Orlando Furioso, by Lodovico Ariosto

Canto 19

Argument

Medoro, by Angelica’s quaint hand,

Is healed, and weds, and bears her to Catay.

At length Marphisa, with the chosen band,

After long suffering, makes Laiazzi’s bay.

Guido the savage, bondsman in the land,

Which impious women rule with civil sway,

With Marphisa strives in single fight,

And lodges her and hers at full of night.

I

By whom he is beloved can no one know,

Who on the top of Fortune’s wheel is seated;

Since he, by true and faithless friends, with show

Of equal faith, in glad estate is greeted.

But, should felicity be changed to woe,

The flattering multitude is turned and fleeted!

While he who loves his master from his heart,

Even after death performs his faithful part.

II

Were the heart seen as is the outward cheer,

He who at court is held in sovereign grace,

And he that to his lord is little dear,

With parts reversed, would fill each other’s place;

The humble man the greater would appear,

And he, now first, be hindmost in the race.

But be Medoro’s faithful story said,

The youth who loved his lord, alive or dead.

III

The closest path, amid the forest gray,

To save himself, pursued the youth forlorn;

But all his schemes were marred by the delay

Of that sore weight upon his shoulders born.

The place he knew not, and mistook the way,

And hid himself again in sheltering thorn.

Secure and distant was his mate, that through

The greenwood shade with lighter shoulders flew.

IV

So far was Cloridan advanced before,

He heard the boy no longer in the wind;

But when he marked the absence of Medore,

It seemed as if his heart was left behind.

“Ah! how was I so negligent,” (the Moor

Exclaimed) “so far beside myself, and blind,

That I, Medoro, should without thee fare,

Nor know when I deserted thee or where?”

V

So saying, in the wood he disappears,

Plunging into the maze with hurried pace;

And thither, whence he lately issued, steers,

And, desperate, of death returns in trace.

Cries and the tread of steeds this while he hears,

And word and the tread of foemen, as in chase:

Lastly Medoro by his voice is known,

Disarmed, on foot, ‘mid many horse, alone.

VI

A hundred horsemen who the youth surround,

Zerbino leads, and bids his followers seize

The stripling: like a top, the boy turns round

And keeps him as he can: among the trees,

Behind oak, elm, beech, ash, he takes his ground,

Nor from the cherished load his shoulders frees.

Wearied, at length, the burden he bestowed

Upon the grass, and stalked about his load.

VII

As in her rocky cavern the she-bear,

With whom close warfare Alpine hunters wage,

Uncertain hangs about her shaggy care,

And growls in mingled sound of love and rage,

To unsheath her claws, and blood her tushes bare,

Would natural hate and wrath the beast engage;

Love softens her, and bids from strife retire,

And for her offspring watch, amid her ire.

VIII

Cloridan who to aid him knows not how,

And with Medoro willingly would die,

But who would not for death this being forego,

Until more foes than one should lifeless lie,

Ambushed, his sharpest arrow to his bow

Fits, and directs it with so true an eye,

The feathered weapon bores a Scotchman’s brain,

And lays the warrior dead upon the plain.

IX

Together, all the others of the band

Turned thither, whence was shot the murderous reed;

Meanwhile he launched another from his stand,

That a new foe might by the weapon bleed,

Whom (while he made of this and that demand,

And loudly questioned who had done the deed)

The arrow reached — transfixed the wretch’s throat,

And cut his question short in middle note.

X

Zerbino, captain of those horse, no more

Can at the piteous sight his wrath refrain;

In furious heat, he springs upon Medore,

Exclaiming, “Thou of this shalt bear the pain.”

One hand he in his locks of golden ore

Enwreaths, and drags him to himself amain;

But, as his eyes that beauteous face survey,

Takes pity on the boy, and does not slay.

XI

To him the stripling turns, with suppliant cry,

And, “By thy God, sir knight,” exclaims, “I pray,

Be not so passing cruel, nor deny

That I in earth my honoured king may lay:

No other grace I supplicate, nor I

This for the love of life, believe me, say.

So much, no longer, space of life I crave.

As may suffice to give my lord a grave.

XII

“And if you needs must feed the beast and bird,

Like Theban Creon, let their worst be done

Upon these limbs; so that by me interred

In earth be those of good Almontes’ son.”

Medoro thus his suit, with grace, preferred,

And words — to move a mountain, and so won

Upon Zerbino’s mood, to kindness turned,

With love and pity he all over burned.

