Caroline’s Review of Ariosto, Orlando furioso

Caroline’s Review of Orlando furioso [*]

Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 136 (Monday, 29 April 1799) 257–62.

Zürich, bei Gessner: Orlando der rasende, mit Anmerkungen und vorausgeschicktem Auszuge des Orlando inamorato. Vol. 1. 1797. 109 and 251 pages. Vol. 2. 1798. 411 pages. 8vo.



After Meinhard’s initial, rather weak attempts at introducing Ariosto to Germany, [1] we were presented with the complete prose translation of Orlando furioso by Heinse, [2] whom Mauvillon, in the preface to his own translation, [3] charged with having misunderstood a not inconsiderable number of passages, and yet who also neglected to save what graces might indeed have been salvaged in a prose version; that notwithstanding, neither the one nor the other failed to express extravagant admiration for the original.

Werthes then took on the task of rendering the poet in his own poetic meter, genuinely completing the poem up to the eighth canto. [4] Despite its unmistakable merits, however, the verse structure is so harsh, the rhymes often so infelicitous, and the Italian’s inimitable, agile daintiness so often degenerates into aridity and feebleness, that one can say the knot here has sooner been sundered than really untied. To this reviewer’s knowledge, only a single other attempt has since been made, in the Neue Thalia 3, no. 1, [5] where the stanza of choice was that of Oberon, [6] while the translation itself did not reach the end of the initial canto.

This present translation, of which fifteen cantos have thus far been published, is composed in unrhymed iambic pentameters and hexameters. First a few words about these choices. Nowhere does the author explain whether he intends his translation to be viewed as merely interpretive or poetic. [7] If the former, then he has accomplished more than one might ask for, since at least for the purpose of the reader not sufficiently practiced enough to understand the foreign poet without assistance, a correct prose rendering serves quite well.

That said, however, one could well doubt whether such metrical coercion — and be it ever so slight in this particular case — in fact works counter to the original purpose by occasionally, and inevitably, making a precise literal rendering impossible. By contrast, as far as maintaining the poem’s unique charm is concerned, absolutely nothing is accomplished by the use of unrhymed iambics; instead, it is as if the reader is explicitly reminded at the end of every line that something is missing.

One need only imagine the Italian text, otherwise altered as little as possible, rendered in versi sciolti! [8] Any translation of Ariosto intended to be viewed as poetic must necessarily be rhymed. This is not the place to discuss why this is so; what remains true in any case, however, is that this accursed rhyme, which especially in our own language has proven to be so brittle and recalcitrant, is nonetheless a kind of sorcerer who manages to utterly transform everything before one even realizes it.

But even that is not yet enough. If the acknowledged principle of poetic translation, namely, to render a work as far as possible in its own meter, does indeed enjoy such broad acceptance among us because German itself is so receptive to so many metrical forms, we can obviously be content with nothing less than an Orlando furioso in genuine ottava rima. [9] But because the threefold rhymes present an almost insuperable difficulty, and because working through the ocean of forty-six lengthy cantos would constitute a veritable poetic voyage round the world, various mediate solutions have been proposed, including free iambic anapests as used in Der neue Amadis. [10]

What is to be feared, however, is that the anarchical nature of that form would seep into the portrayal as well, thereby destroying the beautiful balance between fantastical arbitrariness and serene circumspection so charmingly characterizing that portrayal. This same point applies, albeit in a different fashion, to the previously attempted use of stanzas without the threefold rhyme with arbitrarily intermixed iambics of varying lengths; such lacks the conclusion and rounding off characterizing a true stanza. The rigor of external form, the epic uniformity deriving from verse length and from the indefatigable recurrence of ordered rhymes seems necessary to lend cultivation and convivial grace to the wild chivalric romanzo.

Through varied adaptation, our language has acquired additional malleability in so striking a fashion that much has already been successfully executed that even a few years ago justifiably seemed quite impossible. Hence one must despair in nothing. Because halfway solutions to this task will not satisfy us, until a poet arises who, quite without any prospect of commensurate compensation, is sufficiently imbued with love for the project to make this most delightful of all chivalric poems at home in German poesy in a worthy fashion, we will simply have to make do with merely interpretive translations.

