How I Fell in Love with David R. Slavitt's Orlando Furioso
Bought after hearing an interview with the translator, David R. Slavitt (listen at the following link):
World Books Podcast: Of Naked Maidens and Sea Serpents (February 2, 2010)
The Italian Renaissance epic “Orlando Furioso,” was once a hot volume, at least among the literati, such as Shakespeare, and musicians, such as Scarlotti and Haydn. But Ludovico Ariosto’s long tale of knights and monsters duking it out largely dropped off the radar screen in the 20th century, though it was Italo Calvino’s favorite work of literature. Translator David R. Slavitt wants to rectify that with his English translation of the poem, the first in 30 years. World Books Editor Bill Marx talks to Slavitt, a veteran translator of over eighty volumes of poetry and fiction, about how his playful version reflects the giggly, surrealist mischievousness of the original.
I thought that, since I hadn't read more than excerpts in undergrad, I should try to read the entire work. Well, not really - let's just say the first half, since the entire text is even more massive than this version. Note this fact from the wikipedia page: "Ariosto's work is 38,736 lines long in total, making it one of the longest poems in European literature."
So at 658 pages this still isn't the complete poem. From the preface:
"What we have in this volume is slightly more than half of what Aristo wrote - primarily because the production costs of an enormous and unwieldy volume (or volumes) would have made for a discouragingly expensive book, which would have defeated my purpose of broadening Aristo's Anglophone audience."
I read a used copy which has been marked and underlined, with notes added here and there, by former owner Kate Miley (I think). Kate has won me over by the odd doodles and the random cartoon bear she sketched on the last page. At first I was rolling my eyes over the "lol" added here and there, but then I began to really get into the reading, and when I'd come to a "lol" I'd say to the book "I know, right?!" Because yes, there are some really funny moments. (And of course I had to quote them, see below.)
I should also note here that the earliest version of this came out in around 1516. So when you read the more modernized text of this version - the sentiments are still original and some wildly unusual for that time. (Here's the William Stewart Rose translation on Gutenberg, from 1823-31.)
So what's the book like? Hmmm, how to describe this to you...well, it's not like reading your average piece of 16th century poetic literature, not in this translation anyway. Think of this as a cross between a pulp novel, a comic book, a session of Dungeons and Dragons (where the DM has a great sense of humor), and a bodice-ripper romance that's heavy on the near-rape scenes (some of those made me wince, some made me say "oh great, not again" - because yes, it's a trope). In fact it's now inspired me to go read other translations just to see how others have translated some of these words. (Though I'm probably not going to get around to doing that anytime soon.)
I should add that I started reading this book during a particularly crappy time in my life, and I vaguely hoped that reading it might get my mind off of reality. But I was also expecting it to be a standard poetic epic that I'd have to work to understand what's going on - like, say, The Faerie Queene (which I still have not finished). I was actually trying to use it as Put Yourself To Sleep Reading at Bedtime. Instead I ended up reading it, enjoying it, and laughing every so often. And forgetting the crappiness I was in the midst of. Which I very much needed, and not at all what I expected from an epic. Also I'm the quietly-snickering-to-herself type more than laughing type - but I confess, I did laugh. So now I'm going to regard the book fondly just for helping me out. It gets a special bookshelf place. (After it's loaned to my father who's dying to read this translation.)
How much did I enjoy this read? Read the following quotes, and then the Reading Progress section. The amount I've bothered to quote is always a sign I'm having fun. For those wanting the quick version without having to read the HUGE amount of quotes - I think I quoted this book more than anything else I've read. Because I wanted a place to quick reference some of these lines. And then note how many stars I gave it.
IMPORTANT! My reaction is completely due to this particular translation. Having looked at one or two examples of previous translations - reading them would be a completely different experience.
(Not always copying the full stanza, just the funny and interesting bits. And to give you an idea of the read-ability of the thing.)