XIII

This while, a churlish horseman of the band,

Who little deference for his lord confest,

His lance uplifting, wounded overhand

The unhappy suppliant in his dainty breast.

Zerbino, who the cruel action scanned,

Was deeply stirred, the rather that, opprest

And livid with the blow the churl had sped,

Medoro fell as he was wholly dead.

XIV

So grieved Zerbino, with such wrath was stung,

“Not unavenged shalt thou remain,” he cries;

Then full of evil will in fury sprung

Upon the author of the foul emprize.

But he his vantage marks, and, from among

The warriors, in a moment slips and flies.

Cloridan who beholds the deed, at sight

Of young Medoro’s fall, springs forth to fight;

XV

And casts away his bow, and, ‘mid the band

Of foemen, whirls his falchion, in desire

Rather of death, than hoping that his hand

May snatch a vengeance equal to his ire.

Amid so many blades, he views the sand

Tinged with his blood, and ready to expire,

And feeling he the sword no more can guide,

Lets himself drop by his Medoro’s side.

XVI

The Scots pursue their chief, who pricks before,

Through the deep wood, inspired by high disdain,

When he has left the one and the other Moor,

This dead, that scarce alive, upon the plain.

There for a mighty space lay young Medore,

Spouting his life-blood from so large a vein,

He would have perished, but that thither made

A stranger, as it chanced, who lent him aid.

XVII

By chance arrived a damsel at the place,

Who was (though mean and rustic was her wear)

Of royal presence and of beauteous face,

And lofty manners, sagely debonair:

Her have I left unsung so long a space,

That you will hardly recognise the fair.

Angelica, in her (if known not) scan,

The lofty daughter of Catay’s great khan.

XVIII

Angelica, when she had won again

The ring Brunello had from her conveyed,

So waxed in stubborn pride and haught disdain,

She seemed to scorn this ample world, and strayed

Alone, and held as cheap each living swain,

Although, amid the best, by Fame arrayed:

Nor brooked she to remember a galant

In Count Orlando or king Sacripant;

XIX

And above every other deed repented,

That good Rinaldo she had loved of yore;

And that to look so low she had consented,

(As by such choice dishonoured) grieved her sore.

Love, hearing this, such arrogance resented,

And would the damsel’s pride endure no more.

Where young Medoro lay he took his stand,

And waited her, with bow and shaft in hand.

XX

When fair Angelica the stripling spies,

Nigh hurt to death in that disastrous fray,

Who for his king, that there unsheltered lies,

More sad than for his own misfortune lay,

She feels new pity in her bosom rise,

Which makes its entry in unwonted way.

Touched was her haughty heart, once hard and curst,

And more when he his piteous tale rehearsed.

XXI

And calling back to memory her art,

For she in Ind had learned chirurgery,

(Since it appears such studies in that part

Worthy of praise and fame are held to be,

And, as an heir-loom, sires to sons impart,

With little aid of books, the mystery)

Disposed herself to work with simples’ juice,

Till she in him should healthier life produce;

XXII

And recollects a herb had caught her sight

In passing hither, on a pleasant plain,

What (whether dittany or pancy hight)

I know not; fraught with virtue to restrain

The crimson blood forth-welling, and of might

To sheathe each perilous and piercing pain,

She found it near, and having pulled the weed,

Returned to seek Medoro on the mead.

XXIII

Returning, she upon a swain did light,

Who was on horseback passing through the wood.

Strayed from the lowing herd, the rustic wight

A heifer, missing for two days, pursued.

Him she with her conducted, where the might

Of the faint youth was ebbing with his blood:

Which had the ground about so deeply dyed,

Life was nigh wasted with the gushing tide.

XXIV

Angelica alights upon the ground,

And he her rustic comrade, at her hest.

She hastened ‘twixt two stones the herb to pound,

Then took it, and the healing juice exprest:

With this did she foment the stripling’s wound,

And, even to the hips, his waist and breast;

And (with such virtue was the salve endued)

It stanched his life-blood, and his strength renewed;

XXV

And into him infused such force again,

That he could mount the horse the swain conveyed;

But good Medoro would not leave the plain

Till he in earth had seen his master laid.

He, with the monarch, buried Cloridane,

And after followed whither pleased the maid,

Who was to stay with him, by pity led,

Beneath the courteous shepherd’s humble shed.

XXVI

Nor would the damsel quit the lowly pile

(So she esteemed the youth) till he was sound;

Such pity first she felt, when him erewhile

She saw outstretched and bleeding on the ground.

