Ludovico Ariosto (1474 - 1533 / Italy)
Orlando Furioso Canto 17
Charles goes, with his, against King Rodomont.
Gryphon in Norandino's tournament
Does mighty deeds; Martano turns his front,
Showing how recreant is his natural bent;
And next, on Gryphon to bring down affront,
Stole from the knight the arms in which he went;
Hence by the kindly monarch much esteemed,
And Gryphon scorned, whom he Martano deemed.
God, outraged by our rank iniquity,
Whenever crimes have past remission's bound,
That mercy may with justice mingled be,
Has monstrous and destructive tyrants crowned;
And gifted them with force and subtlety,
A sinful world to punish and confound.
Marius and Sylla to this end were nursed,
Rome with two Neros and a Caius cursed;
Domitian and the latter Antonine;
And, lifted from the lowest rabble's lees,
To imperial place and puissance, Maximine:
Hence Thebes to cruel Creon bent her knees,
Mezentius ruled the subject Agiline,
Fattening his fields with blood. To pests like these
Our Italy was given in later day,
To Lombard, Goth, and Hun a bleeding prey.
What shall I of fierce Attila, what say
Of wicked Ezzeline, and hundreds more?
Whom, because men still trod the crooked way,
God sent them for their pain and torment sore.
Of this ourselves have made a clear assay,
As well as those who lived in days of yore;
Consigned to ravening wolves, ordained to keep
Us, his ill-nurturing and unuseful sheep;
Who, as if having more than served to fill
Their hungry maw, invite from foreign wood
Beyond the mountain, wolves of greedier will,
With them to be partakers of their food.
The bones which Thrasymene and Trebbia fill,
And Cannae, seem but few to what are strewed
On fattened field and bank, where on their way
Adda and Mella, Ronco and Tarro stray.
Now God permits that we should feel the spite
Of people, who are haply worse than we,
For errors multiplied and infinite,
And foul and pestilent iniquity.
The time will come we may such ill requite
Upon their shores, if we shall better be,
And their transgressions ever prove above
The long endurance of AETERNAL LOVE.
The Christian people then God's placid front
Must have disturbed with their excesses sore;
Since them with slaughter, rape, and rapine hunt,
Through all their quarters, plundering Turk and Moor:
But the unsparing rage of Rodomont
Proves worse than all the ills endured before.
I said that Charlemagne had made repair
In search of him towards the city square.
Charles, by the way, his people's butchery
Beholds - burnt palaces and ruined fanes -
And sees large portion of the city lie
In unexampled wreck. - 'Ye coward trains,
Whither in heartless panic would ye fly?
Will none his loss contemplate? what remains
To you, - what place of refuge, say, is left,
If this from you so shamefully be reft?
'Then shall one man alone, a prisoned foe,
Who cannot scale the walls which round him spread,
Unscathed, unquestioned, from your city go,
When all are by his vengeful arm laid dead?'
Thus Charlemagne, whose veins with anger glow,
And shame, too strong to brook, in fury said;
And to the spacious square made good his way,
Where he beheld the foe his people slay.
Thither large portion of the populace,
Climbing the palace roof, had made resort;
For strongly walled, and furnished was the place
With ammunition, for their long support.
Rodomont, mad with pride, had, in his chace
Of the scared burghers, singly cleared the court,
He with one daring hand, which scorned the world,
Brandished the sword; - his other wildfire hurled;
And smote and thundered, 'mid a fearful shower,
At the sublime and royal house's gate.
To their life's peril, crumbling roof and tower
Is tost by them that on the summit wait:
Nor any fears to ruin hall or bower;
But wood and stone endure one common fate,
And marbled column, slab, and gilded beam,
By sire and grandsire held in high esteem.
Rodomont stands before the portal, bright
With steel, his head and bust secured in mail,
Like to a serpent, issued into light,
Having cast off his slough, diseased and stale:
Who more than ever joying in his might,
Renewed in youth, and proud of polished scale,
Darts his three tongues, fire flashing from his eyes;
While every frighted beast before him flies.
Nor bulwark, stone, nor arbalest, nor bow,
Nor what upon the paynim smote beside,
Sufficed to arrest the sanguinary foe;
Who broke and hewed, and shook that portal wide,
And in his fury let such day-light through,
'Twas easy to espy - and might be spied -
In visages o'ercast in death-like sort,
That full of people was the palace court.
Through those fair chambers echoed shouts of dread,
And feminine lament from dame distrest;
And grieving, through the house, pale women fled,
Who wept, afflicted sore, and beat their breast.
And hugged the door-post and the genial bed,
Too soon to be by stranger lords possest.
The matter in this state of peril hung
When thither came the king, his peers among.
Charles turned him round to these, of vigorous hand,
Whom he had found in former peril true.
'Are you not those that erst with me did stand
'Gainst Agolant in Aspramont? In you
Is vigour now so spent, (he said), the band,
Who him, Troyano, and Almontes slew,
With hundreds more, that you now fear to face
One of that very blood, that very race?
'Why should I now in contest with the foe
Less strength in you behold than them? Your might
Upon this hound (pursued the monarch) show;
This hound who preys on man. - A generous sprite
The thought of death - approach he fast or slow -
So that he dies but well, holds cheap and light.
But where you are, I doubt my fortune ill,
For by your succour, have I conquered still.'
