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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Conversion of the Giant Morgante

By Luigi Pulci (1432–1484)

From the ‘Morgante Maggiore’: Translation of Lord Byron

BUT watchful Fortune, lurking, takes good heed

Ever some bar ’gainst our intents to bring.

While Charles reposed him thus, in word and deed

Orlando ruled court, Charles, and everything;

Curst Gan, with envy bursting, had such need

To vent his spite, that thus with Charles the King

One day he openly began to say,—

“Orlando must we always then obey?

“A thousand times I’ve been about to say,

Orlando too presumptuously goes on.

Here are we, counts, kings, dukes, to own thy sway;

Hamo and Otho, Ogier, Solomon,

Each have to honor thee and to obey:

But he has too much credit near the throne;

Which we won’t suffer, but are quite decided

By such a boy to be no longer guided.

“And even at Aspramont thou didst begin

To let him know he was a gallant knight,

And by the fount did much the day to win;

But I know who that day had won the fight

If it had not for good Gherardo been:

The victory was Almonte’s else; his sight

He kept upon the standard, and the laurels

In fact and fairness are his earning, Charles.

“If thou rememberest being in Gascony,

When there advanced the nations out of Spain,

The Christian cause had suffered shamefully,

Had not his valor driven them back again.

Best speak the truth when there’s a reason why:

Know then, O Emperor! that all complain;

As for myself, I shall repass the mounts

O’er which I crossed with two-and-sixty counts.

“’Tis fit my grandeur should dispense relief,

So that each here may have his proper part,

For the whole court is more or less in grief:

Perhaps thou deem’st this lad a Mars in heart?”

Orlando one day heard this speech in brief,

As by himself it chanced he sat apart:

Displeased he was with Gan because he said it,

But much more still that Charles should give him credit.

And with the sword he would have murdered Gan,

But Oliver thrust in between the pair,

And from his hand extracted Durlindan,

And thus at length they separated were.

Orlando, angry too with Carloman,

Wanted but little to have slain him there;

Then forth alone from Paris went the chief,

And burst and maddened with disdain and grief….

Then full of wrath departed from the place,

And far as pagan countries roamed astray,

And while he rode, yet still at every pace

The traitor Gan remembered by the way;

And wandering on in error a long space,

An abbey which in a lone desert lay,

’Midst glens obscure and distant lands, he found,

Which formed the Christian’s and the pagan’s bound.

The abbot was called Clermont, and by blood

Descended from Angrante; under cover

Of a great mountain’s brow the abbey stood,

But certain savage giants looked him over:

One Passamont was foremost of the brood,

And Alabaster and Morgante hover

Second and third, with certain slings, and throw

In daily jeopardy the place below.

The monks could pass the convent gate no more,

Nor leave their cells for water or for wood.

Orlando knocked, but none would ope, before

Unto the prior it at length seemed good;

Entered, he said that he was taught to adore

Him who was born of Mary’s holiest blood,

And was baptized a Christian; and then showed

How to the abbey he had found his road.

Said the abbot, “You are welcome; what is mine

We give you freely, since that you believe

With us in Mary Mother’s son divine;

And that you may not, cavalier, conceive

The cause of our delay to let you in

To be rusticity, you shall receive

The reason why our gate was barred to you;—

Thus those who in suspicion live must do.

“When hither to inhabit first we came

These mountains, albeit that they are obscure,

As you perceive, yet without fear or blame

They seemed to promise an asylum sure;

From savage brutes alone, too fierce to tame,

’Twas fit our quiet dwelling to secure;

But now, if here we’d stay, we needs must guard

Against domestic beasts with watch and ward.

“These make us stand, in fact, upon the watch;

For late there have appeared three giants rough:

What nation or what kingdom bore the batch

I know not; but they are all of savage stuff.

When force and malice with some genius match,

You know they can do all—we are not enough;

And these so much our orisons derange,

I know not what to do till matters change.

“Our ancient fathers living the desert in,

For just and holy works were duly fed;

Think not they lived on locusts sole,—’tis certain

That manna was rained down from heaven instead:

But here ’tis fit we keep on the alert in

Our bounds, or taste the stones showered down for bread,

From oft yon mountain daily raining faster,

And flung by Passamont and Alabaster.

“The third, Morgante, ’s savagest by far: he

Plucks up pines, beeches, poplar-trees, and oaks,

And flings them, our community to bury;

And all that I can do but more provokes.”

