Orlando Furioso | Historical & Literary Background


Hello everybody! Welcome back to my
channel “The Medieval Reader”. So welcome back to another video on “Orlando Furioso”
by Ariosto, which was an epic of the Renaissance. So today, instead of talking
about the plot of the next 10 or 20 canti, I thought instead I would give
some background about the epic. What’s the context in which Ariosto
wrote “Orlando Furioso”? So the early 16th century – when Ariosto wrote Orlando
Furioso – was a very turbulent time period. There was the French invasion of Italy…
of the Italian peninsula… in 1494, and the Florentine Republic finally fell in 1530.
But between 1500 and 1532, when the third edition of “Orlando Furioso” was published
(the Edition that we have today), there were a number of significant social,
political, and religious changes conflicts that occurred in Europe –
changes such as the “Discovery of America” by Christopher
Columbus, the Protestant Reformation (particularly the Lutheran Reformation. At
this time, Martin Luther was the major reformer. Calvin hadn’t entered the scene
yet), there were the wars against the Ottomans, and of course the Italian Wars.
And so it is against the backdrop of these socio-political upheavals that we
are to read and understand “Orlando Furioso”. Alongside all of these conflicts
there was also a growing interest in apocalyptic prophecy. It’s this prophecy
that Eric MacPhail talks about in his article “Ariosto and the Prophetic Moment”,
where he talks about the prophecies in “Orlando Furioso” and how they relate to
the conflicts that occurred in the early 16th century, and this wider phenomenon
of apocalyptic belief. Until 1532, much happened that was seen as fulfilling
apocalyptic prophecy. The prophecies of Joachim of Fiore (for
example), who was a 12th century Benedictine monk. In his lifetime, Joachim
of Fiore was venerated as a holy man. He was respected by the pope, but it’s his
visions that became popular after his death. And although his visions were
condemned as heretical, they were widely read/promoted by religious reformers.
There were a number of Joachimites in the late 15th/ early 16th centuries who
interpreted the changes in Europe and in the world as a fulfillment of Joachim of Fiore’s apocalyptic prophecies. And of course, there was Savonarola – the
Dominican friar who believed that the Second Coming was to occur in Florence.
And so he decided to prepare the Florentines for the Second Coming by
banishing anything that was considered sinful or frivolous. He was burned to the
stake for heresy. But what MacPhail finds particularly interesting is how prophecy
in “Orlando Furioso” is not necessarily predictive. Because it’s only in 1532
that Andronica’s speech is included in the epic. It’s in Andronica’s prophetic
speech to Astolfo that we get the prophecy that Charles V will be Holy
Roman Emperor, that the Europeans will discover parts of the world hitherto
unknown to Europeans. It’s in this prophecy that we see all of the events
unfold that would not have been known to Ariosto before 1530. That’s the reason
why they don’t appear in the earlier editions. The first edition was published
in 1516 – one year before Martin Luther started his own protest of indulgences
with his 95 Theses. The second edition was in 1521,
but still in 1521 Charles V had not been Holy Roman Emperor. In fact in 1516,
Ariosto had prophesied in his original “Orlando Furioso” that Francis I
would be the Holy Roman Emperor. But once it became clear that that wasn’t going
to happen – that in fact Charles V would be Holy Roman Emperor – he had to modify
his work to make it align with the many changes that occurred in Italy and in
Europe and around the world. So prophecy is a very interesting theme
in this work because on the one hand they are supposed to predict things that
will occur, but actually you get to see how Ariosto has to constantly modify his
text to make it appear as if these are actually prophecies, when in fact these
events had already occurred, and he just inscribed them into the text. What’s
interesting is that Ariosto’s poem was seen as violating Aristotle’s
“Poetics”, which only became known in Ariosoto’s lifetime.
Aristotle says that the theme for a poem should be taken from
ancient history – not recent history. Whereas Ariosto makes continuous
references to contemporary Italy. Now, last week I mentioned how there were
scenes in “Orlando Furioso” that really confused me because there were
references to another work that was written prior to the “Furioso” but which I
hadn’t read. And so I wanted to give a little bit of a summary of what occurs
in that first book and how this book is seen as a sequel to the first one. So the
first book that I’m referring to is “Orlando Innamorato”,
or “Orlando in Love”, and it was written by Matteo Maria Boiardo between 1483 and
1495. So there were a number of editions with different revisions between 1483
and 1495. If you are interested in an English
translation, there is Charles Stanley Ross’s translation in 2004, published by
Parlor Press. So in that poem, Angelica arrives in
Charlemagne’s court and offers herself as a prize to whomever would defeat her
brother. But when Ferrau is the one who defeats
her brother, she’s not interested in him. And so she escapes, pursued by Orlando
and Rinaldo – two paladins in Charlemagne’s court who are madly in love with
Angelica. But along the way, they stop at a forest. And in the forest there are
these two wells; there’s the well of love and the wall of hatred. Angelica drinks from
the well of love, and Rinaldo drinks from the well of hatred. And so she is
pursuing Rinaldo, but Rinaldo is not interested in her at all. Then there is
this magician who kidnaps Rinaldo, and Angelica is imprisoned only to be
freed by Orlando. At the same time, you have Agramante, who is a Saracen King.
And he has invaded Charlemagne’s Kingdom in France. He has invaded because Orlando
had killed his father. So you have these two storylines: Angelica being madly in
love with Rinaldo, and also Orlando being in love with Angelica. So that is that
one storyline. And the second storyline is Agramante invading France to
avenge the death of his father by the hands of Orlando.
But once again Angelica and Rinaldo end up in the forest, but this time they
drink from the opposite well. So Angelica drinks from the well of hatred and
Ronaldo drinks from the well of love. So now the tables have turned, and it’s now
Rinaldo’s turn to pursue Angelica, who hates him. And Orlando is of course (as
always) pursuing Angelica as well. So that is why at the beginning of the “Orlando
Furioso” Angelica is running away from Rinaldo, and why he is pursuing her. It’s
also the reason why Charlemagne gives Angelica to Duke Namo – because he fears
that Orlando and Rinaldo’s fight over Angelica is distracting them from their
knightly duties. So he gives Angelica to Duke Namo, and then promises to give her to whomever of the two paladin’s kills the
most Saracens. So again, that is the beginning of the “Furioso”. That is
basically a kind of a summary about what happens in the first book. But it was
never finished. And so, the “Furioso” is seen as this
parodic sequel to Boiardo’s work. So what is important to consider when reading
the “Furioso” is how this epic is similar to and different from older romances and
older epics. How did this epic reflect contemporary political, social, and
religious conflicts? Charlemagne’s defeat of the Saracens is interpreted here as
Charles V conquering the entire world and
fulfilling the prophecies of someone like Joachim of Fiore who believed in a
time when the Jews and the Christians and everybody would be united under
Christ until the Second Coming. So that’s all I have today. I hope that this was
helpful. I am learning a lot in the process of reading up about the
background of this work. I’m particularly learning about the wars in Italy and in
Europe that I should be familiar with but I’m not. Thank you everybody for
watching. And I will talk to you later. Bye now!

4 Replies to “Orlando Furioso | Historical & Literary Background

  1. Thanks for the video. I'd started reading Orlando Furioso but was thoroughly confused as to why Ariosto presumed I already knew some of the characters and such. Now I feel like I can read the poem more accurately and enjoy it a lot more.

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