Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ariosto Reveals Himself

I love Orlando Furioso. Each of the last four years now, I've come to Ariosto's classic and started smiling. I love the intermingling of war and love, the celebration of honor in each arena, and yet the humble acceptance of human weakness. I love reading about Christians and Muslims who can fight and yet respect each other and honor each other’s prowess and virtue. And I love the plethora of characters wandering in and out of the spotlight, separating suddenly to chase a stolen horse or to free a lover from an enchanted castle, and then gathering together in new combinations. I've been thinking about how I might diagram the epic poem, and I keep coming up with a picture of macrame (although not as symmetrical as the one here). Progress through the book would flow from top to bottom in this stitchery-outline, each strand representing a character and each knot representing an episode. Maybe I was inspired by this diagrammatic representation of the American Civil War that I purchased last month.

In the passage I read this spring, Ariosto pulls back the curtain and reveals himself as an experienced authority on the woes of love. He first has a character deliver a diatribe on the unfaithfulness of women, and then in the narration he himself comments:
Although of all the women I have loved
Not one was faithful, yet I do not say
On this account that all are faithless proved.
The blame upon my cruel fate I lay.
Many there are who cannot be reproved
And no rebuke deserve in any way.
But if, among a hundred, one there be
Who is unkind, her prey I'm sure to be.
Ariosto then begins the next canto with a plea to all ladies and defenders of ladies to stop reading immediately. The next part of the tale includes a story told by an innkeeper who wishes to illustrate the fact that all women are unfaithful. Ariosto hates to include the story, he says, but he must if he wants to stay true to his (supposed) source. Of course he holds his tongue in his cheek somewhere here, but which cheek? Is the main joke in the exaggerated story of unfaithfulness, or is it in Ariosto’s warning to the readers? Does he really think he's just unlucky enough to keep finding the one in a hundred?

Ariosto continues to play both sides for a while. Just two cantos later, the poet says that he wishes all women would fall into the hands of the dangerously crazed Orlando for punishment, but then says he must stop the canto because his grief has caused him to sing "discordant melodies." At the beginning of the next, which we can imagine him beginning after a night's rest, he apologizes to the "sweet ladies" and blames his excess on the suffering he's experienced at the hand of one particular female "enemy." I wonder at this point if the title of today's post is accurate. Has Ariosto really revealed himself and his own romantic history? The hilarious passages (yeah, his pain is hilarious: as Steve Martin says, comedy is not pretty!) remind me so much of the narrator in A Series of Unfortunate Events, I can't help thinking Ariosto is just inserting one more fictional character who happens to be named "I."

I considered attempting a diagram of the poem in actual macrame for about thirty-one nanoseconds. But after reading about Madame Defarge and her knitting earlier this year, I think I won't.

No comments:

Post a Comment