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Orlando Furioso: A Romantic Epic: Part 1 (Penguin Classics) (Pt. 1) Paperback – August 30, 1975
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Text: English (translation)
About the Author
Ludovico Ariosto was born in 1474, the son of an official of the Ferrarese court. He first studied law, but later acquired a sound humanistic training. His adult life was spent in the service of the Ferrarese ducal family. Essentially he was a writer; his lifetime's service as a courtier was a burden imposed on him by economic difficulties. His fame rests on his major work, Orlando Furioso. The poem was probably begun around 1505. It was first published in 1516. The most important of Arisoto's minor works are five comedies, written for production in the Ferrarese court. Ariosto died in 1533.
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And I'd give it five stars, if Penguin would do right by the Kindle edition, which should certainly not be priced at more than ten dollars -- that's really just keeping people from reading it and lowering your own total profit. And as other commenters have pointed out, why _why_ WHY the big left margin? Yeah, it's verse, so what? The left margin just limits the amount of magnification the reader can use without breaking up the lines, which is completely unacceptable.
The margin wasn't a deal-breaker for me because I know to use landscape, not portrait format and my eyesight isn't completely gone yet -- but people have returned the book for this margin, and I don't blame them.
Please fix these things, Penguin. This is a real classic. Do right by it.
Formatting narrative verse for the Kindle is really not difficult: you just create a paragraph style flush-left with a hanging indent. How can Penguin, a large publishing company with many Kindle editions, not know or care?
For that matter, it would make sense to combine the two books into a single e-book, for ease of searching on (for example) the names of the many characters. There's no reason not to do this on a device that never gets fatter. But here, as in so many cases, we get the impression that the Kindle edition is just a careless afterthought.
My rating is for the Kindle edition only. Unlike David Slavitt, who treats the poem as little more than a silly romp, Reynolds does full justice to its rich textures, not only in her learned yet very readable translation but in her prefaces and notes. The useful apparatus in the printed volumes includes running heads that summarize the action, detailed indexes that give a quick reminder of what the many characters have been up to, and even schematics of some of the battles and jousts. In paperback, this is a five-star production in every way.
Preliminary to those tiltyard runs, here, in the original Italian, is the admittedly non-martial text (Canto 7, Stanza 19) that will serve as the unlikely charger upon which each of our Anglophone contenders will be coursing through the lists, each brandishing his or her own distinctive rendition:
A quella mensa citare, arpe e lire,
e diversi altri dilettevol suoni
faceano intorno l’aria tintinire
d’armonia dolce e di concenti buoni.
Non vi mancava chi, cantando, dire
d’amor sapesse gaudii e passioni,
o con invenzioni e poesie
rappresentasse grate fantasie.
Now, first out of the chute, for those who (like me) find that their Italian is not all that it could be, here is the most painstakingly, scrupulously literal rendering available in English:
1. Allan H. Gilbert, 1954:
At that table, cithers harps lyres and various other delightful instruments were making the air around vibrate with sweet harmony and good concords. Nor was there absent one who, singing, could tell the joys and passions of love or with stories and poems present pleasing fancies.
Not quite so literal are the three other prose versions to have seen print (the first two extending only as far as the twelfth or thirteenth canto):
2. Christopher Johnson, 1827:
At this table, lutes, harps, lyres, and other harmonious instruments caused the air to ring, with sweet harmony and melodious concerts. There were not wanting singers who described the pleasures and motions of love, and, with fancy and poetry, presented agreeable ﬁctions.
3. Richard Hodgens, 1973:
At Alcina's table, zithers, harps, lyres and other assorted instruments made the surrounding air ring with delcious melody and harmony. There also was a singer, with poetic inventions about the joys, the pains and the fulfillment of love.
4. Guido Waldman, 1974:
Around the festive board zithers, harps, and lyres set the air vibrating with delightful sounds, with soft harmony and tuneful notes. There was song, too, song of love’s joys and ecstasies, and recitals of pleasing fantasies framed in verse of happiest inspiration.
So much for prose. Here, galloping forth in chronological order, come the six verse translations:
5. Sir John Harington, 1591-1607:
Now as abrode the stately courts did sound,
Of trumpets, shagbot, cornets, and of flutes,
Even so within there wants no pleasing sound,
Of virginals, of vials and of lutes,
Upon the which persons not few were found,
That did record their loves and loving sutes,
And in some song of love and wanton verse,
Their good or ill successes did reherse.
6. William Huggins, 1755:
At the repast the harp, the lyre, the lute,
And other sounds delectable combine,
Making the air to vibrate all about,
With sweetest harmony in concert join;
While num'rous choristers their voices suit
To sing love's passion, and his joys divine;
Others inventing some poetic tale,
The charms of fancy pleasingly reveal.
7. John Hoole, 1783:
Now, while they feast, the lute and tuneful lyre
Th' enraptur'd soul with harmony inspire:
Through the wide dome the trembling music floats,
And undulating air conveys the notes.
One with soft lays would tender bosoms move,
And paints the passions, and the joys of love;
Or sweetly bids inventive fancy rise,
That brings poetic visions to the eyes.
8. William Stewart Rose, 1823-31:
At board lyre, lute and harp of tuneful string,
And other sounds, in mixed diversity,
Made, round about, the joyous palace ring,
With glorious concert and sweet harmony.
