Composition and publication
To material largely quarried from the Carolingian and Arthurian cycles, Boiardo added a superstructure of his own making. As the plot is not woven around a single pivotal action, the inextricable maze of most cunningly contrived episodes are seen to be linked, first, with the quest of beautiful Angelica by love-smitten Orlando and the other enamoured knights, then with the defence of Albracca by Angelica's father, the King of Cathay, against the beleaguering Tartars, and, finally, with the Moors' siege of Paris and their struggle with Charlemagne's army.
The poem, written in the ottava rima stanza rhythm, consists of 68 cantos and a half. Boiardo began the poem when he was about 38 years old, but interrupted it for a time because of the Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–1479). He is believed to have continued till 1486, but then left the poem unfinished. The last verses say:
Mentre ch'io canto, Iddio Redentore
vedo l'Italia tutta a fiamma e foco.—Matteo Maria Boiardo, Orlando innamorato
meaning that during his work at the poem Boiardo could see all Italy in war.
Boiardo's Orlando was first published in 1482. The poem, after sixteen editions, was not to be republished for nearly three centuries. Francesco Berni's rifacimento, or recasting of L'Orlando appeared in 1542, and from that date till 1830, when Panizzi revived it, Boiardo's name was all but forgotten.
The beautiful Angelica, daughter of the king of Cataio (Cathay), comes to Charlemagne’s court for a tournament in which both Christians and pagans can participate. She offers herself as a prize to whoever will defeat her brother, Argalia, who in the consequent fighting competition imprisons one of the Christians. But the second knight to fight, Ferraguto (aka Ferraù), kills Argalia and Angelica flees, chased by leading paladins, especially Orlando and Rinaldo. Stopping in the Ardenne forest, she drinks at the Stream of Love (making her fall in love with Rinaldo), while Rinaldo drinks at the fount of hate (making him conceive a passionate hatred of Angelica): first reversal. She asks the magician Malagigi to kidnap Rinaldo, and the magician brings him to an enchanted island, while she returns to Cataio where she is besieged by king Agricane, another of her admirers, in the fortress of Albraccà. Orlando comes to kill Agricane and to free her, and he succeeds. Afterwards, Rinaldo, who has escaped from the enchanted island, tries to convince him to return to France to fight alongside Charlemagne: consequently, Orlando and Rinaldo duel furiously.
In the meantime the Saracen king Agramante has invaded France with a massive army (along with Rodomonte, Ferraù, Gradasso, and many others), to avenge his father Troiano, previously killed by Orlando. Rinaldo rushes back to France, chased by Angelica in love with him, in turn chased by Orlando. Back in the Ardenne forest, this time Rinaldo and Angelica drink at the opposite founts: second reversal. Orlando and Rinaldo duel again for Angelica, and Charlemagne decides to entrust her to the old and wise duke Namo, offering her to the one who will fight most valorously against the infidels. In the meantime, the Saracen paladin Ruggiero and Rinaldo’s sister, Bradamante, fall in love. The poem stops there abruptly, with Boiardo’s narrator explaining that he can write no more because Italy has been invaded by French troops headed by king Charles VIII.
In spite of its unfinished state and some deficiencies in rhythm, Boiardo's Orlando is considered a notable work of art, echoing throughout the poet's ardent devotion to Love and Loyalty, shedding warmth and sunshine wherever the lapse of ages had rendered the legends colourless and cold. The story of Angelica's struggles and Orlando's pursuit were continued in the Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto in 1516.
An unabridged English translation was performed by Charles Stanley Ross, published in 2004 by Parlor Press.
- Introduzione of Matteo Maria Boiardo, Orlando innamorato, ed. Riccardo Bruscagli (Turin: Einaudi, 1995), v-xxxiii.