Luigi Puli The Morgante Maggiore


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THE Morgante Maggiore, of the first canto of which this translation is offered, divides with the Orlando Innamorato the honour of having formed and suggested the style and story of Ariosto. The great defects of Boiardo were his treating too seriously the narratives of chivalry, and his harsh style. Ariosto, in his continuation, by a judicious mixture of the gaiety of Pulci, has avoided the one, and Berni, in his reformation of Boiardo’s poem, has corrected the other. Pulci may be considered as the precursor and model of Berni altogether, as he has partly been to Ariosto, however inferior to both his copyists. He is no less the founder of a new style of poetry very lately sprung up in England. I allude to that of the ingenious Whistlecraft. The serious poems on Roncesvalles in the same language, and more particularly the excellent one of Mr. Merivale, are to be traced to the same source. It has never yet been decided entirely, whether Pulci’s intention was or was not to deride the religion, which is one of his favourite topics. It appears to me, that such an intention would have been no less hazardous to the poet than to the priest, particularly in that age and country; and the permission to publish the poem, and its reception among the classics of Italy, prove that it neither was nor is so interpreted. That he intended to ridicule the monastic life, and suffered his imagination to play with the simple dulness of his converted giant, seems evident enough; but surely it were as unjust to accuse him of irreligion on this account, as to denounce Fielding for his Parson Adams, Barnabas, Thwackum, Supple, and the Ordinary in Jonathan Wild, or Scott, for the exquisite use of his Covenanters in “Tales of my Landlord.”

In the following translation I have used the liberty of the original with the proper names; as Pulci uses Gan, Ganellon, or Ganellone; Carlo, Carlomagno, or Carlomano; Rondel, or Rondello, &c. as it suits his convenience, so has the translator. In other respects the version is faithful to the best of the translator’s ability in combining his interpretation of the one language with the not very easy task of reducing it to the same versification in the other. The reader, on comparing it with the original, is requested to remember that the antiquated language of Pulci, however pure, is not easy to the generality of Italians themselves, from its great mixture of Tuscan proverbs; and he may therefore be more indulgent to the present attempt. How far the translator has succeeded, and whether or no he shall continue the work, are questions which the public will decide. He was induced to make the experiment partly by his love for, and partial intercourse with, the Italian language, of which it is so easy to acquire a slight knowledge, and with which it is so nearly impossible for a foreigner to become accurately conversant. The Italian language is like a capricious beauty, who accords her smiles to all, her favours to few, and sometimes least to those who have courted her longest. The translator wished also to present in an English dress a part at least of a poem never yet rendered into a northern language; at the same time that it has been the original of some of the most so celebrated productions on this side of the Alps, as well as of those recent experiments in poetry in England, which have been already mentioned.

While Charlemagne, the Emperor is living

With all his Paladins in feast and glee,

Orlando, ’gainst the traitor Gano giving

Way to his wrath, departs for Paganie,

And saves an Abbey, in a wild arriving, 5

All from the beastly rage of Giants three,

Slays two of them, and with Morgante ends

In goodly fellowship by making friends.


IN the beginning was the Word next God;

God was the Word, the Word no less was he: 10

This was in the beginning, to my mode

Of thinking, and without him nought could be:

Therefore, just Lord! from out thy high abode,

Benign and pious, bid an angel flee,

One only, to be my companion, who 15

Shall help my famous, worthy, old song through.

And thou, oh Virgin! daughter, mother, bride,

Of the same Lord, who gave to you each key

Of heaven, and hell, and every thing beside,

The day thy Gabriel said, “All hail!” to thee, 20

Since to thy servants pity’s ne’er denied,

With flowing rhymes, a pleasant style and free,

Be to my verses then benignly kind,

And to the end illuminate my mind.