Viewed as such, the present translation does on the whole undeniably enjoy the merit of correctness, even if minor items occasionally might need to be brought to the author’s attention. For example, in the verse “Due pome acerbe, e pur d’avorio fatte” (canto 7, stanza xiv), the sense of e pur is not rendered by “Zwey herbe Aepfel, schier von Elfenbeine.” [11] The reference is to the seeming opposition between the two descriptions: “herbe Früchte, und doch aus Elfenbein gebildet.” [12] In another passage, one we are disinclined to discuss in detail (canto 8, stanza xlix), several things similarly seem not to have been quite understood. —

One can also, with a few exceptions, praise the purity of language in this piece. On page 113 in volume 2, we did notice aufkiken as a provincialism, and on page 195 in volume 2, we would have preferred Kran instead of Hisse as the rendering of argano. [13] More significant than these items, however, is that the author has allowed himself certain infelicities of word order and other liberties that can hardly be allowed for the sake of alleviating even the greatest metrical rigor. E.g., in volume II, page 225:

Und kann darüber mit sich eins nicht werden.

Why not simply:

Und kann nicht eins mit sich darüber werden. — ? [14]

In volume 1, page 212: Das versammelt Volk. Although rigorist grammarians have quite without justification sought to prohibit poets from omitting the inflected ending even after the indefinite article, it can in any case certainly not be omitted after the definite. [15] Volume 2, page 4:

Ein Wolf so gross ist schwerlich in Apulien
Zu finden, [16] 

for: “ein so grosser Wolf.” [17] The rendering would be acceptable were the reading “ein Wolf, so gross wie der.” [18] We encounter a similar transposition in the title itself of the poem, which is thus quite in error. Orlando der rasende [19] sounds like an epithet deriving from a fixed characteristic rather than from a temporary condition. As if one were to say “Jerusalem, the delivered.” [20]

Even if one demands nothing more from these verses than that they not sound outright displeasing, in many cases they do not even cover this modest demand. The occasionally added anapests would be the most apt to prove acceptable, since they do have the advantage of incorporating expressions into the verse that the pure iambic will otherwise not tolerate. But the frequent transitioning from one verse into the next with a single foot, e.g., volume 2, page 23:

Bis er mit seinen Waffen lang' von ihm
Verschmäht | von Kopf zu Fusse sich bekleidet;
Und dass Alcina nichts vermuthe, so gab
Er vor, | er wolle nur in ihnen sich versuchen. [21] 

is really quite unpleasant, as are to an even greater extent the Alexandrines lacking caesura! Volume 1, page 208:

Der Undankbare, der Verräther, der Barbar [ . . . ]
Deshalb gab
Er vor, er wolle, um vom Hof mich zu entfernen [ . . . ] [22] 

Volume II, page 225:

Allein den andern kann sie stets herunter setzen,
Und hätte sie ihn bis zum Himmel auch erhoben. [23] 

We will ignore verses concluding with quite ordinary secondary words that lean into the following verse and other such practices.

It is thus not saying too much to assert that these verses can be viewed only as an arrangement providing a better overview for those who read the original with the help of a translation. But in that case, nothing of the strictest word-for-word faithfulness to the original should be sacrificed, and as much as possible be rendered line for line. The reviewer found considerable, in his opinion unnecessary deviations from that principle. Without choosing any particular example over the other, let us offer the following sample. Canto 2, stanza xviii:

Veduto avreste i cavalier turbarsi
A quell' annunzio, e mesti, e sbigottiti,
Senza occhi e senzamente nominarsi,
Che gli avesse il rival cosi scherniti.
Ma il buon Rinaldo al suo cavallo trarsi
Con sospir, che parean del foce usciti,
E giurar per isdegno e per furore
Se giunge Orlando, di cavargli il core. [24] 

Page 52:

Die Ritter standen bey der Nachricht ganz
Verdutzt; sie sahn sich starr ein Weilchen an,
Und schalten dann sich blind und dämisch, so
Des Nebenbuhlers Hohn sich preis zu geben.
Drauf ging, mit Seufzern, heiss als stiegen sie
Vom Feuer auf, Rinald zu seinem Pferde,
Und schwur voll Wuth, wenn ihm sein Vetter nur
Begegnete, das Herz ihm auszureissen.