While thus they parley in the cemetery,

A stone from one of their gigantic strokes,

Which nearly crushed Rondell, came tumbling over,

So that he took a long leap under cover.

“For God’s sake, cavalier, come in with speed!

The manna’s falling now,” the abbot cried.

“This fellow does not wish my horse should feed,

Dear abbot,” Roland unto him replied:

“Of restiveness he’d cure him had he need;

That stone seems with good will and aim applied.”

The holy father said, “I don’t deceive:

They’ll one day fling the mountain, I believe.”

Orlando bade them take care of Rondello,

And also made a breakfast of his own.

“Abbot,” he said, “I want to find that fellow

Who flung at my good horse yon corner-stone.”

Said the abbot, “Let not my advice seem shallow,—

As to a brother dear I speak alone:

I would dissuade you, baron, from this strife,

As knowing sure that you will lose your life.

“That Passamont has in his hand three darts,—

Such slings, clubs, ballast-stones, that yield you must;

You know that giants have much stouter hearts

Than we, with reason, in proportion just:

If go you will, guard well against their arts,

For these are very barbarous and robust.”

Orlando answered, “This I’ll see, be sure,

And walk the wild on foot to be secure.”

The abbot signed the great cross on his front:

“Then go you with God’s benison and mine!”

Orlando, after he had scaled the mount,

As the abbot had directed, kept the line

Right to the usual haunt of Passamont;

Who, seeing him alone in this design,

Surveyed him fore and aft with eyes observant,

Then asked him “if he wished to stay as servant?”

And promised him an office of great ease.

But said Orlando, “Saracen insane!

I come to kill you, if it shall so please

God, not to serve as footboy in your train:

You with his monks so oft have broke the peace—

Vile dog! ’tis past his patience to sustain.”

The giant ran to fetch his arms, quite furious,

When he received an answer so injurious:

And being returned to where Orlando stood,

Who had not moved him from the spot, and swinging

The cord, he hurled a stone with strength so rude

As showed a sample of his skill in slinging;

It rolled on Count Orlando’s helmet good

And head, and set both head and helmet ringing.

So that he swooned with pain as if he died,

But more than dead, he seemed so stupefied.

Then Passamont, who thought him slain outright,

Said, “I will go; and while he lies along,

Disarm me: why such craven did I fight?”

But Christ his servants ne’er abandons long,

Especially Orlando, such a knight

As to desert would almost be a wrong.

While the giant goes to put off his defenses,

Orlando has recalled his force and senses.

And loud he shouted, “Giant, where dost go?

Thou thought’st me doubtless for the bier outlaid;

To the right about!—without wings thou’rt too slow

To fly my vengeance, currish renegade!

’Twas but by treachery thou laid’st me low.”

The giant his astonishment betrayed,

And turned about, and stopped his journey on,

And then he stooped to pick up a great stone.

Orlando had Cortana bare in hand;

To split the head in twain was what he schemed.

Cortana clave the skull like a true brand,

And pagan Passamont died unredeemed;

Yet harsh and haughty, as he lay he banned,

And most devoutly Macon still blasphemed:

But while his crude, rude blasphemies he heard,

Orlando thanked the Father and the Word,—

Saying, “What grace to me thou’st given!

And I to thee, O Lord, am ever bound.

I know my life was saved by thee from heaven,

Since by the giant I was fairly downed.

All things by thee are measured just and even;

Our power without thine aid would naught be found.

I pray thee take heed of me, till I can

At least return once more to Carloman.”

And having said thus much, he went his way;

And Alabaster he found out below,

Doing the very best that in him lay

To root from out a bank a rock or two.

Orlando, when he reached him, loud ’gan say,

“How think’st thou, glutton, such a stone to throw?”

When Alabaster heard his deep voice ring,

He suddenly betook him to his sling,

And hurled a fragment of a size so large,

That if it had in fact fulfilled its mission,

And Roland not availed him of his targe,

There would have been no need of a physician.

Orlando set himself in turn to charge,

And in his bulky bosom made incision

With all his sword. The lout fell; but, o’erthrown, he

However by no means forgot Macone.

Morgante had a palace in his mode,

Composed of branches, logs of wood, and earth;

And stretched himself at ease in this abode,

And shut himself at night within his berth.

Orlando knocked, and knocked again, to goad

The giant from his sleep; and he came forth,

The door to open, like a crazy thing,

For a rough dream had shook him slumbering.

