Renaissance Transactions: Ariosto and Tasso

Renaissance Transactions: Ariosto and Tasso

by Valeria Finucci

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The controversy generated in Italy by the writings of Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso during the sixteenth century was the first historically important debate on what constitutes modern literature. Applying current critical theories and tools, the essays in Renaissance Transactions reexamine these two provocative poet-thinkers, the debate they inspired, and the reasons why that debate remains relevant today.
Resituating these writers’ works in the context of the Renaissance while also offering appraisals of their uncanny “postmodernity,” the contributors to this volume focus primarily on Ariosto’s Orlando furioso and Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. Essays center on questions of national and religious identity, performative representation, and the theatricality of literature. They also address subjects regarding genre and gender, social and legal anthropology, and reactionary versus revolutionary writing. Finally, they advance the historically significant debate about what constitutes modern literature by revisiting with new perspective questions first asked centuries ago: Did Ariosto invent a truly national, and uniquely Italian, literary genre—the chivalric romance? Or did Tasso alone, by equaling the epic standards of Homer and Virgil, make it possible for a literature written in Italian to attain the status of its classical Greek and Latin antecedents?
Arguing that Ariosto and Tasso are still central to the debate on what constitutes modern narrative, this collection will be invaluable to scholars of Italian literature, literary history, critical theory, and the Renaissance.

Contributors. Jo Ann Cavallo, Valeria Finucci, Katherine Hoffman, Daniel Javitch, Constance Jordan, Ronald L. Martinez, Eric Nicholson, Walter Stephens, Naomi Yavneh, Sergio Zatti

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822397830
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 03/25/1999
Series: Duke monographs in medieval and Renaissance studies; , #17
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Lexile: 1630L (what's this?)
File size: 738 KB

About the Author

Valeria Finucci is Associate Professor of Italian at Duke University. She is the author of The Lady Vanishes: Subjectivity and Representation in Castiglione and Ariosto and the coeditor of Desire in the Renaissance: Psychoanalysis and Literature.

Read an Excerpt

Renaissance Transactions

Ariosto and Tasso

By Valeria Finucci

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1999 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9783-0


Two Odysseys: Rinaldo's Po Journey and the Poet's Homecoming in Orlando furioso


* * *

Rinaldo's journey from Paris to Lipadusa frames the concluding episodes of the 1516 Orlando furioso, leading directly into the final exordium and its presentation of the narrator arriving by ship in port after the long, forty-canto excursion of his poem. As the longest and most complex episode in the poem, Rinaldo's episode offers narrative, ethical, and cultural implications I propose to discuss in this essay. Beyond the intrinsic interest of Rinaldo's character and of the two novelle he hears on the subject of jealousy, the final position of the episode makes it important for critics interested in epic and romance closure; more recently, Dave Henderson has suggested that in its original form the episode was composed as early as 1507, making it one of the germs of the Furioso. The poem began, then, with its end.

In the midst of a journey that had begun with Charlemagne in Paris, and continued via the Ardennes, the city of Basel, and the headwaters of the Rhone, Rhine, Danube, and Po, an anonymous Mantuan host delays Rinaldo and proposes he drink of the testing cup that would determine if his wife, Clarice, is faithful. To compensate for the delay, Rinaldo's host offers him overnight passage down the Po to Ravenna in a swift riverboat furnished with an informative helmsman, who narrates for the paladin the tale of Anselmo's comeuppance as a sequel to the host's own tale of misfortune caused by jealousy. After a refreshing night's sleep on the boat, Rinaldo continues overland to Urbino, Rome, and Ostia, and from there by sea to Trapani, site of Anchises' tomb, arriving finally in Lipadusa, though too late to save the life of Brandimarte, killed, at the tragic climax of Ariosto's narrative, by Gradasso wielding Orlando's sword, Durindana.

But the place where Rinaldo wakes up during his passage is also important: the neighborhood of Ferrara, including the island of Belvedere. Passing it, Rinaldo prophesies a future Estense golden age of good government, liberal studies, and courtly manners. Although the Gascon Rinaldo is hardly Ferrarese, his arrival near Ferrara has the quality of a homecoming—indeed he refers to a previous visit. Readers have therefore intuited that the journey suggests Ariosto's own cultural itinerary as well—not merely the derivation of chivalric literature from France, but recall of accomplishments by the Renaissance courts of Mantua, Ferrara, Urbino, and Rome. In this sense, the transition to the narrator's homecoming from the sea, opening the subsequent and concluding canto in the 1516 Furioso, is the logical pendant to Rinaldo's journey down the Po. The poet's homecoming is also a return to his cultural springs.

Wings of Oars: Ulysses in Homer, Pulci, Boiardo, and Dante.

