Cantos VI (Tree), VIII (Escape), XV (Egypt), XVIII (Damascus), XIX (Laiazzo), XX (Laiazzo Escape), XXII (Magic Villa), XXIII (Bradamante), XXVIII (Rodomonte’s Ribald Tale), XXXIII (Ethiopia), XXXIV (Hell, Eden, Moon), XXXV (Parcae), XXXVIII (Nubian Army), XXXIX (Orlando), XL (Biserta), XLIII (Brandimart’s Funeral), XLIV (Return to France)
Duke of England, Son of Otho, Cousin of Rinaldo and Orlando
Magical horse Rabican, Magical Lance of Argalia, Horn of Dread, Book of Spells
Coat of Arms: Three Gold Pards on a Crimson Field
Classical Type: Odysseus
TL;DR King Arthur Soars Around World, Saves Orlando and The Day
Astolpho begins Orlando Furioso as a tree.
The hapless knight had fallen under the spell of Alcina and become her doomed lover. When the Circean witch grew tired of him, she turned him into a tree so that he could not spread word of her cruelty to the world.
When Rogero arrives on Alcina’s isle, Astolpho attempts to warn him not to fall for the same fate. When Melissa later arrives to rescue the heedless Rogero, she also restores Astolpho and all the other trapped lovers of the isle. The sorceress gives him back his arms (and arms) and conducts him to the realm of Logistilla.
Logistilla sends him from her realm by boat along with two magical boons: a magic book of counter-spells and the horn of dread. Astolpho sails around the world, passes India, listens to a geography lesson about the new opened seas, and lands in Arabia. From there he travels to the Red Sea, then along Trajan’s canal to the Nile.
A hermit sailing across the Nile warns Astolpho to pick a different path before he runs into certain death down the river. The English Duke’s eyes light up and he presses on to his first Side Quest, the horrible giant Caligorant. Astolpho uses his horn of dread to drive the giant into his own magical net, making the fiend his captive.
He continues on to Cairo and then to Damietta, where he finds Gryphon and Aquilant doing battle with the immortal Orrilo. After watching the brothers repeatedly kill the constantly resurrecting man, Astolpho asks to take a turn. Learning Orrilo’s weakness from the magic book given to him by Logistilla, Astolpho kills the fay-hobgoblin hybrid by decapitating him and then shaving his scalp. Astolpho summons Gryphon and Aquilant to follow him back to Europe to give aid to Charlemagne’s beleaguered army.
At Jerusalem Astolpho gives both Caligorant and his magical net to Sansonetto, steward of the Holy City, and Astolpho receives in return the spurs of St. George. He waits in Jerusalem while Aquilant goes in search of his missing brother.
When King Norandino calls a tournament in Damascus to celebrate the honor of Gryphon, Astolpho and Sansonetto set out together to participate. Along the way they encounter Marphisa, who agrees to join them and also compete in the tournament. The winner’s prize turns out to be Marphisa’s own arms, stolen from her while she chased Brunello, and a melee breaks out as she attempts to reclaim what is hers by force. Astolpho and Sansonetto help her in overthrowing all of Norandino’s knights, including Gryphon and Aquilant, before a peaceful resolution is found.
After the tournament concludes with Sansonetto the winner, Astolpho leads the five knights toward France by boat. After a tour through the Mediterranean, a terrible storm strands the ship in the Amazonian town of Laiazzo, where women rule and force wandering knights to be their husbands and champions.
Marphisa fights and befriends the champion Guido and together the group attempts to escape the city. Surrounded and in desperate straits, Astolpho uses his horn of dread for the second time, causing even his allies to run away and flee on a boat without him.
After taking the long way back to Europe over land, Astolpho finally makes his way back to London to rally his father to war. Finding that the forces of England have already departed for Paris, he sails back to Rouen and heads to join the siege.
Stopping for a drink in the woods, a thief steals Rabican from him–really the magical villa of Atlantes trapping another victim. Using Logistilla’s magical book he learns the secret of the place, causing Atlantes to turn all the trapped knights against him with his illusions. Hard pressed by the host of heroes, Astolpho unleashes the horn of dread for a third time, releasing all the trapped heroes back into the story.
With Atlantes and all the heroes fled, Astolpho destroys the charm of the villa and lays claim to both Rabican and the hippogryph. He lends Rabican and his lance to Bradamante, who wanders in searching for Rogero, and then he departs on the fabulous flying horse.
