Ariosto's “<i>Fier Pastor</i>”: Form and History in <i>Orlando furioso</i>

Albert Russell Ascoli

in A Local Habitation and a Name

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780823234288
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241231 | DOI:
Ariosto's “Fier Pastor”: Form and History in Orlando furioso

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Although Ariosto is often thought of as a literary fantasist, this chapter argues for his oblique political engagement in his romance-epic, Orlando furioso, primarily through the strategic juxtaposition of passages referring to contemporary and historical events with narratives that provide indirect and allusive commentary on them. In particular, the episode of the cannibalistic Orco (canto 17)—a carry over from Boiardo's Innamoramento di Orlando and a descendant of the Homeric Cyclops—presents the monster as a “fier pastor” (fierce shepherd) at once echoing Dante's damned Ugolino and creating a link to Leo X as pastoral pontiff. Like Machiavelli Ariosto uses literary allusion to engage in a critique of Pope Leo and other Italian rulers, but also to stage his own problematic relationship to such figures. In larger terms, this chapter both illustrates the way in which Renaissance literature engages indirectly with menacing historical context and argues for the crucial role that formal analysis has in uncovering the “historicity” of literary texts.

Keywords: Ludovico Ariosto; Orlando Furioso; formalism and historicism; intertexuality; entrelacement; narrative and thematic interlace; Ariosto and Dante; Ariosto and Boiardo; Pope Leo X; poetry and power

Chapter.  16300 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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