Stories from the Italian poets ... with critical notices of the life and genius of the authors online

. (page 31 of 48)
Online LibraryUnknownStories from the Italian poets ... with critical notices of the life and genius of the authors → online text (page 31 of 48)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

The knight released her instantly. He set her behind him on
the winged horse, and in a few minutes was in the air, transport-
ed with having deprived the brute of his delicate supper. Then,
turning as he went, he imprinted on her a thousand kisses. He
had intended to make a tour of Spain, which was not far off; but
he now altered his mind, and descended with his prize into a love-
ly spot on the coast of Brittany, encircled with oaks full of night-
ingales, with here and there a solitary mountain.

It was a little green meadow with a brook.* Ruggiero look-
ed about him with transport, and was preparing to disencumber

* " Sul lito un bosco era di querce ombrose,
Dove ogn' or par che Filomena piagna ;


himself of his hot armour, when the blushing beauty, casting her
eyes downwards, beheld on her finger the identical magic ring
which her father had given her when she first entered Christen-
dom, and which had delivered her out of so many dangers. If
put on the finger only, it neutralized all enchantment ; but put
into the mouth, it rendered the wearer invisible. It had been
stolen from her, and came into the hands of a good fairy, who
gave it to Ruggiero, in order to deliver him from the wiles of a
bad one. Falsehood to the good fairy's friend, his own mistress
Bradamante, now rendered him unworthy of its possession ; and
at the moment when he thought Angelica his own beyond re-
demption, she vanished out of his sight. In vain he knew the
secret of the ring, and the possibility of her being still present
the certainty, at all events, of her not being very far off. He ran
hither and thither like a madman, hoping to clasp her in his arms,
and embracing nothing but the air. In a little while she was dis-
tant far enough ; and Ruggiero, stamping about to no purpose in
a rage of disappointment, and at length resolving to take horse,
perceived he had been deprived, in the mean time, of his hippogrifF.
It had loosened itself from the tree to which he had tied it, and
taken its own course over the mountains. Thus he had lost horse,
ring, and lady, all at once.*

Pursuing his way, with contending emotions, through a valley
between lofty woods, he heard a great noise in the thick of them.
He rushed to see what it was ; and found a giant combating with

Ch' in mezo avea un pratel con una fonte,
E quinci e quindi un solitario monte.

Quivi il bramoso cavalier ritenne

L' audace corso, e nel pratel discese."

St. 113.

What a landscape ! and what a charm beyond painting he has put into it with
his nightingales ! and then what figures besides ! A knight on a winged steed
descending with a naked beauty into a meadow in the thick of woods, with
" here and there a solitary mountain." The mountains make no formal circle ;
they keep their separate distances, with their various intervals of light and shade.
And what a heart of solitude is given to the meadow by the loneliness of these
ite waiters aloof!

* Nothing can be more perfectly wrought up than this sudden change of cir-


a young knight. The giant got the better of the knight ; and
having cast him on the ground, unloosed his helmet for the pur-
pose of slaying him, when Ruggiero, to his horror, beheld in the
youth's face that of his unworthily-treated mistress Bradamante.
He rushed to assault her enemy ; but the giant, seizing her in
his arms, took to his heels ; and the penitent lover followed him
with all his might, but in vain. The wretch was hidden from
his eyes by the trees. At length Ruggiero, incessantly pursuing
him, issued forth into a great meadow, containing a noble man-
sion ; and here he beheld the giant in the act of dashing through
the gate of it with his prize.

The mansion was an enchanted one, raised by the anxious old
guardian of Ruggiero for the purpose of enticing into it both the
youth himself, and all from whom he could experience danger in
the course of his adventures. Orlando had just been brought
there by a similar device, that of the apparition of a knight car-
rying off Angelica ; for the supposed Bradamante was equally a
deception, and the giant no other than the magician himself.
There also were the knights Ferragus, and Brandimart, and
Grandonio,-and King Sacripant, all searching for something they
had missed. They wandered about the house to no purpose ;
and sometimes Ruggiero heard Bradamante calling him ; and
sometimes Orlando beheld Angelica's face at a window.*

At length the beauty arrived in her own veritable person. She
was again on horseback, and once more on the look-out for a
knight who should conduct her safely home whether Orlando or
Sacripant she had not determined. The same road which had
brought Ruggiero to the enchanted honse having done as much
for her 5 she now entered it invisibly by means of the ring.

