Poem 40,000 lines long to be celebrated in Scotland this week


AN EPIC Italian poem over 40,000 lines long will be celebrated in Scotland this week.

Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto is one of the longest poems in European literature and was partially set in St Andrews.

Published in 1516, it became an instant bestseller and has been likened to one of today’s addictive TV box sets.

It is hailed as one of the most influential works in western culture and even inspired Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron and Virginia Woolf.

An illustration of the poem
An illustration of the poem

And now Scots will have the chance to celebrate its 500th anniversary – in a series of operas, displays and talks held at St Andrews University.

The poem tells the chivalric tale of Orlando, whose unrequited love sends him mad.

He is only cured after an English knight, Astolfo, flies around the world in search of a remedy – which includes a trip to the moon.

After locating Orlando’s wits on the moon, Astolfo brings them back in a bottle and makes Orlando sniff them, restoring him to sanity.

It would appear that JK Rowling may also have taken some influence from the famous poem when writing her Harry Potter series.

The lunar store of lost things in Orlando Furioso could be compared to Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement which contains everything a wizard might need.

And there are references to a hippogriff – a mythical half-horse, half-griffin animal – in both the poem and her novels.

Dr Jane Pettegree, director of teaching in the university’s department of music, said: “Ariosto’s great work was the Renaissance equivalent of the epic/fantasy DVD box set: it brims over with subplots and fascinating characters.

“For 500 years, Orlando and his friends have run amok in books, on stage, in music and in visual art…you find him in all sorts of familiar places, if you know where to look.”

She added: “We hope the events will help people to recognise some of the most popular stories and characters, and although we haven’t yet sourced live hippogriffs, we have at least found an image of them flying in the sky over St Andrews Cathedral.”

The programme of events includes a free performance this week by Scottish Opera featuring excerpts from Orlando and Alcina – a trilogy of operas by Handel whose storylines are influenced by the poem.

Other highlights include a display of illustrations and engravings depicting and adventures of Orlando, and a series of talks.