Notes to the Eighth Canto, Part 3

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto VIII, Stanzas 41-64 Notes.

46. Boiardo is airing his classical learning here. (He translated several Greek and Latin classics into Italian) Just as the vengeance of Marchino’s wife is based on the Greek myth of Procne and Philomela (which Boiardo would have read in Ovid), so Marchino’s vengeance was the favorite punishment of King Mezentius in the Aeneid.
50. Boiardo now moves from classical lore to medieval, as is typical of him. A similar story to this one was brought back by the Crusaders from the Byzantine Empire. It was a development of the Gorgon legend, and told how a young man who lived near the Gulf of Satalia [now called Antalya], consumed with lust for his deceased lady-love, begot a terrible head that, every seven years, rose out of the Gulf and brought misfortune or storms. Various versions can be found in Walter Map’s Courtiers’ Trifles, Book 4; Gervase of Tilbury’s Otia Imperialia 2.12; Mandeville’s Travels, usually near the section on Constantinople; and other places.
52. The cruelty is partly gratuitous, but partly prudent: it keeps prisoners from escaping and from needing to be fed.
57. Turning horns are generally attributed to the eale or yale, a creature found in Pliny (VIII.30) and sometimes in heraldry, but not, as far as I have ever seen, appearing in fiction or folklore.

Notes to the Eighth Canto, Part 2

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

25. Merlon. The stones that stick up in a battlement.
Blood. Blood dries black, as Boiardo and his audience were well aware. The castle must do a lively business in executions.
29. Grifone. Not to be confused with Grifone son of Olivier or the various Grifones of House Maganza.

Notes to the Seventh Canto, Part 4

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto VII, Stanzas 61-72 Notes

61. Boiardo actually writes that Oliver will be the cook and Ogier the carver [the servant who carves meat at table and serves it to the lords]. I have switched them for the sake of the meter.
68. Clasp his hands. Oaths of fealty were sworn by having the vassal kneel before his lord and clasp his hands together, while the lord stood and put his own hands around his vassal’s. The modern western posture of prayer arose from this custom, as a sign of offering fealty to God.

Notes to the Seventh Canto, Part 1

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto VII, Stanzas 1-20, Notes

1. Curtana. Or Cortana, or Cortain, or Curtain. Ogier’s sword. The name means “Short”, and how he got this sword is told in Le Chevalerie Ogier le Danois.
3. Gui of Burgundy. Hero of Fierabras, and husband of the giant Fierabras’ sister Floripas.
15. The Bavarian. Naimo.

Notes to the Sixth Canto, Part 2

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

23. Georgia, the country north of Turkey and Iraq, next to Armenia. Not the American state.
Circassia is a region east of the Crimean peninsula and north of Georgia and Armenia. It was famous in Boiardo’s day and later as the home of beautiful women who were much sought after by Sultans and other Muslim rulers as excellent additions to a harem. Indeed, selling beautiful virgins as slaves was the primary economic activity of the region up until the Russian Revolution.
24. Dragon hide. This time, Boiardo does use the word “draco”. He never calls the giant a cyclops, though this whole story is inspired by the Odyssey.
40. Media is in what is now northwestern Iran. Tartary was a vaguely defined region North of China, including what are now Mongolia and Siberia. The Tartars were nomads, related to the Mongolians, the Turks, and the Huns.

Notes to the Sixth Canto, Part 1

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto VI, Stanzas 1-20 Notes

6. Dragon. Boiardo continues to call it serpent-hide, but dragon is more effective in English.
17. It is not true, as some people still believe, that medieval priests were forbidden to shed blood, but were allowed to fight with clubs, maces, etc. Firstly, a club to the head will make you bleed. Secondly, while warrior priests were not encouraged, they certainly existed, and fought with anything they could lay their hands on. The general opinion of the Church, however, was that while a soldier’s life was an honorable calling, it was forbidden to the clergy, much the same as marriage is.
The idea that there was some superstition about bloodshed as opposed to other forms of killing is one of the many Enlightenment and Victorian lies about the Middle Ages, and was popularized in modern times by Dungeons and Dragons and other RPGs where clerics can only equip staves.

Notes to the Fifth Canto, Part 4

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto V, Stanzas 61-83 Notes

73. Boiardo never uses the word “sfinge”, but his monster is clearly meant to be one, and so I have added the name.
In Greek mythology there was only one sphinx, a monster which was guarded the roads to Thebes, put a riddle to passersby, and ate them if they couldn’t answer it. Hesiod says that Echidna lay with her son by Typhon, Orthus, a monstrous hound that was later Geryon’s watchdog, and the two of them produced the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion. Sophocles gives no description of the creature. Apollodorus states the Sphinx was sent by Hera, and was the daughter of Echidna and Typhon. She had the face of a woman, the breast, feet, and tail of a lion, and the wings of a bird. Her riddle about man is the only one she gives in Greek myth. Pausanias rationalizes the myth, claiming that Sphinx was the name of Oedipus’ sister, who seized a fortress near Thebes until Oedipus and his army slew her.
According to Pliny, sphinxes are a species that live in Ethiopia, have brown hair, and have two udders on their breasts. (VIII, xxx) That is the whole of his description, and he seems to have thought of the sphinx as a kind of monkey. Certainly Isidore of Seville lists the sphinx as a species of ape, and he is followed in this opinion by Western writers all the way down to Topsell.
81. Serpent’s hide. Probably meaning a dragon.
83. Orlando was made an honorary member of the Roman Senate out of gratitude after one of the numerous occasions when he saved the Eternal City from invading Saracens.