Orlando Furioso, by Lodovico Ariosto

Canto 20

Argument

Guido and his from that foul haunt retire,

While all Astolpho chases with his horn,

Who to all quarters of the town sets fire,

Then roving singly round the world is borne.

Marphisa, for Gabrina’s cause, in ire

Puts upon young Zerbino scathe and scorn,

And makes him guardian of Gabrina fell,

From whom he first learns news of Isabel.

I

Great fears the women of antiquity

In arms and hallowed arts as well have done,

And of their worthy works the memory

And lustre through this ample world has shone.

Praised is Camilla, with Harpalice,

For the fair course which they in battle run.

Corinna and Sappho, famous for their lore,

Shine two illustrious light, to set no more.

II

Women have reached the pinnacle of glory,

In every art by them professed, well seen;

And whosoever turns the leaf of story,

Finds record of them, neither dim nor mean.

The evil influence will be transitory,

If long deprived of such the world had been;

And envious men, and those that never knew

Their worth, have haply hid their honours due.

III

To me it plainly seems, in this our age

Of women such is the celebrity,

That it may furnish matter to the page,

Whence this dispersed to future years shall be;

And you, ye evil tongues which foully rage,

Be tied to your eternal infamy,

And women’s praises so resplendent show,

They shall, by much, Marphisa’s worth outgo.

IV

To her returning yet again; the dame

To him who showed to her such courteous lore,

Refused not to disclose her martial name,

Since he agreed to tell the style be bore.

She quickly satisfied the warrior’s claim;

To learn his title she desired so sore.

“I am Marphisa,” the virago cried:

All else was known, as bruited far and wide.

V

The other, since ’twas his to speak, begun

With longer preamble: “Amid your train,

Sirs, it is my belief that there is none

But has heard mention of my race and strain.

Not Pontus, Aethiopia, Ind alone,

With all their neighbouring realms, but France and Spain

Wot well of Clermont, from whose loins the knight

Issued who killed Almontes bold in fight,

VI

“And Chiareillo and Mambrino slew,

And sacked the realm whose royal crown they wore.

Come of this blood, where Danube’s waters, through

Eight horns or ten to meet the Euxine pour,

Me to the far-renowned Duke Aymon, who

Thither a stranger roved, my mother bore.

And ’tis a twelvemonth now since her, in quest

Of my French kin, I left with grief opprest.

VII

“But reached not France, for southern tempest’s spite

Impelled me hither; lodged in royal bower

Ten months or more; for — miserable wight! —

I reckon every day and every hour.

Guido the Savage I by name am hight,

Ill known and scarcely proved in warlike stower.

Here Argilon of Meliboea I

Slew with ten warriors in his company.

VIII

“Conqueror as well in other field confessed,

Ten ladies are the partners of my bed:

Selected at my choice, who are the best

And fairest damsels in this kingdom bred:

These I command, as well as all the rest,

Who of their female band have made me head;

And so would make another who in fight,

Like me, ten opposites to death would smite.”

IX

Sir Guido is besought of them to say

Why there appear so few of the male race,

And to declare if women there bear sway

O’er men, as men o’er them in other place.

He: “Since my fortune has been here to stay,

I oftentimes have heard relate the case;

And now (according to the story told)

Will, since it pleases you, the cause unfold.

X

“When, after twenty years, the Grecian host

Returned from Troy (ten years hostility

The town endured, ten weary years were tost

The Greeks, detained by adverse winds at sea),

They found their women had, for comforts lost,

And pangs of absence, learned a remedy;

And, that they might not freeze alone in bed,

Chosen young lovers in their husbands’ stead.

XI

“With others’ children filled the Grecian crew

Their houses found, and by consent was past

A pardon to their women; for they knew

How ill they could endure so long a fast.

But the adulterous issue, as their due,

To seek their fortunes on the world were cast:

Because the husbands would not suffer more

The striplings should be nourished from their store.

XII

“Some are exposed, and others underhand

Their kindly mothers shelter and maintain:

While the adults, in many a various band,

Some here, some there dispersed, their living gain.

Arms are the trade of some, by some are scanned

Letters and arts; another tills the plain:

One serves in court, by other guided go

The herd as pleases her who rules below.

XIII

“A boy departed with they youthful peers,

Who was of cruel Clytemnestra born;

Like lily fresh (he numbered eighteen years)

Or blooming rose, new-gathered from the thorn.

He having armed a bark, his pinnace steers

In search of plunder, o’er the billows borne.

With him a hundred other youths engage,

Picked from all Greece, and of their leader’s age.

XIV

“The Cretans, who had banished in that day

Idomeneus the tyrant of their land,

And their new state to strengthen and upstay,

Were gathering arms and levying martial band,

Phalantus’ service by their goodly pay

Purchased (so hight the youth who sought that strand),

And all those others that his fortune run,

Who the Dictaean city garrison.

XV

“Amid the hundred cities of old Crete,

Was the Dictaean the most rich and bright;

Of fair and amorous dames the joyous seat,

Joyous with festive sports from morn to night:

And (as her townsmen aye were wont to greet

The stranger) with such hospitable rite

They welcomed these, it little lacked but they

Granted them o’er their households sovereign sway.

XVI

“Youthful and passing fair were all the crew,

The flower of Greece, who bold Phalantus led;

So that with those fair ladies at first view,

Stealing their hearts, full well the striplings sped.

Since, fair in deed as show, they good and true

Lovers evinced themselves and bold in bed.

And in few days to them so grateful proved,

Above all dearest things they were beloved.

XVII

“After the war was ended on accord,

For which were hired Phalantus and his train,

And pay withdrawn, nor longer by the sword

Was aught which the adventurous youth can gain,

And they, for this, anew would go aboard,

The unhappy Cretan women more complain,

And fuller tears on this occasion shed,

That if their fathers lay before them dead.

