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Chapter Three
Boiardo's Castle Cruel

Italian humanism and interpretive anthropology—as well as chivalric romances—alike make an issue of how to respond to local customs, the subject of the episode of Castle Cruel in Matteo Maria Boiardo's romantic epic Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in Love, 1482), a work nearly contemporaneous with Malory's Morte Darthur . Cicero's thought, pervasive in fifteenth-century Italy, grounds moral feeling not in experience or custom but on right reason founded on universal justice. Justice is not tested by the standard of utility, because "if it is a penalty, the fear of punishment, and not the wickedness itself, that is to keep men from a life of wrongdoing and crime, then no one can be called unjust, and wicked men ought rather to be regarded as imprudent."[1] Nor is justice "conformity to written laws and national customs" ("obtemperatio scriptis legibus institutisque populorum"), since any ruler who thinks it profitable might alter the laws:

But the most foolish notion of all is the belief that everything is just which is found in the customs or laws of nations. Would that be true, even if these laws had been enacted by tyrants?[2]

Instead, Nature distinguishes justice and injustice, honor and dishonor.[3] According to Cicero's De Legibus , "virtue" (the proper excel-


lence of anything) "is reason completely developed, and this is certainly natural; therefore everything honourable is likewise natural" ("est enim virtus perfecta ratio, quod certe in natura est; igitur omnis honestas eodem modo").[4]

Against this Ciceronian background of moral certainty, Boiardo's story of Castle Cruel represents what Clifford Geertz, in an important essay on cultural relativity, calls "the strange construed."[5] Geertz defines humanism as a belief that there are "similarities between ourselves and others removed in place or period." As a result, distant "imaginative products can be put at the service of our moral life."[6] Humanism typically looks to the past "as a source of remedial wisdom, a prosthetic corrective for a damaged spiritual life."[7] According to Geertz, however, traditional humanism fails to comprehend the moral imagination because it does not recognize the unstable nature of moral images and because it pays inadequate attention to the present position of the moral observer. The resulting instability of the moral imagination calls into question the humanist understanding of history. But is the imaginative world of the Innamorato so limited, or does Boiardo's narrative prefigure Geertz's anthropology?

Indeed, the moral imagination may express itself in fiction or ethnography. Both forms may be regarded, in Geertz's phrase, as "groping representations."[8] Boiardo relies on this overlap in his Orlando Innamorato when he uses the custom of the castle topos to make the story of Castle Cruel an allegory of the Other. The story is an episode in the larger, interlaced romance, and the French knight whose adventure brings him to Castle Cruel is Ranaldo. At first Ranaldo's method for eliminating foul customs seems simple enough. Arm yourself, smash the foul local custom, and thank God for putting you on the right side. Yet Boiardo's thick text resists any easy imposition of meaning. The obvious implication that Castle Cruel allegorically mirrors Ranaldo's cruel rejection of Angelica's love, the way Marchino's savagery almost justifies the measures taken by his jealous wife, and the violence of Ranaldo's assault on the local population undercut the success of the hero.[9]


The story of Caste Cruel occurs quickly in the poem, occupying little more than a canto. Almost every line, however, contributes to a moral maze. We may identify three divisions: the events that bring Ranaldo to Castle Cruel, the origin of the custom there, and Ranaldo's triumph.

The episode occurs early in the Orlando Innamorato when a ship carrying Ranaldo arrives at Castle Cruel. A gray-haired man asks Ranaldo to rescue his daughter from a giant, but when Charlemagne's knight tries to interfere, a second giant emerges from a castle on a hill and lassoes Ranaldo with a grappling hook. Ranaldo shakes off the hook, but when he chases the second giant across a stone bridge, the villain uses his hook to unhinge the slab, sending Ranaldo hurting into an underwater cavern where he is bound in chains and hauled before an old hag who explains the origin of the local custom, which he must endure.[10]

"By rumor, maybe, you have heard,"
The old hag said, "the bloody ways
And customs that this fortress keeps.
Now, in the time you have alive
(Your death will be delayed till dawn—
But don't believe you can survive),
In this time, I'll recount to you
The cause that had this course proclaimed."

"Forse per fama avrai sentito dire,"
Dicea la vecchia, "la crudele usanza
Che questa rocca ha preso a mantenire.
Ora nel tempo che a viver te avanza,
Poi che a diman s'indugia il tuo morire,
(Ché già de vita non aver speranza),
In questo tempo ti voglio contare
Qual cagion fece la usanza ordinare."
        (OI  1.8.27)[11]

Once upon a time Castle Cruel was called Altaripa, the home of a courteous knight named Grifone and his wife, Stella. Marchino, the


husband of the woman telling the story (she is never named), fell in love with Stella when visiting the castle. He left and then returned with his retainers to murder Grifone, putting everyone in the castle to the sword except for Stella, whom he then seeks to seduce. Stella resists, and with the help of Marchino's jealous wife, she takes vengeance for her dead husband by serving Marchino his children baked in a pie. Infuriated and seeking his own revenge, Marchino ties Stella to Grifone's dead body, then rapes her. When his jealous wife arrives with a rescue party led by the King of Orcagna, Marchino slits Stella's throat and rapes her again. He is captured and tortured to death by King Poliferno, who leaves Marchino's wife in charge of the castle. She has Stella buried beside her husband. Nine months later, her body gives birth to a monster born from Marchino's seed. Marchino's wife rings the monster's tomb with a wall to protect her people and then reverses the hospitality that had brought her husband into contact with Stella as she oversees the local custom of feeding passersby to the monster.

When Ranaldo learns he will be thrown into the pit to die, he asks if he can keep his sword and armor. Marchino's wife agrees to his request because she believes his sword will be useless against the invulnerable monster. In fact Ranaldo effectively uses Fusberta to beat the monster's bones until the ursine beast snatches it from his grasp. The creature cannot wield the sword but threatens Ranaldo with its claws and teeth until Ranaldo manages to climb onto a beam, suspended ten feet off the ground, where he spends the night.

At dawn Angelica arrives to rescue him. Under the influence of the stream of love, she longs for Ranaldo, but he has drunk from the fountain of Tristan and hates her. When he refuses to fly away with her, the enchantress throws a cake of sticky wax into the monster's mouth, the traditional method for overcoming Cerberus, the guardian of Hell in Virgil's Aeneid and Dante's Inferno . She also spreads a noose of knotted rope along the ground and leaves behind a noiseless file ("una gran lima, che segava sorda," OI 1.9.10).[12] As a result of Angelica's intervention, the monster finds its teeth stuck together and, hopping about in rage, it


trips the noose and is caught fast. Ranaldo descends and recovers his sword, but when he finds Fusberta ineffective, he rides the beast bareback and strangles it with his hands.

Convinced he will starve if he remains in the tomb, Ranaldo seeks a way out and finds Angelica's file, which he mistakenly attributes to God. He uses it to open the grating, but even though a "deaf file" is a tool for thieves,[13] his escape is discovered and he faces six hundred scruffy inhabitants by the time he emerges. At this point his sword becomes effective again and Ranaldo single-handedly slaughters or chases away the local population. Marchino's wife retreats with her closest followers to her castle, but when Ranaldo bursts in, she tumbles to her death from a high window. Ranaldo, like Marchino earlier, leaves no one alive. He returns to the seashore, and another adventure begins.

Is Ranaldo's final violence justified? The question arises in a thick context of past wrongs and vengeance. Jo Ann Cavallo has pointed out that the grisly origins of Castle Cruel hardly justify sacrificing Ranaldo:

No reason is ever offered as to the necessity of feeding the monster with human flesh instead of killing it or leaving it to die in the sepulcher. Indeed, there is no indication that the lives of the townspeople are in any way endangered if they do not nourish the monster, and there exists no agreement between them and it as in traditional tales of this sort.[14]

Cavallo concludes that the townspeople maintain the custom because they are contaminated by violence, which they seek to exorcise by ritual sacrifice. When their sacrifice fails because the intended victim kills their monster, the locals self-destruct from the guilt they now have no way to release. They attack Ranaldo but flee from his force; Marchino's wife throws herself from a window; and in the end the castle is completely deserted. This Girardian interpretation is brilliant but it oversimplifies Ranaldo's violent response.

Cavallo regards Ranaldo as a type of Grail knight who is able to learn from the experience of others and then take appropriate action. She ar-


gues, correctly I think, that for Boiardo the purpose of reading, or listening to, a novella is to recover a moral lesson and then act on it. "The link between learning through (allegorical) fiction and acting virtuously in the civic arena was a basic tenet of Humanist thought," she explains, and then goes on to show how Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato writes this linkage into its internal fiction on the occasions when the heroes Ranaldo and Orlando must act on the moral of a narrative they have previously heard or seen depicted in art. It is her conclusion I object to, for she argues that Ranaldo correctly interprets the story he hears: "Ranaldo understands that he must act to destroy the evil monster and free the town of such a curse" as human sacrifice entails.

