Other Literary Forms
As poet, Ludovico Ariosto is remembered chiefly as the continuer and modifier of the chivalric tradition initiated at the Ferrarese court by his predecessor Matteo Maria Boiardo (1441-1494), the author of the incomplete Orlando innamorato (1483, 1495; Orlando in love). This chivalric poem in octaves treats the passion of the paladin Orlando for the pagan Angelica. The poem was interrupted by Boiardo’s death in 1494, which coincided with France’s invasion of Italy. Because of the widespread use of artillery by King Charles VIII in the French campaign, chivalry—the material of Boiardo’s poem—was dealt a deadly blow. Approximately ten years later, Ariosto took up the story where Boiardo had stopped. The composition of this epic poem became a lifelong project for Ariosto; the third and definitive edition did not appear until 1532, the year before his death. Orlando furioso, as Ariosto entitled his masterpiece, in order to recall Seneca’s Hercules furens (c. 40-55 c.e.; Mad Hercules, 1581), is not, however, merely a conclusion to Boiardo’s unfinished opus. Rather, it is a brilliant restaging of the entire knightly tradition, from that portrayed in the poems and romances of the Carolingian and Breton cycles to that of the Franco-Venetian and Tuscan songs of chivalry. Ariosto wrote for a Ferrarese court that delighted, but no longer believed, in chivalric ideals; he mixed, therefore, illusion and reality in the same poem. He achieved a brilliant mix through an extensive use of fantasy and dependence on irony, the distinguishing characteristics of his poetic art. The result is the most acclaimed poem of Italian Renaissance literature and a work of art that has understandably eclipsed the author’s minor works for centuries.