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Lockdown Thoughts: Astolfo

7 min read from miscellaneous on 2020-07-24

You ever have one of those moments where you think of something really embarrassing, but it's okay because you only thought it so it's not like how you normally do something embarrassing, which means other people won't know and as such, won't judge you… But wait, what if people can read minds? I know there's like no evidence of it or whatever, but there also isn't any evidence that people can't. And what if everyone can read minds and they're just hiding it from you? What if all your friends secretly hate you and only talk to you to get your embarrassing moments and to share them with their real friends to laugh at? What if they're doing it right now? What if they're uploading this to justinisadumbdumb.com where all 7 billion users will get instantly notified and quickly log on to see what stupid thing you did or thought about. What if there's an entire industry of people who go through your life, finding every stupid thing about you and making TikTok compilations of them while making millions in ad revenue and sponsorship deals?

We're going to talk about one of those thoughts today. Here's a list of things I normally think about during the day, take a guess on what the "embarrassing" thought is.(1)

(1) If you read the title you cheated.
  • Functional programming.
  • Distributed systems.
  • Pourquoi je n'aime pas de L'Académie française.
  • How to make a good anti-gravity racing game.
  • James Mickens is infallible; I am lucky to recieve his wisdom.
  • Blog post ideas.
  • Wondering when I'm going to get burnt out and sick of writing code every day and how I'm supposed to get a different job if programming is my only skill.
  • Astolfo.
  • Also thinking how I'm ever supposed to "move up" in the world if I am actively adverse to taking any responsibilities greater than what I currently have and remaining as an engineer.
  • How to get GameFreak to add Bidoof to Pokèmon SwSh so I can finally play it.
  • Pondering why, when I don't have an engineering licence, I need to call myself an "engineer" to help make me feel important and special even though all I do is write CRUD apps by gluing libraries together.

The answer is Astolfo. Give yourself a high-five if you got that correct.

Why do I think thinking about Astolfo is embarrassing? Well, when I show all my friends Astolfo, our conversations usually go like this:

Uhhh yeah, I guess that's a pretty cute anime girl.

To which then I reply:

HAH! YOU FOOL! ASTOLFO IS ACTUALLY AN ANIME BOY! I TRICKED YOU! I TRICKED YOU WITH MY CLEVER BRAIN!

At this point, they normally say:

Justin I don't give a shit. Why are you even showing me this? This is why I don't want to hang out with you anymore. God I hate you so much.

I don't understand where I went wrong there. I think they just don't like Astolfo.

I asked my therapist about this, but she seemed more concerned as to why I would suddenly shove Astolfo into the face of my friends just to laugh at them when they make an easy mistake.

To that I answered:

This is a picture of Astolfo with the text "my goals are beyond your understanding" under it. If you are listening to this with a screen reader, then I'm very sorry you aren't able to see Astolfo. But trust me, he is a very cute boy.

That was the last session I had with her.

Anyway, during the lockdown I feel as these "Astolfo thoughts" as I like to call them, have been growing and I realised that I don't actually know anything about Astolfo, so I took this time to learn.

Astolfo (also Astolpho, Estous, Estoult, Estouls) is a fictional character of the Matter of France where he is one of Charlemagne's paladins.[1] The Matter of France was one of the "Three Matters" repeatedly recalled in medieval literature with the others being the Matter of Britain, the legendary history of Great Britain, Brittany and King Arthur; and the Matter of Rome, which represented the medieval poets' interpretations of Ancient Greek and Roman mythology and history.

Huh, I did not expect that. I've always assumed Astolfo was an anime character. I feel kinda dumb now so here, let me show you another image from my Astolfo collection(2), it should hopefully clear up why Astolfo seems more from anime than the chanson de geste:

(2) Don't ask.

This is a picture of Jesus hugging Astolfo.

Actually, no. Now I'm more confused.

I dunno, all the images I've seen of him look like they were made with modern drawing techniques. Did they even have colours in the 11th century? I guess the old times were more advanced than I thought. Either way, we should at least take a look at one of these stories.

The most popular work that Astolfo features in is the "Orlando Furioso" an Italian epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto which was first published in 1516. The poem is a sequel to Matteo Maria Boiardo's "Orlando Innamorato" and is considered one of the great monuments of renaissance literature, inspiring Vivaldi (with Orlando Furioso), Haydn (with Orlando Paladino), and Handel (with Rinaldo, Ariodante, Orlando, and Alcina).

Sir John Harington was one of the earlier people to have translated it into English. Although most known for having invented England's first flushing toilet called the Ajax(3), he was also a notable author and translator. His translation of Orlando Furioso was made because he annoyed the Queen who could have banished him for life but, in a friendlier way, sent him off to translate the poem never expecting to see him again. Spoilers: she did see him again.

(3) JS programmers rise up.

I don't know how to read anything before the 1900s however, so we'll skip that and look at David R. Slavitt's translation from 2009.

Okay so, when we first see Astolfo… he's a tree. Canto Secondo verse 53:

As they talked further, Ruggiero learned that Astolfo was the cousin of his dear Bradamante, and that he had been turned into the wretched tree that was growing here was even more upsetting. Therefore he yearned to help in any way. But it was clear that other than offering comfort and solace he could not do much to aid a myrtle tree.

The next verse goes on:

You think it’s easy? No, it’s very hard to say nice things to a tree—about how its bark is worse than its bite? You can’t even send a card, unless it has that recycled paper mark. […]

This fucking slaps dude. He turns into a tree! Funniest shit I've read all year.

I woudn't call myself a very big reader (of fiction), but the only genre I try to actively avoid is YA so I'm a little surprised I haven't tried to read stuff like this before. But honestly, I genuinely enjoyed this, it's full of wit and character in a very different way to what I normally read.

The only problem I have is that I have yet to see any mention of Astolfo's crossdressing. It seems like a big thing since all of the images I have of him make him look like a girl. Although maybe that was all established previously in the Chanson de Roland extended universe and Ariosto didn't feel the need to expand upon it.

But I think I've cured my embarrassment for my Astolfo thoughts. This isn't anything to be embarrassed about, it's a great piece. And thank goodness Astolfo isn't actually from an anime. It appears I was the one who was tricked instead of my friends this time.

Now, instead of building up the courage to explain to my parents that instead of going outside, I spend all my time looking at lewd pics of anime characters, I can say I spend all my time looking at lewd pics of classical literature characters. Much better.


[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astolfo