Touched by his mien and manners next, a file

She felt corrode her heart with secret wound;

She felt corrode her heart, and with desire,

By little and by little warmed, took fire.

XXVII

The shepherd dwelt, between two mountains hoar,

In goodly cabin, in the greenwood shade,

With wife and children; and, short time before,

The brent-new shed had builded in the glade.

Here of his griesly wound the youthful Moor

Was briefly healed by the Catayan maid;

But who in briefer space, a sorer smart

Than young Medoro’s, suffered at her heart.

XXVIII

A wound far wider and which deeper lies,

Now in her heart she feels, from viewless bow;

Which from the boy’s fair hair and beauteous eyes

Had the winged archer dealt: a sudden glow

She feels, and still the flames increasing rise;

Yet less she heeds her own than other’s woe:

— Heeds not herself, and only to content

The author of her cruel ill is bent.

XXIX

Her ill but festered and increased the more

The stripling’s wounds were seen to heal and close:

The youth grew lusty, while she suffered sore,

And, with new fever parched, now burnt, now froze:

From day to day in beauty waxed Medore:

She miserably wasted; like the snow’s

Unseasonable flake, which melts away

Exposed, in sunny place, to scorching ray.

XXX

She, if of vain desire will not die,

Must help herself, nor yet delay the aid.

And she in truth, her will to satisfy,

Deemed ’twas no time to wait till she was prayed.

And next of shame renouncing every tye,

With tongue as bold as eyes, petition made,

And begged him, haply an unwitting foe,

To sheathe the suffering of that cruel blow.

XXXI

O Count Orlando, O king of Circassy,

Say what your valour has availed to you!

Say what your honour boots, what goodly fee

Remunerates ye both, for service true!

Sirs, show me but a single courtesy,

With which she ever graced ye, — old or new, —

As some poor recompense, desert, or guerdon,

For having born so long so sore a burden!

XXXII

Oh! couldst thou yet again to life return,

How hard would this appear, O Agricane!

In that she whilom thee was wont to spurn,

With sharp repulse and insolent disdain.

O Ferrau, O ye thousand more, forlorn,

Unsung, who wrought a thousand feats in vain

For this ungrateful fair, what pain ‘twould be

Could you within his arms the damsel see!

XXXIII

To pluck, as yet untouched, the virgin rose,

Angelica permits the young Medore.

Was none so blest as in that garden’s close

Yet to have set his venturous foot before.

They holy ceremonies interpose,

Somedeal to veil — to gild — the matter o’er.

Young Love was bridesman there the tie to bless,

And for brideswoman stood the shepherdess.

XXXIV

In the low shed, with all solemnities,

The couple made their wedding as they might;

And there above a month, in tranquil guise,

The happy lovers rested in delight.

Save for the youth the lady has no eyes,

Nor with his looks can satisfy her sight.

Nor yet of hanging on his neck can tire,

Of feel she can content her fond desire.

XXXV

The beauteous boy is with her night and day,

Does she untent herself, or keep the shed.

Morning or eve they to some meadow stray,

Now to this bank, and to that other led:

Haply, in cavern harboured, at mid-day,

Grateful as that to which Aeneas fled

With Dido, when the tempest raged above,

The faithful witness to their secret love.

XXXVI

Amid such pleasures, where, with tree o’ergrown,

Ran stream, or bubbling fountain’s wave did spin,

On bark or rock, if yielding were the stone,

The knife was straight at work or ready pin.

And there, without, in thousand places lone,

And in as many places graved, within,

MEDORO and ANGELICA were traced,

In divers cyphers quaintly interlaced.

XXXVII

When she believed they had prolonged their stay

More than enow, the damsel made design

In India to revisit her Catay,

And with its crown Medoro’s head entwine.

She had upon her wrist an armlet, gay

With costly gems, in witness and in sign

Of love to her by Count Orlando borne,

And which the damsel for long time had worn.

XXXVIII

On Ziliantes, hid beneath the wave,

This Morgue bestowed; and from captivity

The youth (restored to Monodantes grave,

His ancient sire, through Roland’s chivalry)

To Roland in return the bracelet gave:

Roland, a lover, deigned the gorgeous fee

To wear, with the intention to convey

The present to his queen, of whom I say.

XXXIX

No love which to the paladin she bears,

But that it costly is and wrought with care,

This to Angelica so much endears,

That never more esteemed was matter rare:

This she was suffered, in THE ISLE OF TEARS,

I know not by what privilege, to wear,

When, naked, to the whale exposed for food

By that inhospitable race and rude.