He thought that a fierce serpent had attacked him,

And Mahomet he called; but Mahomet

Is nothing worth, and not an instant backed him;

But praying blessed Jesu, he was set

At liberty from all the fears which racked him.

And to the gate he came with great regret:

“Who knocks here?” grumbling all the while, said he.

“That,” said Orlando, “you will quickly see.

“I come to preach to you, as to your brothers,

Sent by the miserable monks—repentance;

For Providence divine, in you and others,

Condemns the evil done by new acquaintance.

’Tis writ on high, your wrong must pay another’s;

From heaven itself is issued out this sentence:

Know, then, that colder now than a pilaster

I left your Passamont and Alabaster.”

Morgante said, “O gentle cavalier!

Now by thy God say me no villainy;

The favor of your name I fain would hear,

And if a Christian, speak for courtesy.”

Replied Orlando, “So much to your ear

I by my faith disclose contentedly,

Christ I adore, who is the genuine Lord,

And if you please, by you may be adored.”

The Saracen rejoined in humble tone:—

“I have had an extraordinary vision;

A savage serpent fell on me alone,

And Macon would not pity my condition:

Hence to thy God, who for ye did atone

Upon the cross, preferred I my petition;

His timely succor set me safe and free,

And I a Christian am disposed to be.”

Orlando answered, “Baron just and pious,

If this good wish your heart can really move

To the true God, who will not then deny us

Eternal honor, you will go above.

And if you please, as friends we will ally us,

And I will love you with a perfect love.

Your idols are vain liars full of fraud;

The only true God is the Christian’s God.

“The Lord descended to the virgin breast

Of Mary Mother, sinless and divine;

If you acknowledge the Redeemer, blest,

Without whom neither sun nor star can shine,

Abjure bad Macon’s false and felon test,

Your renegado God, and worship mine,—

Baptize yourself with zeal, since you repent.”

To which Morgante answered, “I’m content.”

And then Orlando to embrace him flew,

And made much of his convert, as he cried,

“To the abbey I will gladly marshal you.”

To whom Morgante “Let us go” replied:

“I to the friars have for peace to sue.”

Which thing Orlando heard with inward pride,

Saying, “My brother, so devout and good,

Ask the abbot pardon, as I wish you would;

“Since God has granted your illumination,

Accepting you in mercy for his own,

Humility should be your first oblation.”

Morgante said, “For goodness’s sake make known—

Since that your God is to be mine—your station,

And let your name in verity be shown;

Then will I everything at your command do.”

On which the other said, he was Orlando.

“Then,” quoth the giant, “blessed be Jesu,

A thousand times with gratitude and praise!

Oft, perfect baron! have I heard of you

Through all the different periods of my days;

And as I said, to be your vassal too

I wish, for your great gallantry always.”

Thus reasoning, they continued much to say,

And onwards to the abbey went their way….

Then to the abbey they went on together,

Where waited them the abbot in great doubt.

The monks, who knew not yet the fact, ran thither

To their superior, all in breathless rout,

Saying, with tremor, “Please to tell us whether

You wish to have this person in or out?”

The abbot, looking through upon the giant,

Too greatly feared, at first, to be compliant.

Orlando, seeing him thus agitated,

Said quickly, “Abbot, be thou of good cheer:

He Christ believes, as Christian must be rated,

And hath renounced his Macon false;” which here

Morgante with the hands corroborated.—

A proof of both the giants’ fate quite clear;

Thence, with due thanks, the abbot God adored,

Saying, “Thou hast contented me, O Lord!”

He gazed; Morgante’s height he calculated,

And more than once contemplated his size;

And then he said, “O giant celebrated,

Know that no more my wonder will arise,

How you could tear and fling the trees you late did,

When I behold your form with my own eyes.”…

And thus great honor to Morgante paid

The abbot: many days they did repose.

One day, as with Orlando they both strayed,

And sauntered here and there where’er they chose,

The abbot showed a chamber where arrayed

Much armor was, and hung up certain bows;

And one of these Morgante for a whim

Girt on, though useless, he believed, to him.

There being a want of water in the place,

Orlando, like a worthy brother, said,

“Morgante, I could wish you in this case

To go for water.” “You shall be obeyed

In all commands,” was the reply, “straightway.”