’Twas in the season when sad Philomel 25

Weeps with her sister,31 who remembers and

Deplores the ancient woes which both befell,

And makes the nymphs enamour’d, to the hand

Of Phæton by Phœbus32 loved so well

His car (but temper’d by his sire’s command) 30

Was given, and on the horizon’s verge just now

Appear’d, so that Tithonus scratched his brow:33

When I prepared my bark first to obey,

As it should still obey, the helm, my mind,

And carry prose or rhyme, and this my lay 35

Of Charles the Emperor,34 whom you will find

By several pens already praised; but they

Who to diffuse his glory were inclined,

For all that I can see in prose or verse,

Have understood Charles badly – and wrote worse. 40

Leonardo Aretino35 said already,

That if, like Pepin, Charles had had a writer

Of genius quick, and diligently steady,

No hero would in history look brighter;

He in the cabinet being always ready, 45

And in the field a most victorious fighter,

Who for the church and Christian faith had wrought,

Certes far more than yet is said or thought.

You still may see at Saint Liberatore,

The abbey no great way from Manopell,36 50

Erected in the Abruzzi to his glory,

Because of the great battle in which fell

A Pagan King, according to the story,

And felon people whom Charles sent to hell:

And there are bones so many, and so many, 55

Near them Giusaffa’s37 would seem few, if any.

But the world, blind and ignorant, don’t prize

His virtues as I wish to see them: thou,

Florence, by his great bounty dost38 arise,

And hast, and may have, if thou wilt allow, 60

All proper customs and true courtesies:

Whate’er thou hast acquired from then till now,

With knightly courage, treasure, or the lance,

Is sprung from out the noble blood of France.

Twelve Paladins had Charles in court, of whom 65

The wisest and most famous was Orlando;

Him traitor Gan39 conducted to the tomb

In Roncesvalles, as the villain plann’d too,

While the horn rang so loud,40 and knell’d the doom

Of their sad rout, though he did all knight can do, 70

And Dante in his comedy has given

To him a happy seat with Charles in heaven.41

’Twas Christmas-day; in Paris all his court

Charles held; the chief, I say, Orlando was;

The Dane, Astolfo there too did resort, 75

Also Ansuigi, the gay time to pass

In festival and in triumphal sport,

The much renown’d St. Dennis being the cause;

Angiolin of Bayonne, and Oliver

And gentle Berlinghieri too came there: 80

Avolio, and Avino, and Othone

Of Normandy, and Richard Paladin,

Wise Namo, and the ancient Salemone,

Walter of Lion’s Mount and Baldovin,

Who was the son of the sad Ganellone, 85

Were there, exciting too much gladness in

The son of Pepin:42 – when his knights came hither,

He groaned with joy to see them altogether.

But watchful Fortune lurking, takes good heed

Ever some bar ’gainst our intents to bring. 90

While Charles reposed him thus, in word and deed,

Orlando ruled court, Charles, and every thing;

Curst Gan, with envy bursting, had such need

To vent his spite, that thus with Charles the king,

One day he openly began to say, 95

“Orlando must we always then obey?

“A thousand times I’ve been about to say,

Orlando too presumptuously goes on;

Here are we, counts, kings, dukes, to own thy sway,

Namo, and Otho, Ogier, Solomon, 100

Each have to honour thee and to obey;

But he has too much credit near the throne,

Which we won’t suffer, but are quite decided

By such a boy to be no longer guided.

“And even at Aspramont thou didst begin 105

To let him know he was a gallant knight,

And by the fount did much the day to win;

But I know who that day had won the fight

If it had not for good Gherardo been:

The victory was Almonte’s else; his sight 110

He kept upon the standard, and the laurels

In fact and fairness are his earning, Charles.

“If thou rememberest being in Gascony,

When there advanced the nations out of Spain,

The Christian cause had suffer’d shamefully, 115

Had not his valour driven them back again.

Best speak the truth when there’s a reason why:

Know then, oh Emperor! that all complain:

As for myself, I shall repass the mounts

O’er which I cross’d with two and sixty Counts. 120

’Tis fit thy grandeur should dispense relief,

So that each here may have his proper part,

For the whole court is more or less in grief:

Perhaps thou deem’st this lad a Mars in heart?”

Orlando one day heard this speech in brief, 125

As by himself it chanced he sate apart

Displeased he was with Gan because he said it,

But much more still that Charles should give him credit.