XVIII

“Long time and sorely all the striplings bold

Were, each apart, by them implored to stay:

Who since the fleeting youths they cannot hold,

Leave brother, sire, and son, with these to stray,

Of jewels and of weighty sums of gold

Spoiling their households ere they wend their way,

For so well was the plot concealed, no wight

Throughout all Crete was privy to their flight.

XIX

“So happy was the hour, so fair the wind,

When young Phalantus chose his time to flee,

They many miles had left the isle behind,

Ere Crete lamented her calamity.

Next, uninhabited by human kind,

This shore received them wandering o’er the sea.

’Twas here they settled, with the plunder reft,

And better weighed the issue of their theft.

XX

“With amorous pleasures teemed this place of rest,

For ten days, to that roving company:

But, as oft happens that in youthful breast

Abundance brings with it satiety,

To quit their women, with one wish possest,

The band resolved to win their liberty;

For never burden does so sore oppress

As woman, when her love breeds weariness.

XXI

“They, who are covetous of spoil and gain,

And ill-bested withal in stipend, know

That better means are wanted to maintain

So many paramours, than shaft and bow;

And leaving thus alone the wretched train,

Thence, with their riches charged the adventurers go

For Puglia’s pleasant land: there founded near

The sea, Tarentum’s city, as I hear.

XXII

“The women when they find themselves betrayed

Of lovers by whose faith they set most store,

For many days remain so sore dismayed,

That they seem lifeless statues on the shore.

But seeing lamentations nothing aid,

And fruitless are the many tears they pour,

Begin to meditate, amid their pains,

What remedy for such an ill remains.

XXIII

“Some laying their opinions now before

The others, deem that to return to Crete

Is in their sad estate the wiser lore,

Throwing themselves at sire and husband’s feet,

Than in those wilds, and on that desert shore,

To pine of want. Another troop repeat,

They should esteem it were a worthier notion

To cast themselves into the neighbouring ocean;

XXIV

“And lighter ill, if they as harlots went

About the world, — beggars or slaves to be,

Than offer up themselves for punishment,

Well merited by their iniquity.

Such and like schemes the unhappy dames present,

Each harder than the other. Finally,

One Orontea amid these upstood,

Who drew her origin from Minos’ blood.

XXV

“Youngest and fairest of the crew betrayed

She was, and wariest, and who least had erred,

Who to Phalantus’ arms had come a maid,

And left for him her father: she in word,

As well as in a kindling face, displayed

How much with generous wrath her heart was stirred;

Then, reprobating all advised before,

Spake; and adopted saw her better lore.

XXVI

“She would not leave the land they were upon,

Whose soil was fruitful, and whose air was sane,

Throughout which many limpid rivers ran,

Shaded with woods, and for the most part plain;

With creek and port, where stranger bark could shun

Foul wind or storm, which vexed the neighbouring main,

That might from Afric or from Egypt bring

Victual or other necessary thing.

XXVII

“For vengeance (she opined) they there should stay

Upon man’s sex, which had so sore offended.

She willed each bark and crew which to that bay

For shelter from the angry tempest wended,

They should, without remorse, burn, sack, and slay,

Nor mercy be to any one extended.

Such was the lady’s motion, such the course

Adopted; and the statute put in force.

XXVIII

“The women, when they see the changing heaven

Turbid with tempest, hurry to the strand,

With savage Orontea, by whom given

Was the fell law, the ruler of the land;

And of all barks into their haven driven

Make havoc dread with fire and murderous brand,

Leaving no man alive, who may diffuse

Upon this side or that the dismal news.

XXIX

“ ’Twas thus with the male sex at enmity,

Some years the lonely women lived forlorn:

Then found that hurtful to themselves would be

The scheme, save changed; for if from them were born

None to perpetuate their empery,

The idle law would soon be held in scorn,

And fail together with the fruitful reign,

Which they had hoped eternal should remain.

XXX

“So that some deal its rigour they allay,

And in four years, of all who made repair

Thither, by chance conducted to this bay,

Chose out ten vigorous cavaliers and fair;

That for endurance in the amorous play

Against those hundred dames good champions were:

A hundred they; and, of the chosen men,

A husband was assigned to every ten.

XXXI

“Ere this, too feeble to abide the test,

Many a one on scaffold lost his head.

Now these ten warriors so approved the best,

Were made partakers of their rule and bed;

First swearing at the sovereign ladies’ hest,

That they, if others to that port are led,

No mercy shall to any one afford,

But one and all will put them to the sword.

XXXII

“To swell, and next to child, and thence to fear

The women turned to teeming wives began

Lest they in time so many males should bear

As might invade the sovereignty they plan,

And that the government they hold so dear

Might finally from them revert to man.

And so, while these are children yet, take measure,

They never shall rebel against their pleasure.

XXXIII

“That the male sex may not usurp the sway,

It is enacted by the statute fell,

Each mother should one boy preserve, and slay

The others, or abroad exchange or sell.

For this, they these to various parts convey,

And to the bearers of the children tell,

To truck the girls for boys in foreign lands,

Or not, at least, return with empty hands.

XXXIV

“Nor by the women one preserved would be,

If they without them could the race maintain.

Such all their mercy, all the clemency

The law accords for theirs, not others’ gain.

The dames all others sentence equally;

And temper but in this their statute’s pain,

That, not as was their former practice, they

All in their rage promiscuously slay.

XXXV

“Did ten or twenty persons, or yet more,

Arrive, they were imprisoned and put by;

And every day one only from the store

Of victims was brought out by lot to die,

In fane by Orontea built, before

An altar raised to Vengeance; and to ply

As headsman, and dispatched the unhappy men,

One was by lot selected from the ten.

XXXVI

“To that foul murderous shore by chance did fare,

After long years elapsed, a youthful wight,

Whose fathers sprung from good Alcides were,

And he, of proof in arms, Elbanio hight;

There was he seized, of peril scarce aware,

As unsuspecting such a foul despite:

And, closely guarded, into prison flung,

Kept for like cruel use the rest among.

