I think I might understand why modern readers often drop works such as these before getting past page two. Very often there is some sort of appeal to the God or Gods of the authors choice. Even if the author wasn’t actually doing so personally, like Virgil or Homer or something, it seems to be a standard form in later Epic poetry and, for me, I wish the writers of these works would have had a little bit more foresight. Come on dudes. Get to the plot. Get to the action. No one needs a summary of deeds that you’re about to tell about while talking to some all powerful god.
So. The first few stanzas are along the lines of, and I’m paraphrasing here:
Girls, warriors, love and war,
Harm…France, Rome. Charlemagne…
Generous Orlando, Ippolito… Wolfs bane……
Giving this I give my all….etc.
Okay. Nothing really like that. But about as boring. And I added the “wolfs bane” part, for rhyming purposes.
Orlando is introduced in the beginning, after that junk I wrote about above, and he has loved Angelica for some time now; chasing her around India, Media and the Tartar plain. He leaves all the treasures he has won behind to bring her back to the West and…at the Pyrenees he finds Charlemagne with the French and German camps. He joins back up with his army and he immediately rues the day! He loses his love, Angelica.
Rivalry for Angelica arises between (Count) Orlando and Rinaldo, his cousin. No greater beauty exists, obviously. She is consigned to Namo, the Duke of Bavaria! WTF? But the duke says that he will give Angelica to whoever impales more infidels on his sword, “Excelling thus in prowess and might.” Score! Orlando hasn’t lost Angelica after all. He just has to impale more folks than his cousin.
Then, though, the duke who has promised Angelica as the spoils is taken prisoner and “…his pavilion in the rout forsaken.” Bogus for Orlando and Rinaldo.
Meanwhile Angelica leaps into the saddle of a horse that happens to be near and rides straight away. She rides quickly and almost immediately meets a cavalier without a horse. This is Rinaldo, the very one who was competing with Orlando for her hand.
When she comes upon Rinaldo, also called Lord of Montaubon, Rinaldo recognizes his horse that the beautiful Angelica is riding, Baiardo. Side note: Baiardo has human intelligence!
Angelica rides on, as in a dream. She’s tired after all. Fleeing these paladins all day is exhausting. She roams a bit, comes upon a stream. She sees Ferraú, a Spaniard. He’s dirty from the battle. He drops his fancy helmet into the stream. (I think this is a magic helmet…but I don’t remember yet) He, of course, is also in love with Angelica!
They fight for about four stanzas full of adjectives. It is epic in the mind’s eye. Oh, if only you could see it. *wink* Then the realize, “F!”, Angelica has slipped away. They decide to have an armistice. They look around to see which direction Angelica has headed, but lo!, there are horseprints everywhere. Damn horse with man intelligence! So, “Along two paths, as Fortune prompts, they hark,/One here, one there….”
Ferraú comes again to where he dropped his helmet in the mud and decides that finding Angelica is unlikely, so instead of looking for his dream girl, he wades about in the mud for his helmet. (Again, it might be magic! which explains his choice). There is a stanza of him finding the perfect branch to form into a pole with which to retrieve helm and plume.
While searching fo the helmet he sees the head and shoulders of a knight, who, gasp!, is holding the helmet he is looking for. It’s a ghost. The ghost knight delivers insults to Ferraú. He turns out to be the ghost of the brother of Angelica, Argalía, who Farraú had killed. Ferraú had thrown his arms into a stream and had promised to throw the helmet into the stream as well, but he didn’t. Ferraú laments.
Then Ferraú vows to win Orlando’s helmet. The ghost makes him pledge to leave his old helmet and promises that if he does this Ferraú’s acquisition of a new helmet will come to be. Ferraú is so startled by this proposition that all the hair on his face stands erect! Classic!
He speaks no words but is now determined to win Orlando’s helmet; a helmet Orlando had won from the proud Almonte.
Where did Orlando go? We’re 60 stanzas into this sucker and he’s nowhere to be found! Dont’ worry. He comes back in like a hundred pages or so.
So at the end of last time Ferraú vowed to win Orlando’s helmet from him after a ghost came and freaked him out. The ghost was, of course, Angelica’s bro, who Ferraú had slain earlier.
Rinaldo had set off upon a different trail and after we leave Ferraú with his vow we come back to Rinaldo who has not traveled far when lo! he sees Baiardo (his horse with man brain). He yells something priceless that could be used in a sappy song directed towards not a horse with man brain but to a girl, if one were so inclined. He yells “ho, there, wo! Without you weary is the road I tread.” Maybe a song for a hiphopera or something.
The horse, like a scorned lover, turns a deaf ear and gallops further off. And now the narrative follows Angelica.
