One of the longest poems in European literature

Le donne, i cavallier, l’arme, gli amori, / le cortesie, l’audaci imprese io canto.
Of wives and ladies, knights and arms, I sing, / of courtesies and many a daring feat.

Lodovico Ariosto (1474-1533), Orlando furioso; nuouamente adornato di figure di rame da Girolamo Porro padouano ([Venice]: Appresso Francesco de Franceschi senese e compagni, 1584). Graphic Arts Collection (GAX), Oversize 2004-1179Q

Ariosto began work on his epic poem Orlando Furioso (Mad Orlando) at the age of 32. He continued to expand and polish it over 16 years before it was finally published in 1532, a year before his death.

The plot revolves around the conflict of the Christian versus the Moor, the war between the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of North Africa, and the King of Spain. It is a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo’s romance Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in Love), although it can be read on its own.

The poem is divided into forty-six cantos, each containing a variable number of eight-line stanzas. The complete work is 38,736 lines long, making it one of the longest poems in European literature. It was also one of the most celebrated narrative poems of the Italian high Renaissance.

Princeton owns sixteen illustrated editions of Orlando Furioso. One of the most elaborate is this 1584 edition with 64 full-page engravings by the Venetian artist Girolamo Porro (1520-1604). In addition, the argomento or theme that introduces each poem is set inside a classical cartouche.

Also recommended is the 1879 French edition, Roland furieux: poème héroïque, illustrated by Gustave Doré (1832-1883). Rare Books (Ex), Oversize 2004-0064F.