This said, he spurred his courser, couched his spear,
And charged the paynim; nor of life less free,
Sir Ogier joined the king in his career;
Namus and Oliver; and, with the three,
Avino, Avolio, Otho, and Berlinghier:
(For one without the rest I never see)
And on the bosom, flanks, and on the front,
All smote together at King Rodomont.
But let us, sir, for love of Heaven, forego
Of anger and of death the noisome lore;
And be it deemed that I have said enow,
For this while, of that Saracen, not more
Cruel than strong; 'tis time in trace to go
Of Gryphon, left with Origille, before
Damascus' gate, and him who with her came,
The adulterer, not the brother of the dame.
Of all the cities under eastern skies,
Most wealthy, populous, and fairly dight,
'Tis said, Damascus is; which distant lies
From Salem seven days' journey; its fair site,
A fertile plain, abundant fruits supplies,
Winter and summer, sojourn of delight.
Shading the city from the dawning day,
A mountain intercepts its early ray.
Two crystal streams the wealthy city scower;
Whose currents, parted into many a rill,
Infinite gardens, never bare of flower,
Or stript of leaf, with grateful murmur fill:
'Tis said the perfumed waters are of power
(So plenteously they swell) to turn a mill;
And that whoever wander through the streets,
Scent, issuing from each home, a cloud of sweets.
Then the high-street gay signs of triumph wore,
Covered with showy cloths of different dye,
Which deck the walls, while sylvan leaves in store,
And scented herbs upon the pavement lie.
Adorned is every window, every door,
With carpeting and finest drapery;
But more with ladies fair, and richly drest,
In costly jewels and in gorgeous vest.
Within the city gates in frolic sport,
Many are seen to ply the festive dance;
And here the burghers of the better sort
Upon their gay and well-trapt coursers prance.
A fairer show remains; the sumptuous court
Of barons bold and vassals, who advance,
Garnished with what could be procured, of ore
And pearl, from Ind and Erythraean shore.
Forward Sir Gryphon pricked, with his array,
Surveying, here and there, the whole at ease;
When them a knight arrested by the way,
And (such his wont and natural courtesies)
Obliged beneath his palace-roof to stay;
Where he let nought be wanting which might please;
And chearfully the guests, with bath restored,
Next welcomed at his costly supper-board;
And told how he, who, Norandino hight,
Damascus and all Syria's kingdom swayed,
Native and foreigner had bade invite,
On whom the sword of knighthood had been laid,
To a fair joust, which at the morrow's light,
Ensuing, in the square was to be made.
Where they might show, and without further faring,
If they had valour equal to their bearing.
Gryphon, though he came not that joust to see,
Accepts the challenge of the cavalier;
For when occasion serves, it cannot be
An evil use to make our worth appear:
Then questioned more of that solemnity;
- If 'twere a wonted feast, held every year,
Or new emprise; by which, in martial course,
The monarch would assay his warriors' force. -
'The gorgeous feast our monarch will display
Each fourth succeeding moon,' the baron said;
'This is the first that you will now survey;
None have been held beside. The cause which bred
The solemn usage is, that on such day
The king from sovereign peril saved his head,
After four months, consumed in doleful wise,
'Mid tears and groans, with death before his eyes.
'Our monarch, who is named king Norandine
(Fully to you the matter to recite),
Through many and many a year for her did pine,
Above all other damsels fair and bright,
The king of Cyprus' daughter; whom, in fine,
Espoused, he, with his bride, and dame, and knight,
To wait upon her home, a fair array,
Towards his Syrian realm had shaped his way.
'But as we scoured the fell Carpathian sea,
With flowing sheet, at distance from the shore,
A storm assailed us, of such cruelty,
The tempest even scared our pilot hoar.
Drifting three days and nights at random, we
Our devious course 'mid threatening waves explore;
Then, wet and weary, land 'mid verdant hills,
Between well-shaded and refreshing rills.
'We our pavilions pitch, and, 'mid those groves,
Joyfully strain our awnings overhead;
And kitchens there construct, and rustic stoves,
And carpets for the intended banquet spread.
Meanwhile through neighbouring vale the monarch roves,
And secret wood, scarce pervious to the tread,
Seeking red deer, goat, fallow-buck, and doe;
And, following him, two servants bear his bow.
'While, with much solace, seated in a round,
We from the chace expect our lord's return,
Approaching us along the shore, astound,
The orc, that fearful monster, we discern.
God grant, fair sir, he never may confound
Your eyesight with his semblance foul and stern!
Better it is of him by fame to hear,
Than to behold him by approaching near.
'To calculate the griesly monster's height,
(So measureless is he) exceeds all skill;
Of fungus-hue, in place of orbs of sight,
Their sockets two small bones like berries fill.
Towards us, as I say, he speeds outright
Along the shore, and seems a moving hill.
Tusks jutting out like savage swine he shows,
A breast with drivel foul, and pointed nose.
'Running, the monster comes, and bears his snout
In guise of brach, who enters on the trail.
We who behold him fly (a helpless rout),
Wherever terror drives, with visage pale.
'Tis little comfort, that he is without
Eye-sight, who winds his plunder in the gale,
Better than aught possest of scent and sight:
And wing and plume were needed for our flight.
'Some here, some there make off, but little gain
By flying him; for swifter is the pest
Than the south wind. Of forty, ten, with pain,
Swimming aboard the bark in safety rest.
Under his arm some wretches of our train
He packed, nor empty left his lap or breast:
And loaded a capacious scrip beside,
Which, like a shepherd's, to his waist was tied.