It may be pointed out that Ranaldo hardly needs a story to teach him he must kill the monster to survive, nor is it entirely clear that his ensuing behavior removes the curse of cruel violence. After Ranaldo manages to defeat the monster with Angelica's assistance, he breaks out of the arena and then kills anyone who does not run away. His violent attack drives Marchino's wife to throw herself off a balcony to her death, as the local pattern of cruelty grips Ranaldo too. As he eliminates all the inhabitants of the castle, he succumbs to the ways of Castle Cruel:

Blood has already gilt the chamber,
But still Ranaldo swings his sword.
To write the end of this affair,
He left no living soul in there.

Fatta è la sala già di sangue un smalto:
Sempre mena Ranaldo intorno il brando.
Acciò che tutto il fatto a un ponto scriva,
Non rimase al castello anima viva.
        (OI  1.9.35)

Cavallo cites Boccaccio's distinction between righteous anger and blind wrath to explain Ranaldo's violent solution to Castle Cruel. But is Ranaldo's final outburst really justified by righteous anger? Or is he not swept up in the custom of vengeance that characterizes Castle Cruel?


The foul deeds of Marchino create a ripple effect through time, first trapping Stella, then Marchino's wife, and then Ranaldo, forcing each character to formulate his or her own violent response to past wrongs. Marchino's wife justifies her present cruelty to strangers by the past pain of jealousy caused by her now dead husband. Yet her personal misfortune cannot excuse the suffering caused by the practice of human sacrifice she oversees. Stella, too, ties herself to the past. Her pathology is harder to see, since her situation is so tragic, but the point is that law must concern itself with the present, not retribution for what cannot be corrected. To do otherwise is to create the kind of escalating violence that characterizes Orgagna, where Caste Cruel is located.

According to the self-justifying story Marchino's wife tells Ranaldo, Marchino no sooner sees Stella than he burns for her. A few days later he ambushes and kills her husband Grifone, murders everyone at Altaripa (Grifone's castle, later renamed Castle Cruel), and then sets his siege before Stella, who refuses his advances. Considering the cruelty Marchino is about to show, it is strange that he seeks to persuade Stella to love him instead of overpowering her. Marchino may be regarded as one who fails completely in what Stephen Greenblatt has called improvisation, the ability to insinuate oneself into another's system of beliefs.[15] Violent as he is, Marchino tries to practice courtly love.[16] Stella, however, turns out to live by a code closer to the primitive violence that Marchino temporarily suspends.

Boiardo wove images of crude violence, drawn from classical literature, into the tale of origins that explains the custom of Castle Cruel. Herodotus (whom Boiardo translated) attributed the Trojan War to an overreaction on the part of the Greeks to the rape of Helen: Boiardo combines this historical account with the curse of the House of Atreus and the stories of Medea and Philomela. According to myth, Atreus invited his brother Thyestes to his home and served him his sons for dinner. The cycle of violence that ensued ceased only with the founding of the Athenian law courts. Ranaldo's sword substitutes for the law courts as a symbol of justice. (The identification is ironic, however, since Or-


lando calls his Durindana the sword of justice during his duel with Ranaldo).[17] Boiardo further romanticizes his story as Marchino's wife kills her own children. Like Ovid's Medea, she does so because she hates her husband. Boiardo would have been prompted to the parallel by the name of Medeas, a lecherous woman who rules a castle named "Crudele" in the Tavola Ritonda .[18] Medeas makes love to various knights until they are overcome defending her castle, a custom that guarantees her a fresh man for her bed every year or so. Her passion rules her life, just as jealousy deranges Marchino's wife.

Although Marchino's wife kills her children, it is Stella who serves them to their victim. Boiardo draws details for this part of his story from Ovid's account of Tereus, Philomela, and Procne. When Procne discovers that her husband Tereus has raped and mutilated her sister Philomela, she kills their son Itys and serves him to Tereus for dinner. Procne is aware of the power of tradition, which she uses to create a pretense for a ritual meal: "the false pretext that she invents / is this—only a husband may partake / of such a sacred feast, an ancient rite / still celebrated in her own birthplace." During dinner Tereus calls out for his son, and Procne answers from the next room, "The one you want is with you now—inside" ("intus habes, quem poscis," Metamorphoses 6.655), using words that Stella echoes when she serves Marchino:[19]

The woman's hair was wild, her face
Was haughty, her mind confident,
As she informed him, "Both those heads
Belong to your sons: Bury them!
Do not concern yourself about
The rest—you ate it; you're the tomb!"

La damisella aveva il crin disciolto,
La faccia altiera e la mente sicura,
Ed a lui disse: "L'uno e l'altro volto
Son de' toi figli: dàgli sepoltura.
Il resto hai tu nel tuo ventre sepolto:
Tu il divorasti: no aver più cura."
        (OI  1.8.44)


It would seem that Boiardo alters the story by letting the rape victim speak (in Ovid's story, Philomela's tongue has been cut out, so that her sister must speak for her), but in fact Stella has not yet been raped, only propositioned. This change in the pattern of Ovid's myth suggests why Stella is just as much an object of hatred as Marchino. Herodotus said that the Persians believed the Greeks were excessive in the vengeance they sought for raped Helen since men believe no woman is raped against her will. In Orcagna, which Boiardo locates within the boundaries of ancient Persia, Marchino's wife seems to share this sentiment. She bakes the pie with her children in it, but she lets Stella serve it. In this way Marchino's wife directs her "zelosia" at Stella as well as her wayward husband.[20] (Ovid has Procne, the wife, and Philomela, the victim, cook together; Procne serves Tereus dinner, then Philomela flings his son's head at him).

When Stella (perhaps duped by Marchino's wife) serves Marchino his children, she reveals her tragic inability to shed the past. She does her cruel deed to avenge her dead husband, not herself, for she has not yet been violated. She proudly but naively tells Marchino what she has done, as if her vengeance were a point of honor. Marchino catches on to her motivation and seeks to match it when devising a suitable punishment for her ("But what revenge could placate him, / Considering her crime?").[21] His solution supports the theme of Castle Cruel, which presents the tragic influence of the past in subtle ways. Widowhood is a social status defined by a woman's past. The widow Stella remains steadfastly bound to her dead husband emotionally, so Marchino binds her to him physically. We usually locate this gesture in the practice of Virgil's Mezentius, who would "link the living with / dead bodies, fitting hand to hand and face / to face" ("componens manibusque manus atque oribus ora").[22] But Boiardo adds a final detail that reinforces the central theme of Castle Cruel. He remembered from Ovid that Tereus rapes Philomela repeatedly after her tongue is cut out, and Marchino does the same thing. Knowing he is being observed by the rescue party of the King of Orgagna, Marchino does not try to get away but instead slits Stella's throat and "used her, used her though she's dead" ("Ma usava


con lei morta tutta fiata," OI 1.8.47). Marchino's violence against the prone body of Stella, tied to her dead husband, stresses one final time the necessity to repeat the past imaged by mindless violence, while also drawing on demonic folklore to account for the birth of a monster.

Stella, Marchino's wife, Marchino, and Ranaldo—even, at some remove, the spurned Angelica and Malagise, whose magic brought Ranaldo to Castle Cruel because Ranaldo would not release him from his debt to Angelica[23] —permit the past to justify their acts of cruelty. The moral imagination, in Geertz's analysis, does not simplify uncertainties, but multiplies them. Moral images like Castle Cruel are generally confused because they are mediated, seen through someone else's eyes. As an example Geertz draws on a description of suttee, the burning of widows, given by a nineteenth-century Danish traveler to the South Pacific. The collision of beauty and cruelty, when women are sacrificed in the lush island world of Bali, produces an unstable aesthetic experience that confuses "high artistry" with "high cruelty."[24] This unstable imaginative construction forces the traveler to question the morality of what he observes and readers to question the adequacy of their own moral analysis.

Geertz identifies three literary frames in his example. The first, the factual basis of a story, corresponds in Boiardo's story to Marchino's sudden passion and murder of Grifone, the revenge, the rape, the resulting monster. The narrator's account forms the second frame. But the ability of a young Dane, or of Marchino's wife, to perceive events is inevitably limited by a third frame, the literary categories at their disposal. How could a northern Protestant conceptualize Bali? Similarly, Geertz explains, a literary England based on "playing fields, sunsets, nightingales, Country Life, dulce et decorum est , and Shropsbire Lad eroticism" could not adequately respond to the Western Front.[25] At Castle Cruel this inadequacy characterizes the tale told by Marchino's wife, who misperceives Stella as a widow who threatens her own marriage.[26]

On two occasions the imaginative categories of Marchino's wife prove insufficient to record the horror of what went on. The first failure


occurs when she tries to explain why Marchino raped Stella, slit her throat, and raped her again instead of fleeing at the approach of the King of Orgagna. "At last Orgagna's king arrived," relates Marchino's wife, "with me and a large company," and she gropes to find a motive for her husband.

And when he saw us in the field,
Marchino slit fair Stella's throat.
He did not spare her yet for this,
But used her, used her though she's dead.
I think he did it just to claim
He was the lewdest man who'd lived .

