This poem’s vast popularity, which resulted in Rinaldo becomming the most famous knight of Charlemagne’s among the Italian people, is due, I think, to two related factors. The first is that the poem is, as far as a foreigner can judge, well-written. It moves along with scarcely a dull moment from beginning to end. The second is, that it is unabashedly on the side of the House of Clairmont. Gone are the moral dilemmas of the French poem, the conflicts between loyalty to country and loyalty to family, the question of whether it is right to obey one’s king when he is clearly in the wrong. The poem sometimes even crosses the border into protagonist-centered morality, as when Namo and Ogier have no qualms about sacrificing thousands of Christians in the vain hope of reconciling Charles and Rinaldo, or when Malagigi arranges the betrayal and slaughter of the Maganzans. Anything the House of Clairmont does is fair play, but anything the Maganzans do is foul treason. One can clearly see the difference between a poem written for the nobility of France serving kings of highly varying competence, and a poem written for the lower and middle classes of an Italy which had only recently advanced from deadly feuds within her cities to deadly feuds between her cities.
The poet relates the traditional episodes rather briefly, to make more room for his own inventions.
In much the same way as the Old French, where the traditional heart of the poem (the treason at Vaucoleurs and its aftermath) is the same across all MSS, whereas the later additions (Montessor and Tremoigne) were freely rewritten, so in the Italian the (by-then) traditional portions representing the Old French chanson are similar in all four of the oldest copies, while the new additions such as Rinaldo’s giant-killing spree are freely altered.
Two messengers are sent to Buovo d’Agrismonte, as in O. Afterwards, however, the account of the quarrel at chess and the rest of the story follow DPA.
Combats between fathers and sons are well-known in folklore. Odysseus is slain by his son. Cuchulain slays his. Rustan slays his. Arthur and Mordred slay each other. Hildebrand and his son recognize each other before either is slain. Amadis of Gaul was slain by Esplendian in the [lost] original book, but in Montalvo’s reworking they recognize each other in time.
The siege of Monte Soro is much abridged, but what it does keep follows the French closely, such as the slaying of one Ugo de Sant’ Omeri by Guicciardo.
Mambrino is simply a replacement for Begon. His brothers appear to be Italian inventions.
The siege of Monte Albano is much condensed from the French, and appears to take place over a few months, rather than years and years.
The corpse stops in Ceoigne, as in POA, the French prose, and Caxton.
In a: immediately after the slaying of the giant Constantino, the next adventure is that of the Amostante of Persia, wherein Rinaldo visits the Sultan before offering his services to the Almostante.
The Marte episode is also narrated differently. The four cousins have their own adventures while crossing the sea. When they finally arrive, Rinaldo and Ulivieri fight in a judicial duel for Queen Sibilia. At the feast after they win, the spies of Gano expose the identity of the four newcomers, and a battle breaks out. The eight Paladins are driven back to the Royal Palace, where the Queen confides to them the secret of her love, and shows them a secret exit. They are nonetheless pursued, Rinaldo cuts off Marte’s head, but Astolfo is captured. Rinaldo sends Baiard away, and the battle proceeds as usual. Only after this battle do the Four Sons visit the Holy Sepulcher, and when they return to France Orlando specifically reconciles them with Charles.
In the beta family: Two cantos are interpolated at the beginning of the poem. The first expands on the backstory between Amone and Ginamo, and the second is merely a description of the Paladins gathering at Charles’ court.
Later on, it is Ginamo’s brother Folco who meets the Sons and is slain by them. Rinaldo kills Ginamo in a judicial duel in Paris.
The Amostante’s daughter is named Constanza, not Fioretta.
The story of Fierabras is interpolated between the end of the war against Mambrino and the attempted pilgrimage of Ganelon to Compostella.
Rinaldo’s corpse, very sensibly, does not travel to Cogna but instead into Saint Peter’s Church in Cologne. A scroll proceeds from his mouth, on which his name and history are written. The news is taken to Charles, who comes with the Paladins to pay their respects. The lamentations of Aymonetto, Ivonetto, his brothers, Orlando, Astofo, etc. are related. Even Ganelon is given a stanza of (undoubtably hypocritical) mourning, regretful for all the times they quarrelled. Charles hangs the masons, and endows an abbey of monks.
The poem appears to end, but in some beta editions is added, without explanation, a whole further canto of adventures. (In other copies, this episode is more logically placed just before Rinaldo’s departure for Cologne) Ganelon tells Charles he really ought to hang that thief Rinaldo. Charles concurs, but asks how. Ganelon suggests inviting Rinaldo to court, and then hanging him. Charles agrees, and writes a letter, which he sends via Turpin. Rinaldo arrives at court, and after a feast, retires to his chamber in a tower. Ganelon, Charles, and a hundred goons come in the middle of the night to arrest him, having first distracted the Peers on some pretext or other. Rinaldo is imprisoned and sentenced to be hanged, much to the Peers’ grief. Malagise, on hearing the news, summons a demon, Macabello. The two disguise themselves as friars and fly to Paris, where they request to hear Rinaldo’s shrift. Charles lets them into the prison, where Macabello assumes the shape of Rinaldo and stays behind while Rinaldo dons friar’s garb and leaves with his cousin. The two of them go back to Charles and announce that Rinaldo is impenitent, and ought to be hanged at once. As the friars leave, Charles sends the Maganzans to bring Rinaldo out for execution – but he is gone! Charles rants and raves, and accuses Alda the Fair (here Orlando’s wife, not betrothed) of helping him escape. She knows nothing, but a fight has broken out in the palace between the Maganzans and everyone else, and the traitors die by the score. Some confusing trips of Rinaldo back and forth to Paris and Montalbano follow, in which he fights Maganzans and makes speeches to Charles. Ganelon, alas, survives, but after the treason of Roncesvalles he will be quartered by wild horses.
There were, of course, many other corruptions in the later printed editions, sometimes extending to whole cantos being omitted or shuffled around. The curious may find them all duly catalogued in Melli’s edition.