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.
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On to Canto IX
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.
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On to Canto VI
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.
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