zerbino XXIII, Death of Zerbino and saved by hermit XXIV, captured by Rodomonte XXVIII, slain by Rodomonte XXIX
Classical Types: Arethusa, Daphne, Juliet
Daughter of the King of Gallicia, Lover of Zerbino, Kidnapped and Slain by Rodomonte
TLDR: Beautiful Moor Loses Star-Crossed Lover, Pulls Surprise Death on Would-be Rapist
The Christian Prince Zerbino wins Isabel’s heart when he attends a tournament in her father’s kingdom of Gallicia. The faith-crossed lovers arrange an elopement that will bring Isabel by ship to Scotland, but a storm leaves Isabel stranded with a small crew of survivors. The leader of that group, Odoric of Biscay, is consumed with passion for her and attempts to take her by force. She manages to escape him, only to be captured by Gabrina’s slave traders.
After an 8-month captivity, Orlando happens upon her cave-prison and rescues her. The two travel together for many days until they encounter Zerbino being led to his death for the murder of Pinabel. Orlando easily frees him and the lovers are re-united, only to be interrupted by the arrival of Mandricardo and Doralice.
After Orlando departs to find Mandricardo to finish their duel, Zerbino and Isabel search three days to assist him. In the midst of their search they chance upon Odoric of Biscay being led to his doom by Corebo and Almonio, Zerbino’s friends. Zerbino passes sentence on Odoric–doomed now to escort Gabrina–and sends the knights on to Charlemagne for the war.
Isabel accompanies Zerbino to the grotto of Orlando’s madness and helps him gather Orlando’s lost arms. When Mandricardo arrives and battles Zerbino to claim Durindana, Isabel begs Doralice suspend the fighting so that Zerbino might live. Doralice agrees but too late, and Zerbino is slain. Isabel holds him and hears his dying wish: that she not kill herself to join him.
At his death Isabel intends to turn his sword on herself but is stopped by a bypassing hermit who converts her to Christianity and convinces her to dedicate her life to God in a convent. He journeys with her through Provence for many days but before they can find a convent they are accosted by heart-broken Rodomonte.
At Isabel’s beauty Rodomonte’s earlier love of Doralice is overthrown. He abuses and hurls aside the hermit to an ambiguous fate and makes off with his new love, Isabel. Recognizing his unstable mind and evil intent, she tricks him with a double-con: if he vows not to molest her in word or deed, she will brew for him an elixir that will make him invincible for one month. Rodomonte agrees and sets down to drink while she gathers the supplies in the countryside.
Rightly guessing that he will break his oath, Isabel plays the second con: she applies the sham elixir to herself and has Rodomonte test its efficacy by attempting to cut off her head. Stupid with drink and desire, he agrees–and is utterly aghast when her head bounces across the floor and whispers “Zerbino.” Isabel’s soul ascends to the third heaven (Dante’s Venus, the realm of love) where she is reunited with Zerbino.
Rodomonte swears that her name shall always be remembered, a nod to the Isabel d’Este of Ariosto’s patron. He builds a monument to her and vows to overthrow every knight who will not submit his arms to her memory.
Judgment: best ending of any character, hands down. She pulls the reversal that every god-raped maid would like to (well, other than being left alone).
BONUS: Dante meets Charles Martel–grandfather to Charlemagne–in the Third Heaven