It was the Italians themselves, with their lusty sense of humor, who provided an antidote to the romanticism of the two Orlandos. Six years before Ariosto’s death Girolamo Folengo published an Orlandino in which the absurdities of the epics were caricatured with hilarious exaggerations. Girolamo heard the skeptical lectures of Pomponazzi at Bologna, adopted a curriculum of amours, intrigues, fisticuffs, and duels, and was expelled from the University. His father disowned him, and he became a Benedictine monk (1507), perhaps as a means of subsistence. Six years later he fell in love with Girolama Dieda, and eloped with her. In 1519 he published a volume of burlesques under the title of Maccaronea, which thenceforth gave its name to a swelling literature of rough and ribald satire in mingled Latin and Italian verse. The Orlandino was a riotous mock epic, in coarse and popular vernacular, pursuing a serious vein for a stanza or two, then startling the reader with a thought and phrase worthy of the most scatophilic privy councilor. The knights, armed with kitchen utensils, rush into the lists on limping mules. The leading churchman of the tale is the monk Griffarosto—Abbot Grab-the-Roast—whose library consists of cook books interspersed with victuals and wine, and “all the tongues he knew were those of oxen and swine”;16 through him Folengo satirizes the clergy of Italy to any Lutheran’s content. The work was received with guffaws of applause, but the author continued to starve. Finally he retired again to a monastery, wrote pious poetry, and died in the odor of sanctity at fifty three (1544). Rabelais relished him,17 and perhaps Ariosto, in his final years, joined in the merriment.
Alfonso I kept his little state secure against all the assaults of the papacy, and at last took a reckless revenge by encouraging and abetting the German-Spanish army that besieged, captured, and plundered Rome (1527).18 Charles V expressed appreciation by restoring to him Ferrara’s ancient fiefs, Modena and Reggio, so that Alfonso transmitted his duchy undiminished to his heirs. In 1528 he sent his son Ercole to France to bring home a diplomatic bride from the royal family—Renée or Renata—tiny, somber, deformed, and secretly won by the heresy of Calvin. Alfonso, after Lucrezia’s passing, consoled himself with a mistress, Laura Dianti, and perhaps married her before his death (1534). He had outwitted every enemy but time.