J.G. Keely's Reviews > Orlando Furioso

Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto
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it was amazing
bookshelves: epic, poetry, humor, fantasy, reviewed, italy, favorites

Perhaps it speaks more to the age I live in than that of the author, but I'm always surprised to find a reasonable, rational mind on the other end of the pen. Though Ariosto's unusual work is full of prejudice and idealism, it is constantly shifting, so that now one side seems right, and now the other.

His use of hyperbole and oxymoron prefigures the great metaphysical poets, and like them, these are tools of his rhetoric and satire. Every knight is 'undefeatable', every woman 'shames all others by her virtue', and it does not escape Ariosto that making all of them remarkable only makes more obvious the fact that none of them are.

Ariosto's style flies on wings, lilting here and there, darting, soaring. He makes extensive use of metafiction, both addressing the audience by means of a semi-fictionalized narrator and by philosophical explorations of the art of poetry itself, and the nature of the poet and his patron.

As with most epics, Ariosto's asides to the greatness of his patron are as jarring as any 30-second spot. His relationship to his various patrons was extremely difficult for him--he was paid a mere pittance and constantly drawn away from his writing to deliver bad news to the pope (if you're thinking that's a bad job, Ariosto would agree--the See nearly had him killed).

This is likely the reason that these moments of praise fall to the same unbelievable hyperbole as the rest. His patrons could hardly be angry at him for constantly praising them, but his readers will surely be able to recognize that his greatest compliments are the most backhanded, and merely serve to throw into stark contrast the hypocrisy of man--tell me a man is great once, and I will believe you, tell me five times, and I'll start to think you're covering for something.

Since we will all be oblivious hypocrites at some point (for most of us, nearly all the time), the only useful defense is finding the humility to admit our flaws. Great men never have it so easy: they cannot accept their mistakes, but must instead be buried by them.

Though Ariosto often lands on the side of the Christians, his Muslims are mighty, honorable, well-spoken, and just as (un)reasonable in their faith. The only thing which seems to separate the two sides is their petty squabbling.

Likewise, he takes a surprisingly liberal view of sex and gender equality, with lady knights who are not only the match for any man, but who need no marriage to make them whole--they are women with or without a man beside them. He even presents homosexuality amongst both sexes, though with a rather light hand.

His epic is not the stalwartly serious sort--like Homer, Virgil, or Dante--Ariosto is a humanist, and has none of the fetters of nationalism or religious idealism to keep him chained. His view of man is a contrary, shifting, absurd thing. The greatest achievements of man are great only in the eyes of man.

By showing both sides of a conflict, by supporting each in turn, Ariosto creates a space for the author to inhabit. He is not tied to some system of beliefs, but to observation, to recognition--not to the ostensible truth of humanity, but to our continuing story.

Ariosto took a great leap from Petrarch's self-awareness: while Petrarch constantly searched and argued in his poems, he found a sublime comfort in the grand unknown. Ariosto is the great iconoclast, not only asking why of the most obvious conflicts, but of the grandest assumptions. The universal mystery is only as sacred as it is profane.

Ariosto is also funny, surprising, and highly imaginative. Though his work is defined by its philosophical view, this view is developed slowly and carefully. It is never stated outright, but is rather the medium of the story: a thin, elegant skein which draws together all characters and conflicts.

The surface of the story itself is a light-hearted, impossible comedy. It is no more impossible than the grand heights of any other epic, but only seems so because it is not girt tightly with high-minded seriousness. Perhaps Ariosto's greatest gift is that he is doing essentially the same thing all the other epic authors do, the same situations and characters, but he makes you laugh to see it.

To be able to look at life simply as it is and laugh is the only freedom we will ever know. It is all wisdom. For this gift, I hail fair Ariosto: the greatest of all epicists, all poets, all writers, all wits, all humanists, all men--never to be surpassed.
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Reading Progress

May 26, 2007 – Shelved
May 26, 2007 – Shelved as: epic
October 22, 2007 – Shelved as: poetry
October 24, 2008 –
page 92
14.6%
February 13, 2009 –
page 120
19.05%
February 15, 2009 –
page 141
22.38%
February 18, 2009 –
page 165
26.19%
March 5, 2009 –
page 266
42.22%
March 8, 2009 –
page 298
47.3%
March 18, 2009 –
page 366
58.1%
March 21, 2009 –
page 410
65.08%
April 1, 2009 – Shelved as: humor
April 1, 2009 – Shelved as: fantasy
Started Reading
April 2, 2009 – Finished Reading
June 9, 2009 – Shelved as: reviewed
September 4, 2010 – Shelved as: italy
January 27, 2012 – Shelved as: favorites

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Kelly (new)

Kelly To be able to look at life simply as it is and laugh is the only freedom we will ever know. It is all wisdom.

And yet, Alexandre Dumas' Count claimed that all human wisdom is contained in the words "wait and hope." But who am I to believe? Perhaps we can combine the two maxims for a better catchall. ;)


J.G. Keely Who are you going to believe, me or a character of proverbial murderous sociopathy?


message 3: by Kelly (last edited Apr 02, 2009 08:53AM) (new)

Kelly Well, how do I know that you aren't a character of literal murderous sociopathy yourself? After all! ;)

Plus, the Count did have all that time of near solitary waiting to draw on. He should know!


J.G. Keely I thought being trapped alone made you crazy, not wise. Plato's cave is an allegory, not a didactic method, right?


message 5: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Then someone should really speak to the Trascendentalists- I think they took it rather literally- trapped or not.

(I think your human wisdom maxim is perfectly good. Perhaps your needs for survival and The Count's are sliiiiiightly different.)


J.G. Keely The Oxford is unabridged, yes. I suppose I've grown somewhat wary of verse translations into English, which does not conform to verse and rhyme as readily as the Romance languages. Certainly there are some magnificent poets who have turned it well to use, but even among them, I often find that very long works in English verse can grow singsong and ungainly, like Pope's Homer. A good English poet can be as hard to find as a good translator, let alone discovering both in one person.


message 7: by Kalliope (new) - added it

Kalliope Excellent.. I should summon up the courage to read this.


message 8: by Nenče (new) - added it

Nenče The first edition of this poem was published in 1516. So this year, 500th anniversary!


message 9: by e (new)

e Mulla Nasrudin springs to mind as a lazy comparison but i'm not sure how many miles wide it would be. thanks for this one. oh, and Shah calls him incomparable, so probably a bad shout eh?


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