'Us to his den the sightless monster carried,
Hollowed within a rock, upon the shore;
Of snowy marble was that cavern quarried,
As white as leaf, unstained by inky score.
With him within the cave a matron tarried,
Who marked by grief and pain a visage wore.
With her were wife and maid, a numerous court,
Both fair and foul, of every age and sort.
'Large as the other, and that grotto near,
Almost upon the summit of the rock,
Another cavern was contrived, to rear,
And from the weather fend his woolly flock,
Which he still herded through the changeful year;
So numerous, it were hard to count his stock:
Wont in due season these to pen or loose,
And play the shepherd more for sport than use.
'The flesh of man he savoured more than sheep,
And this, before he reached the cave, was seen.
Three youths of ours, ere yet he climbed the steep,
He are alive, or rather swallowed clean;
Then moved the stone, which closed that cavern deep,
And lodged us there. With that, to pasture green
His flock he led, as wont, the meads among,
Sounding the pipe which at his neck was hung.
'Our lord, meanwhile, returning to the strand,
The loss which he had suffered comprehends;
For in deep silence, upon every hand,
Through empty tent and hut the monarch wends:
Nor who has robbed him can be understand;
And full of terror to the beach descends;
Whence he his sailors in the offing sees
Unmoor and spread their canvas to the breeze.
'As soon as Norandino was in view,
They launched and sent their pinnace to convey
The monarch thence: but he no sooner knew
Of the fell orc, and those he made his prey,
Then he, without more thought, would him pursue
And follow, wheresoe'er he bent his way.
To lose Lucina is such cruel pain,
That life is loathsome save he her regain.
'When on the newly printed sand his eyes
Norandine fixt, he with the swiftness sped
With which the rage of love a man supplies,
Until he reached the cave of which I said,
Where we, enduring greater agonies
Than e'er were suffered, there await in dread
The orc, and deem at every sound we hear,
The famished brute about to re-appear.
'The monarch to the cave did Fortune guide,
When the orc's wife alone was in the lair.
Seeing the king: `Fly! - Woe to thee!' (she cried)
`Should the orc take thee!' - `Woeful every where
I cannot choose but be,' (the king replied)
`Whether be take or miss me, kill or spare.
Not hither I by chance have wandered, I
Come with desire beside my wife to die.'
'He afterwards the dame for tidings pressed
Of those the orc had taken on the shore;
And of Lucina above all the rest;
If slain or prisoner kept. With kindly lore,
She Norandino, in return, addressed;
And said Lucina lived, nor need he more
Have of her future safety any dread,
For the orc on flesh of woman never fed.
' `Of this you may behold the proof in me,
And all these other dames who with me dwell;
Nor me, nor them the orc offends, so we
Depart not ever from this caverned cell.
But vainly who would from her prison flee,
Hopes peace or pardon from our tyrant fell:
Buried alive, or bound with griding band,
Of, in the sun, stript naked on the sand.
' `When hither he to-day conveyed your crew,
The females from the males he severed not;
But, as he took them, in confusion threw
All he had captive made, into that grot.
He will scent out their sex; not tremble, you,
Lest he the women slay: the others' lot
Is fixt; and, of four men or six a-day,
Be sure the greedy orc will make his prey.
' `I have no counsel for you how to free
The lady; but content thyself to hear,
She in no danger of her life will be,
Who will our lot, in good or evil, share.
But go, for love of Heaven, my son, lest thee
The monster smell, and on thy body fare;
For when arrived, he sniffs about the house,
And, such his subtle scent, can wind a mouse.'
'To her the amorous monarch made reply,
That he the cave would not abandon, ere
He saw Lucina, and near her to die,
Than to live far from her, esteemed more dear.
- Seeing that she can nothing more supply
Fitted to shake the purpose of the peer,
Upon a new design the matron hits.
Pursued with all her pains, with all her wits.
'With slaughtered sheep and goat was evermore
The cavern filled, the numerous flock's increase,
Which served her and her household as a store;
And from the ceiling dangled many a fleece.
The dame made Norandino from a hoar
And huge he-goat's fat bowels take the grease,
And with the suet all his members pay,
Until he drove his natural scent away.
'And when she thought he had imbibed the smell
Which the rank goat exhales, she took the hide,
And made him creep into the shaggy fell;
Who was well covered by that mantle wide.
Him in this strange disguise she from the cell
Crawling (for such was her command) did guide,
Where, prisoned by a stone, in her retreat,
Was hid his beauteous lady's visage sweet.
'Kin Norandine, as bid, took up his ground
Before the cavern, on the greensward laid,
That he might enter with the flock who wound
Homeward; and longing sore, till evening stayed.
At eve he hears the hollow elder's sound,
Upon whose pipes the wonted tune was played,
Calling his sheep from pasture to their rock,
By the fell swain who stalked behind his flock.
'Think if his heart is trembling at its core,
When Norandino hears the approaching strains;
And now advancing to the cavern door,
The sight of that terrific face sustains!
But if fear shook him, pity moved him more:
You see if he loves well or only feigns!
The orc removed the stone, unbarred the cote,
And the king entered, amid sheep and goat.
'His flock so housed, to us the orc descended,
But first had care the cavern door to close:
Then scented all about, and having ended
His quest, two wretches for his supper chose.
So is remembrance by this meal offended,
It makes me tremble yet: this done, he goes;
And being gone, the king his goatish vest
Casts off, and folds his lady to his breast.
'Whereas she him with pleasure should descry,
She, seeing him, but suffers grief and pain.
