Sunday, January 13, 2019

Character study of Bradamante

Joseph Campbell famously described the commonalities of myths and stories told throughout the world as “the hero with a thousand faces” meaning that regardless of the name of the particular hero or the locale in which a monster was fought - there was an underlying mythos capturing our imaginations. That is why heroic stories persist throughout the ages and continue to be propagated for new generations. One method that allows readers or audiences to recognize the significance of what role each character plays in the story whether they are hero, ally or adversary is by using stock figures or archetypes. I use the term archetype differently than what was described by Carl Jung, so I am not limited to his set of twelve archetypes. My use is more in line with recognizing stock figures that become icons in literature and drama.

From the Ariosto Room in the Il Casino Giustiani Massimo al Laterano in Rome, Italy. Picture credit to Marco Ferrara.
Bradamante is the niece of Charlemagne and a respected warrior maiden. Ariosto praises her beauty as well as declaring her to be equal in “courage, might and expertise” to that of her famous brother Rinaldo, (Orlando furioso, Canto II, verse 31).
Archetypically, I feel that Bradamante’s character had two major influences. The first was the Greek Goddess Athena.

From the Louvre Museum in Paris.
 She was the goddess of wisdom and victory and known for her cool-headed strategic planning. No man ever captured Athena’s heart.
The second influence was of the historical figure of Joan of Arc or Jeanne d’Arc. I find that comparison more compelling and I feel that it was not incidental, but instead a deliberate attempt by Ariosto to invoke the parallels between the literary heroine and the real life French martyr. Jeanne d’Arc who was burned at the stake in 1431 at the age of 19. She had been known for riding a white horse, carrying a banner made of white fabric, was called “the Maid,” had cropped hair and dressed in men’s clothing.
Jeanne d'Arc, St. Étienne Cathedrale in Cahors, France

Bradamante was a young woman, most likely a teenager, and is described as having a white shield with a white plume (Orlando furioso, Canto I, verse 60) and is often referred to as “the Maid.” The color white is known for the symbolic virtues of purity and innocence. Bradamante also had cropped hair, due to a blow to the back of her head by an enemy warrior near the end of Boiardo’s poem Orlando innamorato (Book III Canto v, verse 46) and a hermit cut her hair to tend to the wound. (Book III, Canto ix, verse 61)
Ariosto neglected to mention the length of Bradamante’s hair until finally in Canto 25 when her twin brother Ricciardetto relates a tale to Ruggiero of how people commonly confuse him and his sister Bradamante since they have such great resemblance to each other. The confusion about her sex was compounded when she lost her tresses due to the head injury.  (Orlando furioso, Canto XXV, verses 22-24)

Bradamante also disguised herself as a man when she approached the thief Brunello at an inn and sought to have him serve as her guide to find where Ruggiero was being held captive.

“Name, sex, race, family and place of birth
She hides, watching his hands for all she’s worth.” (Orlando furioso, Canto III, verse 76)

The greatest differences between Bradamante and Jeanne d’Arc is that the literary heroine is revered by her king, never accused of heresy, has a love life, and a much better fate than the historical figure.

Here are more artistic renderings of Bradamante.

Illustration by Gustave Doré based on Orlando furioso, Canto III, verse 9. (Doré was inspired to begin his drawings before reading the entire poem to discover in Canto XXV that Bradamante's tresses were cut to make her resemble a boy.)

Plate 20 by Jean Honoré Fragonard of Bradamant fighting Atlante on the hippogriff.  
I happen to have purchased that image when a facsimile of it was sold on eBay. The scan is from my copy.

Of all the characters in Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso,  my favorite is Bradamante. She is a strong heroine who rarely loses her temper. Twice she gave into seeking revenge. Once was going after Martisino and the second was Pinabel. Both times she suffered due to her lust for vengeance. In Fate of the Saracen Knight, Bradamante hears rumors of Ruggiero being romantically involved with another warrior maiden. Will she suffer if she sets out on another quest for vengeance?

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