This guest post by Helena Sanson (Clare College, Cambridge) and Francesco Lucioli (University College Dublin) has been written to accompany the book display in the North Front corridor of the University Library, organised by them in collaboration with Anna-Luise Wagner (Selwyn College, Cambridge)
2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of one of the masterpieces of Italian Renaissance literature, and world literature more broadly: the Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (Reggio Emilia 1474 – Ferrara 1533). As a contribution towards the celebrations of this anniversary that has seen conferences and events taking place all over the world, a book display of Orlando furioso editions held in Cambridge University Library will be held between 7 November and 3 December. On Friday 18 November, there will also be an event in Clare College entitled The Fortunes of the Orlando furioso, 1516-2016, which is free and open to the general public. The event includes public lectures by Renaissance specialists on the fortunes of the poem in literature, art and music (Clare College, Latimer room, 3-5 pm), followed by a concert of arias inspired across the centuries by this magnificent poem (Clare College Chapel, 6 pm). More details on the event and on how to register can be found here: http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/italian/news/Fortunes-of-the-Orlando-Furioso.
Ariosto’s Orlando furioso is an original and revolutionary chivalric poem in ottava rima: probably begun around 1505, the poem, in 40 canti, was first published in Ferrara on 22 April 1516. Ariosto continued working on and revising the text, which was then printed in two other editions in 1521 (40 canti) and in 1532 (46 canti). Dedicated to the d’Este family, and in particular to Cardinal Ippolito, Ariosto’s patron at the time, the poem follows the model of the Inamoramento di Orlando (1483 and 1495) by Count Matteo Maria Boiardo. Ariosto’s Orlando furioso draws from previous literary traditions, but also gives new life to the literary genre. Ariosto was directly involved in the printing of his poem, fully conscious of the importance of the printing press as a new medium. He continually sought to capture the attention of a vast and varied audience, addressing both readers with a craving for traditional narratives, as well as more cultured and refined courtiers and men of letters. Right from the beginning, the poem was extremely successful, immediately becoming a real bestseller, and not only in Italy. Over two hundred editions of the Orlando furioso were produced in the sixteenth century alone, printed in different sizes and fonts, and aimed at different types of readers.
Cambridge University Library does not hold copies of the first editions of Ariosto’s poem (the earliest copy in the library is a 1556 edition from Lyon), but the copies on display offer clear evidence of the fortunes of the Orlando furioso in Italy and abroad, throughout the centuries.
If the first editions of the poems are simple in style and merely reproduce the text of the 46 canti, those published after the death of the poet are often accompanied by rich paratextual material, including comments on the text, allegories designed to explain the meaning of Ariosto’s verses, biographies of the author, indexes of characters and episodes in the poem, collections of sources used by Ariosto, tables listing the changes made from one edition to the next (see Fig. 1 below). In additions to these paratexts, illustrations took on an increasingly important role, evolving from mere decorations to tools of analysis and interpretation, guiding the reader on a path through the narrative (see Fig. 2 below).
The Orlando furioso fascinated generations of Italian and foreign readers. The circulation of the Furioso outside Italy was aided by the commercialisation and printing of editions of the poem in foreign countries, as well as by the vast production of translations (of parts or of the entire poem) and of adaptations and rewritings in several major European languages. On display at the exhibition are, for instance, an edition of the Spanish translation by Jerónimo de Urrea (1510-1570 ca.) printed in Barcelona in 1564 (see Fig. 3 below; the first edition of the Spanish translation was printed in Antwerp in 1549), and of John Harington’s renowned translation into English of 1591 (see Fig. 4 below). Written in ottava rima, like the original, it caused Harrington to be temporarily exiled from the English court: Queen Elizabeth forbade him to set foot at court until he had finished translating the entire poem.
Five centuries later the Orlando furioso continues to speak to the present-day reader: mankind is at the core of Ariosto’s masterpiece, and so are our desires, our illusions, our folly. Irony and the fantastical are the tools with which the poet speaks of reality, exposing its falsehood and revealing its tragedy.
Dr Helena Sanson and Dr Francesco Lucioli