And with the sword he would have murder’d Gan,

But Oliver thrust in between the pair, 130

And from his hand extracted Durlindan,

And thus at length they separated were.

Orlando, angry too with Carloman,

Wanted but little to have slain him there;

Then forth alone from Paris went the chief, 135

And burst and madden’d with disdain and grief.

From Ermellina, consort of the Dane,

He took Cortana,43 and then took Rondell,44

And on towards Brava prick’d him o’er the plain;

And when she saw him coming, Aldabelle 140

Stretch’d forth her arms to clasp her lord again:

Orlando, in whose brain all was not well,

As “Welcome my Orlando home,” she said,

Rais’d up his sword to smite her on the head.

Like him a fury counsels; his revenge 145

On Gan in that rash act he seem’d to take,

Which Aldabella thought extremely strange,

But soon Orlando found himself awake;

And his spouse took his bridle on this change,

And he dismounted from his horse, and spake 150

Of every thing which pass’d without demur,

And then reposed himself some days with her.

Then full of wrath departed from the place,

And far as Pagan countries roam’d astray,

And while he rode, yet still at every pace 155

The traitor Gan remember’d by the way;

And wandering on in error a long space

An abbey which in a lone desert lay,

’Midst glens obscure, and distant lands, he found,

Which form’d the Christian’s and Pagan’s bound. 160

The abbot was call’d Clermont, and by blood

Descended from Angrante: under cover

Of a great mountain’s brow the abbey stood,

But certain savage giants look’d him over;

One Passamont was foremost of the brood, 165

And Alabaster and Morgante hover

Second and third, with certain slings, and throw

In daily jeopardy the place below.

The monks could pass the convent gate no more,

Nor leave their cells for water or for wood; 170

Orlando knock’d, but none would ope, before

Unto the prior it at length seem’d good;

Enter’d, he said that he was taught to adore

Him who was born of Mary’s holiest blood,

And was baptized a Christian; and then show’d 175

How to the abbey he had found his road.

Said the abbot, “You are welcome; what is mine

We give you freely, since that you believe

With us in Mary Mother’s Son divine;

And that you may not, cavalier, conceive 180

The cause of our delay to let you in

To be rusticity, you shall receive

The reason why our gate was barr’d to you:

Thus those who in suspicion live must do.

“When hither to inhabit first we came 185

These mountains, albeit that they are obscure,

As you perceive, yet without fear or blame

They seem’d to promise an asylum sure:

From savage brutes alone, too fierce to tame,

’Twas fit our quiet dwelling to secure; 190

But now, if here we’d stay, we needs must guard

Against domestic beasts with watch and ward.

“These make us stand, in fact, upon the watch,

For late there have appear’d three giants rough;

What nation or what kingdom bore the batch 195

I know not, but they are all of savage stuff;

When force and malice with some genius match,

You know, they can do all – we are not enough:

And these so much our orisons derange,

I know not what to do, till matters change. 200

“Our ancient fathers living the desert in,

For just and holy works were duly fed;

Think not they feed on locusts sole, ’tis certain

That manna was rained down from heaven instead;

But here ’tis fit we keep on the alert in 205

Our bounds, or taste the stones shower’d down for bread,

From off yon mountain daily raining faster,

And flung by Passamont and Alabaster.

“The third, Morgante’s savagest by far; he

Plucks up pines, beeches, poplar-trees, and oaks, 210

And flings them, our community to bury,

And all that I can do but more provokes.”

While thus they parley in the cemetery,

A stone from one of their gigantic strokes,

Which nearly crush’d Rondell, came tumbling over, 215

So that he took a long leap under cover.

“For God sake, cavalier, come in with speed,

The manna’s falling now,” the abbot cried:

“This fellow does not wish my horse should feed,

Dear abbot,” Roland unto him replied,

“Of restiveness he’d cure him had he need; 220

That stone seems with good-will and aim applied.”

The holy father said, “I don’t deceive;

They’ll one day fling the mountain, I believe.”

Orlando bade them take care of Rondello, 225

And also made a breakfast of his own:

“Abbot,” he said, “I want to find that fellow

Who flung at my good horse yon corner-stone.”