In questo tempo venne il re de Orgagna,
Ed io con esso, con molta brigata;
Ma come fumo visti alla campagna,
Marchin la bella Stella ebbe scanata.
Né ancor per questo dapoi la sparagna,
Ma usava con lei morta tutta fiata.
Credo io che il fece sol per darse vanto
Che altro om non fusse scelerato tanto .
        (OI  1.8.47; my emphasis)

Her "groping representation" depends on a certain way of viewing the world. E. M. W. Tillyard, a critic much derided recently for seeming to idealize the social order of the Renaissance, nonetheless knew Boiardo, and it is hard not to think of Marchino when he writes, "It was far easier to be very wicked and think yourself so than to be a little wicked and without a sense of sin."[27] Violence "could afford to indulge itself," wrote Tillyard, "just because those standards were so powerful."[28] For Tillyard and for Marchino's wife, Marchino's behavior illustrates a point a trained humanist like Boiardo would have found in Cicero, that the admission of a villain as to the atrocity of his crime proves the existence of a universal standard of morality:


But if it were a penalty and not Nature that ought to keep men from injustice, what anxiety would there be to trouble the wicked when the danger of punishment was removed? But in fact there has never been a villain so brazen as not to deny that he had committed a crime, or else invent some story of just anger to excuse its commission, and seek justification for his crime in some natural principle of right.[29]

Marchino's wife can only account for Marchino's insane behavior on the theory that Marchino knew what he was doing. That theory depends on a concept of natural law that, as Cicero describes it, traces rape as a violation of divine will back to the origins of the universe. No statute is necessary, for rape, according to Cicero, is wrong whether a law against it exists or not:

For the divine mind cannot exist without reason, and divine reason cannot but have this power to establish right and wrong. . . . Even if there was no written law against rape at Rome in the reign of Lucius Tarquinius, we cannot say on that account that Sextus Tarquinius did not break that eternal Law by violating Lucretia, the daughter of Tricipitinus! For reason did exist, derived from the Nature of the universe, urging men to right conduct and diverting them from wrongdoing, and this reason did not first become Law when it was written down, but when it first came into existence, and it came into existence simultaneously with the divine mind.[30]

Marchino's wife believes her husband found it easy, in Tillyard's formula, "to be very wicked . . . just because those standards [of natural law] were so powerful." Yet her theory is inadequate to account for Marchino's slow and persuasive wooing of Stella, his unexpected if unsuccessful refusal to use force when he has Stella in his complete power. His love siege of Stella, not his success, causes the jealousy of his wife. Nor is Marchino the only monster his wife fails adequately to describe. She also lacks words or passes up the chance to portray the beast she nurtures. Although she gives Ranaldo a reason for her silence on the


subject, it only reinforces her inability fully to face her situation: "I won't describe its awful shape, / Because you will be killed by it" ("La orribil forma sua non te descrivo, / Perché sarai da lui di vita privo," OI 1.8.51).

In contrast to her silence, the poem's narrator describes the monster, and he does so in a way that stresses the inadequate discourse of Marchino's wife. For the tone of the story shifts as soon as the narrator's words extol the monster's exterior:

But I believe you all would like
To know the monster's outer form.
Let me first tell you of its birth:
The devil made it, that's for sure,
Using the seed Marchino left
Within the woman whom he'd murdered.

Ma credo io che a voi tutti sia in talento
Di quel mostro saper la forma aperta.
Acciò che abbiati il suo cominciamento,
Fiè11o il demonio, questa è cosa certa,
Del seme de Marchin, che 'n corpo porta
Quella donzella che da lui fu morta.
        (OI  1.8.56)

The narrator makes the monster amusing, rather than demonic. The poet's voice is civil and cultured as he observes the animal's snout, wide mouth, impressive teeth, revolving horns, and fearful voice. In part this shift occurs because Boiardo here gives prominence to the love allegory that never completely disappears from Castle Cruel. For Boiardo's story humorously reverses a pattern originally established in the vulgate prose Lancelot . In that story Lancelot overcomes the strange customs of Dolorous Guard coincident with the beginning of his intrigue with Queen Guenevere.[31] He then changes the name of the castle to reflect his love affair, calling it Joyous Guard. Since Ranaldo refuses a love affair, the naming pattern moves the other way in the Innamorato . Ranaldo goes


first to Palazo Zoioso, which sounds like Gioiosa Guardia, the name of Joyous Guard in the Tavola Ritonda . Fortified by the fountain of Tristan, he resists the lush, Bali-like greenery of a sumptuous love nest arranged by Angelica (OI 1.8.1-7). As a result, he is then ferried to Castle Cruel.

Castle Cruel, like Dolorous Guard, symbolizes unconsummated love: the cruelty of Ranaldo. The narrator points out that the monster of Castle Cruel runs on two feet. He compares it to a bear in one passage and in another notes that it has claws that resemble a bear's, although they are larger (OI 1.8.58). It does not seem a coincidence that Malagise tells Angelica that Ranaldo is more cruel than any bear (OI 1.9.9). The monster of Castle Cruel in fact wittily mirrors Ranaldo's beastly behavior toward Angelica.

The narrator's smooth description of the dreadful, deformed monster thereby illustrates a process that Geertz calls "translation." Purporting to offer a detailed look at the features of this beast of foul custom, Boiardo domesticates evil and empties it of terror. As he shifts from Marchino's murderous ways to Ranaldo's strange predicament, the narrator replays the story in a different literary key. It is as if to say, the solution to the monster of evil custom is . . . the right attitude. But the shift in tone does more than show the poet's cleverness. It also stresses the instability of the moral imagination.

Boiardo's urbane tone seems to hamper but in fact serves the humanist impulse to put otherwise distant, imaginative products "at the service of our moral life."[32] The tone of the story changes because moral images are not simple. This complexity is also illustrated by the sticky wax, knotted rope, and soundless file that Angelica gives to Ranaldo to overcome the otherwise invulnerable monster of custom.

Angelica's sticky wax is a traditional means for calming a guardian of hell. The Sibyl drugs Cerberus with a mouthful of honeycake as Aeneas descends to the underworld, and Dante slips by another Cerberus when Virgil flings mud into the three throats of the monster who guards gluttons.[33] But Ranaldo's situation requires a rope and a file as well. The knotted rope is a version of the chains of love, well illustrated in love


lyrics such as Boiardo's Amorum Libri and the Schifanoia frescoes. Angelica suffers from denial, and her gnawing torment explains the symbolism of the silent file she gives Ranaldo, an image Boiardo may have borrowed from Dante: "O painful and pitiless file / that silently wears away my life" ("Ahi angoscioso e dispietata lima / che sordamente la mia vita scemi").[34]

Ranaldo must rely on these devices because his sword Fusberta—the sign of justice wielded by an outsider—proves ineffective against the monster of local custom. The rope and file reflect the allegorical nature of the beast Ranaldo faces, a monster who shadows Ranaldo's missing desire for Angelica and who also serves as an instrument of human sacrifice. These two functions, the libidinal and the anthropological, were traditionally combined by the figure of Antaeus.

Like the monster of Castle Cruel, Antaeus could only be killed in a certain way. When Hercules discovered that Antaeus regained his strength every time he fell to earth, the hero killed him by holding him over his head and squeezing him. The cycle of renewal led Colluccio Salutati, following Fulgentius, to interpret the battle of Hercules and Antaeus as a battle between the spirit and the flesh: Hercules' killing Antaeus represents his overcoming desire.[35] The Antaeus myth thus associates air with spirituality and identifies sexuality with the earth. To rescue Ranaldo, Angelica spreads her knotted rope on the ground, but the monster seems to trip it like a snare, suggesting the monster is hung up in the air. Does Angelica intend for Ranaldo to kill a suspended version of himself, thereby fignring the way she saw him, as a Hercules of the spirit, opposed to the flesh? Or does Ranaldo kill the monster on the ground? When Angelica asks Ranaldo to mount her and fly away from Castle Cruel—a proposal Cavallo reads as indecent—sex is associated with flying. The sexual allegory is confused, because one's reading depends on uncertain literary categories.

Boiardo hides how Angelica's noose works, and he only hints that sex is in the air. But Antaeus also represents the alien Other. Like the monster of Castle Cruel, Antaeus in Lucan's Civil War terrorizes the coun-


tryside and murders any strangers who reach his shores.[36] He lives in Libya, and Boiardo glances at the myth later, when Brandimarte lands in the same region of North Africa: a decree commands that all Christians who arrive there be killed (OI 2.27.46). But the Antaeus figure also gave epics a way to sympathize with defeated peoples, who were otherwise demonized by their conquerors. David Quint argues that Antaeus is a "stock epic figure—deriving ultimately from the Pharsalia — for a native resistance that refuses to accept defeat and rises up again and again to oppose its would-be conquerors."[37] Such a figure supports the sense that Castle Cruel cannot be reduced to favoring or condemning violence. Ranaldo kills the monster that keeps the custom of killing travelers at Castle Cruel, but some inhabitants run away and Ranaldo's ensuing massacre was the kind of event conquered peoples used to stoke their resistance, which might break out months or years later. No one in the Innamorato explicitly carries a torch for Castle Cruel, but when, elsewhere in Orcagna, Ranaldo kills a fat blusterer named Rubicone (the type of person who would have served at Castle Cruel and escaped), his deed is not forgotten by other inhabitants.[38]

Our perception of Boiardo's values, particularly his aristocratic attitude to the use of force, is colored by the autocratic rule of the Este family of Ferrara.[39] We need to revise our view of the poet in light of the romance mode of the Innamorato , whose interlaced stories allow past wrongs or insults suddenly to confront a character from an unexpected direction.[40] Too often humanists of Boiardo's strain are thought to stand in stark contrast to that "civic humanism" which Hans Baron defined as the great contribution of fifteenth-century Florence to modern thought.[41] Baron identified three republican virtues: social engagement, an increasingly vernacular humanism, and historical awareness. It can be argued that Boiardo, even though he lived in the shadow of the autocratic Este family, nonetheless gave these virtues an honored place in his thought. First, Boiardo's position as captain of Modena and then Reggio during the last thirteen years of his life counters any notion that the poet was in danger of dropping out of the world of affairs and lapsing into the


contemplative state that Baron found too strongly promoted by earlier humanists. Second, Boiardo's decision to compose the Innamorato in Italian and his career as a translator speak for his commitment to vernacular learning (in contrast, for example, to his uncle Tito Vespasiano Strozzi, who composed an epic to Borso d'Este in Latin).

The issue thus becomes what history meant for Boiardo. The test case Baron proposes is the way the Florentine humanists reassessed ancient Roman politics. Unlike Dante, who placed Brutus and Cassius in the lowest depths of hell for murdering Caesar, later Florentine writers like Leonardo Bruni praised the last defenders of Republican Rome.[42] Bruni went so far as to extoll the veterans of Sulla as the original settlers of his city.[43] This Roman debate was carried on in courts throughout northern Italy and countered by humanists who owed their positions to princes. Lorenzo Valla (whose Latin translation of Herodotus Boiardo translated into Italian) refuted the Florentine position by arguing that Sulla had been Rome's first tyrant. The great works of literature, ran the counterargument, were produced during the period of peace established by the Caesars. It may be as an ironic comment on this debate that Boiardo gives Caesar's falcon eyes (the image Dante bestowed on the first emperor) to Feraguto, an unattractive pagan (OI 1.1.10). In practice, Boiardo composed whenever the peace was maintained by Ercole d'Este, one of those northern Italian tyrants whom Machiavelli, a generation later, yet praised for establishing a balance of power. If so, Boiardo would not fit the mold of a blind imperial supporter, but one who weighed the costs of exchanging peace for submission to a strong central authority.

Despite his affiliation with the Este, Boiardo shared with the Florentines a love affair with the past. The past was not just a source of propaganda or a distant parallel to the present that encouraged a modern to rival antiquity in the vernacular. It was both a moral lesson and an immediate problem. In his sixth Latin eclogue, Boiardo hails the reign of Borso d'Este as the return of "the manners of the olden times and the golden ease of eternal spring" ("et prisci rursum . . . mores / Aureaque


aeterni redierunt otia veris").[44] Boiardo here uses the golden age as a trope for nonviolence, but it also expresses his view of history, which constantly impinges on the present.

Like the chain of violence at Castle Cruel, a pattern of historical pressure recurs throughout Boiardo's poem. An example occurs a few cantos after Castle Cruel, when Ranaldo, in a cave, finds a bloody book, locked to a chain as if in a Renaissance library, and reads of the horrible deeds of Trufaldino, king of Baghdad. Ranaldo then spends his time tracking down and destroying the villain, for Trufaldino turns out to be a character in the main story. Similarly, two knights named Prasildo and Iroldo are first met in a long story told by Fiordelisa; they turn out to be "real" people, who join the battle of Albraca, fought on account of Angelica. Again, demons whom Malagise conjures from his magic manual say that Angelica was first sent to Paris by her father; later King Galafrone also shows up at Albraca. The strangest example of this process that makes travel to the East a journey into history is the encounter with Oberto dal Leone, a legendary knight, but one who also joins the action. Oberto or Uberto dal Leone is the subject of a famous book ("as / The record of his deeds can show"; "Come se vede nel suo libro aperto," OI 1.14.41), who appears in Dragontina's garden.[45]

In short, Boiardo used the past just as Geertz uses the instabilities that inhere in events and perceptions of events, to give value to the moral imagination. Images may have multiple meaning in Boiardo's poem, where the characters' lives are often at cross-purposes. Angelica leaves Ranaldo a silent file that signifies her embarrassment at having to speak for herself in pursuing Ranaldo. Ranaldo, however, takes it for a gift of God that establishes him once again as a deliverer of justice, able to wield his sword.

We might regard Ranaldo as a crusader or conquistador, killing those whom he does not understand. The narrative texture of the Innamorato , however, develops a more complex position. It both respects and questions Cicero's teaching that "Justice is one; it binds all human society and is based on one Law, which is right reason applied to command and


prohibition" ("Est enim unum ius, quo devincta est humana societas, et quod lex constituta una; quae lex est recta ratio imperandi atque prohibendi").[46] The foundation of justice is "our natural inclination to love our fellow men" ("quia natura propensi sumus ad diligendos homines"),[47] an appropriate stance for the Innamorato , a long, often humorous poem about the effects of love. The story asks us, when facing a set of objectionable practices, to recognize a difference between violence and cruelty, not by a bright line test, but by admitting the possibility, if not probability, of something higher, a concept of natural justice, which the humanist tradition once represented, symbolized by the eloquence that Boiardo's poem both mimics and exemplifies.

Critics continue to debate whether Ariosto, whose debt to Boiardo's plot is common knowledge, accepted, ignored, or rejected Boiardo's allegorical mode.[48] It is arguable that, even more than Boiardo, Ariosto made the instability of the moral imagination a theme of his overtly more polished poem. In a late addition to the Furioso (1532), in a scene not dissimilar to Castle Cruel (both are versions of sacrificing outsiders to a local deity), Orlando rescues Olympia from the crude inhabitants of the island of Ebuda. At the same time as he drives an anchor down the gullet of an orc (a sea monster, to which these people feed damsels as penitence to Proteus), an expedition arrives from Ireland and mercilessly slaughters every single Ebudan. Orlando lets the expedition do its work, but he is unsure whether he is witnessing justice or cruelty.[49] Even the Ebudans had a reason for their practice of human sacrifice: they were constrained to it by Proteus.


Chapter Four
Ariosto's Fable of Power

Sweet are the uses of adversity.

Jean-Franois Lyotard has observed that "a prescriptive is validated juridically or politically by a normative (It is a norm that . . . ), ethically by a feeling (fled to the You ought to )."[2] ç In the face of massive social conventions, "social actors" orient their behavior by a conscious or reflexive knowledge of shared norms—language, tradition, society, rules. They play off those norms to manage and transform a situation. They create an arena within which freedom is possible. Johan Huizinga's early modern homo ludens is today's "practical reasoner."[3]

Paradoxically, then, social constraints give individuals definition. The political oppression of Italy, Machiavelli hoped, would produce an Italian prince: oppression forces a people to recognize their abilities, and they produce great leaders as a sort of counterpressure. In a terse passage in The Prince , Machiavelli gave examples from history: as Israel followed Moses when enslaved by the Egyptians, the Persians under the domination of the Medes recognized Cyrus, and the dispersed Athenians turned to Theseus, so Italy, overrun by barbarians, is ready for a prince.[4] The medieval topos of taedium curiae preceded the appearance


of Castiglione's polished courtier, and man's new-stamped identity has been a dominant theme of Renaissance studies since Burckhardt.[5]

In the wake of the sack of Rome—which to some signals the end of the Italian Renaissance—toward the end of his life, Ariosto brilliantly illustrated such modes of resistance to the form and pressure of the times. His Bradamante dramatizes the paradox of freedom in acquiescence during the Tower of Tristan (Rocca di Tristano ) episode, one of the late additions to the Orlando Furioso (1516, rev. 1522, 1532).


Although Pio Rajna long ago traced the custom of the castle topos to episodes in thirteenth-century prose romances such as the Lancelot, Tristan , and Palamedès ,[6] book-length studies of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso do not dwell on Bradamante's confrontation with the custom of the castle convention.[7] Recent critics have assumed that when Ariosto added Bradamante's adventure at the Tower of Tristan to the third edition of his poem, he was continuing his existing theme of the oppression of women. Bradamante, after all, has been not only confined to her parents' home at Montalbano, but forced into the passive role of waiting for Ruggiero, whose Saracen affiliations keep him away from her as he serves King Agramante. After she receives false information that Ruggiero loves someone else, Bradamante decides to sneak away from her watchful parents and seek her betrothed. Before setting out she laments at length because Ruggiero has not come home to her, establishing the mood for her ensuing adventure (OF 32.10-49) at the Tower of Tristan.