[Astolpho features as one of the characters in the innkeerp’s bitter, absurd story about the evils of womankind–a throwback to Boiardo’s more ridiculous depiction of Astolpho in Innamorato]
After surveying the entire world from above, Astolpho lands in the lavish palace of Senapus, king of Ethiopia. There he is greeted by the Nubians as savior and messiah, for the blind king and his land are under the terrible curse of harpies that can only be driven off by a knight who arrives on a winged horse.
After seeing the harpies in action and being unable to defeat them with his sword, Astolpho sets a trap. He has all the people of the palace stop their ears with wax, sets out another board of food, and when the harpies arrive uses the horn of dread for a fourth time. The duke pursues the fleeing harpies all the way to a rift at the foot of a towering mountain where they disappear, descending deeper than even Cocytus itself.
Astolpho travels into the underworld and encounters Lydia’s shade. Lydia, trapped in the chamber of hell reserved for cruel and ungrateful women, tells her long and sad tale of manipulating men. Astolpho can bear no more of the inferno and flees back to the light, whereupon he collapses the vent so that the harpies can trouble the Nubians no more.
Remounting the hippogryph, Astolpho flies to the top of the towering mountain and finds the Garden of Eden. There he is met by St. John the Evangelist and the other two who will not see death until the end: Enoch and Elijah. St. John clues him in on the plot of the poem: Astolpho needs to restore Orlando’s wits so that he can defeat Agramant’s army and save Europe.
St. John takes Astolpho to the moon, the place where all lost things go, in Elijah’s fiery chariot. After sifting through mountains of lost things, Astolpho finds the vial containing Orlando’s lost wits. The chariot of fire carries him on to the house of the Parcae, women who weave the fate of the world.
Here Astolpho sees the hidden machinery of history: the tapestry of destiny, the river Lethe which consumes names and deeds into oblivion, and the swans who rescue some names to be immortalized in history by a nymph. St. John explains that poets write the histories and are the only reason that the deeds of heroes and villains are not utterly forgotten.
At last the apostle returns Astolpho to Eden and gives him final instructions. The duke flies back down from Eden, cures the blindness of Senapus with an herb from the Garden, and raises an enormous army of grateful Nubians to sack Agramant’s poorly defended lands. Astolpho trains them for war, captures the South Wind so it cannot attack them in the desert, and through prayer turns the stones of the desert into magical horse-constructs to carry them to Agramant’s cities. After overthrowing all the other cities of Agramant’s realm, Astolpho marches his army against Biserta itself, capital of the empire.
First the duke rescues Dudon, captured and imprisoned by Rodomonte long ago, and puts him in charge of reinforcements destined for France. Astolpho works another transformation-miracle, turning palm branches into boats to carry Dudon and his strike force back to Europe. He rescues all the knights Rodomonte had defeated at his challenge bridge and shipped off to Africa as prisoners.
Orlando, furioso, wanders into the scene. All the heroes use their combined strength to barely restrain the super-knight and Astolpho is able to restore his wits with the vial found on the moon. Together the newly freed knights and Astolpho’s army ruin Biserta just before Agramant can return to defend it.
Astolpho and Sansonetto wait with the army in Biserta while Orlando, Olivier, and Brandimart participate in the trial on Lampedusa. After the heroes return victorious from the island, Astolpho sends the Nubians back to their home and departs for France on the Hippogryph. Once there he sets the beast free to return to its home and vanish from the affairs of men (we also learn in hindsight that Astolpho left the horn of dread on the moon). He arrives in Marseilles at the same time as Orlando and company for the victory celebration.
His final act in the poem is to allow Rogero to ride Rabican in his duel with Rodomonte at the interrupted wedding.
One of my enduring impressions from my early reads of Orlando Furioso is that Astolpho is the main character. He’s everywhere in this poem and does the most fantastic of all the feats. Once you map out his role it’s clear that he doesn’t dominate the poem in terms of stanzas and cantos, but he still exerts enormous influence on the major events.
One very interesting thing about Ariosto’s Astolpho is how noble-serious he is. In Boiardo he is a bumbling fool who lucks into a magical lance. In Furioso he’s basically cookie-cutter paladin. I think the idea is that his stay with Logistilla cured him of his folly.
If this poem is primarily about the plot of rescuing Orlando so that Europe can be saved, then Astolpho is, in fact, the protagonist. He doesn’t get going until we make it out of the introductory cantos, but once he does…