She sees him thither but arrived to die,
Who cannot hinder her from being slain.
` 'Twas no small joy 'mid all the woes, that.'
To him exclaimed Lucina, 'here sustain.
That thou wert not among us found to-day,
When hither I was brought, the monster's prey.
' `For though to find myself about to leave
This life be bitter and afflict me sore,
Such is our common instinct, I should grieve
But for myself; but whether thee, before
Of after me, the orc of life bereave,
Assure thyself thy death will pain me more
Than mine.' And thus the dame persists to moan
More Norandino's danger than her own.
' `A hope conducts me here,' the monarch said,
`To save thee and thy followers every one;
And, if I cannot, I were better dead,
Than living without light of thee, my sun!
I trust to scape, as hither I have spied;
As ye shall all, if, as ourselves have done,
To compass our design, you do not shrink
To imbue your bodies with the loathsome stink.'
'The trick he told, wherewith the monster's smell
To cheat, as first to him the wife had told:
In any case to cloathe us in the fell,
That he may feel is issueing from the fold.
As many men as women in the cell,
We slay (persuaded by the monarch bold)
As many goats as with our number square,
Of those which stink the most and oldest are.
'We smeared our bodies with the fruitful grease
Which round about the fat intestines lay,
And cloathed our bodies with the shaggy fleece:
This while from golden dwelling broke the day.
And now, his flock returning to release,
We viewed the shepherd, with the dawning ray;
Who, giving breath to the sonorous reeds,
Piped forth his prisoned flock to hill and meads.
'He held his hand before the opened lair,
Lest with the herd we issued from the den,
And stopt us short; but feeling wool or hair
Upon our bodies, let us go again.
By such a strange device we rescued were,
Cloathed in our shaggy fleeces, dames and men:
Nor any issuing thence the monster kept,
Till thither, sore alarmed, Lucina crept.
'Lucina - whether she abhorred the scent,
And, like us others, loathed herself to smear,
- Or whether with a slower gait she went
Than might like the pretended beast's appear,
- Or whether, when the orc her body hent,
Her dread so mastered her, she screamed for fear,
- Or that her hair escaped from neck or brow,
Was known; nor can I well inform you how.
'So were we all intent on our own case,
We for another's danger had no eyes:
Him, turning at the scream. I saw uncase
Already her whom he had made his prize,
And force her to the cavern to retrace
Her steps: we, couching in our quaint disguise,
Wend with the flock, where us the shepherd leads,
Through verdant mountains, into pleasant meads.
'There we awaited, till beneath the shade
Secure, we saw the beaked orc asleep;
When one along the shore of ocean made,
And one betook him to the mountain steep.
King Norandine his love alone delayed;
Who would return disguised among the sheep,
Nor from the place depart, while life remained,
Unless his faithful consort he regained.
'For when before, on the flock issuing out,
He saw her prisoned in the cave alone,
Into the orc's wide throat he was about
To spring; so grief had reason overthrown,
And he advanced even to the monster's snout,
And, but by little, scaped the grinding stone:
Yet him the hope detained amid the flock,
Trusting to bear Lucina from the rock.
'The orc, at eve, when to the cave again
He brings the herd, nor finds us in the stall,
And knows that he must supperless remain,
Lucina guilty of the whole does call,
Condemned to stand, fast girded with a chain,
In open air, upon the summit tall.
The king who caused her woes, with pitying eye
Looks on, and pines, - and only cannot die.
'Morning and evening, her, lamenting sore,
Ever the unhappy lover might survey;
What time he grieving went afield before
The issuing flock, or homeward took his way.
She, with sad face, and suppliant evermore,
Signed that for love of Heaven he would not stay;
Since there he tarried at great risk of life.
Nor could in any thing assist his wife.
'So the orc's wife, as well upon her side,
Implored him to depart, but moved him nought;
To go without Lucina he denied,
And but remained more constant in his thought.
In this sad servitude he long was tried,
By Love and Pity bound: till Fortune brought
A pair of warriors to the rocky won,
Gradasso, and Agrican's redoubted son:
'Where, with their arms so wrought the champions brave,
They freed Lucina from the chains she wore,
(Though he Wit less than Fortune served in save)
And running to the sea their burden bore:
Her to her father, who was there, they gave.
This was at morn, when in the cavern hoar,
Mixt with the goats, king Norandino stood,
Which ruminating, chewed their grassy food:
'But when, at day-light, 'twas unbarred, and now
He was instructed that his wife was gone;
For the orc's consort told the tale, and how,
In every point, the thing rehearsed was done;
He thanked his God, and begged, with promised vow,
That, since 'twas granted her such ill to shun,
He would direct his wife to some repair,
Whence he might free her, by arms, gold, or prayer.
'Together with the flat-nosed herd his way
He took, and for green meads rejoicing made.
He here expected, till the monster lay
Extended, underneath the gloomy shade:
Then journeyed all the night and all the day;
Till, of the cruel orc no more afraid,
He climbed a bark on Satalia's strand,
And, three days past, arrived on Syrian land.
'In Cyprus, and in Rhodes, by tower and town,
Which in near Egypt, Turkey, or Afric lay,
The king bade seek Lucina up and down,
Nor could hear news of her till the other day.
The other day, his father-in-law made known
He had her safe with him. What caused her stay
In Nicosia was a cruel gale
Which had long time been adverse to her sail.
