At the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, at least six Renaissance depictions of the abduction of Helen await the visitor; and at least three of them are connected with a domestic space.1 The most complete depiction of the stories of Helen, only partially visible at the Walters, is the so-called Story of Helen, preserved on three fifteenth century wooden panels: Helen and Her Entourage Departing for the Island of Cythera, Helen Eloping with Paris from Cythera, and The Reception of Helen at Troy.2 The three panels tell the story of the courtly entourage of Helen of Sparta setting out on a trip to the island of Cythera, of the persuasion performed by Paris on the lady while on the island, and finally of the solemn welcome given by Priam of Troy to the new couple. This is, in tone and content, the tale of a voluntary journey: Helen follows Paris to Troy of her own accord. Two Urbinate ceramic plates from the second half of the sixteenth century, visible at the Walters, paint a different picture of the same subject: one, by the workshop [End Page 32] of the Fontana family, depicts the violent abduction of the woman;3 the other portrays a previous event in the traditional tales on Helen: the rescue by her brothers, Castor and Pollux, after she had been abducted by Theseus.4
The occasion for the production of both the dishes and the wooden paintings was most likely the celebration of a wedding. It is not uncommon for the abduction of Helen, an apparently violent act, to be the narrative used to celebrate a matrimonial union. This is the case, moreover, for many classical and medieval representations of violence against a woman, of kidnapping, of rape.5 The narrative functions in several different ways, each one possibly in contradiction with the other. On the one hand, it exorcises the violence, making it a story; on the other hand, it reinscribes the original, foundational violence of the patriarchal system in the current event; it re-etymologizes the act of marriage as a form of alliance. Somewhere in the middle ground between these two forms of communication, it also performs the function of a cautionary tale, as it happens emblematically with the famous depictions of the tale of Nastagio degli Onesti by Botticelli. A woman, these depictions seem to be positing, can either go willingly or refuse to go with her captor. If she does the latter, she will be deemed a cruel woman, like the noble lady who, in Boccaccio’s version of the tale, rejects Nastagio’s ancestor and is condemned to being eternally chased by her suitor and his hounds.
It is my goal to show that canto 34 of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso approaches the act of narrating history and celebrating dynastic foundation as an act of necessary violence. Moreover, it does so from a distinctly female perspective—or at the very least, by positing the unknowable quality of a female perspective—what I have elsewhere presented as “the Helen paradox” (Stoppino 88–115).6
As it is aptly shown by the examples on display at the Walters, Helen’s voyage from Sparta to Troy was, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, visible in two opposite ways: as kidnapping or eloping. Helen, the legend went, joined Paris either willingly or unwillingly—and for [End Page 33] each of these versions, she was either praised or blamed. A good case in point of this duplicitous or wavering attitude towards the legend of Helen is Boccaccio’s presentation of the tale in his De mulieribus claris (Famous Women, chapter 37): “Helena tam ob suam lasciviam—ut multis visum est—quam ob diuturnum bellum ex ea consecutum toto orbi notissima femina” (142).7 Boccaccio’s account of Helen’s misadventures is haunted by the issue of ineffability. He relates the painter Zeuxis’s attempt to represent her beauty, which necessarily fails, as the live movements and expressions of such supreme beauty could only be produced by nature itself: “Cum solius hoc nature officium sit” (144).8 Such ineffable quality seems to be conceptually related to the dubious nature of all the accounts of Helen’s actions: whereas Boccaccio is unwavering in his defense of Dido, who “never saw [Aeneas]” (175) in his account, he presents different alternatives for Helen’s agency and reputation. The chapter on Helen acquires a distinctly doubtful tone, especially in relation with the ones that follow, on Circe (chapter 38, a negative exemplum) and Camilla (chapter 40, a supremely positive one). Before turning to Ariosto’s take on this tale, it is worth mentioning that the next two chapters in Boccaccio’s text relate the lives of Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, and Lavinia, the destined bride of Aeneas. In both cases, the author raises alternative accounts: Lycophoron claimed that Penelope was lustful and adulterous, even though Boccaccio recoils in horror from this opinion (chapter 40); and Lavinia’s life has alternative endings (chapter 41). This sequence of doubtful accounts, which culminates with Dido (chapter 42), sets up our stakes in the analysis of a celebration of dynastic foundation and historical narration in the Furioso. In the inextricable connection between textual genealogies and historical genealogical thinking, Ariosto inherits and repurposes a deep reflection on interpretation, on the possibility of interpretation and the access to power and narrative. The imbrication of text and genealogy, in a female perspective, ultimately pose the question of who has a voice in the telling of a story.
