Ludovico Ariosto 1474 - 1533

Italian poet, remembered primarily for his /ORLANDO FURIOSO/, published in its final version in 1532. Ariosto's work was the most celebrated narrative poem of the Italian high Renaissance. Numerous artists have used its characters and incidents for paintings and musical works. Titian's (c. 1488-1576) painting Portrait of a Gentleman (c. 1512), formerly called Ariosto, presents a young, noble man, who seems to be at the same time approachable and formally restrained.


Ludovico Ariosto was born in Reggio Emilia, as the son of Count Niccolò Ariosto. His family moved to Ferrara when he was ten. He studied there law from 1489 to1494, and also started to study Latin and Greek language and literature under the tutelage of the humanist scholar Gregorio da Spoleto. When his father died in 1500, Ariosto took care of family estates for some years as the eldest of 10 children. In 1502 he became commander of the fort of Canossa, and the next year he entered the service of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este. As familiare he was at present when the cardinal ate, he was ready to welcome him whenever he came home, helped him undress, and gave him drinks made of medicinal plants. Gradually Ariosto received higher duties. In 1513 Ariosto met Alessandra Benucci. After the death of her husband, Tito Strozzi, she became Ariosto's mistress.

Because the family had settled comfortably in Ferrara, Ariosto refused in 1517 to accompany Cardinal d'Este to Hungary - Ariosto told he had a flu. He was dismissed from the court and in 1518 he entered the service of Alfonso I, Duke of Ferrara, Cardinal's brother. In 1522 he was sent to govern the Garfagnana region in the wildest part of the Apuan Alps. He was not happy with his duties and returned after three years from the bandit-ridden post to Ferrara. Around 1527 Ariosto secretly married the widow Alessandra Benucci, and spent the last part of his life revising and enlarging Orlando Furioso. Ariosto never finished the sequel to his famous work, Cinque canti (Five Cantos). He died in Ferrara on July 6, 1533.

"In any case, as poet Ariosto was boundless in invention and, therefore, prone to imperfections; was extravagant; as perhaps unheroic. But as man he was tender, good-humored, patient. And so a great deal of his tenderness seeps through into his poems and makes it really more epic than that of the formally heroic Tasso." (Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature, 1938)
Ariosto began writing Orlado Furioso in about 1505. Its plot revolves around the conflict of Christian versus Moor, the war between Charles, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Agramante, King of North Africa, and Marsilio, King of Spain. The conflict ends with the defeat and death of Agramante, and Marsilio returns to Spain. The poem was a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo's Orlando innamorato, which was left unfinished upon the author's death in 1494. Ariosto started the story more or less at the point where Boiardo left it, with the words "Le donne, i cavallier, l'arme, gli amori, / le cortesie, l'audaci imprese io canto." (Of kives and ladies, knights and arms, I sing, / of courtesies and many a daring feat." The first edition of the work appeared in Venice in 1516 and was later revised in 1521 and 1532. Ariosto's invention was that he "sings" the poem to his audience, as a traveling troubadour, and every now and then he remembers to flatter the family of d'Este. The main character, Orlando, goes mad (furioso) because his love for the beautiful Angelica is not returned. Other themes are the war between Christians and Saracens, and the secondary love story of Ruggiero, one of Agramante's pagan champions, and Bradamante, a woman warrior. Orlando Furioso presented a rich variety of characters, mixed romance, epic, and lyrical poetry, and made fun of outmoded chivalric manners. The leader of the Moors, Rodomonte, is cruel and treacherous, but otherwise the Christian knights and the Moors ride together in French woods in their search of adventures. Later the poem had a profound influence on such poets as Tasso, Spenser, and Lope de Vega. It also fascinated artists, and in the mid-1700s G.B. Tiepolo painted in Villa Valmarana in Vicenza frescoes illustrating its scenes. In the Renaissance mausoleum that Count Pier Francesco Orsini's built to the memory of his wife, several of the inscriptions in the garden were derived from Orlando. Gustave Doré's (1832-1883) illustrations for Orlando are among his finest works.

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Ariosto also wrote seven satires, beginning in 1514, and five comedies. As a member of a group organized to produce plays by Plautus and Terrence at the Este court of Ferrara, he became especially familiar with their approaches to comedy, and their work later became the model for his own dramas. In LA CASSARIA (The Coffer, prose version in 1508, verse version in 1531) two servants succeed in arranging desirable marriages for their masters. IL SUPPOSITI (The Pretenders, prose version 1509, verse version 1528/31) was based on Terence's The Eunuch and Plautus's The Captives. Shakespeare used parts of the work in his play The Taming of the Shrew. IL NEGROMANTE (The Necromancer, 1520), centered on a marriage kept secret, GLI STUDENTI (The Students, 1519), was an unfinished comedy of frustrated love, and LA LENA (Lena, 1528) was based on the story of Peronella in Boccaccio's Decameron.

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''Orlando Furioso'' is 'one of the most influential works in the whole of European literature' and it remains an inspiration for writers to this day. Orlando Furioso was a major influence on Edmund Spenser's epic The Faerie Queene. William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing takes one of its plots (Hero/Claudio/Don John) from Orlando Furioso (probably via Spenser or Bandello) . In 1592, Robert Greene published a play called ''The Historie of Orlando Furioso''. According to Barbara Reynolds, the English poet the closest in spirit to Ariosto is Lord Byron. There have been several verse translations of Orlando Furioso into English. The first one was by John Harington, published in 1591. William Huggins' and Henry Boyd's translations were published in 1757 and 1784, respectively. John Hoole's 1783 translation used rhyming couplets. William Stewart Rose produced an eight-volume translation beginning publication in 1823 and ending in 1831. Barbara Reynolds published a verse translation in 1975, and an extremely abridged verse translation by David Slavitt was published in 2009. - - - [the previous comment (box below) and the present one are adaptations from Wikipedia]
the romance epic ''Orlando Furioso'' (1516***) by Ludovico Ariosto [sort of a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo's unfinished romance ''Orlando Innamorato'' (''Orlando in Love'', published posthumously in 1495) ] describes the adventures of Charlemagne, Orlando, and the Franks as they battle against the Saracens with diversions into many sideplots. The poem is divided into forty-six cantos, each containing a variable number of eight-line stanzas in ottava rima (a rhyme scheme of abababcc) . Ottava rima had been used in previous Italian romantic epics, including Luigi Pulci's Morgante and Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato. Ariosto's work is 38,736 lines long in total, making it one of the longest poems in European literature. Ariosto introduced also narrative commentary throughout the work. The poem exerted a wide influence on later culture. ***Ariosto began working on the poem around 1506, when he was 32. The earliest version appeared in 1516. A second edition appeared in 1521 with minor revisions. The poem was not published in its complete form until 1532.