Ludovico Ariosto and the Frenzy of Orlando

Ludovico Ariosto
(1474 – 1533)

On September 8, 1474, Italian Renaissance Poet Ludovico Ariosto was born. He is best known for his romance epic Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando), which describes the adventures of Charlemagne, Orlando, and the Franks as they battle against the Saracens.

Ariosto studied Latin in Ferrera and enrolled at the city’s university to study law. However, his interest remained in other fields, like humanism, wherefore he never finished his original subject. His focus on Italian literature evolved especially on Petrarca and Boccaccio. To one of his major influences in this period belonged Pietro Bombo, who later became known as a famous Renaissance writer, linguistic theorist and cardinal. They became friends and exchanged their thoughts on literature. Through his family Ariosto was able to visit the court of duke Ercole where he finished several small works in Latin language.

In 1500, Ariosto’s father suddenly died wherefore it was up to him, providing for the family and following his father’s footsteps in the military. Back in Fererra, Ariosto began working for cardinal Ippolito d’Este, who disliked the young poet, sending him to long travels and paying him desperately low wages. Starting from 1505, Ariosto began writing in Italian language only, publishing several sonnets and canzonas in this period. Furtherly, Ariosto began working on several prose texts comedies like La Cassaria.

However, to one of his major works belongs Orlando Furioso, which he began working on at the age of 32. The first edition was released in 1516. His friend, Pietro Bembo gave him several advises considering the style in further editions. This work became very popular, Queen Elizabeth I even banned John Harrington from court until he finished the English translation in the late 16th century.

The epic takes place during the war between the Christian emperor Charlemagne and the Saracen King of Africa, Agramante. Charlemagne is besieged and Orlando, Charlemagne’s paladin failed to protect him while in love with princess Angelica. Unfortunately, she fell in love with another man wherefore Orlando traveled through Europe, destroying everything in his way. The ‘cure’ for the mad man was found by an English knight, who flew to the moon and ‘restored’ Orlando. He then fought against and killed King Agramante.

Orlando Furioso belongs to the most influential works of European literature and inspired no other than William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing as well as Lope de Vega or Góngora. Jorge Luis Borges even included a poem themed on Orlando in his collection El hacedor, in which he also explored the relationship between Orlando Furioso and the Arabian Nights.

Despite his success in literature, Ariosto stayed unlucky during his career. His wish, to serve for the Roman court never came true and in 1525 he became a private person only, but still working on literary works until his death in 1533.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on The Renaissance in Western and World History by Professor Thomas Laqueur at Berkeley University.

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