In his "Third Satire," Ludovico Ariosto writes that he would rather explore the world by map than by ship, and that he much prefers resting idley at home, leafing through his copy of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia, to paying innkeepers and braving storms at sea:
the sky flashes, safer aboard my maps
than aboard ships, I'll come coasting.
(Ludovico Ariosto, "Third Satire" vv. 64-6)
It is partly due to these lines that Ariosto owes his reputation (exaggerated, no doubt) as the great sedentary and contemplative poet, Ludovico della tranquillità: a man uninterested in the outside world, a man in search of a permanent and idyllic otium, which would allow him to do nothing but fantasticate and versify. A man who prefered poetry to life.
We have taken him partially at his word, which is to say that the remarkable geographic and toponymic specificity with which Ariosto constructed the universe of his Orlando Furioso has convinced us that he did indeed spend a good deal of time perusing his maps, volteggiando in su le carte. Therefore, we have devised this project in order to explore this literary masterpiece through geographic, cartographic, and spatial lenses.
The breadth and variety of the world that Ariosto creates, and the labyrinthine nature of the Furioso’s plot, have made it difficult to investigate the spatial dimensions of the poem in their totality. This project aims to chart the space of the Orlando Furioso as Ariosto and other 16th-century humanists might have imagined it, on a cartographic representation of the world that was entering the European imagination in the very years that the great Ferrarese poet was writing and editing the three editions of his magnum opus (1516, 1521, 1532).
The early 1500s witnessed the explosion of common beliefs about the size and shape of the Earth. Ariosto inlaid his fictional world within this rapidly expanding understanding of the globe, creating a fictional geography that is both accurate and fantastical. Our use of sixteenth-century maps seeks to portray this worldview-in-flux, and it is our hope that by reelaborating Ariosto’s poem in spatial terms, we may better understand the interaction of the real and the imaginary in the poetic text as patterns and meanings emerge which have heretofore gone unnoticed.
The Orlando Furioso Atlas was begun in June 2016. It is very much a work in progress, as we refine through experimentation our technological methodologies. We would like to hear your thoughts and questions about our project. Please write to us via the Contact page.
To view the canto maps, click on the Atlas tab above.
- Daniel Leisawitz