XXXVII

“Adorned with every fair accomplishment,

Of pleasing face and manners was the peer,

And of a speech so sweet and eloquent,

Him the deaf adder might have stopt to hear;

So that of him to Alexandria went

Tidings as of a precious thing and rare.

She was the daughter of that matron bold,

Queen Orontea, that yet lived, though old.

XXXVIII

“Yet Orontea lived, while of that shore

The other settlers all were dead and gone;

And now ten times as many such or more

Had into strength and greater credit grown.

Nor for ten forges, often closed, in store

Have the ill-furnished band more files than one;

And the ten champions have as well the care

To welcome shrewdly all who thither fare.

XXXIX

“Young Alexandria, who the blooming peer

Burned to behold so praised on every part,

The special pleasure him to see and hear,

Won from her mother; and, about to part

From him, discovers that the cavalier

Remains the master of her tortured heart;

Finds herself bound, and that ’tis vain to stir,

— A captive made by her own prisoner.

XL

“ ‘I pity,’ (said Elbanio) ‘lady fair,

Was in this cruel region known, as through

All other countries near or distant, where

The wandering sun sheds light and colouring hue,

I by your beauty’s kindly charms should dare

(Which make each gentle spirit bound to you)

To beg my life; which always, at your will,

Should I be ready for your love to spill.

XLI

“ ‘But since deprived of all humanity

Are human bosoms in this cruel land,

I shall not now request my life of thee,

(For fruitless would, I know, be the demand)

But, whether a good knight or bad I be,

Ask but like such to die with arms in hand,

And not as one condemned to penal pain;

Or like brute beast in sacrifice be slain.’

XLII

“The gentle maid, her eye bedimmed with tear,

In pity for the hapless youth, replied:

‘Though this land be more cruel and severe

Than any other country, far and wide,

Each woman is not a Medaea here

As thou wouldst make her; and, if all beside

Were of such evil kind, in me alone

Should an exception to the rest be known.

XLIII

“ ‘And though I, like so many here, of yore

Was full of evil deeds and cruelty,

I can well say, I never had before

A fitting subject for my clemency.

But fiercer were I than a tiger, more

Hard were my heart than diamonds, if in me

All hardness did not vanish and give place

Before your courage, gentleness, and grace.

XLIV

“ ‘Ah! were the cruel statute less severe

Against the stranger to these shores conveyed!

So should I not esteem my death too dear

A ransom for thy worthier life were paid.

But none is here so great, sir cavalier,

Nor of such puissance as to lend thee aid;

And what thou askest, though a scanty grace,

Were difficult to compass in this place.

XLV

“ ‘And yet will I endeavour to obtain

For thee, before thou perish, this content;

Though much, I fear, ’twill but augment thy pain.

And thee protracted death but more torment.’

‘So I the ten encounter,’ (said again

Elbanio), ‘I at heart, am confident

Myself to save, and enemies to slay;

Though made of iron were the whole array.’

XLVI

“To this the youthful Alexandria nought

Made answer, saving with a piteous sigh;

And from the conference a bosom brought,

Gored with deep wounds, beyond all remedy.

To Orontea she repaired, and wrought

On her to will the stripling should not die,

Should he display such courage and such skill

As with his single hand the ten to kill.

XLVII

“Queen Orontea straightway bade unite

Her council, and bespoke the assembled band:

‘It still behoves us place the prowest wight

Whom we can find, to guard our ports and strand.

And, to discover whom to take or slight,

’Tis fitting that we prove the warrior’s hand;

Lest, to our loss, the election made be wrong,

And we enthrone the weak and slay the strong.

XLVIII

“ ‘I deem it fit, if you the counsel shown

Deem fit as well, in future to ordain,

That each upon our coast by Fortune thrown,

Before he in the temple shall be slain,

Shall have the choice, instead of this, alone

Battle against ten others to maintain;

And if he conquer, shall the port defend

With other comrades, pardoned to that end.

XLIX

“ ‘I say this, since to strive against our ten,

It seems, that one imprisoned here will dare:

Who, if he stands against so many men,

By Heaven, deserves that we should hear his prayer;

But if he rashly boasts himself, again

As worthily due the punishment should bear.’

Here Orontea ceased; on the other side,

To her the oldest of the dames replied.

L

“ ‘The leading cause, for which to entertain

This intercourse with men we first agreed,

Was not because we, to defend this reign,

Of their assistance stood in any need;

For we have skill and courage to maintain

This of ourselves, and force, withal, to speed.

Would that we could in all as well avail

Without their succour, nor succession fail!

LI

“ ‘But since this may not be, we some have made

(These few) partakers of our company;

That, ten to one, we be not overlaid;

Nor they possess them of the sovereignty.

Not that we for protection need their aid,

But simply to increase and multiply.

Than be their powers to this sole fear addressed,

And be they sluggards, idle for the rest.

LII

“ ‘To keep among us such a puissant wight

Our first design would render wholly vain.

If one can singly slay ten men in fight,

How many women can he not restrain?

If our ten champions had possessed such might,

They the first day would have usurped the reign.

To arm a hand more powerful than your own

Is an ill method to maintain the throne.

LIII

“ ‘Reflect withal, that if your prisoner speed

So that he kill ten champions in the fray,

A hundred women’s cry, whose lords will bleed

Beneath his falchion, shall your ears dismay.

Let him not ‘scape by such a murderous deed;

But, if he would, propound some other way.

— Yet if he of those ten supply the place,

And please a hundred women, grant him grace.’

LIV

“This was severe Artemia’s sentiment,

(So was she named) and had her counsel weighed,

Elbanio to the temple had been sent,

To perish by the sacrificial blade.

But Orontea, willing to content

Her daughter, to the matron answer made;

And urged so many reasons, and so wrought,

The yielding senate granted what she ought.

LV

“Elbanio’s beauty (for so fair to view

Never was any cavalier beside)

So strongly works upon the youthful crew,

Which in that council sit the state to guide,

That the opinion of the older few

That like Artemia think, is set aside;

And little lacks but that the assembled race

Absolve Elbanio by especial grace.

LVI

“To pardon him in fine the dames agreed:

But, after slaying his half-score, and when

He in the next assault as well should speech,

Not with a hundred women, but with ten;

And, furnished to his wish with arms and steed,

Next day he was released from dungeon-den,

And singly with ten warriors matched in plain,

Who by his arm successively were slain.

LVII

“He to new proof was put the following night,

Against ten damsels naked and alone;

When so successful was the stripling’s might,

He took the ‘say of all the troop, and won

Such grace with Orontea, that the knight

Was by the dame adopted for her son;

And from her Alexandria had to wife,

With those whom he had proved in amorous strife.

LVIII

“And him she left with Alexandria, heir

To this famed city, which from her was hight,

So he and all who his successors were,

Should guard the law which willed, whatever wight,

Conducted hither by his cruel star,

Upon this miserable land did light,

Should have his choice to perish by the knife,

Or singly with ten foes contend to strife.

LIX

“And if he should dispatch the men by day,

At night should prove him with the female crew;

And if so fortunate that in this play

He proved again the conqueror, he, as due,

The female band, as prince and guide, should sway,

And his ten consorts at his choice renew:

And reign with them, till other should arrive

Of stouter hand, and him of life deprive.

LX

“They for two thousand years nigh past away

This usage have maintained, and yet maintain

The impious rite; and rarely passes day

But stranger wight is slaughtered in the fane.

If he, Elbanio-like, ten foes assay,

(And such sometimes is found) he oft is slain

In the first charge: nor, in a thousand, one

The other feat, of which I spake, has done,

LXI

“Yet some there are have done it, though so few,

They may be numbered on the fingers; one

Of the victorious cavaliers, but who

Reigned with his ten short time, was Argilon:

For, smote by me, whom ill wind hither blew,

The knight to his eternal rest is gone.

Would I with him that day had filled a grave,

Rather than in such scorn survive a slave!

LXII

“For amorous pleasures, laughter, game, and play,

Which evermore delight the youthful breast;

The gem, the purple garment, rich array,

And in his city place before the rest.

Little, by Heaven, the wretched man appay

Who of his liberty is dispossest:

And not to have the power to leave this shore

To me seems shameful servitude and sore.

LXIII

“To know I wear away life’s glorious spring

In such effeminate and slothful leisure

Is to my troubled heart a constant sting,

And takes away the taste of every pleasure.

Fame bears my kindred’s praise on outstretched wing,

Even to the skies; and haply equal measure

I of the glories of my blood might share

If I united with my brethren were.

LXIV

“Methinks my fate does such injurious deed

By me, condemned to servitude so base,

As he who turns to grass the generous steed

To run amid the herd of meaner race,

Because unfit for war or worthier meed,

Through blemish, or disease of sight or pace.

Nor hoping but by death, alas! to fly

So vile a service, I desire to die.”

LXV

Here Guido ceased to address the martial peers,

And cursed withal the day, in high disdain,

That he achieved o’er dames and cavaliers

The double victory which bestowed that reign.

Astolpho hides his name, and silent hears,

Until to him by many a sign is plain

That this Sir Guido is, as he had said,

The issue of his kinsman Aymon’s bed.

LXVI

Then cried: “The English duke, Astolpho, I

Thy cousin am,” and clipt him round the waist,

And in a kindly act of courtesy,

Not without weeping, kist him and embraced.

Then, “Kinsman dear, thy birth to certify

No better sign thy mother could have placed

About thy neck. Enough! that sword of thine,

And courage, vouch thee of our valiant line.”

LXVII

Guido, who gladly would in other place

So near a kin have welcomed, in dismay

Beholds him here and with a mournful face;

Knowing, if he himself survives the fray,

Astolpho will be doomed to slavery base,

His fate deferred but till the following day;

And he shall perish, if the duke is free:

So that one’s good the other’s ill shall be.

LXVIII

He grieves, as well, the other cavaliers

Should through his means for ever captive be;

Nor, that he should, if slain, those martial peers

Deliver by his death from slavery.

Since if Marphisa from one quicksand clears

The troop, yet these from other fails to free,

She will have won the victory in vain;

For they will be enslaved, and she be slain.

LXIX

On the other hand, the stripling’s age, in May

Of youth, with courtesy and valour fraught,

Upon the maid and comrades with such sway,

Touching their breasts with love and pity, wrought

That they of freedom, for which he must pay

The forfeit of his life, nigh loathed the thought;

And if Marphisa him perforce must kill,

She is resolved as well herself to spill.

LXX

“Join thou with us,” she to Sir Guido cried,

“And we from hence will sally.” — “From within

These walls to sally” — Guido on his side

Answered, “Ne’er hope: With me you lose or win.”

“— I fear not, I,” the martial maid replied,

“To execute whatever I begin;

Nor know what can securer path afford

Than that which I shall open with my sword.

LXXI

“Such proof of thy fair prowess have I made,

With thee I every enterprise would dare.

To-morrow when about the palisade

The crowds assembled in the circus are,

Let us on every side the mob invade,

Whether they fly or for defence prepare;

Then give the town to fire, and on their bed

Of earth to wolf and vulture leave the dead.”

LXXII

He: “Ready shalt thou find me in the strife

To follow thee or perish at thy side:

But let us hope not to escape with life.

Enough, is vengeance somedeal satisfied

Ere death; for oft ten thousand, maid and wife,

I in the place have witnessed; and, outside,

As many castle, wall and port, defend.

Nor know I certain way from hence to wend.”

LXXIII

“And were there more (Marphisa made reply)

Than Xerxes led, our squadrons to oppose,

More than those rebel spirits from the sky

Cast out to dwell amid perpetual woes,

All in one day should by this weapon die,

Wert thou with me, at least, not with my foes.”

To her again, “No project but must fail,

(Sir Guido said) I know, save this avail.”

LXXIV

“This only us can save, should it succeed;

This, which but now remembered I shall teach.

To dames alone our laws the right concede

To sally, or set foot upon the beach,

And hence to one of mine in this our need

Must I commit myself, and aid beseech;

Whose love for me, by perfect friendship tied,

Has oft by better proof than this been tried.

LXXV

“No less than me would she desire that I

Should ‘scape from slavery, so she went with me;

And that, without her rival’s company,

She of my lot should sole partaker be.

She bark or pinnace, in the harbour nigh,

Shall bid, while yet ’tis dark, prepare for sea;

Which shall await your sailors, rigged and yare

For sailing, when they thither shall repair.

LXXVI

“Behind me, in a solid band comprest,

Ye merchants, mariners and warriors, who,

Driven to this city, have set up your rest

Beneath this roof (for which my thanks are due)

— You have to force your way with stedfast breast,

If adversaries interrupt our crew.

’Tis thus I hope, by succour of the sword,

To clear a passage through the cruel horde.”

LXXVII

“Do as thou wilt,” Marphisa made reply,

“I of escape am confident withal:

And likelier ’twere that by my hand should die

The martial race, encompassed by this wall,

Than any one should ever see me fly,

Or guess by other sign that fears appall.

I would my passage force in open day,

And shameful in my sight were other way.

LXXVIII

“I wot if I were for a woman known,

Honour and place from women I might claim,

Here gladly entertained, and classed as one

Haply among their chiefs of highest fame:

But privilege or favour will I none

Unshared by those with whom I hither came.

Too base it were, did I depart or free

Remain, to leave the rest in slavery.”

LXXIX

These speeches by Marphisa made, and more,

Showed that what only had restrained her arm

Was the respect she to the safety bore

Of the companions whom her wrath might harm;

By this alone withheld form taking sore

And signal vengeance on the female swarm.

And hence she left in Guido’s care to shape

What seemed the fittest means for their escape.

LXXX

Sir Guido speaks that night with Alery

(So the most faithful of his wives was hight)

Nor needs long prayer to make the dame agree,

Disposed already to obey the knight.

She takes a ship and arms the bark for sea,

Stowed with her richest chattels for their flight;

Feigning design, as soon as dawn ensues,

To sail with her companions on a cruise.

LXXXI

She into Guido’s palace had before

Bid sword and spear and shield and cuirass bear;

With the intent to furnish from this store,

Merchants and sailors that half naked were.

Some watch, and some repose upon the floor,

And rest and guard among each other share;

Oft marking, still with harness on their backs,

If ruddy yet with light the orient wax.

LXXXII

Not yet from earth’s hard visage has the sun

Lifted her veil of dim and dingy dye;

Scarcely Lycaon’s child, her furrow done,

Has turned about her ploughshare in the sky;

When to the theatre the women run

Who would the fearful battle’s end espy,

As swarming bees upon their threshold cluster,

Who bent on change of realm in springtide muster.

LXXXIII

With warlike trumpet, drum, and sound of horn,

The people make the land and welkin roar;

Summoning thus their chieftain to return,

And end of unfinished warfare. Covered o’er

With arms stand Aquilant and Gryphon stern,

And the redoubted duke from England’s shore.

Marphisa, Dudo, Sansonet, and all

The knights or footmen harboured in that hall.

LXXXIV

Hence to descend towards the sea or port

The way across the place of combat lies;

Nor was there other passage, long or short.

Sir Guido so to his companions cries:

And having ceased his comrades to exhort,

To do their best set forth in silent wise,

And in the place appeared, amid the throng,

Head of a squad above a hundred strong.

LXXXV

Toward the other gate Sir Guido went,

Hurrying his band, but, gathered far and nigh

The mighty multitude, for aye intent

To smite, and clad in arms, when they descry

The comrades whom he leads, perceive his bent,

And truly deem he is about to fly.

All in a thought betake them to their bows,

And at the portal part the knight oppose.

LXXXVI

Sir Guido and the cavaliers who go

Beneath that champion’s guidance, and before

The others bold Marphisa, were not slow

To strike, and laboured hard to force the door.

But such a storm of darts from ready bow,

Dealing on all sides death or wounding sore,

Was rained in fury on the troop forlorn,

They feared at last to encounter skaith and scorn.

LXXXVII

Of proof the corslet was each warrior wore,

Who without this would have had worse to fear:

Sansonnet’s horse was slain, and that which bore

Marphisa: to himself the English peer

Exclaimed, “Why wait I longer? As if more

My horn could ever succour me than here.

Since the sword steads not, I will make assay

If with my bugle I can clear the way.”

LXXXVIII

As he was customed in extremity,

He to his mouth applied the bugle’s round;

The wide world seemed to tremble, earth and sky,

As he in air discharged the horrid sound.

Such terror smote the dames, that bent to fly,

When in their ears the deafening horn was wound,

Not only they the gate unguarded left,

But from the circus reeled, of wit bereft.

LXXXIX

As family, awaked in sudden wise,

Leaps from the windows and from lofty height,

Periling life and limb, when in surprise

They see, now near, the fire’s encircling light,

Which had, while slumber sealed their heavy eyes,

By little and by little waxed at night:

Reckless of life, thus each, impelled by dread,

At sound of that appalling bugle fled.

XC

Above, below, and here and there, the rout

Rise in confusion and attempt to fly.

At once, above a thousand swarm about

Each entrance, to each other’s lett, and lie

In heaps: from window these, or stage without,

Leap headlong; in the press these smothered die.

Broken is many an arm, and many a head;

And one lies crippled, and another dead.

XCI

Amid the mighty ruin which ensued,

Cries pierce the very heavens on every part.

Where’er the sound is heard, the multitude,

In panic at the deafening echo, start.

When you are told that without hardihood

Appear the rabble, and of feeble heart,

This need not more your marvel; for by nature

The hare is evermore a timid creature.

XCII

But of Marphisa what will be your thought,

And Guido late so furious? — of the two

Young sons of Olivier, that lately wrought

Such deeds in honour of their lineage? who

Lately a hundred thousand held as nought,

And now, deprived of courage, basely flew,

As ring-doves flutter and as coneys fly,

Who hear some mighty noise resounding nigh.

XCIII

For so to friend as stranger, noxious are

The powers that in the enchanted horn reside.

Sansonet, Guido, follow, with the pair

Or brethren bold, Marphisa terrified.

Nor flying, can they to such distance fare,

But that their ears are dinned. On every side

Astolpho, on his foaming courser borne,

Lends louder breath to his enchanted horn.

XCIV

One sought the sea, and one the mountain-top,

One fled the hide herself in forest hoar;

And this, who turned not once nor made a stop,

Not for ten days her headlong flight forbore:

These from the bridge in that dread moment drop,

Never to climb the river’s margin more.

So temple, house and square and street were drained,

That nigh unpeopled the wide town remained.

XCV

Marphisa, Guido, and the brethren two,

With Sansonetto, pale and trembling, hie

Towards the sea, and behind these the crew

Of frighted mariners and merchants fly;

And ‘twixt the forts, in bark, prepared with view

To their escape, discover Alery;

Who in sore haste receives the warriors pale,

And bids them ply their oars and make all sail.

XCVI

The duke within and out the town had bear

From the surrounding hills to the sea-side,

And of its people emptied every street.

All fly before the deafening sound, and hide:

Many in panic, seeking a retreat,

Lurk, in some place obscure and filthy stied;

Many, not knowing whither to repair,

Plunge in the neighbouring sea, and perish there.

XCVII

The duke arrives, seeking the friendly band,

Whom he had hoped to find upon the quay;

He turns and gazes round the desert strand,

And none is there — directs along the bay

His eyes, and now, far distant from the land,

Beholds the parting frigate under way.

So that the paladin, for his escape —

The vessel gone — must other project shape.

XCVIII

Let him depart! nor let it trouble you

That he so long a road must beat alone;

Where, never without fear, man journeys through

Wild paynim countries: danger is there none,

But what he with his bugle may eschew,

Whose dread effect the English duke has shown;

And let his late companions be our care,

Who trembling to the beach had made repair.

XCIX

They from that cruel and ensanguined ground

To seaward, under all their canvas, bore;

And having gained such offing, that the sound

Of that alarming horn was heard no more,

Unwonted shame inflicted such a wound,

That all a face of burning crimson wore.

One dares not eye the other, and they stand

With downcast looks, a mute and mournful band.

C

Fixed on his course, the pilot passes by

Cyprus and Rhodes, and ploughs the Aegean sea:

Beholds a hundred islands from him fly,

And Malea’s fearful headland; fanned by free

And constant wind, sees vanish from the eye

The Greek Morea; rounding Sicily,

Into the Tuscan sea his frigate veers,

And, coasting Italy’s fair region, steers:

CI

Last rises Luna, where his family

Is waiting his return, the patron hoar

Gives thanks to God at having passed the sea

Without more harm, and makes the well-known shore.

Here, offering passage to their company,

They find a master, ready to unmoor

For France, and that same day his pinnace climb;

Thence wafted to Marseilles in little time.

CII

There was not Bradamant, who used to sway

The land, and had that city in her care,

And who (if present there) to make some stay

Would have compelled them by her courteous prayer.

They disembarked; and that same hour away

Did bold Marphisa at a venture fare;

Bidding adieu to salvage Guido’s wife,

And to the four, her comrades in the strife:

CIII

Saying she deems unfitting for a knight

To fare in like great fellowship; that so

The starlings and the doves in flock unite,

And every beast who fears — the stag and doe;

But hawk and eagle, that in other’s might

Put not their trust, for ever singly go;

And lion, bear, and tyger, roam alone,

Who fear no prowess greater than their own.

CIV

But none with her opine, and, in the lack

Of a companion, singly must she fare,

So then, alone and friendless, she a track

Uncouth pursues, and through a wooded lair.

Gryphon the white and Aquilant the black

Take road more beaten with the other pair;

And on the following day a castle see,

Within which they are harboured courteously.

CV

Courteously I, in outward show, would say;

For soon the contrary was made appear.

Since he, the castellain, who with display

Of kindness sheltered them and courteous cheer,

The night ensuing took them as they lay

Couched in their beds, secure and void of fear.

Nor from the snare would he his prisoners loose,

Till they had sworn to observe an evil use.

CVI

But I will first pursue the martial maid,

Ere more of these, fair sir, I shall proclaim.

Beyond the Durence, Rhone, and Saone she strayed,

And to the foot of sunny mountain came;

And there approaching in black gown arrayed,

Beside a torrent, saw an ancient dame;

Who with long journey weak, and wearied sore,

Appeared, but pined by melancholy more.

CVII

This was the beldam who had wont to ply

Serving the robbers in the caverned mount;

Whither stern Justice sent (that they might die

By that good paladin) Anglante’s count.

The aged harridan, for cause which I

To you shall in another place recount,

Now many days by path obscure had flown,

Still fearing lest her visage should be known.

CVIII

The semblance now of foreign cavalier

She in Marphisa saw, in arms and vest;

And hence she flies not her, though wont to fear,

(As being natives of that land) the rest;

— Nay, with security and open cheer,

Stops at the ford the damsel to arrest:

Stops at the ford — where that old beldam meets

Marphisa, and with fair encounter greets.

CIX

And next implored the maid, she of her grace

Would bear her on the croupe to the other shore.

Marphisa, who was come of gentle race,

The hag with her across the torrent bore;

And is content to bear, till she can place

In a securer road the beldam hoar,

Clear of a spacious marish: as its end

They see a cavalier towards them wend.

CX

In shining armour and in fair array,

The warrior rode on saddle richly wrought

Towards the river, and upon his way

With him a single squire and damsel brought.

Of passing beauty was the lady gay,

But little pleasing was her semblance haught;

All overblown with insolence and pride,

Worthy the cavalier who was her guide.

CXI

He of Maganza was a count, who bore

The lady with him (Pinabello hight):

The same who Bradamant, some months before,

Had plunged into a hollow cave in spite.

Those many sobs, those burning sighs and sore,

Those tears which had nigh quenched the warrior’s sight, —

All for the damsel were, now at his side;

And then by that false necromancer stied.

CXII

But when the magic tower upon the hill

Was razed, the dwelling of Atlantes hoar,

And every one was free to rove at will,

Through Bradamant’s good deed and virtuous lore,

The damsel, who had been compliant still

With the desires of Pinabel before,

Rejoined him, and now journeying in a round

With him, from castle was to castle bound.

CXIII

As wanton and ill-customed, when she spies

Marphisa’s aged charge approaching near,

She cannot rein her saucy tongue, but plies

Here, in her petulance, with laugh and jeer.

Marphisa haught, unwont in any wise

Outrage from whatsoever part to hear,

Makes answer to the dame, in angry tone,

That handsomer than her she deems the crone.

CXIV

And that she this would prove upon her knight

With pact that she might strip the bonnibell

Of gown and palfrey, if, o’erthrown in fight,

Her champion from his goodly courser fell.

— In silence to have overpast the slight

Would have been sin and shame in Pinabel,

Who for short answer seized his shield and spear,

And wheeled, and drove at her in fierce career.

CXV

Marphisa grasped a mighty lance, and thrust,

Encountering him, at Pinabello’s eyes;

And stretched him so astounded in the dust,

That motionless an hour the warrior lies.

Marphisa, now victorious in the just,

Gave orders to strip off the glorious guise

And ornaments wherewith the maid was drest,

And with the spoils her ancient crone invest;

CXVI

And willed that she should don the youthful weed,

Bedizened at the haughty damsel’s cost;

And took away as well the goodly steed

Which her had thither borne, and — bent to post

On her old track — with her the hag will speed,

Who seems most hideous when adorned the most.

Three days the tedious road the couple beat,

Without adventure needful to repeat.

CXVII

On the fourth day they met a cavalier,

Who came in fury galloping alone.

If you the stranger’s name desire to hear,

I tell you ’twas Zerbino, a king’s son,

Of beauty and of worth example rare,

Now grieved and angered, as unvenged of one,

Who a great act of courtesy, which fain

The warrior would have done, had rendered vain.

CXVIII

Vainly the young Zerbino, through the glade,

Had chased that man of his, who this despite

Had done him, who himself so well conveyed

Away and took such ‘vantage in his flight,

So hid by wood and mist, which overlaid

The horizon and bedimmed the morning-light,

That he escaped Zerbino’s grasp, and lay

Concealed until his wrath was past away.

CXIX

Zerbino laughed parforce, when he descried

That beldam’s face, though he was full of rage;

For too ill-sorted seemed her vest of pride

With her foul visage, more deformed by age;

And to the proud Marphisa, at her side

The prince, exclaimed, “Sir warrior, you are sage,

In having chosen damsel of a sort,

Whom none, I ween, will grudge you should escort.”

CXX

Older than Sibyl seemed the beldam hoar,

(As far as from her wrinkles one might guess),

And in the youthful ornaments she wore,

Looked like an ape which men in mockery dress;

And now appears more foul, as angered sore,

While rage and wrath her kindled eyes express.

For none can do a woman worse despite

Than to proclaim her old and foul to sight.

CXXI

To have sport of him — as she had — an air

Of wrath the maid assumed upon her part,

And to the prince, “By Heaven, more passing fair

Is this my lady than thou courteous art,”

Exclaimed in answer; “though I am aware

What thou hast uttered comes not from thy heart.

Thou wilt not own her beauty; a device

Put on to masque thy sovereign cowardice.

CXXII

“And of what stamp would be that cavalier

Who found such fair and youthful dame alone,

Without protection, in the forest drear,

Nor sought to make the lovely weft his own?”

— “So well she sorts with thee,” replied the peer,

“ ’Twere ill that she were claimed by any one:

Nor I of her would thee in any wise

Deprive; God rest thee merry with thy prize!

CXXIII

“But would thou prove what is my chivalry,

On other ground I to thy wish incline;

Yet deem me not of such perversity

As to tilt with thee for this prize of thine.

Or fair or foul, let her remain thy fee;

I would not, I, such amity disjoin.

Well are ye paired, and safely would I swear

That thou as valiant art as she is fair.”

CXXIV

To him Marphisa, “Thou in thy despite

Shalt try to bear from me the dame away.

I will not suffer that so fair a sight

Thou shouldst behold, nor seek to gain the prey.”

To her the prince, “I know not wherefore wight

Should suffer pain and peril in affray,

Striving for victory, where, for his pains,

The victor losses, and the vanquished gains.”

CXXV

“If this condition please not, other course

Which ill thou canst refuse, I offer thee,”

(Marphisa cried): “If thou shalt me unhorse

In this our tourney, she remains with me:

But if I win, I give her thee parforce.

Then prove we now who shall without her be.

Premised, if loser, thou shalt be her guide,

Wherever it may please the dame to ride.”

CXXVI

“And be it so,” Zerbino cried, and wheeled

Swiftly his foaming courser for the shock,

And rising in his stirrups scowered the field,

Firm in his seat, and smote, with levelled stock,

For surer aim, the damsel in mid-shield;

But she sate stedfast as a metal rock,

And at the warrior’s morion thrust so well,

She clean out-bore him senseless from the sell.

CXXVII

Much grieved the prince, to whom in other fray

The like misfortune had not chanced before,

Who had unhorsed some thousands in his day:

Now shamed, he thought for ever. Troubled sore,

And mute long space upon the ground he lay,

And, when ’twas recollected, grieved the more,

That he had promised, and that he was bound,

To accompany the hag where’er she wound.

CXXVIII

Turning about to him the victoress cried,

Laughing, “This lady I to thee present,

And the more beauty is in her descried,

The more that she is thine I am content,

Now in my place her champion and her guide.

But do not thou thy plighted faith repent,

So that thou fail, as promised, to attend

The dame, wherever she may please to wend.”

CXXIX

Without awaiting answer, to career

She spurred her horse, and vanished in the wood.

Zerbino, deeming her a cavalier,

Cried to the crone, “By whom am I subdued?”

And, knowing ‘twould be poison to his ear,

And that it would inflame his angered blood,

She in reply, “It was a damsel’s blow

Which from thy lofty saddle laid thee low.

CXXX

“She, for her matchless force, deservedly

Usurps from cavalier the sword and lance;

And even from the east is come to try

Her strength against the paladins of France.”

Not only was his cheek of crimson dye,

Such shame Zerbino felt as his mischance,

Little was wanting (so his blushes spread)

But all the arms he wore had glowed as red.

CXXXI

He mounts, and blames himself in angry wise,

In that he had no better kept his seat.

Within herself the beldam laughs, and tries

The Scottish warrior more to sting and heat.

To him for promised convoy she applies;

And he, who knows that there is no retreat,

Stands like tired courser, who in pensive fit,

Hangs down his ears, controlled by spur and bit.

CXXXII

And, sighing deeply, cries, in his despair,

“Fell Fortune, with what change dost thou repay

My loss! she who was fairest of the fair,

Who should be mine, by thee is snatched away!

And thinkest thou the evil to repair

With her whom thou hast given to me this day?

Rather than make like ill exchange, less cross

It were to undergo a total loss.

CXXXIII

“Her, who for virtue and for beauteous form

Was never equalled, nor will ever be,

Thou on the rocks hast wrecked, in wintry storm,

As food for fowls and fishes of the sea;

And her who should have fed the earth-bred worm

Preserved beyond her date, some ten or score

Of years, to harass and torment me more.”

CXXXIV

So spake Zerbino, and like grief displaid,

In his despairing words and woful mien,

For such an odious acquisition made,

As he had suffered when he lost his queen.

The aged woman now, from what he said,

Though she before Zerbino had not seen,

Perceived ’twas him of whom, in the thieves’ hold,

Isabel of Gallicia erst had told.

CXXXV

If you remember what was said before,

This was the hag who ‘scaped out of the cave,

Where Isabella, who had wounded sore

Zerbino’s heart, was long detained a slave;

Who oft had told how she her native shore

Had left, and, launching upon ocean’s wave

Her frigate, had been wrecked by wind and swell

Upon the rocky shallows near Rochelle.

CXXXVI

And she to her Zerbino’s goodly cheer

And gentle features had pourtrayed so well,

That the hag hearing him, and now more near,

Letter her eyes upon his visage dwell,

Discerned it was the youth for whom, whilere,

Had grieved at heart the prisoned Isabel;

Whose loss she in the cavern more deplored,

Than being captive to the murderous horde.

CXXXVII

The beldam, hearing what in rage and grief

Zerbino vents, perceives the youth to be

Deceived, and cheated by the false belief

That Isabel had perished in the sea;

And though she might have given the prince relief,

Knowing the truth, in her perversity

What would have made him joyful she concealed,

And only what would cause him grief revealed.

CXXXVIII

“Hear, you that are so proud,” (the hag pursues)

“And flout me with such insolence and scorn,

You would entreat me fair to have the news

I know of her whose timeless death you mourn;

But to be strangled would I rather choose,

And be into a thousand pieces torn.

Whereas if you had made me kinder cheer,

Haply from me the secret might you hear.”

CXXXIX

As the dog’s rage is quickly overblown,

Who flies the approaching robber to arrest,

If the thief proffer piece of bread or bone,

Of offer other lure which likes him best;

As readily Zerbino to the crone

Humbled himself, and burned to know the rest;

Who, in the hints of the old woman, read

That she had news of her he mourned as dead.

CXL

And with more winning mien to her applied,

And her did supplicate, entreat, conjure,

By men and gods, the truth no more to hide,

Did she benign or evil lot endure.

The hard and pertinacious crone replied,

“Nought shalt thou hear, thy comfort to assure.

Isabel has not yielded up her breath,

But lives a life she would exchange for death.

CXLI

“She, since thou heardest of her destiny,

Within few days, has fallen into the power

Of more than twenty. If restored to thee,

Think now, if thou hast hope to crop her flower.”

— “Curst hag, how well thou shapest thy history,

Yet knowest it is false! Her virgin dower

Secure from brutal wrong, would none invade,

Though in the power of twenty were the maid.”

CXLII

Questioning of the maid, he when and where

She saw her, vainly asked the beldam hoar,

Who, ever restive to Zerbino’s prayer,

To what she had rehearsed would add no more.

The prince in the beginning spoke her fair,

And next to cut her throat in fury swore.

But prayers and menaces alike were weak;

Nor could he make the hideous beldam speak.

CXLIII

At length Zerbino to his tongue gave rest,

Since speaking to the woman booted nought;

Scarcely his heart found room within his breast,

Such dread suspicion had her story wrought.

He to find Isabella was so pressed,

Her in the midst of fire he would have sought;

But could not hurry more than was allowed

By her his convoy, since he so had vowed.

CXLIV

They hence, by strange and solitary way,

Rove, as the beldam does her will betoken,

Nor climbing, nor descending hill, survey

Each other’s face, nor any word is spoken.

But when the sun upon the middle day

Had turned his back, their silence first was broken

By cavalier encountered in their way:

What followed the ensuing strain will say.

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