ARIOSTO, Ludovico

ARIOSTO, Ludovico
One of the greatest Italian authors and a major Renaissance humanist, Lu-dovico Ariosto was a pioneering dramatist and author of the great romance epic Orlando Furioso. Ariosto's career was shaped by the fortunes of the Este court in the northern Italian city-state of Ferrara, which reached its zenith of cultural and political importance during his lifetime. Born in Reggio, Ludovico was the eldest son of a trusted and unscrupulous courtier of Ercole d'Este, the second duke of Ferrara. Destined by his father for the law, Ariosto studied half-heartedly while participating enthusiastically in the city's burgeoning cultural life. When he was finally freed to pursue his literary interests in 1494, he became a luminary in the circle of brilliant young men studying with the humanist scholar Gregorio da Spoleto. During this happy period, Ariosto made a name for himself with his smooth, accomplished Latin poetry and in 1498 began his lifelong friendship with the influential Italian humanist Pietro Bembo.*
His happiness came to an end in 1500 with the death of his father, leaving Ariosto responsible for an extensive family. In 1503 he entered the service of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, brother of Duke Alfonso, Ercole's son. Thus began the lifelong service to the Este court that made Ariosto's great works possible, since it was through such noble patronage that literature was produced and dissemi­nated in this age. At the same time, it was a source of constant exasperation, since the Este princes continually deflected him from his writing with their diplomatic business. Yet his frequent travels also allowed him to meet and main­tain relationships with many of the day's leading humanists. By the late 1510s Ariosto had become a central figure in Ferrara, both as a diplomat and as poet and dramatist for court festivities. In 1513 he hoped for new patronage when his friend Giovanni de' Medici became Pope Leo X,* but his hopes were dashed, and he continued with the Este.
In 1516, after much polishing, Orlando Furioso (The Madness of Roland) was published in forty cantos to great acclaim. But family obligations, financial worries, and the whims of his patrons continued to haunt the poet. Ariosto broke with Cardinal Ippolito in 1517 rather than follow him to Hungary and entered the employ of the steadier Duke Alfonso in 1519. Continuing financial problems led him to accept appointment as governor of the Garafagnana region northwest of Ferrara even as the second edition of Orlando Furioso was coming out in 1521. Ariosto held this thankless job for the next five years, trying to manage the unruly, feuding inhabitants of the region and frequently serving as Alfonso's scapegoat. Upon his return to Ferrara, he was finally able to live in relative peace and prosperity, marrying his longtime mistress, Alessandra Benucci, re­writing and supervising the performance of his great comedies at court, and seeing the final version of Orlando Furioso, in forty-six cantos, through the press in 1532. During the 1520s he also wrote his seven autobiographical satires. The famous inscription upon his house may still be read today: "Parva sed apta mihi, sed nulla obnoxia, sed non sordida, parta meo tamen aere Domus" (A small house but suitable for me, dependent upon no one, nor mean, and yet the result of my own earnings). Ariosto died in 1533 and by his own request was buried quietly in his parish church.
Ariosto's fame as a major writer would have been assured by his satires and comedies alone, but Orlando Furioso puts him on the level of Dante and Pe­trarch in Italian letters. Based upon Matteo Boiardo's unfinished romance epic Orlando Innamorato (Roland in Love), Orlando Furioso outdoes its predecessor in sophistication, complexity, and epic scope. The tale of the futile love that drives the great knight Orlando insane is intertwined with Charlemagne's war against the pagans and the dynastic love of Ruggiero and the lady knight Bra-damante, who are destined to marry and found the Este dynasty. In elegant stanzas of beautiful eight-line ottava rima, the poem treats the headlong chase of individual desire, the national drive for imperial control, and the sweep of providential history with both high seriousness and amused irony, implicating the poet himself and his own age in the grandeur and folly of the human con­dition. In its synthesis of medieval romance and Virgilian epic, Orlando Furioso is heir to the greatest preceding literary traditions, looks forward to Tasso's* Gerusalemme liberata, Spenser's* Fairie Queene, and Milton's Paradise Lost, and stands as one of the great works of world literature.
R. Griffin, Ludovico Ariosto, 1974.
W. Gundersheimer, Ferrara: The Style of a Renaissance Despotism, 1973.
R. J. Rodini, "Selected Bibliography of Ariosto Criticism: 1986-1993," Annali d'Italian-istica 12 (1994): 299-317.
Katherine Hoffman

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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