'The king, for pleasure of the tidings true,
Prepares the costly feast in solemn state;
And will on each fourth moon that shall ensue
Make one, resembling this we celebrate.
Pleased of that time the memory to renew,
That he, in the orc's cavern, had to wait,
- For four months and a day - which is to-morrow;
When he was rescued from such cruel sorrow.
'The things related I in part descried,
And from him, present at the whole, heard more;
From Norandine, through calend and through ide,
Pent, till he changed to smiles his anguish sore:
And if from other you hear aught beside,
Say, he is ill instructed in his lore.'
The Syrian gentleman did thus display
The occasion of that feast and fair array.
Large portion of the night, in like discourse,
Was by those cavaliers together spent,
Who deemed that Love and Pity's mickle force
Was proved in that so dread experiment;
Then rising, when the supper's sumptuous course
Was cleared, to good and pleasant lodgings went;
And, as the ensuing morning fairly broke,
To sounds of triumph and rejoicing woke.
The circling drums' and trumpets' echoing strain
Assemble all the town within the square;
And now, when mixt with sound of horse and wain,
Loud outcries through the streets repeated are,
Sir Gryphon dons his glittering arms again,
A panoply of those esteemed most rare;
Whose mail, impassable by spear or brand,
She, the white fay, had tempered with her hand.
The man of Antioch in his company,
Armed him (a recreant worse than he was none),
Provided by their landlord's courtesy
With sturdy spears and good, the course to run;
Who with his kindred, a fair chivalry,
To bring the warriors to the square is gone;
With squires afoot and mounted upon steeds,
Whom he bestowed, as aptest for their needs.
They in the square arrived and stood aside,
Nor of themselves awhile would make display;
Better to see the martial gallants ride
By twos and threes, or singly, to the fray.
One told, by colours cunningly allied,
His joy or sorrow to his lady gay;
One, with a painted Love on crest or shield,
If she were cruel or were kind, revealed.
It was the Syrians' practise in that age
To arm them in this fashion of the west.
Haply this sprung out of their vicinage
And constant commerce with the Franks, possest
In those days of the sacred heritage,
That God incarnate with his presence blest;
Which now, to them abandoned by the train
Of wretched Christians, heathen hounds profane.
God's worshippers, where they should couch the lance,
For furtherance of his holy faith and true,
Against each other's breast the spear advance,
To the destruction of the faithful few.
You men of Spain, and you, ye men of France,
And Switzers, turn your steps elsewhere , and you,
Ye Germans, worthier empire to acquire;
For that is won for Christ, which you desire.
If verily most Christian you would be,
- I speak to you, that catholic are hight -
Why slain by you Christ's people do I see?
Wherefore are they despoiled of their right?
Why seek you not Jerusalem to free
From renegades? By Turkish Moslemite
Impure, why is Byzantium, with the best
And fairest portion of the world, possest?
Thou Spain, hast thou not fruitful Afric nigh?
And has she not in sooth offended more
Than Italy? yet her to scathe, that high,
And noble, enterprize wilt thou give o'er.
Alas! thou sleepest, drunken Italy,
Of every vice and crime the fetid sewer!
Nor grievest, as a hand-maid, to obey,
In turn, the nations that have owned thy sway.
If fear of famishing within thy cave,
Switzer, does thee to Lombardy convey,
And thou, among our people, dost but crave
A hand to give thee daily bread, or slay, -
The Turk has ready wealth; across the wave,
Drive him from Europe or from Greece away:
So shalt thou in those parts have wherewithal
To feed thy hunger, or more nobly fall.
I to the German neighbour of thy lair
Say what I say to thee; the wealth o' the west,
Which Constantine brought off from Rome, is there -
Brought off the choicest, gave away the rest -
There golden Hermus and Pactolus are,
Mygdonia and Lydia: nor that country blest,
Which many tales for many praises note,
If thou wouldst thither wend, is too remote.
Thou mighty Lion, that art charged to keep
The keys of Paradise, a weighty care,
Oh! let not Italy lie plunged in sleep,
If thy strong hand is planted in her hair.
To thee, his shepherd, God, to guide his sheep,
Has given that wand and furious name to bear;
That thou may'st roar, and wide thine arms extend,
And so from greedy wolves thy flock defend.
But whither have I roved! who evermore
So from one topic to the other stray?
Yet think not I the road I kept before
To have missed so far, but I can find my way.
I said, the Syrians then observed the lore
Or arming like the Christians of that day.
So that Damascus' crowded square was bright
With corslet, plate, and helm of belted knight.
The lovely ladies from their scaffolds throw
Upon the jousters yellow flowers and red;
While these, as loud the brazen trumpets blow,
Make their steeds leap and wheel and proudly tread.
Each, rode he well or ill, his art would show,
And with the goring spur his courser bled.
Hence this good cavalier earns fame and praise,
While others scornful hoots and laughter raise.
A suit of arms was prize of the assay,
Presented to the king some days before;
Which late a merchant found upon the way
Returning from Armenia; this the more
To grace, a vest, with noblest tissue gay,
The Syrian king subjoined, so powdered o'er
With jewels, gold, and pearls in rich device,
They made the meed a thing of passing price.
If the good king had known the panoply,
This he had held above all others dear;
Nor this had given, as full of courtesy,
To be contented for with sword and spear.
'Twere long to tell who so unworthily
Had erst mistreated thus the goodly gear,
That lay the way the harness had been strowed,
A prey to whosoever past the road.
Of this you more in other place shall hear.
