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Ariosto

Ariosto

 

 

 

AriostoLodovico Ariosto, one of the greatest poets of Italy, was born at Reggio, in Lombardy, on the 8th of September, 1474, and died in 1523- He was the greatest Italian poet between Petrarch and Tasso. His great romantic epic, "Orlando Furiaso," is often referred to with Dante's "Commedia," not in comparison as regards excellence, but to indicate the change in religious thought. Dante's poem was more medireval, more pagan; Ariosta's indicated the result of the skepticism of his age. His father, Niccolo Ariosto, who held the post of military governor at Reggio, destined him for a legal career, but fate having decreed otherwise, he was finally prevailed upon to permit his son to indulge his predilection for literature, thus giving to the world a poet of the highest distinction.

 

The youthful Lodovico early applied himself to the study of the classics but his father died in 1500, leaving him at the age of twenty·six to care for his nine younger brothers and sisters, and manage the affairs of the estate. In 1503 he was appointed one of the gentlemen of the household of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este. Ariosto was not satisfied with his position, and his patron, in fact, hardly seems to have realized the genius of the poet, whom he employed as a sort of confidential agent. Matters came to an open rupture when Ariosto refused to accompany him to Hungary in 1518, and in the same year he entered the service of the cardinal's brother, Alphonso, Duke of Ferrara. The latter appears to have shown appreciation of his literary ability, and given him but little to do except the superintendence of the ducal theatre.

 

Thus did Ariosto spend four happy years working on the revision of the Orlando Furioso conceived and begun in 1505 and published in 1516, to which work he devoted a large portion of the remaining years of his life. Some of his earliest literary efforts were translations of Latin comedies, and since then he had written Cassana 1508, and the Sup.. positi 1509. The latter was reproduced in the Vatican in 1519, and pleased Leo X. so much that he requested another comedy of the author. The result was the completion of Negromante, which the poet had kept in hand for some ten years. The first performance of Lena was in 1528, while the Scolastica was left unfinished at his death. In the performance of his comedies, Ariosto was active also as actor and manager, and it was by his advice and according to his plans that Alphonso, in 1532, built the first theatre in Ferrara, which -burned down in the same year.

 

On February 7, 1522, the poet's quiet existence was interrupted by his appointment as Ducal Commissary for the government of Garfagnana. This wild district had suffered much from raids from withol1t and internal feuds, as well as from banditti, and a strong government was needed. From a pecuniary point of view the position was a more desirable one than that under the duke, and Ariosto endured this uncongenial life until June, 1525, finding diversion in occasional visits to Ferrara, in his correspondence, and in the penning of some of his strongest satires.

 

The remaining years of his life were quietly spent in Ferrara, excepting a few short journeys. The final edition of the Orlando Furioso was issued in 1532, just about a year before the death of the author, which occurred, as the result of consumption, on June 6th, 1533. About the time of his final settling at Ferrara Ariosto had been married to Alessandra Benucci, a Florentine lady, widow of Tito Strozzi, to whom he had long been attached. His only children, however, were two natural sons, Giovanni Battista and Virginia. The latter, whom he loved dearly, collected the Latin poems after the death of his father, prepared the Cinque Canti for the press in 1545, assisted his uncle Gabriele in the completion of La Scolastica, and wrote some short recollections of his father. Though Ariosto won the honor and respect of the first men of his age, and of the princes of Italy, we do not know that he received any substantial token of their admiration for his art; his scanty pensions, even, were irregularly paid.

 

The most enduring monument to his memory is his romantic, imaginative epic, the Orlando Fun-oso, a completion of and improvement on the unfinished Orlando Innamorato of Boiardo. The first edition (1516) contained 40 cantos; that of 1532 contained 46, the text having been subjected to minute alteration, revision, and polishing, for, as his son Virginia wrote, "he was never satisfied with his verses, but altered them again and again." There is unity in the poem, although the main subject is not quite clearly defined. How~ ever, it is concerned principally with the siege of Paris, the defeat of the Saracens, Orlando's madness, and the loves of Ruggiero and Bradamante, the whole being plentifully interspersed with panegyrics upon the House of Este. it is marked by a vivid imagination, vivacity, fertility of resource, and fine word-painting, and its absolute beauty of style won for its author the appellation the d£ville, bestowed by Galileo. The genius of the Renaissance is mirrored in this elaborate epic.