Canto II, 10
Rinaldo raises up Fusberta, which,
believe it or not, is the name of his broadsword.
Canto II, 11
She's fleeing from Rinaldo, and here he stands,
victorious, and no one is left to protect her.
Unless she wants to give in to his demands,
as, if she remains there, he would expect her
to do, she had better make some other plans
and leave at once, out of self-respect or
simply fear. She does not make excuses
but with a twitch of the reins of her horse vamooses.
Canto II, 58
The knight once more falls silent. You remember the knight
is talking to Bradamante. Those quotation
marks were reminders of this. But his story was quite
long, and during the course of his narration,
you may have forgotten the frame. But that's all right.
Canto II, 72
And there it is, easy as pie, although
why pie is easy is difficult to explain.
Canto II, 76 (last stanza before Canto III)
And then? Is this the end? But surely not.
The smaller twigs of the elm branch break her fall,
as you might have guessed, with all those pages you've got
in your right hand. So this cannot be all
there is. She doesn't die here, but just what
happens to her after this close call
that leaves her on the bottom, stunned and hurt so
we'll get to soon, perhaps in Canto Terzo.
Canto III, 67
"...the odds would still be against you, for that mad
necromancer inside that arrogant
steel castle of his rides about on that bad
hippogryph that flies in extravagant
aerial maneuvers. But worse, you'll find,
is his shield with which he can render his foes blind.
"when he uncovers it. And do not expect
that you can contrive some stratagem - to fight
with your eyes closed perhaps. ..."
Canto III, 77
She does not let him sit too close to her knowing
that he could rob her and then absquatulate.
Guinevere, a king's daughter, is accused of being unchaste and thus law decrees she will be put to death. Rinaldo thinks this is a bad law, even if Guinevere has slept with someone:
Canto V, 66
"If the same ardor moves both men and women
to the sweetness of love, it is unfair
that women should be punished for being human
once, while men are praised as debonair
for doing it as often as they can do. Man
and woman should be treated the same. I declare
that I mean, with the help of God, to right this wrong
that is so outrageous and has gone on so long."
Canto VI, 20
The island was like the one that Arethusa
lived on (it was Ortygia, I recall),
fleeing the river god. (You have to use a
book of myths to get these stories all
in order.) Let's say it was nice (and who's a
critic of islands anyway?) The small
island loomed much larger as they got lower,
and the hippogryph flew gentlier and slower.
Ruggiero must fight the "cruel giantess" Erifilla:
Canto VII, 3
Her armor, first, was set with gems of many
colors - rubies, emeralds, chrysolite.
She was mounted, not on a horse that any
person might want, but a wolf on which she'd fight.
Ruggiero took a second look at this when he
approached and wondered if she had trained it to bite.
And it wasn't a normal wolf but enormous in size,
tall as an ox, and with gleaming yellow eyes.
Canto VIII, 71
...He tries to focus his mind without
success and these notions, whirling about like perns
in a gyre, or, say, like moonbeams put to rout
as they bounce off the surface of water and one discerns
on the ceiling a dance of their tiny lights that are acting
as if they were terrified - it can be distracting.
Orlando wondering where Angelica is, and worrying about her possible rape (because her loss of virginity would be such a trauma for *him* because of course she belongs to him - all males in this story seem to have this attitude towards Angelica), among other dangers:
Canto VIII, 77
"And where are you now, my hope, my love, without
my protection? Do wicked wolves surround you,
their slathering jaws agape as they circle about
their prey? That delicate flower that I found, you
beautiful blossom the angels gave me. I doubt
that you can survive untouched, unplucked, your dew
still on those lovely petals. Or have they by force
taken you? I worry about that, of course.
"And if the worst that I can imagine has come
to pass, what can I wish for but a quick
death? O God, I pray to you to have some
mercy. Afflict me some other way, sick
crippled, blind, dishonored, deaf and dumb,
but spare her. Otherwise, I shall have to pick
some painful form of suicide." ...
