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"Ariosto" redirects here. For member of the United States House of Representatives, see Ariosto A. Wiley.
Ludovico Ariosto
Vincenzo Catena, 1512, Berlin
Born 8 September 1474
Reggio Emilia, Italy
Died 6 July 1533
Ferrara, Italy
Nationality Italian
Period Renaissance
Genres Epic poetry
Subjects Chivalry
Notable work(s) Orlando Furioso

Ludovico Ariosto (Italian: [ludoˈviko ariˈɔsto]; 8 September 1474 – 6 July 1533) was an Italian poet. He is best known as the author of the romance epic Orlando Furioso (1516). The poem, a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato, describes the adventures of Charlemagne, Orlando, and the Franks as they battle against the Saracens with diversions into many sideplots. Ariosto composed the poem in the ottava rima rhyme scheme and introduced narrative commentary throughout the work.

Birth and early life

Ariosto was born in Reggio Emilia, where his father Niccolò Ariosto was commander of the citadel. He was the oldest of 10 children and was seen as the successor to the patriarchal position of his family. From his earliest years, Ludovico was very interested in poetry, but he was obliged by his father to study law.

After five years of law, Ariosto was allowed to read classics under Gregorio da Spoleto. Ariosto's studies of Greek and Latin literature were cut short by Spoleto's move to France to tutor Francesco Sforza. Shortly after this, Ariosto's father died.

Education and patronage

After the death of his father, Ludovico Ariosto was compelled to forgo his literary occupations and take care of his family, whose affairs were in disarray. Despite his family obligations, Ariosto managed to write some comedies in prose as well as lyrical pieces. Some of these attracted the notice of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, who took the young poet under his patronage and appointed him one of the gentlemen of his household. Este compensated Ariosto poorly for his efforts; the only reward he gave the poet for Orlando Furioso, dedicated to him, was the question, "Where did you find so many stories, Master Ludovico?" Ariosto later said that the cardinal was ungrateful, that he deplored the time which he spent under his yoke, and that if he received some small pension, it was not to reward him for his poetry — which the prelate despised — but for acting as a messenger.

The cardinal went to Hungary in 1518, and wished Ariosto to accompany him. The poet excused himself, pleading ill health, his love of study, and the need to care for his elderly mother. His excuses were not well-received, and he was denied even an interview. Ariosto and d'Este got into a heated argument, and Ariosto was promptly dismissed from service.

New patronage and diplomatic career

The cardinal's brother, Alfonso, duke of Ferrara, now took Ariosto under his patronage. By then, Ariosto had already distinguished himself as a diplomat, chiefly on the occasion of two visits to Rome as ambassador to Pope Julius II. The fatigue of one of these journeys brought on an illness from which he never recovered, and on his second mission he was nearly killed by order of the Pope, who happened at the time to be in conflict with Alfonso.

On account of the war, his salary of 84 crowns a year was suspended, and it was withdrawn altogether after the peace. Because of this, Ariosto asked the duke either to provide for him, or to allow him to seek employment elsewhere. He was appointed to the province of Garfagnana, then without a governor, situated on the Apennines, an appointment he held for three years. The province was distracted by factions and bandits, the governor had not the requisite means to enforce his authority and the duke did little to support his minister. Ariosto's government satisfied both the sovereign and the people given over to his care, however; indeed, there is a story about a time when he was walking alone and fell into the company of a group of bandits, the chief of which, on discovering that his captive was the author of Orlando Furioso, apologized for not having immediately shown him the respect due his rank.

In 1508 Ariosto's play Cassaria appeared, and the next year I suppositi (it) was first acted in Ferrara and ten years later in the Vatican. A prose edition was published in Rome in 1524, and the first verse edition was published at Venice in 1551. The play was translated by George Gascoigne and acted at Grays Inn in London in 1566 and published in 1573, which was later used by Shakespeare as a source for The Taming of the Shrew.

In 1516, the first version of the Orlando Furioso in 40 cantos, was published at Ferrara.

The third and final version of the Orlando Furioso, in 46 cantos, appeared on September 8, 1532.

Poetic style

Throughout Ariosto's writing are narratorial comments dubbed by Dr. Daniel Javich as "Cantus Interruptus". These sections are short breaks in the text in which the narrator destroys the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience. Ariosto uses it throughout his works.

For example, in Canto II, stanza 30, of Orlando Furioso, the narrator says:

But I, who still pursue a varying tale,
Must leave awhile the Paladin, who wages
A weary warfare with the wind and flood;
To follow a fair virgin of his blood.

Some have attributed this piece of metafiction as one component of the "Sorriso ariostesco" or Ariosto's smile, the wry sense of humor that Ariosto adds to the text.

In explaining this humor, Thomas Greene, in Descent from Heaven, says,

the two persistent qualities of Ariosto's language are first, serenity - the evenness and self-contented assurance with which it urbanely flows, and second, brilliance - the Mediterranean glitter and sheen which neither dazzle nor obscure but confer on every object its precise outline and glinting surface. Only occasionally can Ariosto's language truly be said to be witty, but its lightness and agility create a surface which conveys a witty effect. Too much wit could destroy even the finest poem, but Ariosto's graceful brio is at least as difficult and for narrative purposes more satisfying.


  • Greene, Thomas. The Descent from Heaven, a Study in Epic Continuity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963.
  • Robert Durling, The figure of the poet in Renaissance epic, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.
  • Charles P. Brand, Ludovico Ariosto : a preface to the 'Orlando furioso', Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1974.
  • Daniel Javitch, ‘Cantus interruptus in the “Orlando Furioso”’, Modern language notes, 95 (1980), 66-80.
  • Albert R. Ascoli, Ariosto's bitter harmony : crisis and evasion in the Italian renaissance, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
  • Daniel Javitch, 'The Poetics of Variatio in Orlando Furioso', Modern Language Quarterly, 2005, 66(1): 1-20.
  • Giuseppe Sangirardi, Ludovico Ariosto, Firenze: Le Monnier, 2006.
  • Giulio Ferroni, Ludovico Ariosto, Roma: Salerno Editrice, 2008.
  • Stefano Jossa (it), Ariosto, Bologna: il Mulino, 2009.

External links

  • Project Gutenberg
  • Ludovico Ariosto's works: text, concordances and frequency lists
  • LitWeb: Ludovico Ariosto
  • Daniel Javitch, The Poetics of Variatio in Orlando Furioso.pdf
  • The Online medieval & Classical Library (OMACL): Orlando Furioso: Canto 1 & Canto 2

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