To illustrate this problem, I will use canto 34 as an example: this choice could be surprising, as it is a canto that has seen an enormous amount of exegetical work. At the same time, this work has tended, for a number of reasons, to disconnect rather than connect its parts, in stark contrast to the canto’s own structure, since it is one of the [End Page 34] few cantos without entrelacement and it follows chronologically the adventures of only one character. With the exception of canto 3, this rarely happens in the Furioso. As canto 3 followed Bradamante, canto 34 records the voyages of Count Astolfo, and in particular his descent to Hell and his ascent to the Moon under the guidance of John the Evangelist. This canto is a common pièce de resistance in Ariosto criticism for many reasons: first, the extraordinary beauty and futurity of the lunar episode. Second, in connection with this, the relatively recent rediscovery of the Intercenales by Leon Battista Alberti as a source for the episode made the canto a good field of discussion for intertextuality, which has arguably been one of the central themes of Furioso criticism for the last fifty years.9 Surprisingly, the episode of Lidia has not received the same amount of attention as the lunar portion of the canto. And what has received even less attention, one could argue, is the connection between the two episodes.
Canto 34 is one of the shortest cantos in the poem and is clearly divided into two parts: the descent to hell, primarily centered on the encounter with Lidia, and the ascent to earthly paradise and encounter with John the Evangelist. The proem of the canto features a harsh invective against greed (avarizia) and the devastation of Italy at the hands of invaders and, more in general, at the hands of the powerful.
To better understand the connection with the Lidia episode that will follow, it is important to notice that the proem develops around two dichotomies: the voracity (famelicità) of the harpies (1) opposed to the hunger (fame) of “innocenti fanciulli e madri pie,” (the hunger of innocent children and pious mothers); and the dichotomy greed (ingordigia)/error (errore)—the error of those who have left Italy at the mercy of greed and idly stand by during its destruction (the “neghitosi figli,” octave 3). The comparison between the 1516 version of this passage with its outcome in the final edition of 1532 demonstrates that the only significant alteration in this proem (and in this canto, which is a very stable one) is the change made to the fifth line of the second octave: from “La Pace allhora e il buon viver si perse” to “Il bel vivere allora si summerse.” On the one hand, we observe a variatio, which eliminates the triptych “pace / buon vivere / quiete” (lines 5–6) in opposition to “guerre / povertà / affanni” (line 7); on the other hand, however, it seems significant that Ariosto decides to [End Page 35] focus on the image of “bel vivere,” not lost but “submerged,” drowned in the mud of greed and avarice that precedes the hellish fumes and the gassy pouches of the lunar ground.
Astolfo, thanks to the magical horn (“col suono orribil” 4.1), chases the Harpies into a cave; nearing the cave, he finds something presented as the most evident discovery in the world:
L’orecchie attente allo spiraglio tenne,e l’aria ne sentì percossa e rottada pianti e d’urli e da lamento eterno:segno evidente quivi esser lo ’nferno.(OF 34.4, 5–8)
The sounds coming from the opening in the ground are a clear sign (segno evidente): the highly codified sounds do not leave any space to doubt, and the knight embarks on the otherworldly journey in what one could call touristy fashion:
Astolfo si pensò d’entrarvi dentro,e veder quei c’hanno perduto il giorno,e penetrar la terra fin al centro,e le bolgie infernal cercare intorno.—Di che debbo temer (dicea) s’io v’entro,che mi posso aiutar sempre col corno?Farò fuggir Plutone e Satanasso,e ’l can trifauce leverò dal passo.(OF 34.5)
As it has been observed, Ariosto evokes directly the model of Dante’s Commedia.10 The theme chosen for Astolfo’s journey (first the descent to hell, then the ascent to earthly paradise and finally into the cosmos) rewrites in a macroscopic form the progression of the Commedia. The interactions with the damned Lidia, as we will see, are deeply inspired by the Dantean text. The playful tone and the attitude of the protagonist, on the other hand, support the interpretation of the episode proposed by Sergio Zatti, who speaks of self-irony rather than parody, or rather of a “parody of distancing” as opposed to a “parodic inversion” (Il Furioso 164 n20, my translation). Astolfo, protected by his horn, walks into the depths of hell, but a “fumo oscuro e fello” prevents him from seeing. Stylistically, the impediment is reproduced by a series of negative formulas, connected to the perceptive sphere [End Page 36] (“Non andò molto inanzi,” 6, 5; “non sa che sia,” 7, 5; until “non comprende e non discerne,” 8, 3). Astolfo’s actions and deductions continue to be those of someone who has read everything in a book: when he perceives a movement and tries to ascertain what the nature of the object is, he “stima poi ch’uno spirto esser quel debbia; / che gli par di ferir sopra la nebbia” (OF 8, 7–8).
