Both are blent in a third substance which takes life from his own experience and observation. The quality which gives salt and savour to Ariosto's philosophy of life is irony, sometimes bordering on satire, sometimes running over into drollery and humour. Irony is implicit in the very substance of the ' Furioso. The fate of Angelica, again, is supremely ironical. After flouting kings and Paladins, the noblest knights of the whole world, her lovers, she dotes upon a handsome country-lad and marries him in a shepherd's hut. Such, smiles the poet, is the end of pride, ambition, passion, and the coquetries that placed the kingdoms of the East and West in peril.
Angelica is the embodiment of mortal frailty. The vanity of human wishes, the vicissitudes which blind desire prepares for haughtiest souls, the paradoxes held in store by destiny, are symbolised and imaged in her fate. Astolfo's journey to the moon, related in the thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth cantos, presents the Ariostean irony with all its gradations of satire, parody, and comic humour.
This Duke of England in the Italian romances played the part of an adventurous vainglorious cavalier, eminent for courtesy and courage, who carried the wandering impulse of knight- errantry to the extreme verge of the ridiculous. We find him, at the opening of the thirty-fourth canto, in possession of Atlante's Hippogriff and Logistilla's marvellous horn. Mounting his winged horse, he flies through space, visits the sources of the Nile, and traverses the realm of Ethiopia.
There he delivers King Senapo from a brood of Harpies, whom he pursues to the mouth of a cavern whence issues dense smoke. Di ohe debbo temer, dicea, s' io v' entro?
Ch6 mi posso aiutar sempre col como. Far6 fnggir Plutone e Satanasso, E '1 can trifauce lever6 dal passo. This travesty is wrought with no dehberate purpose, but by a mere caprice of fancy, to entertain his audience with a novel while he flouts the faiths and fears of a more earnest age.
For Ariosto, the child of the Kenaissance, there remained nothing to affirm or to deny about the future of the soul. The Inferno of the middle ages had become a plaything of romance. Astolfo now pursues his journey, looks in on Prester John, and scales the mountain of the Earthly Paradise. There he finds a palace wrought of precious stones, and in the vestibule an ancient man with venerable beard and snowy hair.
This is no other than S. John the Evangelist, who hastens to feed the knight's horse with good. De' frutti a lui del paradiso diero, Di tal sapor, ch' a suo giudicio, sauza Scusa non sono i duo primi pareuti, Se per quel fur si poco ubbidienti I. The stanzas which describe the valley of vain things and useless lumber lost to earth are justly famous for their satire and their pathos.
He has no dread of the prosaic and the simple.
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Inexhaustibly various alike in thought, in rhythm, in imagery, and in melody of phrase, he yet keeps close to reality, and passes without modulation from seriousness to extrava- gant fun, returning again to the sadness of profound reflection. His poetry is like the picture of his own face — a large and handsome man with sleepy eyes and epicurean mouth, over. Meanwhile S. John is waiting at Astolfo's elbow to point out the Fates, spinning their web of human destinies, and Time carrying the records of history to the river of oblivion.
It is a sad picture, did not Ariosto enliven the most sombre matter with his incorrigible humour. By the river bank of Lethe wait cormorants and swans. The former aid Time in his labour of destruction. The latter, who symbolise great poets, save chosen names from undeserved neglect. This leads to a discourse on the services rendered by writers to their patrons, which is marked by Ariosto's levity. He has just been penning praises for Ippolito.
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The episode of Astolfo's journey to the moon abounds in satire upon human weakness in general. Another celebrated passage has satire of a more direct kind, and is, moreover, valuable for illustrating Ariosto's conduct of his poem. Paris is besieged by the assembled forces of the Saracens. The chief Paladins are absent, and Charlemagne in his sore need.
Ariosto selects a number of decorous phrases redolent of Renaissance humanism, tolte agV inimici stigi, al maggior tempio, gli occhi al del supini, and combines them with melodramatic effect. God accepts the Emperor's prayer, and sends Michael down to earth to find Discord and Silence, in order that the former may sow strife in the Saracen camp, and the latter lead reinforcements into Paris.
He flies straight to a monastery, expecting to find Silence there. The choir, the parlour, the dormitory, the refectory are searched. Instead of him, Discord presents herself, and is recognised by her robe of many-coloured fluttering ribbons, dishevelled hair, and armful of law-papers. Fraud, too, accosts the angel with a gentle face like Gabriel's when he said Ave! Yet if you are very anxious to lay hands on him at once, haste to the haunt of Sleep.