Finding both the knights in the place, and feeling under the
necessity of coming to a determination respecting one or the other,

* To feel the complete force of this picture, a reader should have been in the
South, and beheld the like sudden apparitions, at open windows, of ladies looking
forth in dresses of beautiful colours, and with faces the most interesting. I re-
member a vision of this sort at Carrara, on a bright but not too hot day (I fancied
that the marble mountains there cooled it). It resembled one of Titian's wo-
men, with its broad shoulders, and boddice and sleeves differently coloured
from the petticoat ; and seemed literally framed in the unsashed window. But
I am digressing.


Angelica made up her mind in favour of King Sacripant, whom
she reckoned to be more at her disposal. Contriving therefore to
meet him by himself, she took the ring out of her mouth, and
suddenly appeared before him. He had hardly recovered from
his amazement, when Ferragus and Orlando himself came up ;
and as Angelica now was visible to all, she took occasion to de-
liver them from the enchanted house by hastening before them
into a wood. They ail followed of course, in a frenzy of anx-
iety and delight ; but the lady being perplexed with the presence
of the whole three, and recollecting that she had again obtained
possession of her ring, resolved to trust her safe conduct to invis-
ibility alone ; so, in the old fashion, she left them to new quarrels
by suddenly vanishing from their eyes. She stopped, neverthe-
less, a while to laugh at them, as they all turned their stupified
faces hither and thither ; then suffered them to pass her in a
blind thunder of pursuit ; and so, gently following at her leisure
on the same road, took her way towards the East.

It was a long journey, and she saw many places and people,
and was now hidden and now seen, like the moon, till she came
one day into a forest near the walls of Paris, where she beheld a
youth lying wounded on the grass, between two companions that
were dead.





Now, in order to understand who the youth was that Angelica
found lying on the grass between the two dead companions, and
how he came to be so lying, you must know that a great battle
had been fought there between Charlemagne and the Saracens, in
which the latter were defeated, and that these three people be-
longed to the Saracens. The two that were slain were Dardinel,
king of Zumara, and Cloridan, one of his followers ; and the
wounded survivor was another, whose name was Medoro. Clo-
ridan and Medoro had been loving and grateful servants of Dar-
dinel, and very fast friends of one another ; such friends, indeed,
that on their own account, as well as in honour of what they
did for their master, their history deserves a particular mention.

They were of a lowly stock on the coast of Syria, and in all
the various fortunes of their lord had shewn him a special at-
tachment. Cloridan had been bred a huntsman, and was the
robuster person of the two. Medoro was in the first bloom of
youth, with a complexion rosy and fair, and a most pleasant as
well as beautiful countenance. He had black eyes, and hair
that ran into curls of gold ; in short, looked like a very angel
from heaven.

These two were keeping anxious watch upon the trenches of
the defeated army, when Medoro, unable to cease thinking of the
master who had been left dead on the field, told his friend that he
could no longer delay to go and look for his dead body, and bury
it. " You," said he, " will remain, and so be able to do justice
to my memory, in case I fail."

Cloridan, though he delighted in this proof of his friend's
noble-heartedness, did all he could to dissuade him from so peril-


ous an enterprise ; but Medoro, in the fervour of his gratitude for
benefits conferred on him by his lord, was immovable in his deter-
mination to die or to succeed ; and Cloridan, seeing this, deter-
mined to go with him.

They took their way accordingly out of the Saracen camp,
and in a short time found themselves in that of the enemy. The
Christians had been drinking over-night for joy at their victory,
and were buried in wine and sleep. Cloridan halted a moment,
and said in a whisper to his friend, " Do you see this ? Ought 1
to lose such an opportunity of revenging our beloved master ?
Keep watch, and I will do it. Look about you, and listen on
every side, while I make a passage for us among these sleepers
with my sword."

Without waiting an answer, the vigorous huntsman pushed
into the first tent before him. It contained, among other occu-
pants, a certain Alpheus, a physician and caster of nativities,
who had prophesied to himself a long life, and a death in the
bosom of his family. Cloridan cautiously put the sword's point
in his throat, and there was an end of his dreams. Four other
sleepers were despatched in like manner, without time given
them to utter a syllable. After them went another, who had en-
trenched himself between two horses ; then the luckless Grill,
who had made himself a pillow of a barrel which he had emp-
tied. He was dreaming of opening a second barrel, but, alas,
was tapped himself. A Greek and a German followed, who had
been playing late at dice ; fortunate, if they had continued to do
so a little longer ; but they never counted a throw like this
among their chances.