From the point of view of intertextuality, in this canto Ariosto combines primarily two kinds of authority: the canonical model of the Commedia and the chivalric tradition; specularly to what happens in canto 3, where Bradamante, fallen at the hands of Pinabello, finds herself in front of the future of her dynasty in the “vocal tomba di Merlino,” (defined as such in OF 7.38, 3) the chivalric tradition offers the context and the form for the transmission of knowledge. It is hardly a coincidence that neither canto (3 nor 34) features entrelacement; furthermore, we could test the idea that Bradamante and Astolfo are “textual twins.’
The system of characters is a vastly understudied element in the poem. As a preliminary consideration, we could observe that the characters in the Furioso often work as either mirrors or refractions of each other. As an example, one could think of the macroscopic 1532 addition of the episode where Orlando saves Olimpia on Ebuda Island, which doubles Ruggiero’s rescue of Angelica on the same site. Ariosto consciously inherits this strategy from the great thirteenth century cycles of the French tradition, such as the Tristan and Lancelot en prose.11 Ariosto innovates the tradition and, as it is the case with Bradamante and Astolfo, he connects specific couples of characters with particular semantic spheres. Astolfo and Bradamante are connected, as well as by a series of narrative elements, by their tie with the spheres of perception and knowledge. The objects of desire and quest for the other protagonists can be other characters, weapons, and adventures at large, and they are often substituted by other objects that derail their quêtes (Zatti, Il Furioso 45–47). Astolfo, on the contrary, is ‘found’ by the objects themselves, through experiences that often involve physical perception. Astolfo’s first appearance in the poem is as pure voice, emerging from the myrtle tree Alcina has turned him into, once she grew tired of him (OF 6.26–56; 7.17, 27, 77). He soon acquires a magical book and the all-powerful horn, without looking for either (OF 15.9–37), and it is his destiny to recover Orlando’s wits [End Page 37] within the realm of all lost things. While devoted to finding her beloved Ruggiero, Bradamante in turn is the addressee of almost the entirety of prophetic knowledge in the poem, arguably the most important object of desire of the Furioso as a dynastic text.
The first exchange of the encounter with Lidia (who is unnamed until octave 11, with a retardatio nominis clearly reminiscent of the Commedia) follows the modality of a typical infernal exchange: the voice asks Astolfo not to add suffering to the torments of hell (OF 34.9, 2–5); Astolfo asks in turn news of the voice with the optative formula “Se Dio tronchi ogni ala / al fumo” (OF 34.10, 7–8) and offers to bring news of the damned spirit to the world (OF 34.10, 1–2). She replies that such is her desire to be remembered that she will overcome the “noia e fatica” (OF 34.10, 8) that speaking brings to her. The damned soul introduces herself as Lidia, daughter of the king of Lidia (OF 34.11, 1–2), immediately connecting her name to the toponym, to the name of the land she is related to for dynastic reasons.12 In defining the portion of hell she inhabits, Lidia reveals she has been “spiacevole et ingrata” (unpleasant and ungrateful) to her lover (OF 34.11, 6), like others who now share her destiny, among whom the Ovidian Anaxarete and Daphne. Ungrateful men, in turn, are punished in a harsher section of hell, and in greater number. The narrator, Lidia, operates a distinction between male and female punishment and she gives a misogynistic explanation for it: the punishment for men is worse not because men are worse sinners, but because “le donne più facili e prone / a creder son” (OF 34.14, 1–2). Lidia, however, immediately appears as an unreliable narrator: at the end of the same octave, she declares “che sono infiniti, / che lasciato han chi moglie e chi mariti” (OF 34.14, 7–8), contradicting the distinction she has just proposed. If Lidia is an unreliable narrator, the question of the double and duplicitous nature of ingratitude remains: ingratitude seems to be aligned with female cruelty and male betrayal, hence associated with different categories of sin.13 [End Page 38]
