The playful, dislocating attitude to ancient literature is part of the delight of reading Italian epic romances. They swirl around, playing tricks, frustrating, enchanting, and getting nowhere with perfect charm. Readers have often felt this rootless detachment in the early sixteenth-century continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo, the Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto. The heroes of Orlando furioso desperately seek the unbearably attractive Saracen princess Angelica, in many directions and with enormous rapidity. Whenever they reach her she vanishes, or they are unable to get their armour off to enjoy her, or with delicious wilfulness Ariosto abandons them before they achieve the consummation for which they so devoutly wish, and picks up another of the various threads of his manifold, exfoliating weave of narratives, leaving them, and us, panting. Even his own stories are not followed through to their anticipated conclusions, and are thrown away with wilful delight.
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