Must give you three stanzas here so that you can see how fun Aristo is - what at first seems a pacifist rant then becomes something else in stanza 90. All about the modern technology of destruction - in this time period - the cannon.
Canto IX, 88
And neither is Orlando hanging around.
He departs, having taken but one
thing - that machine of fire, iron, and sound,
a weapon of mass destruction, that terrible gun,
which he does not want for his own use, having found
it to be unfair and unsporting: only a son
of a bitch would think to use it in a fight.
It isn't at all appropriate for a knight.
It ought to be destroyed, he thinks, to keep
anyone from ever making use
of it against men to kill and to estrepe.
He cannot think of any sane excuse
for it to exist, and he throws it into the deep
of the sea to make men and women safer, whose
futures will not be blighted by such an obscene,
inelegant, and dangerous machine.
He also finds it politically incorrect
in the way it makes a weak man equal to
the strongest, so that all rank and respect
are fundamentally threatened, for otherwise who
would know his place or observe the correct
distinctions? Civilization as he knew
it would be over, equality would reign.
The very idea gives our paladin pain.
I had no idea orc had so many definitions. In this case it's a sea monster:
Canto X, 101
Ruggiero, however, has his lance at the ready,
and with it he strikes the orc, a writhing mass
that is more a blob than a beast, except for the head he
is aiming at. Its mouth is a dark crevasse
with protruding teeth like a boar's. Ruggiero's steady
lance strikes at the forehead but he has
little success. It's as if he is striking blows
on granite or iron. It's perfectly otiose.
Hey look, it's more cannon ranting! And the devil is to blame!
Canto XI, 22
Had it been up to Orlando we would all
be much better off. But the cannon's cruel inventor
was the one who tempted Eve and contrived the fall
of mankind from the garden, the arch tormentor,
whose clear intention was that what we call
guns and cannons would one day re-enter
the world of men, in our grandparents' time or before
and would transform both society and war.
A hundred fathoms down it was, but some
necromancer raised it from the deep
and gave it to the Germans who learned from
repeated trial and error how to keep
from blowing themselves up. The curriculum
of the devil suited them well and with a steep
learning curve they rediscovered its use.
But secrets tend to spread and reproduce.
...And what this means is that anyone, high or low,
is the equal of anyone else. It has done away
with rank and order, and honor, and valor, too,
and the rabble are just the same as me and you.
Enchantress Melissa (one of the good ones) explains the castle that's a magical trap set by the villain Atlas - and in which the reader can see as a metaphor...:
Canto XIII, 49
She reveals his trick of intuiting the desire
of every person and offering just that
for which the man's or woman's heart is on fire,
but whatever it is, it's just out of reach, which is what
keeps them there, searching through the entire
structure for that voice they keep hearing but
can never quite locate. It is a quest
that can never succeed but from which they can never rest.
As if this wasn't long enough already, I wanted to back up my Reading In Progress Quotes from Goodreads, and this seemed the best place. Just so you know what you're in for beyond this point! (Some of these are repeats of ones above.)
"I've been Shadow Reading this for a few days and am having SO much fun that I can't put it down. (No matter how much I mean to keep up with books I'm reading for challenges!)"
"If the same ardor moves both men and women
"Canto V, 88: ...Rinaldo's aim was to take the fellow apart
"Canto VI, 6: He hauled himself out of the water and, dripping wet,
"Canto VI, 13:
"Canto VI, 54: You think it's easy? No, it's very hard
"Canto VII, 11: "...Her hair is blonde and hangs in nonchalant curls."
- really enjoying the word choices here."