By this time the Saracen had grown ferocious with his bloody
work, and went slaughtering along like a wild beast among sheep.
Nor could Medoro keep his own sword unemployed ; but he dis-
dained to strike indiscriminately he was choice in his victims.
Among these was a certain Duke La Brett, who had his lady fast
asleep in his arms. Shall I pity them ? That will I not. Sweet
was their fated hour, most happy their departure ; for, embraced
as the sword found them, even so, I believe, it dismissed them into
the other world, loving and enfolded.

Two brothers were slain next, sons of the Count of Flanders,


and newly-made valorous knights. Charlemagne had seen them
turn red with slaughter in the field, and had augmented their
coat of arms with his lilies, and promised them lands beside in
Friesland. And he would have bestowed the lands, only Medoro
forbade it.

The friends now discovered that they had approached the
quarter in which the Paladins kept guard about their sovereign.
They were afraid, therefore, to continue the slaughter any fur-
ther ; so they put up their swords, and picked their way cau-
tiously through the rest of the camp into the field where the battle
had taken place. There they experienced so much difficulty in
the search for their master's body, in consequence of the horrible
mixture of the corpses, that they might have searched till the
perilous return of daylight, had not the moon, at the close of a
prayer of Medoro's, sent forth its beams right on the spot where
the king was lying. Medoro knew him by his cognizance, argent
and gules. The poor youth burst into tears at the sight, weeping
plentifully as he approached him, only he was obliged to let his
tears flow without noise. Not that he cared for death at that
moment he would gladly have embraced it, so deep was his af-
fection for his lord ; but he was anxious not to be hindered in his
pious office of consigning him to the earth.

The two friends took up the dead king on their shoulders, and
were hasting away with the beloved burthen, when the white-
ness of dawn began to appear, and with it, unfortunately, a troop
of horsemen in the distance, right in their path.

It was Zerbino, prince of Scotland, with a party of horse. He
was a warrior of extreme vigilance and activity, and was return-
ing to the camp after having been occupied all night in pursuing
such of the enemy as had not succeeded in getting into their en-

* Ariosto elsewhere represents him as the handsomest man in the world ; say-
ing of him, in a line that has become famous,

" Natura il fece, e poi roppe la stampa."

Canto i. st. 84.

Nature made him, and then broke the mould.
(The word is generally printed ruppe; but I use the primitive text of Mr. Pan-


" My friend," exclaimed the huntsman, " we must e'en take to
our heels. Two living people must not be sacrificed to one who
is dead."

With these words he let go his share of the burden, taking for
granted that the friend, whose life as well as his own he was
thinking to secure, would do as he himself did. But attached as
Cloridan had been to his master, Medoro was far more so. He
accordingly received the whole burden on his shoulders. Clori-
dan meantime scoured away, as fast as feet could carry him,
thinking his companion was at his side : otherwise he would soon-
er have died a hundred times over than have left him.

In the interim, the party of the Scottish prince had dispersed
themselves about the plain, for the purpose of intercepting the two
fugitives, whichever way they went ; for they saw plainly they
were enemies, by the alarm they shewed.

There was an old forest at hand in those days, which, besides
being thick and dark, was full of the most intricate cross-paths,
and inhabited only by game. Into this Cloridan had plunged.
Medoro, as well as he could, hastened after him ; but hampered
as he was with his burden, the more he sought the darkest and
most intricate paths, the less advanced he found himself, especial-
ly as he had no acquaintance with the place.