She goes through the woods and terrifying undergrowth. She “abhors the dreaded traces,” which I take to be shadows. They remind her of her pursuer Rinaldo. She reaches a grove, with two crystal streams nearby.
She finds a charming nook which is made gay by roses and shady oaks. She falls asleep but alas! her slumber is cut short. A knight approaches. He heads towards the riverbank and props on his elbow, cheek in hand, deep in thought. He is dubbed the cavalier of grief because he begins to sob and the very stones are moved by his tears.
Then there are some passages about virgins being like roses…and plucking….and despoiling hands…..and rain and earth…and virgins should, with zeal, and more than her eyes, defend this prize. Eyes seem more valuable to me than virginity, but maybe the crusades were different than now.
The knight who waters the river with his tears ends up being Sacripante, King of Circassia. He laments by the river for quite some time. Angelica hears every word and is unmoved. She has known of Sacripante’s love for quite some time.
“She holds the world in such contempt and scorn,/ No man deserving her was ever born.”
Man. That Angelica!
She plots and schemes and instead of running from him as she did from Rinaldo, she steps out of her hiding place. Then, when Sacripante sees her there is a priceless description that may be, if you can believe it, an exageration. “No mother with such joy and stupor raised/ Her eyes to see the face of her lost son/Whom when his regiment without him blazed/ It’s homward way, she mourned as dead and gone,” Man. I don’t think that Sacripante’s lust compares with a grieving mothers’.
Dang. Then Angelica embraces him and coos and bills! She has him in her clutches now. She tells him all that has happened. How she was saved from death and dishonor, and she was “…in fact/ As when she left her mother’s womb, intact.”
Then comes the punchline from the astute narrator. “It may be true, but no man in his senses/ Would ever credit it;” haha. Yeah. Sacripante believes it of course “…for, as all men do,/ He gives assent to what he hopes is true.”
Sacripante prepares for his sweet assault of deflowering. But lo! through the woods a clamour sounds (and it’s not the clamour of their bodies meeting) that tears his ear drums. He dons his helmet, as he always does.
A side note. Again hollywood has ruined my own imagination and internal projector. Whenever I read this part I think of the horrible Excalibur from the eighties and when Arthur makes Merlin change his appearance so he can conceieve Morgan Le Fay. If one casts their memory back they will remember Arthur is in full armour as he plants his seed which is somehow horrifying and comical at the same time. There must be some kind of latch or gate in armour that we, the museum goers, are unaware of.
Into the forest rides a valiant Knight bedecked in snowy white. The plume on his helmet is also white. This is stanza 60, thus we are left with the two knights staring at each other with “stormy looks.”
What else is there to do when a body meets a body coming through the rye? I would say that they should joust. And joust they do, and the earth quakes and their retorts are furious as anything!
Both horses fall but the White Knights horse immediately gets up, as he was only grazed by the lance. Sacripante is fallen, his horse dead. The White Knight rides off seeing that he is the victor.
Sacripante is fine, aside from having a dead horse on him. He is fine except for his shame after losing in front of Angelica, which is worst than physical pain. She hurries to his side to console him and even goes so far as saying the other knight is the loser because he left the battlefield first. Sacripante’s face has never been so red.
But who was this knight who bested a king? Luckily for Sacripante and us we are sent with an explanation while Sacripante is still licking his wounds. An envoy appears to tell the two that he has been bested by Bradamante! Ugh. For shame! Sacripante has been bested by a woman! His shame is complete. Or is it?
Sacripante quietly mounts their horse when lo!, they hear a crash in the woods and they find Baiardo running through the wood leaping and bounding over any obstacle. Sacripante dismounts to take Baiardo’s reins. Baiardo answers with his heels! and was about to trample the king asunder when Angelica takes the reins. He grows tame and docile and his hoofs which could split an iron mountain side are calmed and the king for the second time this afternoon survives and mounts Baiardo while Angelica holds his reins, but with shame multiplied tenfold. And after the last shame multiplying, the king is at about 100-times-shame.
Poor, poor Sacripante.
When Baiardo is soothed by Angelica we are also treated with a little more history of Rinaldo and Angelica…who knew each other when they were young. Angelica was in love with him but he had no love for her. What caused the reversal of their desires?
Two magic fountains. Obviously. They lie near in the Ardennes. One who drinks of the first is filled with amorous longing and who drinks from the second is turned cold as ice and rendered immune to all life’s joy and bliss. Angelica so loathes and fears Rinaldo and Rinaldo is filled with an insatiable lust for her.
Angelica pleads for the king to flee with her, not knowing what will come of this battle. The king replies in anger and Angelica is left staring at the king and the approaching Rinaldo.
Thus ends Canto One.