About this Blog
This blog is my place to post my translation of Matteo Boiardo’s epic romance of chivalry, the Orlando Innamorato. This blog is intended for teenagers and above; some material may not be suitable for children.
About the Orlando Innamorato
In 778, King Charlemagne was returning from an military expedition into Spain. As his army crossed the Pyrenees, the rear-guard was ambushed by a group of Basques in Roncesvalles Pass, and killed to the last man. Among the dead was Hruodland, the Marquis of Brittany. The battle was immortalized by the minstrels and bards, who related it, with numerous embellishments, for centuries. As the legend finally crystallized, Hruodland, now called Roland, was no ordinary marquis, but the nephew of King Charlemagne, and the leader of Charlemagne’s best knights, the Twelve Peers, also called the Paladins. Stories grew about Roland’s birth and early exploits, and about other Paladins, most famously Roland’s brother-in-law Oliver, his cousin Reynard of Montalban, and Ogier the Dane. These stories began to be written down in France in the 1100’s, and were called chansons de geste, or “songs of deeds.”
The Carolingian legend spread beyond France. It was introduced to England by a minstrel named Tailefer, who sung songs about Roland to inspire William the Conqueror’s army before the battle of Hastings. The Spaniards were very proud of having killed the mighty Roland, and attributed the slaying to one Bernardo del Carpio, unknown to French romance. There are several versions of the legends in Dutch, German, and Old Norse, but the most fruitful development outside of France was in Italy. The legends filtered over the Alps and soon passed into the repertoire of the Italian minstrels. By the 1400’s, they were familiar to all Italians. In 1483, a Florentine poet named Luigi Pulci wrote an epic about the adventures of Orlando (Roland) Rinaldo (Reynard) and others called Il Morgante Maggiore. Pulci added some new characters to the traditional ones and sent them all off on a series of burlesque misadventures, culminating in a retelling of the Battle of Roncesvalles and the death of Orlando.
The work was widely popular and inspired another Italian, Matteo Maria Boiardo, to write his own Carolingian epic. Like Pulci, he mixed new and traditional characters in comic adventures, but whereas Pulci’s adventures were disconnected, Boiardo’s adventures would all center around two main themes: the love of Orlando for Angelica, the beautiful princess of Cathay, and the war of the Saracen king Agramante against Charlemagne.
Boiardo died before finishing his poem. A continuation was attempted by one Nicolo degli Agustini, which was (deservedly) completely forgotten once Lodovico Ariosto wrote his own sequel, the inimitable Orlando Furioso. The Furioso, in fact, was so good and so popular, that even the Innamorato was (unjustly) overshadowed by it, and forgotten until the Romantic Revival in the 1800’s rediscovered it.
About this Translation
This translation is in the original meter of ottava rima, eight-line iambic pentameter stanzas rhyming abababcc. Except for Charlemagne, Turpin, Angelica, and geographic locations, all names are to be pronounced as in Italian. Viz. “a” as in “father,” “e” as in “break,” “i” as in “machine,” “o” as in “tote,” “u” as in “tube”.
Final “e” is pronounced.
Soft “c” (before “e” and “i”) is pronounced like “ch”.
When “i” comes between “c” or “g” and a vowel, the “i” is silent, only serving to indicate that the “c” or “g” is soft. “Giovanni” has three syllables, not four.
“H” is always silent, serving only to indicate that the “c” or “g” it follows is hard.
“Ch” is thus pronounced like “k”, and “gh” like “g”.
“Gn” is pronounced like the “ny” in “canyon.”
Emphasis is on the penultimate syllable. If a name ends in a vowel, that vowel can be omitted whenever necessary to fit the meter. This does not change where the emphasis falls.
“Thou” and “thee” translate the Italian “tu”, which is used when addressing one person. “You” and “Ye” translate “voi”, which is used when talking to more than one person, or when addressing a single person with a great deal of respect.
Besides translating medieval books, I also like to take other people’s translations and print them in fancy Kelmscott Press-style editions. See my website at Rossignol Books. If I ever finish this translation, it will be available there in a more permanent format.
Medieval Charlemagne Romances
The Song of Roland. The first, and best, of all the romances of Charlemagne. I prefer the translation by John O’Hagan. Next best are Dorothy Sayers, and Michael Newth.
Heroes of the French Epic. A collection of chansons de geste translated by Michael Newth, who has done more for English lovers of the Charlemagne legend than any man since Taillefer.
The Song of Aspremont, translated by Michael Newth. Sadly not included in his anthologies. You’ll need an inter-library loan (or $150 on Amazon!) to get a copy of this book, but it’s worth it (the loan is) to find background on the oft alluded-to battle of Aspremont, and to see the earliest appearance of Astolfo (here called Estouf).
Il Morgante Maggiore. The rollicking predecessor to the Innamorato. Byron translated the first canto, but went no further. The only full English translation to date is Joseph Tusiani’s, which sadly does not rhyme.
Orlando Furioso. The even-better sequel to the Innamorato. The best of the old translations is Harrison’s. The one most frequently found on the internet is William Rose’s rather more dull version. The best modern translation is by Barbara Reynolds. Avoid David Slavitt’s highly abridged translation (and all his work, for that matter) like the plague.
Modern retellings of the Charlemagne Legend
The Story of Roland, by James Baldwin. Retelling the Innamorato and Furioso to focus entirely on Roland, with added chapters from other sources for his birth, youth, and death.
The Book of Romance, by Andrew Lang. Includes the Battle of Roncesvalles, from the Song of Roland.
The Red Romance Book, by Andrew Lang. Includes the stories of Huon of Bordeaux, Ogier the Dane, and selections from Ariosto.
Bullfinch’s Mythology. Part III is devoted to Charlemagne, and includes a very, very much shortened retelling of Boiardo, a rather longer retelling of Ariosto, the Battle of Roncesvalles from Pulci, the stories of Huon and Ogier, and some youthful adventures of Roland and Oliver.