XL

She, not possessing wherewithal to pay

The kindly couple’s hospitality,

Served by them in their cabin, from the day

She there was lodged, with such fidelity,

Unfastened from her arm the bracelet gay,

And bade them keep it for her memory.

Departing hence the lovers climb the side

Of hills, which fertile France from Spain divide.

XLI

Within Valencia or Barcelona’s town

The couple thought a little to remain,

Until some goodly ship should make her boun

To loose for the Levant: as so the twain

Journey, beneath Gerona, — coming down

Those mountains — they behold the subject main;

And keeping on their left the beach below,

By beaten track to Barcelona go.

XLII

But, ere they there arrive, a crazed wight

They find, extended on the outer shore;

Who is bedaubed like swine, in filthy plight,

And smeared with mud, face, reins, and bosom o’er’

He comes upon them, as a dog in spite

Swiftly assails the stranger at the door;

And is about to do the lovers scorn,

But to the bold Marphisa I return —

XLIII

Marphisa, Astolpho, Gryphon, Aquilant.

Of these and of the others will I tell:

Who, death before their eyes, the vext Levant

Traverse, and ill resist the boisterous swell.

While aye more passing proud and arrogant,

Waxes in rage and threat the tempest fell.

And now three days the angry gale has blown,

Nor signal of abatement yet has shown.

XLIV

Waves lifted by the waxing tempest start

Castle and flooring, and, if yet there be

Aught standing left in any other part,

’Tis cut away and cast into the sea.

Here, pricking out their course upon the chart,

One by a lantern does his ministry,

Upon a sea-chest propt; another wight

Is busied in the well by torch’s light.

XLV

This one beneath the poop, beneath the prow

That other, stands to watch the ebbing sand;

And (each half-glass run out) returns to know

What way the ship has made, and towards what land.

Thence all to speak their different thoughts, below,

To midships make resort, with chart in hand;

There where the mariners, assembled all,

Are met in council, at the master’s call.

XLVI

One says: “Abreast of Limisso are we

Among the shoals” — and by his reckoning, nigh

The rocks of Tripoli and bark must be,

Where shipwrecked, for the most part, vessels lie.

Another: “We are lost on Sataly,

Whose coast makes many patrons weep and sigh.”

According to their judgment, all suggest

Their treasons, each with equal dread opprest.

XLVII

More spitefully the wind on the third day

Blows, and the sea more yeasty billows rears:

The fore-mast by the first is borne away,

The rudder by the last, with him who steers.

Better than steel that man will bide the assay,

— Of marble breast — who has not now his fears.

Marphisa, erst so confident ‘mid harms,

Denied not but that day she felt alarms.

XLVIII

A pilgrimage is vowed to Sinai,

To Cyprus and Gallicia, and to Rome,

Ettino, and other place of sanctity,

If such is named, and to the holy tomb.

Meanwhile, above the sea and near the sky,

The bark is tost, with shattered plank and boom;

From which the crew had cut, in her distress,

The mizenmast, to make her labour less.

XLIX

They bale and chest and all their heavy lumber

Cast overboard, from poop, and prow, and side;

And every birth and cabin disencumber

Of merchandize, to feed the greedy tide.

Water to water others of the number

Rendered, by whom the spouting pumps were plied.

This in the hold bestirs himself, where’er

Planks opened by the beating sea appear.

L

They in this trouble, in this woe, remained

For full four days; and helpless was their plight,

And a full victory the sea had gained,

If yet a little had endured its spite:

But them with hope of clearer sky sustained

The wished appearance of St. Elmo’s light,

Which (every spar was gone) descending glowed

Upon a boat, which in the prow was stowed.

LI

When, flaming, they the beauteous light surveyed,

All those aboard kneeled down in humble guise,

And Heaven for peace and for smooth water prayed,

With trembling voices and with watery eyes.

Nor longer waxed the storm, which had dismayed,

Till then enduring in such cruel wise.

North-wester or cross-wind no longer reigns;

But tyrant of the sea the south remains.

LII

This on the sea remained so passing strong,

And from its sable mouth so fiercely blew,

And bore with it so swift a stream and strong

Of the vext waters, that it hurried through

Their tumbling waves the shattered bark along,

Faster than gentle falcon ever flew;

And sore the patron feared, to the world’s brink

It would transport his bark, or wreck or sink.

LIII

For this the master finds a remedy,

Who bids them cast out spars, and veer away

A line which holds this float, and as they flee,

So, by two-thirds, their furious course delay.

This counsel boots, and more the augury

From him whose lights upon the gunwale play.