 

As J. A. Symonds says: "

 

The Orlando Furioso gave full and final expression to the cinque cento, just as the Divina Commedia uttered the last word of tbe Middle Ages. The two supreme Italian singers stood in the same relation to their several epochs. Dante immortalized medieval thoughts and aspirations at the moment when they were already losing their reality for the Italian people .... When Ariosto appeared, it was his duty to close the epoch which Petrarch had inaugurated and Boccaccio had determined, by a poem investing Boccaccio's world, the sensuous world of the Renaissance, with the refined artistic form of Petrarch. This he accomplished. But even while he was at work, Italy underwent those political and mental changes ... which ended the Renaissance and opened a new age with Tasso for its poet.

 

Ariosto's comedies, already mentioned, are modeled after Piautus and Terence his Scolastica, however, is quite free from this influence, and is marked by excellent character drawing. His minor poems, concerned more or less with the circumstances of his life, are perhaps the least remarkable of his works. His Satires, however, rank next to his Orlando Furioso, and are of special interest, giving an admirable insight into the character of the man. In them the sagacity, the sound philosophy of life born of an intimate knowledge of the world, the piquant irony of this somewhat world-weary poet, with his elegant tastes, are made manifest. He had no great aims, nor the energy to carry them through; all easygoing man, who counted" court-life as a mere slavery;" he was content to be let alone to tum out his finest phrases and loveliest thoughts in ease. Free from illusions, he accepted life as he found it, and painted the world as be saw it.

 

ANGELICA AND MEDORO.

 

The troop then follow'd where their chief had gone, Pursuing his stern chase among the trees, And left the two companions there alone, One surely dead, the other scarcely less. Long time Medora lay without a groan, Losing his blood in such large quantities, That life would surely have gone out at last, Had not a helping hand been coming past. There came, by chance, a damsel passing there, Dress'd like a shepherdess in lowly wise.

 

But of a royal presence, and an air Noble as handsome, with clear maiden eyes. 'Tis so long since I told you news of her, Perhaps you know her not in this disguise. This, you must know then, was Angelica, Proud daughter of the Khan of great Cathay. You know the magic ring and her distress? Well, when she had recovered this same ring, It so increased her pride and haughtiness, She seem'd too high for any living thing.

 

She goes alone, desiring nothing less Than a companion, even though a king: She even scorns to recollect the flame Of one Orlando, or his very name. But, above all, she hates to recollect That she had taken to Rinaldo so; She thinks it the last want of self-respect, Pure degradation, to have look'd so low. "Such arrogance," said Cupid, "must be check'd." The little god betook him with his bow To where Medora lay and, standing by, Held the shaft ready with a lurking eye.

 

Now when the princess saw the youth all pale, And found him grieving with his bitter wound, Not for what one so young might well bewail, But that his king should not be laid in ground,She felt a something strange and gentle steal Into her heart by some new way it found. Which touch'd its hardness, and turn' d all to grace; And more so, when he told her all bis case.

 

And calling to her mind the little arts Of healing, which she learned in India, For 'twas a study valued ill those parts Even by those who were in sovereign sway. And yet so easy too, that, like the heart's, 'Twas more inherited than learned, they say. She cast about, with herbs and balmy juices, To save so fair a life for ail its uses.

 

And thinking of an herb that caught her eye As she was coming, in a pleasant plain Whether 'twas panacea, dittany, Or some such herb accounted sovereign For stanching blood quickly and tenderly, And winning out all spasm and bad pain, She found it not far off, and gathering some, Returned with it to save Medora's bloom.