Lidia continues to narrate her story and her error: because of her extraordinary beauty, a knight, Alceste, fell madly in love with her; it was initially an amor de lonh, in the best of trobadoric and then chivalric tradition. Alceste, “estimato il miglior del mondo in arme” (OF 34.16, 2), enters the court and performs exceptional deeds in hopes of conquering the hand of the princess. But her father squanders his expectations:
Fu repulso dal re, ch’in grande statomaritar disegnava la figliuola,non a costui che cavallier privatoaltro non tien che la virtude sola:e ’l padre mio troppo al guadagno dato,e all’avarizia d’ogni vizio scuola,tanto apprezza costumi, o virtù ammira,quanto l’asino fa il suon de la lira.(OF 34.19)
The refusal of the king of Lidia firmly connects this episode to the proem, revitalizing the theme of greed (the father is “troppo al guadagno dato / e all’avarizia”). It is also important to notice that this passage works as an internal model for the behavior of Amone and Beatrice, Bradamante’s parents, in the Ruggero and Leone addition of 1532. This episode, which further delays and postpones the end of the poem, revolves around the greed of Bradamante’s parents, who prefer Leone over Ruggiero because of the low social status of the latter:
Ode Amone il figliuol con qualche sdegno,che, senza conferirlo seco, gli osala figlia maritar, ch’esso ha disegnoche del figliuol di Costantin sia sposa,non di Ruggier, il qual non ch’abbi regno,ma non può al mondo dir: questa è mia cosa;né sa che nobiltà poco si prezza,e men virtù, se non v’è ancor ricchezza.(OF 44.36)
Albert Ascoli has studied this episode in connection with other internal models; it is relevant to observe that the central themes of faith and betrayal, strictly connected to that of ingratitude and of the much-debated motto “pro bono malum,” find in these connected episodes a specific incarnation in a sequence of causality (Ascoli, “Pyrhus’ Rules”). It is greed (ingordigia) that generates the conditions for betrayal.14 As [End Page 39] is clear, there is lexical consistency between the two episodes: “disegnava” and “ha disegno,” “virtù” as the only possession of the rejected suitor; the common root of the verbal forms “apprezza” and “prezza” connect the octaves to the Ariostan themes of value and exchange.
It is with this rejection of the father that the plot, in the words of Lidia the narrator, takes a turn toward a violent and tragic conclusion. Alceste, furious, leaves the court and takes his revenge by serving the king of Armenia. At the service of the Armenian king, Alceste conquers the kingdom of Lidia and besieges the king’s castle. During the siege, the father invites Lidia, “che d’ogni male era cagione” (34.24, 3) to try and appease their adversary. But as soon as the woman sees that Alceste is at her mercy, “mi viene incontra pallido e tremante: / di vinto e di prigione, a riguardarlo, / più che di vincitore, have sembiante” (OF 34.25, 2–4), she decides to attack: she blames Alceste because he chose violence and war, losing thereby the possibility to be loved by her: “io di mai non l’amar fisso avea il chiodo” (OF 34.28, 8).15
When Alceste offers himself to Lidia to be killed, as revenge, the woman opts instead for absolute control: she imposes full restitution of the father’s territory and that Alceste may “emendare il suo error” (OF 31, 5). To regain the lady’s benevolence, Alceste kills the king of Armenia, gives back the Lidian kingdom and performs “strane imprese e perigliose” (OF 38, 2). All will be in vain, as Lidia decides to reveal her real feelings: “che grave e capitale odio gli porto, / e pur tuttavia cerco che sia morto” (OF 41, 7–8). Deprived of Lidia’s presence, Alceste dies out of desperation.