A trickling stream from high rock tumbling down, And ever drizzling rain upon the loft, Mixed with a murmuring wind much like the sown Of swarming bees. Instead, he paints, in his peculiar style of realistic imagery, the corpulent form of Ease, Sloth that cannot walk and scarce can stand, Forgetfulness who bars the door to messengers, and Silence walking round the cave with slippers of felt. Silence, summoned by the archangel, sets forth to meet Rinaldo. Discord also quits the convent with her comrade I'ride, leaving Fraud and Hypocrisy to keep their places warm till they return.
This rouses Michael from his slumber of beatitude. He blushes, plumes his pinions, and shoots down again to earth in search of Discord among the monks. This is a good specimen both of Ariosto's pecuUar levity and of the romantic style which in the most serious portion of his poem permitted such extravagance.
The robust arch- angel tearing Discord's dishevelled hair, kicking her, pound- ing her with his fists, breaking a cross upon her back, and sending her about her business with a bee in her bonnet, presents a picture of drollery which is exceedingly absurd. Nor is there any impropriety in the picture from the poet's point of view. Michael and the Evangelist are scarcely serious beings. They both form part of his machinery, and help to make the action move. Broad fun, untinctured by irony, seasons the ' Furioso ' — as when Astolfo creates a fleet by throwing leaves into the.
Ariosto's irony, no less than his romantic method, deprived the ' Furioso ' of that sublimity which only belongs to works of greater seriousness and deeper conviction. Yet he some- times touches the sublime by force of dramatic description or by pathetic intensity. The climax of Orlando's madness has commonly been cited as an instance of poetic grandeur. Yet I should be inclined to prefer the gathering of the storm of discord in Agramante's camp. The thunder-clouds which had been mustering to break in ruin upon Christendom, rush together and spend their fury in mid air.
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Thus the moment is decisive, and nothing has been spared to dignify the passions that provoke the final crash. His pathos also has its own sublimity. Ariosto's method is different, and the effect is more rhetorical. Yet he can produce passages of almost equal poignancy, prolonged situations of overmastering emotion, worthy to be set side by side with the Euripidean pictures of Polyxena, Alcestis, or Iphigenia. Both were supreme artists in an age of incipient decadence, lacking the convictions of their predecessors, and depending for effect upon rhetorical devices.
Both were rpayiKdiraroi in Aristotle's sense of the phrase, and both were romantic rather than heroic poets. Zeibino is one of the most sympathetic creations of the poet's fancy. With stanzas like this the poet cheats the sorrow he has stirred in us. So also when Isabella, kneeling before Rodomonte's sword, like S. Vattene in pace, alma beata e bella.
Cosi i miei versi avesson forza, come Ben m' aflfaticherei con tutta quella Arte che tanto il parlar orna e come, Perch6 mille e mUl' anni, e piii, novella Sentisse il mondo del tuo chiaro nome. Vattene in pace aUa superna sede, E lascia all' altre esempio di tua fede.
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But see xsav. Olimpia has lost her kingdom and spent her substance for her husband, Bireno. Orlando aids her in her sore distress, and frees Bireno from his prison. Bireno proves faithless, and deserts her on an island. She is taken by corsairs, exposed like Andromeda on a rock to a sea- monster, and is finally rescued by Orlando. Catullus in a single felicitous simile, Fletcher by the agony of passionate declama- tion, surpass Ariosto's detailed picture.
The one is more restrained, the other more tragic. But Ariosto goes straight to our heart by the natural touch of Olimpia feeling for Bireno in the darkness, and by the suggestion of pallid moonlight and a shivering dawn. The numerous prosaic details with which he has charged his picture, add to its reality, and enhance the Euripidean quality we admire in it. In the case of a poet whose imagination was invariably balanced by practical sound sense, the personal experience he acquired of the female sex could not fail to influence his delineation of women. He was not a man to cherish illusion, or to romance in verse about perfection he had never found in act.
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He did not place a Beatrice or Laura on the pedestal of ' Canto X. His great poem, completed in , must have been written under the influence of those more volatile amours he celebrated in his Latin verses. Therefore we are not surprised to find that the female characters of the ' Orlando ' illustrate his epistle on the choice of a wife. Yet even in Bradamante he has painted a virago from whom the more delicate humanity of Shakspere would have recoiled.
The scene in which she quarrels with Marfisa about Euggiero degrades her in our eyes, and makes us feel that such a termagant might prove a sorry wife.