This saves the vessel, haply else undone;

And makes her through the sea securely run.

LIV

They, driven on Syria, in Laiazzo’s bay

A mighty city rise; so nigh at hand,

That they can from the vessel’s deck survey

Two castles, which the port within command.

Pale turns the patron’s visage with dismay,

When he perceives what is the neighbouring land,

Who will not to the port for shelter hie,

Nor yet can keep the open sea, nor fly.

LV

They cannot fly, nor yet can keep the sea;

For mast and yards are gone, and by the stroke

Of the huge billows beating frequently,

Loosened is plank, and beam and timber broke:

And certain death to make the port would be,

Or to be doomed to a perpetual yoke.

For each is made a slave, or sentenced dead,

Thither by evil Chance or Error led.

LVI

Sore dangerous ’twas to doubt; lest hostile band

Should sally from the puissant town in sight,

With armed barks, and upon theirs lay hand,

In evil case for sea, and worse for fight.

What time the patron knows not what command

To give, of him inquires the English knight

What kept his mind suspended in that sort,

And why at first he had not made the port.

LVII

To him relates the patron how a crew

Of murderous women tenanted that shore,

Which, by their ancient law, enslave or slew

All those whom Fortune to this kingdom bore;

And that he only could such for eschew

That in the lists ten champions overbore,

And having this achieved, the following night

In bed should with ten damsels take delight.

LVIII

And if he brings to end the former feat,

But afterwards the next unfinished leaves,

They kill him, and as slaves his following treat,

Condemned to delve their land or keep their beeves.

— If for the first and second labour meet —

He liberty for all his band achieves,

Not for himself; who there must stay and wed

Ten wives by him selected for his bed.

LIX

So strange a custom of the neighbouring strand

Without a laugh Astolpho cannot hear;

Sansonet and Marphisa, near at hand,

Next Aquilant, and he, his brother dear,

Arrive: to them the patron who from land

Aye keeps aloof, explains the cause of fear,

And cries: “I liefer in the sea would choke,

Than here of servitude endure the yoke.”

LX

The sailors by the patron’s rede abide,

And all the passengers affrighted sore;

Save that Marphisa took the other side

With hers, who deemed that safer was the shore

Than sea, which raging round them, far and wide,

Than a hundred thousand swords dismayed them more.

Them little this, or other place alarms,

So that they have but power to wield their arms.

LXI

The warriors are impatient all to land:

But boldest is of these the English peer;

Knowing how soon his horn will clear the strand,

When the scared foe its pealing sound shall hear.

To put into the neighbouring port this band

Desires, and are at strife with those who fear.

And they who are the strongest, in such sort

Compel the patron, that he makes the port.

LXII

Already when their bark was first espied

At sea, within the cruel city’s view,

They had observed a galley, well supplied

With practised mariners and numerous crew

(While them uncertain counsels did divide)

Make for their wretched ship, the billows through:

Her lofty prow to their short stern and low

These lash, and into port the vessel tow.

LXIII

They thitherward were worked with warp and oar,

Rather than with assistance of the sail;

Since to lay starboard course or larboard more,

No means were left them by the cruel gale.

Again their rugged rhind the champions wore,

Girding the faithful falchion with the mail,

And with unceasing hope of comfort fed

Master and mariners opprest with dread.

LXIV

Like a half-moon, projected from the beach,

More than four miles about, the city’s port;

Six hundred paces deep; and crowning each

Horn of the circling haven, was a fort;

On every side, secure from storm or breach,

(Save only from the south, a safe resort)

In guise of theatre the town extended

About it, and a hill behind ascended.

LXV

No sooner there the harboured ship was seen

(The news had spread already through the land)

Than thitherward, with martial garb and mien,

Six thousand women trooped, with bow in hand;

And, to remove all hope of flight, between

One castle and the other, drew a band;

And with strong chains and barks the port enclosed;

Which ever, for that use, they kept disposed.

LXVI

A dame, as the Cumean sybil gray,

Or Hector’s ancient mother of renown,

Made call the patron out, and bade him say,

If they their lives were willing to lay down;

Or were content beneath the yoke to stay,

According to the custom of the town,

— One of two evils they must choose, — be slain,

Or captives, one and all, must there remain.

LXVII

“ ’Tis true, if one so bold and of such might

Be found amid your crew,” (the matron said),

“That he ten men of ours engage in fight,

And can in cruel battle lay them dead,

And, after, with ten women, in one night,

Suffice to play the husband’s part in bed,

He shall remain our sovereign, and shall sway

The land, and you may homeward wend your way.

