Today I make a formal announcement of my insanity. I’m nearly halfway through a reading of ORLANDO FURIOSO.
For the unenlightened: it’s Ariosto’s 16th century Italian epic, replete with jousts, beheadings, enchanted castles, virgins in jeopardy, evil queens, Muslim incursions, flying hippogriffs, magical shields, and the definitive model of the cliff-hanger: let us now leave Paris on the verge of destruction and return to woeful Bradamante as she leads Ruggerio’s horse . . .
Notably: it’s 38,000 lines in rhymed octaves, two 700 pp. volumes. A formidable challenge to read, and an astonishingly well-done task for the translator.
Question is, why am I reading this?
Well, first off, it’s great fun, though that’s never been a high priority with me. Other than food and sex, my idea of fun is checking something off the worklist. And my daughter gave me the volumes for my birthday, so I feel a certain obligation, but I was the one who inquired of it. Beyond that?
I wonder if it’s the intense urge at this age, before night falls, to make a mad grab for the immense treasury out there. I try to fill in my gaps in contemporary fiction, as that’s what i’m writing now and need, for practical purposes, to know how wide is the gap between what I’m writing and what sells. But reading Ariosto, Grimmelshausen, Shaw or Heinrich Boll doesn’t really serve any practical purpose, and I, being sprung from the German peasantry, am a pretty practical soul.
It’s also possible that, despite myself, I’m learning pleasure. Not that I get great joy reading of knights getting knocked off horses—got a lifetime supply of that in Le Morte d’Arthur—but I guess there’s something about skilled extravagance that appeals to me. Right now, in the current draft of our new novel MASKS, I’m taking great delight in describing performances of Medieval farces—comic bits I could never pull off as an actor, stuff I’d never actually write for the stage—and the indulgence is immensely satisfying.
In any case, I’m about to embark on the second 700 pp., with all the full frenzy of Orlando. Hopefully the good guys win, though with one hero slaughtering hundreds at a time, I’m not entirely sure what the standards are.