One of the most important intertexts of the infernal narrative derives from the Italian tradition of the Roman de Palamedés, and it could be helpful to reconstruct the complex acts of rewriting Ariosto operated in this canto.16 It is likely that Ariosto knew a text very similar to the one now known as the Cantari di Febus il forte; this is demonstrated by the connections with this canto and other parts of the poem, and by historical proof of the presence of a similar text in the Este library.17 [End Page 40] In particular, there are important elements of contact between the aforementioned episode of the fall of Bradamante in canto 3 and the descent of the knight Brehus in the subterranean palace that hosts the tombs of his ancestors (among whom the unnamed precedent of Lidia). The refraction of the model over the Ariostan text can induce us to talk about “vischiosità” (stickiness), the term Cesare Segre employed to analyze phenomena of intertextuality in which a literary model can be found in different parts of the final intertext as it works systematically within it, creating multidirectional interactions within the text.18
The tale of Lidia can be compared with the tale of the daughter of the king of Norbelanda told in the Cantari di Febus il forte. The knight Brehus, in the underground palace, among the funerary statues of his ancestors, reads the notes (“i brevi”) that recount their lives and deaths. These short documents, along with the narration of an old knight who lives in the cave, make Brehus aware of the adventures of Febus, “de’ cavalieri onore e lume” (Febus 1.26, 7), whose only mistake was to fall in love with “una pulzella che mi fé morire” (Febus 1.27, 8). One octave synthesizes the life of the lady and her error:
Socorso no li diei, o tapinella!perché m’ucise el mio fratello e zio.Mio padre disse: “Figlia, fatti bella,e ’l tuo amore dona al nemico mio,e usciremo di questa briga fella,se mi ubidissi, figlia, in fé di Dio!”Venendo qui [a lui] trova’lo a tal partito,com’io l’abraciai cadde tramortito.(Febus 1.43)
Reading this, one can immediately see what could have been the elements of interest for this tale on Ariosto’s part (for instance, the concise self-presentation coming from the afterlife). We also notice that Ariosto changes two crucial elements. In particular in the Furioso we do not have a multiplicity of voices as in the Febus; instead, Lidia is the protagonist and only narrator, who has proven to be an unreliable one.
The second element worth noting is the name. Apparently, Lidia, who introduces herself as such, seems far from the anonymous daughter [End Page 41] of the king of Norbelanda, indicated by a patronymic until the moment she dies, when we discover her name is Albiera (OF 6.51, 8). It would seem that it is best to assimilate Lidia to an Ovidian Anaxarete, who autonomously rejects her suitor until her death (Rajna  541). But a closer look reveals that the name is not really a name: it is a trick. Lidia’s individuality is highly questionable if we read the following line: “dal re di Lidia in grande altezza nata” (OF 34.11, 2). “Lidia,” then, is not, or not only, a proper name. It is ultimately a patronymic like that of the Cantari di Febus. As in the case of the model, the identification of the daughter with the land is complete. The Furioso, then, responds well to the genealogical instances of the Febus, which constitute the frame and reason of existence of the entire text: Brehus must discover his past and the glory of his ancestors in order to understand the future.
Let us compare, albeit briefly, the sequences of the plot as it is in the Febus and in the Furioso. The first text presents a tripartite frame (1. Fall of Brehus in the cave; 2. Reading of the Brevi; 3. Narration by the Old Knight). The third macro-sequence contains the tale of the daughter of the king of Norbelanda, which can be schematized as follows:
1. Febus conquers land; amor de lonh (with complication);
2. Mission of the lady and Febus’s surrender;
3a. Febus’s missions;
4a. Febus’s requests to the lady; refusal; threats;
5. Fiction of the lady (she pretends to intercede with her father)
3b. Febus’s missions;
4b. Febus’s vain wait for the lady
6. Febus’s illness; arrival of the lady; death
7. The lady decides to be buried alive.
This is, instead, the sequence in the Furioso episode:
A. Alceste asks Lidia in marriage; refusal;
B. Alceste conquers land (corresponds to 1)
C. Mission of the Lady and Alceste’s surrender (corresponds to 2);
D. Alceste’s missions (corresponds to 3a and 3b)
E. Alceste’s victory and vain wait; his death (corresponds to 6)
F. Lidia’s damnation.
From this little adventure in narratology, it emerges that the most significant change Ariosto makes to the structure is sequence A, introduced anew, which ushers in the crucial element of choice. Lidia’s father decides to refuse Alceste’s wedding proposal, out of greed; [End Page 42] Alceste, in turn, decides to attack Lidia’s kingdom to avenge the refusal (or take the prey by force). In the case of the Febus, the lady is sent to try and appease an adversary, while in the Ariostan rewriting she is sent to repair a damage, to balance a wrong.