The custom of that place follows gendered guidelines, imitating what is probably its main source, Tristan's adventure at Chastel Plor (the Weeping Castle): males joust, females enter a brief beauty contest to determine victory. Peter DeSa Wiggins, as a result, finds that Bradamante's clever solution to the custom that threatens to thrust an innocent woman outside the castle walls "exposes the vulgarity of all such recourse to gender for self-definition."[8] Another critic calls the custom of Tristan's cas-


tle "misogynous" and declares that Bradamante "overthrows" the custom.[9] These summations are somewhat misleading and, like previous commentary, overly restrictive of a complex and important episode.[10] In what follows I hope to show that Bradamante's victory is tactical, not strategic. The Christian heroine does not overcome local custom, she outmaneuvers it. The distinction is important because the episode is about more than the limitations of gender. It illustrates a challenge to the justice of custom itself, which has hardened into a social order.

The Tower of Tristan also corroborates the historical circumstances of its late composition. By the end of the sixteenth century critics of legal thought were arguing that social customs, not statutes, were the basis of national law. Pocock suggests that "we may never know how much of our sense of history is due to the presence in Europe of systems of customary law, and to the idealization of the concept of custom which took place towards the end of the sixteenth century. To it our awareness of process in history is largely owing."[11] Ariosto lived in a civil law society, but he was sensitive to the competing power of custom. Simone Fornari tells us that Ariosto never opened a law book during his attendance at Ferrara's Studio—he read romances instead.[12] In the Tower of Tristan episode, Ariosto redeployed a medieval French convention to mediate the cultural strains felt in Italy during the transitional years that saw the rise of Protestantism, the sack of Rome, and the end of what we call the Italian Renaissance.[13]


A keen observer of human nature, Ariosto was a man whose personality made him the ideal instrument to record a shift in attitude to the past contained in the notion of custom or usage. He loathed institutions at all times—patronage, church preferment, titles (he never used the title his father had bought from the Emperor Frederick III in 1472), marriage, and stilted forms of address (his second satire mocks the Spanish word signor that replaced the heartier Italian fratello in curial speech).[14] In his


third satire, he records how he was sent to Rome in 1513 to congratulate Giovanni de' Medici on his elevation to the papacy. Ariosto found his former friend so puffed by his election as to forbid access, leaving the poet to trudge home in the rain, where he took supper alone in his lodgings.[15] He practiced—but begrudged—persistence, the ability to serve as they do who only stand and wait that characterized the real life of a courtier more than the finer accomplishments Castiglione recommended. On another occasion he wrote to his friend Benedetto Fantino, chancellor to his patron Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, of his failure to reach the newly installed Cardinal Bibbiena, although he knew the man well,

either because he always has around him such a large circle of people that one cannot easily penetrate, or because one has to contend with ten entrance ways before arriving in his presence: such a procedure is obnoxious to me. I am never sure if I will see him, nor would I really try to see either him or any man in that palace, were it not that my regard for you forces me to act against my nature.[16]

Unlike Bradamante, Ariosto could not wave a magic staff to get through the crowd.

In the years after 1515, when the text of the first edition went to press, Ariosto struggled against the system of patronage that structured his life as a courtier. As indifferent to the institutions of Rome as he was to life in the cold climate of Hungary, he left Cardinal Ippolito's service. He waged a lawsuit with the Este over his cousin Rinaldo's inheritance. And then from 1522 to 1525, bowed by financial need, he served at his own suggestion as governor of the Garfagnana, a barbarous mountain province far from Ferrara, far from his mistress Alessandra Benucci Strozzi.

In his fourth satire, the poet complains of the constant noise made by the confluence of rivers beneath his castle walls. A visit to Castelnuovo confirms the tumult, but the noise may also be symbolic of the wild mountain populace whose ways Ariosto struggled to control.[17] As governor of the lawless and rugged Garfagnana he sought to play the part


of Spenser's Artegall, the knight of justice. He would not have the duke think that "through any fault of mine there is lacking justice, equity, or mercy" ("di mia volontà la iustizia, la equità e la misericordia, dove si conviene, non abbia luogo").[18] But if the grim scenes of his Cinque Canti were written during his residence at Castelnuovo, set in a north-south valley formed by slopes so steep that the morning sun emerges only in time to set early in the afternoon, Ariosto rejected them for another lesson he learned there.

For the local people, backed by the duke, refused to give up their weapons, to pay for more than twelve military deputies, or to let Ariosto form a local militia.[19] As captain, Ariosto found himself, like so many Renaissance officials, both constrained by his superiors and at the same time the source of constraint on others. Duke Alfonso permitted him no iron man (Talus) such as Spenser's Artegall would have. Without the proper means to eliminate injustice, Ariosto was forced to maintain order with prudence.

Having survived a bad period, Ariosto returned to Ferrara for the last eight years of his life, tempered by the experience of rule but also relieved of it. He himself acquiesced to the social order—not submitted, but acquiesced. The world was changing during Ariosto's final years, and he quieted his natural longing for individual expression, his distaste for mere social convention, his unblinkered perception of the motives of men and patrons. When he made his four large additions to his poem—the episode of Olympia, the Tower of Tristan, Marganorre,[20] and Ruggiero in Hungary—Ariosto had gained what Emilio Bigi identifies as a new appreciation of the moral and religious values of traditional ethics—courtesy, loyalty, faith in divine providence.[21] He bought a house with its famous inscription "parva sed mihi apta" ("small, but suitable to me"). The house is impressive even today, and the somewhat ironic inscription may have been put there earlier. The house was located, not closer to, but a little farther away from, where Alessandra Benucci lived.[22] Ariosto ultimately married her, but only, it seems, to assure her inheritance. They kept their relationship secret not


because he retained church benefices—Catalano has shown that he had given them up—but because Ariosto was uninterested in the social sanction of wedlock.[23]


If Bradamante's laments for Ruggiero create a personal context for her stay at the Tower of Tristan, an intervening event in the canto suggests a wider arena that embraces the relation of the individual to society. As Bradamante travels toward the Tower of Tristan, she encounters Ullania, who bears a gold shield and is accompanied by three kings. Ullania has been sent by the queen of Iceland to search for a knight worthy to marry the distant queen. Bradamante is not slow to see that discord is sure to seize the Christian camp if Charlemagne allows a contest to determine which knight is best:

She felt that this shield was bound to breed dissensions, quarrels, and immense antagonisms in France among the paladins and others, if Charles made to establish who was supreme champion.

. . . in somma pensa
che questo scudo in Francia sia per porre
discordia e rissa e nimicizia immensa
fra paladini et altri, se vuol Carlo
Chiarir chi sia il miglior.
        (OF  32.60)

Spenser registered this theme when he put a version of the Tower of Tristan at the beginning of the legend of friendship. The principal theme of Book IV is concord, and it marks a transition in The Faerie Queene from private to social virtues.[24] Ullania, however, never accomplishes her disruptive mission.[25]

Another indication of the larger scope within which Ariosto's episode should be seen is that canto 32 begins with perhaps the most powerful image in the poem of the fate of the unprotected when King Agramante


hangs Brunello, the diminutive king of Tingitana. He does so because he seeks a way to please the poem's other great female warrior, Marfisa, who has offered the beleaguered king her services. The war in France is going badly for Agramante at this point in the poem. He has retreated with his army to Arles, not least because his great warrior Rodomonte, driven by guilt over the suicide of Isabella, has retired to his own private castle and, like Achilles, refuses to fight. An outsider even in the Saracen camp, Brunello is helpless because his champion Ruggiero is not present to save him from the gallows. (Brunello's taunting of Marfisa ever since he stole her sword in Boiardo's poem made him a fit offering when Agramante sought her favor.) Bradamante is similarly marked by Ruggiero's absence when she sets out to find him. But she has rhetorical powers that Ariosto denies to the swift thief who stole Sacripante's horse and who, in Boiardo, was a persuasive speaker.[26]

Brooding, then, over Ruggiero's supposed disloyalty as she leaves home, but also concerned about possible discord in the Christian camp, Bradamante lets her reins loose and rides where her horse Rabicano desires after she parts from Ullania (OF 32.62). The weather turns as foul as her thoughts, and she asks a shepherd where she can lodge for the night. Uncommonly precise (Rajna queried, could a shepherd have told her all this?),[27] the shepherd relates a set of rules that, adding to the usual contests of strength and beauty, make the order of arrival of passersby a matter of great importance in determining whether the keepers of the castle will permit lodging or not:

If a knight finds room at the castle on his arrival, the lord of the castle will receive him, but on condition that the guest promises, if others arrive, to go out and joust with them. Should no one else turn up, there is no need for the guest to move; but if someone does arrive, he needs must rearm himself and joust with him, and the one who comes off worse must give up his lodging and go out into the open air.

If two, three, four, or more warriors arrive there first all together, they can lodge there in peace, while whoever arrives alone after


them is faced with a worse proposition: he has to joust with all of them together. Similarly, if a single traveler has arrived first, he will have to joust with the two, three, four, or more who arrive later. So if he has valor, he shall need every bit of it.

Similarly, if a woman or maid, whether accompanied or alone, arrives at this castle, and if, after her, another arrives, the more beautiful is accommodated while the lesser beauty has to stay outside.

Se quando arriva un cavallier, si trova
vòta la stanza, il castellan l'accetta;
ma vuol, se sopravien poi gente nuova,
ch'uscir fuori alla giostra gli prometta.
Se non vien, non accade che si mova:
se vien, forza è che l'arme si rimetta
e con lui giostri, e chi di lor val meno,
ceda l'albergo, et esca al ciel sereno.

Se duo, tre, quattro o più guerrieri a un tratto
vi giungon prima, in pace albergo v'hanno;
e chi di poi vien solo, ha peggior patto,
perché seco giostrar quei più lo fanno.
Così, se prima un sol si sarà fatto
quivi alloggiar, con lui giostrar vorranno
i duo, tre, quattro o più che verran dopo;
sì che s'avrà valor, gli fia a grande uopo.

Non men se donna capita o donzella,
accompagnata o sola a questa ròcca,
e poi v'arrivi un'altra, alla più bella
l'albergo, et alla men star di fuor tocca.
        (OF  32.66-68)

Potential discord characterizes the shepherd's complex set of rules for precedence. In theory, any individual who arrives at the Tower of Tristan faces the possibility that a group will already be there or will later arrive, and in either case the single knight must joust with every member of the group. An individual already part of a group, however,


may chance never to have to joust (or line up in a beauty contest), since someone preceding him in the order of combat may succeed in preserving the group's right to lodging. As Ariosto tells the story, such an advantage for the group is more thematic than practical. Bradamante easily defeats the kings of Norway, Sweden, and Gothland. But the potential remains. Like Spenser's Castle of Couples (FQ 4.1), the castle's custom is designed to punish the single traveler.

So warned, Bradamante arrives at the castle fully informed of the custom and ready to participate, despite the potential hazards—"I know the rules, and mean to observe them" ("che so l'usanza, e di servarla intendo," OF 32.70). She has been preceded by Ullania and her companion knights, who spur faster than the meditative maiden. Seeking shelter, she issues a challenge to the castle's guests. In response, the knights who had hoped to win the queen of Iceland's shield of gold reluctantly leave their hot supper and arm to joust in the cold rain. Bradamante must defeat not just one, but all three of them. Even had she arrived first, the custom would have dictated that she joust each member of a late-arriving group.

Social grouping takes precedence over the order of arrival, and the nature of the group is also significant. Only the knights must fight. Everyone else—the lower classes, the entourage—remain within. Outside, where the moon shines despite the falling rain, on the margins but still part of the game, Bradamante feels like a lover who furtively turns a door key (OF 32.74). She must win three contests, whereas the knights may individually lose and yet, because they are part of a group, still sleep indoors if one of their company defeats her. Bradamante wins in the event, and enters the castle.

The lance of gold that assures her victory serves a double purpose here. Its mere existence undermines the premise of Ullania's mission to use male aggression to create social disorder. Even a weak knight, even a woman, could win the golden shield and gain the hand of the queen of Iceland—or gain entrance to what Ariosto calls a fortresslike castle, the Tower of Tristan—if that person had the golden spear. Moreover, the


spear is a talisman of power, which symbolizes but does not completely explain Bradamante's prowess. Significantly, in the first two editions of Ariosto's poem, Bradamante knows the lance's charm; in the third Ariosto keeps her ignorant of it, increasing the rigor of her struggle against the local custom.

Once Bradamante enters Tristan's Tower, several things happen that comment in subtle ways on what would otherwise be a strange oration on social groupings by the shepherd Bradamante chanced to meet. First, Bradamante takes an oath to defend the custom of the castle. Then, over dinner, she asks about its origin. After dinner, her host suddenly remembers that the custom of the castle requires that Bradamante, as a woman, face Ullania in a beauty contest, since they did not arrive together ("Perchè non vi son giunte amendue a un'ora," OF 32.97). Judgment is quickly passed, but when Ullania is told she must depart, Bradamante finds a way to appeal the verdict. Finally, after the story of origins and after Bradamante wins her right to stay and to retain Ullania, she views a series of panels that illustrate Italy's susceptibility to foreign invasion. Although the interwoven complexity of the poetic context argues against any fixed hermeneutic, any stable interpretation of the Tower of Tristan, these three divisions—the tale of origins, the contest, and the painted panels of the castle—create a protocol of opposition and acquiescence consonant with an aulic, social interpretation.

The center of the episode is Bradamante's reaction to the beauty contest. The castellan calls two old servitors and some women to judge as he holds a quick competition, which Bradamante wins, even though she is disheveled (inculta, OF 32.99) after unhelmeting. The result is that Ullania must leave the castle. Bradamante does not object to the custom or the decision until punishment is pronounced, when Ariosto compares her changed mood to the sudden darkening of the sun by a cloud rising from a valley (OF 32.100). Then, rather than attack the custom, Bradamante objects to the castellan's strict application of it. Her language turns the beauty contest into a contest of law, the castle into a court:


'It does not seem to me that any judgment can be regarded as mature and just unless an audience has first been given to the interested party , her denials and observations taken into account.'

A me non par che ben deciso ,
né che ben giusto alcun  giudicio cada,
ove prima non s'oda quanto  nieghi
la parte o affermi , e sue  ragioni alleghi .
        (OF  32.101; my emphasis)

Armed with a golden spear, fully confident despite her sex, and in rhetorical control, Bradamante does not challenge the custom (the law), but the procedure. Her first tactic is to establish her right to be heard. She does this by claiming to speak for Ullania. By not interrupting her, the castellan in effect lets her take the case: Bradamante calls herself one who is "embracing her cause" ("Io ch'a difender questa causa toglio," OF 32.102), and so she speaks for Ullania. The translation by Barbara Reynolds—"Now, as the counsel for defence"—captures the image of civil order here.[28]

Next Bradamante shifts the focus of the custom, making herself the issue. As well as defense counsel, she becomes the defendant—the issue, the focus of the custom—instead of the silent Ullania. Having put herself in the position of the defendant, she further compels the castellan of the Tower of Tristan into accepting her on whichever terms she chooses, as a maiden or as a warrior. Arguing that her femininity is unverified, Bradamante challenges the castellan to prove she is a woman without stripping her, to deny that men can have long hair, to accept that warriors must not be judged on their beauty (OF 32.102-103). Her logic is flimsy, especially since the keeper of the castle knows her and her family (OF 32.81), but her words are effective because he cannot take any of these positions unequivocally. Flimsy logic is not necessarily no logic, and Bradamante operates like one today who, claiming that he has never established presence in a state that would render him liable to its jurisdiction, must be present to make the denial. Special care is required


when making such an appearance in order to deny one's presence.[29] Bradamante's tricky purpose in raising unanswerable questions about gender identity is to deny the castellan and the custom of the castle jurisdiction over her, thereby challenging the social order.

To deny jurisdiction is not to deny the power of the law. Jurisdiction concerns, rather, the power of the law to reach an individual. Bradamante's entry into the sovereign territory of the caste suggests submission to the local law, but since jurisdiction is unclear, she may yet escape judgment by appealing to a higher, more universal, or separate authority. Such an appeal is as difficult to achieve in real courts as escaping the long arm of the law. Bradamante attempts this defense by creating a moral issue where the custom itself does not raise one. She asks if it is fair that one should lose for lack of beauty what one has gained by valor: "It does not seem to me just to lose through inadequate beauty what I have won by valor at arms" ("Perder per men beltà giusto non parmi / quel c'ho acquistato per virtù con l'armi," OF 32.104). Fairness is never an issue when the procedure of custom is concerned—as distinct from the substance of the custom. It makes no difference to the ancient custom established by Clodione that Bradamante gains entrance first as a knight. Her being inside or outside the castle will not alter the results of the beauty contest, which Clodione established in order to exploit the chivalric practice of Tristan.

Bradamante seems to recognize the irrelevance of her arguments when she caps her discourse by echoing the ancient dualism of the chansons de geste , that Christians are right and pagans wrong. Bradamante threatens to maintain her position, right or wrong, in combat against any challenger, because she believes in her own judgment: "mine is right, his is wrong!" ("che 'l mio sia vero, e falso il suo parere," OF 32.106). The voice of the Furioso readily points out that Bradamante gets her way, ultimately, because she successfully threatens the castellan: "Bradamante persuaded their host, with many arguments and well-chosen words (but especially with her concluding remark )" ("al signor de l'albergo persuade / con ragion molte e con parlare accorto, / ma molto


più con quel ch'al fin concluse ," OF 32.106; my emphasis). The amused, hectoring narrator quickly shifts attention away from what, to that moment, has been Bradamante's successful manipulation of the custom. That Ariosto's narrator jealously steals her thunder replays once again the very nature of Bradamante's exertion of counterpressure against the voice of authority. Her terms make her a winner only if she is a warrior. Her sword parodies the sword of justice. As a result, Bradamante's threat exposes the injustice of force that underlies laws binding the social order.


In the episode of the Tower of Tristan, details of which Spenser borrowed for Britomart's adventures, Ariosto considers the individual who struggles against the oppression of a social institution. By making the focus of the "custom of the castle" a woman, Ariosto finds a way to figure the weakness of even a strong individual. The valorization of Bradamante's acquiescence to unreasonable convention or sheer power is supported by the two major digressions to Bradamante's adventure. These two wings, so to speak, of the Tower of Tristan episode are, first, the story told by the keeper of the castle about the origin of the evil custom, and second, the political prophecies pictured in the castle's gallery.