 

In coming back she met upon the way A shepherd, who was riding through the wood To find a heifer that had gone astray, And been two days about the solitude. She took him with her where Medoro lay, Still feebler than he was, with loss of blood; So much he lost, and drew so hard a breath, That he was now fast fading to his death.

 

Angelica got off her horse in haste, And made the shepherd get as fast from his; She ground the herbs with stones, and then express'd With her white hands the balmy milkiness Then dropp'd it in the wound, and bath'd his breast, His stomach, feet, and all that was amiss: And of such virtue was it, that at length The blood was stopp'd, and he look'd round with strength.

 

At last he got upon the shepherd's horse, But would not quit the place till he had seen Laid in the ground his lord and master's corse; And Cloridan lay with it, who had been Smitten so fatally with sweet remorse. He then obey'd the will of the fair queen; And she, for very pity of his lot, Went and stay'd with him at the shepherd's cot.

 

Nor would she leave him, she esteem'd him so, Till she had seen him well with her own eye; So full of pity did her bosom grow, Since first she saw him faint and like to die. Seeing his manners now, and beauty too, She felt her heart yearn somehow inwardly; She felt her heart yearn somehow, till at last 'Twas all on fire, and burning warm and fast.

 

The shepherd's home was good enough and neat, A little shady cottage in a dell: The man had just rebuilt it all complete, With room to spare, in case more births befell. There with such knowledge did the lady treat H er handsome patient, that he soon grew well; But not before she had, on her own part, A secret wound much greater in her heart.

 

Much greater was the wound, and deeper far, Which the sweet arrow made in her heart's strings: 'Twas from Medoro's lovely eyes and hair; 'Twas from the naked archer with the wings. She feels it now; she feels, and yet can bear Another's less than her own sufferings. She thinks not of herself: she thinks alone How to cure him by whom she is undone.

 

The more his wound recovers and gets ease, Her own grows worse, and widens day by day. The youth gets well; the lady languishes, Now warm, now cold, as fitful fevers play. His beauty heightens, like the flowering trees; She, miserable creature, melts away Like the weak snow, which some warm sun has found Fall'n, out of season, on a rising ground. And must she speak at last, rather than die?

 

And must she plead, without another's aid? She must, she must: the vital moments fly: She lives-she dies, a passion-wasted maid. At length she bursts all ties of modesty: Her tongue explains her eyes; the words are said: And she asks pity, underneath that blow Which he, perhaps, that gave it did not know.

 

The young Medoro had the gathering Of the world's rose, the rose untouch'd before: For never, since that garden blush'd with spring, Had human being dared to touch the door. To sanction it-to consecrate the thing,- The priest was called to read the service o'er, For without marriage what can come but strife And the bride-mother was the shepherd's wife.

 

All was perform'd, in short, that could be so In such a place, to make the nuptials good: Nor did the happy pair think fit to go, But spent the month and more within the wood. 'the lady to the stripling seemed to grow. His step her step, his eyes her eyes pursued :

 

Nor did her love lose any of its zest, Though she was always hanging on his breast.

 

In doors and out of doors. by night, by day, She had the charmer by her side forever ; Morning and evening they would stroll away, Now by some field or little tufted river; They chose a cave in middle of the day, Perhaps not less agreeable or clever Than Dido and Aeneas found to screen them, When they had secrets to discuss between them.

 

And all this while there was not a smooth tree, That stood by stream or fountain with glad breath, Nor stone less hard than stones are apt to be, But they would find a knife to carve it with; And in a thousand places you might see, And on the walls about you and beneath, ANGELICA AND MEDORO, tied in one, As many ways as lovers' knots can run.

 

And when they thought they had outspent their time. Angelica the royal took her away. She and Medora, to the Indian clime, To crown him king of her great realm, Cathay. -ARIOSTO, translated by LEIGH HUNT.

 

Ariosto

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