The chronological movement operated by Ariosto has two main consequences: on the one hand, it focuses the reader’s attention on the war element and on the identification of the woman with the territory. On the other hand, it creates a fundamental aporia in the narrative, regarding the issue of responsibility. The Febus narration keeps the ideological fiction that love is free. The knight performs honorable deeds in war and he is reined in by the beautiful lady. The identity of the woman with the territory, already present in this narrative, is openly revealed in the Furioso episode. Not only do the lady and the land have the same name, but also the temporal dimension of the sequence highlights how she and the kingdom are perfectly interchangeable. Since he cannot have the lady, Alceste attacks the kingdom. The king, who wanted to use his daughter to get a bigger kingdom, has to give her up to try and save his kingdom. In Ferrara in Ariosto’s days, this apparently trivial explanation corresponds with a keen observation on marriage politics. The Este, as is known, were aggressive in their pursuit of wives of higher rank while at the same time quite attentive to preserve their daughters as “Este”when they married.19
The second consequence of the plot variation operated by Ariosto takes us back to the initial reflection on individual responsibility. In his address to Alceste, Lidia states that he, with his violence, has closed off any possibility for her to act:
E quando anche mio padre a lui ritrosostato fosse, io l’avrei tanto pregato,ch’avria l’amante mio fatto mio sposo.Pur, se veduto io l’avessi ostinato,avrei fatto tal opra di nascoso,che di me Alceste si saria lodato.Ma poi che a lui tentar parve altro modo,io di mai non l’amar fisso avea il chiodo.(OF 34.28)
To develop this narrative element, Ariosto resorts to a different phase of the plot of the Febus (sequence 5), in which the daughter of the king of Norbelanda promises to intercede with her father: “mio padre [End Page 43] d’[i qu]este cose pregarò / e ’l priego mio li a comandamento, / sì che faranne el vostro cor contento” (Febus 5.13, 6–8). In this case as well, the temporal slippage Ariosto operates on the model radically modifies the narrative; what was a promise in the Febus becomes in the Furioso the lost possibility of an action, hence unverifiable. What is, then, Lidia’s responsibility?
The key to understand these elements is possibly in another inter-text, which interferes with the two models of the Commedia and the Febus. It is Virgil, or rather the medieval legend on Aeneas that derived from Virgil’s work. Lidia, in her description of the male damned, had already evoked the tale: “chi turbò a Latin l’antiquo regno” (OF 34.14, 4). Here the plot of the necessary nuptials between Aeneas and Lavinia returns, as a subtle controcanto of the tale of Lidia. When the father succumbs and sends Lidia to negotiate peace (in exchange for her own person), she is sent because “d’ogni male era cagione” (OF 34.24, 3). The expression echoes the classical definition of Lavinia, “dona ferens iuxtaque comes Lavinia virgo, / causa mali tanti, oculos deiecta decoros” (Aeneid 9, 477–80).20 The tie between Lidia and Lavinia is even more visible if we consider that the same protagonist reuses the expression “antiquo regno,” already used for Latinus, to refer to her father’s kingdom. Independent of her will, the woman-territory is the cause of war. This type of narrative, Ariosto seems to propose, is an airtight system that excludes some actors from participation. I contend that the most radical element in Lidia’s tale consists in the impossibility of verifying the truth of the account: this impossibility does not stem from the fact that Lidia is an unreliable narrator; rather, it originates from the position of impossibility of acting in which the character maintains she has found herself. If the will of the father has closed the way to a wedding and the will of the suitor has closed the way to nonviolence, Lidia’s will (either what she did or what she would have done) is not only irrelevant but completely unknowable. The Ariostan perspective on the memory of events and on the moral judgement we can formulate on human actions of the past seems, then, consciously agnostic, limited from the start by the inequality of human conditions.