The founder of the custom of the castle is Clodione, the son of Fieramont—that Pharamond of Shakespeare and French legend who is the supposed founder of French law.[30] To justify his own conduct, the castellan tells of the arrival once upon a time of Tristan, a stranger, at Clodione's castle. Clodione is a jealous man, who refuses to allow Tristan into his home where he keeps a wary eye on his wife. Angered by this inhospitable gesture, Tristan challenges not just Clodione, but Clodione and his ten knights. Tristan adds the provision that after he defeats the group, its members must lodge outside (OF 32.87). Clodione has enough of a sense of honor that he feels compelled to accept Tristan's challenge ("Clodion, to avoid suffering this humiliation, risked meeting


his death"; "Per non patir quest'onta, va il figliuolo / del re di Francia a rischio de la morte," OF 32.87), but his force and that of his men are insufficient. Tristan defeats everyone and sends the son of the king of France outside for the night.

After he expels Clodione, Tristan suggests that while Clodione is out in the cold, he might want a woman. He teases him for losing, and claims that on the premise that only the brave deserve the fair, Clodione cannot be allowed to have his fair wife. Instead, Tristan offers to send forth a less beautiful woman with whom he had been traveling.[31] Then, because the story turns on the relativity of insider and outsider, of one who is in a group and one who is a stranger, it is fitting that Tristan tries to show Clodione the ennobling power of love, to suggest that love should lead him so welcome others into his house, not blind him with jealousy. Clodione rejects the offer of the woman, and he fails to learn the lesson of hospitality. From his nocturnal vantage outside in the wind, Clodione feels only the effects of force, not the persuasion of pedagogy. He sees that the strongest knight remains inside the castle. And he listens to Tristan, the exemplar of chivalry, demean a woman who lacks beauty.

Following Tristan's departure, Clodione turns Tristan's taunt into a rule of law. He establishes a new social practice based on Tristan's cavalier attitude toward women. The new custom is that only the strongest knight may stay inside the castle, and only the most beautiful woman. Clodione, then, overturns Tristan's lesson in hospitality by twisting Tristan's mocking threat. As a result Clodione's rules stand symbolically for the original act of injustice, the result of a clash of two sets of values, whose unequal resolution the castle comes to symbolize.

That gendered guidelines represent more than a local example of misogyny becomes clear if we compare Ariosto's episode to its main sources, the customs maintained by Brunor in the prose Tristan and by the son of Galehot le Brun in Gyron le Courtoys . In the first story, with its obvious echoes of the vulgate cycle and Grail story, the custom of the Weeping Castle is said to derive from the days of Joseph of Arimathea,


who converted all of England except for the Isle of the Giant. The ruling giant, named Dialetes, is wounded and unable to resist Joseph's missionaries when they first arrive, but later he struggles to restore paganism. Christianity alienates Dialetes from himself, causing him to do evil.

A later example of the custom of the castle, which Ariosto knew, removes the radical implications of cultural otherness found in the prose Tristan . The theme of honor—of a particularly cloying kind—marks the late thirteenth-century Gyron , a romance whose quality is well below that of the prose Tristan .[32] In this popular continuation, Gyron approaches a tower called the Passaige Perilleux where he must fight twenty knights and then, if victorious, the lord of the tower. He learns what lies ahead from Sagremor, who sits under a tree, moaning.[33] Gyron knows at once that, without doubt, this is the passage that Galehot le Brun, an excellent knight, had established. He wonders if he should take on this challenge. Many times he has heard that the perilous passage is one of the greatest adventures in Logres.[34] He is with Abilan the stranger. On and on they ride. They see the tower. It is fine. They see a stone with red letters. The letters say, "This is the perilous passage, where one knight encounters twenty. Be warned that every knight whom adventure brings here on this road will face this custom before going forward. Four knights will succeed."[35] It says that the first was Galehot le Brun. Also Danayn le roux. Nothing else appears. Abilan loses, but Gyron wins and meets the lord of the tower, who is the son of Galehot le Brun. For pages and pages, they "regarde" each other.[36] After an absolutely bloodless battle, a transparent device to establish the honor of each knight, they adjourn for the evening.[37] The lord of the castle waives the custom for the night, although technically Gyron is his prisoner. In bed, later, with candles burning, Gyron asks how the custom was established.[38] He is told the story is long, that it will keep him up past midnight, and that he needs his rest. Nonetheless, the narrative proceeds at length. The upshot is that the custom was established because Galehot le Brun ardently loved the wife of Dyodenas. The jealous husband imprisons him, and the lady, who had been unyielding, begins


to soften toward him, because he suffers. She liberates Galehot. She is imprisoned by her husband and guarded by twenty knights. (As Rajna points out, the story of jealousy resembles the tale of Clodione.)[39] A duel is arranged, to which Galehot must bring a damsel more beautiful than the wife of Dyodenas. He does, and he defeats the twenty knights and kills Dyodenas. Then, to guard his own woman better, Galehot establishes the custom that no stranger can see her at all unless he defeats twenty knights and the keeper of the tower. The source of the custom, then, is to prevent the mayhem that follows the arrival of a stranger who wants one's wife.[40] Boiardo's version of this story occurs at Castle Cruel, when Marchino burns for Stella, the wife of Grifone of Altaripa.

At the Tower of Tristan and in Ariosto's sources, the story of origins is told to explain the existence of a strange custom. As Dante says in his Convivio , "moral counselings are wont to create a desire to investigate their origins."[41] Moreover, usage and tradition have the advantage of certainty.[42] Dante's thought suggests that Ariosto tells the story of Clodione for reasons beyond showing the effects of jealousy. Codification of custom and the legal custodianship of the state arise because the keeper of a castle's customs, as well as other caste inhabitants whose vanity custom serves, seeks stability. The wandering knight errant— Tristan or Gyron in the earlier stories, Bradamante in the Furioso —confronts injustice that has taken the shape of a social institution, a place, a set of rules, a group committed to the game. But stability is not itself an ethical value. It can promote justice or injustice alike. A system of justice, or any set of social codes that seek to govern present behavior by invoking the authority of the past, can oppress an individual, as well as free him or her from fear.


Bradamante is only a parody of weakness, yet her initial acquiescence to the custom of the castle casts her into an inferior role. She feels the legacy of the past that weighs on the present. She bears the burden of


social order, absorbing Ullania's threat and recasting it in terms of an individual who confronts the strange custom of the Tower of Tristan. As a result, the Tower of Tristan is more than the product of a jealous husband for one whom Gardner called the king of court poets. In Latin institutum means practice, custom, usage, habit. In the Renaissance the word was common in the titles of educational treatises. Bradamante's struggle against custom, in the symbolic context of Tristan's tower, becomes one of individual power against institutions great and small—the court, bureaucracy, but also the church, the state, and even the foreign power of France.

Having defended Ullania, Bradamante views a series of political paintings that picture the foreign invasions of Italy, which climaxed in the 1527 sack of Rome. These panels elevate a sympathetic or ironic moment in the battle of the sexes into a more general image of the way past injustice threatens to replay itself in the future. "The ingenious ways in which the weak make use of the strong," writes Michel de Certeau, "lend a political dimension to everyday practices."[43] For the castle's founder Clodione is also the ancestor of those French invaders who threaten Italy in the illuminated panels that decorate the Tower of Tristan. His father Fieramont is said to be the first French king to conceive of invading Italy (OF 33.8).

As the keeper of the Tower of Tristan guides Bradamante and her companions through future history, Ariosto makes his point perhaps too boldly: there will be no permanent French conquest of Italy, he says, because France has no roots in Italian soil ("che non lice / che 'l Giglio in quel terreno abbia radice," OF 33.10). Only those outsiders like Pipin and Charlemagne who come to assist Italy, not to invade her, will find joy ("lieto successo") because they come not to offend ("che venuto non v'è perché l'offenda," OF 33.16). The same ambiguity that adheres to one who was disgraced by his jealous passion—while following a code of honor in combat—attaches to the French nation. The panels cast the French as the potential saviors of Italy, yet their invasions bring ruin.


The panels are at once sanguine and shrill because Ariosto was writing in the twilight of Italian liberty when he added the Tower of Tristan episode to the Furioso . From our historical distance—and we did not witness the effect in 1512 of Alfonso d'Este's cannon at Ravenna (OF 14.2)—the 1527 sack of Rome is the most important international event of the period between the second and third editions of Ariosto's poem. Ariosto added a condemnation of Rome's disaster to his final edition (OF 33.55), but from another perspective, the passage is merely one more panel in a castle known for its odd French custom, another lament for the harpies of war (OF 34.1), another scene of looting. The view from Ferrara was ambiguous. There, general principles did not deter local opportunism. Duke Alfonso assisted the foreign armies descending on Rome by constructing a pontoon bridge of boats.[44] Ferrante Gonzaga led the Italian troops. His mother, Isabella d'Este, who had once followed the progress of the Furioso with a passion, was in Rome at the time, staying in the Palazzo Colonna. She was shipping loot during the worst excesses of the occupation.[45]

Rome was culturally vulnerable long before Count Charles de Bourbon made his ruinous entry during June of 1527, leading Lutheran mercenaries sharked together by Charles V and accompanied by Spanish tercieros and contingents of disaffected Italians. The disorder of the church, the violence of local squabbles, the verbal abuse within her walls made Rome a place to avoid for men of such different temperament as Luther, who stayed briefly in 1508, and Erasmus, who lambasted the pomp and vitriol of Roman customs in his Ciceronianus (1528, recalling his sojourn of 1506). During the sack of Rome, the ministers of Charles V interpreted the city's misfortune as divine punishment for her corruption. The task of rebutting them fell to the beleaguered Clement VII's papal nuncio to Spain, Baldassare Castiglione. As he stood before the emperor at Valladolid, Castiglione had already invented his lost Italy, the land of learning and civility that would be the pattern of aristocratic chivalry for the world's imagination, a shield against the ruins of time.


