Cantos VIII (Paris), IX (Olympia), XI (Orc), XII (Villa), XIII (Isabel), XXIII (Zerbino) XXIV (Furioso), XXIX (Rodomonte’s Bridge), XXX (Spain and Africa), XXXIX (Restored), XL (Biserta), XLI (Lampedusa), XLII (Victory), XLIII (Brandimart’s Funeral), XLIV (Return to France), XLV (Wedding Dispute), XLVI (Wedding Feast)
Son of Milo, Cousin of Rinaldo, Count of Anglantes, Slayer of Almontes
Coat of Arms: Red and White Quarters
Durindana, Brigliador, Arms of Almontes. Invincible by the will of God.
Classical Type: Achilles
TL;DR Title Hero Drives Actions of Poem Directly and Indirectly, Saves Day at the End
At the end of the previous poem Orlando had brought Angelica safely to France from the east only to have Charlemagne take her away. His ongoing feud with Rinaldo had become a fatal distraction for the war effort against Agramant so the emperor made Angelica the prize of the war; whichever knight served with greatest distinction would be allowed to marry her. In the chaos of war Angelica escaped.
Orlando begins this poem languishing in Paris, distraught over the loss of Angelica and distracted from his knightly duties. He has a prophetic dream about Angelica crying for his help. Waking from the nightmare he betrays Charlemagne, departing Paris as a black knight in search of his love.
After a month of wandering in his search he learns of the plight of Olympia of Holland. He delays his quest for Angelica in order to save Olympia’s true love Bireno from the clutches of the evil Cymosco of Friesland. Leaving his horse Brigliador behind, Orlando sails to Holland and attempts to parlay with Cymosco’s goons. When they break faith Orlando kills them all, surviving even a blast from Cymosco’s firearm before splitting the evil Friesian in half.
Orlando liberates Bireno and hastily departs for Ebuda, taking time along the way to drop Cymosco’s firearm into the depths of the sea. Upon arrival he finds that Olympia, having since been betrayed by Bireno, is about to be sacrificed to a mighty sea-creature called the Orc. Orlando rows a small boat out to the rock, props open the creature’s jaws with a giant anchor, and hacks the beast to death from the inside. Outraged rabble attack him on the shore but he scatters them with ease and saves Olympia. Orlando leaves her in the care of King Oberto of Ireland and departs to find his Angelica.
Reclaiming Brigliador he wanders and adventures through the winter, all to no avail. Finally one day he is caught up in the magical trap of Atlantes’ villa. Alongside many other knights he wanders the halls of the villa searching for his heart’s true desire. Every time he starts to leave the villa, he hears the voice of Angelica calling him back.
Eventually Angelica herself arrives on her way back to Catay. Orlando and Ferrau catch sight of her when she reveals herself to Sacripant, and the knights fall to bickering with each other. Angelica runs away, leading all three out of the magic of the villa. When Ferrau insults him, Orlando challenges him to a duel and the two fight bitterly. In the confusion Angelica steals Orlando’s helmet and the fight is suspended until both Angelica and the helmet can be found again.
The parties scatter and Orlando, unable to find either helmet or girl, journeys on to the next city. There he gets a new helmet and begins his search again. He crosses paths with two squadrons mustering to Agramant and destroys them with ease. In a nearby cave he finds the imprisoned Isabel in the company of foul Gabrina and her slaver allies. After killing all the slavers and putting Gabrina to flight, Orlando escorts Isabel from the cave in search of her love, Zerbino.
They travel together for many days until by luck they come upon Zerbino about to be executed by the Maganza clan for the death of Pinabel. Orlando cuts through the treacherous Maganzese and reunites Zerbino with Isabel.
Before they can move on, Mandricardo rides in with Doralice. The Tartar king immediately challenges the black knight to a duel. In the course of the parlay Mandricardo insults Orlando’s honor, and the two battle furiously for the right to Durindana and the arms of Almontes.
Mandricardo’s horse runs off with him on it, suspending the battle. Orlando searches for Mandricardo for three days in hopes of finishing the fight. On the third day he stumbles upon the love grotto of Angelica and Medoro. Devastated by the loss of his true love, Orlando goes completely furioso, destroying the grotto, casting aside all his arms, and becoming a roving, feral idiot.
He unleashes a berserk frenzy upon nearby farmers and their animals, causing the entire countryside to flee for sanctuary. For three months Orlando wanders this way, still in pursuit of the woman he can never have. At some point he comes upon Rodomonte’s challenge bridge and tumbles into the river with the Saracen king. He wanders witless toward Spain, killing any who try to stop him and riding, then dragging, multiple horses to death.
He stumbles upon Angelica and Medoro making their way back to Catay and surges forward to seize his prey. Angelica manages to use the ring of invisibility just in time, and Orlando wanders the face of Spain for a month looking for her. At long last he wanders to Gibraltar and crosses over to Africa.
Finally, his three months of madness up, Orlando wanders into Astolpho’s war camp. A mob of heroes wrestle the count to the ground and Astolpho restores Orlando’s wits from the vial he found on the Moon. Cured of all madness, including his love of Angelica, Orlando resumes his position as chief hero of France. He leads the knights and their Nubian army against Agramant’s capital city of Biserta, destroying it and his power base.
Agramant returns to find his city burning and challenges Orlando to a final trial by combat to decide the war. Orlando accepts and he, along with Brandimart and Olivier, prepare for battle. Before departing to Lampedusa they find Rogero’s arms, recently brought ashore in deserted ship. Outfitted with better gear, the three travel to the island of Lampedusa and battle against Agramant, Gradasso, and Sobrino. The Christian knights are victorious and Sobrino converts to Christianity, but Brandimart is slain.
Rinaldo arrives too late to help, and the knights return to Biserta to bring news to Flordelis and the others waiting there. In Sicily Orlando leads the funeral ceremony and tomb construction for his fallen friend, then takes wounded Olivier to the island of a hermit to heal him. There they find Rogero, Olivier is healed, and the assembled heroes return to France for the victory celebration.
In the final cantos Orlando is present for the wedding dispute between Bradamante and her father, as well as Rodomonte’s interruption of the wedding feast at the end. Like the other knights he offers to battle in Rogero’s place, but in the end must stand by and watch the founder of the d’Este line bring the poem to its close.
Invincble? Sword of Hector? Destined to die in immortal glory one day? Tell me more!
The easy impression of Orlando is that he’s not in this poem nearly as much as a title character ought to be. He gets a nice run of action in the early going but is sidelined with a bad case of Furioso for most of the poem. His presence in the final cantos after Lampedusa is merely that of a spectator.
In actuality, he is present in almost every canto as an implicit or explicit reason for most of the action in the poem. Every character of import throughout the poem touches upon his story at some point (just look at all those cross-links above!).
This is Ariosto’s solution to the Superman Problem, not boring us with endless brain-smashing by the invincible guy and giving some credible explanation for why the story doesn’t wrap up faster. Love is stronger than Orlando, and even Superman can’t save his friends from dying.
So noble he doesn’t try to rape Angelica. So strong he kicks a donkey over a mountain. So invincible he survives a gun blast. Does he get boring with all the superlatives? Not really. I’d read some comic books about this guy…