This re-reading of Lidia’s story can shed some light on the series of “alternative narratives” Astolfo receives in the episodes that follow in the canto. The duke leaves after constructing a barrier of rocks [End Page 44] and branches whose efficacy will last for centuries (and remains as a testament to Astolfo’s arboreal vocation, as well as his only great and ignored deed in the poem). He purifies himself in a purgatorial spring, and finally ascends, on the hippogriff’s back, to the sky. The locus amoenus we see is, on one hand, inspired by Boiardo; on the other, it reminds us of the immutable garden of Logistilla (OF 10.61–63) and, naturally, of the Dantean model of Earthly Paradise. The encounter with Saint John the Evangelist, which follows, is marked by the theme of reliability. Like Lidia, Saint John is a narrator, whose reliability is thematized, thus becoming the central topic of the canto. The evangelist, as is well known, is presented as “non dead.”Ariosto follows the medieval tradition that interpreted the evangelical passage in which Jesus responds to Peter, speaking of John’s fate to indicate that he will not die: “Sic eum volo manere donec veniam, quid ad te?”21 Ariosto translates this passage very clearly, and interprets it as only he could: “a Pietro disse: —Perché pur t’affanni, / s’io vo’ che così aspetti il venir mio?— / Ben che non disse: egli non de’ morire, / si vede pur che così volse dire” (OF 34.58, 5–8). The matter-of-fact tone of the declaration is a fit counterpart to the uncanny irony that we have seen in the beginning of the canto. Once Saint John’s theological situation is clarified, the narrator proceeds to omit parts of his speech: “che lo prese per mano, e seco scorse / di molte cose di silenzio degne” (OF 34.62, 1–2). That is a completely superfluous observation, if it weren’t for the fact that the status of Saint John as a narrator, like that of Lidia, needs to be under the reader’s attentive examination.
In the final section of the canto, after having described Orlando’s current condition and his destiny, as well as Astolfo’s role in the saving of the count, Saint John accompanies Astolfo on the Moon, where the duke will be able to observe all that is lost on earth and will recover Orlando’s wits. As is well known, after the rediscovery by Eugenio Garin of a section of the Intercenales by Leon Battista Alberti we now have a precise idea of the importance of the Alberti model for Ariosto. It seems relevant to observe that in the diptych structure of this canto there is also an imitative sequence that goes from the Cantari di Febus il forte to the Somnium by Alberti—non-canonical models if there ever were two, especially combined as such, and intertwined with Dante and Virgil. [End Page 45]
Orlando is experiencing radical alterity: “mostra nudo il ventre, il petto e il fianco; / e l’intelletto sì gli offusca e folle, / che non può altrui conoscere, e sé manco” (OF 34.65, 2–4); he is reduced to the state of Nebuchadnezzar, “che, qual bue, pasceva l’erba e il fieno” (OF 34.65, 8). The only possible solution rests in Astolfo’s hands. The state of “altro da sé”that Orlando is experiencing finds its artistic counterpart (or realization) in the lunar world. Ariosto follows Alberti in the images: from Fame to prayers, from lovers’ sighs to vain desires, from bloated blisters that represent empires of the past to burst cicadas of encomiastic verse, to golden knots of love, to the beauty of women. By owning this world “in the absence of a world,”on the other hand, he lends a hallucinating pace to it, relying above all on relational expressions such as “altro” (other), which multiply the potential meanings in an oppositional way, without describing the object:
Altri fiumi, altri laghi, altre campagnesono là su, che non sono qui tra noi;altri piani, altre valli, altre montagne,c’han le cittadi, hanno i castelli suoi.(OF 34.72, 1–4)
The moon valley is a non-place, without autonomous spatial references. It is not just an inversion, but rather the alienated territory of absence. The adjective “altro” is frequently used in this context, not just to indicate alterity but also, as a noun, to indicate the multiplicity of human activity, which leads to loss and folly:
Altri in amar lo perde, altri in onori,altri in cercar, scorrendo il mar, ricchezze;altri ne le speranze dei signori,altri dietro alle magiche sciocchezze;altri in gemme, altri in opre di pittori,et altri in altro che più d’altro aprezze.(OF 34.85, 1–6)
The kaleidoscopic movement of the “altri,” up to the cumulatio of line 6, echoes and evokes the exhibited alterity of octave 72. In the chaos of misdirected desire the only result is loss. Wits, then, lose themselves after all the things Astolfo has just seen in the vallone: senno is the absence of what is lost, and the vallone contains just emptiness. A potential, genealogical and global interpretation of canto 34 situates at its center the existence of alternative tales and versions of history. This theme, introduced with the version of Aeneas who “rubò a Latin l’antiquo regno” (OF 34.14, 4) is developed in the tale of the unnamed [End Page 46] Lidia and her land, in which dynastic reasons and power relations build narratives without exit; and finally it comes to its apotheosis with the eccentric version of the life of Saint John, “not dead”according to a book that “si vede pur che così volse dire” (OF 34.58, 8). It is clear that this interpretation points to the following canto, in which Saint John will be the champion of alternative histories: “tutta al contrario l’istoria converti” (OF 35.27, 6).
