Notes to the Third Canto, Part 2

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto III, Stanzas 21-40 Notes

33. Merlin. A wizard, born from the union of an incubus and a mortal woman, in some stories a nun, in others a princess, in others a merchant’s daughter. He grew up with the gifts of prophecy and magic, and became advisor to King Uther Pendragon, and later to his son King Arthur. He did not create the Sword in the Stone, or the Round Table, but he did build Stonehenge as a memorial to Arthur’s uncle Ambrosius Aurelius. He at last fell hopelessly in love with Nimue, also called Vivien, and taught her all his magic. She used it to get rid of his unwanted attentions by trapping him forever, some say in a tree, some in a cave, some in a castle on a cloud. Afterwards she became the Lady of the Lake.
Tristano.  According to the earliest stories, born in Cornwall some time after King Arthur’s days, nephew of King Mark of Cornwall. When Mark sent him to fetch the beautiful Isolde of Ireland to be his queen, Tristan and Isolde accidentally drank a love philtre meant for Mark and Isolde. They loved each other ever afterward, until Tristan finally married a different Isolde, of Brittany. He fell sick, and Isolde of Ireland arrived too late to heal him, and died of love over his body.
In the later versions, Mark and Arthur live at the same time, and Tristan becomes a Knight of the round Table. Mark is a cruel king, and eventually kills Tristan as he plays the harp at court. Isolde again dies of grief over his corpse.
In either version, Merlin dies long before Tristan drinks the love philtre, so he clearly made the fountain because of his gift of prophecy.
34. Tristan was famous for his skill at hunting. Later medieval guides to the hunt cited him as their authority, and honored him as the founder of the rituals of courtly hunting.
34. Forgetfulness of one’s beloved is very common in folklore, but usually it is because of a one-time enchantment or curse, not usually is it because of a permanent feature of the landscape such as this, which will feature repeatedly in the plot of the Innamorato  and the Furioso. Pliny says “At Cyzicus [now in north-western Turkey] is a fountain known as that of Cupido, the waters of which, Mucianus believes, cure those who drink thereof of love.” (Natural History, Book XXXI, Chapter 16)
38. Love philtres are very common in romances and in folklore, of course, but a river causing love is rarer. A lake with such power is to be found in Isidore of Seville, allegedly in Boeotia [in Greece]. These two magic waters afterwards crop up in several medieval encyclopedias, and may have been Boiardo’s inspiration, if it was not simply the love philtre drank by Tristan and Isolde.

Back to Part 2

On to Part 3

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.