Nor lacked there well-accorded voice to sing
Of love, its passion and its ecstasy;
Nor who, with rare inventions, choicely versed,
Delightful fiction to the guests rehearsed.
9. David R. Slavitt, 2009-2012:
In the banquet hall, there are theorbos, lutes,
harps, citterns, and other instruments
from which a soft sweet music comes that suits
the décor and the mood and soothes the sense
while singers come forward, volunteers and recruits,
to sing of love and argue in its defense.
But who is attacking? Love is everywhere
and the men are handsome and all the women fair.
Judge for yourself how well these worthy renderings meet your own standards for literal fidelity and literary excellence; I don't dismiss any of them. But, for my part, the rendition I have most often and most eagerly turned to for over 40 years is that by Reynolds. So let me wrap up the day's tilting pretty much as she chose to do herself, by quoting her rendition more extensively: not only stanza 19, but stanzas 20, 23, 27, and 29 as well. It would probably take the miraculously rekindled genius of a Byron to really capture the enameled and bejeweled perfection of Ariosto's shimmering and sparkling stanzas, but Reynolds comes a good deal closer than any other translator I've seen:
10. Barbara Reynolds, 1975-78:
Within the palace, banqueting in state,
Where harps and lyres and divers instruments
Make all the air with harmony vibrate,
Ladies and cavaliers lend audience
To courtly entertainers who relate
Stories of love and joyful incidents,
And all their art and skill exert to please
With poetry, romance and fantasies.
What sumptuous board to feast a victory,
Such as was held by monarchs of Assyria,
Or Cleopatra offered Antony,
Was ever more elaborate or merrier
Than this Alcina caused the knight to see
On entering her palace’s interior?
I do not think that such a feast indeed
Was served to Jupiter by Ganymede.
And when with fine liqueurs and candied sweets
The hospitality’s renewed to some
And with deep, reverent bows each one retreats,
And everyone at last has gained his room,
Ruggiero slips between the perfumed sheets,
So fine, they’re worthy of Arachne’s loom,
And to the passing footsteps now lends ear,
Hoping his fair enchantress he may hear.
When the successor to Astolfo sees
Those radiant and joyful star-like eyes,
With flaming sulphur all his arteries
Are as on fire and he, for all he tries,
The golden moment instantly must seize.
So, leaping from the bed on which he lies,
Her person to himself he closely presses,
And scarcely can he wait till she undresses.
Never did ivy press or cling so close,
Rooted beside the plant which it embraced,
As now in love each to the other does;
And on their lips a sweeter flower they taste
Than Ind or Araby e’er knew, or those
Which on the desert air their perfume waste.
To speak of all their bliss to them belongs,
Who more than once in one mouth had two tongues.
Guido Waldman rightly laments the agonizing contortions to which Ariosto's exquisitely modeled stanzas have sometimes been subjected by "lay[ing] them on the Procrustean bed of the 'Englished octave.'" Yet, as Reynolds maintains, in her version of the stanzas just quoted "it is hardly a PROCRUSTEAN bed that those lovers are lying on." Waldman argues, too, that Ariosto's delicate semantic and stylistic nuances will disappear if the translator departs from an unswerving verbal and syntactic fidelity. Yet surely many of the nuances--indeed, the defining nuances--of any metrical poem lie precisely in the interplay between prose meaning and poetic form. It is hardly a matter of spectacular happenstance that, in Italian, Ariosto's carefully nuanced lexical and syntactic choices always coincide exactly with the contours of the ottava rima stanza! Rather, the poet's goal is precisely to accommodate those formally distinct aspects of his art to one another--but at the same time to play them off against each other. The interplay MULTIPLIES opportunities for nuance and expression, for refined delectation, contentious agitation, or rambunctious joy. Thus, while the prosaic fidelity of Gilbert's and Waldman's versions is something I am very glad to have, I think that the more complex fidelity possible only in a verse translation is also worth pursuing. As Reynolds says: "Unravel the octaves into prose and half the character of the work is lost: the pivotal turn at the fifth line, the witty dismissal by means of the final couplet, the neat turn of phrase that makes the aphorism, the heightened significance, force, or pathos which words acquire from their position in the line, the cumulative effect of thousands of octaves, woven to form a pattern and set a pace--a leisurely pace that allows for visual contemplation--all this is irretrievably lost in prose."
This being her view, the fact that she wraps up her 1974 address with seven consecutive stanzas of her own translation shows how much ostentatious confidence Reynolds has in the success of her _audace_impresa: she considers her rendition to have cleared every one of its rivals from the field. Some 45 years later, she remains entitled to such bravado. She is a champion. If not every lance thrust or sword stroke of her translation is sufficient to lay low each and every one of her competitors, in sustained combat she can take on all comers. As Amazon reviewer Laon says: Hers is not merely the best English translation of Ariosto, it is one of the best translations in English verse of any long poem ever.
So. If you're looking for a scintillating, sensual, intricate, astonishingly varied narrative tapestry of extravagant medieval fantasy, rollicking adventure, gripping peril, star-crossed romance, hilarious misadventure, and biting satire, nobody does it better than Ariosto. If you're looking to have all forty-six courses of that sumptuous chivalric banquet served to you in English on a silver charger, nobody does that better than Barbara Reynolds.
Ariosto 1974 in America: Atti del Congresso Ariostesco, dicembre 1974, Casa Italiana della Columbia University (L'interprete)