Of Gryphon now I tell, who at the just
Arrived, saw broken many a knightly spear,
And more than one good stroke and one good thrust.
Eight were there who made league together, dear
To Norandine, and held in sovereign trust;
Youths quick in arms and practised in the shock:
All lords, or scions of illustrious stock.
At open barriers, one by one, the place
They kept against all comers for a day;
At first with lance, and next with sword or mace,
While them the king delighted to survey.
Ofttimes they pierce the corslet's iron case,
And every thing in fine perform in play,
Which foemen do that deadly weapons measure,
Save that the king may part them at his pleasure.
That witless Antiochite, who, worthily,
By name was cowardly Martano hight,
Thinking, because his comrade, he must be
Partaker of the noble Gryphon's might,
Into the martial press rides valiantly,
Then stops; and the issue of a furious fight,
Which had begun between two cavaliers,
To wait, retiring from the strife, appears.
Seleucia's lord, of those companions one,
Combined in that emprize to keep the place,
Who then a course with bold Ombruno run,
Wounded the unhappy warrior in mid-face,
So that he slew him; mourned by every one,
Who as a worthy knight the warrior grace,
And over and above his worth, before
All others, hold him for his courteous lore.
When vile Martano from his place discerned
The fate which might be his with fearful eye,
Into his craven nature be returned,
And straight began to think how he might fly:
But him from flight the watchful Gryphon turned,
And, after much ado, with act and cry,
Urged him against a knight upon the ground,
As at the ravening wolf men slip the hound.
Who will pursue the brindled beast for ten,
Or twenty yards, and, after, stop to bay;
When he beholds his flashing eyes, and when
He sees the griesly beast his teeth display.
'Twas thus, before those valiant gentlemen
And princes, present there in fair array,
Fearful Martano, seized with panic dread,
Turned to the right his courser's rein and head.
Yet he who would excuse the sudden wheel,
Upon his courser might the blame bestow:
But, after, he so ill his strokes did deal,
Demosthenes his cause might well forego.
With paper armed he seems, and not with steel,
So shrinks he at the wind of every blow:
At length he breaks the ordered champions through,
Amid loud laughter from the circling crew.
Clapping of hands, and cries, at every turn,
Were heard from all that rubble widely spread.
As a wolf sorely hunted makes return
To earth, to his retreat Martano fled.
Gryphon remained, and sullied with the scorn
Esteemed himself, which on his mate was shed;
And rather than be there, he, in his ire,
Would gladly find himself i' the midst of fire.
With burning heart, and visage red with shame,
He thinks the knight's disgrace is all his own,
Because by deeds like his with whom he came,
He weens the mob expects to see him known.
So that it now behoves his valour flame
More clear than light, or they, to censure prone,
- Errs he a finger's breadth - an inch - will swell
His fault, and of that inch will make an ell.
Already he the lance upon his thigh
Has rested, little used to miss the foe:
Then makes with flowing rein his courser fly,
And next, somedeal advanced, directs the blow;
And, smiting, puts to the last agony
Sidonia's youthful lord, by him laid low.
O'ercome with wonder each assistant rises,
Whom sore the unexpected deed surprises.
Gryphon returned, and did the weapon wield.
Whole and recovered, which he couched before,
And in three pieces broke it on the shield
Which bold Laodicea's baron bore.
Thrice of four times about to press the field
He seemed, and lay along the crupper, sore
Astound; yet rose at length, unsheathed his blade,
Wheeled his good courser, and at Gryphon made.
Gryphon, who in his saddle sees the peer
Advancing towards him, nor unseated by
The encounter, says: 'The failure of the spear
In a few strokes the sabre shall supply;'
And on his temples smote a stroke so shear,
It seemed that it descended from the sky;
And matched it with another, and again
Another, till he stretched him on the plain.
Here two good brothers of Apamia were,
In tourney wont to have the upper hand:
Corimbo named and Thyrsis was the pair;
Both overturned by Gryphon on the land.
One at the encounter left his saddle bare,
On the other Gryphon used his trenchant brand:
This valiant knight, was, in the common trust,
Sure to obtain the honours of the just.
Bold Salinterno, mid the warlike train,
Was in the lists, vizier and marshal hight,
Who had the government of all that reign,
And was, withal, a puissant man of might:
The tourney's prize he sees, with much disdain,
About to be borne off by foreign knight.
A lance he snatches, and to Gryphon cries,
And him with many menaces defies.
But he makes answer with a massy spear,
Out of ten others chosen as the best;
And levelling at the buckler of the peer,
For greater surety, pierces plate and breast.
'Twixt rib and rib, it bored the cavalier,
Issuing a palm behind. To all the rest,
The king excepted, welcome was the blow:
For each was greedy Salinterno's foe.
Two of Damascus next Sir Gryphon sped,
Hermophilo and Carmondo. This, arraid
Under his flag, the king's militia led;
That was as lord high admiral obeyed.
This lightly at the shock on earth was shed,
And that, reversed, upon the ground o'erlaid
By his weak horse, too feeble to withstand
Sir Gryphon's mighty push and puissant hand.
Yet in the field remained Seleucia's knight,
The best of all the other seven at need;
And one who well accompanied his might
With perfect armour and a gallant steed.
Both at the helmet, where it locks, take sight,
And with their spears to the encounter speed:
But Gryphon hardest smote, whose paynim foe
Lost his left stirrup, staggered by the blow.
They cast the truncheons down, their coursers wheel,
And, full of daring, with drawn falchions close.
