Cantos I (Rinaldo and Sacripant), II (Wicked Hermit), VIII (Slavers), X (Orc), XI (Rogero Escape) XII (Magical Villa), XIX (Medoro), XXIX (Orlando Furioso), XLII (Post-script)
Daughter of Galaphron, Sister of Argalia, Princess of Catay, Wife of Medoro
Classical Type: Helen
TLDR: Helen of Troy Survives Repeated Rape Attempts, Inspires Titular Character’s Madness, and Disappears to an Improbable Happily Ever After
Man, women who can’t fight have it rough in this poem.
The action of Orlando Furioso opens with Angelica, the most beautiful woman in the world, running through the woods outside Paris in an attempt to escape amorous Rinaldo. Much of what follows only makes sense with help from the backstory of the previous poem.
In Orlando Innamorato, King Galaphron of Catay, father of Angelica, hosted a tournament of champions to win his daughter’s hand in marriage. The many conflicts that ensued in that poem carry over, often without explanation, into this one. Orlando himself had brought Angelica safely back to Europe against her will with the aim of winning her love, but Charlemagne had removed her to the care of another noble, Namus, to prevent distraction and infighting among his greatest knights.
In the chaos of the battle outside Paris, Angelica becomes separated from Namus and attempts to make her way back East alone…only to be spotted by Rinaldo. Her flight takes her to a clearing where sits Ferrau, the Spanish Moor who “sort of” met the victory conditions for the tournament in the previous poem. Rinaldo and Ferrau do battle to claim the right to Angelica, but during the duel she slips away.
After wandering in the woods for more than a day, Angelica finds the lovesick King Sacripant of Circassia weeping by the riverside. Recognizing a man she can manipulate and needing some kind of escort to escape Europe, Angelica reveals herself to him. Just before Sacripant can dishonor both of them with unwanted sexual advances, another knight enters the field, visor down. Sacripant is humiliated in a short, one-sided fight in which his horse is slain and Angelica’s attempts to restore his courage and self-esteem fail when they learn that he has just been vanquished by the lady knight Bradamante.
Rinaldo’s horse, Bayardo, leads his owner into the clearing and yet another battle for Angelica breaks out. Once again she flees while the two knights battle, and once again she runs into the arms of a man who, passions inflamed by her beauty, intends to take her by force.
This time it is an aged hermit-wizard, who uses his magical skills to trick the knights into running off in the wrong directions. After giving directions to Angelica to reach the coastline, he repairs to his wizard’s cave to work dark magic to win her. Angelica is borne off by his demon-steed and eventually collapses in exhaustion on the beach. The wizard-hermit catches up to her, finds he lacks the potency to rape her, and gives up in frustration when a group of slavers from Ebuda discover them.
The corsairs of Ebuda bring Angelica back to their island to feed her to the Orc sent by Proteus to punish the people a la Clash of the Titans (the good one, not the terrible remake). For many weeks she is spared because of her beauty, but eventually she is bound to the shore rock just like all the damsels before her.
Just as the Orc arrives to devour her, Rogero descends from Alcina’s isle astride the hippogryph and, using the shield of Atlantes, easily dispatches monster. As he brings Angelica safely back to the continent, however, his passions too are overwhelmed by her beauty and he tries to rape her. With the help of her magical ring Angelica escapes his grasp and comes to the first genuinely helpful people in the poem: a farmhouse where she receives food, rest, and a horse to help her escape Europe.
With the magical ring she can travel safely, but she still thinks she will need an honorable knight to help her make it all the way to Catay. She searches Europe for Orlando or Sacripant, the only two knights who have actually helped her before. Her search leads her to the magical villa of Atlantes, where all the knights of the poem have been trapped.
When Angelica attempts to reveal herself to Sacripant, she is spotted by Ferrau and Orlando as well. An angry melee breaks out between the three knights while Angelica slips away thanks to the invisible ring. To have some means of bartering for Orlando’s help, she steals his helmet during the fighting and comes to yet another peaceful glade. There she stows Orlando’s helmet but Ferrau arrives, forcing her to don the ring of invisibility once more to escape without the helmet.
Her mad flight across France brings her to the gravely wounded Medoro, young knight of Agramant’s army wounded in the siege of Paris. She brings him to a shepherd’s home and nurses him back to health with her medical skills, all the while falling hopelessly in love with him. The two are wed and spend a blissful month’s honeymoon in the pastoral setting before departing for the East.
The only adventure left for poor Angelica occurs while the two make their way across war-torn Europe to reach her home in Catay. Orlando, now fully furioso after discovering the tokens of her love for Medoro at the shepherd’s home, assaults the two. At first it seems she is about to be raped again, but between Angelica’s ring and Medoro gallantly trying to fight Orlando, the two manage to escape the insane count (not so Angelica’s horse).
Nothing more do we hear of the two newlyweds until the end of the poem, when Malagigi learns through his magic that the two have safely departed Europe and will enjoy a happy ending in Catay with Medoro as king and Angelica his happy queen.
Half-character, half-symbol. Is this poem really about her? Gone before the half-way point! Then again, is the Iliad really about Helen?
She’s basically the gorgoneion, but instead of turning men to stone, beholding her drives them mad with lust. Her opening scene puts her on a cruel foot but it very soon becomes apparent that this is the only way for her to survive a world of rapacious men.
She’s better off just disappearing after Canto XIX, but Ariosto can’t resist using her in a humorous scene ten cantos later–fan fiction?–and giving her arc semi-closure with Malagigi’s magic in XLII. Another of the many ways in which the poem is a sprawling, glorious mess. Tasso would never stand for such a thing!