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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 Madness of Orlando

By Lodovico Ariosto (1474–1533)

From ‘Orlando Furioso,’ Canto 23

THE COURSE in pathless woods, which without rein

The Tartar’s charger had pursued astray,

Made Roland for two days, with fruitless pain,

Follow him, without tidings of his way.

Orlando reached a rill of crystal vein,

On either bank of which a meadow lay;

Which, stained with native hues and rich, he sees,

And dotted o’er with fair and many trees.

The mid-day fervor made the shelter sweet

To hardy herd as well as naked swain:

So that Orlando well beneath the heat

Some deal might wince, opprest with plate and chain.

He entered for repose the cool retreat,

And found it the abode of grief and pain;

And place of sojourn more accursed and fell

On that unhappy day, than tongue can tell.

Turning him round, he there on many a tree

Beheld engraved, upon the woody shore,

What as the writing of his deity

He knew, as soon as he had marked the lore.

This was a place of those described by me,

Whither oft-times, attended by Medore,

From the near shepherd’s cot had wont to stray

The beauteous lady, sovereign of Catay.

In a hundred knots, amid these green abodes,

In a hundred parts, their ciphered names are dight;

Whose many letters are so many goads,

Which Love has in his bleeding heart-core pight.

He would discredit in a thousand modes,

That which he credits in his own despite;

And would perforce persuade himself, that rind

Other Angelica than his had signed.

“And yet I know these characters,” he cried,

“Of which I have so many read and seen;

By her may this Medoro be belied,

And me, she, figured in the name, may mean.”

Feeding on such like phantasies, beside

The real truth, did sad Orlando lean

Upon the empty hope, though ill contented,

Which he by self-illusions had fomented.

But stirred and aye rekindled it, the more

That he to quench the ill suspicion wrought,

Like the incautious bird, by fowler’s lore,

Hampered in net or lime; which, in the thought

To free its tangled pinions and to soar,

By struggling is but more securely caught.

Orlando passes thither, where a mountain

O’erhangs in guise of arch the crystal fountain.


Here from his horse the sorrowing county lit,

And at the entrance of the grot surveyed

A cloud of words, which seemed but newly writ,

And which the young Medoro’s hand had made.

On the great pleasure he had known in it,

This sentence he in verses had arrayed;

Which to his tongue, I deem, might make pretense

To polished phrase; and such in ours the sense:—

“Gay plants, green herbage, rill of limpid vein,

And, grateful with cool shade, thou gloomy cave,

Where oft, by many wooed with fruitless pain,

Beauteous Angelica, the child of grave

King Galaphron, within my arms has lain;

For the convenient harborage you gave,

I, poor Medoro, can but in my lays,

As recompense, forever sing your praise.

“And any loving lord devoutly pray,

Damsel and cavalier, and every one,

Whom choice or fortune hither shall convey,

Stranger or native,—to this crystal run,

Shade, caverned rock, and grass, and plants, to say,

‘Benignant be to you the fostering sun

And moon, and may the choir of nymphs provide,

That never swain his flock may hither guide.’”

In Arabic was writ the blessing said,

Known to Orlando like the Latin tongue,

Who, versed in many languages, best read

Was in this speech; which oftentimes from wrong

And injury and shame had saved his head,

What time he roved the Saracens among.

But let him boast not of its former boot,

O’erbalanced by the present bitter fruit.

Three times, and four, and six, the lines impressed

Upon the stone that wretch perused, in vain

Seeking another sense than was expressed,

And ever saw the thing more clear and plain;

And all the while, within his troubled breast,

He felt an icy hand his heart-core strain.

With mind and eyes close fastened on the block,

At length he stood, not differing from the rock.

Then well-nigh lost all feeling; so a prey

Wholly was he to that o’ermastering woe.

This is a pang, believe the experienced say

Of him who speaks, which does all griefs outgo.

His pride had from his forehead passed away,

His chin had fallen upon his breast below;

Nor found he, so grief-barred each natural vent,

Moisture for tears, or utterance for lament.

Stifled within, the impetuous sorrow stays,

Which would too quickly issue; so to abide

Water is seen, imprisoned in the vase,

Whose neck is narrow and whose swell is wide;

What time, when one turns up the inverted base,

Toward the mouth, so hastes the hurrying tide,

And in the strait encounters such a stop,

It scarcely works a passage, drop by drop.