Preparing a previous study of this episode with an eye on the theme of destroying chastity with money, I was struck by parallels between Rinaldo's journey and another famous voyage of homecoming, that of Homer's Odysseus, sent home to Ithaca from Scheria, the island of the utopian Phaeacians ruled by King Antinous and Queen Arete. Like Odysseus, conveyed in the sure, swift ships of the Phaeacians—ships as fast as chariots or birds—Rinaldo's host offers him a perfectly safe journey in a ship as fast as a hunting falcon. Like Odysseus, who sleeps a deep sleep, very like death, as he returns to his home (Odyssey 13.70-125), Rinaldo sleeps between his journey's beginning in Mantua and his arrival near Ferrara—the future home of Este rule and of the poet Ariosto, perhaps not by accident itself compared, in terms of the island delizia of Belvedere, to the island of the Phaeacians in stanzas Ariosto added for the 1532 edition (of 43.56-50). Like Odysseus, whose last nights before sailing are spent hearing two principal tales—the tale of Troy sung by Demodokos, and Odysseus's wanderings related by himself—Rinaldo hears a pair of stories, one before, one as he sets out on his journey. The narrative functions exercised by Demodokos and Odysseus are represented in Ariosto's episode by the helmsman and by the Mantuan host who tells his own story, while Rinaldo retains Odysseus's function as auditor, an attribute Rinaldo displays in the related episode of Ginevra earlier in the Furioso. Finally, like Odysseus, for whom the journey home to Ithaca is the turning point in his journey when his wanderings finally become his homecoming, Rinaldo's journey, though not taking him home, does return the poem to its origin in the culture of the Po valley.

In proposing these parallels, I am not overlooking the difficulties in documenting Ariosto's direct knowledge of Homer's text, in any language. I take it as probable that like his predecessor, Boiardo, he had a working understanding of the principal episodes in Homer's narrative, and certainly of an episode in the poem as crucial as Odysseus's return to Ithaca—one that was, in addition to its structural importance, significant in the tradition of Neoplatonic glosses on the Homeric poems and in Aristotle's discussion of epic form in the Poetics. Still, my case rests not on the Homeric text alone, but on the complex tradition accreted around the figure of Ulysses in Latin literature, in the text of Dante's Commedia, and in the tradition of Cantastorie and chivalric romance, notably Pulci and Boiardo.

For even granting that Ariosto has drawn from Homer in fashioning Rinaldo's voyage down the Po (I will discuss his very significant modifications later), the adoption of the Homeric model is scarcely unmediated. In the chivalric tradition it is precisely the figure of Rinaldo who draws to himself the reputation and practices of a wandering and curious Odysseus, whose reputation, seriously damaged under Roman culture because of his role in the destruction of Troy, began to be rehabilitated in the Quattrocento. But the ambivalence Dante expresses for Ulysses did not disappear. The Renaissance, which knew and praised the prudent and durable stoic Ulysses, as well as the Neoplatonic Ulysses, who exemplified the return of the soul to its home, still hesitated before the wily and crafty Ulysses, master of dangerous stratagems and virtuoso of lies, fandi fictor.

Ariosto found the link between Rinaldo and Dante's Ulysses fully formed in Pulci's Morgante. Late in the poem, after the rout of Roncevaux and death of Orlando, Rinaldo announces to Charlemagne that he is going exploring past the pillars of Hercules to the antipodes, "to search the whole world like Ulysses" (28.29.3-4). Pulci's comparison sets the seal on Rinaldo's extensive wanderings thus far in the poem, an odyssey in themselves: to Egypt to see the pyramids (25.122), thence through the Hellespont to Mount Olympus and Mount Zion in the Holy Land and all the way to "India" to see Prester John. Finally he returns to Egypt through the pillars of Hercules "and above all he commended Ulysses / who went to the other world to see" (25.130). These journeys are completed with the narrator's decision to bring Rinaldo to the scene of the massacre at Roncevaux, though he arrives too late to affect the outcome (25.115). Leaping through the air on a demonically driven Baiardo, Rinaldo's voyage to Roncevaux occurs within a context whose exemplary figure is, as Dieter Kremers showed, Dante's curious Ulysses. With his lengthy Rinaldo episode (248 stanzas), Ariosto in fact imitates Pulci's lengthy closure to the Morgante (217 stanzas), and as David Quint has pointed out, the journey by river, land, and sea to Lipadusa in Ariosto's poem imitates Rinaldo's journey in Pulci's poem.

Boiardo's treatment of Rinaldo does nothing to undermine the identification of Rinaldo with Ulysses found in the Morgante, although in the Orlandoinnamoroto it remains inexplicit. In 2.5.40-56 Rinaldo is drawn away from his duel with Gradasso by a phantom figure of Gradasso himself, who leads him on board a ship that soon departs from shore, en route to a pleasance designed by Angelica. Boiardo's language ("He has turned his stern [Volto ha la poppa] to the wind of Seville") echoes the setting out of the ship of Ulysses and his crew in the Inferno ("turning our stern [Volta la nostra poppa] to the morning") and his ship likely adopts the same route, passing Seville on the right, then what is now Gibraltar, and heading out to sea on a leftward, southwesterly course.

