Ludovico Ariosto

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Ludovico Ariosto
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Man with the Blue Sleeve (Ludovico Ariosto) (Titian)

Page Symbol for Literature and Poetry pagesAriosto was born in Reggio Emilia, the son of Count Niccolò Ariosto. At a young age his family moved to Ferrara, where he studied law from 1489 to 1494. As a young adult he studied Latin and Greek language and literature. After his father's death in 1500, Ariosto was required to take over the management of family estate and finance as the eldest of 10 children. He was given the post of commander of the fort of Canossa in 1502, and then shortly after became a courtier dependent of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este. In 1513 Ariosto met Alessandra Benucci. After the death of her husband, Tito Strozzi, they married in secret. Cardinal d'Este moved to Hungary in 1518. Ariosto refused to accompany him, though he was expected to go with his miserly patron. The poet was known to have said in so many words: "that had his eminence thought to have bought a slave by assigning him the scanty pension of seventy-five crowns a year, he was mistaken and might withdraw his boon."

He went into the service of Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara and husband ofLucrezia Borgia in 1518, where he was involved in and privy to some of the intrigues and adventures of this brilliant High Renaissance court. Ariosto clearly uses the epic poem as currency in his celebration of the House of Este, as it was the norm at court to exalt the origins and history of an artist's patrons. According to the article cited below, in his writings "he deplores the conduct of his fellow Italians: rapacious soldiers, incompetent generals, tyrannical princes and chauvinist husbands, and his admiration for the old fashioned chivalrous values of compassion, trust, and loyalty is clear." ( literature encyclopedia article, cited here)

Page Symbol for Literature and Poetry pagesAriosto distinguished himself as a diplomat, most notably on two visits toRome as ambassador to Pope Julius II. On his second mission he was nearly killed by order of the violent pope, who was at the time infuriated with the duke of Ferrara. Due to the war, his salary was first suspended, and it was withdrawn. At which point Ariosto asked the duke either to provide for him, or to allow him to seek employment elsewhere. Ariosto received the appointment of Governor of Garfagnana, which he held for three years. The province was rife with bandits and the governor had little means to enforce his authority and the duke did little to support him. Ariosto's administration was known to have been just and equitable. He spent the reset of his life at Ferrara, writing comedies, directing their performance, the construction of a theatre, and editing his Orlando Furioso. He died of consumption on the 6th of June 1533. (from 1911 encyclopedia cited here)

Further Reading

  • My Muse Will Have a Story to Paint: Selected Prose of Ludovico Ariosto - Translated with an Introduction by Dennis Looney (Lorenzo da Ponte Italian Library, 2010)
  • King of the Court Poets: A Study of the Work, Life and Times of Lodovico Ariosto by E.G. Gardner (1906, new edition in 1982)


Matteo Maria Boiardo
Baldassare Castiglione
Pietro Bembo
Ermolao Barbaro
Marsilio Ficino
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

Angelo Poliziano

Ludovico Ariosto
Courtier, Nobleman, Eminent Poet

Born 8 September 1474, Reggio Emilia, Italy

Died 6 July 1533, Ferrara, Italy


Ludovico Ariosto was an Italian nobleman, accomplished courtier at Ferrara, and famous poet. His most notable work was Orlando Furioso ("The Frenzy of Orlando, or Mad Orlando"), written at the court of Ferrara presided over by Lucrezia Borgia. His main patron was her brother-in-lawCardinal Ippolito d'Este, to whom Ariosto dedicated the work.

It has been called the most celebrated poem of the Italian High Renaissance.

Orlando Furioso

The epic poem is a sequel of the earlier work by Matteo Maria Boiardo, Orlando Innamorato. "Orlando in Love" and its sequel are based on the tales of chivalry and knighthood as told in the 12th century Song of Roland. Orando was one of the most famous paladins under Charlemagne. In Orlando Furioso he meets various adventures and make daring exploits in his persuit the princess Angelica. The story ends with the heroes Bradamante and and Ruggiero (ancestors of the House of Este) vanquishing the saracen leader Rodomonte. Orlando Furioso contains fantastical episodes and characters, romance, epic, and lyrical poetry, and laments the loss of chivalry of old.

Read an English translation here:
Orlando Furioso

The third and final version of Orlando Furioso, containing 46 cantos, appeared in 1532. Ariosto had sought stylistic advice from the humanist Pietro Bembo to give his verse the last degree of polish and this is the version known to posterity. The first English translation by John Harington was published in 1591 at the behest ofQueen Elizabeth I of England who reportedly banned Harington from court until the translation was complete (Wikipedia).

Ludovico Ariosto (detail)

St Joseph, John the Baptist, Catherine of Alexandria, Louis of Toulose and writer Lodovico Ariosto (Vincenzo Catena, 1512) See complete image here

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