He argued that no matter how unworthy her society, Rome's institutions, symbols, and tradition were too sacred to be abused.[46] But the profiler of the elegant and eloquent courtier failed in his purpose. He could not dissuade Charles V from permitting the march on Rome.

Francesco Guicciardini's History of Italy provides another compelling gloss on the way Italy's political vulnerability forced Italians during Ariosto's last years to recognize the mutability of social mores. For Guicciardini, the disaster of Rome left everything open to question. His re-visionary history asserts that when, a generation earlier, Charles VIII descended to claim the kingdom of Naples, he taught Italy a lesson that Guicciardini's prose spells out: foreign invasions produce permanent disorder because they introduce new fashions and customs.

Charles entered Asti on the ninth day of September of the year 1494, bringing with him into Italy the seeds of innumerable calamities, of most horrible events and changes in almost the entire state of affairs. For his passage into Italy not only gave rise to changes of dominions, subversion of kingdoms, desolation of countries, destruction of cities and the cruelest of massacres, but also new fashions, new customs, new and bloody ways of waging warfare, and diseases which had been unknown up to that time . Furthermore, his incursion introduced so much disorder into Italian ways of governing and maintaining harmony, that we have never been able to re-establish order , thus opening the possibility to other foreign nations and barbarous armies to trample upon our institutions and miserably oppress us.[47]

The narrator of Guicciardini's History no longer accepts his society as a given, but recognizes that it is composed of institutions and customs. Rocked by history, he looks at his own land and he sees the Other. Whatever is, is wrong. Things were different in the golden age, the era before 1494. The History makes those years seem impossibly distant.

The poet, like the historian, struggled against modernity. But Ariosto's relationship to the glorified past was different from Guicciardini's—and not only because he wrote chivalric fiction. He perceived


the past as he did any source of constraint. When Bradamante confronts a wicked custom, she is, like the world-weary Ariosto, hardly surprised that such behavior should exist. The complicated custom Bradamante must manipulate fits the image of political intrigue, and the historical context of Ariosto's late additions suggests that what upended the tradition of chivalry—the culture's term for all good custom—was a crisis in the management of the state brought about by the daily threat to the geopolitical integrity of Italy. The culture was under pressure as well. Renee of France, the woman who had married the duke's heir Ercole and would become duchess of Ferrara a year after Ariosto's death, refused to learn Italian or give up her French ways. Her Protestant sympathies would soon be manifest. Before he died, Alfonso d'Este had already noted her inability to adapt to the customs of the country.[48]


Current criticism of the Furioso is divided as to whether Ariosto's poem is a monument to stability and transcendence or an attempt to evade the nightmare of history.[49] Is Bradamante the product of social custom, or does she become a producer of it? One might as well ask whether Ariosto lived on the margins of society or within it. He did both. Currently the Furioso is regarded as a poem of crisis in faith, politics, and culture. It is also seen as an evasion of crisis. Albert Ascoli questions studies that "tend to assign priority to one source or another in a given textual circumstance" without considering the poem's proleptic reading of the "possible responses it will call forth."[50] He adds a crisis of referentiality to the question of what is historical and subjective, remarking that Ariosto also defeats such a clear division. The bitter harmony he hears is that of a poem which both confronts and evades crises in faith, politics, and culture, of a poet who is neither distraught nor complacent. Walter Binni, dissatisfied with what he characterizes as a series of oxymoronic reactions by critics to Croce's conception of an Ariosto of cosmic harmony (e.g., "la tempestosa armonia" or "le dissonanze del-


l'armonia"), finds Ariosto not a solitary dreamer, but a man who needed social contact.[51] The critical consensus has long been to identify the ironic or satiric pole of Ariosto's fiction with the author himself.[52] Yet Wiggins argues convincingly that Ariosto's ironic voice emerges from one who studied to design an ideal picture of himself while at the same time finding an urbane way to express social discontents, "the pathos of his alienation."[53]

There is enough negative capability in Ariosto's art that I would not want to add Bradamante to the list of characters like Atlante and Astolfo who have been proposed as figures for the poet.[54] The image of an inveterate tinkerer left to us by his son reconciles, for me, the tension between the individual and the social actor. Ariosto was a man who "would not leave anything he planted for more than three months in one place," writes his son Virginio, "and if he sowed peaches or any kind of seed, he went so often to see if they were sprouting, that at last he broke the shoots."[55] In his last year Ariosto received a pension from Alfonso d'Avalos, and did not fail to reward his patron with an extended encomium in the Tower of Tristan panels (OF 32.27 and 48)—creating, in his final flourish, one of the least interesting sections of his poem, unless we can see such flattery as one of "the multiplicity of force relations" that Michel Foucault defined as power: "the process which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses" relations such as those that define the Renaissance courtier, poet, and family man.[56]

At the end of his life, in the final edition of his poem, Ariosto drew upon the old romance convention of the custom of the castle to dramatize the response of an individual to an institution that lacks integrity. The Tower of Tristan represents, in terms suitable to a Renaissance epic, what Robert Rodini has identified in the theatrical comedies Ariosto wrote during the socially unsettled era from 1490 to 1530 as a questioning of "humanistic certainties and . . . institutional norms."[57] Bradamante's magnificent counterpressure creates a picture of one who is both a producer and a product of the social order. For Ariosto's image


of discord is not a haunted forest or male rivalry for a cold queen or even Bradamante's jealous belief (based on the twisted report of a Gascon knight) that Ruggiero intends to marry Marfisa, but Bradamante's struggle within a social convention. As the Furioso concludes, it seems that Bradamante ultimately submits to Ruggiero's greater prowess, and to marriage. But most readers would agree that she stoops to conquer, outmaneuvering the circumscriptions of space and propriety and custom. The theme of the Tower of Tristan is the practice of submission— the uses to be made not just of an asymmetry of the sexes but of an individual's tactical deference to social convention.


A half century after Ariosto wrote, Edmund Spenser confirmed the manipulations inherent in Bradamante's behavior. Spenser isolated the situation of one who confronts a questionable custom but does not make an issue of its morality. Spenser's reading of the Furioso further confirms that Ariosto's fictional progenitor of the Este family offers a crucial insight into that crisis of individualism that since Burckhardt has shaped our notion of the Italian Renaissance.

As Book IV of The Faerie Queene opens, Britomart (a country cousin, C. S. Lewis said, of Ariosto's Bradamante)[58] has not yet disclosed her identity to Amoret, whom she has rescued from Busirane's tortures: Amoret fears she owes her body to her deliverer. The pair ride until they reach "a Castell," where "the custome of that place was such" that anyone who has not "love nor lemman there in store, / Should either winne him one, or lye without the dore" (FQ 4.1.9).[59]

Britomart easily solves this castle custom, which seems designed to admit only heterosexual couples. Armed with her ebony spear (Spenser's version of Bradamante's golden lance), she gains acceptance for herself and Amoret by defeating a "jolly knight" who seeks Amoret as his entrance partner. Then Britomart upsets the apple cart. She has already overcome social custom by concealing her sex; now she overcomes it


again by revealing herself. After asking the seneschal of the castle to ratify her victory as a man, she gains entrance for the nameless jolly knight by claiming that because she is a woman, she may be allowed entry with a man.

In contrast to more conventional caste scenes, Britomart both accepts and devalues custom by her own terms and solution. She practices (in the sense of undermining ) by participating. Despite, even because of, the custom's claims on her, she operates freely. And her confidence goes beyond her ebony spear. She decides to do things the hard way—to have the "jolly knight" admitted too—thereby imposing a new possibility of failure before the custom's challenge. Instead of destroying the caste or its custom, she overgoes the rules. Her wit, as conveyed by her words, allows her to set the fashion for the castle, if not alter the custom.

Her mechanism for this feat demonstrates how the weak overmaster dominant social forces. Rather than obtaining a strategic victory, as Tristan does at the Weeping Caste, Britomart obtains victory by what Michel de Certeau calls tactical means. In de Certeau's terms, "a tactic depends on time—it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized 'on the wing.'"[60] That is, Britomart imposes a solution dependent not on force alone. Although Britomart owes her victory in the joust to the irresistible enchantment of her ebony spear, her triumph over the castellan is a temporal trick. Having declared herself a woman, she could not again fight for Amoret. The ruse is not reversible.


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