Boiardo’s Cosmpolitan Charlemagne

In book one of Matteo Boiardo’s epic Orlando Inamorato, King Charlemagne hears of the invasion of Muslim-controlled Spain by a vast army from the Far East (Cathay). He summons his council, and makes an observation that’s both irenic and pragmatic:

Io odo ragionare / Che, quando egli arde il muro a noi vicino, / De nostra casa debbiam dubitare. / Dico che, se Marsilio è saracino, / Ciò non attendo; egli è nostro cognato, / Et ha vicino a Francia gionto il stato (1.4.14). (I hear it said / That, when someone burns our neighbor’s wall / We ought to worry about our house. / I say that, if Marsilio is a Saracen, / I don’t care about that; his is our relative, / and has joined his state near to France.) 

The editor of this volume notes that Charlemagne was married to Marsilio’s sister (only in the world of the poem, I think), so the language of “relation” is quite literal. This isn’t the first positive portrayal of Muslims in the poem, either — there’s a large Saracen contingent attending the tournament hosted by Charlemagne at the beginning, and one of them — Ferraguto, Marsilio’s nephew — is among the most fearsome knights in the lot.

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