On a sudden, Cloridan having arrived at a spot so quiet that he
became aware of the silence, missed his beloved friend. " Great
God !" he exclaimed, " what have I done ? Left him I know not
where, or how !" The swift runner instantly turned about, and,
retracing his steps, came voluntarily back on the road to his own
death. As he approached the scene where it was to take place,
he began to hear the noise of men and horses ; then he discern-
ed voices threatening ; then the voice of his unhappy friend ;
and at length he saw him, still bearing his load, in the midst of
the whole troop of horsemen. The prince was commanding them
to seize him. The poor youth, however, burdened as he was,
rendered it no such easy matter ; for he turned himself about like
a wheel, and entrenched himself, now behind this tree, and now

nizzi's edition.) Boiardo's handsomest man, Astolfo, was an Englishman ; Ari-
osto's is a Scotchman. See, in the present volume, the note on the character
of Astolfo, p. 23.


behind that. Finding this would not do, he laid his beloved bur-
den on the ground, and then strode hither and thither, over and
round about it, parrying the horsemen's endeavours to take him
prisoner. Never did poor hunted bear feel more conflicting emo-
tions, when, surprised in her den, she stands over her offspring
with uncertain heart, groaning with a mingled sound of tenderness
and rage. Wrath bids her rush forward, and bury her nails in
the flesh of their enemy ; love melts her, and holds her back in
the middle of her fury, to look upon those whom she bore.*

Cloridan was in an agony of perplexity what to do. He longed
to rush forth and die with his friend ; he longed also still to do
what he could, and not to let him die unavenged. He therefore
halted a while before he issued from the trees, and, putting an
arrow to his bow, sent it well-aimed among the horsemen. A
Scotsman fell dead from his saddle. The troop all turned to see

* " Come orsa, che 1' alpestre cacciatore

Ne la pietrosa tana assalita abbia,
Sta sopra i figli con incerto core,

E freme in suono di pieta e di rabbia :
Ira la 'nvita e natural furore

A spiegar 1' ugne, e a insanguinar le labbia ;
Amor la 'ntenerisce, e la ritira
A riguardare a i figli in mezo 1' ira."

Like as a bear, whom men in mountains start
In her old stony den, and dare, and goad,

Stands o'er her children with uncertain heart,
And roars for rage and sorrow in one mood :

Anger impels her, and her natural part.
To use her nails, and bathe her lips in blood ;

Love melts her, and, for all her angry roar,

Holds back her eyes to look on those she bore.

This stanza in Ariosto has become famous as a beautiful transcript of a beautiful
passage in Statiu?, which, indeed, it surpasses in style, but not in feeling, es-
pecially when we consider with whom the comparison originates :

" Ut lea, quam saevo foetam pressere cubili
Venantes Numidse, natos erecta superstat
Mente sub incerta, torvum ac miserabile frendens :
Ilia quidem turbare globos, et frangere morsu
Tela queat ; sed prolis amor crudelia vincit
Pectora, et in media catulos circumspicit ira."

Thebais, x. 414.


whence the arrow came ; and as they were raging and crying
out, a second stuck in the throat of the loudest.

" This is not to be borne," cried the prince, pushing his horse
towards Medoro ; " you shall suffer for this." Arid so speaking,
he thrust his hand into the golden locks of the youth, and dragged
him violently backwards, intending to kill him ; but when he
looked on his beautiful face, he couldn't do it.

The youth betook himself to entreaty. " For God's sake, sir
knight !" cried he, " be not so cruel as to deny me leave to bury
my lord and master. He was a king. I ask nothing for myself
not even my life. I do not care for my life. I care for noth-
ing but to bury my lord and master."

These words were spoken in a manner so earnest, that the
good prince could feel nothing but pity ; but a ruffian among the
troop, losing sight even of respect for his lord, thrust his lance
into the poor youth's bosom right over the prince's hand. Zer-
bino turned with indignation to smite him, but the villain, seeing
what was coming, galloped off; and meanwhile Cloridan, think-
ing that his friend was slain, came leaping full of rage out of the
wood, and laid about him with his sword in mortal desperation.
Twenty swords were upon him in a moment ; and perceiving
life flowing out of him, he let himself fall down by the side of
his friend.* f

* This adventure of Cloridan and Medoro is imitated from the Nisus and
Euryalus of Virgil. An Italian critic, quoted by Panizzi, says, that the way
in which Cloridan exposes himself to the enemy is inferior to the Latin poet's

" Me, me (adsum qui feci), in me convertite ferrum."
Me, me ('tis I who did the deed), slay me.