"Canto VII, 12: "...The design
"Canto VII, 14:
"Canto VII, 22
"Canto VII, 24 -25
"Canto VII, 26
"Canto VII, 41
"Canto VII, 55
"Canto VII, 78
"Canto VIII, 21
"Canto IX, 17
"Canto IX, 19
"Canto IX, 34
"Canto IX, 79
"On falling in love:
"Canto X, 34
"Aristo is VERY anti-cannon. Total rant is 7 stanzas:
"Ruggiero has now bumped into his second naked woman of the day. (Or maybe it's been two days?) The last one he tried to have sex with after saving (and no, he didn't ask her if she was interested) - let's see how he treats this one. Oh and apparently you have to strip the woman naked before you feed her to the sea monster. But I somehow doubt the monster requires this."
"Oh wait, no, that's not Ruggiero - we're back to Orlando's story, I forgot. So now it's 1 naked woman for Ruggerio (and one near rape of Angelica) and 1 naked woman for Orlando. And now we'll see how Orlando treats said naked woman post-saving. Assuming he can defeat the orc/sea monster thing."
"Aristo "oogling a heroine" (Olympia) in writing (this is not the first time, mind you) (oh dear, I've caught Aristo's parentheses problem):
"Canto XI, 74
"Canto XI, 81
"Oh and earlier when I was wondering how Orlando would treat the naked woman he rescues? Turns out it was someone he already knew - funny how easy it is to bump into people that way. And he behaved himself. Amazing, since so few of the men in this book are able to do so around beautiful and/or naked women."
"Angelica plans to use a man as bodyguard (she's dealt with multiple attempted rapes so far) then dump him:
"Orlando fighting, squishily:
"Canto XII, 83
"Canto XII, 87
"Isabella, yet another woman in the story that has to deal with near-rape, and by a man she (and her lover) had trusted:
"Canto XIII, 36-37
"Canto XIV, 16
"Canto XIV, 22
"Orlando's a man in black, though I'm vague on the precise cause of the grief (Angelica? war? something in the previous book/poem?):
"Canto XIV, 44
"Canto XIV, 45
"Mandricardo falls for Doralice. Problem, she's engaged, and he's just slaughtered her guards.
"Mandricardo and Doralice
"Mandricardo and Doralice
"Mandricardo and Doralice:
"Angel Michael bumps into Discord:
"And because I know someone else must be wondering: fricandel on wiktionary, or see wikipedia's frikandel - "a Dutch snack, a sort of minced-meat hot dog, developed either in 1954 or in 1958/1959 in the Netherlands.""
"Where to look for Silence:
"And now for some blood and gore from our poet Aristo:
"Canto XIV, 126
"Canto XV, 13-14
"The wording on this one made me eyeroll, because how much more colloquial can we get:
"Section here about the glory of the Spanish - fairy/sorceress tells of the future - and so we suddenly hear about Hernando Cortez and New Spain. Which I definitely did not expect."
"Canto XV, 28
"Canto XV, 61
"Comedy in fighting Orrilo - he can heal any wound he receives. After his head is cut off:
"Canto XVI, 1
"Canto XVI, 20-21 - Rodomonte:
"Canto XVI, 50
"Canto XVI, 57
"Example of unexpected humor:
"Canto XVII, 4
"Charlemagne telling off his nobles before he rushes into the fight himself:
"In case you're tired of battle, never fear!:
"So this knight named Grifon is so stupid that the woman he's in love with has convinced him that the man Grifon found her with is her brother - when actually the guy's her lover. The poem's author/narrator is equally "can you believe this guy?!""
"Made the mistake of sending my father (former lit prof.) some quotes from this (already posted here). He's so psyched to read it he was going to buy his own copy - I've convinced him to wait for me to finish and he can read my copy. Next time will remember to wait til I've finished the book before send the amusing quotes. Meanwhile must speed up and finish this!" 2 comments
"My father called to let me know that he's checked the 1970s translation he has of this - and it's really dull in comparison. And I definitely need to start reading this faster..."
"Story of the monster Orco, which is just like the Cyclops episode in the Odyssey. But still fun in this telling. (wikipedia)"
"Canto XVII, 49
"Canto XVII, 75
"Canto XVII, 130 - Spoiler!
