The Furioso doesn't really begin or end--it is a gleaming chunk of life. It is all about pursuit, opening with a frantic chase and ending with a fleeing, howling spirit. It is filled with an infinitude of zany episodes; a trip to the moon (to recover Orlando's lost mind--everything we lose on earth pops up on the moon), the flights of the ludicrous hippogriff, angelic fistfights, the exploits of the fearless women warriors Bradamante (everyone's favorite) and Marfisa, an enchanted steel castle of endless mirrors and unattainable objects. The Furioso is about the labyrinthine impossibilities of desire and the wild weavings of destiny, told in a wry tone that jumps so quickly from person to person and scene to scene that the reader is soon swept up in Ariosto's ironic whirlwinds of Amor. Ariosto himself never gets caught up in his own whirlwinds, however--he remains serenely on the outside of his book, a master puppeteer.
This brilliant book has had many admirers and inspired artists over the 500 years since it's publication in 1516. Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata is a child of the Furioso. Spenser's Faerie Queene directly imitates the Furioso, while Ariosto's tongue-in-cheek moments of chivalric lunacy provided an example for Cervantes' sublime Don Quixote. Voltaire claimed the Furioso to be the equal of the Iliad, the Odyssey and Don Quixote all rolled together. Hegel took serious note of the work as a philosophical demonstration of the fallibility of human perception. The urbane, ironic style of Byron's Don Juan owes an immense debt to Ariosto. Calvino wrote a delicious trilogy of novels (The Baron in the Trees, The Cloven Viscount, and The Nonexistent Knight; collected as Our Ancestors) as a delightful homage to Ariosto's genius. Sir Salman Rushdie's wondrous recent novel, The Enchantress of Florence, breathes the air of Ariosto as well. It has been a favorite of Spanish-language authors from Lope de Vega and Cervantes to Borges and Garcia Marquez. Scores of Baroque operas emerged from Ariosto's shining volume--from Handel's Alcina, Rinaldo, and Orlando to Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso and Rameau's Les Paladins, to name only a few. Here, for your viewing pleasure is a random assortment of wonderful images inspired by Ariosto's masterpiece. Tiepolo, for me, captures the pristine air of Ariosto's lyrical world perfectly (he devoted several frescoes to the Furioso in the Villa Valmarana), but some of the others (such as Dore) conjure up the bizarreries that makes this world unsettling.