Humanist studies shaped this future poet's early life. Born the son of a count and a scholar, Ariosto received instruction from the humanist Luca Ripa before attending the University of Ferrara in northern Italy. Like many future poets and literary figures, Ariosto originally planned for a career in law, but during his student years he continued to embrace humanist studies, delivering the annual address that commenced the starting of the university's academic year in 1495. By 1500 Ariosto's father's death brought new responsibilities to the young philosopher, who was now responsible for the other members of his family. To deal with the financial responsibilities, he joined the court of Cardinal Ippolito D'Este, a prominent high-ranking church official and a member of the ruling house at Ferrara. In this capacity he fulfilled a variety of roles, among them conducting diplomatic journeys to other courts in Italy. Ariosto stayed with the cardinal until 1517, when he was dismissed for refusing to follow his employer on a trip to Hungary. The poet soon found employment with the cardinal's brother, Alfonso I, who was then ruler of the duchy of Ferrara. Although Ariosto frequently complained about his employment with the D'Este family, he maintained good relations with Ippolito and Alfonso's sister, Isabella D'Este, one of the most cultivated court ladies of the Renaissance. Isabella D'Este, herself a duchess of Mantua, was one of Ariosto's trusted correspondents, and he kept her informed of the progress on his major epic poem, the Orlando furioso, or Mad Roland. In Alfonso's employment Ariosto was given a position as a remote official in a mountainous region between Ferrara and Florence. Although he dispensed these duties admirably, he disliked life outside the city, and he eventually returned to Ferrara. To further his career, Ariosto had earlier taken holy orders, but in 1528 he secretly married Alessandra Benucci and the two indulged their love for literature during Ariosto's final years. Shortly before his death Ariosto also prepared a final edition of his Orlando for publication, lengthening the work to its present state.
By the end of the fifteenth century Ferrara enjoyed an enviable reputation as the most cultivated court in Italy. As a humanistically educated figure, Ariosto was able to read Greek and Latin, and his dramatic works and poetry bear the influence of that early training. At the same time the author was a path breaker who adopted influences not just from the classical past but also from medieval romances and epics and even from the language of the contemporary street. Much of the tone of what he wrote was satirical, and he directed his wit gently against the confines of contemporary court life. To each project he brought a cultivated, yet imaginative perspective. His works did not slavishly imitate Antiquity. Instead he creatively reworked his inspirations into new forms that, in turn, inspired their own imitators. In the generation before Ariosto came to maturity the court at Ferrara had emerged as one center in which the ancient Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence were enthusiastically studied. Since the 1470s the D'Este family had supported the revival of classical comedy by undertaking an annual festival in which the dramas of Plautus and Terence were performed. To underscore their court's great learning, the comedies were usually performed in their classical Latin, with a separate production staged in Italian translation following the original. Ariosto may have acted in one of these productions during the 1490s, but by 1510, he had produced two works that made use of the conventions of the ancient dramatic form: The Coffer Comedy and The Pretenders. These plays proved to be influential in establishing Italian erudite comedy, a new genre in which Roman dramatic forms inspired plays about daily life in contemporary times. In the preface to the printed version of The Pretenders Ariosto explained his own ideas about the imitation of classical models. He stressed an idea that was popular at the time among Italy's artists and authors, that is, that the imitation of classical models provided a secure form in which one's own native creativity could flourish. This imitation, he warned, should not strive merely to recreate Roman drama. Instead contemporary playwrights should evidence a creativity similar to that of the ancient Romans when they adapted Greek forms for use in their own theater.
In their day Ariosto's comedies were an important force in establishing the new theatrical forms of erudite comedy in Italy. Later writers in Northern Europe and Spain also made use of them for material for plays in their own language. Shakespeare adapted some scenes of The Pretenders in his comedy The Taming of the Shrew. Ariosto published several of his comedies in both prose and verse versions, and thus his works inspired writers anxious to develop comedy in both forms. While the comedies were important in sixteenth-century Italy, the author's Orlando furioso was an even more inspiring work of fiction. A long epic poem that treated the exploits of Roland, a figure in the early medieval court of Charlemagne, was set against the backdrop of Christian-Muslim conflict, a theme that seemed strikingly contemporary to sixteenth-century Europeans as they waged battle against the expansion of the Turks in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. The Furioso continued to inspire poets, playwrights, and musicians until the nineteenth century. Among the artists who relied upon its vast scope were Lope de Vega in seventeenth-century Spain and the composer Georg Frederich Handel and the painter Fragonard in eighteenth-century England and France, respectively.
L. G. Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare's Time (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989).
D. Javitch, Proclaiming a Classic: The Canonization of Orlando Furioso (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991).
D. Looney, Compromising the Classics: The Canonization of Orlando Furioso (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1996).
The Italian Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) was the greatest narrative poet of the Italian Renaissance. His richly human masterpiece, "Orlando furioso," adds a native bent for narration to an exquisitely polished octave stanza.