Sir Gryphon was the first a stroke to deal,
Which might have split an anvil; at the blow's
Descent, the shield is splintered - bone and steel -
This had its lord mid thousand others chose;
And, but 'twas double, and the coat as well,
The sword had cleft the thigh on which it fell.
He of Seleucia at Sir Gryphon's casque,
At the same time, so fell a blow addrest,
It would have rent and torn the iron mask,
Had it not been enchanted like the rest.
The paynim's labour is a fruitless task,
Of arms so hard Sir Gryphon is possest;
Who has the foe's already cleft and broke
In many parts, nor thrown away a stroke.
Each one might see how much Seleucia's lord
Was overmatched by Gryphon, and that day,
The worsted men had perished by the sword,
Had not the monarch quickly stopt the fray.
To his guard king Norandino spake the word,
And bade them enter, and the duel stay:
They part the knight, whom they asunder bear,
And much the king is lauded for his care.
The eight, who had to keep the field pretended
From all the world, nor yet their part had done
On a sole knight, - their quarrel ill defended, -
Had vanished from the tilt-yard one by one.
The others, who with them should have contended,
Stood idle; for to answer them was none.
Since Gryphon had forestalled, in the debate,
What they should all have done against those eight;
And, for such little time endured the play,
Less than an hour sufficed to finish all.
But Norandine, the pastime to delay,
And to continue it till even-fall,
Descending from his place, bade clear the way;
And the huge squad divided, at his call,
Into two troops, whom, ranked by blood and might,
The monarch formed, and marched for other fight.
Sir Gryphon, during this, had made return
Homeward, with anger and with fury stung;
Less thinking of his honours that the scorn
Which on the vile Martano had been flung.
Hence, from himself the opprobrious shame to turn,
Martano now employs his lying tongue;
And she, the false and cunning courtezan,
Assists him in his scheme as best she can.
Whether the youth believed the tale or no,
He the excuse received, like one discreet;
And deemed it best for them at once to go,
And secretly and silently retreat,
For fear, that if the populace should know
Martano base, they him might ill entreat.
So, by short ways and close, they quit the abode,
And issue from the gates upon their road.
Sir Gryphon, was he or his horse foredone
With toil, or was it sleep his eyes down weighed,
Ere yet the troop beyond two miles had gone,
At the first inn upon the highway stayed.
He doffed his armour all, and morion,
And had the steeds of trappings disarrayed;
And next alone he to a chamber sped,
Locked himself in, undrest, and went to bed.
No sooner he his head had rested there,
Than, with deep sleep opprest, he closed his eye:
So heavily, no badgers in their lair,
Or dormice, overcome with slumber, lie.
Martano and Origille, to take the air,
Entered this while a garden which was nigh;
And there the strangest fraud together bred,
Which ever entered into mortal head.
Martano schemed to take away the steed
And gear, in which Sir Gryphon had been dight,
And stand before the monarch, in the weed
Of him who had in joust so proved his might.
As he had shaped in thought, he did the deed:
He took away the warrior's horse, more white
Than milk, his buckler, surcoat, arms, and crest;
In all Sir Gryphon's knightly ensigns drest.
He, who was clad in trappings not his own,
Like the ass mantled in the lion's hide,
As he expected, to the king, unknown,
Was called in place of Gryphon: when descried
Or Norandine, he rising from his throne,
Embraced and kissed, and placed him by his side:
Nor deems enough to praise and hold him dear,
But wills that all around his praise should hear:
And bids them the sonorous metal blow,
Proclaiming him the conqueror of that day:
And round about loud voices, high and low,
The unworthy name throughout the lists convey.
He wills that, side by side, with him shall go
The knight, when homeward he shall take his way;
And him such favour shows, intent to please,
As might have honoured Mars or Hercules.
Him lodgings fair he gave, wherein to dwell
At court; and she who with the peer did ride
Was honoured by the courteous king as well,
- False Origille, - with knight and page supplied.
But it is time that I of Gryphon tell;
Who unsuspecting, she, or wight beside,
Him would with treacherous stratagem deceive,
Had fallen asleep, nor ever waked till eve.
When he how late it was, awaking, knew,
With speed he from the chamber did withdraw;
And hastened where he, with the other crew,
Left Origille and her false brother-in-law:
And when, nor these, nor, upon better view,
His armour nor his wonted clothes he saw,
Suspicious waxed; and more suspicion bred
The ensigns of his comrade left instead.
The host, arriving, him at full possest
Of every thing, - and how, in white array,
That warrior, with the lady and the rest,
Had to the city measured back their way.
By little and by little, Gryphon guessed
What love from him had hidden till that day;
And knew, to his great sorrow, in the other
Origille's paramour, and not her brother.
Now he lamenting for his folly stood,
That having heard the truths the pilgrim said,
He should have let her story change his mood,
Who him before so often had betrayed.
He might have venged himself, nor did: - now wou'd,
Too late, inflict the punishment delaid;
Constrained (a crying error!) in his need
To take that wily treachour's arms and steed.
He better would have gone like naked man,
Than braced the unworthy cuirass on his breast;
Or hastened the detested shield to span,
Or place upon his helm the scorned crest.
But of the lover, and that courtezan,
He, passion mastering reason, took the quest:
And bending to Damascus' gate his way,
Arrived an hour before the close of day.
On the left hand a castle richly dight
Stood nigh the gate, to which Sir Gryphon rode.
Besides, that it was strong and armed for fight,
Filled with rare chambers was the rich abode.
The first of Syria, king, and lord, and knight,
And lady, in a gentle group bestowed,
There in an open gallery fairly met,
Were at their glad and costly supper set.
With the high tower the beauteous gallery, clear
Beyond the city-wall, projected out,
From whence might be discovered, far and near,
The spacious fields and different roads about.
When Gryphon now, in his opprobrious gear,
And arms, dishonoured by the rabble's flout,
Makes, by ill fortune, to the gate resort,
He by the king is seen, and all his court;
And, taken for the man whose crest he wears,
In dame and knight moves laughter, through the ring.
The vile Martano, as a man who shares
The royal grace, sits next below the king;
And next, she, whom her love so fitly pairs;
Whom Norandino gaily questioning.
Demands of them, who is the coward knight,
That of his honour makes so passing light;
Who, after feat so base and foul, anew
Approaches, with such front and shameless cheer,
- And cries, 'It seems a thing unheard, that you,
An excellent and worthy cavalier,
Should take this man for your companion, who
Has not in all our wide Levant his peer.
Did you with him for contrast-sake combine,
That so your valour might more brightly shine?
'- But did not love for you my will restrain,
By the eternal gods, I truly swear,
He should endure such ignominious stain,
As I am wont to make his fellows share:
Him would I make of my long-nursed disdain
Of cowardice perpetual record bear.
To you, by whom he hither was conveyed,
If now unpunished, let his thanks be paid.'
That vessel of all filthy vices, he,
Made answer: 'Mighty sir, I cannot say
Who is the stranger, that fell in with me
Journeying from Antioch hither, by the way:
But him I worthy of my company
Deemed, by his warlike semblance led astray.
I nothing of his deeds have heard or seen,
Save what ill feats to-day have witnessed been;
'Which moved me so, it little lacked but I,
For punishment of his unworthy fear,
Had put him out of case again to ply,
In martial tournament, the sword or spear;
And, but in reverence to your majesty
And presence, I forbore by hand to rear,
Not for his sake: - nor by thy mercy showed
On him, as my companion on the road;
'Whose former fellowship appears a stain;
And ever 'twill sit heavy at my heart,
If I, uninjured, see the wretch again
'Scape, to the scandal of the warlike art.
'Twere better he from tower, a worthy pain,
Were gibbeted, than suffered to depart:
Hung as a beacon for the coward's gaze.
Such were a princely deed, and worthy praise.'
A voucher he in Origilla had,
Who well, without a sign, his purpose read.
'I deem not,' cried the king, 'his works so bad,
That they should cost the stranger knight his head:
Enough that he again the people glad,
For penance of his weighty sin.' This said,
He quickly called a baron of his crew,
And him enjoined the deed he was to do.
With many armed men that baron fares,
And to the city-gate descending, here
Collects his troop, and for the attempt prepares,
Waiting the coming of the cavalier;
And him surprises so at unawares,
He, softly, 'twixt two bridges, takes the peer;
And him detains, with mockery and scorn,
In a dark chamber, till returning morn.
The early sun had scarce his golden hair
Uplifted from his ancient nurse's breast,
Beginning, upon Alpine regions bare,
To chase the shades and gild the mountain-crest,
When Martan', fearing Gryphon might declare
His wrong, and to the king the truth attest,
Retorting upon him the slander cast,
Took leave, and thence upon his journey past.
His ready wit a fit excuse supplies
Why he stays not, to see the recreant shown.
He is with other gifts, beside the prize,
Rewarded for the victory, not his own,
And letters patent, drawn in ample wise,
Wherein his lofty honours wide are blown.
Let him depart; I promise he shall meet
A guerdon worthy of his treacherous feat.
Gryphon is brought with shame into the square,
When it is fully thronged with gazing wight,
Whom they of cuirass and of helmet bare,
And leave in simple cassock, meanly dight;
And, as to slaughter he conducted were,
Place on a wain, conspicuous to the sight;
Harnessed to which two sluggish cows are seen,
Weary and weak, and with long hunger lean.
Thronging about the ignoble car, appear
Brazen-faced boy and girl of evil fame,
Who, each in turn, will play the charioteer,
And all assail the knight with bitter blame.
The boys might be a cause of greater fear,
For, joined to mocks and mows, and words of shame,
The warrior they with volleyed stones would slay,
But that the wiser few their fury stay.
That which of his disgrace had been the ground,
Though no true evidence of guilt, his mail
And plate, are dragged in due dishonour round,
Suspended at the shameful waggon's tail.
The wain is stopt, and to the trumpet's sound,
Heralds, in front of a tribunal's pale,
His shame, before his eyes, amid the crowd,
(Another's evil deed) proclaim aloud.
They take their prisoner thence, and so repair
In front of temple, dwelling-house, and store;
Nor any cruel name of mockery spare,
Nor leave unsaid a word of filthy lore;
And him at last without the city bear:
The foolish rabble, trusting evermore
Their thrall to banish to the sound of blows,
Who passing little of its prisoner knows.
The warrior's gyves no sooner they undo,
And from their manacles free either hand,
Than Gryphon seizes shield and sword, and, through
The rabble, makes long furrows with his brand.
With pike and spear unfurnished was the crew,
Who without weapons came, a witless band.
The rest for other canto I suspend,
For, sir, 'tis time this song should have an end.
Comments about this poem (Orlando Furioso Canto 17 by Ludovico Ariosto )
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