He somewhat to himself returned, and thought

How possibly the thing might be untrue:

That some one (so he hoped, desired, and sought

To think) his lady would with shame pursue;

Or with such weight of jealousy had wrought

To whelm his reason, as should him undo;

And that he, whosoe’er the thing had planned,

Had counterfeited passing well her hand.

With such vain hope he sought himself to cheat,

And manned some deal his spirits and awoke;

Then prest the faithful Brigliadoro’s seat,

As on the sun’s retreat his sister broke.

Not far the warrior had pursued his beat,

Ere eddying from a roof he saw the smoke;

Heard noise of dog and kine, a farm espied,

And thitherward in quest of lodging hied.

Languid, he lit, and left his Brigliador

To a discreet attendant; one undrest

His limbs, one doffed the golden spurs he wore,

And one bore off, to clean, his iron vest.

This was the homestead where the young Medore

Lay wounded, and was here supremely blest.

Orlando here, with other food unfed,

Having supt full of sorrow, sought his bed.


Little availed the count his self-deceit;

For there was one who spake of it unsought:

The shepherd-swain, who to allay the heat

With which he saw his guest so troubled, thought

The tale which he was wonted to repeat—

Of the two lovers—to each listener taught;

A history which many loved to hear,

He now, without reserve, ’gan tell the peer.

“How at Angelica’s persuasive prayer,

He to his farm had carried young Medore,

Grievously wounded with an arrow; where

In little space she healed the angry sore.

But while she exercised this pious care,

Love in her heart the lady wounded more,

And kindled from small spark so fierce a fire,

She burnt all over, restless with desire;

“Nor thinking she of mightiest king was born,

Who ruled in the East, nor of her heritage,

Forced by too puissant love, had thought no scorn

To be the consort of a poor foot-page.”

His story done, to them in proof was borne

The gem, which, in reward for harborage,

To her extended in that kind abode,

Angelica, at parting, had bestowed.


In him, forthwith, such deadly hatred breed

That bed, that house, that swain, he will not stay

Till the morn break, or till the dawn succeed,

Whose twilight goes before approaching day.

In haste, Orlando takes his arms and steed,

And to the deepest greenwood wends his way.

And when assured that he is there alone,

Gives utterance to his grief in shriek and groan.

Never from tears, never from sorrowing,

He paused; nor found he peace by night or day:

He fled from town, in forest harboring,

And in the open air on hard earth lay.

He marveled at himself, how such a spring

Of water from his eyes could stream away,

And breath was for so many sobs supplied;

And thus oft-times, amid his mourning, cried:—


“I am not—am not what I seem to sight:

What Roland was, is dead and under ground,

Slain by that most ungrateful lady’s spite,

Whose faithlessness inflicted such a wound.

Divided from the flesh, I am his sprite,

Which in this hell, tormented, walks its round,

To be, but in its shadow left above,

A warning to all such as trust in love.”

All night about the forest roved the count,

And, at the break of daily light, was brought

By his unhappy fortune to the fount,

Where his inscription young Medoro wrought.

To see his wrongs inscribed upon that mount

Inflamed his fury so, in him was naught

But turned to hatred, frenzy, rage, and spite;

Nor paused he more, but bared his falchion bright,

Cleft through the writing; and the solid block,

Into the sky, in tiny fragments sped.

Woe worth each sapling and that caverned rock

Where Medore and Angelica were read!

So scathed, that they to shepherd or to flock

Thenceforth shall never furnish shade or bed.

And that sweet fountain, late so clear and pure,

From such tempestous wrath was ill secure.


So fierce his rage, so fierce his fury grew,

That all obscured remained the warrior’s sprite;

Nor, for forgetfulness, his sword he drew,

Or wondrous deeds, I trow, had wrought the knight;

But neither this, nor bill, nor axe to hew,

Was needed by Orlando’s peerless might.

He of his prowess gave high proofs and full,

Who a tall pine uprooted at a pull.

He many others, with as little let

As fennel, wall-wort-stem, or dill uptore;

And ilex, knotted oak, and fir upset,

And beech and mountain ash, and elm-tree hoar.

He did what fowler, ere he spreads his net,

Does, to prepare the champaign for his lore,

By stubble, rush, and nettle stalk; and broke,

Like these, old sturdy trees and stems of oak.

The shepherd swains, who hear the tumult nigh,

Leaving their flocks beneath the greenwood tree,

Some here, some there, across the forest hie,

And hurry thither, all, the cause to see.

But I have reached such point, my history,

If I o’erpass this bound, may irksome be.

And I my story will delay to end

Rather than by my tediousness offend.