Venice in Poetry – Progress post 2

In the last blog post we explained we were going to extract references of Venice related keywords from texts of poetry, and showed as an example the occurrences of those keywords in the Commedia by Dante Alighieri. In this blogpost we will show how this is done and we’ll analyse another masterpiece of Italian literature, the Orlando Furioso, by Ludovico Ariosto.

The R script
To search for particular words in an entire poem, we used a R script which downloads the complete text from the Gutenberg archive line by line. After some cleaning of the metadata, all uppercase letters are changed to their lowercase version to ensure better words compatibility.

Once the whole poem is scanned, the script searches for an occurrence of the keywords venezia, venetiae, veneziani, rïalto, rialto, san marco, vinegia, doge, mestre and venetia.

If one or more references are found, the script asks the user if he wants to visualize them and in the affirmative case it shows the exact location of the line in which the word is found, together with the four preceding and following verses of the poem.

Screen of the R console
Screen of the R console

Context of the Orlando Furioso
The poem was written during the years 1505-1516 as a celebration of the Este family, dignitary of Ferrara, and dedicated in particular to Ippolito d’Este, who was imagined as descendant of the union of the pagan paladin Ruggiero and the Christian warrior Bradamante, fictionary characters of the poem. It narrates of the war between Christian emperor Charlemagne and Saracen king Agramante, as well as the continuous quest for love of the paladins, incarnated by the beautiful Angelica.

At the time of the poem Ferrara and Venice had always been rival cities, and just about 20 years before the beginning of the composition, the Republic of Venice had moved war to Ferrara. This war was later to be known as the “war of Ferrara” (1482-1484) and was caused by the expansionist desires of Ferrara over the Po valley region and by the start of a trade of salt, which Venice had had the monopoly until then.

In the end, Venice won the war and conquered some territories previously under the control of Ferrara. It could therefore be interesting to see how Venice and Venetians are described in the poem, given the clashes between the two cities.

References of Venice in the text

Canto III, 52, 4:
The verses are referred to Alfonso I d’Este, son of Ercole I, the duke of Este at the time of the poem. The author suggests to Alfonso to be a wise and prudent ruler, as he will have to face Venice from one side and the Church from the other. In fact, during his life Alfonso will have to deal with Venetians many times.

Canto XXVII, 137, 3:
A venetian friend of the author is introduced here, which he describes as a gentleman with practical experience that helped him.

Canto XXXIII, 2, 6:
Many well known painters from Urbino and Venice are enumerated here to compare the “usual” art to the one of Merlin, which is able to paint of the future. Venice is here seen as homeland of famous and renowned artists. The next three references are the description of famous battles that involved Venice who actually happened.

Canto XXXIII, 17, 6:
Merlin shows Bradamante the future ventures of her descendants if she’ll join Ruggiero in marriage trough his paintings. In this particular verse, it is described how Pepin the Short, son of Charlemagne and king of France from 751 to 768 fought Venice, advancing up to Rialto, but was finally pushed back by a storm.

Canto XXXIII, 31, 6:
It is described how Ludovico Sforza (1452 – 1508), duke of Milan and allied of the Este family, joined forces with the Pope and Venice in 1495 at Fornovo to try to stop Charles VIII, king of France, from going back to France, but he was ultimately able to pass trough an opening in the League’s army and save himself.

Canto XXXIII, 38, 4:
Another battle, the Battle of Adagnello of 1509 is described. This time, it’s Louis XII that attacks the Republic of Venice, which he defeats. As a results, the expansionist desires of the Republic are definitely stopped.

Canto XXXVI, 3-7:

Tutti gli atti crudeli ed inumani
ch’usasse mai Tartaro o Turco o Moro,
(non già con volontà de’ Veneziani,
che sempre esempio di giustizia foro),
usaron l’empie e scelerate mani
di rei soldati, mercenari loro.
Io non dico or di tanti accesi fuochi
ch’arson le ville e i nostri ameni lochi:
What fierce Barbarian, Tartar, Moore, or Turke,
Could use more cruelty then now of late
In Latian land Venelian force did work?
Not by consent of the wise men of state,
But by the filthy nature that did lurk
In wicked hirelings, and a hidden hate;
I speak not of the dammage and defaces,
They did by fire in all our pleasant places.

Here’s an interesting reference: the chivalry of paladins and warriors is described and Venice, despite being an enemy of Ferrara, is described as always having been an example of justice. All the cruel and inhuman actions of the Venetian army are attributed by the author to the mercenaries Venice had hired. In the next 3 octaves it is described a fact the author personally witnessed: once the Ferrara’s army had pushed the Venetians back to their strongholds, two Ferrara’s warriors were caught and held prisoners. One of the two was also beheaded, in open disregard to the war’s laws. All these action are attributed to the Schiavoni, mercenaries of Venice and not to Venice itself.

Canto XLIII, 54, 2:
Geographical reference, where it is said that the river Po divides itself in two parts, one directed to Venice and the other to Ferrara.

Canto XLVI, 97, 4:
Another reference to a battle against Venetians, the Battle of Polesella (1509) where Ippolito d’Este, the recipient of the poem, played an important role.

Through the whole poem, narrated by the eyes of a courtier of the noblest family in Ferrara, it appears how Venice is seen as an enemy, yet a respectable one, with great influence in the arts and history, but also in battles against the common French enemy.


  • Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, a cura di Lanfranco Caretti, Einaudi, Torino, 1996.
  • Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, translated by John Harington, 1591.
  • R Development Core Team, R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing, R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria, 2011. ISBN 3-900051-07-0.
  • Code of the R script