And the reader will agree with Panizzi, that he is right. The circumstance,
also, of Euryalus's bequeathing his aged mother to the care of his prince, in
case he fails in his enterprise, is very touching ; and the main honour, both of
the invention of the whole episode and its particulars, remains with Virgil.
On the other hand, the enterprise of the friends in the Italian poet, which is
that of burying their dead master, and not merely of communicating with an
absent general, is more affecting, though it may be less patriotic ; the inability
of Zerbino to kill him, when he looked on his face, is extremely so ; and, as
Panizzi has shewn, the adventure is made of importance to the whole story of
the poem, and is not simply an episode, like that in the JEneid. It serves, too,
in a very particular manner to introduce Medoro worthily to the affection of


The Scotsmen, supposing both the friends to be dead, now took
their departure ; and Medoro indeed would have been dead before
long, he bled so profusely. But assistance of a very unusual
sort was at hand.

A lady on a palfrey happened to be coming by, who observed
signs of life in him, and was struck with his youth and beauty.
She was attired with great simplicity, but her air was that of a
person of high rank, and her beauty inexpressible. In short, it
was the proud daughter of the lord of Cathay, Angelica herself.
Finding that she could travel in safety and independence by
means of the magic ring, her self-estimation had risen to such a
height, that she disdained to stoop to the companionship of the
greatest man living. She could not even call to mind that such
lovers as the County Orlando or King Sacripant existed : and it
mortified her beyond measure to think of the affection she had
entertained for Rinaldo.

"Such arrogance," thought Love, "is not to be endured."
The little archer with the wings put an arrow to his bow, and
stood waiting for her by the spot where Medoro lay.

Now, when the beauty beheld the youth lying half dead with
his wounds, and yet, on accosting him, found that he lamented
less for himself than for the unburied body of the king his mas-
ter, she felt a tenderness unknown before creep into every par-
ticle of her being ; and as the greatest ladies of India were ac-
customed to dress the wounds of their knights, she bethought her
of a balsam which she had observed in coming along ; and so,
looking about for it, brought it back with her to the spot, together
with a herdsman whom she had rnet on horseback in search of
one of his stray cattle. The blood was ebbing so fast, that the
poor youth was on the point of expiring ; but Angelica bruised
the plant between stones, and gathered the juice into her delicate
hands, and restored his strength with infusing it into the wounds ;
so that, in a little while, he was able to get on the horse belong-
ing to the herdsman, and be carried away to the man's cottage.
He would not quit his lord's body, however, nor that of his

Angelica ; for, mere female though she be, we should hardly have gone along
with her passion as we do, in a poem of any seriousness, had it been founded
merely on his beauty.


friend, till he had seen them laid in the ground. He then- went
with the lady, and she took up her abode with him in the cottage,
and attended him till he recovered, loving him more and more
day by day ; so that at length she fairly told him as much, and
he loved her in turn ; and the king's daughter married the lowly,
born soldier.

O County Orlando ! O King Sacripant ! That renowned val-
our of yours, say, what has it availed you ? That lofty honour,
tell us, at what price is it rated ? What is the reward ye have
obtained for all your services ? Shew us a single courtesy which
the lady ever vouchsafed, late or early, for all that you ever suf-
fered in her behalf.

O King Agrican ! if you could return to life, how hard would
you think it to call to mind all the repulses she gave you all the
pride and aversion and contempt with which she received your
advances !

O Ferragus ! O thousands of others too numerous to speak of,
who performed thousands of exploits for this ungrateful one,
what would you all think at beholding her in the arms of the
courted boy !

Yes, Medoro had the first gathering of the kiss off the lips of
Angelica those lips never touched before that garden of roses
on the threshold of which nobody ever yet dared to venture.
The love was headlong and irresistible ; but the priest was called
in to sanctify it ; and the brideswoman of the daughter of Cathay
was the wife of the cottager.

The lovers remained upwards of a month in the cottage. An-
gelica could not bear her young husband out of her sight. She
was for ever gazing on him, and hanging on his neck. In-doors
and out-of-doors, day as well as night, she had him at her side.
In the morning or evening they wandered forth along the banks
of some stream, or by the hedge-rows of some verdant meadow.
In the middle of the day they took refuge from the heat in a
grotto that seemed made for lovers ; and wherever, in their wan-
derings, they found a tree fit to carve and write on, by the side

Online LibraryUnknownStories from the Italian poets ... with critical notices of the life and genius of the authors → online text (page 31 of 48)