Said the abbot, “Let not my advice seem shallow,

As to a brother dear I speak alone; 230

I would dissuade you, baron, from this strife,

As knowing sure that you will lose your life.

“That Passamont has in his hand three darts

Such slings, clubs, ballast-stones, that yield you must;

You know that giants have much stouter hearts 235

Than us, with reason, in proportion just;

If go you will, guard well against their arts,

For these are very barbarous and robust.”

Orlando answer’d, “This I’ll see, be sure,

And walk the wild on foot to be secure.” 240

The abbot sign’d the great cross on his front,

“Then go you with God’s benison and mine”:

Orlando, after he had scaled the mount,

As the abbot had directed, kept the line

Right to the usual haunt of Passamont: 245

Who, seeing him alone in this design,

Survey’d him fore and aft with eyes observant,

Then asked him, “If he wish’d to stay as servant?”

And promised him an office of great ease.

But, said Orlando, “Saracen insane! 250

I come to kill you, if it shall so please

God, not to serve as footboy in your train;

You with his monks so oft have broke the peace –

Vile dog! ’tis past his patience to sustain.”

The giant ran to fetch his arms, quite furious,

When he received an answer so injurious. 255

And being return’d to where Orlando stood,

Who had not moved him from the spot, and swinging

The cord, he hurl’d a stone with strength so rude,

As show’d a sample of his skill in slinging; 260

It roll’d on Count Orlando’s helmet good

And head, and set both head and helmet ringing,

So that he swoon’d with pain as if he died,

But more than dead, he seem’d so stupefied.

Then Passamont, who thought him slain outright, 265

Said, “I will go, and while he lies along,

Disarm me: why such craven did I fight?”

But Christ his servants ne’er abandons long,

Especially Orlando, such a knight,

As to desert would almost be a wrong. 270

While the giant goes to put off his defences,

Orlando has recall’d his force and senses:

And loud he shouted, “Giant, where dost go?

Thou thought’st me doubtless for the bier outlaid;

To the right about – without wings thou’rt too slow 275

To fly my vengeance – currish renegade!

’Twas but by treachery thou laid’st me low.”

The giant his astonishment betray’d,

And turn’d about, and stopp’d his journey on,

And then he stoop’d to pick up a great stone. 280

Orlando had Cortana bare in hand,

To split the head in twain was what he schem’d:

Cortana clave the skull like a true brand,

And Pagan Passamont died unredeem’d.

Yet harsh and haughty, as he lay he bann’d, 285

And most devoutly Macon45 still blasphemed;

But while his crude, rude blasphemies he heard,

Orlando thank’d the Father and the Word,

Saying, “What grace this day to me thou’st given!

And I to thee, Oh Lord! am ever bound. 290

I know my life was saved by thee from heaven,

Since by the giant I was fairly down’d.

All things by thee are measured just and even;

Our power without thine aid would nought be found:

I pray thee take heed of me, till I can

At least return once more to Carloman.” 295

And having said thus much, he went his way;

And Alabaster he found out below,

Doing the very best that in him lay

To root from out a bank a rock or two. 300

Orlando, when he reach’d him, loud ’gan say,

“How think’st thou, glutton, such a stone to throw?”

When Alabaster heard his deep voice ring,

He suddenly betook him to his sling,

And hurl’d a fragment of a size so large, 305

That if it had in fact fulfill’d its mission,

And Roland not avail’d him of his targe,

There would have been no need of a physician.

Orlando set himself in turn to charge,

And in his bulky bosom made incision 310

With all his sword. The lout fell; but, o’erthrown, he

How’ever by no means forgot Macone.

Morgante had a palace in his mode,

Composed of branches, logs of wood, and earth,

And stretch’d himself at case in this abode, 315

And shut himself at night within his birth.

