In pursuit of Ariosto, The poet of Ferrara

Written by  Gianni Venturi
An important project to make young people know Ariosto's poetry.
A project, an event, and a publication are competing to relaunch the concept of a poet. The poet, who over the centuries has made Ferrara one of the great capitals of poetry of every time and place.

Like Rome for Virgil, Florence for Dante, Ferrara has been transformed in the imagination, but also in reality, by the presence of a writer who "saw" and sang it not merely for what it historically was, but for the dream, as true as poetry is true, which made it unique and unrepeatable, magic and affectionately real, with flying hippogriffs and boats that sail as fast as light, with monsters and heroes, with demoiselles sans merci and sirens and warriors and virgins, with war and peace: with, indeed, the whole spectrum of human feelings expressed in the divine harmony of verse.

Hence in 2005 a project was set up under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research to promote identification between place and poetry under the name of "Pensare l'Italia attraverso i classici", imagining Italy through the classics, for which the city of Ferrara was the only candidate selected below the rank of regional capital.

The success of this day of poetic remembrance was attributable to the Regional Schools Service of Emilia Romagna and the Administrative Services Centre of the city of Ferrara who were able to collate and organise the proposals submitted by the secondary schools of the province of Ferrara.

The project also benefited from the advice of the Ferrara Institute of Renaissance Studies which coordinated initiatives based on different ways and means of approaching Ariosto's poetry.

The most significant moment was that when the exchange took place between the City in its most representative places, the Piazza Municipale and the Teatro Comunale, and the schools.

So it was not just an event lasting a single day, but rather a protracted period of some months, over which the shows were prepared and the pupils inspired to research in a way that made them into protagonists rather than merely passive receivers of distilled knowledge. I do not believe that any other city did more or went further than Ferrara.

At play here was the awareness displayed by teachers and pupils alike of their own historical roots, a feature common to all generations of ferraresi, so conscious of the glorious achievements of the Este, but also aware of the ability of this Ferrara school to respond with educational and ethical understanding to the demands of the new and complex type of learning like that which in the civilisation of images and representation often forgets that which is the "real" reality, entrusted to the value and testimony of poetry and art.

The other high-profile academic project, also designed to consolidate the position of Ferrara's own poet in the city, took as its starting point the first edition of the Orlando Furioso which the poet supervised himself, but which received no further attention, either in the sixteenth century or up to our own times. We know that Ariosto himself saw three editions of the poem: the 1516 and 1521 editions, and the definitive version of 1532, which was an extraordinary success even for those times, when printing ensured wide distribution.

The success of the Orlando Furioso was remarkable: 155 editions, excluding translations, in the sixteenth century alone, to which we can add the thousands of editions that demonstrate the timeless success of Ariosto's masterpiece down to our own days.

The 1516 edition, however, was unusual in that it was never reprinted, although Ariosto himself supervised the edition, on which he lavished particular care and attention, editing the text himself.

The uniqueness of this work also lies in the Ferrara dialect, which increased its appeal to townspeople, who found in it a completely innovative approach to language.

It might be said that the 1516 edition of the Orlando Furioso is unlike the work that is universally known, certainly linguistically and in terms of some aspects of the narrative structure.

The text is lovingly presented by Professor Marco Dorigatti of Oxford University, who has dedicated more than a decade to reading, annotating and presenting the 1516 text, personally examining and reading all eleven extant copies of the edition which are scattered in libraries throughout the world.

The signal success of this initiative is evident in the fact that the entire city of Ferrara, represented by institutions such as the city authority, the province, the city education department, the Cassa di Risparmio and the Fondazione Cassa di Rispramio di Ferrara, has acted as editor of the reborn and republished text.

A unique example of cooperation which has made good a singular lacuna in Italian letters, and which only Ariosto's native city could fill.

In this way posterity can repay the efforts of the poet, who in producing this version suffered a considerable financial loss that dissuaded him from editing his work in its subsequent editions.