LXVIII

“And at your choice to stay shall also be,

Whether a part or all, but with this pact,

That he who here would stay and would be free,

Can with ten dames the husband’s part enact.

But if your chosen warrior fall or flee,

By his ten enemies at once attacked,

Or for the second function have not breath,

To slavery you we doom, and him to death.”

LXIX

At what she deemed the cavaliers would start,

The beldam found them bold; for to compete

With those they should engage, and play their part

The champions hoped alike in either feat.

Nor failed renowned Marphisa’s valiant heart,

Albeit for the second dance unmeet;

Secure, where nature had her aid denied,

The want should with the falchion be supplied.

LXX

The patron is commanded their reply

Resolved in common council to unfold;

The dames at pleasure may their prowess try,

And shall in lists and bed allow them bold.

The lashings from the vessels they untie,

The skipper heaves the warp, and bids lay hold,

And lowers the bridge; o’er which, in warlike weed,

The expectant cavaliers their coursers lead.

LXXI

These through the middle of the city go,

And see the damsels, as they forward fare,

Ride through the streets, succinct, in haughty show,

And arm, in guise of warriors, in the square.

Nor to gird sword, nor fasten spur below,

Is man allowed, nor any arm to wear;

Excepting, as I said, the ten; to follow

The ancient usage which those women hallow.

LXXII

All others of the manly sex they seat,

To ply the distaff, broider, card and sow,

In female gown descending to the feet,

Which renders them effeminate and slow;

Some chained, another labour to complete,

Are tasked, to keep their cattle, or to plough.

Few are the males; and scarce the warriors ken,

Amid a thousand dames, a hundred men.

LXXIII

The knights determining by lot to try

Who in their common cause on listed ground,

Should slay the ten, with whom they were to vie,

And in the other field ten others wound,

Designed to pass the bold Marphisa by,

Believing she unfitting would be found;

And would be, in the second joust at eve,

Ill-qualified the victory to achieve.

LXXIV

But with the others she, the martial maid,

Will run her risque; and ’tis her destiny.

“I will lay down this life,” the damsel said,

“Rather than you lay down your liberty.

But this” — with that she pointed to the blade

Which she had girt — “is your security,

I will all tangles in such manner loose,

As Alexander did the Gordian noose.

LXXV

“I will not henceforth stranger shall complain,

So long as the world lasts, of this repair.”

So said the maid, nor could the friendly train

Take from her what had fallen to her share.

Then, — either every thing to lose, or gain

Their liberty, — to her they leave the care.

With stubborn plate and mail all over steeled,

Ready for cruel fight, she takes the field.

LXXVI

High up the spacious city is place,

With steps, which serve as seats in rising rows;

Which for nought else is used, except the chase,

Tourney, or wrestling match, or such-like shows.

Four gates of solid bronze the rabble flows

In troubled tide; and to Marphisa bold,

That she may enter, afterwards is told.

LXXVII

On pieballed horse Marphisa entered, — spread

Were circles dappling all about his hair, —

Of a bold countenance and little head,

And beauteous points, and haughty gait and air.

Out of a thousand coursers which he fed,

Him, as the best, and biggest, and most rare,

King Norandino chose, and, decked with brave

And costly trappings, to Marphisa gave.

LXXVIII

Through the south gate, from the mid-day, the plain

Marphisa entered, nor expected long,

Before she heard approaching trumpet-strain

Peal through the lists in shrilling notes and strong;

And, looking next towards the northern wain,

Saw her ten opposites appear: among

These, as their leader, pricked a cavalier,

Excelling all the rest in goodly cheer.

LXXIX

On a large courser came the leading foe,

Which was, excepting the near foot behind

And forehead, darker than was ever crow:

His foot and forehead with some white were signed.

The horseman did his horse’s colours show

In his own dress; and hence might be divined,

He, as the mournful hue o’erpowered the clear,

Was less inclined to smile, than mournful tear.

LXXX

At once their spears in rest nine warriors laid,

When the trump sounded, in the hostile train,

But he in black no sign of jousting made,

As if he held such vantage in disdain:

Better he deemed the law were disobeyed,

Than that his courtesy should suffer stain.

The knight retires apart, and sits to view

What against nine one single lance can do.

LXXXI

Of smooth and balanced pace, the damsel’s horse

To the encounter her with swiftness bore;

Who poised a lance so massive in the course,

It would have been an overweight for four.

