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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Lodovico Ariosto (1474–1533)

What Astolfo Saw in the Moon

From “Raving Roland”

AFTER Astolfo and Saint John had spent two days in discourse, during which meals had been served up consisting of fruit so exquisite that the paladin could not help thinking our first parents had some excuse for eating it, the evangelist, when the moon rose, took him into the car which had borne Elijah to heaven; and four horses redder than fire conveyed them to the lunar world.

The mortal visitant was amazed to see in the moon a world resembling his own, full of wood and water, and containing even cities and castles, though of a different sort from ours. It was strange to find a sphere so large which had seemed so petty afar off; and no less strange was it to look down on the world he had left and be compelled to knit his brows and look sharply before he could well discern it, for it happened at the time to be in want of light.

But his guide did not leave him much time to look about. He conducted him with due speed to a valley which contained, in one miraculous collection, whatsoever had been lost or wasted on earth—not only riches and dominions and such like gifts of fortune, but things also which fortune can neither grant nor resume. Much fame is there which time has withdrawn, infinite prayers and vows which are made to God Almighty by us poor sinners. There lie the tears and the sighs of lovers, the hours lost in play, the leisures of the dull, and the intentions of the lazy. As to desires, they are so numerous that they shadow the whole place. Astolfo went round among the different heaps, asking what they were. His eyes were first struck with a huge one of bladders, which seemed to contain mighty sounds and the voices of multitudes, and which he was told were the Assyrian and Persian monarchies, together with those of Greece and Lydia. One heap was nothing but hooks of silver and gold, which were the presents, it seems, made to patrons and great men in hopes of a return. Another consisted of snares in the shape of garlands, manufactured by parasites. Others were verses in praise of great lords, all made of crickets which had burst themselves with singing. Chains of gold he saw there which were fictitious and unhappy love-matches; and eagles’ claws, which were deputed authorities; and pairs of bellows, which were princes’ favors; and overturned cities and treasuries, being treasons and conspiracies; and serpents with female faces, that were coiners and thieves; and all sorts of broken bottles, which were services rendered in miserable courts. A great heap of overturned soup he found to be alms to the poor, which had been delayed till the giver’s death. Heaps of twigs he saw, set with birdlime, which, dear ladies, are your charms. In short, there was no end to what he saw. Thousands and thousands would not complete the list. Everything was there which was to be met with on earth, except folly in the raw material, for that is never exported. There he beheld some of his own lost time and deeds, and yet, if nobody had been with him to make him aware of them, never would he have recognized them as his.

They then arrived at something which none of us ever prayed God to bestow, for we fancy we possess it in superabundance; yet here it was in greater quantities than anything else in the place—I mean, sense. It was a subtle fluid, apt to evaporate if not kept closely, and here, accordingly, it was kept in vials of greater or less size. The greatest of them all was inscribed with the following words, “The Sense of Roland.” Others in like manner exhibited the names of the proper possessors; and among them the frank-hearted paladin beheld the larger portion of his own. But what astonished him more was to see multitudes of the vials almost full to the stopper, which bore the names of men whom he had supposed to enjoy their senses in perfection. Some had lost them for love, others for glory, others for riches, others for promises from great men, others for stupid tricks, for jewels, for paintings, for all sorts of whims. There was a heap belonging to sophists and astrologers, and a still greater to poets.

Astolfo, with leave of Saint John, took possession of his own. He had but to uncork it and put it under his nose, and the wit shot up to its place at once. For a long time afterward the paladin led the life of a wise man, until, unfortunately, a mistake which he made lost him his brains a second time.

The evangelist now presented him with the vial containing the wits of Roland, and the travelers quitted the vale of lost treasures.