Orlando knock’d, and knock’d, again to goad

The giant from his sleep; and he came forth,

The door to open, like a crazy thing,

For a rough dream had shook him slumbering. 320

He thought that a fierce serpent had attack’d him,

And Mahomet he call’d, but Mahomet

Is nothing worth, and not an instant back’d him;

But praying blessed Jesu, he was set

At liberty from all the fears which rack’d him; 325

And to the gate he came with great regret –

Who knocks here?” grumbling all the while, said he:

“That,” said Orlando, “you will quickly see.

“I come to preach to you, as to your brothers,

Sent by the miserable monks – repentance; 330

For Providence divine, in you and others,

Condemns the evil done my new acquaintance.

’Tis writ on high – your wrong must pay another’s;

From heaven itself is issued out this sentence;

Know then, that colder now than a pilaster 335

I left your Passamont and Alabaster.”

Morgante said, “O gentle cavalier!

Now by thy God say me no villany;

The favour of your name I fain would hear,

And if a Christian, speak for courtesy.” 340

Replied Orlando, “So much to your ear

I by my faith disclose contentedly;

Christ I adore, who is the genuine Lord,

And, if you please, by you may be adored.”

The Saracen rejoin’d in humble tone, 345

“I have had an extraordinary vision;

A savage serpent fell on me alone,

And Macon would not pity my condition;

Hence to thy God, who for ye did atone

Upon the cross, preferr’d I my petition; 350

His timely succour set me safe and free,

And I a Christian am disposed to be.”

Orlando answer’d, “Baron just and pious,

If this good wish your heart can really move

To the true God, who will not then deny us 355

Eternal honour, you will go above,

And, if you please, as friends we will ally us,

And I will love you with a perfect love.

Your idols are vain liars full of fraud,

The only true God is the Christian’s God. 360

“The Lord descended to the virgin breast

Of Mary Mother, sinless and divine;

If you acknowledge the Redeemer blest,

Without whom neither sun nor star can shine,

Abjure bad Macon’s false and felon text, 365

Your renegado God, and worship mine, –

Baptize yourself with zeal, since you repent.”

To which Morgante answer’d, “I’m content.”

And then Orlando to embrace him flew,

And made much of his convert, as he cried, 370

To the abbey I will gladly marshal you:”

To whom Morgante, “Let us go,” replied,

I to the friars have for peace to sue.’”

Which thing Orlando heard with inward pride,

Saying, “My brother, so devout and good, 375

Ask the abbot pardon, as I wish you would:

Since God has granted your illumination,

Accepting you in mercy for his own,

Humility should be your first oblation.”

Morgante said, “For goodness’ sake make known – 380

Since that your God is to be mine – your station,

And let your name in verity be shown,

Then will I every thing at your command do.”

On which the other said, he was Orlando.

“Then, quoth the giant, “blessed be Jesu, 385

A thousand times with gratitude and praise!

Oft, perfect Baron! have I heard of you

Through all the different periods of my days:

And, as I said, to be your vassal too

I wish, for your great gallantry always.” 390

Thus reasoning, they continued much to say,

And onwards to the abbey went their way.

And by the way, about the giants dead

Orlando with Morgante reasoned:

“Be, for their decease, I pray you, comforted, 395

And, since it is God’s pleasure, pardon me.

A thousand wrongs unto the monks they bred,

And our true Scripture soundeth openly –

Good is rewarded, and chastised the ill,

Which the Lord never faileth to fulfil: 400

“Because his love of justice unto all

Is such, he wills his judgment should devour

All who have sin, however great or small;

But good he well remembers to restore:

Nor without justice holy could we call 405

Him, whom I now require you to adore:

All men must make his will their wishes sway,

And quickly and spontaneously obey.

“And here our doctors are of one accord,

Coming on this point to the same conclusion, – 410

That in their thoughts who praise in heaven the Lord,

If pity e’er was guilty of intrusion

For their unfortunate relations stored

In hell below, and damn’d in great confusion,

Their happiness would be reduced to nought, 415

And thus unjust the Almighty’s self be thought.

“But they in Christ have firmest hope, and all

Which seems to him, to them too must appear

Well done; nor could it otherwise befall; 420

He never can in any purpose err:

If sire or mother suffer endless thrall,

They don’t disturb themselves for him or her;

What pleases God to them must joy inspire; –

Such is the observance of the eternal choir.”

