Ericthonius's Secret: Body Politics in Ariosto's <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:
Ericthonius's Secret: Body Politics in Ariosto's Orlando furioso

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This chapter analyzes Ariosto's elaborate exploration of the politics of gender and the gendering of politics in the curious tale of the defeat of the phallocratic giant, Marganorre, by the warrior women, Marfisa and Bradamante. Like Chapter 4, this chapter suggests an unveiling of the gendered, sexualized categories that subtend not only the social relations of men and women but also the overarching legal and political order of which they are a part. Ariosto stages the ambivalence of his narrative avatar, who both exposes and reproduces the mechanisms by which male poets and patriarchal potentates keep women “beneath them.” Key elements are the poet's use of a little-known male mythological counterpart to the Medusa, Ericthonius, to dramatize the monstrous appropriation of female power by men; his play upon a symbolic proper name, Vittoria Colonna, whose declared role as emblem of female talent is cunningly absorbed into a symbolic political order at whose center stands a triumphal phallus, a “colonna.” The chapter points as well to the problem of deploying contemporary categories (Freudian, Lacanian, Derridean, or Butlerian) upon earlier periods where discourses of gender were quite different than our own. It makes the case, however, that the textual evidence lends itself readily to such an epoch-bridging encounter.

Keywords: Ludovico Ariosto; Orlando Furioso; Medusa; Ericthonius; Vittoria Colonna; gender and power; constructing masculinity; Renaissance texts; contemporary theory; mythography; women warriors

Chapter.  16070 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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