She, disembarking, as of greatest force,

The boom had chosen out of many more.

At her fierce semblance when in motion, quail

A thousand hearts, a thousand looks grow pale.

LXXXII

The bosom of the first she opens so,

As might surprise, if naked were the breast:

She pierced the cuirass and the mail below;

But first a buckler, solid and well prest,

A yard behind the shoulders of the foe

Was seen the steel, so well was it addrest.

Speared on her lance she left him on the plain,

And at the others drove with flowing rein;

LXXXIII

And so she shocked the second of the crew,

And dealt the third so terrible a blow,

From sell and life, with broken spine, the two

She drove at once. So fell the overthrow,

And with such weight she charged the warriors through!

So serried was the battle of the foe! —

I have seen bombard open in such mode

The squadrons, as that band Marphisa strowed.

LXXXIV

Many good spears were broken on the dame,

Who was as little moved as solid wall,

When revellers play the chace’s merry game,

Is ever moved by stroke of heavy ball.

So hard the temper of her corslet’s mail,

The strokes aye harmless on the breast-plate fall,

Whose steel was heated in the fires of hell,

And in Avernus’ water slaked by spell.

LXXXV

At the end of the career, she checked her steed,

Wheeled him about, and for a little stayed;

And then against the others drove at speed,

Broke them, and to the handle dyed her blade.

Here shorn of arms, and there of head, they bleed;

And other in such manner cleft the maid,

That breast, and head, and arms together fell,

Belly and legs remaining in the sell.

LXXXVI

With such just measure him she cleaves, I say,

Where the two haunches and the ribs confine:

And leaves him a half figure, in such way

As what we before images divine,

Of silver, oftener made of wax, survey;

Which supplicants from far and near enshrine,

In thanks for mercy shown, and to bestow

A pious quittance for accepted vow.

LXXXVII

Marphisa next made after one that flew,

And overtook the wretch, and cleft (before

He the mid square had won) his collar through,

So clean, no surgeon ever pieced it more.

One after other, all in fine she slew,

Or wounded every one she smote so sore,

She was secure, that never more would foe

Arise anew from earth, to work her woe.

LXXXVIII

The cavalier this while had stood aside,

Who had the ten conducted to the place,

Since, with so many against one to ride,

Had seemed to him advantage four and base;

Who, now he by a single hand espied

So speedily his whole array displaced,

Pricked forth against the martial maid, to show

’Twas courtesy, not fear, had made him slow.

LXXXIX

He, signing with his right hand, made appear

That he would speak ere their career was run,

Nor thinking that beneath such manly cheer

A gentle virgin was concealed, begun:

“I wot thou needs must be, sir cavalier,

Sore wearied with such mighty slaughter done;

And if I were disposed to weary thee

More than thou art, it were discourtesy.

XC

“To thee, to rest until tomorrow’s light,

Then to renew the battle, I concede.

No honour ’twere today to prove my might

On thee, whom weak and overwrought I read.”

— “Arms are not new to me, nor listed fight;

Nor does fatigue so short a toil succeed,”

Answered Marphisa, “and I, at my post,

Hope to prove this upon thee, to thy cost.

XCI

“I thank thee for thy offer of delay,

But need not what thy courtesy agrees;

And yet remains so large a space of day

’Twere very shame to spend it all in ease.”

— “Oh! were I (he replied) so sure to appay

My heart with everything which best would please,

As thine I shall appay in this! — but see,

That ere thou thinkest, daylight fail not thee.”

XCII

So said he, and obedient to his hest

Two spears, say rather heavy booms, they bear.

He to Marphisa bids consigns the best,

And the other takes himself: the martial pair

Already, with their lances in the rest,

Wait but till other blast the joust declare.

Lo! earth and air and sea the noise rebound,

As they prick forth, at the first trumpet’s sound!

XCIII

No mouth was opened and no eyelid fell,

Nor breath was drawn, amid the observant crew:

So sore intent was every one to spell

Which should be conqueror of the warlike two.

Marphisa the black champion from his sell,

So to o’erthrow he shall not rise anew,

Levels her lance; and the black champion, bent

To slay Marphisa, spurs with like intent.

XCIV

Both lances, made of willow thin and dry,

Rather than stout and stubborn oak, appeared;

So splintered even to the rest, they fly:

While with such force the encountering steeds careered,

It seemed, as with a scythe-blade equally

The hams of either courser had been sheared.

Alike both fall; but voiding quick the seat,

The nimble riders start upon their feet.