Although generally speaking Ulysses is identified by Boiardo with his Orlando, who defeats a Polyphemus figure (1.6.28-34), it is Boiardo's Rinaldo who is chosen by Angelica to rescue Brandimarte and Orlando, given drugs by Dragontina that, like Circe's, transmute them from whom they are (1.6.45). More important for the structural links of the Innamorato and the Furioso, Rinaldo's distraction from his duel with Gradasso anticipates Rinaldo's pretext for departing Paris in canto 42 of the Furioso—the need to seek Baiardo, still in the possession of Gradasso, now on Lipadusa with the other combatants. Thus, although Ariosto certainly associates Ulysses' voyages "following the sun" with other characters in the poem, notably the globe-girdling Ruggiero and Astolfo, Rinaldo as voyager in cantos 42-43 of the Furioso demonstrably evokes the tradition of a Rinaldo-Ulysses established by Pulci and Boiardo.

Despite the immediate parallels from the chivalric poems, Dante's Ulysses remains fundamental to establishing the Odyssean parameters for the journeys, in the Furioso, of Rinaldo and of the narrator. Dante's Ulysses describes his own journey through the Mediterranean, seeing "the one shore and the other" (l'un lito e l'altro) until reaching the present straits of Gibraltar

which Hercules marked with his warnings so that one should not go further; on the right hand I had left Seville [da la man destra mi lasciai Sibilia], on the other I had already left Ceuta [da l'altra m'avea lasciata Setta],

Ariosto in turn casts Rinaldo's journey in the language and rhythms of Dante's Ulysses, which in effect mark off the principal stages in Rinaldo's journey, from when he leaves Paris ("Lascia Parigi," 42.43.7), to his speedy crossing of the Alps once he hears of the duel, leaving Verona and Mantua behind ("Verona a dietro, a dietro Mantua lassa," 42.69.7), to his descent of the river past Estensi landmarks, leaving behind Melara on the left shore and Sermide on the right ("Restò Melara nel lito mancino; / Nel lito destro Sermide restosse," 43.53.5-6).

There can thus be little doubt about the close relation of Rinaldo's voyage with the narrator's, which includes the same cities (Ferrara, Mantua, Urbino; cf. 46.10) and which features the ladies and poets who were Ariosto's patrons and fellows. Ariosto's episode, in anticipating the narrator's return home in the exordium to canto 46, also echoes in this sense the intervention of the narrator in the Morgante (he names himself at Morgante 25.115), the more so for Pulci's remark, at canto 24.1-2, of a link to Rjnaldo "called out" of Egypt ("it is meet that you should call me out of Egypt"), but also to Homer the fabulist, who, like the poets mentioned by Ariosto's Saint John, was thought to have "too much exalted the wanderings of Ulysses" (24.2).

In Morgante 28.130-31, the parallels are explicit, the narrator asserting that he "dofes] not wish again to tempt Abila and Calpe" (the Strait of Gibraltar), though "if [he] wished to go farther than Ulysses, there is a lady in heaven who will ever shield [him]." Ariosto's reference to "she who has escorted me over this long sea" (46.1.3-4) echoes Pulci's use of the invocation of the Virgin as his home port in the Morgante (28.2.6-8), and in his anxiety about being lost at sea reenacts the insistent fear of Homer's Odysseus that he would "lose the day of his Homecoming" (Odyssey 1.9,168, 413). In consulting his carte, a word that conflates a navigator's charts with the poet's pages—Ariosto betrays the fact that his journeys were literary, performed by scanning Ptolemaic geographies in Ferrarese libraries and the pages of the poets that were his exemplars. In this sense Ariosto's ship, too, like those of the Phaeacians, "moved swift as thought, or as a winged creature" (Odyssey 7.36).