Ludovico Ariosto was born at Reggio Emilia: when he was 14, the family moved to Ferrara, where his father, Niccolò, was in service at the ducal court of the Este family. Five years later his father consented to Ludovico's abandonment of law studies in favor of literature. Ariosto was first employed at court in 1498; 2 years later his father died, leaving him to provide for nine younger brothers and sisters. In 1503 he entered the service of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, who sponsored performances of Ariosto's neoclassical comedies, Cassariain 1508 and I suppositi in 1509. His later comedies are the unfinished I studenti (1518-1519), II negromante (1521), and the most successful of them, La Lena, performed under his direction in 1529.
In 1513 Ariosto met the beautiful Alessandra Benucci, whom he married secretly in 1527 to avoid the loss of Church benefices. In 1518 he entered the service of the cardinal's brother, Duke Alfonso d'Este. Except for a 3-year period when he governed the bandit-ridden Garfagnana region for the duke, Ariosto was allowed more time for writing than he had been by Cardinal Ippolito. His Satire (Satires) treat ironically his problems in Ferrara, where the Este brothers failed to recognize his worth, in the Garfagnana, and on missions to the papal court.
Ariosto's Orlando furioso, a continuation of Boiardo's Orlando innamorato, went through three redactions, or versions (1516, 1521, and 1532). It is a romantic, comicepic retelling of the story of Roland (Orlando), the medieval French hero. Among a myriad of episodes about dauntless knights and enchanting women, the three main narrative threads are the Saracens' siege of Paris and their final rout; the insanity of Orlando, who was driven mad by unrequited love for Angelica, Princess of Cathay; and the love of the warrior woman Bradamante for Ruggiero. The progressive loss of reason by Orlando as he drifts from foreboding dream to hallucination to total madness is finely drawn. Ariosto's wise and realistic portrayal of human nature in all its intricacies in so fantastic a world—which includes even a moon journey—is a remarkable feat of poetry. By no means an outright parody, his poem exalts many values of the world of chivalry, such as love and fidelity. It influenced Cervantes, Spenser, and Shakespeare. Ariosto died in 1533 after completing the last version of his great narrative poem.
An excellent, free-ranging verse translation of Ariosto's masterpiece, Orlando furioso, was published in 1591 by the Elizabethan author Sir John Harington (repr. 1963). Later translations include those of Temple Henry Croker in 1755 and William Stewart Rose in 1825. The recent prose translation by Allan Gilbert (2 vols., 1954) includes his informative appreciation of the poem. The work's unique place in Italian Renaissance narrative poetry is ably discussed by Francesco de Sanctis in History of Italian Literature (2 vols., 1870; new ed. 1914; trans. 1931) and by Ernest Hatch Wilkins in A History of Italian Literature (1954). See also Edmund G. Gardner, The King of Court Poets: A Study of the Work, Life and Times of Ludovico Ariosto (1906;repr. 1968), and Benedetto Croce, Ariosto, Shakespeare and Corneille (1920; trans. 1920).
Ascoli, Albert Russell, Ariosto's bitter harmony: crisis and evasion in the Italian Renaissance, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Griffin, Robert, Ludovico Ariost, New York, Twayne Publishers 1974.
Marinelli, Peter V., Ariosto and Boiardo: the origins of Orlando furioso, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987. □
Ariosto, Ludovico (1474–1533)
Ariosto, Ludovico (1474–1533)
Italian poet whose Orlando Furioso, became one of the most famous literary works of the Renaissance. Born in the town of Reggio Emilio, the son of a military commander, Ludovico Ariosto moved to Ferrara while still a boy. He later studied law despite his preference for poetry. He was instructed in Latin and Greek by the scholar Gregorio da Spoleto, but on the death of his father in 1500 he became responsible for his nine siblings. Two years later, he became the commander of the town of Canossa.
As a young man, Ariosto found a needed patron in Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, who showed ignorance and contempt for his works and used him as a common servant. In 1516 Ariosto completed Orlando Furioso, an epic poem in forty-six cantos. He based the poem on Orlando Innamorato, an unfinished work of Matteo Maria Boiardo. It was a tale of romance and chivalry that borrowed themes and characters from the popular chansons de geste, epic romances of the medieval age. The poet takes on the role of a singing troubadour, describing the adventures of Orlando, a knight who fights the Saracens for the emperor Charlemagne and goes mad with love for the beautiful Angelica. In Orlando Furioso Ariosto showed great respect for chivalric poetry but also chided the chansons de geste for their old-fashioned attention to courtly manners. His work inspired several major poets to create imitations and leading painters to illustrate scenes from the poem.
Ariosto left the cardinal's household in 1518 and joined that of Alfonso I, the duke of Ferrara, whom he served as ambassador to Pope Julius II. The duke later appointed him governor of Garfagnana, a remote district in the Apennine Mountains. Ariosto was responsible for managing a lawless region infested with bandits, but had won such a reputation for his poetry that he was immediately released by a band of criminals after being kidnapped.
Known throughout Italy, Ariosto's poem found an even larger audience when it was published in its final form in 1532. Ariosto's other works include satires and stage comedies, including La Cassaria and Il Suppositi, modeled on the works of the ancient Romans Plautus and Terrence. The latter work was borrowed by William Shakespeare for his play The Taming of the Shrew.
See Also: Ferrara; Tasso, Torquato
Ariosto of the North in Byron's Childe Harold a name for Sir Walter Scott.