It is hard to resist the temptation to reread Lidia’s speech “converting history.”Another possible, and compatible, interpretive line for this canto goes in the direction of radical alterity: enveloped in Lidia’s tale (the unknowable nature of her responsibility), shrouded in the immortal state of Saint John, finally unveiled in the lunar “non-world,”as if the substance of folly could be revealed within the hidden, but possible absence of meaning at the core of every narrative. [End Page 47]
1. What follows is by no means an exhaustive survey of the treasures of this subject preserved at the Walters Museum. It is meant more as a celebration of the conference Orlando Furioso at 500 held in Baltimore in October 2016, co-organized by Walter Stephens, Leslie Zarker Morgan, John C. McLucas and April Oettinger, which included a visit to the Walters. I am very grateful to the organizers for a wonderful occasion of intellectual innovation and debate.
I will not discuss the Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World by Maerten van Heemskerck (1535, accession number 37.656) because, due to its provenance, it only marginally represents the cultural phenomenon at stake here.
2. The accession numbers of these works are, respectively: 37.1178, 37.1179, and 37.1180. The second painting is not visible to the public.
3. Dish with the Abduction of Helen, Walters Art Museum, accession number 48.1375.
4. Dish with Castor and Pollux Rescuing Helen, Walters Art Museum, accession number 48.1328.
5. On the material culture surrounding weddings and cassone paintings, see Baskins, Cassone and and Triumph; on wedding orations as including examples of violence as foundations, see D’Elia. See Stoppino for this cultural phenomenon at the Este court and in the work of Ariosto (149–73).
6. This contribution builds on my previous work on the Lidia episode.
7. “The view is widely held that Helen was notorious throughout the entire world as much for her lustfulness as for the long war which resulted from it” (143).
8. “That is the prerogative of Nature alone” (145).
9. Garin; Segre, Esperienze. On the centrality of intertextuality to the critical history of the Furioso, see Stoppino 9–15.
10. See, above all, Rajna (1974) 537, and Blasucci.
11. See Vinaver.
12. As noted by commentators, Lidia is the name of the protagonist of Matthew of Vendôme’s Comoedia Lydiae, used by Boccaccio as the model of Decameron 7.9. See Usher and Ascoli (“Pyrrhus’ Rules”). In both Matthew of Vendôme and in Boccaccio, the narration involves a power play between two young lovers and an old man. One could see in the power play a precedent of the Ariostan text.
13. Dante’s distinction between incontinence and fraud could be at play here, as well as Francesca’s allusion to the destination in hell for her husband, who killed her and her lover (Inferno, canto 5). Ariosto is without any doubt focusing on the different natures of the two kinds of sin, even though the distinction has to do with the different genders of the sinners.
14. See the tale of the Mantuan host in canto 43, whose proem echoes canto 34.
15. For Lidia’s expression in connection with the theme of faith, see Saccone, Ascoli, Ariosto’s Bitter Harmony; Zatti, Il Furioso; and Ascoli, “Fede e riscrittura.”
16. Three are the main sources of this episode, according to commentators: Ovid’s Anaxaretes in the Metamorphoses, the tale of Nastagio degli Onesti in the Decameron (V.8), and a narrative thread in the Italian tradition of the Roman de Palamedés. See Rajna (1975) 58–62. For a more extensive analysis of this passage, see Stoppino 98–113.
17. On the Palamedés, see Rajna (1975) 60–61; Löseth; Limentani. The inventory of the Library of Niccolò III (1436) contains a “Gurone in francexe,” and the two most important inventories compiled in the age of Ercole I (1471 and 1495) record texts of the same subject. For the inventories of the Este libraries, see Bertoni and Tissoni Benvenuti 13–33.
18. The term vischiosità occurs for the first time in Segre’s work in his analysis of intertextuality in the Furioso (Segre, Esperienze 57). Segre will develop the term further in Teatro e romanzo (109).
19. See Bestor, Iotti, Shemek, Stoppino.
20. The Sybil uses the same expression to refer to Lavinia in Book 6: “Causa mali tanti coniunx iterum hospita Teucris / externiqui iterum thalami.”
21. Vulgate, John 21:22. Both Thomas Aquinas and Dante oppose this interpretation. See Paradiso 25.122 ff.