Indeed, the simile in Homer of the vessel as a bird is closely related to the prophecy made by Tiresias, in Hades, of Odysseus's last journey to a place where his oar will be taken for a winnowing fan. Tiresias's account of "oars, which act for ships as wings do" (Odyssey 11.125, 23.272) is the origin of the famous trope used in Virgil, Ovid, and the medieval Latin rhetorical tradition to describe the oars of the ship as wings (remigium alarum). This metaphor becomes the emblem of the last journey of Ulysses in Dante's poem, and may be taken as the emblem of the continuity between the voyage of Ulysses and those of the several Rinaldos and their narrators. As the figure was for the rhetoricians an instance of an elegant "reciprocal" metaphor (there may be both "oars of wings" and "wings of oars") it may stand as an exemplary instance of the metamorphic power of poetry itself, though in its final misprision as a winnowing fan it marks the limit of all sailing and is thus a sign of death. In its combined figuration of tropical discourse and of the extraordinary literary/nautical journey, the remigium alarum trope links Rinaldo's journeys on the one hand to storytelling, and thus to Odysseus as a notorious inventor of fables, including the account of his own journey told to the Phaeacians; and on the other hand to the narrator's own verbal journey brought to completion in Ariosto's canto 46. The prophecy of Odys-seus's last journey and the journey as narrated in the Latins and Dante are thus themselves troped together, or transumed, into Ariosto's text.

Beyond the Mark: This Story's About You

Ariosto's lengthy episode follows Rinaldo from his first decision to pursue Angelica as far as Cathay, corresponding to Rinaldo's decision, in Pulci, to follow the track of Ulysses to the antipodes, to his arrival at Lipadusa—in the case of Pulci, Roncevaux. This linking of the episode to the universal madness inflicted by love and jealousy—the madness that drives Orlando to explode at the poem's center—points to the morally therapeutic dimensions of Rinaldo's journey. Rinaldo's reeducation begins with a drink from the stream of disamore to cure him of jealousy and concludes with the tale of Anselmo, which confirms Rinaldo's decision to reject the cup that would have tested the chastity of Clarice. In the context of his voyage through Italy to Lipadusa, Rinaldo's rejection of the cup marks his refusal to transgress a dangerous limit: a refusal springing in part from consciousness of his own shortcomings and the awareness that he too is being tested. How does this series of events echo the homecoming of Ulysses?

With the host's regret that he inquired "beyond the limit" (oltre la meta) of what it was lawful to know about his wife's fidelity, Ariosto links the drinking of the cup to the temptation of Adam (43.8), and, indirectly, to Dante's account of the transgression of Ulysses beyond the limits set so that explorers "should not go further" (più oltre non si metta). The cup of jealousy is also allusively the bitter cup of Christ's passion (cf. 42.7, "let this wine be taken from before me" and Luke 22:42, "remove this chalice from me") and, given the context of fidelity, the cup of faith that forms part of Saint John's iconography. In Ariosto's case the mad desire of Dante's Ulysses to know the antipodes is posed rather of the more domestic ambition of desiring to know the wife's chastity. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which the geographical hybris of Dante's Ulysses is indeed at stake here in terms of the narrator's need to reach the limit, the closure of his poem. Or, in the terms of the exordium to canto 46, for the navigating epic poet to furl sails and reach port lest he be lost at sea.

In Ariosto's account, the testing horn of chastity is explicitly linked to the romances of Tristan. In the context of allusion to Homeric materials, however, the cup also suggests the cup of Circe, versions of which Ariosto had already employed in the episodes of Astolfo and Ruggiero involving Alcina; both knights fall under her sway, with Astolfo transformed into a myrtle bush. Within the two novelle told to Rinaldo, both Melissa and Manto tempt with the cup of dangerous knowledge that would destroy domestic complacency: in this sense the stories replicate the tension in the Ulysses story between pursuing experience and returning home. Neoplatonic allegories of the Ulysses story saw in the Circe episode the resistance of Ulysses' human reason to the bestializing effects of the passions. But in the context of Rinaldo's episode, the cup rather tests Rinaldo's ability to restrain jealous curiosity after his therapeutic drink concluding canto 42.


Excerpted from Renaissance Transactions by Valeria Finucci. Copyright © 1999 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: Ariosto, Tasso, and Storytelling / Valeria Finucci

I. Crossing Genres

Two Odysseys: Rinaldo's Po Journey and the Poet's Homecoming in Orlando furioso / Ronald L. Martinez

The Grafting of Virgilian Epic in Orlando furioso / Daniel Javitch

Tasso's Armida and the Victory of Romance / Jo Ann Cavallo

II. The Politics of Dissimulation

Epic in the Age of Dissimulation: Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata / Sergio Zatti

Trickster, Textor, Architect, Thief: Craft and Comedy in Gerusalemme liberata / Walter Stephens

"Un cosi valoroso cavalliero": Knightly Honor and Artistic Representation in Orlando furioso, Canto 26 / Katherine Hoffman

III. Acting Out Fantasies

The Masquerade of Masculinity: Astolfo and Jocondo in Orlando furioso, Canto 28 / Valeria Finucci

Romance as Role Model: Early Female Performances of Orlando furioso and Gerusalemme liberata / Eric Nicholson

"Dal rogo alle nozze": Tasso's Sofronia as Martyr Manque / Naomi Yavneh

Writing beyond the Querelle: Gender and History in Orlando furioso / Constance Jordan



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