Quite apart from the fact that the expressions verduzt and dämisch [25] have a certain ignoble quality about them, no trace of which is found in the text itself (an error to which the translator frequently succumbs), one might remain considerably closer to the Italian text by using unrhymed iambics:

Bey dieser Zeitung hättet ihr die Ritter
Erschrecken sehn, und traurig und bestürzt
Verblendet und bethört sich selber nennen,
Dass sie der Nebenbuhler so verspottet.
Der wackre Reinhold ging zu seinem Pferde
Mit Seufzern, die wie aus dem Feuer kamen,
Und schwur in der Entrüstung und der Wuth,
Träf' er den Roland, ihm das Herz zu rauben.

Admittedly not as close if one imposes rhymes [26] :

Die Ritter, bey der Zeitung ganz verstört,
Sahn sich bestürzt und traurig an, und schwiegen,
Dann nannte jeder selbst sich blind, bethört,
Dass er sich liess vom Nebenbuhler triegen.
Jedoch der wackre Reinhold sucht sein Pferd
Mit Seufzern, die wie aus dem Feuer stiegen;
Und schwört in der Entrüstung und der Wuth,
Treff' er den Roland, kost' es ihm sein Blut.

Allow us the following sample, here the initial announcement [27] :

Von Frau'n und Rittern, Krieg und Liebeshändeln
Sing' ich, von Adelsitt' und kühnen Thaten,
Zu jener Zeit, da übers Meer die Mohren
Von Afrika zu Frankreichs Unheil kamen,
Geführt von Agramanten, ihrem König,
Der sich, erhitzt von jugendlichem Zorn
Und Uebermuth, vermass, den Tod Trojans
An Karl, dem Röm'schen Kaiser, schwer zu rächen.

Zugleich will ich vom Paladin Orlando
Was man in Versen nie noch Prose sang,
Erzählen: wie er rasend ward vor Liebe,
Er, den man sonst für so verständig hielt; —
Wenn sie, die mich beynah in gleichen Fall
Mit ihm gesetzt und stets mein bischen Witz
Mir schmälert, noch genug davon mir gönnen sollte,
Um das was ich verspreche zu vollenden.

O möchtest du, des Herkuls edler Sprössling,
Du Schmuck und Ehre unseres Jahrhunderts,
Hippolito, was dir dein Diener weiht
Und nur dir weihen kann, mit Huld empfangen!
Durch Wort' und Schriften mag ich einen Theil
Von dem, was ich dir schuldig bin, entrichten;
Und geb' ich wenig, rechne mir's nicht zu;
Es ist ja alles, was ich geben konnte.

This reviewer would to render in rhymed stanzas as follows: [28]

Die Frau'n, die Ritter sing' ich, Lieb' und Kriege,
Die kühnen Abenteur, die feinen Sitten,
So man gesehn zur Zeit der Mohrenzüge
Aus Afrika, da Frankreich viel gelitten,
Da sie, mit jugendlicher Wuth zum Siege
Geführt vom König Agramant, gestritten,
Der sich vermass, mit trotzigem Versprechen,
Den Tod Trojans am Kaiser Karl zu rächen.

Was man in Reim und Prosa nie erdachte,
Mach' ich zugleich vom Roland euch bekannt,
Wie ihn die Liebe toll und rasend machte,
Da man doch sonst ihn so gescheidt genannt:
Wenn sie, die auch beynah so weit mich brachte,
Und Tag für Tag mein kleines Maass Verstand
Noch schmälert, mir genug davon will gönnen,
Um enden, was ich euch versprach, zu können.