Upon his shoulder a great tub he laid,

And went out on his way unto a fountain,

Where he was wont to drink below the mountain.

Arrived there, a prodigious noise he hears,

Which suddenly along the forest spread;

Whereat from out his quiver he prepares

An arrow for his bow, and lifts his head:

And lo! a monstrous herd of swine appears,

And onward rushes with tempestuous tread,

And to the fountain’s brink precisely pours,

So that the giant’s joined by all the boars.

Morgante at a venture shot an arrow,

Which pierced a pig precisely in the ear,

And passed unto the other side quite through,

So that the boar, defunct, lay tripped up near.

Another, to revenge his fellow farrow,

Against the giant rushed in fierce career,

And reached the passage with so swift a foot,

Morgante was not now in time to shoot.

Perceiving that the pig was on him close,

He gave him such a punch upon the head

As floored him so that he no more arose,

Smashing the very bone; and he fell dead

Next to the other. Having seen such blows,

The other pigs along the valley fled;

Morgante on his neck the bucket took,

Full from the spring, which neither swerved nor shook.

The tun was on one shoulder and there were

The hogs on t’other, and he brushed apace

On to the abbey, though by no means near,

Nor spilt one drop of water in his race.

Orlando, seeing him so soon appear

With the dead boars, and with that brimful vase,

Marveled to see his strength so very great;

So did the abbot, and set wide the gate.

The monks, who saw the water fresh and good,

Rejoiced, but much more to perceive the pork.

All animals are glad at sight of food:

They lay their breviaries to sleep, and work

With greedy pleasure, and in such a mood

That the flesh needs no salt beneath their fork;

Of rankness and of rot there is no fear,

For all the fasts are now left in arrear.

As though they wished to burst at once, they ate;

And gorged so that, as if the bones had been

In water, sorely grieved the dog and cat,

Perceiving that they all were picked too clean.

The abbot, who to all did honor great,

A few days after this convivial scene

Gave to Morgante a fine horse well trained,

Which he long time had for himself maintained.

The horse Morgante to a meadow led,

To gallop, and to put him to the proof,

Thinking that he a back of iron had,

Or to skim eggs unbroke was light enough;

But the horse, sinking with the pain, fell dead,

And burst, while cold on earth lay head and hoof.

Morgante said, “Get up, thou sulky cur!”

And still continued pricking with the spur.

But finally he thought fit to dismount,

And said, “I am as light as any feather,

And he has burst: to this what say you, count?”

Orlando answered, “Like a ship’s mast rather

You seem to me, and with the truck for front:

Let him go; fortune wills that we together

Should march, but you on foot, Morgante, still.”

To which the giant answered, “So I will.

“When there shall be occasion, you shall see

How I approve my courage in the fight.”

Orlando said, “I really think you’ll be,

If it should prove God’s will, a goodly knight;

Nor will you napping there discover me

But never mind your horse, though out of sight

’Twere best to carry him into some wood,

If but the means or way I understood.”

The giant said, “Then carry him I will,

Since that to carry me he was so slack,—

To render, as the gods do, good for ill;

But lend a hand to place him on my back.”

Orlando answered, “If my counsel still

May weigh, Morgante, do not undertake

To lift or carry this dead courser, who

As you have done to him will do to you.

“Take care he don’t revenge himself, though dead,

As Nessus did of old beyond all cure;

I don’t know if the fact you’ve heard or read,

But he will make you burst, you may be sure.”

“But help him on my back,” Morgante said,

“And you shall see what weight I can endure.

In place, my gentle Roland, of this palfrey,

With all the bells, I’d carry yonder belfry.”

The abbot said, “The steeple may do well,

But for the bells, you’ve broken them, I wot.”

Morgante answered, “Let them pay in hell

The penalty, who lie dead in yon grot.”

And hoisting up the horse from where he fell,

He said, “Now look if I the gout have got,

Orlando, in the legs—or if I have force;”—

And then he made two gambols with the horse.

Morgante was like any mountain framed;

So if he did this, ’tis no prodigy:

But secretly himself Orlando blamed,

Because he was one of his family;

And fearing that he might be hurt or maimed,

Once more he bade him lay his burthen by:

“Put down, nor bear him further the desert in.”

Morgante said, “I’ll carry him for certain.”

He did; and stowed him in some nook away,

And to the abbey then returned with speed.

Orlando said, “Why longer do we stay,

Morgante? here is naught to do indeed.”