“A word unto the wise,” Morgante said, 425

“Is wont to be enough, and you shall see

How much I grieve about my brethren dead;

And if the will of God seem good to me,

Just, as you tell me, ’tis in heav’n obey’d –

Ashes to ashes, – merry let us be! 430

I will cut off the hands from both their trunks,

And carry them unto the holy monks.

“So that all persons may be sure and certain

That they are dead, and have no farther fear

To wander solitary this desert in, 435

And that they may perceive my spirit clear

By the Lord’s grace, who hath withdrawn the curtain

Of darkness making his bright realm appear,

He cut his brethren's hands off at these words,

And left them to the savage beasts and birds. 440

Then to the abbey they went on together,

Where waited them the abbot in great doubt.

The monks, who knew not yet the fact, ran thither

To their superior, all in breathless rout,

Saying, with tremor, “Please to tell us whether 445

You wish to have this person in or out?”

The abbot, looking through upon the giant,

Too greatly fear’d, at first, to be compliant.

Orlando, seeing him thus agitated,

Said quickly, “Abbot, be thou of good cheer; 450

He Christ believes, as Christian must be rated,

And hath renounced his Macon false”;

Which Morgante with the hands corroborated,

A proof of both the giants’ fate quite clear:

Thence, with due thanks, the abbot God adored, 455

Saying, “Thou hast contented me, oh Lord!”

He gazed; Morgante’s height he calculated,

And more than once contemplated his size;

And then he said, “Oh giant celebrated,

Know, that no more my wonder will arise, 460

How you could tear and fling the trees you late did,

When I behold your form with my own eves.

You now a true and perfect friend will show

Yourself to Christ, as once you were a foe.

“And one of our apostles, Saul once named, 465

Long persecuted sore the faith of Christ,

Till one day by the Spirit being inflamed,

“Why dost thou persecute me thus?” said Christ;

And then from his offence he was reclaimed,

And went for ever after preaching Christ; 470

And of the faith became a trump, whose sounding

O’er the whole earth is echoing and rebounding.

“So, my Morgante, you may do likewise;

He who repents, thus writes the Evangelist,

Occasions more rejoicing in the skies 475

Than ninety-nine of the celestial list.

You may be sure, should each desire arise

With just zeal for the Lord, that you’ll exist

Among the happy saints for evermore;

But you were lost and damn’d to hell before!” 480

And thus great honour to Morgante paid

The abbot: many days they did repose.

One day, as with Orlando they both stray’d,

And saunter’d here and there, where’er they chose,

The abbot show’d a chamber, where array’d 485

Much armour was, and hung up certain bows;

And one of these Morgante for a whim

Girt on, though useless, he believ’d, to him.

There being a want of water in the place,

Orlando, like a worthy brother, said, 490

“Morgante, I could wish you in this case

To go for water.” “You shall be obey’d

In all commands,” was the reply, “straightways.”

Upon his shoulder a great tub he laid,

And went out on his way unto a fountain, 495

Where he was wont to drink below the mountain.

Arrived there, a prodigious noise he hears,

Which suddenly along the forest spread;

Whereat from out his quiver he prepares

An arrow for his bow, and lifts his head; 500

And lo! a monstrous herd of swine appears,

And onward rushes with tempestuous tread,

And to the fountain’s brink precisely pours,

So that the giant’s join’d by all the boars.

Morgante at a venture shot an arrow, 505

Which pierced a pig precisely in the ear,

And pass’d unto the other side quite thorough,

So that the boar, defunct, lay tripp’d up near.

Another, to revenge his fellow farrow,

Against the giant rush’d in fierce career, 510

And reach’d the passage with so swift a foot,

Morgante was not now in time to shoot.

Perceiving that the pig was on him close,

He gave him such a punch upon the head *

As floor’d him, so that he no more arose – 515

Smashing the very bone; and he fell dead

Next to the other. Having seen such blows,

The other pigs along the valley fled;

Morgante on his neck the bucket took,

Full from the spring, which neither swerved nor shook. 520

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