Und ihr, aus Herkuls herrlichem Geschlechte,
Hippolytus, die Zierde unsrer Zeit!
Empfangt mit Huld von dem euch eignen Knechte,
Was er euch weihen kann und willig weiht.
Der gern zum Dank ein bessres Opfer brächte,
Ist zu der Feder Thaten nur bereit;
Verschmäht mich nicht um die geringe Gabe,
Ich biete ja euch alles, was ich habe.

These suggestions, by the way, have no other purpose than merely to illustrate what we said above about the indispensability of rhyme in a poem characterized by such a tone, disposition, and coloring.

Explanatory annotations are appended after the conclusion of each canto; the translator went to particular trouble with the third, explaining the genealogy of the house of Este. The introductory excerpt from the Orlando inamorato is also appropriate, since the Orlando furioso, as is well known, came about as its continuation. Typesetting and paper are quite clean, and of the two title vignettes by Lips, [29] the second, portraying Olympia on the rock and Roland with the anchor in the jaws of the sea monster, [30] is quite well done.


[*] Caroline is reviewing a translation of Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando furioso (Ferrara 1516), the sequel to Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Orlando innamorato (1483). — Footnotes by present editor. Frontispieces, in order, to vols. 1 and 2. Back.

[1] Johann Nikolaus Meinhard (1727–67), Versuche über den Charackter und die Werke der besten Italienischen Dichter, 3 vols. (Braunschweig 1763, 1764, 1774). Back.

[2] Roland der Wüthende: ein Heldengedicht von Ludwig Ariost dem Göttlichen. Aus dem Italienischen aufs neue übersetzt, trans. Wilhelm Heinse, 4 vols. (Hannover 1782–83). Back.

[3] Ludwig Ariosto’s von den Italiänern der Göttliche gennant Wüthender Roland. Ein Heldengedicht in sechs und vierzig Gesängen, trans. Jakob Mauvillon (Lemgo 1777). Back.

[4] L. Ariosto’s rasender Roland aus dem Italienischen übersetzt, trans. Friedrich August Clemens Werthes (Bern 1778; 2nd ed. 1791; also Leipzig 1793). Back.

[5] “Ariosts rasender Roland. Neue Uebersetzung,” Neue Thalia, ed. Friedrich Schiller, vol. 3, no. 1 (1793) 83–107. Back.

[6] Christoph Martin Wieland, Oberon. Ein Gedicht in zwölf Gesängen (Weimar 1780); composed in ottava rima. Back.

[7] The translator was Samuel Christoph Abraham Lütkemüller (1769–1833). Back.

[8] Lit. “unbounded verse,” unrhymed verse with a regular number of syllables (generally eleven), used in Italian epic writing as a substitute for hexameters; by way of, among others, Ariosto’s comedies, from the sixteenth century on (the term was first used by Giovanni Rucellai) it became the model for English blank verse. Back.

[9] Italian stanza of eight lines of eleven syllables each, the first six of which rhyme alternately and the last two constituting a couplet with different rhyme. Back.

[10] Anapest: a foot of three syllables, two short followed by one long in quantitative meter, and two unstressed followed by one stressed in accentual meter. — Christoph Martin Wieland, Der Neue Amadis. Ein comisches Gedicht in Achtzehn Gesängen (Leipzig 1771). Back.

[11] “Two bitter apples, virtually of ivory.” Back.

[12] “Bitter fruits, and yet made of ivory.” See The Orlando furioso of Ludovico Arisoto, trans. William Stewart Rose, 8 vols. (London, 1807–1831), vol. 2, canto 7, stanza xiv: “Where, fresh and firm, two ivory apples grow.” Back.

[13] Germ. Aufkiken, for “aufgucken, aufblicken,” “to look up, lift up one’s eyes.” Italian argano, “winch”; Kran, “crane”; Hisse, “hoist” (Wilhelm Schlegel’s Sämmtliche Werke 11:385 reads Krahn instead of Kran). The passage in question reads (The Orlando furioso of Ludovico Arisoto, trans. William Stewart Rose, vol. 2, canto 11, stanza xli):

Which at a single sally more achieves
Than at ten turns the circling windlass heaves. Back.

