Orlando furioso, 1516, 1521, 1532 (English translation, 1591)
Satire, wr. 1517-1525, pb. 1534 (Ariosto’s Satyres, 1608)
Cinque canti, 1545
La cassaria, pr., pb. 1508, revised pb. 1530 (The Coffer, 1975)
I suppositi, pr. 1509 (The Pretenders, 1566)
I studenti, wr. 1519 (completed by Gabriele Ariosto as La scolastica, pb. 1547, and completed by Virginio Ariosto as L’imperfetta, pr. c. 1556; The Students, 1975)
Il negromante, wr. 1520, revised pr., pb. 1529 (The Necromancer, 1975)
La Lena, pr. 1528 (Lena, 1975)
The Comedies of Ariosto, pb. 1975 (includes the above)
Ludovico Ariosto (ahr-ee-AW-stoh), born in Reggio, Italy, in 1474, was destined to become one of the greatest of Italian poets. His father intended to have him follow the legal profession, and not until Ariosto had finished five years of legal training did his father relent enough to permit the young man to study his first love, classical literature, under the famous Gregorio da Spoleto. His father’s death, however, placed responsibility for the Ariosto family on the shoulders of young Ludovico, and he was to abandon his studies for several years. Beginning about 1495, young Ariosto achieved some fame in his own land as a writer of comedies. About 1512 two of his plays were seen on the stage by Ippolito, Cardinal d’Este, who became the young writer’s patron and appointed him his emissary to Pope Julius II.
Ariosto’s connection with the powerful cardinal lasted until 1517; it ended when Ariosto refused to accompany the cardinal to Hungary and gave as excuses his own ill health, his mother’s advanced age, and his literary work and study. At that time the cardinal’s brother, Alfonso, duke of Ferrara, became Ariosto’s patron and benefactor. In the duke’s employment, Ariosto was appointed governor of Garfagnana, a remote district high in the Apennines, a post the poet retained for three years. Upon being relieved of this difficult and even dangerous post, Ariosto settled in Ferrara, where he spent his time writing comedies, directing his own plays on the stage of a theater he designed and built, and working on his great narrative poem, Orlando furioso, which was completed to his satisfaction in 1532, only a year before his death.
Orlando furioso, Ariosto’s great masterpiece, was begun in 1503. Forty of the forty-six cantos were first published in 1516. The poem, written in ottava rima, has often been considered the greatest literary achievement of the Italian Renaissance, and it is usually regarded as the greatest of the poetic romances. The poem is based on a romance of chivalry written by Matteo Maria Boiardo, Orlando innamorato, left unfinished at the poet’s death. The central episode of Ariosto’s poem, the jealous frenzy of Orlando, follows the subject matter and uses the characters found in Boiardo’s poem. The setting of Orlando furioso is Paris besieged by the Saracens, and the poem ends, as all good Christian literature of the time did, with the success of the Christians in repulsing the pagans. Of interest in connection with Ariosto’s patronage by Cardinal d’Este and the duke of Ferrara is the fact that Ariosto, in his poem, emphasizes two characters–Ruggiero and Bradamante–who were said to be the ancestors of his patrons.
Within a half century of his death, Ariosto’s poem was translated into a dozen languages. Its popularity and influence are indicated also by the fact that its translation into Spanish was mentioned by Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote (1605) and that it was one of the influences on Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590-1595).
By comparison with Orlando furioso, Ariosto’s other writings are insignificant. His five comedies, one of which he left unfinished, are obviously modeled after the work of the Roman playwrights Plautus and Terence. The poetry in Latin is not as good as that written by other Italian authors of the time. Ariosto’s Satyres, based on the poetry of Horace, are important because they indicate Ariosto’s independence of religion. They also indicate a reluctance for marital ties, although Ariosto did marry late in life the widow of Tito Strozzi, an Italian poet of the time. Gabriele Ariosto, Ludovico’s brother, characterized the famous poet as pious, kind, sympathetic, and free of ambition. Ariosto characterized himself by the epigram placed over the door of his house, a statement that the owner knew the house was small but was satisfied because he had bought it with his own money. He died in Ferrara on July 6, 1533.