"Canto XVIII, 9
"It seems slightly unfair that in the background the angel Michael has teamed up with Discord, Pride, Jealousy, etc. to attack the enemy and help out Charlemagne and company. But since Rodomonte apparently mowed down a chunk of Parisians and the military they need the help."
"Canto XVIII, 91
"Canto XVIII, 99
"Canto XVIII, 109
"Canto XVIII, 113
"Canto XVIII, 162
"Canto XIX, 2
"Canto XIX, 11 - Medoro, caught in enemy territory:
"So Zerbino is terribly impressed with the plea of Medoro to bury his king - because "modesty, the chivalric selflessness" are things he admires. And here I should mention that Zerbino is the son of the King of Scotland. Which always makes me pause to ponder how Scottish that name could actually be."
"Canto XIX, 20 Angelica sees Medoro:
"Canto XIX, 34
"Canto XIX, 57
Canto XIX, 65
"Canto XIX, 73
"Canto XIX, 87
"Canto XX, 2
"Canto XX, 3
"Canto XX, 125 - Zerbino and Marfisa joust over old woman:
"Canto XX, 134 - poet reminds us of Zerbino love life, which was many pages back:
"The old woman is Gabrina who was in love with a knight Philander (who refused her) so she falsely accused him of rape - very Joseph and Potiphar's wife - Gabrina's husband was Phil's friend. And then she triecked Phil into murdering her husband, and then escape with her. Then she had Phil poisoned. She is indeed evil, but Zerbino's stuck with her."
"Canto XXI, 60
"Canto XXII, 1 - apology to the reader:
"Canto XXII, 16 - the excitement of an index in 1500s:
"Astolfo, a man torn between a newly found hippogryph to ride and Rabican, the horse who loves him. And whom he loves right back - and can't just leave behind with no one to look after. Multiple cantos on this dilemma. Horses get a lot of attention in this poem.
"Canto XXII, 63 - back to one of the women in armor in our story (who seem to enjoy defeating pretty knights more than the rest):
"Canto XXIII, 20 - Bradamante sees her home in the distance:
"Canto XXIII, 52 - Gabrino falsely accuses Zerbino of a murder:
"Canto XXIII, 128 - many cantos of him upset over Angelica marrying another:
"Canto XXIX, 42 - Orlando runs mad:
"Canto XXIX, 52
"Canto XXIX, 57 - after Orlando rips someone in half:
"Canto XXIX, 63 - As part of his insanity Orlando seems to be giving a lot of animals a hard time:
"Canto XXIX, 71-2, Orlando and horse problem (she = the horse):
"Canto XXIX, 74 - an anti-Angelica bit, which is odd as she never pledged herself to Orlando, instead he and all other men assumed she belonged to them. But now it's ALL women are ungrateful:
"Canto XXX,4 - except now at the beginning of the next Canto our narrator apologizes about the anti-women rant.
"Canto XXXIV,64 - another narrator aside about a bit of the backstory:
"Saint John (who folklore claims never died) and Astolfo take Elijah's chariot to the moon. To find a cure for Orlando's madness. Because everything is completely logical after Orlando can suddenly punch a mule a mile into the distance."
"Canto XXXIV,75 - on the moon you can find many things people have lost; money, fame, vows, time, health, etc:
"XXXIV,85 - huge amount of flasks full of lost wits:
"XXXVI,37 - Bradamante vs Ruggiero
"After Astolfo hung out with Saint John on the moon he's somehow got this uber prayer power hotline to God. First he prays, rolls rocks down hill - and bam, they turn into horses. Later he does the same thing to turn leaves into boats to transport his army."
"XXXIX,51 - after mad Orlando hits Oliver in the head, suddenly it's a helmet commercial:
"XXXIX,58 - Orlando, cured of madness, has no idea what he's been up to: