From Canto Quinto of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso Translated by David R. Slavitt
“But there was more and worse for the sad princess,
for the man said, ‘We met on the road by chance,
and he invited me to come with him. My guess
was that he wanted company, but his utterance
and quite another meaning, which I confess
I never suspected. “Report the circumstance
of my death,” he said, “to Guinevere, who will know
why I have done this, having been brought so low.
“What you see me do will be no great surprise
to her. You can merely say that I’d have preferred
not to have seen what I saw, or not to have eyes.”
Other than that, he offered not a word
of explanation, although I can surmise
what he might have meant.’ When Guinevere heard
this speech her face turned ashen and she burst
into tears, but this was not quite yet the worst,
“for he did not stop there but went on to tell
what happened, and how at Capobasso he saw
Ariodante jump from the cliff. He fell
headlong to the rocks and the water, into the craw
of the man-devouring sea, where it’s just as well
that he must have died at once. ‘In fear and awe,
I have come here at full speed to tell his story,
as he instructed. I am truly sorry.’
“O God, what she said then, and what she did.
She went to her faithful bed and beat her breast,
tore her hair and clothing, and she hid
from everyone at court—who probably guessed
the reason he’d killed himself, which--God forbid!--
was wrong, crazy, and false! And she expressed
her grief and rage in heartbreakingly keen
wailing—for what could Ariodante have seen?
“Rumors ran rife, and the king himself cried
as everyone else at court did, pouring tears.
down their faces. The brother, though, was beside
himself with grief, and there were honest fears
that he, too, might be driven to suicide.
He also claimed to any willing ears
that Guinevere’s shameful deportment with her lover
was what his poor dear brother had killed himself over.
“So desperate was he that it seemed nothing to lose
the king’s favor—if that was the cost to be paid—
for the sake of his revenge upon Guinevere, whose
behavior had killed his brother. He was not afraid—
for what worse could happen to him? Could the world abuse
him any further? The accusation he made
would either bring him justice or else would send
him to the block, Either way, his pain would end.
“Therefore, when the great hall was filled, he came
before the king and to him and the people said,
‘Sire, it was your daughter’s act of shame
that drove my poor brother out of his head,
so that death seemed good to him—and all the blame
is hers, the one he loved and would have wed,
but both his pride and love were so offended
by her behavior that his life is ended.
“‘His love for her was honorable. In time
he hoped by service to you to further his suit,
but while he was hidden one night, he saw someone climb
up the forbidden tree to taste that fruit
he had hoped himself to gather. It was a crime,
for Guinevere came to the balcony, dissolute
and eager. And to help him ascend, she had
a ladder. I can’t imagine a thing so bad.
“And as if this were not shocking enough, he then
offers to prove every word in combat. The king
of course is sorely distressed that among the men
and women of court, anybody should bring
such charges against his daughter. But when
he considers further, it only gets worse. The thing
is, that unless some champion come to defend her
and prove Lurcanio’s lying, he must send her
“to be beheaded. Of our law you may not have known,
but it condemns any woman who lives here
and has given herself to any man but her own
husband to death—unless some knight appear
ready to defend her honor in lone
combat within a month. And for Guinevere
that month has nearly run out. Soon she has got
to submit herself to the headsman, guilty or not.
“The king is convinced she is innocent, and to free
his daughter, he has proclaimed that he’ll give her hand
to any knight who can challenge this calumny--
and not just her hand but a dower of money and land.
So far, no one has come forward for, if I may be
candid, Lurcanio’s famous for fighting and
nobody wants to risk losing his life
even to gain all that wealth and a beautiful wife.
“Every warrior seems to fear him who could
remove this terrible stain on her reputation.
She does have a brother Zerbino, and surely he would,
but for many months he has been on a peregrination
somewhere outside the country from which good
reports have come. But to the king’s frustration,
nobody knows where he is now precisely.
Otherwise he would come and do quite nicely.
“Zerbino’s absence, however, does not mean
that the king is doing nothing at all, for he
is convinced that his daughter never did these obscene
things. By rational methods he wants to see
if the accusation has substance, and he has been
arresting chambermaids in his inquiry.
I thought it prudent to be elsewhere, and suggested
to the duke that there would be danger if I were arrested,
“not only to me but to him as well. He approved
of my sensible warning, and said I should not fear.
He thought it would be safer if I were moved
to a fortress of his, not very far from here,
where he could protect me better, and it behooved
me to go with those two men, close and sincere
friends of his, to whom he entrusted me,
with what result, sir, you have been able to see.
“It is most painful for me to have to recount
those things I did for Polinesso, from
love, or at least infatuation. I won’t
try to excuse myself for having been dumb,
I did not expect to be rewarded. I don’t
on the other hand believe that what I have come
to is fair, or just. It isn’t right
for a lady to be treated thus by a knight.
He turns out to be ungrateful, treacherous, cruel,
and at the end, he doubts me, after what
I’ve done for him. I was an absolute fool,
and trusted that he was only trying to shut
me away from danger but, insouciant and cool,
he had other and worse intentions—to put
me at the mercy of those bloodthirsty men
who were at the point of murdering me when
“you appeared, for, dead, I’d be no threat
to him and could not bring the royal wrath
that he deserves down on his head. The debt
he owes me would be discharged in the aftermath.
This is how Love treats women! See what we get
when we place our delicate feet on the dangerous path
of dalliance.” Thus Dalinda told her tale
to Rinaldo as they continued on the trail.
What a chance, Rinaldo thought, for a knight
to do some good. Guinevere, he was sure
was innocent, and therefore the chance to fight
and show the world that she was chaste and pure
was all the more delicious—although he’d been quite
prepared to enter lists to defend a whore
if that’s what she was. But her innocence was a real
attraction and it did increase his zeal.