XCV

Marphisa in her life, with certain wound,

A thousand cavaliers on earth had laid;

And never had herself been borne to ground;

Yet quitted now the saddle, as was said.

Not only at the accident astound,

But nigh beside herself, remained the maid.

Strange to the sable cavalier withal,

Unwont to be unhorsed, appeared his fall.

XCVI

They scarcely touch the ground before they gain

Their feet, and now the fierce assault renew,

With cut and thrust; which now with shield the twain

Or blade ward off, and now by leaps eschew.

Whether the foes strike home, or smite in vain,

Blows ring, and echo parted aether through.

More force those shields, those helms, those breast-plates show

Than anvils underneath the sounding blow.

XCVII

If heavy falls the savage damsel’s blade,

That falls not lightly of her warlike foe.

Equal the measure one the other paid;

And both receive as much as they bestow.

He who would see two daring spirits weighed,

To seek two fiercer need no further go.

Nor to seek more dexterity or might;

For greater could not be in mortal wight.

XCVIII

The women who have sate long time, to view

The champions with such horrid strokes offend,

Nor sign of trouble in the warriors true

Behold, nor yet of weariness, commend

Them with just praises, as the worthiest two

That are, where’er the sea’s wide arms extend.

They deem these of mere toil and labour long

Must die, save they be strongest of the strong.

XCIX

Communing with herself, Marphisa said,

“That he moved not before was well for me!

Who risqued to have been numbered with the dead,

If he at first had joined his company.

Since, as it is, I hardly can make head

Against his deadly blows.” This colloquy

She with herself maintained, and while she spoke,

Ceased not to ply her sword with circling stroke.

C

“ ’Twas well for me,” the other cried again,

“That to repose I did not leave the knight.

I now from him defend myself with pain,

Who is o’erwearied with the former fight:

What had he been, renewed in might and main,

If he had rested till tomorrow’s light?

Right fortunate was I, as man could be,

That he refused my proffered courtesy!”

CI

Till eve they strove, nor did it yet appear

Which had the vantage of the doubtful fray:

Nor, without light, could either foe see clear

Now to avoid the furious blows; when day

Was done, again the courteous cavalier

To his illustrious opposite ‘gan say;

“What shall we do, since ill-timed shades descend,

While we with equal fortune thus contend?”

CII

“Meseems, at least, that till tomorrow’s morn

’Twere better thou prolonged thy life: no right

Have I thy doom, sir warrior, to adjourn

Beyond the limits of one little night.

Nor will I that by me the blame be born

That thou no longer shalt enjoy the light.

With reason to the sex’s charge, by whom

This place is governed, lay thy cruel doom.”

CIII

“If I lament thee and thy company,

HE knows, by whom all hidden things are spied.

Thou and thy comrades may repose with me,

For whom there is no safe abode beside:

Since leagued against you in conspiracy

Are all those husbands by thy hand have died.

For every valiant warrior of the men

Slain in the tourney, consort was of ten.

CIV

“The scathe they have today received from thee,

Would ninety women wreak with vengeful spite;

And, save thou take my hospitality,

Except by them to be assailed this night.”

— “I take thy proffer in security,”

(Replied Marphisa), “that the faith so plight,

And goodness of thy heart, will prove no less,

Than are thy corporal strength and hardiness.

CV

“But if, as having to kill me, thou grieve,

Thou well mayst grieve, for reasons opposite;

Nor hast thou cause to laugh, as I conceive,

Nor hitherto has found me worst in fight.

Whether thou wouldst defer the fray, or leave,

Or prosecute by this or other light,

Behold me prompt thy wishes to fulfil;

Where and whenever it shall be thy will!”

CVI

So by consent the combatants divided,

Till the dawn broke from Ganges’ stream anew;

And so remained the question undecided,

Which was the better champion of the two,

To both the brothers and the rest who sided

Upon that part, the liberal lord did sue

With courteous prayer, that till the coming day

They would be pleased beneath his roof to stay.

CVII

They unsuspecting with the prayer complied,

And by the cheerful blaze of torches white

A royal dome ascended, with their guide,

Divided into many bowers and bright.

The combatants remain as stupified,

On lifting up their vizors, at the sight

One of the other; for (by what appears)

The warrior hardly numbers eighteen years.

CVIII

Much marvels with herself the gentle dame,

That one so young so well should do and dare.

Much marvels he (his wonderment the same)

When he her sex agnizes by her hair.

Questioning one another of their name,

As speedily reply the youthful pair.

But how was hight the youthful cavalier,

Await till the ensuing strain to hear.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59