[14] “She knows not which with her will best accord,” The Orlando furioso of Ludovico Arisoto, trans. William Stewart Rose, vol. 2, canto 12, stanza xxvii. Back.

[15] The grammatically correct form of “das versammelt Volke” (with the definite article), “the assembled people,” would be “das versammelte Volk[e],” with the inflection -e appended to “versammelt.” Back.

[16] “No larger wolf, I ween, Apulia roams,” The Orlando furioso of Ludovico Arisoto, trans. William Stewart Rose, vol. 2, canto 7, stanza iv. Back.

[17] “Such a large wolf.” Back.

[18] “A wolf as large as that [one].” Back.

[19] Lit. “Orlando the raging.” Back.

[20] Torquato Tasso, Gerusalemme liberata (1581), generally translated “Jerusalem delivered.” Back.

[21] The Orlando furioso of Ludovico Arisoto, trans. William Stewart Rose, vol. 2, canto 7, stanza lxxv:

. . . till he
Was with his armour, many days before
Laid by, again accoutred cap-a-pee.
And, lest Alcina should his end explore,
Feigned to make proof of his agility. Back.

[22] The Orlando furioso of Ludovico Arisoto, trans. William Stewart Rose, vol. 1, canto 5, stanza lxxiii:

For this perfidious, foul, ungrateful man, . . .
Feigned that . . .  he would withdraw me [from the court]. Back.

[23] The Orlando furioso of Ludovico Arisoto, trans. William Stewart Rose, vol. 2, canto 12, stanza xxviii:

But Sacripant at pleasure [she] could depose,
Though him she had uplifted to the sky. Back.

[24] The Orlando furioso of Ludovico Arisoto, trans. William Stewart Rose, vol. 1, canto 2, stanza xviii:

You might have seen those angry cavaliers
Change at the demon's tale for rage and shame;
And curse themselves as wanting eyes and ears,
To let their rival cheat them of the dame.
Towards his horse the good Rinaldo steers,
Breathing forth piteous sighs which seem of flame;
And, if he joins Orlando — ere they part —
Swears in his fury he will have his heart. Back.

[25] Germ. verduzt [verdutzt], “surprised, astonished; bewildered; stupefied”; dämisch [damisch], “foolish, sill; giddy, dizzy.” Back.

[26] This stanza was reprinted in Wilhelm Schlegel’s Sämmtliche Werke 4:92. Back.

[27] The Orlando furioso of Ludovico Arisoto, trans. William Stewart Rose, vol. 1, canto 1, stanzas 1–3:

Of loves and ladies, knights and arms, I sing,
Of courtesies, and many a daring feat;
And from those ancient days my story bring,
When Moors from Afric passed in hostile fleet,
And ravaged France, with Agramant their king,
Flushed with his youthful rage and furious heat,
Who on king Charles', the Roman emperor's head
Had vowed due vengeance for Troyano dead.

In the same strain of Roland will I tell
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme,
On whom strange madness and rank fury fell,
A man esteemed so wise in former time;
If she, who to like cruel pass has well
Nigh brought my feeble wit which fain would climb
And hourly wastes my sense, concede me skill
And strength my daring promise to fulfil.

Good seed of Hercules, give ear and deign,
Thou that this age's grace and splendour art,
Hippolitus, to smile upon his pain
Who tenders what he has with humble heart.
For though all hope to quit the score were vain,
My pen and pages may pay the debt in part;
Then, with no jealous eye my offering scan,
Nor scorn my gift who give thee all I can. Back.

[28] The following three rhymed stanzas were reprinted in Wilhelm Schlegel’s Sämmtliche Werke, albeit not together with the reprint of this review (in Sämmtliche Werke 11:382–87), but together with his other translations from Orlando furioso, in 4:89–90; the preceding unrhymed stanzas were not reprinted in either volume. Back.

[29] Johann Heinrich Lips (1758–1817). Back.

[30] Canto 11, stanzas xxiii ff. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott