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La Gerusalemme liberata Torquato Tasso

The following entry presents criticism of Tasso's epic poem La Gerusalemme liberata (1581; Jerusalem Delivered). For discussion of Tasso's complete career, see LC, Volume 5.

La Gerusalemme liberata was Tasso's greatest achievement, an attempt to emulate and even surpass classical authors such as Homer...

(The entire section contains 116853 words.)

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La Gerusalemme liberata Torquato Tasso

The following entry presents criticism of Tasso's epic poem La Gerusalemme liberata (1581; Jerusalem Delivered). For discussion of Tasso's complete career, see LC, Volume 5.

La Gerusalemme liberata was Tasso's greatest achievement, an attempt to emulate and even surpass classical authors such as Homer and Virgil and to provide Italy with a national epic poem. While indebted to works of classical antiquity, Gerusalemme liberata is at the same time close to medieval romance; and while depicting events from the First Crusade, it also reflects the quandaries of the poet's own time, when Jerusalem was governed by a sultan and Europe was in the crisis of religious division. With Gerusalemme liberata Tasso sought to create a masterpiece that would deserve comparison with the great epics of the past; he succeeded in composing one of the most widely read and cherished books of the Renaissance.

Biographical Information

Active at the end of a splendid developmental period in Italian literature, Tasso sought to surpass his predecessors (especially Ludovico Ariosto, with whom he is often compared) and to provide Italy with a national epic poem. However, Tasso's times were far different from Ariosto's, as the passing of the Renaissance in Italy was marked by a shift from a spirit of inquiry to the inquisitional watchfulness of the Counter-Reformation. In literature, there was a growing tendency toward prescriptive theory and conformity to rigid and established compositional rules based on the theoretical writings of antiquity. Excessively solicitous of his colleagues' and the clergy's advice and opinions, Tasso is said to have possessed the spirit of the Renaissance only to be constrained by the Counter-Reformation. Fearing that any uncorrected unorthodoxies might prevent the publication of Gerusalemme liberata, Tasso began to lend partial manuscripts of the work to colleagues, critics, and friends for their critiques. Their comments, however, irritated and humiliated him, and while he continued to defend the work, portions of it—often inaccurate—became widely available, further aggravating his concern for his reputation. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1577 and was confined to a hospital for the next seven years. It was during this period that an unscrupulous printer published without Tasso's approval an incomplete and flawed edition of Gerusalemme liberata under its original title Il Goffredo. This prompted Tasso to publish a version of the poem himself, despite his dissatisfaction with it. The debate over Gerusalemme liberata lasted throughout Tasso's confinement, while he continued to revise the poem. He was finally released in 1586, and in the years following resumed work on his epic. In 1593 Tasso published his epic—finally purged, to his satisfaction, of its impurities—under the title Di Gerusalemme conquistata (Jerusalem Conquered). With many episodes deleted or changed to answer religious objections or to adhere to classical unities, and with the language refined to the point of diminished beauty, this revised version is unanimously deemed inferior to Gerusalemme liberata.

Plot and Major Characters

Di Gerusalemme conquistata is an epic poem in 20 cantos of about 100 stanzas each. Much of its action concerns the fall of Jerusalem in 1099 to Godfrey of Boulogne and his European allies during the First Crusade. Although Godfrey led the Crusade, it is Rinaldo who is the main hero of the poem. He undergoes a fall from grace when he succumbs to the beautiful Armida and is banished from the Christian camp, but is recalled to his sense of duty in Canto 16, returns to help the Christians enter Jerusalem, and kills the Saracen hero Solimano. Similarly flawed is a secondary hero, Tancredi, who is also in love with a Saracen female warrior, Clorinda. In a tragic episode he unwittingly kills her in combat, but is roused to great deeds at the end and slays the giant Saracen Argante. The poem ends in Christian triumph, not only with the capture of Jerusalem, but also with the conversion to Christianity of the Saracen heroines, Clorinda as she dies, and Armida at the end of the poem.

Major Themes

Gerusalemme liberata is an overtly serious work, stoutly Christian, explicitly moralistic, and deeply concerned from its inception with such theoretical matters as the relation of truth to invention and the problem of historical authenticity. Its subject matter, a protracted military contest between Christians and Muslims, had contemporary significance in a time of continuing struggle between the Italian states and the Ottoman Empire for commercial domination of the eastern Mediterranean. Moreover, the themes of loyalty and treachery, and the conflicting claims of public and private obligation—so important for Renaissance epic in general—were still pertinent to the court ethos and inter-state political rivalry characteristic of the age in which Tasso lived. In the poem, the blood and gore of antique epic are mitigated by idyllic and lyric passages which derive more from Petrarch and the Greek and Latin elegiac and erotic poets than from Homer or Tasso's own sometimes rough-hewn epic forbears. The women of Tasso's poetry, in particular, and the love interests they give rise to provide a more complex foil to the traditional military skirmishing and bravado, in part because all of Tasso's characters are more fully realized and psychologically developed than those of his predecessors.

Critical Reception

Tasso's attempt in Gerusalemme liberata to combine classical epic with traditional romance elements was the source of much critical conflict during his lifetime. Strict classicists attacked Tasso's use of the miraculous and the lack of a strict unity of action. Meanwhile, those who looked at its romantic elements denigrated it in comparison to Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso, while others condemned it for vague or emotional language. In addition, the Church denounced the portrayal of pagan magic and the loves depicted, both for their sensual quality and for the pairing of pagans with Christians. In Tasso's own time, his work was well received by the public despite the controversy in critical circles. While consensus on Gerusalemme liberata cannot be reached, it is clear that the epic had an effect on such significant figures as Edmund Spenser, John Milton, and John Dryden. Milton considered Gerusalemme liberata the only modern epic worthy of imitation. Twentieth-century critics have examined Gerusalemme liberata from a variety of perspectives. In his study of the poem, C. P. Brand maintained that the influence that the classical writers had on Tasso and his epic cannot be understated: “it is typical of Tasso's approach to art, to style and language to build on the great achievements of the past.” Other critics have analyzed the political aspects of Gerusalemme liberata. David Quint has claimed that looking at the “political picture turns Tasso's First Crusade into an emblem of the Church Militant, whose quest for souls is finally indistinguishable from the imperialist conquest of new territories and dependent subjects.” While many modern critics have praised Gerusalemme liberata for its mixture of romantic with classical elements, Dennis Looney has argued that this mixture is the poem's greatest flaw because it causes confusion and compromises the work, so that it can be considered neither as a romance nor as a true epic. For his part, Andrew Fichter has characterized the poem as a “Christian epic,” based on the theme of redemption. “Tasso's choice of redemption as a theme,” he asserts, “is perfectly suited to his purpose of constructing a true Christian epic, a poem based on Christian principles but one that also possesses the formal properties of the Aeneid, wholeness, magnitude, and unity of plot and character.”

Principal Works

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Il Rinaldo (poem) 1562

Aminta (play) 1573

*La Gerusalemme liberata (epic) 1581; revised as Di Gerusalemme conquistata, 1593

Discorsi dell'arte poetica (essays) 1587

Il re Torrismondo (play) 1587

Scielta delle rime (poetry) 1591-93

Discorsi del poema erico [Discourses on the Heroic Poem, 1973] (poetry) 1594

I due giorni del mondo creato [Creation of the World, 1982] (poetry) 1600; also published as Le sette giornate del mondo creato [enlarged edition], 1607

Opere. 33 vols. (poetry, pose, criticism, and drama) 1821-1832

*An earlier, incomplete version of this work was published as Il Goffredo in 1580.

C. P. Brand (essay date 1965)

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SOURCE: Brand, C. P. “The Epic: The Gerusalemme Liberata.” In Torquato Tasso: A Study of the Poet and of His Contribution to English Literature, pp. 79-118. Cambridge: At the University Press, 1965.

[In the following essay, Brand argues that Gerusalemme liberata is a “fusion of the heroic epic and the chivalrous romance” and that Tasso's style attempts to follow the classical precedents set by Homer and Virgil.]

Structurally the Liberata is a fusion of the heroic epic and the chivalrous romance, and represents a conscious attempt at the perfection of a literary form. Few poems have been less ‘spontaneous’ in the conventional sense: years of reading, thought, discussion, correspondence, even formal declaration of principles preceded and accompanied the composition of the poem. For Tasso the peaks of literary achievement had been reached by Homer and Virgil in the epic and his aim was to rival, where possible to excel them. It is typical of Tasso's approach to art, to style and language to build on the great achievements of the past, and he deduced his principles for epic poetry very largely from the Iliad and the Aeneid, and from the classical literary theorists, particularly Aristotle and Demetrius.

His epic thus treats an heroic theme of large scale, the siege and capture of Jerusalem in 1099 by Godfrey of Boulogne and his allies; it deliberately plunges ‘in medias res’ with the approach to Jerusalem, ignoring the previous exploits of the crusaders; it has a single unified theme, to which the episodes are subordinated; it adopts a serious magniloquent tone throughout—so that De Sanctis complained that ‘from first to last he blew the trumpet’; and its characters and action are very widely inspired by classical precedent, with ‘maraviglie’, ‘agnizione’, ‘peripezie’, etc. The councils of the supernatural forces controlling the action, the quarrel and withdrawal of the leading Christian knights on whose eventual recall the success of the campaign depends; the night expedition of two enemy warriors, the espionage mission of Vafrino, the troop reviews, the battles and duels—these and many other incidents are often closely reminiscent of passages from Homer and Virgil. At the same time the heroic ideal is adapted to the claims of the time: a period of history is chosen which allows the celebration of the Christian faith, which is no less prominent here than are the Greek gods in Homer; and the contemporary critics of ‘empty fictions’ are met with references to the chronicles and a substratum of historical fact. This is the structure of the heroic epic devised by Tasso.

However, Tasso had no wish to renounce the chivalrous romance completely. His plan as outlined above might seem a deliberate attack on the romances, with their light-hearted humorous approach, loose structure, popular language and indifference to historical and geographical reality; and indeed Tasso's approach is in a degree negative. He opposes forcefully the ‘defects’ of the romances, but he cannot deny their appeal, and indeed feels it himself. Ariosto's remarkable popularity beside Trissino's failure was not to be ignored. The heroic ideal is adulterated therefore with the charms of the romances—notably the loves and enchantments—and Tasso admits his compromise from the beginning. He begs pardon of his Christian muse for his adorning the truth:

… e tu perdona
s'intesso fregi al ver, s'adorno in parte
d'altri diletti, che de' tuoi, le carte.
Sai che là corre il mondo ove più versi
di sue dolcezze il lusinghier Parnaso,
e che 'l vero condito in molli versi,
i più schivi allettando ha persuaso.

(1, 2-3)

So in the accepted romance tradition the pagan Armida wreaks havoc in the Christian ranks by her seductive charms, and two other pagan beauties, an Amazon (Clorinda) and a stay-at-home (Erminia), are at the centre of other digressive incidents. Nor are the wizards and witches of the romances absent, and the crusaders even suffer at one stage from being turned into fish. The camouflage of these obvious ‘diletti’ is thin—the loves are mildly allegorical, an obstacle in the path of Christian duty; and the enchantments are remotely controlled by Christian powers, by God and his angels or Beelzebub. But the connection with the romances of chivalry is seen everywhere—not only in the form, where the traditional octave rhyme and canto structure are employed, but in the chivalrous spirit of the crusaders, who will take no unfair advantage of an unhorsed or disarmed opponent, and in many details of the action: even the favourite Italian knight Rinaldo reappears as a crusading ancestor of Tasso's patrons, the Estensi.

This compromise between the heroic, serious, didactic elements on the one hand and the fanciful and romantic on the other is typical of Tasso's approach to so many things: it constantly appears in his letters in his attempts to placate his critics and at the same time to safeguard his own wishes; in his search for peace and independence and yet his hankering for the court and its excitement; in his writings it is also evident in his aim to reconcile Aristotle and Plato, in his frequent reference to or intimation of sources, and his attempts at almost every literary genre, epic, lyric, dramatic, dialogue, discourse—as though he stands in no one camp but in all. So that he has seemed to many critics a man of the Renaissance struggling to conform to the spirit of the Counter-Reformation in which he had the misfortune to be born, while to others he is of the very essence of his time or even a herald of the Seicento. It is this very imprecision of mind, this drifting between schools and genres and feelings which contributes so effectively to Tasso's originality as a poet and which has preserved his reputation through the changing trends of the centuries, so that he has appealed to Secentisti and Arcadians, Romantics and Classicists.

This is, however, a difficult and dangerous course for a poet who may juxtapose but fail to blend the contrasting components. Thus the Liberata has been condemned by many critics since De Sanctis for failing to reconcile the heroic and the romance elements. The strictly heroic elements have been considered uninspired, accepted by a reluctant poet because of the climate of religious and literary opinion.1 Tasso is held to have been unmoved by the Crusade as a glorious feat of arms, or at least unable to convey his emotion; and to be lacking in religious faith, for which he substituted the formal ceremony and pomp of the Counter-Reformation; thus the attempt to create a heroic religious epic failed. On the other hand, where the poet was in sympathy with his material was in the love episodes and the enchantments—here, it was said, his fancy had free play and here the poet found inspiration for his best work, in the enchanted wood and the garden of Armida, the death of Clorinda and the loves of Erminia and of Olindo. So the Liberata has been thought of as an epic poem in which the strictly epic elements fail, while the romance, lyrical moments keep the poem alive—hence Momigliano's view, repeated by Fubini, of a new poetic technique, ‘per cui la poesia si raccoglie in alcuni momenti culminanti e sembra tacere per lungo spazio’.2

While there is certainly an element of truth in this view, it errs through oversimplification and the aesthetic judgement has been biased by long-standing historical fallacies—that the heroic and religious elements were alien to the poet who accepted unwillingly the dictates of Inquisitors and literary dictators—and perhaps by a distaste for psychological half-tones. (Is Tancredi a hero or isn't he? Is Armida a wicked sorceress? Is Goffredo the ideal prince?) The search for a biographical explanation has contributed to the distinction between epic and lyric, between heroic and romance, as though the poem were a document of the everyday life of the poet (who was neither heroic nor religious but who was superstitious and amorous) whereas it is really a reflection of a complex world of fears and aspirations which pervades the heroic and religious material no less than the romantic. However, the distinction between the two bodies of material, the heroic epic and the romance, is a useful one and will serve to illustrate what has been said.

Tasso's theme then is the celebration of a great and glorious feat of arms, and to dismiss the military and heroic elements as unpoetic concessions to literary tradition or popular taste or Counter-Reformation missionary zeal is to misread the poem. The military action is important to Tasso—it is not merely a structure on which to hang his romantic episodes. The poet is fascinated by action, perhaps precisely because he was not himself a man of action. His military experience is nil, but his imagination is stirred by the clash of arms and the emotional tensions aroused by the prospect of death. The very techniques of fighting interest him intensely, particularly the parry and thrust of the duel; he is expert in the arts of the sword, and the accuracy of his accounts of single combats is legendary. The duel is no longer the monotonous hacking of the chivalrous romances but a contest of skills and characters, a moving interplay of minds as of bodies. The duel between Tancredi and Argante in Canto VI is a good example of this, from the cautious taking of stance to the first feint inducing the aggressive Argante to make his overbold thrust; Tancredi parries swiftly, wounds his opponent and reassumes his stance. Argante, arrogant, always victorious, can scarcely believe that he is wounded and in his rage and pain rushes wildly on to Tancredi's sword again:

Il fero Argante, che se stesso mira
del proprio sangue suo macchiato e molle,
con insolito orror freme e sospira,
di cruccio e di dolor turbato e folle;
e portato da l'impeto e da l'ira,
con la voce la spada insieme estolle,
e torna per ferire, ed è di punta
piagato ov'è la spalla al braccio giunta.

(VI, 44)

Now the pagan throws discretion to the winds and rains blows on the lighter Tancredi who anxiously defends himself; and only the oncoming darkness puts an end to the dramatic conflict. The duel between Rinaldo and Gernando in Canto V is also dramatic, not only in the vivid representation of the action, but particularly in the picture of the inferior Gernando who in his moment of fear trembles, but puts on a bold face and meets his opponent resolutely. Thus the clash of arms uncovers the deepest resources of character.

The broader canvas of the military campaign is also treated with considerable narrative skill. Tasso is interested in every aspect of the conflict—the costumes, weapons, supplies, troop dispositions and tactics. The instruments of war assume a personality of their own, the sword for example which is thrust into the supplicating face of the young Lesbino:

Senso aver parve e fu de l'uom più umano
il ferro, che si volse e piatto scese.

(IX, 84)

The massive siege-tower participates in the action almost as though a character (‘primo terror de le nemiche genti’) and sets off a chain of colourful and moving incidents: it is damaged in the first assault, and brought back by the Christian knights, but its wheels break and it sways furiously in the darkness while Goffredo puts guards round it and sets men to work to repair it. Through the night the besieged Muslims can hear the sound of the workmen and see the gleam of their torches—hence the sortie of Clorinda and Argante to fire it and the lengthy attempt on the enchanted forest for more wood. The firing of the tower becomes a colourful and thrilling incident as the pagans flee leaving the blazing structure behind them:

Vedi globi di fiamme oscure e miste
fra le rote del fumo in ciel girarsi.
Il vento soffia, e vigor fa ch'acquiste
l'incendio e in un raccolga i fochi sparsi.
Fère il gran lume con terror le viste
de' Franchi, e tutti son presti ad armarsi.
La mole immensa, e sì temuta in guerra,
cade, e breve ora opre sì lunghe atterra.

(XII, 46)

The tension of this night sortie is conveyed by Tasso with great skill: the two fleeing assailants reach the walls of the city with the Christians in pursuit; the gates are opened to receive them, and then hastily shut, and in the confusion Clorinda is shut out—but in the darkness she is able to mingle with her opponents and slip away. The splendour of troops in battle-array, the noise and confusion of the battle-field, the murmurings of a riotous army, the eloquence of leaders, the crafty subtleties of ambassadors—all these are brilliantly shown, not indeed with the accuracy of the historian, but with the feeling of a poet who imagines and relives the event with the help of the chroniclers and the poets of the past.

Thus in spite of his historical documentation Tasso's battles are often dream landscapes through which his knights pass in a frenzy of heroism. Ariosto, who knew something of campaigning from first-hand experience, has a scene in which his knights tramp reluctantly out into the rain to do battle with a tired wayfarer.3 Tasso will not suffer this denigration of the heroic ideal: he believes in the high motives of his crusaders. His account of the noble Goffredo pressing forward through the battle to attack Soliman is effective poetically precisely because it is a dream of heroism, a baroque painting where the outlines are forgotten: Goffredo seems to fly on, as he leaps over ‘i confusi monti … de la profonda strage’: all is vague and confused—blood and dust, danger and death (IX, 48-9).

Arms and heroism are not then alien to Tasso's poetic inspiration, but it is more often the heroism of failure which moves him than the glory of success, and more often the horror of violence than the splendour of armed might. Tasso is fascinated by violence and has scenes of slaughter which shock by a grim realism of imagery and sound:

e'l ferro ne le viscere gli immerse.
Il misero Latin singhiozza e spira,
e con vomito alterno or gli trabocca
il sangue per la piaga, or per la bocca.

(IX, 38)

Elsewhere the horror of death is conveyed in a vague generic impression, as in his description of the uneasy still of the strewn battle-field:

Non v'è silenzio e non v'è grido espresso,
ma odi un non so che roco e indistinto:
fremiti di furor, mormori d'ira,
gemiti di chi langue e di chi spira.

(XX, 51)

It is easy to place these scenes of horror against the background of Tasso's own anxious and fearful mind—his practical inexperience of battle does not debar him from the poetry of violence and of death. Indeed Tasso's own passivity seems to bring into his heroic action an element of humanity which is rare in the chivalrous epic. There is often an inner life behind the act of heroism which the unhappy, unheroic Tasso knew only too well: Sofronia, the shy ‘matura vergine’ suffers martyrdom in her exposure to the public gaze before ever the fire is lit around her; the timid Erminia's heroism is to don Clorinda's armour and to dare to ride out, past the guards, in spite of her fears, into the hostile night; Gernando foresees his death at Rinaldo's hands and trembles inwardly with fear while he assumes a bold face.

The most moving poetry of defeat however is in the deaths of the two pagan leaders, Solimano and Argante. They are both fanatical warriors, relentless in battle, unwilling to acknowledge superior force; but the ferocity of each is softened by a moment of self-pity or of introspective gloom which heightens the heroism of their death. Argante pauses before his final fatal duel with Tancredi to look back at the falling Jerusalem: Tancredi taunts him with cowardice and Argante suddenly rises superior to Tancredi's taunts in a few deeply pondered words:

Penso—risponde—a la città del regno
di Giudea antichissima regina,
che vinta or cade, e indarno esser sostegno
io procurai de la fatal ruina,
e ch'è poca vendetta al mio disdegno
il capo tuo che 'l Cielo or mi destina.

(XIX, 10)

It is with Argante, the noble loser, that our sympathies lie, and his ultimate death, brought about by the violence of his own blow, is that of a ‘grande vinto’, and has become legendary:

Moriva Argante, e tal moria qual visse:
minacciava morendo e non languia.
Superbi, formidabili e feroci
gli ultimi moti fur, l'ultime voci.

(XIX, 26)

Solimano too reveals a moment of weakness in his tears for the dead Lesbino. When he falls finally stunned by Rinaldo's blow he is suddenly aware of his approaching defeat and death, and cannot bring himself to defend his life, but dies silently under the attack:

non fugge i colpi e gemito non spande,
nè atto fa se non se altero e grande.

(XX, 107)

It is by virtue of this intensely personal reaction to the theme of arms and heroism that Tasso's choice of subject is justified poetically. Yet the element of subjectivity is constantly minimized by Tasso in his ‘lettere poetiche’, while the historical accuracy is emphasized. The choice of an historical theme is made in accordance with the poet's belief in the importance of verisimilitude. He states in the Discorsi dell'Arte Poetica that the theme of the epic poem is best taken from history, because if the reader thinks that the material is false, he will not be so easily moved to anger, terror or pity. Historical truth is thus a means of gaining the close participation of the reader.4

A good deal of historical research therefore went into the Liberata. Tasso made use of William of Tyre, Paolo Emilio, Roberto Monaco, indeed any historical information that came his way, without distinguishing the more reliable sources from the derivative.5 The crusade of 1096-99 organized by Urban II, is then an historical fact, and from the chronicles Tasso draws many of his characters: Goffredo and his brothers Eustazio and Baldovino, Tancredi, Pietro the hermit, Dudone, Odoardo, Ottone Visconti, Guglielmo Embriaco and others; and many details and episodes are also taken from historical sources: the expulsion of the Christians from Jerusalem, the geographical descriptions of the city, the underground tunnel, the death of Sveno, the Arab attack, the drought, and many details of the battles—the dove-messenger intercepted by the Christians, the use of siege-towers, of deception, smoke, even the weather of the day of the final battle. More often hints in the chronicles are the basis for Tasso's own inventions. Clorinda, an invented character, is justified by a statement in an anonymous chronicle that the Saracen women fought against the Crusaders. Ottone's duel with the invented Argante is based on a duel between Ottone and a pagan mentioned by William of Tyre. The Sofronia-Olindo episode is invented on the basis of a report of the self-sacrifice of a Christian youth following the discovery of a dead dog in a Jerusalem mosque and threats of punishment of the Christians for profanation. Tancredi's love for Armida is justified by Tasso in a letter where he claims that the chronicles describe him as ‘excessively fond of the embraces of the Saracen women’. Similarly Tasso is able to defend the supernatural elements by reference to the beliefs of the time, ‘the history of this war being full of miracles, it wasn't suitable for the poem to be any less wonderful’.6

In many cases however the chronicles were a hindrance to the poet. They often did not conform to the heroic ideal which he was celebrating because they showed up the vices of the crusaders: he has tried, he says, to gloss over or excuse the defects of the Christians.7 He pretends therefore that the faults of Raimondo were due to his old age, and those of Tancredi to his youth, although he knows that this is not historically true. For structural reasons he felt the need to bring the anti-Christian forces under a more unified command, and he makes Solimano subordinate to the King of Egypt and the Arabs, while Argante is made the rival of Solimano, in imitation of Homer and Virgil—but he has doubts about this: some critics, he says, might like him to keep to historical truth, but he would prefer not to do so.8

Tasso is therefore no enthusiast for historical truth and frequently ignores it or consciously exaggerates it. So the three years of campaigning are increased to six; Ugone who has deserted is declared to have died; Goffredo, not in fact elected to leadership until after the conquest of Jerusalem, is here made the ideal prince from Canto 1; and the invasion by the Egyptian army is made to occur several months earlier than it really did in order to produce a grand climax to the poem.9 Thus Tasso's frequent references in letters and discourses to his historical sources are often a cover for his own artistic inclinations—an excuse for the inventions of his own imagination which he feared that moralizing and pedantic critics might censure.

Tasso's theories did not require the epic to reproduce historical truth, but to celebrate ‘l'impresse d'una eccelsa virtù bellica, i fatti di cortesia, di generosità, di pietà, di religione’.10 It is from his belief in the illustrious nature of the epic and in universal truth that so many of the defects of the poem spring. In accordance with these principles Tasso strives, often uncritically, after certain ideals of character and action. He wishes to impress on us the noble, grave, serious nature of his heroes and he is not content to let this arise from their actions, but blows the trumpet when they appear. Goffredo more than any other character suffers from this. He is not in fact a very compelling or admirable leader, and resorts to the drawing of lots and a hypocritically contrived dignity to cover his insecure control of his army—but Tasso bolsters him up with pompous epithets: in the first canto alone he is ‘il gran capitano’, ‘il pio Goffredo augusto in volto ed in sermon sonoro’, ‘il provido Buglion’ with ‘volto placido e composto’. This arid and meaningless labelling is applied to nearly all his main characters: Rinaldo ‘venerabile e severo’, Clorinda's ‘regal sembianza’, Armida's ‘regal sdegno’, Erminia ‘altera e gentile’, Dudone ‘di virilità grave e maturo’; and of the Caliph of Egypt, who, history tells us, was a youthful twenty-five, Tasso declares:

e ben da ciascun atto è sostenuta
la maestà de gli anni e de l'impero.

(XVII, 11)

The attempt to sustain a lofty tone is thus intruded into the action where often it serves only to accentuate an uninspired passage. The lance, which Goffredo avoided by ducking, strikes the faithful Sigiero, whose fidelity must be stressed:

nè gli rincresce, del suo caro duce
morendo in vece, abbandonar la luce.

(XI, 80)

It is notable in the hyperbolic feats of arms where the exhausted muse resorts to ever hollower epithets:

… egli fe' cose
incredibili, orrende e monstruose.

(XX, 54)

—and it leads the poet into complicated and unnatural situations, as in the Sofronia episode. The historical origin was a dead dog thrown into a mosque—but a dead dog was hardly worthy of the heroic epic. Tasso looks for a substitute and thinks of the Palladio stolen by Ulysses and Diomedes in the Iliad. By a violent contortion of probability he then makes the pagans steal the Christian image of the Virgin to protect them, so that a Christian could be expected to steal it back, and a truly noble act of heroism may replace a rather pedestrian one.

The search for heroic gravity here as elsewhere leads Tasso too often to the classics, as though the presence of a Homeric detail, by the force of association, will ensure dignity and gravity. Particularly in matters of style Tasso repeats constantly the formulas and devices of the ‘stile magnifico’ which Aristotle and Demetrius had declared appropriate to the epic,11 and the pursuit of this stylistic ideal leads him into many faults. It is above all his attempt to avoid the commonplace and everyday which is so difficult to reconcile with his professed attention to historical truth. Everyday words are replaced by high-sounding periphrases, such as that describing Erminia in the shepherd's cottage making cheese:

e da l'irsute mamme il latte preme
e 'n giro accolto poi lo stringe insieme.

(VII, 18)

In many cases a vacuous generic language results, or a pedantic paraphrase of a commonplace expression:

… e Gabriel s' accinse
veloce ad esseguir l'imposte cose.

(I, 13)

A similar lameness results from a mechanical amplification, which aims at solemnity but sounds very like padding:

e drizza a l'Oliveto il lento moto
monte che da l'olive il nome prende,
monte per sacra fama al mondo noto.

(XI, 10)

It is often Tasso's fear that his material is not sufficiently heroic which prompts him to resort to rhetorical devices. Erminia's indecision between her desire to help the wounded Tancredi and her fears of leaving the besieged city is poetically inspiring, but Tasso must relate it to his heroic theme by a high-sounding personification:

e fan dubbia contesa entro al suo core
duo potenti nemici, Onore e Amore.

(VI, 70)

This pompous and literary style is particularly inappropriate in the mouths of some of his characters, who are compelled to use a language and literary reminiscences remote from their experience, so that we find the phraseology of classical philosophy on the lips of the pagans, and the crusading soldiers praying at the sight of Jerusalem in Dantesque tones.12

In this examination of the attempt to create an heroic epic, one important element has not yet been mentioned: it is the concern with ‘meraviglia’, a word which constantly appears in statements about the epic, and which recurs not infrequently in the Liberata itself:

percote l'alta pianta. Oh meraviglia!
manda fuor sangue la recisa scorza.

(XIII, 41)

Its close association with classical precedent (‘mirabilia’) is apparent from Tasso's declared aim of over-going antiquity:

Già ne l'aprir d'un rustico sileno
meraviglie vedea l'antica etade,
ma quel gran mirto da l'aperto seno
imagini mostrò più belle e rade.

(XVIII, 30)

In the Giudizio sulla Gerusalemme Conquistata he claims that he is in some ways more ‘meraviglioso’ than Homer.13 Elsewhere he insisted that it was the poet's aim to arouse wonder—this was essential in the heroic epic—but at the same time he must be true to life.14 The fictions of the classical epics, based on a false religion and therefore incredible, should now be replaced by the supernatural structure of Christianity, God and his angels, Beelzebub and his devils. In this way not only the marvels of antiquity but also the enchantments of the romances could be reconciled with the Christian religion—or such was Tasso's intention.15

The suitability of supernatural elements arousing wonder in a poem intended to celebrate heroic ideals is clear: heroes are superhuman by virtue of their alliance with supernatural forces, and only by superhuman strength can the opponents of heroes rise to meet them. This is true of the classical epics no less than of the romances—indeed the continued popularity of magic throughout the ages might well have made it indispensable now. But it is no cold spirit of literary emulation that interests Tasso in the ‘marvellous’. He was himself fascinated by the supernatural throughout most of his life, in fact until the comparative calm of his last years. Lacking a firm religious faith, he was unable to reconcile the world as he knew it with his own inner consciousness.16 Science could not explain all the marvels of the world, and what escaped the control of reason and will seemed to him a sort of diabolical force. Hence his fascination with magic forces, which led him at one stage to believe that he was himself bewitched.

The ‘meraviglie’ of the Liberata therefore respond both to a theoretical literary programme and to an intimate personal necessity. Their failure always to coincide seems to explain the uncertain inspiration of the supernatural elements in the poem. Thus the reproduction of classical miracles in a Christian setting is often incongruous: the Christian guardian angel of Goffredo heals his wounds by plucking herbs on Mount Ida and dropping them unobserved in the dressing that is prepared for him. Beelzebub's method of disturbing the duel between Argante and Raimondo is to form an image of Clorinda (‘Mirabil mostro’) who urges Oradino to shoot an arrow at Raimondo, and the latter's guardian angel is only just in time to reduce the force of the shot—a complex and unconvincing intrigue inserted under Homeric influence. Equally uninspired is the episode in which, in imitation of the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid, Solimano enters Jerusalem in a magic chariot enveloped in a cloud that makes him invisible. He also uses an underground tunnel, mentioned in the chronicles—which seems hardly necessary for one so magically equipped.

Indeed the miracles of the Christian religion are reconciled only with difficulty with the needs of the story. The mysterious appearance of two hermits by Sveno's dead body and their command that for the sake of revenge his sword should be taken to Rinaldo, is a strangely un-Christian scene. So too is the picture of the hermit Pietro, whose devout trance (‘Pieno di Dio, rapto dal zelo’) enables him to recount the glories of the house of Este. The attempt to ‘Christianize’ the supernatural structure of the poem is generally a failure—the struggle between Christians and Moslems is related to a contest between God and the devil the outcome of which is only too obvious; and the miracles by which God answers the prayers of the faithful are too mechanically obvious and too zealously advertised:

Oh glorioso capitano! oh molto
dal gran Dio custodito, al gran Dio caro!
A te guerreggia il Cielo; ed ubidenti
vengon, chiamati a suon di trombe, i venti.

(XVIII, 86)

Elsewhere and most frequently the supernatural is a mechanical afterthought, superimposed on an action which is already psychologically justified: Gernando's arrogant dislike of Rinaldo is adequately explained before ever the ‘maligno spirito d'Averno’ unnecessarily creeps into his breast. Tasso's approach is perhaps illustrated by his treatment of Tancredi's failure in the enchanted wood: before the tree which he must fell but which takes on the appearance of his lady Clorinda, he is caught in an agony of indecision likened in a telling simile to a nightmare; but Tasso regretted this human weakness in his hero and proposed to change the passage by introducing an enchantment.17 The change was not made, however, on this occasion and Tancredi's humanity does not suffer.

In spite of this Tasso succeeds in innumerable ways in convincing the reader that the hand of God does indeed hang over the action—a sense of fatality, which must be God's providence, drives the characters on their courses. This is particularly moving in the case of Clorinda. On the evening of her sortie to fire the siege-tower her nurse senses the perils that await her and tells her the story of her youth—her miraculous preservation from dangers, the warnings conveyed in a dream that she should be baptized. Now at least she should take heed. Clorinda listens attentively for she too has had forebodings, but she will not abandon the faith in which she has been brought up and she goes off, completes her task and is attacked by Tancredi. The end is preordained, and is forecast with melancholy resignation:

Ma ecco omai l'ora fatale è giunta
che 'l viver di Clorinda al suo fin deve,

(XII, 64)

and fatally wounded she accepts baptism and dies at peace.

… In questa forma
passa la bella donna e par che dorma.

(XII, 69)

There are moments too when the presence of God and his angels urging on the battling Christians seems to blend the earthly and the supernatural forces into an irrestible power—as in the assault on Jerusalem, where Goffredo lifts his eyes to heaven and sees the dead Christian heroes with the heavenly host fighting for the Christian cause.18

Where, however, the supernatural most frequently inspires Tasso to passages of great poetic feeling is where it coincides with his own anxious sense of the mystery of the world, in the expression of vague haunting fears and strange visions of fascinating but unattainable scenes of beauty and peace. The nightmarish horrors of his own clouded mind reappear in the devilish forces which beset the Christians, in Pluto's terrifying appearance, and the swarming demons:

Venieno innumerabili, infiniti
spirti, parte che 'n aria alberga ed erra,
parte di quei che son dal fondo usciti
caliginoso e tetro de la terra;

(XIII, 11)

and the murky landscapes:

Ma già distendon l'ombre orrido velo
che di rossi vapor si sparge e tigne.

(IX, 15)

The enchanted wood is a study in fear: Tancredi, like Tasso, does not dare to confess his fear—only the uncomplicated Rinaldo is unmoved by the terrors. These are imprecise pictures where the image has no place in space or time, no rational explanation; their fascination is in their lack of rationality. The mysterious haunting music of the wood springs from an unknown source:

e di novo s'udia quella gioconda
strana armonia di canto e di querele;
ma il coro uman, ch'a i cigni, a l'aura, a l'onda
facea tenor, non sa dove si cele:
non sa veder chi formi umani accenti,
nè dove siano i musici stromenti.

(XVIII, 24)

Together with the fear of unknown dangers goes the dream of only half-visualized scenes of happiness and confidence. The Christian knights Carlo and Ubaldo are carried to the distant Fortunate Isles in a boat that sails but seems to fly, impelled by an unknown force, the description of which is vague, generic, significant for the sound rather than the visual imagery—‘porta seco non so che di vago e di curioso’, Tasso said of it. Here in a remote and misty dream are set the gardens of Armida, on a dark and uninhabited mountain amid snow and shadows. Dante's supernatural world is so precise that it can and has been mapped with geometrical accuracy. We could hardly even begin to map the gardens of Armida. Tasso, sensitive as he was to the poetry of Dante's vision, goes beyond him in the expression of these vague and dreamlike experiences that belong not in the concrete world of action and reality, but in the only half-conscious workings of his own mind. This is a new note in Italian literature and a foreshadowing in some ways of the poetry of the Romantics.

The fascination of magic is only one element in Tasso's preoccupation with the supernatural which arises, as we have suggested, out of an intimate sense of the mystery of the universe and of man's part in it, and a dissatisfaction with the rational explanations of science. This concern with a reality beyond the normal world of the senses is, in my view, of a religious nature and identifies Tasso as a man of serious religious aspirations. Many critics have been unable to find in the Liberata what they term the ‘true religious sense’, and have dismissed the religious passages as cold, formal, expressive of the letter of the Counter-Reformation, preoccupied with ceremony and display. Donadoni was extremely critical: Tasso's religious sense seemed to him negative and insincere, not really religious at all, but a weariness of the world, something external and formal.19

It is undeniable that the spirit of the Council of Trent pervades the poem—this is in a sense a document of the Counter-Reformation in which the religious ideals of the new age are displayed in the medieval context of the crusades: the resistance of the Church to the heretical empire of the over-powerful Turks as to the heresies of the Reformation was a contemporary necessity in which Tasso sincerely believed and which certainly motivated his choice of subject. It is part of Tasso's epic ideal that his poem should celebrate ‘l'illustre della religione’, and he brings to his work a seriousness of religious interest not to be found in Pulci or Ariosto. The poet's fears of Inquisitorial censorship certainly influenced his treatment of the subject, but there is every reason to believe that his conformity was not a violent suppression of his own inclinations; it has been aptly said that the Counter-Reformation was in him.

Whether or not one accepts this view it is clear that two different themes of a religious nature recur in the Liberata. On the one hand there is the personal, intimate sense of mystery, loneliness and weakness which seeks for God as an explanation and consolation; and on the other is the consciousness of the collective force of the Church and the delight in its ceremonial and liturgy. These are not conflicting themes, although Tasso often fails to reconcile them in his poetry just as he had not yet succeeded in reconciling them in his life. The first is nearly always poetical in expression. Rinaldo on Monte Oliveto is alone, beyond Church, priests, ritual—he looks up at the night and marvels at the incorruptible beauties of nature and is ashamed of his own wickedness. His penitence is the result of that sense of mystery and wonder which was Tasso's own experience and which he interpreted in a broadly Platonic rather than Christian way:

Fra se stesso pensava: ‘Oh quante belle
luci il tempio celeste in se raguna!
Ha il suo gran carro il dì, l'aurate stelle
spiega la notte e l'argentata luna;
ma non è chi vagheggi o questa o quelle,
e miriam noi torbida luce e bruna
ch'un girar d'occhi, un balenar di riso,
scopre in breve confin di fragil viso.’

(XVIII, 13)

A sense of the weakness of man and the futility of human effort recurs in the journey of Carlo and Ubaldo to the Fortunate Isles:

Giace l'alta Cartago: a pena i segni
de l'alte sue ruine il lido serba.
Muoiono le città, muoiono i regni,
copre i fasti e le pompe arena ed erba,
e l'uom d'esser mortal par che si sdegni:
oh nostra mente cupida e superba!

(XV, 20)

So the ‘mago di Ascalonia’ condemns his own folly of thinking that his learning could ever measure the creations of God;20 and Ugone contrasts in his exhortation to Goffredo the beauty of the heavens with the loneliness of man on earth:

Quanto è vil la cagion ch'a la virtude
umana è colà giù premio e contrasto!
in che picciolo cerchio e fra che nude
solitudini è stretto il vostro fasto!

(XIV, 10)

Here then the unhappiness of the human lot is religious in origin, a sense of the greatness of God's creation which man can never fully experience on this earth, an aspiration to a beauty and mystery beyond the senses. In contrast with the loneliness, the weakness and fears of the poet, which receives poetic form in the gloomy horrors of darkness, is the glowing light that dispels fear, as in Goffredo's vision of Ugone:

Pareagli esser traslato in un sereno
candido e d'auree fiamme adorno e pieno;
e mentre ammira in quell'eccelso loco
l'ampiezza, i moti, i lumi e l'armonia,
ecco cinto di rai, cinto di foco,
un cavaliero incontra a lui venia.

(XIV, 4-5)

Alongside this rather pondered philosophical faith should be set the simple acceptance of Christ which brings peace—the acceptance of Clorinda who has not questioned the Moslem faith in which she was brought up (and is free from the introspective anxiety of some of the Christians), but who asks for baptism and dies in peace without second thoughts. Her calm acceptance of death is the Christian ideal of peace in God; and her faith has the power to stir the errant Tancredi, who has set the love of a pagan woman above his duty as a Christian:

In queste voci languide risuona
un non so che di flebile e soave
ch'al cor gli scende ed ogni sdegno ammorza,
e gli occhi a lagrimar gli invoglia e sforza.

(XII, 66)

The simplicity of this scene where the spiritual awakening of Tancredi is an intimate and personal drama that takes place within himself and without the external pressure of the Church has been contrasted by an Italian critic with the coldly formal sermon preached at him by Pietro the Hermit shortly after:21

Questa sciagura tua del Cielo è un messo.

(XII, 86)

It is as though Tancredi is not to be entrusted with the working out of his own spiritual welfare, which must be placed in the hands of the Church. Similarly Rinaldo's moving experience on Monte Oliveto is reinforced by another formal sermon from Pietro. This concession to the spirit of the times is probably not insincere. Tasso was not content with the reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle with which he interpreted the real world and his own reactions to it. He felt the need of a creed, and the formalities of worship—hence his eagerness to consult the Inquisitors. He was seriously afraid of hell and only too eager to conform, so that the ceremonial of the poem, the confessing, baptizing, praying, preaching, parading correspond to an inner prompting in the poet. The love of colour and pageantry inspires some fine passages, particularly the procession to Monte Oliveto:

Va Piero solo innanzi e spiega al vento
il segno riverito in Paradiso,
e segue il corso a passo grave e lento
in duo lunghissimi ordini diviso.

(XI, 5)

At times, however, this religious mission is cold and unmoving. Tasso works too hard to raise the tone in obedience to the principles of magnificence and gravity which dictate his treatment of the military theme, and a formal pomp and display destroy the sense of religious devotion. God and his angels gaze down from a theatrically contrived stage setting, with Fate and Nature, Motion and Time, Place and Fortune carefully disposed around them. The religious struggle becomes a cold political battle in which the Christians' prayers are mechanically answered and those of their opponents ignored, while an unflinching love of blood and revenge moves the ministers of God and Tasso himself:

O giustizia del Ciel, quanto men presta
tanto più grave sovra il popol rio!
Dal tuo secreto proveder fu desta
l'ira ne' cor pietosi, e incrudelio.
Lavò co 'l sangue suo l 'empio pagano
quel tempio che già fatto avea profano.

(XIX, 38)

Appropriate as this may have been to the spirit of the Crusade, we feel neither interest nor sympathy for this political conflict reported in so partisan a manner.

Above all, the religious inspiration falls foul of a cold didactic sermonizing tendency which is the formal side of the Counter-Reformation. Sofronia reads the amorous Olindo a chilling lecture on his sins:

Amico, altri pensieri, altri lamenti,
per più alta cagione il tempo chiede.
Chè non pensi a tue colpe? e non rammenti
qual Dio prometta a i buoni ampia mercede?

(II, 36)

—and most of Pietro's speeches are set in the same key. A severe Inquisitorial morality enters the medieval scene:

… in cima a l'erto e faticoso colle
de la virtù riposto è il nostro bene.
Chi non gela e non suda e non s'estolle
da le vie del piacer, là non perviene.

(XVII, 61)

This didactic note in the Liberata sounds forced and superficial. It is not an integral part of the poem, and the attempt to strengthen it in the Conquistata proved quite unsuccessful. Indeed there is good external evidence of Tasso's purely formal attempts to add more weight to his poem in his Allegory, which was not composed until after the poem was written and first appeared only with the Bonnà editions. Tasso himself declared in a letter to Gonzaga that when he first began his poem the idea of an allegory was quite remote from his mind, but that when he had come more than halfway he began to think about an allegory, as something that might help him to meet his critics.22 The formal Allegory is thus an after-thought. This does not mean that symbolic meanings did not occur to Tasso as he wrote—in view of the derivative nature of so much of the material this would hardly have been possible.23 The tests of the enchanted wood are clearly a means of purification, and the garden of Armida a picture of the seduction of the senses; but the essence of these episodes is in their literal, not their allegorical senses, which is stressed, as Tasso admits, because of ‘la strettezza dei tempi’; and in fact the Allegory was welcomed widely as justification for the amorous material, and helped to smooth the poem's path, not least in England.

The elements examined so far may all be considered essential features of the serious heroic epic: that is to say from the adaptation of the classical epics to the spirit of the Counter-Reformation Tasso evolved a poem celebrating an heroic and religious ideal of character, based on an historical theme and interpreted according to classical principles of verisimilitude and ‘meraviglia’. In adopting this programme Tasso was conforming, sometimes more, sometimes less willingly, to the ideas of his time—to the literary Aristotelianism and Catholic severity of the late sixteenth century in Italy. His constant theorizing on the epic and his anxious self-abasement before the Inquisition are characteristic of his age, even more than they are of the man, and while Tasso was able to mould the ideals of the time to his own temperament, so that in the heroic and Christian ideal and the techniques of verisimilitude and ‘meraviglia’ he translates aspects of his own inner life, the inspiration here is uncertain and unequal just because of the pressure of external forces.

An epic constructed exclusively according to this formula could not satisfy Tasso because it would not allow him sufficient place for himself. He makes this clear in the Arte Poetica in his insistence on the poet's ‘licenza del fingere’. The theme chosen should be sufficiently remote in time to allow the poet to invent as he sees fit, and the material should not be too extensive if the author is not to be forced to leave out ‘gli episodi e gli altri ornamenti, i quali sono al poeta necessarissimi’.24 The episodes, which deal mainly with love and enchantments, have long been admired as the most personal and inspired parts of the poem. At the same time they are the traditional components of the chivalrous romance and were still of great popular appeal, so that Tasso in introducing his serious epic suggests that the introduction of elements not strictly sanctioned by his Muse is a sop to popular demands.

The distinction between the essential, serious, epic elements in his poem and the non-essential, romance, ‘soave licor’, is then something of which Tasso is so conscious as to feel the need of an explanation and apology from the very beginning. However, this attempt to forestall moral and religious objections is far from convincing and the simile of the medicine administered to the sick child (a conventional literary one), like so many of Tasso's similes, sounds quite inappropriate in its context (although it certainly comes directly from the experience of the unhealthy Tasso who would take no medicine that wasn't sweet). In fact it is in the ‘sweets’ of his poem that he seems most inspired, the love stories, the enchantments and the pictures of nature which are as though interludes in the serious action of the epic. The enchantments which, as we have seen, corresponded to a demand of Tasso's own personality, could be related, although rather loosely, to classical principles of ‘meraviglia’. The love episodes on the other hand were remote from classical precedent. Dido and Circe provided no more than a hint. In the relationship of Sofronia and Olindo, Tancredi and Clorinda, Erminia and Tancredi, Rinaldo and Armida, Tasso was able to express many aspects of the psychology of sexual love which he knew from his own experience or observation; and here he felt freer to develop and embroider his subject as his imagination moved him, unencumbered by historical sources, and not seriously hindered by principles of epic gravity.

His conception of love, as of heroism and of religion, is strongly influenced by his own deep-rooted anxiety and melancholy. It is not the happiness and tranquillity of reciprocal passion physically fulfilled or spiritually sublimated which stirs Tasso's imagination—any more than uninhibited courage or untroubled faith. It is love as an unknown, unreciprocated devotion or as frustrated physical desire—a mysterious fated power that cannot be resisted. The loves, all of which are finally legalized or ‘spiritualized’, are full of human weaknesses and suffering. Thus Olindo loves Sofronia from afar without daring to declare his ‘cupidi desiri’. He is young and modest; she is ‘matura’, beautiful, chaste, retiring, taking no interest in her beauty and avoiding admirers. For centuries readers have interpreted this episode as a camouflage for the youthful Tasso's love for the mature Leonora d'Este, and while this has now been abandoned one cannot doubt that the incident springs from the poet's own experience. It is written from the viewpoint of Olindo; the reader, like the young lover, does not know what Sofronia feels:

… ed ella
o lo sprezza, o no 'l vede, o non s'avede.

(II, 16)

But the unhappy Olindo is able to reveal his love by offering the supreme sacrifice of his own life to save Sofronia when she is bound to the stake—it is the adolescent dream—but he is bound to the same stake and in his despair dares to confess his love and his sensual desire:

oh fortunati miei dolci martiri!
s'impetrarò che, giunto seno a seno,
l'anima mia ne la tua bocca io spiri.

(II, 35)

To complain that Olindo's declaration is too sudden, or his language too rash in view of the flames at his feet, is to miss the point of this adolescent vision. The sense of outrage to the immaculate, unapproachable Sofronia in her exposure to the public gaze and then to the physical contact and immodest language of Olindo is indicative of the conflicting emotions in the mind of the young lover who both loves and resents, reveres and desires. The last-minute release by Clorinda brings the dream to a happy ending rather abruptly and in a few hasty lines we learn that Sofronia's modesty is overcome by Olindo's loving sacrifice, and Olindo's desires are legitimized by marriage. The antithetical language is a conscious attempt to reflect the tense conflict of the action: contrast the highly artificial style of the frenzied Olindo at the stake:

Quest'è dunque quel laccio ond'io sperai
teco accoppiarmi in compagnia di vita?

(II, 33)

with the simple words of the calm Sofronia:

Mira 'l ciel com'è bello, e mira il sole …(25)

(II, 36)

Erminia's love for Tancredi, like Olindo's for Sofronia, is undeclared and unreciprocated. She is a child indulging a dream. When Tancredi conquered her father's kingdom his courteous treatment of the captive princess conquered her too, and reluctantly she left her ‘prigion diletta’ to go with her mother to Jerusalem where she lives in her memories:

Ama ed arde la misera, e sì poco
in tale stato che sperar le avanza
che nudrisce nel sen l'occulto foco
di memoria via più che di speranza;
e quanto è chiuso in più secreto loco,
tanto ha l'incendio suo maggior possanza.

(VI, 60)

When Tancredi is wounded in his duel with Argante she longs to go out and help him, but her duty is to care for her opponent. The long debate with herself before she finally puts on Clorinda's armour and rides out is spoilt by Tasso's exaggerated concern with the verisimilitude of this incident, but it contains some moving poetry, notably the picture of the tender girl donning the hard armour, her gazing across the Christian camp in the starry night, and her flight from the hostile guards:

Fuggì tutta la notte, e tutto il giorno
errò senza consiglio e senza guida,
non udendo o vedendo altro d'intorno,
che le lagrime sue, che le sue strida.

(VII, 3)

She takes refuge with the shepherds and then disappears until the end of the poem where she and Vafrino find the senseless body of Tancredi and in her care of his wounds, bound with her own hair, she is able at last to show her love. It is another dream of the anguished lover, and the ending is deliberately left uncertain. Erminia is lodged near the wounded Tancredi, and we hear no more of her. Later Tasso feared that he might be criticized for this apparently happy ending and he declared his intention of making her become a nun. The essence of her story is in the pathos of her undeclared love which might well have finished in the cloister but is not, I think, spoilt by this inconclusive ending. She may be thought to have won Tancredi's love by her unselfish devotion or to have outlived her childish dreams in this brief contact with reality. Neither interpretation mars the delicacy of Tasso's portrait.

Tancredi's love for Clorinda is not only unhappy in that it is not returned, but is sinful in that it is for a pagan opponent and distracts him from his duty as a soldier of Christ. There is a note of despair and confusion in his conduct before ever he fights Clorinda, and in his masochistic surrender to the confident Amazon and his dazed contemplation of her when he should be fighting Argante, Tasso comes close to depicting his own dreamy passivity;

Ecco io chino le braccia, e t'appresento
senza difesa il petto: or chè no 'l fiedi?

(III, 28)

—and in the mental anguish to which his killing of Clorinda brings him, Tancredi is beset by all the horrors of Tasso's own moral confusion—the terrors of the darkness and his fear of solitude—

Vivrò fra i miei tormenti e le mie cure,
mie giuste furie, forsennato, errante;
paventarò l'ombre solinghe e scure
che 'l primo error mi recheranno inante,
e del sol che scoprì le mie sventure,
a schivo ed in orrore avrò il sembiante.
Temerò me medesmo; e da me stesso
sempre fuggendo, avrò me sempre appresso.

(XII, 77)

In this torment the memory of Clorinda's simple faith and her pardon cannot help him, and only the rebuke of the priest and his fear of hell bring him to his senses, but even then only slowly. The parallel with Tasso's own experience is notable. In spite of the ill-digested Petrarchan and Virgilian reminiscences, Tancredi stands out as a moving and original portrait of the introspective tragic lover—he anticipates the anguish of the lovers of Romantic times when his popularity reached its peak.

Rinaldo's love for Armida is different from those of Olindo, Tancredi and Erminia, in that it is, until his awakening by Carlo and Ubaldo, entirely sensual. He is excused morally in that his downfall is entirely the result of enchantment. This episode was suggested to Tasso particularly by Homer's Circe, Ariosto's Alcina, and Trissino's Faleria, and certainly attracted him for the possibilities it offered in the depiction of physical and natural beauty and sensual pleasure. But his imagination is checked by moral considerations, and he is careful to stress the allegorical significance of the incident, and to try to improve morally on his models. Rinaldo is in the mould of Achilles, young, impetuous and resentful of authority, and his break with Goffredo and departure from the Christian camp is in the Homeric and romance tradition—but Tasso is concerned to show the moral development of Rinaldo who is to represent an ideal of Christian virtue. His love for Armida is the central experience in his education—he is made to see the dangers of excessive self-confidence, which caused him to fall a victim to Armida's wiles, while Carlo and Ubaldo, with the instruction of Pietro (the Church) and the ‘mago di Ascalona’ (scientific knowledge in conformity with religion), are able to resist the enchantments and bring him to his senses by showing him his reflection in a shield (reason). Rinaldo is thus able to leave Armida and to return to the Christian fold where he repents of his past ways, confesses, prays and is then able to overcome the enchantments of the forest—from an egoistic and head-strong youth he has become a modest God-fearing man. The reconciliation with Armida at the end of the poem is due partially at least to Tasso's desire for moral perfection in Rinaldo, who does not desert his seductress, as Aeneas had deserted Dido, but forgives and converts her.

In spite of the didactic and allegorical elements, however, the seduction of Rinaldo in the garden of Armida is perhaps the most inspired passage in the whole poem; it hinges on a theme prominent in Tasso's poetry, sensual love. But here once more is the poetry not of fulfilment but of anticipation—not sensual satisfaction but erotic desire. Armida from the beginning reveals all the artful wiles of the court lady who keeps her admirers in a frenzy of anxious expectation: she is the complete flirt, such as might have tormented and delighted the youthful Tasso at Ferrara. Her enchanted garden stimulates the senses without satisfying them. Tasso lingers lovingly over his picture of the bathing girls, and even Carlo and Ubaldo stop to watch them, knowing they are sinful. The sense of sinfulness, the frustrating veil of the running water, the long swathing hair, emphasize the erotic delight:

e 'l crin, ch'in cima al capo avea raccolto
in un sol nodo, immantinente sciolse,
che lunghissimo in giù cadendo e folto
d'un aureo manto i molli avori involse.
Oh che vago spettacolo è lor tolto!

(XV, 61)

Even Rinaldo in Armida's embrace is anxious and unsatisfied in the frustration of a merely sensual love that is never calmed:

Sovra lui pende; ed ei nel grembo molle
le posa il capo, e 'l volto al volto attolle,
e i famelici sguardi avidamente
in lei pascendo si consuma e strugge.
S'inchina, e i dolci baci ella sovente
liba or da gli occhi e da le labra or sugge,
ed in quel punto ei sospirar si sente …

(XVI, 18-19)

Their passion is selfish: Armida wants to be worshipped and served, and Rinaldo forgets his duty in his attempt to satisfy his senses—but Rinaldo's love is spiritualized by his return to duty and Armida is redeemed by his love and forgiveness. However, this new, spiritual love is barely hinted at—it does not move Tasso because it lies outside his experience. What does move him is a world of alluring and unattainable female charm, and he succeeds, as few poets have done before or since, in expressing in his poetry the fascination and the frustration of the senses.

In the love episodes, then, Tasso's inner experience finds poetic expression, but to isolate the loves from the rest of the epic and to claim that here the poet's self is revealed free from the restricting influence of literary or moral pressure is far from the truth. Literary influences are strong here and the moral severity of the Counter-Reformation frequently intrudes. These are not, however, totally external, unwelcome impositions—they were part of the poet's own mind and imagination. He saw Armida as a Circe-Dido-Alcina-Faleria figure, and he felt the sinfulness of sensual love. So the love-stories are woven into the action as essential components of the heroic Christian epic, and Tasso insisted on the correctness of his decision, which he was prepared to defend, he said, on the authority of Aristotle: epic and romance were not, he maintained, separate genres.26

As a background to the loves and feats of arms, the religious miracles and romantic enchantments, Tasso paints in a highly subjective and largely original natural scene. His nature descriptions are rarely superfluous ornaments or interludes: they are an adjunct to the action and emphasize its emotional tones. Trees and winds, sunshine and storm take on human attributes and reflect the mood of the characters or of the author. As in the Aminta therefore the natural background blends easily into the human action. The wind takes a part in the narrative, almost like a chorus, threatening in the storm, plaintive with Erminia by the brook, gentle and soothing in the Isles of Fortune, evoking sobs and sighs in the trees of the enchanted wood; and when the wind ceases the silence itself befriends the actors:

Senza risposta aver, va per l'amico
silenzio de le stelle a l'alte mura.

(II, 95)

The trees and plants also participate: the great myrtle speaks with Clorinda's voice, and a chain of flowers binds Rinaldo (as the tree bound Silvia in the Aminta). The fascination of the garden of Armida is that around the sensuous lovers the trees and plants and animals repeat the human abandon:

Raddoppian le colombe i baci loro,
ogni animal d'amar si riconsiglia:
par che la dura quercia e 'l casto alloro
e tutta la frondosa ampia famiglia,
par che la terra e l'acqua e formi e spiri
dolcissimi d'amor sensi e sospiri.

(XVI, 16)

But this apparently natural scene is really contrived. Here where we find Tasso's most elaborate nature description the subject is not a landscape but a garden, a work of art not of nature; and this garden is conditioned by the human action. It is a confusion of over-luxuriant growth, but a baroque confusion, consciously disordered.

The natural scene is therefore treated extremely subjectively. It is difficult to speak of love of nature in Tasso: to him nature is kindly or hostile, attractive or repellent, not of itself, but according as one comes to it in peace or in anxiety, elated or afraid. Night, for example, may be friendly and comforting or mysterious and threatening. It is frequently associated with fear of the darkness. with the nightmares of the fevered mind and the unseen powers of evil:

Ma quando parte il sol, qui tosto adombra
notte, nube, caligine ed orrore
che rassembra infernal, che gli occhi ingombra
di cecità, ch'empie di tema il core.

(XIII, 3)

The darkness, however, may be friendly: the confident mind has no such fears—the enchanted wood is ‘lietamente ombroso’ to the converted Rinaldo. The night may also be comforting when the darkness is dispelled by stars or moonlight, and Tasso has some superb pictures of its calm and beauty which, in spite of frequent literary reminiscences, still seem fresh and immediate in their fusion of sound and image:

Era la notte, e 'l suo stellato velo
chiaro spiegava e senza nube alcuna,
e già spargea rai luminosi e gelo
di vive perle la sorgente luna.

(VI, 103)

The light, the dawn, the sunshine, on the other hand, accompany the triumphant progress of the powers of goodness—in subtle ways Tasso parallels the progressive lightening of the sky with the advance of the Christian army, for example, or with Rinaldo's spiritual awakening:

Così pregava, e gli sorgeva a fronte
fatta già d'auro la vermiglia aurora
che l'elmo e l'arme e intorno a lui del monte
le verdi cime illuminando indora.

(XVIII, 15)

Each of the elements of nature is thus felt rather than described. Botanical, zoological and geographical knowledge is at a minimum—the few conventional similes of wild life are pallid beside Dante's—but nature evokes a deep emotional response. Deserts are vast solitudes; mountains are remote, fraught with difficulties and threatening. Water in particular fascinates Tasso, often as a kind of symbol of human restlessness: it may be cruel and harsh in the turbulence of flood, rushing anxiously on in the mountain stream, seeking the peace of the sea where at last it is calm:

… dove il fiume
queta in letto maggior l'onde correnti.

(XV, 8)

It is mysterious and fascinating: although transparent it conceals the bathing girls, and although clear and beautiful its depths hold strange poisons:

ma dentro a i freddi suoi cristalli asconde
di tosco estran malvagità secreta.

(XIV, 74)

Nature is neutral therefore: natural phenomena reflect or symbolize human predicaments. Tasso's idyll does not betoken a romantic faith in the healing powers of mother nature. In the Aminta the refuge of a natural golden age is known to be illusory: and in the Liberata the simple pastoral life, for all its charms, cannot hold Erminia. It is a refuge from the city, from action and intrigue, but Erminia, like Tasso, could not settle in the rustic tranquillity; and the idyll of Armida's garden is blatantly false.

Stylistically this intensely subjective view of nature is brought out by a frequent use of personification to which the reader becomes so habituated that he hardly notices it. Night ‘embraces’ the earth, ‘yields’ to day, ‘comes from the womb of its mother’; the sun ‘threatens’, the mountain ‘hides its face’; the wind ‘plays’ with the waves; the dawn ‘appears at its balcony’; the silence is ‘friendly’; the stars ‘cruel’, the moon ‘miserly’. And as Tasso's view is so personal and emotional, hardly observing but rather feeling the object, a simple generic vocabulary gives the barest outline of the scene, which is filled in with a picture in sound, so that readers are conscious of a music or harmony in Tasso's poetry that is difficult to define, but has stimulated so many composers to set his verse to music. The effectiveness of these passages has been variously attributed to the great care with which Tasso analysed the effects of aspirants and sibilants, long and short vowels, single and double consonants in the rhyme words, etc.; to his clever use of traditional literary images for their associative effect; and to the intensity of his emotional life. The result is that strange vitality of the written word which recalls and at the same time brings added poignancy to experience.

Thus each of the major motives of inspiration in the poem, arms, religion, magic, love, nature, while drawn from traditional literary sources, is interpreted subjectively and in large part originally. The unifying factor is not the narrative theme which is split into often conflicting romance and classical elements, but the poet's own personality, which by means of his style colours his heterogeneous material.27 The subjectivity and originality of Tasso's style makes his poetry among the most difficult for translators, and the non-Italian reader may miss much of the subtlety of the poet's effects. As so often in Tasso, there is a confusing combination of traditional with original: he studied and analysed carefully the stylistic devices of the classical epic, which reappear profusely in his poetry; yet he uses them subjectively to express new and intimate themes, outside the classical originals; and he goes beyond the rhetorical techniques in his attempt to convey indeterminate hinterlands of experience which he could not particularize or rationalize.

The formal basis of Tasso's style is classical rhetoric: his analysis of style into sublime, mediocre and lowly, and his enunciation of the features of the sublime style is close to Aristotle's Rhetoric and Demetrius' treatise on Style,28 and is largely based on examples drawn from Homer and Virgil. Thus in his pursuit of sublimity he avoids the language of everyday life and particularly recommends the use of a learned literary vocabulary with ‘foreign’ words and Latinisms—hence ‘destra’ is used for ‘mano’, ‘piaghe’ for ‘ferite’, ‘lumi’ or ‘luci’ for ‘occhi’, ‘atro’ for ‘oscuro’. Compound forms replace simple ones, ‘dibattendo’ for ‘battendo’, ‘discorrere’ for ‘scorrere’, ‘dimostrare’ for ‘mostrare’, etc.; and certain high-sounding epithets are much abused—‘grande, alto, nobile, generoso, magnanimo’, etc. The word-order is frequently changed from normal prose-usage to give dignity and solemnity—sometimes effectively, sometimes with a hollow pompousness:

Allor sen ritornar le squadre pie
per le dianzi da lor calcate vie.

(XI, 15)

Repetition, anaphora, syntactical symmetry give added weight:

quindi son l'alte mura aperte ed arse,
quindi l'armate schiere uccise e sparse.

(II, 84)

Antithesis, hyperbole and enumeration highlight the scene:

su 'l morto il vivo, il vincitor su 'l vinto.

(XX, 51)

e fatto è il corpo suo solo una piaga.

(VIII, 22)

Qui mille immonde Arpie vedresti e mille
Centauri e Sfingi e pallide Gorgoni.

(IV, 5)

Prosaic phrases or words are replaced by periphrasis, so that a ship is a ‘curvo pinto’, the navel ‘la 've primo s'apprende nostro alimento’: and abstract qualities are personified: ‘Amor, Cortesia, Confusione, Sdegno’, etc.

This basis of classical rhetoric does not, however, check the individuality of the poet's style. Even in the comparatively neutral passages which set the scene Tasso impresses on us his own reaction to the physical world. He starts from Aristotelian principles:

necessaria è in lui (il poeta epico) l'energia, la quale sì con parole pone innanzi agli occhi la cosa che pare altrui non di udirla ma di vederla.

This does not in practice lead to minute and objective descriptions, but to a personal view in which the poet selects a detail (his own view): Guelfo and Ubaldo see the enchanted boat of fortune appear—a speck, the stern, and finally the pilot:

vider picciola nave, e in poppa quella
che guidar li dovea fatal donzella.(29)

(XV, 3)

Similarly the return of the messenger sent out by Argante to challenge the Christians is described as if seen from the city walls:

… tornò il re d'arme al suo viaggio
per l'orme ch'al venir calcate furo.

(VI, 19)

The visual aspect is often explicitly stressed by the poet, so that his description becomes a picture or even a stage-setting:

Degne d'un chiaro sol, degne d'un pieno
teatro, opre sarian sì memorande:

(XII, 54)

—and a carefully contrived word-order presents startling ‘coups de théâtre’ as when Erminia finds the wounded Tancredi:

Salta di sella e gli discopre il viso,
ed:—Oimè,—grida—è qui Tancredi ucciso.

(XIX, 103)

There is similarly a great attention to sound: a lengthy section in the Arte Poetica analyses the sound effects of different letters and their combinations. Thus there is the simple mimicry of the clash of battle, winds and waves, trumpets—even, in a rare humorous aside, of ducks:

stuol d'anitre loquaci in secca riva
con rauco mormorar lieto l'attende …

(XIII, 76)

There is also the subtle reinforcement of an image by phonetic means: the vastness of a sea, or of a desert:

… a portar guerra
a i gran regni del mar e de la terra.

(IV, 18)

E in quelle solitudini arenose …

(XVII, 56)

Notable too is the precision of the lines describing Argante,

… che se stesso mira
del proprio sangue suo macchiato e molle,

(VI, 44)

so that he sees his blood (‘macchiato’) before he feels it (‘molle’). All these devices indicate an intensity of experience which gives vitality often to the most unpromising material.

However, it is not only his ‘participation’ in the physical sensation which gives Tasso's style its subjective character. Behind the formal narrative we are constantly made aware of the emotional response of the poet to his story—his reaction of wonder, excitement, anxiety, horror. This is apparent of course in his frequent and feeling intrusion into his own narrative:

Il padre, ah non più padre! (ahi fera sorte,
ch'orbo di tanti figli a un punto il face!)

(IX, 35)

Thus Tasso establishes a bond with his characters: his sympathy, sorrow, wonder, accompany them, as when Tancrediun wittingly wounds Clorinda:

Misero, di che godi?. …

(XII, 59)

or when Armida swoons at Tancredi's departure:

Chiudesti i lumi, Armida: il Cielo avaro
invidiò il conforto a i tuoi martiri.

(XVI, 61)

There are, however, many less obvious ways in which Tasso's style is coloured by his emotional reaction to his material. The personification of natural objects, referred to above, is one of these: the moon feels Tasso's horror at the incantation of Ismeno:

e la luna si turba e le sue corna
di nube avolge, e non appar più fora.

(XIII, 9)

The dawn feels his relief at the defeat of evil:

l'alba lieta rideva …

(XX, 5)

Latinisms are used to express emotional tones for which the normal terms are too hackneyed or too pallid: ‘flebili atti’ (‘lagrime’), ‘sincero’ (‘puro’), ‘padri’ (‘genitori’), etc. Syntactical variations reinforce the intensity of expression: as of Erminia ‘che già sente palpitarsi il petto’ (in place of ‘si sente palpitare’), where the displacement of the reflexive pronoun strengthens the ‘feeling’ and increases the intimacy of the dependent infinitive ‘palpitare’. Another characteristic device is the use of the pronoun in place of the reflexive particle, as to convey the tenderness of Erminia's invocation to the Christian tents: ‘Raccogliete me dunque …’ (for ‘accoglietemi’) (VI, 105).30

There is also a tendency to emphasize the psychological effect, so that often the psychological precedes the physical description, as in the lines on the wounded Tancredi, where the vital ‘despair’ has pride of place:

… come il move
suo disperato di morir desio,
squarcia le fasce e le ferite …(31)

(XII, 83)

Erminia has only been presented to the reader as ‘bella’ before she makes her first ‘action’, a sigh—she is to be a sigh throughout the poem. And Olindo has almost no physical characteristics other than being a ‘giovinetto’, but many psychological ones: ‘cupidi desiri’, ‘modesto’, ‘brama assai, poco spera e nulla chiede’ (II, 16).

A result of this marked lyricism and preoccupation with the emotional situation rather than the physical fact is that there is often a vagueness in Tasso's narrative which is reflected in his style. The details which do not contribute to the psychological situation are often ignored or hastily passed over: so that we do not know how Clorinda recognized the innocence of Sofronia and Olindo; nor do we know the end of Erminia's story, or of Armida's. This is partially attributable to Tasso's desire for ‘magnificenza’, his fear of lowering the tone of his poem by realistic and unpoetical detail. Thus the particular is replaced by the universal:


(I, 72)


(XI, 77)

In many such cases the generic vocabulary sounds weak and flat, but more often the lack of physical detail is an advantage, and the vague phrases achieve their effects by their sound alone. This is particularly true of Tasso's treatment of magic, where the supernatural effects are cloaked in a mysterious reticence. How do Guelfo and Ubaldo pass from the bed of the river to the shore?

Gli accoglie il rio ne l'alto seno, e l'onda
soavemente in su gli spinge e porta.

(XV, 3)

Nor are we given any close description of Armida's garden which is an uncharted profusion of growth, of twisting paths and screens, half cultivated, half wild. Mystery would seem to be a conscious aim of Tasso—he feels the poetry of the unknown or the half-hinted truth. Female beauty is invariably half-concealed, mysterious and alluring:

stassi l'avaro sguardo in se raccolto,
e i tesori d'amore e i suoi nasconde.

(IV, 30)

The reader never knows how the image of the Virgin disappeared from the mosque in Canto II:

ch' incerta fama è ancor se ciò s'ascriva
ad arte umana od a mirabil opra.

(II, 9)

Situations are presented often not from the all-seeing gaze of the poet, but from that of the hesitating, fearful, hopeful participant: thus Sofronia is seen from Olindo's viewpoint, and the fleeing Armida, after the defeat of the pagan army, from the viewpoint of the pursuing Rinaldo, or the spectator's:

Al fin raccolta entro quel caro laccio,
che le fu caro forse …

(XX, 130)

Tasso's ‘forse’ leave the matter in doubt.

In his attempt to convey these psychological subtleties Tasso often uses an irrational and illogical language, sometimes consciously ambiguous: characteristic is his ‘non so che’, which abandons the attempt to be rational.32

In queste voci languide risuona
un non so che di flebile e soave.

(XII, 66)

Non sai ben dir s'adorna o se negletta …

(II, 18)

—hence too his self-corrections:

non scese no, precipitò di sella.

(XIX, 104)

Thus grammatical categories are blurred, ambiguities add shades of meaning, and literary allusions also add their overtones—as in the picture of Gildippe and Odoardo who take on something of Dante's Paolo and Francesca:

E son que' duo che van sì giunti in uno.

(III, 40)

Tasso has not generally been given credit for this personal and largely original style—indeed, stylistically he has often been criticized as contributing to and encouraging the ‘corrupt’ taste of the Seicento. There is certainly some truth in this view, but it can only be accepted with reservations. Tasso's poetry has affinities with that of the Secentisti, but it is still far removed from them and it is as well to stress the differences. The first is quantitive. ‘Secentismo’ evolved out of the poetic styles of the Cinquecento—it is characterized not by new devices, but by the intensification of traditional techniques: antithesis, hyperbole, personification, inversion, play on words, periphrasis, etc., which occur with moderate frequency in the poets of the sixteenth century and with unrestrained profusion in the ‘Secentisti’. Such devices are used with infinitely greater restraint by Tasso. Secondly the Secentisti exaggerated the forms of expression until the original inspiration and feeling were often lost and the means of expression became all important: the aim of the poet, said Marino, was to shock. This is not perhaps so remote from Tasso's principle that the poet should arouse ‘maraviglia’, but in Tasso's poetry the conceit normally arises directly out of its poetic context—it is functional in that it reflects a condition or situation in the narrative; it exists in order to draw attention, not to itself, but to an unusual concept.

If there are moments when the charge of ‘Secentismo’ seems justified, such moments most often occur when Tasso is striving to maintain the illustrious tone which he believed essential in the epic. Sometimes his play on words is hollow and artificial: Clorinda's nurse explains her mother's fear that the birth of a white baby to coloured parents might have aroused her father's suspicions:

ch'egli avria dal candor che in te si vede
argomentato in lei non bianca fede.

(XII, 24)

There are some intellectually contrived antitheses, as of Rinaldo resisting Armida's entreaties that he should not abandon her:

resiste e vince: e in lui trova impedita
Amor l'entrata, il lagrimar l'uscita.

(XVI, 51)

—and an excessive symmetry of syntax, as of Olindo:

brama assai, poco spera, e nulla chiede:
nè sa scoprirsi, o non ardisce: ed ella
o lo sprezza, o no 'l vede, o non s'avede.

(II, 16)

The word-order is sometimes displaced to the point of obscurity:

Tu lo mio stabilire e in tempo corto
puoi ridrizzar il tuo caduto seggio.

(X, 53)

There are too some exaggerated and inapt metaphors, of which the most criticized perhaps is the description of Erminia relating her woes to the fields:

e secretari del suo amore antico
fea i muti campi e quel silenzio amico.

(VI, 103)

Most of Tasso's conceits fall within these categories, and are usually a combination of two or more of these devices: antithesis, word-play, metaphorical extremes, parallelism of syntax, and displaced word-order.

The greatest concentrations of conceits are in a few emotionally tense and confused situations—the Sofronia-Olindo episode, the death of Clorinda, Erminia's love for Tancredi, and Rinaldo in Armida's garden—and here the formal devices are used carefully with relation to their context. Thus the contrast between Sofronia's restraint and reticence and the reactions of her lover and the general public is stressed in antithetical word-play:

Ahi! tanta amò la non amante amata.

(II, 28)

… e pianta da ciascun, non piagni.

(II, 37)

Tancredi's emotional volte-face when he kills his opponent and discovers it is Clorinda justifies the antithetical

… a dar si volse
vita con l'acqua a chi co 'l ferro uccise.

(XII, 68)

Equally justified is the complicated play on the lover's eyes as mirrors of his lady's beauty, continued for several stanzas in the account of Rinaldo resting on Armida's lap:

Volgi,—dicea—deh volgi—il cavaliero
—a me quegli occhi onde beata bei.

(XVI, 21)

This is no mere playing on words: it responds closely to the situation of the vain self-loving Armida gazing in her mirror, and the adoring Rinaldo who is no longer anything in himself, but merely a reflection, or an echo of his lady:

chè son, se tu no 'l sai, ritratto vero
de le bellezze tue gli incendi miei.

(XVI, 21)

Erminia's antithetical style similarly responds to her inner conflict, as a Moslem loving a Christian:

Ella l'amato medicar desia,
e curar il nemico a lei conviene.

(VI, 68)

—and her play on words in describing her lover to the enemy king is essential to her situation:

Ahi quanto è crudo nel ferire! a piaga
ch'ei faccia, erba non giova od arte maga.

(III, 19)

So too Tasso's distortions of word-order have a carefully considered poetic effect, as in conveying the love-sick Erminia's longing for Tancredi:

O belle a gli occhi miei tende latine!

(VI, 104)

—or Goffredo's veneration for Jerusalem:

Queste sacre e dal Ciel dilette mura.

(IV, 69)

One should not therefore label the Liberata a predominantly Secentista poem, or consider the conceits impurities in a generally pure work. Tasso endeavoured in his style to convey the force and delicacy of his reaction to the story he had to tell, and the conceits are an almost inevitable accompaniment of this subjectivity of style. Far from priding himself on new and startling effects, Tasso condemned the excesses of the ‘concettisti’ and shunned their obscurity—and when he himself moved towards greater clarity and simplicity of style his verse was generally found to be pallid and monotonous, as we shall see later.


  1. See e.g. Toffanin, Storia letteraria d'Italia. Il Cinquecento, Milan, 1935, p. 615; C. Previtera, La poesia el'arte di T. T., Messina, 1936, p. 143.

  2. See M. Fubini, Studi sulla letteratura del Rinascimento, Florence, 1948, p. 276.

  3. Cf. Orlando Furioso, XXXII, 71.

  4. Prose, p. 351: ‘falsi stimandoli, non consentono così facilmente d'essere or mossi ad ira, or a terrore’.

  5. He also refers to the ‘Abate Uspergense’ and ‘Procoldo, Conte di Rochese’ whom I have not identified (Lettere, I, 137 (N.57); I, 145 (N.60)).

  6. See e.g. Lettere, I, 113 (N.47); I, 145 (N.60).

  7. Ibid. I, 146 (N.60): ‘Ho ben io procurato di scusar ogni difetto de' principali quanto l'arte mi parea che richiedesse.’

  8. Ibid. I, 67 (N.25).

  9. Ibid. I, 212 (N.82).

  10. Prose, p. 360.

  11. See the Discorsi dell' Arte Poetica, ‘Discorso terzo’.

  12. See e.g. G.L., III, 8; IX, 18.

  13. Opere (Venice, 1722), IV, 359.

  14. Lettere, I, 147 (N.60).

  15. Ibid. I, 113 (N.47).

  16. See, for example, ibid. II, 5 (N.123). See B. T. Sozzi, ‘Il magismo neì T.’ in Studi sul T., Pisa, 1954; U. Leo, T. T. Studien zur Vorgeschichte des Secentismo, Berne, 1951, pp. 101, 124-5; R. C. Williams, The Merveilleux in the epic, Paris, 1925.

  17. Lettere, I, 96 (N.37).

  18. G.L., XVIII, 94.

  19. See Donadoni, T.T., Florence, 1946—the last three chapters. A great deal has been written about T.'s religious sense—among the more valuable comments note G. Getto's chapter on T.'s ‘Poesia religiosa’ in his Interpretazione del T., Naples, 1951; B. T. Sozzi, ‘Il mondo spirituale e poetico del T.’ in Studi sul T., Pisa, 1954; A Banfi, ‘Etica e religione’ in T. T. (Atti del Convegno Tassesco), Milan, 1957; M. Fubini, ‘La poesia del T.’ in Studi sulla letteratura del Rinascimento. For the climate of the Counter-Reformation in Italy see M. Petrocchi, La Controriforma in Italia, Rome, 1947.

  20. G.L., XIV, 45-6.

  21. See Fubini, ibid. p. 314.

  22. Lettere, I, 192 (N.79): ‘quando cominciai il mio poema non ebbi pensiero alcuno d'allegoria … Ma poi ch'io fui oltre al mezzo del mio poema, e che cominciai a sospettar de la strettezza de' tempi, cominciai anco a pensar a l'allegoria.’

  23. E.g. Ariosto's allegorical kingdoms of Alcina and Logistilla. Allegorical interpretations of much of the Furioso were widespread at this time.

  24. Prose, p. 364.

  25. See B. T. Sozzi, ‘Nota sull'episodio di Olindo e Sofronia’, in Studi Tassiani, 1960, X, 5.

  26. See Lettere, I, 180 (N.75).

  27. On Tasso's epic style note particularly F. Chiappelli, Studi sul linguaggio del T. epico, Florence, 1957, to which I am much indebted; R. Ramat, Per la storia dello stile rinascimentale, Florence, 1953; R. M. Ruggieri, ‘Latinismi, forme etimologiche e forme “significanti” nella G.L.’, in Lingua Nostra, 1946, VII, 76; R. Battaglia, ‘Dalla lingua dell' Amadigi a quella della G.’, Cultura Neolatina, 1941, I, 94; ‘Note sul dissolversi della forma rinascimentale’, ibid. II, 174; M. Fubini, ‘Osservazioni sul lessico e sulla metrica del T.’, in Studi sulla letteratura del Rinascimento.

  28. Not now (as it was in T.'s day) attributed to Demetrius.

  29. See Chiappelli, p. 63.

  30. Ibid. p. 61.

  31. Ibid. p. 84.

  32. See also G.L., XII, 5; XIII, 40; XIX, 94, etc. This has been commented on by many critics, including J. A. Symonds.

Bibliographical Note

The following is a list of Tasso's works quoted [above]:

Lettere, ed. C Guasti, Florence, 1852-5.

Aminta, ed. B. T. Sozzi, Padua, 1957.

Rinaldo, ed. L. Bonfigli, Bari, 1936.

Gerusalemme Conquistata, ed. Bonfigli, Bari, 1934.

Gerusalemme Liberata, ed. L. Caretti, in T. Tasso, Tutte le Poesie, vol. I., Milan, 1957).

Prose, ed. E. Mazzali, Milan, 1959.

Rime, ed. A. Solerti, Bologna, 1898-1902.

Il Re Torrismondo, ed. Sozzi, in T. Tasso, Opere, Turin, 1956.

Dialoghi, ed. E. Raimondi, Florence, 1951.

Il Mondo Creato, ed. G. Petrocchi, Florence, 1951.

Opere, Venice, 1722-36.

Prose Diverse, ed. Guasti, Florence, 1875.

Other works are cited in the notes. For useful select general bibliographies see F. Flora's edition of Tasso's Poesie, Verona, 1952, or B. Maier's edition of Tasso's Opere, Milan, 1963.

Andrew Fichter (essay date 1982)

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SOURCE: Fichter, Andrew. “Tasso: Romance, Epic, and Christian Epic.” In Poets Historical: Dynastic Epic in the Renaissance, pp. 112-55. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982.

[In the following essay, Fichter calls Gerusalemme liberata. “a true Christian epic,” based on the theme of redemption.]

The dynastic couple in Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata consists of Rinaldo, the strong right arm of Goffredo, commander of the Christian forces in the First Crusade, and Armida, who until her sudden conversion in the poem's closing stanzas plays the part of the meretrix, the principal agent of the demonic plot (instigated by Pluto himself) to subvert the Christian cause. Armida may seem a surprising choice for the role of progenitress of the House of Este,1 but Tasso could not have found a more effective means of illustrating the scope of Christian deliverance, the theme of his poem. Tasso's dynastic heroine is no Bradamante, no championess of chastity, fundamentally virtuous if initially incomplete, but something of a Mary Magdalen, a creature in whom the precept that grace ultimately extends to all of fallen nature finds one of its most dramatic confirmations. Tasso's Rinaldo, too, falls further than does his counterpart in Ariosto's poem. In canto 16 Rinaldo is found, like Ruggiero before him, in the locus amoenus of romance truancy, Armida's garden, but to the faults of Ruggiero Rinaldo adds those of an Orlando. In canto 5 he commits an act of irascible passion in killing Gernando and, disdaining to submit himself to Goffredo's justice, deserts the Christian camp. At the other pole of his experience, however, Rinaldo undergoes a Christ-like transfiguration (canto 18). In the Liberata, then, Tasso projects the basic plot of redemption in its largest possible compass. His heroes touch the extremes of depravity and regeneration in the course of their careers.

Tasso's choice of redemption as a theme is perfectly suited to his purpose of constructing a true Christian epic, a poem based on Christian principles but one that also possesses the formal properties of the Aeneid, wholeness, magnitude, and unity of plot and character.2 Regeneration, as Tasso conceives it, implies such unity. His theme permits him, for instance, a single heroine where previous poets had offered two, an Armida who by virtue of the transforming power of grace can fulfill the roles of both Virgil's Dido and his Lavinia, Ariosto's Angelica and his Bradamante. Indeed, as the character of Armida suggests, Tasso's theme allows him to overgo (in effect, to redeem) both Virgil and Ariosto, each for a different reason. Virgil could not, Tasso seems to say, and Ariosto could have but did not, follow to their end the implications that Christianity's doctrine of deliverance held for epic poetry. Virgil could not reverse Dido's tragic fate: the world of the Aeneid is irremediably one of painful choices. Ariosto knew otherwise; his moral vision was not fundamentally different from Tasso's. But Ariosto had not succeeded, as Tasso meant to, in reflecting the unity of creation in the medium of poetic form.

That Tasso believes romance stands in need of a kind of redemption is made clear in his Discorsi del Poema Eroico. Romance, of which Orlando Furioso is for Tasso the principal exponent, is described as a rambling, disjointed, fanciful narrative intended primarily to delight rather than instruct its audience. As such it violates the classical canons for epic, which require it to be a work of great formal integrity and high moral purpose. True epic describes a single action carried to full closure, undertaken by a single hero rather than several.3 If Tasso seems to have disregarded his own theoretical precept in dividing the Aeneas figure of his poem into two, Rinaldo and Goffredo, he argues otherwise in the Allegoria he appends to the Liberata:

The Army compounded of diuers Princes, and of other Christian souldiers, signifieth Man, compounded of soule and bodie. … Godfrey, which of all the assembly is chosen Chieftaine, stands for Vnderstanding, and particularly for that vnderstanding, which considereth not the things necessarie, but the mutable and which may diuersely happen, and those by the wil of God. … Rinaldo, Tancredi, and the other Princes are in liew of the other powers of the soule; and the Bodie here becomes notified by the souldiers lesse noble.4

The Liberata, then, is superficially a romance fable involving the apparently separate actions of Goffredo, Rinaldo, and a number of others, but the completed poem is meant to project an image of the reintegrated human form compounded of its diverse faculties and hence to convert romance multiplicity into epic unity:

Finally, to come to the conclusion, the army wherein Rinaldo and the other Woorthies by the grace of God and aduise of Man, are returned and obedient to their chieftaine, signifieth man brought againe into the state of naturall Iustice and heauenly obedience: where the superior powers do command, as they ought, and the inferiour do obey, as they should.

This is romance reconciled to the rules of classical epic and epic in turn conceived within the framework of Christian Neoplatonism.

Implicit in Tasso's criticism of romance conventions is a moral indictment, which comes to the foreground in the Liberata. Here we experience the confusion and unreality of romance as anarchy and illusion, as projections of that state of mind in which nothing seems stable or sure. In a poem in which order is meant to be a manifestation of moral value, romance disorder becomes a metaphor for spiritual privation, for cupidity and heresy. And in a poem that is meant to move in the world of human history, the images of confinement and isolation in the romance landscape betray the hero's inability to see beyond himself.

Yet seen from another angle, romance represents nothing more than a failure of the imagination to complete its epic (and Christian) quest, to go far enough in pursuit of truth: we see the part but not the whole, the effect but not the cause, the incessant movement of the phenomenal world but not the permanence beyond it. The urges of romance, in other words, are essentially continuous with those of epic and with those of Christianity as well. Romance magic, for all its associations with deception and illusion, may finally be seen as a vehicle for Christian mystery.5 We have only to look far enough to see the completion of the one in the other. The nature of redemption, as the concept is implied in the critical argument of the Discorsi, embodied in the Liberata, and stated in the Allegoria, demands not that the genre of romance literature be rejected but that it be enfolded into epic, that the romance impression of multiplicity and discontinuity be replaced by the epic vision of wholeness and unity. Romance diversity, in fact, occupies a crucial place in the total design of Christian epic. Just as Rinaldo must first be truant to his cause before he can be redeemed, so the poem must first represent itself as a romance before its epic structure can be discerned. Both the plot and the form of the Liberata are thus manifestations of the paradox of Christian salvation that ordains that one must be lost before he can be found.

Tasso belongs to the tradition of humanist thought that strives everywhere for a theoretical reconciliation of the various currents by which it is nourished: philosophy and religion, reason and faith, nature and grace, classical and vernacular literature. He is among the most undaunted of synthesizers in an era increasingly aware of the diversity of its cultural sources. His critical theory is shaped in part by the widespread resurgence of Aristotelian theory following the 1536 Latin translation of the Poetics, and perhaps equally by the Neoplatonism of Ficino and others,6 but it is in the last analysis a product of his Christianity. In its narrowest dimension Tasso's conception of poetic unity may be traced to a Counter-Reformation bias toward centralization, conformity, and authoritarianism. At its best it is an inclusive and a creative response to problems of literary form. The conciliating impulse that unites epic and romance is finally best expressed in the Liberata itself but it may be useful to approach the epic by the avenue Tasso provides in the Discorsi.7


The Discorsi del Poema Eroico (1594), enlarged from the earlier Discorsi dell'Arte Poetica, may be read in part as Tasso's attempt to defend the Liberata in the critical debates that followed its printing in 1581.8 His emphasis on unity and his deference to Aristotelian rules of composition represent his efforts to find for the Liberata a place in what he hoped would be a continuance of the classical tradition of epic poetry. He shares with other humanist poets the ambition to produce a contemporary Aeneid, or at least to elevate contemporary language and literature to a higher status by attaching to them a comprehensive theory of diction and composition. What the Liberata is meant to embody, the Discorsi attempt to document by extending to cinquecento Italy the principles of Aristotelian, Horatian, Platonic, and Neoplatonic poetic analysis.

The scope of Tasso's success is measured in his ability to reconcile several strands of poetic theory. His method is Aristotelian to the extent that it derives its categories of generic definition deductively from analysis of an exemplary masterpiece (Discourses, p. 6). But Tasso admits a Neoplatonic qualification of this method by taking as his “exemplar” an abstraction instead of a specific poem or poetry. If Aristotle could look to the works of Homer to find the model for epic poetry, Tasso would look to an “idea of the most excellent kind of poem” compounded of examples of “beauties and perfections” from many admittedly imperfect works. It is a felicitous compromise since it obviates the necessity of locating among modern works a single ideal heroic poem. At the same time it permits Tasso to select poetic examples from various contemporary sources, which thus share space with Homer and Virgil in an ongoing literary tradition.

Even so it may seem strange that there are no explicit references to the Liberata in the Discorsi. The Liberata goes unannounced and largely unacknowledged except as its theme and subject may be inferred from the description of the ideal epic. The Discorsi, whose stated purpose is to erect a generalized theory of epic poetry, approach the Liberata by “argument, authority, and example” (p. 5) but never arrive there. Tasso's reluctance to include the Liberata among the exempla of heroic poetry is significant. It is for one thing a clue to the strategy of the Discorsi, which must, insofar as they are cast in the mold of a classical treatise on poetics, approach Christian epic inductively and indirectly. The Discorsi are a deliberate exercise in obliquity calculated to demonstrate Tasso's conviction that classical poetic theory is continuous with and is finally completed in Christian doctrine.

The literary ideal to which our attention is drawn in the Discorsi is thus a disembodied one, yet one whose appearance we are led to anticipate through the ineluctable logic of Tasso's syllogisms. The proper subject for epic poetry, he begins, is one taken from history rather than one wholly invented by the poet because pure fiction does not so fully engage the minds of its readers: “Men do not await the end of the story with the same expectation as when they deem it true entirely or in part” (p. 26). History rather than legend, then, should be the basis of epic plot—history remote enough to permit the poet certain mimetic liberties but not so remote as to involve archaic customs, “which those whose taste is used to the gentleness and decorum of this age shun as obsolete and stale” (p. 40). “But history,” Tasso reminds us, “involves a religion either false or true” (p. 34), and so, striking a posture of broad-mindedness and equanimity, Tasso contemplates the relative merits of each choice. He concludes that true religion is to be preferred as the subject of epic on the grounds that its prodigies and miracles are more probable than those of false religions and so make compliance with the Aristotelian requirement of verisimilitude more feasible (pp. 34-37).

If it is not yet clear that Tasso is steering his Aristotelian discourse in the direction of Christian epic, it becomes more so when he discusses the nature of the action appropriate to epic. It should be “noble, illustrious, and great” (p. 42), to be sure, but within these categories Tasso finds room to debate whether wrath or love is the subject for the nobler action. The weight of classical authority seems to fall on the side of wrath, the subject of the Iliad. It can be argued, moreover, that the Odyssey hardly mentions love (p. 44) and thus that the epic poet whom Aristotle considered “preeminently heroic” was unconcerned with the matter. Nor does Virgil say as much as he might have about the loves of Aeneas, Iarbas, Turnus, and Lavinia (p. 45). Love, furthermore, might more properly be assigned to comedy (p. 45), and epic, according to Aristotle, more closely resembles tragedy than comedy in the actions it imitates (pp. 42-43). For Tasso, however, such reasoning is problematic. Neither the subject of wrath nor the assumption of an affinity with tragic rather than-comic perspective is appropriate where the objective is Christian epic. And so with considerable dexterity he maneuvers around the obstacles. Aristotle, he maintains, has “with that obscurity habitual to him” (p. 43) left it unclear whether tragic and epic poets are to be considered entirely alike in what they imitate:

If epic and tragic actions were of the same nature, they would produce the same effects, because identical causes produce identical effects. But since they give rise to different passions, it follows that their nature is different. Tragic actions move horror and pity; … the epic poet does not generally make us sad in that way, nor is he required to as a necessity.

[p. 43]

Continuing to move in the shadow of Aristotelian discourse, or rather Aristotle mediated through Plato, Tasso goes on to argue that a greater degree of nobility attaches to the subject of love than to wrath:

All beautiful things are suitable to the heroic poem, and love is indeed beautiful, as Phaedrus says in Plato. It cannot be denied that love is a passion suitable to heroes, since, as Proclus, the great philosopher of the Platonic school, says, they were especially subject to two feelings, wrath and love. If one of these is appropriate to the heroic poem, the other surely cannot be inappropriate.

[p. 45]

From “not inappropriate” Tasso moves toward the proposition that love is in fact a superior subject for epic in the next stage of his argument and so brings us closer to seeing the Liberata as the ideal heroic poem. Plato, Tasso admits, ranks love below wrath in his arrangement of the three faculties of the soul, reason, the irascible appetite, and concupiscence:9

Reason is surely the noblest, queen as it were of the others, while concupiscence rather resembles a popular uprising, which, swelling and raising havoc in the mind, refuses to grant obedience to reason, whereas the irascible faculty is the soldier and minister of reason in curbing its opponent.

[p. 47]

But Plato is speaking of concupiscence. There is another kind of love, Tasso reminds us, of which we hear if we turn from Plato to Aquinas:

But if love is not merely a passion and a movement of the sensitive appetite, but a highly noble habit of the will, as St. Thomas held, love will be more praiseworthy [than wrath] in heroes and consequently in the heroic poem. This kind of love the ancients either did not know or did not wish to describe in their heroes, but if they did not honour it as a human virtue, they worshipped it as virtually divine; they should therefore have esteemed no other [passion] more appropriate for heroes.

[p. 47]

With this last turn of thought Tasso arrives (ostensibly by clarifying the ambiguities and extending the logic of classical poetic doctrines) at a justification for his poem's concern with love, or caritas, that motion of the soul toward God that signals deliverance. Charitable (as opposed to cupidinous) love is a higher passion than Plato's irascible appetite: “Hence we may regard actions performed for the sake of love as beyond all others heroic.” An example of such an action, he then suggests, can be found with “those who risk their lives for Christ.” Thus Christian history supplies the subject that classical poetic theory needs and lacks as it seeks to formulate the perfect heroic poem.

Other major lines of Tasso's theoretical discourse point to the same conclusion: Christian epic is the logical culmination of classical poetic theory. Tasso's discussion of verisimilitude, for instance, opens with Aristotle but finally comes to rest, once again, with St. Thomas. Tasso begins with the Aristotelian assertion that poetry should be truthful in quality if not in substance and in universals if not in particulars. The poet need not be a literalist in his interpretation of history; utter fidelity to historical detail is the province of historians, not poets. Indeed an overly narrow construction of verisimilitude limits the poet's capacity to represent the higher truths with which he ought primarily to be concerned. Thus “if Lucan is not a poet, it is because he binds himself to the truth of particulars with little regard to the universal” (p. 61). But neither should the poet wholly disregard historical fact. To make this point Tasso—everywhere inclined to propound a synthesis of the two principal strands of classical philosophy—shifts his focus from Aristotle to Plato, or rather to the misconstruction of Platonism he discovers in Mazzoni.10 In an effort to defend poetry (particularly Dante's Commedia) as mimetic art, Mazzoni distinguishes between “phantastic” and “icastic” imitation, “following Plato's doctrine in the Sophist” (p. 29): “He calls the kind that imitates things present or past icastic and the kind that imitates non-existent things phantastic. And this latter he chooses to call perfect poetry, which he places under the sophistic faculty, whose subject is the false and the non-existent.” In doing so, he removes reality and probability as standards of poetic imitation. Tasso, who sees the danger of restricting poetry's claim on truth by divorcing so completely the functions of the poet and the historian, insists on counting poetry among the sciences of probable and demonstrable reality: dialectic, metaphysics, and theology. Plato is to be credited with understanding that reality lies in the realm of the intelligible rather than the visible (p. 32), that “visible things [belong] in the genus of non-being and only the intelligible in the genus of being” (32), but he is misinterpreted when he is thought to endorse imitation of something unreal. “Poetic imitation is thus rather icastic than phantastic: and even if it were the work of phantasy, it would be in the sense of an intellectual imagination which cannot be differentiated from the icastic” (p. 33).

What Plato, properly understood, does contribute to Tasso's conception of verisimilitude is a justification for the claim that truth does not reside in the region of human experience and historical accident: “Thus the images of the angels that Dionysius describes are of existences more real than all things human” (p. 32). Tasso, like Augustine, attributes to Plato the perception that truth is something incorporeal (Conf. 7.20), but at this point, again like Augustine, Tasso turns from Platonism to Christian doctrine for fuller knowledge of the nature of truth:

To prove that the poet's subject is rather the true than the false we can offer yet another argument, derived from the teaching of St. Thomas in the Summa and other works of his, according to which the good, the true, and the one are interchangeable, and the true is the good of the intellect; besides, he asserts that evil is not “a nature.” Evil, therefore, not being in nature, must be founded in goodness or some good thing, since no entirely wicked or evil thing can exist. In the same way, every multiplicity is based on unity, nor is there any multiplicity which does not participate in unity; and every falsehood is founded on truth. Thus what is totally false cannot be the subject of poetry, indeed it does not exist.

[p. 33]

Once again Tasso invokes the authority of St. Thomas at the moment Aristotelian and Platonic logic converge. He might as easily have called upon Boethius or Augustine since the notion of the coequality of truth, oneness, and goodness is central to orthodox Christian belief.11

As Tasso applies this principle of Christian thought to poetics, the claim for the truthfulness of epic poetry, specifically for its credibility as a record of the universal and intrinsic truth of history, is equally a claim for wholeness. What is real is also necessarily an integral part of the unity that characterizes divine creation; what the poet would make truthful he must also make whole. Thus verisimilitude, the issue of poetic matter, is inextricably bound up with unity, the issue of poetic form, and both are subsumed under the larger issue of morality. For Tasso a manifestation of truthfulness and oneness in literature is by the same token a manifestation of goodness, and, conversely, irreality and diversity or incompleteness in literature signal moral depravity. In other words Tasso's discussion of the formal requirements of epic follows the course already plotted in the discussion of imitation. Unity, or more precisely the three conditions of oneness, wholeness, and “appropriate magnitude” or length, are first identified as the attributes Aristotle assigns to true epic (p. 62, following Poetics 7), but it is finally the Thomistic precept that “every multiplicity is based on unity” toward which Tasso's discourse bends.

For both Aristotle and Tasso the idea of unity implies limit and restraint but it is also an inclusive concept, an idea whose complexity Tasso conveys through organic and syntactic metaphors:

We call one the form of elements that is simplest, of single power and operation; so too we call one the composite form of plants and animals that results from the forms of elements gathered together, blunted, and modified, with the powers and qualities of each shared. We call a letter or word one; and we call a speech composed of many letters and words one, as Aristotle teaches in his work On Interpretation.

[p. 79]

The principle may be Aristotelian but the habit of drawing an analogy between words and things, between the word and the world, is also fundamental to Christian thought. Tasso's metaphor is reminiscent of Augustine's comparison of the world to a psalm (Conf. 11.28). Tasso's most famous statement on the subject further illustrates the essential interdependency of the subject of unity and verisimilitude:

For just as in this marvellous domain of God called the world we behold the sky scattered over and adorned with such variety of stars, and as we descend from realm to realm, we marvel at the air and the sea full of birds and fish, and the earth host to so many animals wild and tame, with brooks, springs, lakes, meadows, fields, forests, and mountains, here fruits and flowers, there glaciers and snow, here dwellings and ploughed fields, there desert and wilderness; yet for all this, the world that contains in its womb so many diverse things is one, its form and essence one, and one the bond that links its many parts and ties them together in discordant concord, and nothing is missing, yet nothing is there that does not serve for necessity or ornament; just so, I judge, the great poet (who is called divine for no other reason than that as he resembles the supreme Artificer in his workings he comes to participate in his divinity) can form a poem in which, as in a little world, one may read here of armies assembling, here of battles on land or sea, here of conquests of cities, skirmishes and duels, here of jousts, here descriptions of hunger and thirst, here tempests, fires, prodigies, there of celestial and infernal councils, there seditions, there discord, wanderings, adventures, enchantments, deeds of cruelty, daring, courtesy, generosity, there the fortunes of love, now happy, now sad, now joyous, now pitiful. Yet the poem that contains so great a variety of matters none the less should be one, one in form and soul; and all these things should be so combined that each concerns the other, corresponds to the other, and so depends on the other necessarily or verisimilarly that removing any one part or changing its place would destroy the whole. And if that is true, the art of composing a poem resembles the plan of the universe, which is composed of contraries, as that of music is. For if it were not multiple it would not be a whole or a plan, as Plotinus says.

[pp. 77-78]

Here is the Discorsi's most eloquent tribute to Neoplatonic thought, revealing both in its statement and in its composition a sense of discordia concors and a vision of the world unified in its diversity. It is the cornerstone of Tasso's theories of decorum and verisimilitude. Yet despite its eloquence this passage is perhaps more revealing for what it leaves unsaid; here, too, one can see the limits by which Tasso's thought in the Discorsi is confined. There is no mention, for instance, of the Liberata although by inference the catalogue of plausible epic actions and the call for a oneness of form and essence, form and soul, may be read as one of the clearest allusions to the poem to be found in the Discorsi. If the Discorsi's implicit subject is the Liberata, it remains concealed behind an arras, the ideal poem for which the Discorsi are a quest but which cannot be fully unveiled in the context of a treatise that generally restricts itself to classical poetic theory.

There is a further omission in Tasso's hymn to unity to which one might be alerted by Tasso's pointed reference to Plotinus. Although Plotinus undertakes the first major systematic revaluation of Platonic philosophy, he would not have been thought by Tasso to have had the last word. If Boethius, to whom Tasso alludes several times in passages immediately preceding this one, had been the acknowledged conduit of this Platonic conception of unity, we might have heard in Christian terms of a unity coextensive with both divinity and goodness.12

Perhaps the best evidence of the inclusiveness of Tasso's poetic theory emerges in his discussion of Ariostan chivalric romance. The substance of Tasso's quarrel with Ariosto is implicit in what has already been said about verisimilitude and unity. Orlando Furioso manifestly violates both requirements. The maraviglie, the prodigies and marvels of the Furioso, far exceed the limits of plausibility; the work cannot be considered formally whole since it is a continuation of Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato: “The Furioso lacks a beginning, the Innamorato an ending” (p. 63). Even if they were to be taken together as a single poem they would not fulfill Tasso's requirements for magnitude and integrity. They would constitute a poem of excessive length, but more importantly, they lack shape. They involve an unmanageable multiplicity of fable and their episodic narratives seem to refuse closure. This amounts to an assault on verisimilitude as well as on unity since nature, which art should imitate, does not behave in the manner of Ariostan romance:

If art is an imitation of nature, since nature does nothing episodically, as Aristotle says in the Metaphysics, neither should art. And surely, if using episodes means going beyond the original purpose, neither art nor nature does anything episodically, since both act toward a determined end.

[p. 83]

In addition to these failures, Tasso argues, romance subordinates the epic obligation to instruct and enlighten its audience to the motive of pleasing it. Romance elects multiplicity of action on the grounds that diversity is more delightful than unity.

In all respects the judgment Tasso pronounces on romance is a moral one. A poem devoid of unity and verisimilitude is also devoid of goodness if, as St. Thomas tells us, “the good, the true, and the one are interchangeable” (p. 33). But the same article of Christian doctrine contains the logic that will permit Tasso to argue the reformation rather than the rejection of romance. If romance, given its irreality and multiplicity, is to be associated with evil, let us recall that evil, according to Augustinian, Boethian, or Thomistic thought, has no being in nature. “In the same way, every multiplicity is based on unity, nor is there any multiplicity which does not participate in unity.” Extending this logic to the subject of romance, Tasso arrives at the conclusion that romance has no generic status independent of epic.13 Tasso's purpose in the Discorsi is not to counterpose romance and epic as antithetical literary forms but to argue their identity, to draw romance into the shadow of epic.14 “Romance and epic,” he asserts, “imitate the same actions, that is illustrious ones”; they imitate in the same manner, narrating rather than representing things dramatically; and they use the same means to imitate (69):

From the bond of the actions they imitate and of their means and manner of imitating, it follows that the poetry called epic and the poetry called romance are one and the same poetic genre.

[p. 70]

As the issue of poetic form is resolved, so is the issue of poetic matter. The charge that romance maraviglia is not verisimilitudinous can be dropped if marvels can be seen as miracles—if they are understood to emanate not from the necromancer but from that being of which he is a parody, from God. What is required is that romance maraviglia be seen from the higher perspective that includes a knowledge of first causes:

One same action can then be both marvellous and verisimilar: marvellous when regarded in itself and confined within natural limits, verisimilar when considered apart from these limits in terms of its cause, which is a powerful supernatural force accustomed to performing such marvels.

[p. 38]

The case against romance lies in the narrowness of its vision. What is experienced as aberrant nature within the confines of the romance landscape may be perceived differently by the visionary who is not restricted to the realm of corporeal and visible things. Romance is the experience of effects where causes are unknown, of movement without a sense of direction; its events seem to be discrete and random accidents because they are not perceived sequentially. But the “world” of romance is the same as that of epic even if its appearance is different, because there is only one world.

Romance, then, is epic whose multiplicity has not yet been seen as unity and whose marvels are still perceived as distortions of nature rather than acts of supernature and “existences more real than all things human.” Tasso's treatment of romance is more than an ingenious theoretical equivocation. His argument that apparently antithetical genres are in the last analysis one and the same comes from the core of his Christian belief. It is an expression in critical theory of Augustine's perception that the solution to the dilemma of Manichaean dualism is that one of the terms of this dualism simply does not exist. Such logic, the logic of salvation, informs every aspect of Tasso's poem, its form—which may be described as romance subsumed by epic and classical epic overgone by Christian epic—as well as its theme, deliverance.

The ideas that are peripheral to, or at best implicit in, the Discorsi are more directly expressed in Tasso's Allegoria del Poema, drafted in 1576 and appended to most early editions of the Liberata as an interpretive guide to the poem. In his gloss on the role of the Wise Man in the Liberata Tasso gives us a picture of natural wisdom superseded by grace:

It is fained, that this wise man was by birth a Pagan, but being by the Hermite conuerted to the true faith, becommeth a Christian, and despising his first arrogancie, he doth not much presume of his owne wisedome, but yeeldeth himselfe to the iudgment of his master, albeit that Philospophie be borne and nourished amongst the Gentiles in Aegypt and Greece, and from thence hath passed over vnto vs, presumptious of her selfe, a miscreant bold and proud aboue measure: but of Saint Thomas and the other holy Doctors she is made the disciple and handmaid of Diuinitie.

The relation of the Wise Man to the Hermite is like that of Plotinus to Boethius, St. Thomas, “and the other holy Doctors” and in many respects like that of the Discorsi to the Liberata itself. Classical philosophy adumbrates Christian doctrine. This reflects a notion of redemption that the Liberata is meant to extend to the Aeneid by converting epic to crusade, and the imperium of Rome to Christianitas. As Goffredo says, in the accents of Pauline exhortation,

“Non edifica quei che vuol gl'imperi
su fondamenti fabricar mondani.”


[“He does not build truly who wishes to construct his empire on worldly foundations.”]15

This is the act of deliverance that will be repeated in form and essence (“una la forma e l'anima sua”) throughout the epic.


The case against romance in the Liberata may be stated best in terms of the poem's central action. The historical subject of the epic is the First Crusade, the eleventh-century campaign of Geoffrey of Boulogne to liberate Jerusalem from pagan control. But the thematic subject (whether we hear it from the Allegoria or from the poem itself) is the spiritual progress of Christian man toward the other Jerusalem, “Ierusalem the strong citie … situated vpon the top of the Alpine and wearisome hill of virtue” (Allegoria). This crusade, moreover, is prerequisite to the literal one. Goffredo's army cannot enter the city until movement in that direction is understood in both senses—until, that is, the moral regeneration of the Christian community is complete. It is where movement lacks moral direction, where Goffredo's knights pursue the lesser, phantom goals of their own cupidity—Baldovin, his ambition (“l'umane grandezze”); Tancredi, vain love (“vano amor”); Boemondo, empire; and Rinaldo, his personal honor (1.8-10)—that we find ourselves in the confused, interior, and illusory regions of romance. It is no accident that Tasso chooses an epic action in which the moral and historical dimensions are isomorphic, or, to put it in the more circumspect terms of the Discorsi, an action drawn from both “true history” and “a religion that is not false” (p. 39).

In the Liberata romance variety, formlessness, and fantasy become, with a slight shift of perspective, the labyrinthine nightmare of sensuous, Ovidian nature and unregenerate self-hood, an image of the world unredeemed from mortality and mutability:

Sorge non lunge a le cristiane tende
tra solitarie valli alta foresta,
foltissima di piante antiche, orrende,
che spargon d'ogni intorno ombra funesta.
Qui ne l'ora che il sol più chiaro splende,
è luce incerta e scolorita e mesta,
quale in nubilo ciel dubbia si vede,
se 'l dì a la notte, o s'ella a lui succede.


[From Godfrey's camp a grove a little way,
          Amid the valleys deep, grows out of sight,
Thick with old trees, whose horrid arms display
          An ugly shade, like everlasting night:
There, when the sun spreads forth his clearest ray,
          Dim, thick, uncertain, gloomy seems the light;
As when, in ev'ning, day and darkness stive
Which should his foe from our horizon drive.]

Fairfax's translation makes explicit, with its mention of “everlasting night,” a metaphor underlying Tasso's conception of romance. The romance landscape is cut off from the visually and spiritually clarifying light of the sun. The light we do find there is the reflected, interior light associated with the enchantress Armida—“her burning face” (“suo infiammato viso,” [16.18]) or the “burning thoughts” (the “mente accesa” and “pensier ardenti” [5.7-12]) of those in her power. Her smile is like sunlight (“Qual raggio in onda, le scintilla un riso” [12.18]) but the parallel is a false one.

The romance world is temporally indefinite as well as visually indistinct, timeless in a sense, but not in an eschatological sense. At one end of its imaginative spectrum we hear the carpe diem song of Armida's enchanted island (16.14-15), appealing for an arrest of natural time in an ongoing present. Romance is an endless continuum of flight, pursuit, and entrapment—chivalric activity, that is, from which all sense of purpose and direction has been withdrawn.

In the pagan heroes of the Liberata we discern an attitude to time philosophically alien to providential historiography. The first articulate spokesmen of the pagan viewpoint are Aletes and Argante, emissaries from the Egyptian camp to Goffredo in canto 2. Theirs is chiefly a rhetorical skill, supplied with aphoristic, cautionary wisdom garnered, presumably, after many turns on fortune's wheel:

“Giunta è tua gloria al sommo; e per l'inanzi
fuggir le dubbie guerre a te conviene:
ch'ove tu vinca, sol di stato avanzi,
né tua gloria maggior quinci diviene;
ma l'imperio acquistato e preso dianzi,
e l'onor perdi, se 'l contrario avviene.
Ben gioco è di fortuna audace e stolto
por contra il poco e incerto il certo e 'l molto.”


[“Thy sun is in his Apogaeon placed,
          And when it moveth next must needs descend;
Chance is uncertain, fortune double-faced,
          Smiling at first, she frowneth in the end;
Beware thine honor be not then disgraced,
          Take heed thou mar not, when thou think'st to mend,
For this the folly is of fortune's play,
'Gainst doubtful, certain; much, 'gainst small, to lay.”]

Aletes counsels Goffredo on behalf of the king of Egypt to settle for the partial victory he has already won (65). His advice to the Christians to stop while they are ahead is an appeal for a sober and an apparently humane realism sweetened with a gesture of concord (64). Goffredo, however, sees the advice and the offer of peace as pernicious, not necessarily because they may be delivered in bad faith but because they constitute the first steps of seduction by a fundamentally fatalistic and materialistic philosophy:

          “Ché non ambizïosi avari affetti
ne spronaro a l'impresa e ne fur guida:
(sgombri il Padre del Ciel da i nostri petti
peste sì rea, s'in alcun pur s'annida).”


[“Not hope of praise, nor thirst of worldly good,
          Enticed us to follow this emprise:
The heav'nly father keep his sacred brood
          From foul infection of so great a vice.”]

According to the worldly wisdom of the pagans, time is a repeated pattern of ups and downs to which men may adjust but in which they should not expect the fulfillment of moralistic ideals. What Aletes subtly proposes is a view of history unsanctioned by intelligible purpose, a continuum in which gains must be weighed against prospects of equal loss at each new juncture. But Goffredo recognizes in this a philosophy in which the grounds for heroic action are eroded. Aletes' rhetoric, however attractive, is analytic reasoning applied in a void, oblivious to moral absolutes, and thus it opens a door on chaos.

Pagan heroes, rhetoricians, and seers are continually frustrated by the narrowness of their horizons in the Liberata. The pagan wizard Ismeno, for instance, confesses his inability to see into the future in canto 10 (the same canto in which the Christian hermit Piero does so on Rinaldo's behalf) and takes a stoic view of things:

“Ciascun qua giù le forze e 'l senno impieghi
per avanzar fra le sciagure e i mali;
ché sovente adivien che 'l saggio e 'l forte
fabro a sé stesso è di beata sorte.”


[“Our wit and strength on us bestow'd, I hold,
          To shun th' evils and harms 'mongst which we dwell;
They make their fortune who are stout and wise,
Wit rules the heav'ns, discretion guides the skies.”]

Like Aletes, Ismeno regards fortuna as the goddess of the temporal world and thus can salvage only that part of wisdom that is discretion, or such wisdom as can be attained within the limits of personal experience.

At its furthest extreme pagan logic deteriorates into demonic illogic. This extreme is reached with the poem's descensus ad inferos in canto 4, the canto, as Tasso tells us in one of his letters, from which all the episodes of the poem derive. Tasso's Pluto, like Milton's Satan after him and like the pagan heroes of whose cause he is author, suffers from the delusion of self-sufficiency. His vain attempt to assert his independence of the godhead ironically confirms the opposite, his status as parody. As he recapitulates history from his perspective he inadvertently reveals his limitations. Pluto recounts universal history as he remembers it, not from the moment of creation but from his fall (4.9). From this beginning history seems an agonistic process, a struggle between two opposed forces.

As with Milton's Satan, there is a semblance of heroism in the posture of defiance Pluto assumes, but it is a heroism grounded in the false notions that the universe is dualistic and antagonistic rather than unified and harmonious and that greatness consists in asserting one's personal will in hostile circumstances rather than in acceding to the will of God. Herein lie the limitations of the pagan heroes of the Liberata. And here is the logic by which Pluto and his associates seek to seduce the Christian heroes away from their chivalric obligations.

Pluto's program for the subversion of the Christian crusade amounts to a synopsis of the poem's romance subplots:

          “Sia destin ciò ch'io voglio: altri disperso
sen vada errando; altri rimanga ucciso;
altri, in cure d'amor lascive immerso,
idol si faccia un dolce sguardo e un riso:
sia 'l ferro in contro al suo rettor converso
da lo stuol ribellante e 'n sé diviso:
pèra il campo e rüini, e resti in tutto
ogni vestigio suo con lui distrutto.”


[“Among the knights and worthies of their train,
          Let some like out-laws wander uncouth ways,
Let some be slain in field, let some again
          Make oracles of women's yeas and nays,
And pine in foolish love; let some complain
          On Godfrey's rule, and mutines 'gainst him raise;
Turn each one's sword against his fellow's heart;
Thus kill them all, or spoil the greatest part.”]

More specifically, Pluto (or his wizard Hidraort) unleashes the meretrix Armida against the Christians with a plot to distract them from their purpose. Her appeal is to human cupidity in its several forms, sensuality, pride, ambition, self-love, and whatever other forces move the heart or mind away from God. Armida's scheme is to redirect the chivalric instincts of Goffredo's knights toward herself, which is to say toward their own selves. Thus she fabricates a tale of personal injustice and calls on Goffredo for assistance. Her rightful place as heir to her father's kingdom, she claims, has been usurped by an unscrupulous uncle and his unchivalrous son, whom Armida would have Goffredo overthrow. Her device meets with at least partial success, we note, because the mission Armida advocates is closely analogous to that on which the Christians are already engaged. They are called upon to invade a kingdom and expell a usurping tyrant, although now for the sake of Armida and a romance order of chivalry rather than for the Christian faith.

But once again we are invited to see the higher providential truth that ironically circumscribes the romance plot. Armida's intentions are deceitful and the personal history she unfolds is entirely contrived, but like every demonic artifice her fable contains more truth than she knows. That she is genuinely exiled from her father's kingdom, although not the father she now has in mind, becomes clear in canto 20 as Rinaldo promises to restore her “to that throne whereof thy sire was lord” (135)—to comply with her original request, in effect, in a way she did not intend—if she will cease to be a pagan. In the light of her eventual realization that her father's kingdom is heaven, the anguish she feigns in canto 4 (72) at having been exiled and disgraced is justified beyond her awareness. To see the potential of the romance theme of restoration become an allegory of Christian salvation we have only to look ahead to the first book of Spenser's Faerie Queene or to see in the Liberata that it is the redemption of Jerusalem that finally subsumes and completes all romance questing.

Armida exercises her momentary spell over Rinaldo in canto 16 in her illusory paradise.16 Armida's garden, a parody of Eden, is a clue to the nature of her perversity. She offers to satisfy a human yearning to reverse the temporal process begun with the Fall, to transfix time in an artificial eternity. The songs heard on the approaches to Armida's palace play on the dynastic dream of a restoration of the Golden Age and the epic longing for rest:

“Questo è il porto del mondo; e qui è il ristoro
de le sue noie, e quel piacer si sente
che già sentì ne' secoli de l'oro
l'antica e senza fren libera gente.
L'arme, che sin a qui d'uopo vi fôro,
potete omai depor securamente,
e sacrarle in quest' ombra a la quïete:
ché guerrier qui solo d'Amor sarete.”


[“This is the place wherein you may assuage
          Your sorrows past, here is that joy and bliss
That flourish'd in the antique golden age;
          Here needs no law, here none doth aught amiss;
Put off those arms, and fear not Mars his rage,
          Your sword, your shield, your helmet needless is;
Then consecrate them here to endless rest,
You shall love's champions be and soldiers blest.”]

That the danger of yielding to the allures of Armida involves truancy to true epic mission is implied through her association with Dido (16.36-74), Cleopatra (5-7), and Omphale (3). The engravings on the castle portals are a thematic inversion of Vulcan's shield in the Aeneid, perversely memorializing Actium from the perspective of Antony and Cleopatra instead of Augustus. They proclaim the ascendancy of the imperium of sensual pleasure over that of Rome. The engravings depict Antony in flight from Octavius—yet not in flight but in pursuit of Cleopatra, and then awaiting his death in her lap in the secret streams of the Nile (6-7).

Rinaldo in his involvement with Armida is another Antony, or another Aeneas as Mercury finds him in Carthage, or another Ruggiero as Melissa finds him in the seventh canto of Orlando Furioso. His sword is bedecked with flowers, his locks are perfumed; he is Aeneas as Iarbas labels him, a second Paris with his eunuch train, “a Maeonian band propping his chin and essenced locks.” Rinaldo and Armida are not so much in love with each other as bound together in mutually gratifying narcissism. She sees herself reflected in his crystal pendant; he gazes on his own image in her eyes:

          Dal fianco de l'amante (estranio arnese)
un cristallo pendea lucido e netto.
Sorse, e quel fra le mani a lei sospese,
a i misteri d'Amor ministro eletto.
Con luci ella ridenti, ei con accese,
mirano in varii oggetti un solo oggetto:
ella del vetro a sé fa specchio, ed egli
gli occhi di lei sereni a sé fa spegli.


Down by the lovers' side there pendant was
          A crystal mirror, bright, pure, smooth, and neat;
He rose and to his mistress held the glass
          (A noble page grac'd with that service great);
She with glad looks, he with inflam'd (alas!),
          Beauty and love beheld both in one seat;
Yet them in sundry objects each espies,
She in the glass, he saw them in her eyes.

Their love is cupidity by the Augustinian definition, passion moving within the sphere of the self rather than toward God. The narcissism Armida represents is the goal of all unregenerate romance questing.

To retrieve Rinaldo from Armida's enchantment Carlo and Ubaldo have come with another mirror of sorts, a diamond shield. When they hold it up to his eyes, Rinaldo sees himself from another vantage point, that of his epic cause, and is filled with shame (30-31). His recovery is instantaneous and complete (as such moments always are in romance). He comes to his senses like a man waking from sleep (31). The reader cannot help but be struck by the parallelisms between the two states of enchantment and enlightenment. Both the diamond shield of Carlo and Ubaldo and the carved doors of Armida's palace are versions of the same epic symbol, the prophetic shield Vulcan makes for Aeneas in the eighth book of the Aeneid. And both the diamond shield and Armida's eyes are mirrors. The instrument of Rinaldo's recovery is functionally identical to that of his entrapment. But in moral terms the diamond shield and Armida's eyes are diametrically opposed. The shield, the symbol of epic endeavor, of the quest for both the Jerusalem of the poem and the New Jerusalem of Revelation, promotes self-knowledge rather than narcissistic indulgence because for Tasso self-knowledge means knowledge of one's place in God's plan.

Still, the superficial parallelisms between enchantment and enlightenment need to be taken into account. Tasso insists on them. They serve as a reminder that his universe, like Augustine's, is not finally a dualistic one. The desire that Armida stirs in Rinaldo is but a perverse manifestation of the love that God requires of all his creatures; the quasi-eternity of her garden is a parody of the eternity to which all Christian pilgrimage aspires. Tasso insists on showing the resemblance of falseness to truth both to establish the parodic nature of the former and to prepare for the resolution of the conflict between love in its two forms, the conversion of the one into the other.


Having explored the limitations of the pagan view of things, we are now in a position to see how Christian vision overcomes such limitations. The subject is introduced with the voyage of Carlo and Ubaldo, the first chapter in the story of Rinaldo's spiritual regeneration. Carlo and Ubaldo operate as agents of the hermit sage of Ascalona and his female servant, who correspond to Ariosto's Merlin and Melissa. If Armida's enchanted garden represents nature's attempt at simulating paradisal eternity without the sanction of grace, the magic of the old hermit of Ascalona and his sorceress companion is nature operating within its providential context. The hermit is a pagan convert to Christianity, a reminder, as Tasso's Allegoria explains, that “humane wisdome” and “knowledge of the workes of Nature” must proceed finally from “the supernaturall knowledge receiued by Gods grace.” (With characteristic symmetry Tasso makes Ismeno, the principal pagan sorcerer, a lapsed Christian.) He has access to all the secrets of nature, but through divine revelation, to which he has been brought by Piero (the church), he has come to understand the greater mystery that all earthly scientia is superseded and validated by sapientia:

          “Di me medesmo fui pago cotanto,
ch'io stimai già che 'l mio saper misura
certa fosse e infallibile di quanto
può far l'alto Fattor de la natura:
ma quando il vostro Piero al fiume santo
m'asperse il crine, e lavò l'alma impura,
drizzò più su il mio guardo, e 'l fece accorto
ch'ei per sé stesso è tenebroso e corto.”


[“So learned, cunning, wise, myself I thought,
          That I suppos'd my wit so high might climb
To know all things that God had fram'd or wrought,
          Fire, air, sea, earth, man, beast, sprite, place, and time:
But when your hermit me to baptism brought,
          And from my soul had wash'd the sin and crime,
Then I perceiv'd my sight was blindness still:
My wit was folly, ignorance my skill.”]

All power and knowledge, he discovers, derive from God: “He is the architect, the workmen we.” Thus the miracles he performs—walking on water (33) and parting the waters of the river to give Carlo and Ubaldo passage (36)—recapitulate instances in Scripture in which nature accedes to divine purpose.17 The paradox implicit in such maraviglie is that nature remains natural while apparently contradicting its own laws. The hermit's subterranean palace is a wonder constructed without demonic magic (42), and his vault of treasures consists of “riches grown by kind, not fram'd by art” (48). By contrast the enchantments of Armida or Ismeno are art's conspiracy with nature against grace, and thus unnatural.

The hermit of Ascalona equips Carlo and Ubaldo with the implements they will need in rescuing Rinaldo from Armida's island and assigns the sorceress to guide them on their voyage. The voyage (canto 15) makes clear the relation of scientia to sapientia in both spatial and temporal terms. The knights first skirt the impressive Egyptian camp at Gaza, then pass along the northern coast of Africa, studded with the monuments of ancient empires. Among these is Carthage, whose ruins occasion a lament for the mutability of earthly glory:

                    Giace l'alta Cartago; a pena i segni
de l'alte sue ruine il lido serba.
Muoiono le città, muoiono i regni;
copre i fasti e le pompe arena ed erba;
e l'uom d'esser mortal par che si sdegni:
oh nostra mente cupida e superba!


[Great Carthage low in ashes cold doth lie,
          Her ruins poor the herbs in height scant pass;
So cities fall, so perish kingdoms high,
          Their pride and pomp lie hid in sand and grass:
Then why should mortal man repine to die,
          Whose life is air, breath wind, and body glass?]

As the travelers move westward toward the pillars of Hercules, they move backward, at first, in time. (But their journey into the past will bring them to a vision of the future; images of decay will be replaced by images of renewal as the journey progresses.) When they reach the ocean beyond the Mediterranean world they come to the geographical and epistemological limits assigned to the classical world, the point at which “Great Hercules” would have “impal'd / The over-daring wit of mankind vain” (25). Beyond are the Elysian Fields and the Fortunate Isles, of which Armida's island is one. Here, then, are the loci of timelessness in classical myth, and here too is the boundary within which human knowledge, pagan and classical knowledge of nature, is confined. To make the point Tasso alludes to Dante's Ulysses (Inferno 26), who, driven by a desire “to see and know,” ventured beyond the pillars of Hercules only to pass into oblivion (26).

But the present travelers, Carlo and Ubaldo, go beyond the limits fixed by Hercules with a different result since they do so with the advantage of their guide's greater knowledge. They attain something of a critical perspective on classical tradition as they are told that the Fortunate Isles are the stuff of heathen fantasy rather than truth (37). For Carlo and Ubaldo the passage through the pillars now opens a vista into the future as it occasions their guide's prophecy of the voyage of Columbus to the New World (30-32). But Tasso is concerned with more than demythologizing classical legend or asserting the superiority of his age's knowledge of geography. The voyage of Columbus has its place in the tradition of Renaissance millennialism as the fulfillment of eschatological prophecies of the dissemination of God's Word to all nations of the earth in the last age:

For I wil visit their workes, and their imaginations: for it shal come that I wil gather all nations, and tongues, and thei shal come, and se my glorie. … For as the newe heauens, and the newe earth which I wil make, shal remaine before me, saith the Lord, so shal your sede and your name continue.

[Isa. 66.18, 22]18

The Christian reader sees Isaiah's prophecy of the “newe heauens, and the newe earth” fulfilled in John's vision of “a new heauen, and a new earth” in the form of the New Jerusalem in Revelation (21.1-2). The historical Crusaders saw themselves participating in the gathering of nations at the close of world history of which both Isaiah and John speak.19 Renaissance Christian millennialists believed that the New World opened by the voyage of Columbus would be the scene of the apocalyptic gathering of nations.20 In the same vein the guide explains to Carlo and Ubaldo that the divine purpose behind that voyage is to open the remaining regions of the world to receive the Word (29).

Looking back on the journey of Carlo and Ubaldo from Gaza across the Mediterranean to Carthage and to the Fortunate Isles, we now see what had seemed to be regression into the classical past converted to prophecy of the millennium. We are at the point where classical and romance quests are overgone by Christian pilgrimage. A survey of decayed historical empires is replaced with a vision of imperium sine fine in Christian terms, the imperium of the universal church. Ulysses' frustrated desire “to see and know” is answered with an allusion to Revelation.

But as always in literary evocations of apocalyptic finality, the distance between then and now is preserved. When Carlo asks for more specific knowledge of the cultures of the Fortunate Isles, his guide defers to the providential decree that fixes the time of full discovery in the future:

“Ché ancor vòlto non è lo spazio intero
ch'al grande scoprimento ha fisso Dio;
né lece a voi da l'oceán profondo
recar vera notizia al vostro mondo.”


[“Nor yet the time hath Titan's gliding fire
          Mete forth, prefix'd for this discoverment,
Nor is it lawful of the ocean main
That you the secrets known, or known explain.”]

To know of the promised end and to attain it remain different propositions as long as the quester is bound by the laws of time and nature.


As Tasso tells us in the Discorsi, the conversion of romance to epic is a conversion of multiplicity and diversity to coherence and unity. The true Christian epic reveals the order and shape that history assumes when it is understood to be the handiwork of Providence rather than Fortuna. By this definition the Liberata is a Christian epic.

The Liberata can be divided into two movements, one initiated by God as he calls on Goffredo to open the siege of Jerusalem in canto 1, the other initiated by Goffredo as he personally engages in the first assault on the city in canto 11, the poem's midpoint. Goffredo's action is in many respects an echo of the event that Christianity places at the midpoint of human history, the intercession of Christ on man's behalf. Goffredo, we note, enters the field of combat as a common soldier and is wounded. As Christ's descent into the world marks a turning point in universal history, Goffredo's gesture serves as the pivotal event in the battle for Jerusalem. The first ten cantos dramatize the steady deterioration of the moral and political fabric of the Christian camp, while the second ten reveal the process of regeneration. During the first movement the pagan forces approach the peak of their strength, while the principal Christian heroes, Rinaldo among them, desert their cause and disperse throughout the landscape. Beginning with canto 11, however, the double pattern of ascending pagan and declining Christian fortunes is reversed.21

The God of the poem's first half evokes the deity of the Old Testament—commanding but distant, sublime, and incomprehensible to mortals. We are continually made aware of the gulf between heaven and earth, between the celestial region of harmony and pure act and that of imperfect human endeavor (9.56-57). In the first half of the poem the direction of movement between these two planes is downward (the descents of Gabriele in canto 1 and Michele in canto 9), and it is projected from a height that suggests something of God's detachment from the action he has set in motion. The movement of the second half of the poem is ascent, and, instead of angelic emissaries from God, we hear now an appeal for reciprocity voiced by men. Goffredo emerges from his passivity, and the poem enters a phase in which access to divinity is assured through the mediatory agencies of ceremony, prayer, conversion, baptism, repentance, vision, and contemplation. It is in this phase that the propitiatory effect of Christ's incarnation and crucifixion begins to be felt in the narrative.

At the geometrical center of the poem, as Goffredo ascends Mount Olivet in formal procession before his assault on Jerusalem, epic action becomes aware of itself as symbolic, as ritualistic recapitulation of an action that has preceded it. Mount Olivet is a setting whose importance in the Liberata derives from its importance in the Bible, and in Christian messianic tradition in particular. It is the scene, first, of David's exile from Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15.30) and, later, of Christ's triumphal reentry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21.1) in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (Isa. 42.11, Zech. 9.9). The symmetry is, of course, crucial both to the Christian strategy of typological exegesis22 and to Tasso's poem, which finds here its theme and its structure. David is the type, the umbra futurorum of Christ, who in turn transforms the Old Testament ideal of kingship and converts loss to gain. That the Old Testament setting for exile becomes that of Christ's return to Jerusalem signals Christianity's promise of redemption.

Mount Olivet is the scene of two other New Testament events, interrelated by the messianic theme Tasso wishes to invoke. It is the setting for the moment of agony in which Christ reconciles himself to his death in words that inform the concept of chivalric action to which Goffredo's knights are meant to aspire: “Not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26.39). And it is the scene of the Ascension (Acts 1.12), where Christ explicitly refers to himself as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Tasso does not gloss his text with these references but he acknowledges their collective impact in a subtle but direct poetic image. As the Christians climb Olivet and their hymns are returned from the surrounding landscape by Echo, we witness the conversion of classical nature, the spiritualization of a natural world:

E quasi par che boscareccio coro
fra quegli antri si celi e in quelle fronde;
sì chiaramente replicar s'udìa
or di Cristo il gran nome, or di Maria.


[It seem'd some choir that sung with art and skill
          Dwelt in those savage dens and shady ground,
For oft resounded from the banks they hear
The name of Christ and of his mother dear.]

If Goffredo divides the twenty cantos of the epic into two distinct halves, Rinaldo further subdivides the poem into quadrants. He is exiled from the Christian camp in canto 5 for killing Gernando and is restored to the cause by Carlo and Ubaldo in canto 16. His presence in the first and last quarters of the poem ensures Christian ascendancy, while his absence in the second and third allows the pagan heroes Argante, Clorinda, and Solimano to dominate. Through Rinaldo's exile and restoration Tasso projects again the universal paradigm of Fall and Redemption.

Taken canto by canto the Liberata unfolds in a pattern of bilateral or mirror symmetry. Canto 1 contains parallels in theme and subject to canto 20, canto 2 to canto 19, and so forth. The call to arms comes in the first canto; the battle to liberate the city is finally won in the last. In canto 2 the narrative setting shifts from the Christian camp to Jerusalem for the first time; in canto 19 the Christians enter and sack the city. The Egyptian satrap, Argante, is introduced in canto 2 and slain by Tancredi in canto 19. The city is sighted by the Christian army in canto 3, entered in canto 18. Cantos 4 and 17 contain parallel accounts of Armida appealing for aid, first from the Christian camp, then from the pagans. Canto 4 opens with a council in Hell, in which Pluto offers an infernal account of universal history. It is the first, demonic part of an allusion to Aeneas's visionary descent into Avernus (Aen. 6), which is completed in canto 17 when Rinaldo is told of his historical descendants, the princes of the House of Este, Tasso's patrons.

Cantos 5 and 16 are pivotal in their respective halves of the poem since they contain the story of Rinaldo's exile and return. In canto 5 he abandons himself fully to his irascible nature by killing Gernando, and in canto 16 he is released from narcissistic and self-indulgent passion when he sees himself reflected in the diamond shield, the symbol of a higher chivalric purpose. Cantos 6 and 7 withdraw into the uncharted pastoral interior of romance landscape with the adventures of Erminia and Tancredi, while 15 and 14 contain accounts of terrestrial navigation and Goffredo's visionary ascent, both of which provide perspectives for seeing the aimlessness and narrowness of romance. In canto 6 Tancredi is drawn by his misdirected affections away from the field of battle in pursuit of Erminia, whom he supposes to be Clorinda; in canto 15 Carlo and Ubaldo are guided by a prophetess on a mission to release Rinaldo from just such a misdirection of passion, his involvement with Armida, in order to return him to Goffredo. In canto 7 both Erminia and Tancredi are thoroughly immersed (and Tancredi actually imprisoned) in the pastoral world; in canto 14 we see that world from another angle, as Goffredo is transported in a dream to a distance from which terrestrial existence (“this earthly jail”) may be regarded with celestial irony:

“Quanto è vil la cagion ch'a la virtute
umana è colà giù premio e contrasto!
in che picciolo cerchio, e fra che nude
solitudini è stretto il vostro fasto!”


[“How vile, how small, and of how slender price,
          Is there reward of goodness, virtue's gain;
A narrow room our glory vain up-ties,
          A little circle doth our pride contain.”]

In canto 8 a threat to Goffredo's authority arises with the attempted revolt of Argillano and the Italian troops, which Goffredo suppresses with a majestic assertion of his temporal power. In canto 13 Goffredo averts a similar outbreak of dissension by appealing to heaven in prayer. Canto 9 contains the night raid of Solimano against the Christian camp; canto 12 completes the incorporation of this epic allusion (see Iliad 10.299-579, and Aen. 9.176-449) by returning again to a night raid, this time that of Clorinda and Argante against Goffredo's battle tower. This refraction of an episode from classical epic is characteristic of Tasso's allusive technique: it permits the reassessment of a heroic action by the standards of a new code. Thus the dying Clorinda's conversion to Christianity and her baptism serve to answer the question of Nisus, her Virgilian predecessor: “Is it God, Euryalus, that puts this fire in our hearts, or does his own wild longing become to each man a God?” Finally, canto 10 contains the council debate of the pagans and represents the beginning of their demise, and canto 11 contains the ceremonial procession of the Christians to Mount Olivet and the first successful assault on Jerusalem.

This survey by no means exhausts the correlations between the matching cantos of the poem but it should demonstrate the centrality of the theme of redemption. The narrative continually and systematically looks back on itself, and on its classical predecessors, from a position of greater moral awareness. Its symmetry is no mere reflex of a Renaissance sense of proportion but an expression in poetic form of the poem's concept of deliverance.

We may examine the symmetrical unfolding of Tasso's theme in more detail by looking at cantos 3, 8, 13, and 18, the midpoints of the four quarters of the poem. I would like to survey these four cantos in terms of the image each gives us of death. For it is ultimately the awareness of human mortality that prompts both the romance and the Christian imagination, and it is in their respective responses to death that their relationship to each other is defined.


Death enters the poem for the first time in canto 3 with the first skirmish between Christian and pagan forces. The most notable loss on the Christian side is Dudone, Captain of the Adventurers. Dudone's funeral constitutes an allusion to the funeral games in the fifth book of the Aeneid. In contrast to Virgil's ritual, which has sufficient amplitude by itself to mediate between death and sorrow on the one hand and a sense of the continuity of human culture on the other, Dudone's funeral seems at first to elicit only a rather remote consolation:

“E come a nostro pro veduto abbiamo
ch'usavi, uom già mortal, l'arme mortali,
così vederti oprare anco speriamo,
spirto divin, l'arme del Ciel fatali. …”


[“And as in our cause we have seen you,
once a mortal man, use mortal arms,
so now we also hope to see you,
a divine spirit, wield the fateful arms of Heaven. …”]

[My trans.]

So Goffredo prays, and in canto 18 he is granted a vision of Dudone and the “fleshless spirits” (“ignudi spirti”) fighting alongside the living in the decisive battle for Jerusalem. It would be easy to judge Tasso inferior to Virgil here, to see Tasso sadly incapable of bridging in human terms the gulf between present desolation and promised immortality. But in fairness to Tasso it ought to be said that he writes in service to an idealism in which two orders of existence—time and eternity—are separated by a distance not easily traversed.

Immediately after the funeral of Dudone, Goffredo sends his troops to lumber the forest near Jerusalem in order to construct war machines. The image of the forest is introduced without pretensions but its significance greatly expands over the course of the poem. The cutting of trees recalls a motif in the Aeneid into which Virgil condenses the most compelling urges of his poem: the desire to preserve pastoral serenity, stability, and timelessness and the antithetical impulse to build, to erect monuments to epic enterprise. Tasso's forest is a terrestrial metaphor (like that in which the Red Cross Knight and Una take refuge in the beginning of The Faerie Queene) laden with potential drama and pageantry. But the felling of timber is an act charged with tension:

          L'un l'altro essorta che le piante atterri,
e faccia al bosco inusitati oltraggi.
Caggion recise da taglienti ferri
le sacre palme, e i frassini selvaggi;
i funebri cipressi, e i pini, e i cerri,
l'elci frondose, e gli alti abeti, e i faggi,
gli olmi mariti, a cui talor s'appoggia
la vite, e con piè torto al ciel sen poggia.


          [One exhorts the other to fell the plants
and do unwonted outrage to the trees.
They fall, hewn by the sharp iron,
the sacred palms and the wild ashes,
the funereal cypresses, the pines, the turkey oaks,
the leafy holm-oaks, the lofty firs, the beeches,
and the husband elms to which sometimes the vine
clings and climbs toward heaven with its twisted foot.]

[My trans.]

The strident rhythms of epic activity overlie an elegiac sense of remorse. Tasso extends to this image the impact of Dudone's death and funeral: it is an image of the world in the shadow of mortality.

The important eighth canto raises again the issue of the death of a Christian hero. The stated subject of the canto is the fall of Sveno the Dane, whose arrival at the Christian camp has been anticipated since canto 1. That Sveno has been awaited so long, that he never actually arrives, and that his death is reported only at second hand, by a witness whose own perceptions are more nearly a matter of faith than of experience (8.27-42), are matters indicative of Tasso's deeper theme. It concerns the nature of testimony itself and the feelings of uncertainty, exclusion, and frustration that attend any human perception of mystery. The witness speaks of having been miraculously healed by holy hermits:

                    “Stupido lor riguardo, e non ben crede
l'anima sbigottita il certo e il vero;
onde l'un d'essi a me: ‘Di poca fede,
che dubbii? o che vaneggia il tuo pensiero?’”


                    [“I gaz'd on them like one whose heart denaith
          To think that done he sees so strangely wrought;
Till one said thus: ‘O thou of little faith,
          What doubts perplex thy unbelieving thought?’”]

Witness, evidence, language, signs, dreams, revelation, and the problem of their authentication are the real subjects of this canto. The reported death of Sveno has a false parallel in the specious report of the death of Rinaldo, which stirs up a crisis in the Christian camp. Argillano, provoked by rumors and false dreams sent by Alecto, accuses Goffredo of Rinaldo's murder and starts a rebellion against the Christian leader. Alecto, the malignant genius of the canto, triumphs, although her success in distorting truth testifies more to the depravity of human perception than to the power of a demonic being.

The account of Rinaldo's “death” is a catalogue of the fallacies to which romance perception is susceptible. The story of Sveno's death portends a tragedy that the discovery of Rinaldo's battered armor beside a headless and mutilated corpse seems to confirm, as a “diverse and uncertain rumor” (“un rumor vario e incerto”) begins to spread. Again we find ourselves two or three removes from the event as the discovery of the body is related by Aliprando, who must himself interpolate from the testimony of a young shepherd:

          “Uscir de la foresta
scòrse molti guerrieri, onde ei s'ascose;
e ch'un d'essi tenea recisa testa
per le sue chiome bionde e sanguinose,
la qual gli parve, rimirando intento,
d'uom giovenetto, e senza peli al mento.”


          [“He saw repair
          A band of soldiers from that forest's shade,
Of whom one carried by the golden hair
          A head but late cut off with murd'ring blade;
The face was fair and young, and on the chin
No sign of beard to bud did yet begin.”]

Romance, which experiences the phenomenal world as an impediment to the search for truths, is made to confront its own deficiencies: clues are misread, identities mistaken, and unreliable witnesses believed. The “evidence” is finally assembled, with Alecto's help, in Argillano's dream:

                    Gli figura un gran busto, ond'è diviso
il capo, e de la destra il braccio è mozzo;
e sostien con la manca il teschio inciso,
di sangue e di pallor livido e sozzo.
Spira, e parla spirando il morto viso;
e 'l parlar vien co 'l sangue e co 'l singhiozzo:
“Fuggi, Argillan; non vedi omai la luce?
fuggi le tende infami e l'empio duce.”


          [She showed him a great torso from which the head
was sundered, and the right hand lopped off;
and with the left hand it held the severed skull,
filthy and livid with blood and pallor.
It breathed, and breathing the dead visage spoke;
the words came with blood and sobs:
“Flee, Argillano. Can you not see the light by now?
Flee the wicked tents and the impious leader.”]

[My trans.]

Visual misapprehension leads to moral error, and Argillano sounds an open challenge to Goffredo's authority. In terms conspicuously close to those of the advocates of the Reformation, Argillano inveighs against the faithlessness, arrogance, materialism, and ambition of Goffredo (a distinct misrepresentation of his motives as they are disclosed in 1.8) and claims for himself a personal, unauthorized insight into the truth of things. Tasso subtly satirizes the importunity and frustration produced by Argillano's personal “revelation”:

“Io 'l vidi; e non fu sogno, e, ovunque or miri,
par che dinanzi a gli occhi miei s'aggiri.”


[“I saw it was no dream before mine eyes,
Howe'er I look, still, still methinks it flies.”]

Tasso's general theme is the abuse of language and vision but the canto contains a more specific injunction against the typical obscurity of romance imagination, here implicitly associated with heresy, the abuse of the Word. In both contexts we are meant to see the poverty of the human intellect when it applies itself to spiritual matters. This is Tasso in his role as spokesman for the Counter-Reformation. At best it might be said that the romance poet experiences many of the same constraints felt by the Christian visionary: a sense of privation and distance, an awareness of being twice removed from an original event, and a need for at least symbolic assurances. But the frustration of the romance poet, Tasso would contend, is far greater and it deepens finally into despair.

In a sense this canto describes an inversion of Tasso's plan to show romance enchantment and magic completed in Christian mystery. Argillano leads us in the opposite direction: miracle is reduced to enigma and error, mystery to romance obfuscation, and Christian revelation to the nightmare of a perturbed and rebellious imagination. To see this in perspective, contrast Argillano's dream with its intended counterpart in canto 18: Argillano's vision of Rinaldo's dismembered corpse is a grotesque, demonic parody of Rinaldo's (and Christ's) transfiguration by grace. A vision of wholeness and holiness is perversely foreshadowed in canto 8 by one of mutilation and death.

Tasso returns to the locale of the woods near Jerusalem in canto 13, this time letting us feel the full impact of its unregenerate nature. The pagan sorcerer Ismeno enchants the forest to prevent the Christians from using it to construct more engines of war. The spell that Ismeno casts is an appropriation by romance convention of a landscape familiar from Dante, an image of the world unredeemed from sin and death. Each Christian hero venturing there encounters a phantom of the anguish or the allure to which he is most susceptible (recall Atlante's enchanted palace in Orlando Furioso) and returns to the camp defeated, as it were, by himself. Thus Tancredi strikes a tree with his sword and finds that it embodies the spirit of Clorinda, whom he mistakenly killed in the previous canto; he is made to relive his moment of pathos (13.41-46). Tancredi—“weak in love” (“fievole in amore”)—can neither reconcile himself to the death of his lover nor prevail against his own concupiscible passion so long as his love is not directed, as all chivalric energy ought to be, toward God.

It may be inferred from the nature of the enchanted woods that what the chivalric romance heroes lack is the axis on which existential dichotomies ought finally to be aligned: the distinctions between spirit and flesh, illusion and reality, death and life are everywhere collapsed. Clorinda informs Tancredi that she is imprisoned by enchantment in the form of a tree: “I know not whether I should say in the body or in the grave.” And Tancredi requires a reminder to the effect that “Those who are living should not make war with the dead.” The wood first encountered in canto 3 is now an environment of both ontological and spiritual confusion, a region of death-in-life where trees gush blood and the wind moans in human ululation. Romance imagination has intensified the ambivalence implicit in Tasso's first description of the forest (3.75-76).

Dantesque echoes are audible throughout this canto but they are heard in the narrower, disordered space of romance convention. From these enchanted woods there is as yet no access to Christian cosmology. Mysteries cannot be traced to a divine source but are presented as opaque and awesome maraviglie. The romance conventions employed in this canto (enchantment, transformation, illusion) are themselves in need of some kind of verification. It is the need to which Tasso addresses himself in the Discorsi when he argues for the theoretical compatibility of maraviglia and verisimilitudine.

If romance marvels are made credible on being converted into Christian mysteries, Tasso accomplishes this in canto 18. Rinaldo is sent to break the enchantment of the woods and succeeds, not by virtue of his superior strength or his reason but by an appeal to the greater miracle of grace:

“Padre e Signor; e in me tua grazia piovi,
sì che il mio vecchio Adam purghi e rinovi.”


[“Father and Lord, pour your grace into me
so that my old Adam is purged and renewed.”]

[My trans.]

Once again the setting is Mount Olivet, and again the narrative consciously imitates an event from Christian scripture. Rinaldo, like Christ before him, is transfigured:

          La rugiada del ciel su le sue spoglie
cade, che parean cenere al colore;
e sì l'asperge, che 'l pallor ne toglie
e induce in esse un lucido candore;
tal rabbellisce le smarrite foglie
a i matutini geli arido fiore;
e tal di vaga gioventù ritorna
lieto il serpente, e di nov'òr s'adorna.


          [The heav'nly dew was on his garments spread,
          To which compar'd his clothes pale ashes seen,
And sprinkled so that all that paleness fled,
          And thence of purest white bright rays out-stream.
So cheered are the flow'rs, late withered,
          With the sweet comfort of the morning beam;
And so, return'd to youth, a serpent old
Adorns herself in new and native gold.]

Tasso's simile extends to nature (to fallen nature, as the Edenic serpent suggests) the transfiguring and renewing power of grace. We recall the perpetual twilight, the “everlasting night” of the enchanted woods (13.2), while from Mount Olivet we are offered a new vision, the sight of darkness dividing from light in a dawn that permits us a glimpse of the cosmic plan:

                    Era ne la stagion ch'anco non cede
libero ogni confin la notte al giorno,
ma l'orïente rosseggiar si vede,
ed anco è il ciel d'alcuna stella adorno;
quando ei drizzò vêr l'Oliveto il piede,
con gli occhi alzati contemplando intorno
quinci notturne e quindi matutine
bellezze incorruttibili e divine.
                    Fra sé stesso pensava: oh quanto belle
luci il tempio celeste in sé raguna!
Ha il suo gran carro il dì; l'aurate stelle
spiega la notte e l'argentata luna:
ma non è chi vagheggi o questa o quelle;
e miriam noi torbida luce e bruna,
ch'un girar d'occhi, un balenar di riso
scopre in breve confin di fragil viso.


It was the time when 'gainst the breaking day
          Rebellious night yet strove, and still repined;
For in the east appear'd the morning grey,
          And yet some lamps in Jove's high palace shined;
When to mount Olivet he took his way,
          And saw (as round about his eyes he twined)
Night's shadows hence, from thence the morning's shine;
This bright, that dark; that earthly, this divine.
Thus to himself he thought: how many bright
          And splendid lamps shine in heav'n's temple high;
Day hath his golden sun, her moon the night,
          Her fix'd and wand'ring stars the azure sky;
So framed all by their Creator's might,
          That still they live and shine, and ne'er shall die,
Till (in a moment) with the last day's brand
They burn, and with them burns sea, air, and land.

Dawn, spring, dew, and sunlight are all clearly symbolic of Christian spiritual renewal; sunset is a daily reminder of the inevitability of the Apocalypse. But the orderly diurnal and seasonal motions of celestial bodies are palpable, natural events as well. The moment of spiritual renewal has signaled a return to the world of natural processes from that of romance illusion.

From Mount Olivet Rinaldo descends into the enchanted woods, which we now understand as a false parallel to the “marvelous domain of God called the world” (“mirabile magisterio di Dio,” Discourses, p. 77). Enchanted nature imitates the miracle of regeneration but without attaining to its higher significance:

E sovra e intorno a lui la selva annosa
tutte parea ringiovenir le foglie:
s'ammolliscon le scorze, e si rinverde
più lietamente in ogni pianta il verde.


Above and around him, all the ancient wood
seemed to rejuvenate its leaves:
the bark softened, and every plant
more happily took on a new green.

[My trans.]

“Seemed” in this passage is a deliberate qualification, implying moral as well as phenomenological uncertainty. Rinaldo encounters here the phantom of his own previous delinquency, Armida, encased in what appears to be (but is not) a myrtle. This is Ovidian nature, a region of metamorphosis and transformation but not of transfiguration in the sense that Rinaldo has experienced it. Divinity is revealed only in a theatrical and artificial sense: sylvan goddesses appear “as the theater shows them, or as we sometimes see in paintings.” Rinaldo remains a silent observer, curious and surprised by what he sees but essentially detached. His spiritual awakening has given him the distance that enables him to cut down the myrtle and end the enchantment of the woods (his false love for Armida, his self-love, the sensuous world).

We may be inclined to object that Tasso sacrifices dramatic realism to moralism at this point, but Rinaldo's act is more than a sudden reflex of moralistic revulsion. This episode is the culmination of a sequence that properly includes Dudone's death and promised resurrection in canto 3, the first foray into the woods, the demonic parody of transfiguration in Argillano's vision of Rinaldo's mutilated corpse in canto 8, and Clorinda's transformation in canto 13. This sequence, taken in its entirety, represents Tasso's attempt to close the distance between the temporal and eternal worlds that opened in our first encounter with death. Rinaldo finally succeeds in placing death (along with the illusions and anxieties associated with it) in perspective. We now see nature restored to its proper status:

non d'incanti terrible, né lieta;
piena d'orror, ma de l'orror innato.


neither with dreadful magic nor with gladness;
full of horror, but of natural horror.

[My trans.]

The gothic distortions of romance magic are dispelled in the clarifying light of Christian revelation.

We are restored to reality by Christian miracle, Tasso maintains, because this miracle affirms the principle by which the world is ordered and moved. It is this belief on which Tasso bases his claim to be at once a Christian poet and an epic poet. The visionary moment does not so much call the hero out of the world of time as permit him to enter it heroically. He attains the serenity that allows him to confront the world's agonistic dimension. He sees the world's “horror” as natural. Death has its place in the scheme of things. Thus Rinaldo emerges from the false, interior world of the self into the world of human history. He moves toward Jerusalem for the first time.

It is the apparent abruptness of transitions like that of Rinaldo's transfiguration—and later that of Armida's conversion—that bothers most of Tasso's readers.23 If seeing such changes in terms of the poem's larger pattern partly alters our view of them, it does not make them dramatically convincing. For it is not in the nature of the spiritual transformations with which Tasso presents us to be gradual. They do not permit dramatization. Drama belongs rather to romance, that view of the world as a struggle between diverse and equally powerful forces. Romance is the soul divided against itself, projecting its divisions onto the world. It is Tasso's purpose to expose all such discord as illusory. The transformations undergone by Rinaldo and Armida are necessarily sudden because they are perceptual changes, changes in the perception of change itself. Such changes subsume all psychological issues.

Rinaldo's transfiguration allows us in retrospect to see Argillano's dream vision of Rinaldo's dismembered corpse as parodic. Argillano's vision gives us an anatomy of the romance imagination. Its images are fragmentary, insubstantial, and horrific since they are projected from what is essentially a divisive, anarchistic, and heretical mind. The enchanted woods of canto 13 provide another insight into the nature of romance. In this canto, where Tancredi encounters Clorinda in her state of Ovidian transformation, we see that romance enchantment derives its power from the hero's own inability to accept death's finality. In a sense this longing to circumvent the limits of mortality is analogous to the yearning of the Christian pilgrim for eternity. But it is a false eternity to which the romance imagination finally leads us. Romance gives us an image of humanity undying though dead, whereas Christianity offers a vision of death engaged and transcended and thus breaks the enchanted circle.

Epic action takes place in the world of human history. Tasso's position is that a Christian epic is possible because Christianity provides access to that world. In practice, however, Tasso is less inclined than either Ariosto or Spenser to dwell on the image of an earthly imperium even as it might finally, in its restored condition, constitute a reflection of the heavenly city. Tasso concludes his poem with a glimpse of Goffredo, still in his bloody armor, hastening through conquered Jerusalem to the temple, scarcely pausing to contemplate his victory before launching his soul toward the New Jerusalem in prayer (20.144). It is evening but an evening that resonates with apocalyptic overtones. (We recall Rinaldo's meditation on the sun, moon, and stars from the top of Mount Olivet in canto 18: “still they live and shine, and ne'er shall die / Till [in a moment] with the last day's brand / They burn, and with them burns sea, air, and land.”) The ending of Tasso's poem is a reminder that all heroic actions, all human efforts to build or to redeem cities, are but interludes in the larger sweep of history beginning with the Fall and ending with the Apocalypse. Ariosto and Spenser too are aware that specific epic actions are circumscribed by universal history, that the dynasties they celebrate are only images of a greater end, but at the same time they give more scope to the present moment than does Tasso. Ariosto celebrates a marriage, Spenser a betrothal (FQ 1.12), but Tasso relegates the equivalent event in his poem, the union of Rinaldo and Armida, to an offstage future (thereby maintaining the analogy between such events and those of Revelation). Both Ariosto and Spenser make us feel more keenly than does Tasso the reality of the cities in which dynastic ceremonies take place.

Tasso, moreover, shows little interest in playing the part of the dynastic chronicler. After all, he has chosen as the focus of his epic a city with moral but not, in any limited sense, historical connections to his Ferrara. He seems, in fact, reluctant to immerse himself in the chain of events that links his narrative present and his contemporary world even where literary convention would seem to require that he do so. His imitation of Virgil's description of Vulcan's shield is a case in point. It is one of only two instances in the Liberata in which Tasso interrupts his text with dynastic prophecy.24 Furthermore, Rinaldo's shield (canto 17) depicts only his ancestors, his past. Of the narrative future, the bridge to Tasso's present, the hermit is hesitant to speak:

          “Ma l'arte mia per sé dentro al futuro
non scorge il ver che troppo occulto giace,
se non caliginoso e dubbio e scuro,
quasi lunge, per nebbia, incerta face.”


[“But not by art or skill of things future
          Can the plain truth revealed be and told,
Although some knowledge doubtful, dark, obscure,
          We have of coming haps in clouds up-roll'd.”]

From the obscurity that is his future the hermit singles out for specific mention only Alfonso II, the ruler of Tasso's Ferrara. In his encomium Tasso alludes briefly and in a general way to Alfonso's ability to execute justice and to his patronage of the arts (92), but it is clear from the lack of emphasis given to these civic virtues that they are for Tasso secondary considerations. It is as if the preservation and government of historical Ferrara were for Tasso intermediate concerns. He finds his full voice only when he projects an image of Alfonso as a militant champion of what one suspects is a Counter-Reformation orthodoxy:

          “Oh s'avvenisse mai che contra gli empi
che tutte infesteran le terre e i mari,
e de la pace in quei miseri tempi
daran le leggi a i popoli più chiari,
duce sen gisse a vendicare i tempî
da lor distrutti, e i vïolati altari:
qual ei giusta faria grave vendetta
su 'l gran tiranno e su l'iniqua setta!”


“But if it hap, against those wicked bands
          That sea and earth infest with blood and war,
And in these wretched times to noble lands
          Give laws of peace false and unjust that are,
That he be sent to drive their guilty hands
          From Christ's pure altars and high temples far;
O what revenge, what vengeance shall he bring
On that false sect and their accursed king!”

Thus does Tasso urge Alfonso to be another Goffredo and so to continue in the spirit of the First Crusade to chasten paganism and heresy. In effect, Tasso urges his readers to accept the invisible reality of the New Jerusalem as more relevant to us as humans than the visible reality of Ferrara. The images of Alfonso and Ferrara quickly fade to reveal those of the Christian warrior and the City of God behind them. Tasso, like his Goffredo, is always impatient to contemplate the quo tendis, the anagogical and eschatological implications of things.


  1. Tasso's lord and patron was Alfonso II (1533-97), fifth Duke of Ferrara, grandson of Alfonso I, and son of Ercole II. For background on Tasso's life, see C. P. Brand, Torquato Tasso (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), and A. Solerti, Vita di Torquato Tasso (Turin, Rome: E. Loescher, 1895).

  2. Tasso, Discorsi del Poema Eroico, III (to be discussed below).

  3. Ibid. The text to which I shall refer throughout this chapter is Discourses on the Heroic Poem, trans. Mariella Cavalchini and Irene Samuel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973). Hereafter page numbers from this translation will be given in the text of the chapter. On unity of epic action, see pp. 65-68.

  4. Tasso's Allegoria della G. L. appeared in the first Bonná edition (1581). The English translation appears in the first edition of Fairfax's translation of the poem (1600).

  5. See A. Bartlett Giamatti, “Spenser: From Magic to Miracle,” Four Essays on Romance, ed. Herschel Baker (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 15-31. Giamatti argues that romance has a visionary dimension, “an impulse to reveal divinity” (p. 17), and that this impulse is completed in Christian revelation.

  6. On the impact of the Pazzi translation of the Poetics (1536) on Italian literary criticism, see Bernard Weinberg, A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance, I.371-73. On the general importance of the rediscovery of the Poetics, see pp. 349-423. For a discussion of the Christianization of classical poetic theory among Tasso's predecessors and contemporaries, see “Platonism: Triumph of Christianity,” ibid., pp. 297-348. On Tasso's synthesis of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic thought in the Discorsi, see Annabel M. Patterson, “Tasso's Epic Neoplatonism: The Growth of his Epic Theory,” Studies in the Renaissance, 18 (1971), 105-33.

  7. For general commentary on Tasso's epic theory see Ettorre Mazzali, Cultura e poesia nell'opera di Torquato Tasso (Bologna: Cappelli, 1957); B. T. Sozzi, “La Poetica di Tasso,” Studi Tassiani, 5 (1955), 3-58; Weinberg, History; and Baxter Hathaway, The Age of Criticism.

  8. Tasso's Discorsi del Poema Eroico evolve from the earlier Discorsi dell'Arte Poetica (as early as 1561-62, as late as 1567-70), which were written after Rinaldo and during the period Tasso was at work on the Liberata. Tasso's revision of the Discorsi did not get under way until after the completion of the Liberata (1575), probably in 1587, when he saw the published text of the Discorsi, although he had contemplated revisions as early as 1574. The Discorsi del Poema Eroico may thus be considered prefatory to Gerusalemme Conquistata, the revised version of the Liberata. But they can also justifiably be studied as a postscript to the poem he had just completed, first simply because they are his fullest mature statement on epic theory, and second because they are theoretically harmonious with the Liberata. They continue to argue for the inclusion of romance elements within a Christian epic (a point on which Tasso's revisions in the Conquistata show him becoming nervous). Indeed, the Discorsi are written in defense of the Liberata against Gonzaga, Speroni, and others who criticized its moral and stylistic impurity. The Discorsi were published along with a collection of letters (Lettere Poetiche) written in the same spirit (see Mariella Cavalchini, intro., Discourses, pp. xi-xx).

  9. Tasso's use of the Platonic hierarchy of faculties as a structuring principle in the Liberata is explained in the Allegoria:

    Godfrey which holdeth the principall place in this storie, is no other in the Allegorie but the Vnderstanding. … Rinaldo, which in action is in the second degree of honour, ought also to be placed in the Allegorie in the answerable degree: but what this power of the mind, holding the second degree of dignitie is, shall be nowe manifested. The Irefull vertue is that, which amongst all the powers of the minde, is lesse estranged from the nobility of the soule, insomuch that Plato (doubting) seeketh whether it differeth from reason or no. … But when it doth not obey Reason, but suffers it selfe to be carried of her own violence, it falleth out, that it fighteth not against concupiscence, but by concupiscence, like a dogge that biteth not the theeues, but the cattle committed to his keeping.

    On the arrangement of the principal heroes of the Christian army in the Liberata according to a Neoplatonic hierarchy of virtues, see Greene, Descent from Heaven, p. 211.

  10. On Tasso's response to Mazzoni's Platonism, see Hathaway, Age of Criticism, pp. 390-96.

  11. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy book 3, prose 11; Augustine, Soliloquies 1.1-4. In each case the Christian thinker assimilates Platonic or Plotinian notions of unity, truth, and goodness.

  12. Consolation 3.11.

  13. For a contrasting view of romance, see that of Giraldi, summarized in Weinberg, p. 438. Giraldi argues that romance may be considered a separate genre from epic and is thus not subject to the same requirements.

  14. This basic attitude of inclusiveness is evident in the Allegoria:

    The reasonable part ought not (for heerein the Stoiks were very much deceiued) to exclude the Irefull from actions, nor vsurpe the offices thereof, for this vsurpation shoulde bee against nature and iustice, but it ought to make her her companion and handmaid: So ought not Godfrey to attempt the aduenture of the wood himselfe, thereby arrogating to himselfe the other offices belonging to Reinaldo.

  15. All citations from the Liberata are from Opere di Torquato Tasso, ed. Bortolo T. Sozzi, 3d ed. (Torino: UTET, 1974), vol I. The English translation is mine. Unless otherwise noted, the translation used hereafter is that of Edward Fairfax, Jerusalem Delivered, ed. John Charles Nelson.

  16. See A. Bartlett Giamatti, The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic, pp. 199-210.

  17. Matt. 14.26; Exod. 14.21.

  18. In addition to Isa. 66.18 and 22, see Isa. 11.12, Mic. 4, and Rev. 7.9.

  19. For a further discussion, see Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957; rpt. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961), pp. 44-45.

  20. John Leddy Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World, 2d ed., rev. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), pp. 17-28, 72-73.

  21. On Tasso's recommendation of double peripeteia for epic plots, see Discourses, pp. 79-80.

  22. For a further discussion of typology and its applications to the Liberata, see Thomas P. Roche, Jr., “Tasso's Enchanted Woods,” Literary Uses of Typology, ed. Earl Miner (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 49-78.

  23. See, for example, Greene, p. 213, and Giamatti, who winces when Armida suddenly and completely submits to Rinaldo's demand that she forsake paganism (p. 209). “Indeed, there is something desperate here in Tasso's effort to bring Armida into line with Christianity. The shift implied by these words is too great, and we are finally unconvinced of Armida's redemption. The inner conflicts which were dramatized so beautifully in the garden remain to haunt the poem” (pp. 209-10). Giamatti rightly rejects the readings of those who would suggest that Tasso is “more of Armida's party than God's” but then offers that Tasso's problem “was simply that he could see no way of radically reconciling the two” (p. 209). The point, however, is that for Tasso no such reconciliation is required (see Roche, pp. 69-72). Conversion as Tasso conceives it does not take place on a middle ground. Here dramatic imperatives must give way to moral ones. Once again, as in the case of Ruggiero's baptism and conversion in Orlando Furioso, it is appropriate, I think, to invoke Augustinian doctrine: To admit the necessity of accommodating Armida's former self in the moment of her conversion is implicitly to admit something like the fallacy of Manichaean dualism, the assumption that the universe contains two antagonistic realities or substances, both of which have parts to play in shaping human nature. But for Augustine, Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser there is but one order of reality. The sudden discontinuities we observe in the characters of Renaissance epic must be understood, as Michael Murrin notes in a discussion of Spenser, in the context of Pauline spiritual rebirth (Allegorical Epic, p. 149).

  24. The other comes at the end of canto 10, where Piero speaks in general terms of a future era of cooperation between the descendants of Rinaldo and the church.

James T. Chiampi (essay date 1987)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7096

SOURCE: Chiampi, James T. “Tasso's Deconstructive Angel and the Figuration of Light in the Gerusalemme Liberata.Stanford Italian Review 7, nos. 1-2 (1987): 111-27.

[In the following essay, Chiampi maintains that Gerusalemme Liberata “is at constant pains to foreground its concern with unity, transparency, and univocal conformity” to an unchanging truth.]

At the beginning of book two of the Discorsi del poema eroico, after establishing that the dignity of man arises from his capacity for intellectual choice, Tasso digresses on its virtue, prudence:

Ma qual'è più incerta, quale più instabile, quale più incostante della materia [della poesia]. Prudentissimo, dunque, conviene che sia colui il quale non s'inganni nello scegliere dove è tanta mutazione e tanta incostanza di cose: e la materia [della poesia] è simile ad una selva oscura, tenebrosa e priva d'ogni luce. La onde se l'arte non l'illumina, altri errarebbe senza scorta, e sceglierebbe peraventura il peggio in cambio del meglio. Ma l'arte distingue fra le cose disposte a ricever la forma, e quelle che non sono disposte.1

Tasso figures the matter of his epic poem with traditional epic imagery: matter is a selva oscura through which art must serve as guide. He understands the informing act of writing as a critical one whose nature is moralistic: art must make the good come to light, and show evil in the darkness of privation. Put another way, Tasso understands his task agonistically as the struggle between two Manichaean forces of discourse, a force of matter which must be suppressed by the overwhelming force of form whose instrument is light. The terms of this struggle suggest an ideal epic which would be composed of utterly univocal meanings which could be made completely explicit to the gaze of a transparent consciousness. Each of those meanings would be held tightly to its signifier by a powerful and univocal bond of light. To vary the simile: this limpid art, like Dante's Virgil, would lead the wandering pilgrim-artist home past every snare to his attention, that is, past every snare to his will. The act of composition—a reducing of the world to an ontologically privileged clarity—thus becomes a species of epic activity, and at the same time adds a dimension to the meaning of the poem, for the events of the epic come to stand in a relationship of analogy to its composition. Indeed, we could say that Tasso's poem is a twice written epic, an epic undertaking of epic, wherein the narrative glosses the act of writing.

Tasso's fastidiousness toward whatever remains unformed by art is a pronounced Virgilian and Neoplatonic fastidiousness of a kind familiar both from epic poetry and from its criticism: it can be found in the sixth book of the Aeneid and in its commentary by Bernardus Silvestris who glossed Virgil's silva as opaque materiality—the hyle—lowest hypostasis of being in Neoplatonic metaphysics.2 As both critic and guide, Tasso fears that the matter of poetry will become the occasion of wandering, of errare as error; hence, he sees matter as the realm of his anguish, the arena of those hateful contraries that must be repressed. It is as though in the act of writing, the poet joins Tancredi in the wood. And in that place of dark and terrible dreams, Tasso will take up art as his protection, for it is the agent of both repression and guidance. Art's protective activity is reductive: if it is to illuminate the region of unlikeness which is this world and lead reader and poet home to the good, then art must make matter transparent to its telos. By further implication, it is the essence of art's guidance to fashion signs out of brute matter, signs which will point the way toward home and rest. Tasso chooses light as his metaphor for the establishment of this sign function; darkness for its failure. On account of its relation to the sign and to a teleology, light means form and ultimately presence: poetry opposes it with the threat of amorphousness, the state of poetry which has failed to transcend self-referentiality to achieve the status of sign. In other words, the deformed poem is one which has failed to locate a world that transcends it ontologically.3

Deformatio has a double aspect: on the one hand, it describes a text which has failed in its semiotic task. On the other, it describes the unlikeness to God that arises from alienation from Him in sin. Or, in terms that bind art to the Christian notion of man, deformity is man's failure as imago to resemble and, by means of resemblance, arrive at Pure Form. To the degree that poetry remains self-referential, refusing to submit itself to mastery by form, it refuses the beckoning of grace, and to refuse grace is, finally, to choose exile. The consequence of such an aversio is that rebel matter declines from form to amorphousness and to sin; it slides (labitur) from being toward nonentity. The recalcitrance of matter prevents Tasso from justifying convincingly poetic form which by its very nature impedes the movement of the mind to reassuring clarity. As a poet haunted by the specter of a pure language, Tasso must set himself the task of mastering the tropology of matter and of reducing it to the univocal, the transparent, the bright. Form must brake the force of poetry: only univocity can conjure away the threats of errancy, scandal, and schism, because only univocity can guarantee that the correct word will be subservient to a just will. Put another way, the sign must mark out a path through dense matter in order that the gaze might return to the impeccable thought and just intention that preceded his writing; to one as obsessive as Tasso, clarity and univocity exculpate. Even though all this must be forged from rhetoric, Tasso knows that rhetoric is duplicitous. Throughout the Discorsi, Tasso is at pains to protect poetry from the art of Plato's sophist, so he lodges poetry with rhetoric under the rubric of dialectic. Nevertheless, as we shall see, poetry is destabilized by that collection, for rhetoric gives rise to a danger well expressed by Paul de Man: “Rhetoric radically suspends logic and opens up vertiginous possibilities of referential aberration.”4

Like Dante, Tasso could be called a poet of logocentricism—what Jacques Derrida regards as the central illusion of western metaphysics—the conjoint notions that a relationship of perfect transparency exists between the signified and its derived and secondary signifier and that a structure of intelligibility radiates meaning to the secondary and derived.5 Tasso's logocentrism forms both his subject and strategy in the Gerusalemme liberata: his epic is at constant pains to foreground its concern with unity, transparency, and univocal conformity to a truth that exists fully formed before its inscription in a text; a truth that rests in the serene fullness of self-reference.6 The epic foregrounds as well its yearning for the status of the sign: for example, semiotic ambitions create the Tassian subject, a subject whose moment of moral awakening occurs when he acknowledges a yearning for transparency. To be a self-conscious image is to enjoy perfect integrity, for by accepting the secondary and derived status of the sign, the Tassian subject annihilates—in the spirit of St. Bernard in De diligendo Deo—the dark, isolated self and becomes the most pristine medium of light. Tasso's manifold semiotics comprehends semantic, spiritual, and (with respect to the army) political concerns. The cost of this subjection is the repression of difference, but as I shall show, the Gerusalemme thematizes what cannot be present in its fullness by relegating it to the status of evil, utter privation, in the episode of the demonic council of canto 4. I shall use the term “difference” to refer to all those ways in which the army is dispersed, deferred, and delayed in its movement toward its final identity. Tasso's demons are the agents of difference, embodying all that cannot achieve presence in God, the Alpha and Omega; they are, as we shall see, the avatar of self-reference and as such the deconstruction of Tasso's metaphysics of light. Their nature speaks to Tasso's major concern, the creation of a text that can master its own tropology and represent that victory in the play of light.

Tasso's task of illumination arises in part from the epistemology of Christian epic. The Christian epic posits the vision of God in which man can participate by perfect love guided by intelligence. This view from above and from the end of history is necessarily univocal, because there can be no ambiguity to a subject that knows all in God; to what is, for all intents and purposes, an infinite subject. The moment the epic postulates such a transcendent goal, it emits signs and sets the gaze in motion toward its own perfection. Indeed, at the moment the poem postulates a climax in fullness of vision, it directs the gaze beyond the world, because the world has, by that very promise of vision, been itself reduced to sign—that is, to the secondary and derivative—and consequently to emptiness. When this structure announces itself, the events of the narrative require that the reader construe them in relationship to the fullness of time when time itself will be abolished. That moment is the true and final ending that by a gesture of prolepsis offers meaning to the whole. Tasso's storicizzazione has its eye to such a totality, to the last things, when both imago and vestigium are joined to the res and the motion of signification ceases, leaving only the res in their fullness.7 He renders this figura of apocalypse by reducing the Christian army to the scriptural, to a text made to the image and likeness of God. The object of the narration then is itself a metaphor for which any relation or character can be a synecdoche.

The reduction of the army to order is its reduction to transparency; the army is the signifier (“santi segni”) of which Goffredo's reformed will is the signified. Goffredo “sotto a i santi / segni ridusse i suoi compagni errante” (1.1); he had done this once before: “E fra le genti debellate e dome / stese l'insegne sue vittrici e 'l nome” (1.21).8 The proper name which Goffredo establishes by subjugation to the “insegne” marks a will which now looks to God as its highest object; his army is similarly a species of writing. In this Tasso rehearses Dante's gesture in the Paradiso whereby he had the souls of the just spell out the words “Diligite Iustitiam Qui Iudicatis Terram” (Paradiso 18.91-93).9 That is, in Paradise the reformed (or justified) soul is as perfectly conformed to God as the letter is conformed to the voice. Such conformity is the issue of the union of the imago Dei, man/womankind, with the Exemplar. It is at the same time the inscription of the imago Dei in the Book of God, where it enjoys a perfect scriptural existence fulfilling the totality of the New Testament in the perfect Word. In this way, God rewards the existent that loves Him with perfect knowing—perfect presence—in a state of ecstasy. Union is the apocalypse of spiritual resemblance between imago and Exemplar: “Più l'è conforme, e però più le piace; / ché l'ardor santo ch'ogne cosa raggia, / ne la più simigliante è più vivace” (Paradiso 7.73-75). In the Paradiso, resemblance radiates from a center which is, of course, pure light. Illumination rewards the subjection of the self as language—as imago Dei—to God, the origin and end of meaning, for Christian anthropology is founded upon a semiotics of sacrifice.10 As a corollary, sin, which makes man unlike God, precipitates him into meaninglessness. Dante figures this lapsus as erasure: “Solo il peccato è quel che la disfranca / e falla dissimìle al sommo bene, / per che del lume poco s'imbianca” (Paradiso 7.79-81). To achieve perfect existence, the believer must annihilate the proprium in order to become the diaphanous transcription of God's will. In Dante, as throughout the entire Christian tradition, man is bound to God, just as the signifier is bound to the signified, by univocal bonds of resemblance. Thus, the danger opacity poses to any text speaks by analogy to a danger posed the supreme text, man.

Tasso performs his concern with the semiotic nature of sacrifice in the episode of Sofronia and Olindo, the youthful lovers who boldly accept responsibility for stealing the statue of the Virgin which the Sultan intended to desecrate. Condemned to death by fire, they are tied back to back to the stake, both looking at the sun. Sofronia's silence approaches the typological: “E tacer lei con gli occhi al ciel sì fisa / ch'anzi 'l morir par di qua giù divisa” (2.42). Her death at the stake would actually be an almost negligible second death, because she has already died to this life—this selva—in her relentless love of God. Elsewhere in the poem the body which renounces itself unto death is adorned with, indeed participates in, light; for example, the dying Sveno praises those who transformed their blood into ink, those who “n'han segnati co 'l sangue alti vestigi” (8.21). Later, his dead stare traces out the itinerary of the sign moving toward its juncture with meaning: “Come volto / ebbe sempre a le stelle il suo disire” (8.33). Light indicates value; for example, it points the way to Sveno's body which he has sacrificed in the cause of an absolute. Thus does light illuminate and so exalt Sveno's wounds (“si raffigura” [8.32]); light is even a pen—“Un raggio scende / che dritto là dove il gran corpo giace, / quasi aureo tratto di pennel, si stende” (8.32). Wounded Carlo will perceive those who come to claim Sveno's body as a glimmer of light (“S'offerse il vacillar d'un picciol foco” [8.25]). In short, light beckons man to light (8.44) rewriting him from darkness to resemblance to God. Thus, for example, the flames that will punish Sofronia and Olindo at the stake recall the description of Goffredo's just will: “Il suo voler più nel voler s'infiamma / del suo Signor, come favilla in fiamma” (1.18). Goffredo as flame within flame—like the blessed Piccarda of Dante's Paradiso (3.52-54)—is godlike to the degree to which he has subjected his yearning and body to the invisibilia. His gesture of self-effacement establishes his right to lead, because it guarantees that his judgments have their origin in the graphic silence of God. Moreover, his connatural transparency sets him apart as the apt representative of God who dwells “ne la parte piú del ciel sincera” (1.7), which is by the nature of its order among the parts “piú eccelse e piú serene” (1.17). A transparency forged to the image and likeness of the sign performs and indicates order in the poem. Michele, bearer of God's word, performs best this militant transparency; his brightness and transparency declare his normativity and propose him to us as a model: “Michele, il qual ne l'armi / di lucido adamante arde e lampeggia” (9.58). Moreover, his “adeguate penne” suggest him as a figure of the full language that will permit Tasso rest.

Insofar as the army transforms itself into writing—thence to be transformed by grace into light—it emblematizes the poem's attempt via the use of types to master its own tropology. Martial gestures become semiotic gestures: just as Goffredo's anabasis requires the removal of impediments, so, we realize, Tasso's anabasis requires the overcoming of matter. If the hand of God “fa piani i monti e i fiumi asciutti” (2.84; 8.36), we can read in His gesture Tasso's hope that he might overcome the selva of epic he described in the Discorsi. Tasso would master the tropes of his text with the God-assisted—that is, light assisted—ease of Goffredo. This allegory of relations of meaning also rationalizes the tactics of the army; the proximity of Jerusalem—as a displacement for God—increases the speed of the army which moves “rapido sí, ma rapido con legge” (3.2); indeed, “Ali ha ciascuno al core ed ali al piede, / né del suo ratto andar però s'accorge” (3.2). In an economy of clarity, speed also bespeaks justice, for justice is traditionally understood as a movement of the soul toward form, inasmuch as it is a movement toward God, Supreme Form. Self-consciousness, on the contrary, diminishes speed; it bespeaks the soul fetishistically concerned with its own good understood in alienation from the total good. Any form of self-consciousness that lacks transcendent sanction and goals always recalls the fallen angels who sinned when they looked to themselves as the source of their joy and illumination. Just as clear writing is thought to speed the glance through the word to its meaning, so the army like all signa yearns toward union with its res: “Né impedimento alcun torcer da l'orme / pote, che Dio ne segna, i pensier santi” (5.63). Meaning, in turn, brings them ever closer to the place of the resurrection, place of the parousia of meaning.

The space of the poem is the space of a vow. The army, Goffredo's text, is after all the means he will use to “sciorre il voto,” reopening to Christians the Holy Sepulchre “ove i membri di Dio fur già sepulti” (2.86). That is, Goffredo has vowed to maintain the integrity of the tomb which held the Alpha and the Omega, the Incarnation of the Word in whose image or likeness all things were created. The army as writing moves toward this supreme instance of language as the tool of Goffredo's vow which, were it not for its divine sanction, would be merely a hubristic juncture between language and events. After all, the vow levels time by assuming a future that is simply another now. The vow implies a language with some hold on its referent, it requires terms that are beyond equivocation; hence, it implies a certain degree of social cohesion. Moreover, as Dante teaches (Paradiso 5.29 ff.), free will annihilates itself in any vow; from this standpoint, the vow serves as the dynamism that hastens the army to its goal.

The sun opens up this play of language/light; thus, Tasso can write, “Deh! fate un corpo sol de' membri amici, / fate un capo che gli altri indirizzi e frene, / date ad un sol lo scettro e la possanza, / e sostenga di re vece e sembianza” (1.31). The play of these verses hinges on the homophony between the meanings of “sol” which we can translate as both “sun” and “alone.” It bears noting that Goffredo's “insegne” (1.72) are the Cross. By means of those “insegne” Tasso relates the Crusades to the Harrowing of Hell; thus the saved Christians resemble the banners of an army, an army such as the demons can only envy: “E riportarne al Ciel sí ricche prede, / vincitor trionfando, e in nostro scherno / l'insegne ivi spiegar del vinto Inferno” (4.11). This body of men, this corps, becomes the corpus mysticum on account of both the telos that defines it and the readiness of any part to sacrifice itself for the whole, that is, its literal readiness to take up its cross. Tasso's “sol” announces both unity and the goal of that unity in an all-consuming transparency to the transcendental signified. Humility, the virtue of self-effacement, makes the army more than a structure, it makes it a totality in analogy to God's book, and finally to Christ Himself, the incarnation of Pure Likeness to the Father. Each member of the corps will, accordingly, be signed within by a characteristic which marks his supernatural goal, as we learn from the poet's acknowledgment of the agency of the Holy Spirit: “E tu gl'imprimi a i cavalier nel core” (1.32). This imprinting identifies those who will submit caprice to the duties of subjection dictated by law and unifies an army marching to both victory and intelligibility. The army receives a further cosmic sanction when it assembles in response to Peter the Hermit's call for unity: “Facea ne l'oriente il sol ritorno, / sereno e luminoso oltre l'usato / quando co' raggi uscí del novo giorno / sotto l'insegne ogni guerriero amato” (1.35). In some sense, to submit to the status of writing—marching “sotto l'insegne”—is to be bright. Sofronia is thus illuminated and transformed at the stake: “E smarrisce il bel volto in un colore / che non è pallidezza, ma candore” (2.26).

If Baldovino must yield his “cupido ingegno” (1.9), Tancredi his “vano amor” (1.10), and Rinaldo his lust for honor (1.10)—and eventually rehearse the parable of the Prodigal Son—it is in the interest of the army and of resemblance to God. Man becomes godlike in resemblance and Tasso has understood resemblance as transparency, as if transparency arose from a hungering after the invisibilia, St. Paul's “food of full-grown men.” Moreover, insofar as the army becomes godlike, it becomes fully semiotic, that is, it becomes the representation of its origin and end. Whatever interferes with this eschatology is not only opaque, disorganized and mixed, but is as poison both to the body and to the corps; “Onor mondano e vita e regno” (2.82) are finally nothing more than “venen dolce che piacendo ancida” (2.83) like rhetoric, the structure of tropology which interferes with perfect clarity and can serve evil ends. It is here that Tasso's undertaking becomes unstable: if Armida—Donadoni's “seduttrice sedotta … conquistatrice conquistata”11—“fa' melati i preghi” (4.25), then Tasso's own strategy is compromised from the very outset together with his request for pardon from his muse: “Tu perdona / s'intesso fregi al ver, s'adorno in parte / d'altri diletti, che de' tuoi, le carte” (1.2). Those “fregi” Tasso would justify are finally less the “soavi licor” (1.3) which sweeten healing medicine, than pharmakon, which according to Greek tradition can be both remedy and poison.

It should be clear that Tasso's attempt to master his own tropology is the central theme of the work. Tasso's scriptural task is staged in the task of the Christian army; as we shall see, poetry and rhetoric are staged in the figure of the demons. But—as the episode of the punishment of Francesca in the Inferno bears most cogent witness—the attempt to demystify poetry by means of poetry in poetry demands that poetry be written and that its risks be run. Poetry's allure to the will and its rhetorical tangles can hardly be suppressed then by an intrusion of imperial Reason. As a consequence of this entanglement, Tasso becomes the accomplice of the deconstructive strategies of poetry and the plaything of a power of signification far stronger than he had imagined. Whether this power represents the domination of the organic over the mechanistic, of poetic discourse over propositional discourse, or deconstruction over structuralism, its effect is to reduce Tassian reason to the status of rhetoric with no particular privilege. Tasso creates two armies, each the deconstruction of the other.

That writing which does not aim at clarity or which refuses to submit to the voice and to a yearning after the invisible telos is nonsense, a nonsense figured as poetry: “Or se da noi rivolte e torte sono / contra quel fin che 'l donator dispose, / temo ce 'n privi, e favola a le genti / quel sí chiaro rimbombo diventi” (1.26). Tasso's verses inscribe in the Gerusalemme an allusion to the first sonnet of Petrarch's Canzoniere, “Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse il suono”; the precise verse Tasso alludes to is “Al popol tutto / favola fui gran tempo” (1.9-10). Petrarch confesses that his sinful state has reduced him—like Francesca inscribed in her own chivalric myth—to the unreality of text. By alluding to these lines, Tasso makes Petrarchan verse, with its capacity for self-indictment, poetry per antonomasia. As he sees it, poetry is wandering, a state deprived of a telos, hence a meaningless state, nothing more than an empty and infinite repetition. These verses identify the particular texture of Tasso's fear of sin as a fear of difference, his fear of an infinite, infinitely open text which, responding to no end, would sever itself from origins and achieve no stable identity, and as a consequence, leave his militant reader in perpetual exile in an Egypt of the soul.

Rhetoric images all that undoes the community of those who should be “uniti / con saldissimi lacci in un volere” (1.80); it identifies evildoers; for example, it establishes the difference between Alete agent of darkness and Goffredo agent of light. Alete is accordingly damned by his eloquence: “Di sua bocca uscièno / piú che mèl dolce d'eloquenza i fiumi” (2.61), while Goffredo is exalted for his godlike simplicity, “liberi sensi in simplici parole” (2.81); for his clarity, in short. Evidence such as this suggests that Tasso's poem is a machine for the creation of meanings and conversely that it is a machine for the suppression of difference; in effect, a totalitarian policing of language. Metaphorically stated: Tasso's strategy is to set difference under the sign of the Cross. Put somewhat differently, there lurks in Tasso's obsession with transparency a yearning after philosophy which must repress poetry in order to maintain its identity as philosophy. Meanings that possess an adamantine stability require a subservient language to reveal them. Tasso claims: “A quei che sono alti princípi orditi / di tutta l'opra il filo e 'l fin risponda” (1.27). To achieve such stability, the poem creates and inscribes light as its other, as its outside within the poem itself.

The demons express themselves in the language of the chivalric epic at its juncture with representation: “E che 'l suo onore, / che 'l nome suo piú si dilati e stenda? / che suoni in altre lingue, e in altri carmi / si scriva, e incida in novi bronzi e marmi?” (4.13). Demons yearn for a pagan immortalization in bronze; they would disseminate the nothingness of their evil via repetition. They would seduce the reader to their emulation, much as would the demonic Francesca of the Inferno who we all forget is damned. Thus it should hardly surprise us that the demons will understand the defeat of the Christian army as in essence the destruction of the single will—the ethical ground of transparency—by means of a destruction of the economy of the sign, that is, by slowing the movement of union between signifier and signified: “Giusto non è, con iscemar le genti, / che di nostra vittoria il corso allenti” (4.68). Woman is the means to that end: in woman we find the aesthetic response turned into a summons to lingering. Armida can use “quanto / l'arte e l'ingegno e la beltà potea” (5.60), because she is a poetess both by her use of the faculty of wit (5.60)—a “maestra d'inganni” (5.61)—and by the stasis which her language evokes.12 Although she is described as capturing warriors “d'un piacer tenace e forte” (5.61), that “piacer tenace” offers more than the simple effect of her allure; it makes her the imago and tool of the selva Tasso decries in the Discorsi. In other words, she is a swerve from limpid reason into the self-referential. Her eroticism threatens the absolute mastery of light over textuality. It is fitting then that she, who represents the selva of rhetoric, should be described by means of hyperbole: Armida, creature of darkness, reveals that she is the imago of the demons when she overwhelms transparency with an excess of light: “Né v'è figlia d'Adamo in cui dispensi / cotanto il Ciel di sua luce serena” (4.35). Indeed in the figure of Armida transparency is travestied when it is rendered obscene: “Per entro il chiuso manto osa il pensiero / sí penetrar ne la vietata parte” (4.32). Her transparency is the occasion of lust and scandal; the glance at her an act of pornographic reading. Eustazio describes this reading well in lamenting his entrapment by Armida: “Partissi alfin con un sembiante oscuro, / onde l'empio suo cor chiaro trasparve; / e ben l'istoria del mio mal futuro / leggergli scritta in fronte allor mi parve” (4.48). What joins art and sin then is their capacity for fashioning an object which will slow the movement of the intellect and of the will to God; for evoking an intransitive absorption which the poet-demons will exploit to seduce the Christian army to division: “Altri in cure d'amor lascive immerso / idol si faccia un dolce sguardo e un riso” (4.17). Armida is such an idol, but more important, she is a pharmakeia whose task is the manipulation of the occult for the purpose of occultation.13

All that we can deduce from Armida's acts and their effects suggest that she is the creature of the trace, of the play of difference. Her exemplar is not God but the fallen angels, as we learn from Lucifer's invocation of the corpus diaboli: “Tartarei numi di seder piú degni / là sovra il sole, ond'è l'origin vostra” (4.9). The demons issue from the “ombre eterne” (4.3), “atre caverne” (4.3), “l'aer cieco” (4.3); they issue from “profonda notte” (4.28) with the task to “oscurar il cielo” (4.18). As enemies of the light, they strive to obstruct transparency, resemblance and return, hence, identity and meaning. In this they are not only a concretion of difference—hence a poem—they are also poets. Their being and their task are metaphorical, if metaphoricity be understood as the contamination of the limpidity of logic. If it is from darkness—a form of absence—that light issues, then light is secondary and derived; by analogy, sin would be prior to goodness precluding a stable origin and end. But it is precisely from this structure of difference that art and representation issue, and issuing from it, achieve effects which recall an origin in nothingness. The demons' opposition to the logos calls into question Tasso's decision to write a poem rather than a treatise, to risk sense and reference to words infected by rhetoric.

The demons who would sit above the light inform the chivalric epic by using its language and espousing its values. They speak as though they were invaders to the poem from the history of the epic genre: in their present misery they recall “quando di ferro e d'alte fiamme cinti / pugnamno già contra il celeste impero” (4.15). Like defeated generals they bemoan their fallen standards, those “idoli nostri a terra sparsi” (4.14). Their being is mediated by literature, but if this is so, then, according to the theodicy they espouse, literature is prior to truth. It follows from this that they would be the destroyers of all that evokes and leads back to presence, most particularly resemblance: “Resti in tutto / ogni vestigio suo con lui distrutto” (4.17). As the enemy of resemblance, they are the enemy of return, the enemy as well to the sense of the parable of the Prodigal Son which governs the subplot of Rinaldo's adventures in love. Idraote's injunction to Armida that there be no return of the men to the army—“Menagli in parte ond'alcun mai non torni” (4.26)—is thus the end of teleology which is grounded in the good, that is, in God's presence. Those sounds which issue from mountains and the sea—symbols to the Christian mind of relative amorphousness, states which approach that of the Neoplatonic hyle (the silva of Bernardus Silvestris)—form an emblem of absence, and of the demons' being; thus, we have the voice from the selva (13.21), from rock (13.21; 9.21) and from water (13.26), the autochthonous, originless voice. Armida, who arises from the waves is the verbum who exists in the image and likeness of such defect. In the wood, accordingly: “Meraviglioso foco indi m'apparse, / senza materia in un istante appreso” (13.48). The cutting down of the wood will thus not only dissipate darkness by letting the sun shine through, it will create the machine that destroys the walls of Jerusalem, walls that inhibit the return to meaning and identity, all those things which propose themselves as absolutes to the will. These idols share an ontology of nothingness with poetry: “Nome, e senza soggetto idoli sono / ciò che pregio e valore il mondo appella” (14.63).

Poetry is bound by analogy to the anti-Logos, this darkness above the sun which pretends to priority over the light. It is from this heart of darkness that the twisted “oblique vie,” the “secreti orrori” (2.96), the “oscura caligine di polve” (9.95), the mixed, the army of Armida (“Il mira bieco e torto” [5.85]), in short, even the pagans themselves who are announced by dust and darkness (20.1) unlike the Christian army which “Quasi d'alto incendio in forma splende” (1.73), a great conflagration under the sign of the Cross—or like those shepherds who are not shepherds and knights who are not knights (14.54-55), those beings “diversa a sé” (15.4). Illusion in this poem exists as paradox, because it recalls a demonic theodicy—a play of the trace—by which nothingness became prior to the plenitude which is the logocentric God. The inability to tell illusion from reality is an abiding in difference (13.36), abiding in this demonic state—like the Christian army halted by the selva—is the deferral/differing/dispersion of being. Tasso's demons make the poem truly dialogical; they remind us that the interpretation of darkness requires for its interpretation its insertion in another chain of signs. In other words, the opacity of poetry and of rhetoric invades Tasso's figuration of light as its internal shadow.

Perhaps most important, when Tasso's demons claim an origin above the sun, above light and its simulacrum, intelligibility, an origin that arises in an act of pure fiat, they enunciate Tasso's suspicion about the nature of repetition. On the one hand, we have Platonic repetition which looks to its ground in the eidos; with Christian Neoplatonism, this ground became the Word, Pure Likeness, in Whose image all things were created. In this limpid repetition, as acted out by the Christian army, repetition is spontaneous; thus, once Tancredi and Rinaldo overcome their inessential vices they can behave according to their true godlike natures. Once they have come to their senses, these heroes of identity will not hesitate to offer themselves as the right-hand men of Goffredo, the head of the corps; Goffredo, whose dream sets him apart as godlike. On the other hand, we have the essentially Nietzschean repetition of the demons who are a portrait of defect, a scheming subversive ontology of nothingness. They claim to imitate no Exemplar, they acknowledge no authority beyond their fiat, nor will they bow their proud heads to a superior being. By suggesting that what they imitate is not real, they perform the paradox of a world of endless play without any true center that would be beyond structurality. Like poetry, what they repeat was never fully present, for they are as exemplars unto themselves. Tasso's demons would reduce all similarity to the status of fiction, together with presence, ousia, nature and the proper, in short, with every crucial metaphysical predicate. Thus, instead of similarity there would only be difference, a difference grounded in the nothingness of evil, pure absence. This terrible ontological suspicion has further implications for Tasso's task: if literature and rhetoric are made to the image and likeness of such beings, then even the play of light—a linguistic, rhetorical and, finally, poetic artifact—is fatally compromised. Whom can we then trust? In other words, the demons are the “no” spoken to the possibility of clarity which underwrites Tasso's enterprise; they are like a darkness visible in the poetic.

Francesco De Sanctis dismissed the Gerusalemme liberata with his celebrated remark from his Storia della letteratura italiana: “La sua materia poetica è [così] piena di reminiscenze [che egli] non coglie il mondo nel suo immediato, ma a traverso i libri.”14 Such mediation is recalled in the text. The language God speaks to Gabriel falls into multiplicity and writing as he descends to mankind, as we see from the description of Goffredo's task: “Lettere a lettere, e messi a messi aggiunge” (1.19). But were this the only fall, it would be neither pernicious nor subversive; pernicious and subversive is the demonic moment of the poem which has taken possession of the poem's rhetoric, and by destabilizing the poem's participation in notions of genre and period, destabilized the notion of the identity itself which ultimately requires the transcendental sanctions the demons deny. They suggest that meaning originates in nothingness, in a trace that was never fully present; that truth is permanently deferred; that, finally, literature with all its pomps and pretensions to the truth is in reality—let us leave the meaning of “is” and “in reality” in abeyance—merely another “falso dolce.”


  1. Cesare Guasti, ed., Le prose diverse di Torquato Tasso, 2 vols. (Firenze: Successori Le Monnier, 1875) 1:89. Tasso's description of the labor and opus of writing recalls the dialogue between Goffredo and the ghost of the dead Ugone (14.12):

    Onde rispose: ‘Poi ch'a Dio non piace
    del mio carcer terreno anco disciorme,
    prego che del camin, ch'è meno fallace
    fra gli errori del mondo, or tu m'informe.’
    ‘E' replicogli Ugon 'la via verace
    questa che tieni; indi non torcer l'orme:
    sol che richiami dal lontano essiglio
    il figliuol di Bertoldo io ti consiglio.’

    All citations to the Gerusalemme liberata are taken from the edition edited by Lanfranco Caretti (Milano: Mondadori, 1957) and will be noted in the text.

  2. On the notion of silva, see the Dante bibliography glossing the “selva oscura” (Inferno 1.2) in particular Theodore Silverstein, “Dante and Vergil the Mystic,” Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature 14 (1932) 51-82. Silverstein cites Bernardus Silverstris's gloss on Aeneid VI. 179-89: “… In silvam (in the woods), in the totality of the things of this world. Umbrosam (shadowy) and immensam (immense), because the shadows are everywhere. Antiquam (ancient), born in the beginning of time.” Charles S. Singleton, in The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, 3 vols. as 6 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970) pt. 1, 2.4-5, adds:

    … In the Convivio (IV.24.12), Dante refers to “la selva erronea di questa vita” (“the wandering wood of this life”). See also Augustine, Conf. x.35: “tam immensa silva plena insidiarum et pericolorum” (“so vast a wilderness, so full of snares and dangers”). On the darkness of wood, Benvenuto comments: “Et dicit oscura propter ignorantiam et peccatum, quae obcaecant, et obscurant, et tenebras petunt, quia qui male agit, odit lucem.” (“And he says oscura [dark] because of ignorance and sin, which blind us and make things dark. Ignorance and sin seek darkness, for those who do evil hate light.”)

    On Tasso's Neoplatonism see B. T. Sozzi, “La poetica del Tasso” in Nuovi Studi sul Tasso (Bergamo: Centro Tassiano, 1963) 7-70 and Annabel M. Patterson, “Tasso and Neoplatonism: The Growth of His Epic Theory” Studies in the Renaissance 18 (1971) 105-33. Giorgio Petrocchi offers sensitive and useful insights into Tasso's use of Virgil in his study “Virgilio e la poetica del Tasso,” Giornale Italiano di Filologia 23 (1971) 1-12.

  3. On the question of the nature of Tasso's mimesis and of its relationship to history, see Gérard Genot's study “L'écriture libératrice: Le vraisemblable dans la Jérusalem deliverée du Tasse,” Communications 11 (1968) 34-58.

  4. Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979) 10.

  5. See Jacques Derrida, “The Ends of Man” in Margins of Philosophy, tr. Alan Bass (Chicago and Brighton: The University of Chicago Press, 1982) 109-36.

  6. In his excellent study “L'uniforme cristiano e il multiforme pagano nella Gerusalemme liberata,Belfagor 13 (1976), Sergio Zatti argues against Lanfranco Caretti, Ariosto e Tasso (Turin: Einaudi, 1961), that there is no single point of view represented in the Gerusalemme liberata, rather there is a series of antithetical points of view which arise from the unresolved conflict between ideology and “identificazione emotiva”: “Si potrebbe così verificare la legittimità di una chiave di lettura figurale dello scontro militare fra Cristiani e Pagani che constituisce la materia narrativa del poema” (388). The pagans become the voice of the secular humanist ideal, while the Christians become the voice of the Church militant of the Counter-Reformation.

  7. On Tasso and the question of allegory, see Dante Della Terza, “Tasso e Dante,” Belfagor 25 (1970) 395-418, and William J. Kennedy, “The Problem of Allegory in Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata,Italian Quarterly 60-61 (1972) 27-51.

  8. Zatti “L'uniforme,” notes: “Quest'opera si configura infatti come un processo dinaeico di riduzione dal Vario all'Uno, dal Discorde al Corale, dalla Dispersione alla Concentrazione, che si svolge sppunto su tre piani diversi.” Those “piani diversi” are respectively “condanna eterna,” “sconfitta storica,” and “subordinazione politica” (390-91).

  9. I have used the Petrocchi edition of the Divine Comedy as revised and reprinted by Charles S. Singleton in The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, as cited above, n. 2. All citations to the Divine Comedy are taken from this edition and will be noted in the text. For a fuller treatment of these themes in the Divine Comedy, see Chiampi, “Dante's Pilgrim and Reader in the ‘Region of Want,’” Stanford Italian Review 3.2 (1983) 163-82.

  10. Dante wrote in Convivio IV.12.13 (ed. G. Bushnelli and G. Vandelli, 2 vols. [Florence: Le Monnier, 1964] 2:145-46):

    Lo sommo desiderio di ciascuna cosa, e prima de la natura dato, è lo ritornare a lo suo principio. E però che Dio è principio de le nostre anime e fattore di quelle simili a sè (sì come è scritto: “Facciamo l'uomo ad imagine e similitudine nostra”), essa anima massimamente desidera di tornare a quello. E sì come peregrino che va per una via per la quale mai non fue, che ogni casa che da lungi vede crede che sia l'albergo, e non trovando ciò essere, dirizza la credenza a l'altra, e così di casa in casa, tanto che a l'albergo viene; così l'anima nostra, incontanente che nel nuovo e mai non fatto cammino di questa vita entra, dirizza li occhi al termine del suo sommo bene, e però, qualunque cosa vede che paia in sè avere alcuno bene, crede che sia esso. E perchè la sua conoscenza prima è imperfetta per non essere esperta nè dottrinata, piccioli beni le paiono grandi, e però da quelli comincia prima a desiderare.

  11. Torquato Tasso (Venice: La Nuova Italia, 1928) 219.

  12. On the Armida episode see A. Bartlett Giamatti, The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966); Mario Praz, “Armida's Garden,” Comparative Literature Studies 5 (1968) 1-2; Giorgio Barbèri Squarotti, “Le figure dell'Eden” in Fine dell'idillio da Dante al Marino (Genoa: Il Melangolo, 1978) 32 ff.

  13. Cf. book two of the Discorsi where Tasso writes against Mazzoni that the poet is not properly a maker of idols and therefore not engaged in sophistry. Either the poet or the sophist may create idols depending on how the term is defined:

    Quando diciamo adunque il sofista è facitor degl'idoli, intendiamo degl'idoli che sono imagini di cose non sussistenti; perchè 'l subbietto del sofista è quel che non è; ed in questa significazione disse san Paulo; Idolum nihil est. Ma quando affermiamo che 'l poeta sia facitor degl'idoli, non intendiamo solamente degl'idoli delle cose non sussistenti; perchè il poeta imita ancora le sussistenti, e principalmente le rassomiglia.


    The play of the poem compromises such distinctions.

  14. Francesco De Sanctis, Storia della letterature italiana, ed. Benedetto Croce, 2 vols. (Bari: Laterza, 1912) 1:171-72. On the famous question of Tasso's obscurity see C. Peter Brand, “Torquanto Tasso e l'‘oscurità’” Studi Secenteschi 3 (1962) 27-43.

Timothy Hampton (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9240

SOURCE: Hampton, Timothy. “The Body's Two Crowns: Narrative and Martyrdom in Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata.Stanford Italian Review 9, nos. 1-2 (1990): 133-54.

[In the following essay, Hampton discusses how exemplary figures are presented in the narrative in Gerusalemme liberata and the way in which action defines the self, both for those characters and their humanist readers.]


“Nothing moves me like the examples of illustrious men,” writes Petrarch in a letter to his friend Giovanni Colonna.1 With these words the first modern humanist evokes a central topos of the aristocratic humanism that informs Renaissance culture. By asserting the connection between the examples (words and deeds) of the “illustrious men” he has read about in history and liberature (most specifically for him, Scipio Africanus) and the “movements” of the self, Petrarch recalls a principal feature of the humanist appropriation of the past. He defines the question of imitatio, much discussed in recent years as an issue of poetics, of writing, as a problem of interpretation, that is, of reading. One of the basic tenets of Renaissance humanist hermeneutics is that ancient poetry and history have a moral and political significance: the heroic actors of classical culture offer models of comportment upon which the Renaissance reader may form or fashion himself. Through the image of the exemplary ancient the problem of imitating the past is projected into the sphere of action and onto the stage of political life. The reader who imitates the deeds of the illustrious ancients realizes the act of reading in its fullest sense, moving beyond word to flesh. For Petrarch, characteristically, the contemplation of the exemplary ancients was tied to a private quest for personal self-creation. However, for later generations of humanists, from Salutati and Bruni to Montaigne and Shakespeare, the representation and interpretation of exemplary figures from antiquity engages issues of public life, political ideology, and the very constitution of the self as a “subject” in history and society. Through his relationship to heroic models the humanist trained reader (usually male), grows into the skin prepared for him by family and society. The heroic model from the past mediates between the individual subject and ideals of public virtue. It helps to socialize and “mark” the reader ideologically.2

Because of the central function of the heroic or exemplary personage in the dynamic relationship between readers and texts in humanist culture, a study of the changing representation of exemplary figures can open perspectives on the evolving ideological function of literature in the early modern period. Changes in the representation of exemplary figures may be seen as symptoms of political and ideological struggles which demand new figurations of the self. These figurations, embodied in the heroic model held up as an image to the reader, in turn act dialectically to produce new discursive modes for representing virtue and, ultimately, new literary forms.

This process of transformation finds its privileged terrain in the epic. From the time of Plato the epic had been used as a pedagogical tool, with its characters taken as models of excellence. In the Renaissance, however, this link between epic and the representation of exemplarity becomes a locus of considerable critical attention. Following the humanist interest in both the pedagogical value of heroic models and the moral superiority of ancient culture, educators and theorists of poetry insist upon the exemplary status of the epic hero. Thus, for example, the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino, in the preface to his influential fifteenth-century commentary on the Aeneid, makes the claim that Aeneas was to be taken as “the sole exemplar for the living of our lives” [unicus exemplar ad vitam degendam] and “the perfect man” [ex omni parte perfectus vir]. Landino pairs Virgil's poem with Xenophon's fictionalized biography of Cyrus the Great, the Cyropaedia, claiming that both tell, from the cradle, the story of perfect princes whose souls offer images of excellence.3

This humanist tendency to read the epic hero in exemplary terms becomes a central focus in late-Renaissance debates on the nature of poetry. Following the dissemination of Aristotle's Poetics in the 1560s, Italian commentators of Aristotle's text forge an essential link between exemplarity and epic. Aristotle had noted in chapter 3 of the Poetics that the protagonists of comedy are morally inferior to us, whereas tragedy and epic represent men above us—with the tragic hero, of course, being flawed by his hamartia. This modest observation was transformed by cinquecento critics into a touchstone for distinguishing epic and tragedy. Tragedy, they maintained, represents men who are good but flawed; epic represents perfect actors who offer images for imitation in the sphere of public action. Thus, for example, in a neo-Aristotelian defense of poetry, the late sixteenth-century Italian critic Giason Denores defines epic precisely in terms of its presentation of heroic or exemplary models of civic action. Epic, he writes, is the representation of a heroic action by famous persons who are the height of goodness (“sommamente buone”). Its function is to inflame the reader to imitate the heroic deeds represented on paper (“per accendere gli ascoltatori all'amor ed al desiderio d'imitare l'imprese magnanime”) and to promote their love and support of the monarchy in which they live (“a conservazione di quella tal ben regolata monarchia nella quale si trovaronno”). These sentiments about the exemplary function of epic are echoed through countless poetic and rhetorical treatises of the late sixteenth century.4 Indeed, Torquato Tasso, whose Gerusalemme liberata was the focus of late Renaissance Italian debates on the nature of poetry, makes a similar claim in his Discorsi del poema eroico, when he notes that the heroic poem's greatness lies in its depiction of absolutes of virtue—features that are out of place in tragedy.5


When the humanist Landino, stretching things a bit, claims that Virgil and Xenophon told the exemplary stories of Aeneas and Cyrus the Great “from the cradle” [a primis incunabulis] he articulates an issue of great importance to the history of exemplarity. This is the fact that, regardless of how they may be deployed or alluded to in literary texts, exemplary figures have an existence as narratives which is crucial to their functioning as models. I use the term “narrative” here with at least two senses in mind. First, of course, is the fact that the heroic exemplars from antiquity come to the Renaissance as a series of narratives, as heroic biographies—be they the Lives of Plutarch or the epics of Virgil and Homer. Yet this link between the forms of heroic narrative and the representation of exemplarity has another, more rhetorical, dimension as well. For it is only through the consistent demonstration of virtue that the heroic model shows the heroism which makes him a figure worth imitating. The deeds of the heroic exemplar are signs in time, signs which must be strung together into a narrative movement that constitutes a unified and morally coherent identity. This means that the relationship between the moral significance of the various moments in the heroic biography is crucially important in defining the ideological and pedagogical function of the exemplary figure for the reader.6

These various issues surrounding the representation of exemplarity—the authority of history, narrative, the demonstration of virtue, the ideological function of texts—come to a head in the work of Torquato Tasso. Tasso's epic of the First Crusade, the Gerusalemme liberata, purports to offer a heroic poem based entirely upon historical fact. Each of his characters, claims Tasso in the Apologia he wrote after the poem's publication, is based upon the truth of history.7 Yet for all of its claims to be rooted in the historical ground of the Christian middle ages, the Gerusalemme liberata is centrally implicated in the ideological struggles of the late sixteenth century. It aims to offer a model of poetry that conforms to the strictures of neo-Aristotelian poetic theory and that speaks the orthodox line of the Counter-Reformation Church. To achieve this ideological end, Tasso's poem ceaselessly contends with the poetics and ideology of that cultural moment which precedes it and which the Counter-Reformation seeks in so many ways to correct. This is the moment of early sixteenth-century humanism, the moment of such “paganizing” writers as Castiglione, Machiavelli, and Tasso's poetic predecessor and rival Ariosto. Indeed, as Sergio Zatti has demonstrated in a recent study, the efforts of Tasso's protagonist Goffredo, the leader of the crusade, to unite the head-strong knights or “compagni erranti” that constitute the Christian army can be read as an allegorical working out of the poem's attempt to define its own orthodox collectivist ideology against a humanist ethos that favors the conquest of earthly glory. The poem figures this ethos as chivalric self-promotion.8 As Goffredo struggles to marshal his unruly troops, Tasso seeks as well to respond to what he perceives to be an ideology of errant individualism. It is this ideology which the authoritarianism of the Counter-Reformation Church seeks to replace by a more unified and conformist value system that might bolster up a centralized power structure.

Thus, the definition of an exemplary self for the reader of the poem is a process which must engage the ideological complexity of the relationship between epic and its humanist heroic past. Tasso makes it quite clear that his poem is intended to offer its reader models of virtuous action. At several points in the poem the poet's patron, Alfonso d'Este is enjoined to undertake a new crusade in imitation of the text's protagonists Goffredo and Rinaldo.9 Yet to understand Tasso's attempt to come to terms with models of humanist heroism bequeathed him by the early sixteenth century, we must look elsewhere, to a series of scenes in which the question of exemplarity is staged in such a manner as to raise questions about reading and interpretation.

The first of these occurs in canto 7. Early in the poem Argante, the semi-bestial hero of the Saracen army, challenges Rinaldo to a duel whose outcome would decide the war. When Rinaldo is banished from camp for the impetuous murder of Dudone, Tancredi volunteers to replace him. When Tancredi disappears, lured from camp by an image of his beloved Clorinda, it is Goffredo himself who proposes to fight Argante. He is stopped, however, by Raimondo, the aging count of Toulouse. Raimondo objects to Goffredo's desire to fight by claiming that the leader should not endanger the entire camp by risking his life: “Duce sei tu, non semplice guerriero: / publico fora e non privato il lutto” (7.62.3-4). The question of the public battle and the private battle, which recalls the distinction set up by Zatti between group-oriented Counter-Reformation orthodoxy and chivalry or individualistic humanism, is then extended as Raimondo reproaches the other Christian soldiers for their lack of heart. He recalls his own youthful defeat of the “feroce Leopaldo” before the entire court of Corrado, and then laments his present infirmity, vowing to arm himself for battle:

Se fosse in me quella virtù, quel sangue,
di questo alter l'orgoglio avrei già spento.
Ma qualunque io mi sia, non però langue
il core in me, né vecchio anco pavento.
E s'io pur rimarrò nel campo essangue,
né il pagan di vittoria andrà contento.
Armarmi i'vuo': sia questo il dí ch'illustri
con novo onor tutti i miei scorsi lustri.


These words spur the Christians to abandon their repose. Yet as they clamor for the right to meet Argante in combat, Raimondo appears before them, already in arms.

Raimondo's speech most explicitly recalls Nestor's reproach of Achilles and Agamemnon in the first book of the Iliad (vv. 247ff.). As Nestor urges the quarrelling captains to settle their differences he evokes the great tradition of heroes he has known (“better men than you are”), who have heeded his advice in the past. To strengthen the authority of his plea, he recalls his own past victories. In contrast to Nestor, however, Raimondo not only recalls his past triumphs, he longs to revive them. Tasso underscores the fact that Raimondo's ardor departs from convention by inscribing his speech with echoes of two passages from the Aeneid. Raimondo recalls both Evander (8.560-63), who declares that his youth is past, that he can no longer fight and must therefore send his son Pallas to do battle alongside Aeneas, as well as the aging Entellus, who in the wrestling matches of Aeneid 5 (397-98), decides to gird his loins for one last attempt at glory.10 By juxtaposing the two Virgilian allusions Tasso proposes two possible functions for the aging warrior: he may retire from battle and send younger men to the fray (like both Nestor and Evander), or he may attempt one final conflict (like Entellus). Raimondo chooses the latter alternative. Yet perhaps as important as the difference in responses to old age is the difference in the settings of the Virgilian loci. The battle between Entellus and Dares is no real battle at all. It is a wrestling match, a sporting event, and its sixteenth-century equivalent would be a tournament of the type in which Henry II of France met his death. Thus, Tasso's citation of Virgil underscores Raimondo's own testimony of the place in which his valor was tested—not a holy war but a courtly tournament. The evocation of this chivalric context suggests that Raimondo's mind may still be focused upon a value system which privileges individual heroics, a value system which the poem's own insistence upon unity and group struggle would question.

The disastrous consequences of this split between Raimondo's individualist ethos and the poem's group-oriented ideology are demonstrated in the scene that follows. Goffredo praises Raimondo as an example for his entire army (“O vivo specchio / del valor prisco, in te la nostra gente / miri e virtù n'apprenda” [7.68]) and sets up a drawing to determine which of the Christian soldiers shall fight Argante. The lot falls to Raimondo himself, who is rejuvenated, says Tasso in an image borrowed from Virgil and Ariosto, like a snake shedding his skin: “e cosi alor ringiovenisce / qual serpe fier che in nove spogli avolto / d'oro fiammeggi e'n contra il sol si lisce” (71.4-6). Yet despite Raimondo's new set of armor and his new vigor he requires divine help once he enters the battle. Unbeknownst to any of the Christian army, God sends Raimondo an angel who protects him with a diamond shield. In the midst of the conflict, however, Raimondo's chivalric ethos manifests itself once again. Argante's sword breaks on contact with the angel's shield. The scene recalls the breaking of the sword of Turnus against the shield of Aeneas in Aeneid 12. In Virgil, Turnus saves himself by immediately taking flight. In Tasso, however, a pause ensues, as Raimondo considers what to do: “Ma però ch'egli disarmata vede / la man nemica, si riman sospeso, / ché stima ignobil palma e vili spoglie quelle ch'altrui con tal vantaggio togli. / —Prendi—volea già dirgli—un'altra spada—” (94.5-95.1-2). Raimondo's disdain at taking advantage of an unarmed foe is a disdain born of the chivalric ethos. Oblivious to the mockeries which Argante has heaped upon both his comrades and his faith only a few lines earlier, indifferent to the stakes of the battle, his first impulse is to see in the Saracen a knight like himself, a double to whom chivalric courtesy should be extended.

Raimondo's hesitation is only momentary, but it provides Argante with the chance to act. As the aging count suddenly remembers that he is the defender of his faith (“di publica causa è difensore” [95.8]—a phrase recalling his own reproach to Goffredo that the battle is “publico” and not “privato” [63.4]), he turns to put an end to his opponent. But Argante has already escaped and will return to fight another day. There follows a pitched battle in which Raimondo is wounded by an arrow. Following a rout, the Christian army is saved only at the last minute by a rainstorm sent from heaven.

The doubt or dubbio that prevents Raimondo from putting a swift end to Argante is a sign of his position within the ideological configuration of the Christian camp. He stands between two codes of behavior, private and public, chivalric virtue and Counter-Reformation piety. His exemplary “valor prisco” is an ancient valor indeed. It is symptomatic of an ideology which Tasso's poem would displace. As suggested by the Virgilian echoes, Raimondo's virtue is the virtue of the courtly tournament. In the ethos of Raimondo's chivalric world aging knights must choose between polite retirement (Evander) and momentary rejuvenation (Entellus). In Tasso's world, however, a third choice is possible: with help from heaven the old can receive a miraculous force greater than the force of youth. Raimondo, a chivalric exemplar in the world of the Counter-Reformation, is incapable of exploiting the advantage offered by divine intervention.11

Tasso's ambivalence toward chivalric virtue, signaled by the fact that, however laudable, it fails to produce acts sufficient to the demands of the poem's ideology, takes on yet another guise a few cantos later. At the outset of canto 11, in the exact center of the poem, the Christian soldiers prepare to assault Jerusalem. They pass the day in solemn procession, a communal meal and meditation. As day breaks and the troops dress for battle, we see Goffredo, busy with his preparations. But he has clearly spent his time of meditation thinking, not of his duty as commander, but of himself. For in place of his normal suit of armor he wears the garb of footsoldier. Raimondo reproaches him for his change of uniform—a fitting gesture since Raimondo's own earlier hesitation in battle against Argante stemmed from an insensitivity to the public good. Goffredo, however, defends his actions by evoking a heretofore unknown episode from his personal history:

                              Or ti sia noto
che quando in Chiaramonte il grande Urbano
questa spada mi cinse, e me devoto
fe' cavalier l'onnipotente mano,
tacitamente a Dio promisi in voto
non pur l'opera qui di capitano,
ma d'impiegarvi ancor, quando che fosse
qual privato guerrier l'arme e le posse.


He goes on to assert that his decision to dress as a common soldier is tactically wise. His men are perfectly aligned for the assault. It is only right that he should fight as a commoner.

These may be noble sentiments, but they are wrong. Goffredo mistakenly believes that the “voto” or pledge made to the Pope at the time of arming (note the chivalric formula, “questa spada mi cinse” [23.3]), holds power over all others and nullifies them. The first duty of the “cavalier devoto” is not to his personal vow but to the good of the group. Indeed, this doctrinal error is underscored by his reference to the Pope's hand as “onnipotente”; it overrides all other wishes. Moreover, Goffredo's description of himself as a “privato guerrier” echoes the words of Argante to the Saracen leader Soldano back in canto 6, when he claims that he will fight Tancredi as “privato cavalier, non tuo campion” (6.13.7). By placing the words of the individualist pagan Argante in the mouth of the Christian leader at the moment he asserts the piety of his acts, Tasso suggests that individually motivated action is by definition erroneous. The issue is not Goffredo's piety, but the fact that he claims for himself a particularized relationship with God in which private virtue can remain separate from public duty.

Goffredo's error is not exclusively doctrinal; it is also practical. His hesitation to accept his role as captain is simply a more pious version of Rinaldo's rambunctious individualism. The French knights all follow their exemplary leader (“i cavalier francesi / seguir l'essempio” [25.1-2]), and with the entire French nobility underdressed for battle, the fight is a disaster. Like Raimondo in the scene discussed a moment ago, Goffredo is wounded by an arrow. He is forced to leave the scene of action, and the Christian troops are routed. Only an angel is eventually able to cure Goffredo of his wound, and only nightfall puts an end to the carnage.12

Thus, the two low points for Christian military fortunes in the middle cantos of the poem follow episodes in which the functions of ancient virtue (Raimondo) and individualist piety (Goffredo) are dramatized. In these two scenes Tasso illustrates the dangers of private action. Private virtue, which Tasso figures as a trait of chivalry and individualism, shows its limits in striking terms. In the case of Raimondo, momentary adherence to an outmoded ethos was quickly corrected. The scene of Goffredo's error followed logically as an intensification of Raimondo's hesitation, shifting focus from a single knight to a captain whose acts are imitated by an entire officer corps, taking us from errant thought to errant action, from confusion to outright folly. But in both cases the cause of the misstep was the influence of the character's earlier words and deeds upon his attempt to act correctly in the present. Raimondo was caught between an older, chivalric code of behavior and the new ethos of Counter-Reformation holy war. For Goffredo, the problem was his need to maintain a private relationship with God which would stand outside his public duty.

These two scenes of failed exemplarity frame another episode which offers a different version of exemplarity—one which might be said to “correct” the errors of the humanist heroism seen in Raimondo and Goffredo. This episode depicts the death of the martyr Sveno. In canto 8 the Christian army has just suffered a major defeat. Camped before the gates of the Saracen-held holy city, they are exhausted, thirsty, and disheartened by the absence of Rinaldo. Into this scene staggers a messenger, who brings more bad news. He identifies himself as the sole survivor of an army of Christian reinforcements massacred en route to the camp by an immense Saracen army. He then proceeds to tell a story. The story he tells is not, however, his own story. He recounts the entire life of his master, Sveno, the leader of the recently massacred reinforcements. The messenger first tells of Sveno's childhood in Denmark. He recalls that Sveno's education consisted of reading about the heroic deeds of Goffredo and Rinaldo—the very knights who are figured as twin exemplars for the poet's patron, Alfonso d'Este. Like a kind of adolescent Don Quixote, Sveno runs away from home to seek fame as a warrior. The centerpiece of the messenger's tale is his depiction of the scene of the battle in which Sveno and his men meet their death. Nowhere else are Tasso's extraordinary narrative and descriptive powers as evident as in the messenger's evocation of the encounter between the small band of Christians and the numberless infidel army. Beneath a cloud-covered crepuscular sky, Sveno leads his men in valiant but futile struggle, like a kind of medieval George Armstrong Custer, until, we are told, his body takes on the appearance of a single giant wound—“fatto è il corpo suo solo una piaga” (8.21.8). So great is the general carnage that by sunset the earth itself has disappeared beneath the piles of bodies. In the dim light the cadaver of the young Sveno virtually vanishes among the heaps of wounded flesh around it, losing its very identity in the mass of gore until a miraculous ray of light pierces the cloud cover to illuminate its wounds. It is only thanks to this marvelous incandescence that the messenger, assisted by a pair of venerable hermits who conveniently live in the neighborhood, is able to separate his master's body from that of his men: “ogni sua piaga ne sfavilla e splende, / e subito da me si raffigura / ne la sanguigna orribile mistura” (32.6-8). And as if this marvel were not enough, as soon as the body has been set apart, a second miracle comes to pass. In a flash, Sveno's corpse is encased by a glorious tomb covered with inscriptions—before which the messenger and his new found hermit friends bow in adoration.

When the messenger has completed his extraordinary story, the men of the crusader camp are moved and astonished. Their expected despondancy over the loss of reinforcements is offset by their amazement before the miracle of virtue and martyrdom. The messenger transmits Sveno's sword to Goffredo, who will later pass it on to Rinaldo in the poem's final cantos. Goffredo then interprets the story for his men by remarking that Sveno is a model for each to follow, that antiquity itself could offer no example more worthy of imitation (“né dar l'antico Campidoglio essempio / d'alcun può mai sí glorioso alloro” [44.3-4]). As the scene closes, he points out that Sveno and his men now reside in the luminous temple of heaven, where each wears an immortal crown and flashes his wounds: “ivi credo io che le sue belle piaghe / chiascun lieto dimostri e se n'appaghe” (44.7-8).

Goffredo's evocation of the martyr's crown recalls an earlier moment in the scene at which the messenger quotes Sveno's exhortation to battle. As Sveno and his men ride into the fray the young prince urges them ahead: “Oh quale omai vicina abbiamo / corona o di martirio o di vittoria! / L'una spero io ben piú, ma non men bramo / l'altra ove è maggior merto e pari gloria” (15.1-2). As Sveno enters the fray, he imagines two possible but mutually exclusive destinies for himself, figured by the two crowns of martyrdom and victory. If he wins the battle, he wears the crown of victory; if he loses it, he wears the crown of martyrdom. These two crowns have precise but distinct prototypes. The crown of martyrdom, of course, is a halo. The crown of victory, on the other hand, recalls the crown of laurel awarded the hero in the Roman triumph. If Sveno receives the crown of martyrdom, he will join the elect in heaven—as king for all time. In the fantasy of the crown of victory, however, he would find himself paraded through the city streets in the manner of an ancient military hero, say, Caesar or Petrarch's hero Scipio—as king for a day. To wear the crown of victory, in short, is to celebrate, not the glory of God, but one's own mortal excellence. Thus, the central ideological split that structures the poem—the struggle between humanist paganism and Counter-Reformation beatitude—is emblematically figured by the young Sveno's choice of crowns.

But these two crowns also stand as figures of distinct ways of conceiving of both the self and the narrative that represents it. The two ideals they articulate connote distinct modes of understanding the hero's life—that is, of writing of his biography. The crown of martyrdom which Sveno imagines for himself here comports a particular narrative genre, which is the saint's life or martyrological tale. The crown of victory, which he desires but never wins, implies its own literary genre or form of narrative history. This is the heroic biography whose prototype is Plutarch's Lives. Were Sveno to win the crown of victory, his life would be written in a very different form from the martyr's story which eventually finds it way into Tasso's poem. Both of these biographical forms, the Plutarchan heroic biography and the martyr's story, are exemplary. That is to say, both present a model of comportment for imitation by the reader. Both conform to the dominant Renaissance understanding of the past as a reservoir of examples, to the tendency to read history as moral philosophy. Yet the model of Plutarchan or humanist heroism is a model which the poem can only imagine. The crown of victory is a crown implicitly demanded by the conventions of Virgilian epic, but which the poem's ideology cannot tolerate.

The reasons for this emblematic rejection of a particular model of heroic exemplarity become clear if the contrast between the “heroism” of Goffredo and Raimondo and the martyrdom of Sveno is seen as a problem of narrative. The Plutarchan model of the exemplary narrative, the mode evoked by Sveno's mention of the crown of victory as he rides into battle, involves the narration of a series of words and deeds in history which are taken to be the signs of the hero's virtue and thus models for comportment. Yet if the hero is to be worthy of imitation, if he is to make good copy for an exemplary biography, these words and deeds must be consistently virtuous. Within the moralizing context of humanist hermeneutics, the heroic exemplar's status as a model for the reader is contingent upon the ethical homogeneity or coherence of the deeds constituting the various moments of the biography. Humanism's veneration of the illustrious ancients demands that their lives offer morally consistent images for imitation. The problem with this moralistic attempt to read history is that the more humanism learns about history the less consistent the virtuous deeds of the venerated exemplars begin to appear, and the more their universal value as models is marred by historical particularity and moral ambiguity. The closer the humanist reads the biographies of the pagan exemplars, the more anxiety is produced over the difficulty of appropriating them as models upon which sixteenth-century readers may fashion themselves. This moral ambiguity is precisely what is figured in the instances of Raimondo and Goffredo, whose “heroic” deeds are disfigured by vestiges of now outmoded ideologies. What appears to be exemplary virtue turns out to have its roots in a repressed past whose return mars the effectiveness of present action. These problems of ambiguity and ideological confusion vanish, however, in the model of the martyrological tale, the model introduced by Tasso into the world of the Virgilian epic. For it is not the heroic deeds of the martyr that make him worthy of imitation by the reader, but the moment of his death. The production of virtue is reduced, in the story of the martyr, to the moment at which his narrative ends, to, one might say, his date of expiration. In fact, the martyr need hardly be consistently virtuous at all to be a model for the reader. He need only die a martyr's death. The moment of death subsumes and defines all previous acts in his life, standing as a synechdoche for the whole story. This point is demonstrated quite clearly in the story of Tasso's Sveno, who is in fact anything but virtuous until his death. Indeed, his first desire was for earthly glory. His initial decision to go to war was in imitation of Rinaldo, the figure who is the very embodiment of error in Tasso's poem. Not only did Sveno ignore his sacred duty toward family and state by running away from home, it was his own imprudent rejection of repeated warnings from advisors that resulted in the massacre of his men. If anything, Sveno is a negative exemplar, an ambiguous figure whose virtue is questionable; and even as he rides into battle, the syntax of his exhortation to his men makes it difficult to determine which of the two crowns he desires most (“l'una spero io ben piú, ma non men bramo l'altra”). Yet at the moment of his death his story ends and his exemplary value is fixed.13


Yet this rhetorical representation of models of the self demands more than a narrative to make itself known. It also requires a body. As Michel de Certeau has written, “normative discourse ‘operates’ only if it has already become a story, a text articulated on something real and speaking in its name, i.e., a law made into a story and historicized, recounted by bodies.”14 The problem of exemplarity is the problem of how readers are to move from the words of a text representing virtuous action to the deeds which will constitute their own stories. Given the fact that the image of the exemplar lies at the border of language and action, it is worth noting the central function in Tasso's text of the body as an ideological sign, as something that both moves (deeds) and signifies (words). In the Gerusalemme liberata it is the body that offers the surface upon which the ideological difference between humanist exemplary narrative and Counter-Reformation hagiography is articulated. The wounds which the martyr receives at death are the marks of his beatitude—marks which replace all other signs in his story. Indeed, in the story of his life they are the only truly significant marks. Here, again, the contrast between Counter-Reformation martyrology and humanist exemplarity could not be more patent. In Plutarch we learn of the Roman custom of showing one's wounds as a way of proving one's virtue. Shakespeare's Coriolanus reverses this tradition, it will be recalled, by refusing to show his wounds, thereby provoking the ire of the masses. For Tasso, however, the scars or wounds of the heroic pagan or humanist exemplar are the marks of weakness, the traces of Fortune's victory over virtue, the vestiges of the past moments at which the limits of strength were reached. In one of his prose treatises entitled “Risposta di Roma a Plutarco,” Tasso argues that Alexander, universally acknowledged to be the ancient exemplar of martial virtue par excellence, was in fact a man of quite limited virtue. This is so, says Tasso, because his many wounds emphasize the fragility of his mortality:

Ma nel corpo d'Alessandro non sono impressi pochi segni della nemica fortuna … tu [Alessandro] che per la stima della tua virtù credevi d'esser immortale; per lo spargimento del sangue t'avvedesti d'esser mortale.15

Thus, pagan wounds are the marks of Fortune's power over virtue. They signify the imprint of historical and physical contingency upon human ambition. Christian wounds signify that one has earned a place with God. Like the arrow wounds received by the erroneous Goffredo and the hesitating Raimondo earlier in the poem, heroic or chivalric wounds spell weakness; Christian martyrs' wounds spell blessed strength. An Alexander with no wounds is all the more heroic. A martyr with no wounds is no martyr at all.16

The importance of wounding as a process of ideological marking can be understood if we compare Sveno with the other character in the poem who is described as a martyr. This is Sofronia, who in canto 2 confesses to the execution of a crime she has not committed and offers herself as a sacrifice to save the Christian population of Jerusalem. Tasso introduces Sofronia as a virgin, chaste and beautiful, who seeks modestly to hide her beauty from the world. Her seclusion, however, cannot exempt her from the prying eyes of lust. She is sought by the young Olindo: “Pur guardia esser non può ch'in tutto celi / beltà degna ch'appaia e che s'ammiri; / né tu il consenti, Amor, ma la riveli / d'un giovenetto a i cupidi desiri” (2.15.1-4). The curious ambiguity which surrounds Sofronia—she is both chaste and, because of her beauty, an object of desire “worthy to be seen”—is underscored by Tasso as she traverses the city to make her confession at the King's palace:

La vergine tra 'l vulgo uscí soletta,
non copri sue bellezze, e non l'espose, raccolse
gli occhi, andò nel vel ristretta,
con ischive maniere e generose.
Non sai ben dir s'adorna o se negletta,
se caso od arte il bel volto compose.
Di natura, d'Amor, de' cieli amici
le negligenze sue sono artifici.

Both art and artlessness, culture and nature, Sofronia's body is an ambiguous indicator of her true virtue. She may be naturally modest and beautiful, or she may attract only through adornment and artifice. Both the uncustomary turn to the reader (“non sai ben dire …”) and the oxymoronic formulation of the last line suggest the difficulty in interpreting her beauty. Indeed, the ruler of Jerusalem himself is taken by her appearance and manner, but, here again, the source of his attraction is unclear: “Fu stupor, fu vaghezza, e fu diletto, / s'amor non fu, che mosse il cor villano” (21.102). Sofronia cuts such an uncertain figure, in fact, that as she ascends to the stake to be burned, her face changes color, to a shade which, were it not glossed for us by the narrator, might well signify fear: “Ella si tace, e in lei non sbigottita, / ma pur commosso aliquanto è il petto forte; / e smarrisce il bel volto in un colore / che non è pallidezza, ma candore” (26.5-8).

Sofronia's ambiguity says much about the representation of martyrdom. None of those who watch her traverse the streets of Jerusalem notes her virtue since, so long as she lives, she is subject to misreading. Her virtue may be simple artifice. Her candor may be pallor. From the perspective of non-virtue, virtue may always be misread as ostentation. Unlike Sveno, Sofronia remains ideologically ambiguous precisely because her body is never marked and her narrative never reaches a definitive endpoint. Would-be martyrs who never die have no exemplary value. It is doubtless for this reason that, once she has been rescued from the stake by Clorinda and married off to Olindo, Sofronia completely disappears from the poem. Like Ariosto's Angelica once she has lost her virginity to Medoro, Sofronia loses her signifying function. She ends up neither as an ambivalent temptress nor a true martyr, but simply another married woman.

But if Sofronia's body is never marked and her narrative has no end, it is the very marking of Sveno's body that ends his story. The martyr's wounding takes its importance as a frame in a biographical narrative, as a moment which closes that narrative off and renders it ideologically useful. The contrasting ideologies of humanism and Counter-Reformation orthodoxy that structure Tasso's poem thus offer contrasting models of the relationship between the exemplary body and its biography. The exemplary humanist hero (like the virtuous woman) must prove his virtue by maintaining the integrity of his body and keeping his life's history open for ever more tests of virtue. The martyr's virtue is demonstrated by the violation of his body and by the end of his narrative. The rhetorical utility of the martyrological tale for Counter-Reformation ideology lies in the way it functions here as an allegory of textual and interpretive closure. In an age in which the ecclesiastical and political expropriation of interpretation extends to virtually every level of intellectual and cultural activity, the model of martrydom enables the poet both to represent history through narrative and to control its meaning. Tasso's insertion of a martyr tale into a Virgilian epic affirms the pedagogical importance of martyrological models for the poem's dynastic hero Rinaldo, for Tasso's own patron Alfonso d'Este, and for the Christian reader. At the same time it responds to an entire tradition of humanist historiography and moral philosophy with a gesture of ideological authority. The wounds of Sveno ultimately cut, not merely into his “corpo,” but into the entire corpus of the heroic genre of epic itself.17

In addition to its importance as a paradigm which Tasso sets against the chivalric or humanist model of exemplarity, Sveno's death has important consequences for the narrative development of the Gerusalemme liberata. In fact, it may be seen as the hinge which motivates the poem's rhetorical exhortations to virtuous action. For Sveno leaves Denmark a runaway, determined to imitate Rinaldo. Through a brilliant narrative chiasmus the poem ends, however, with Rinaldo avenging the martyrdom of Sveno. As we move from Sveno's initial appearance toward the final duel between Rinaldo and Solimano, then, the relationship of imitator to model is turned on its head. In his lust for glory, Sveno follows Rinaldo; in his unbending devotion to the cause, Rinaldo follows Sveno's martyred example, symbolized by his reception of the young prince's sword from the hand of Goffredo.

Rinaldo's transformation reaches its dramatic climax in the opening stanzas of canto 18, when the hero ascends the Mount of Olives. The canto opens with Rinaldo asking forgiveness from Goffredo, who suggests that past errors be forgotten—an ironic recommendation, given his own problems with his past mentioned earlier. Following this reconciliation and a confession to Peter the Hermit, Rinaldo passes the night in vigil. As the day breaks, he asks God for forgiveness and a state of grace. In response a heavenly dew descends upon his head.

La rugiada del ciel su le spoglie
cade, che parean cenere al colore,
e sí l'asperge che 'l pallor ne toglie
e induce in esse un lucido candore;
tal rabbellisce le smarrite foglie
a i matutine geli arido fiore,
e tal di vaga gioventù ritorna
lieto il serpente e di novo or s'adorna.


This remarkable passage and the stanzas that surround it contain unmistakable references to each of the scenes of exemplarity examined heretofore. Raimondo's entreaty to Goffredo in canto 11 to resume his place as captain “e di te stesso a nostro pro ti caglia” (11.22.6), is recalled by Goffredo's own command to Rinaldo: “e' n danno de' nemici e' n pro de' nostri / vincer convienti de la selva i mostri” (18.2.7-8). Even more striking is the reappearance of the serpent image, seen earlier in a description of Raimondo's preparations for the fight with Argante. And if the misstep of Goffredo and the outmoded chivalry of Raimondo are recalled in this scene, the ambiguities surrounding the figure of Sofronia are evoked in order to be resolved. The “onesta baldanza” (2.20.1) with which the maiden addresses the king (thereby provoking his ambiguous desire) is recalled as “secura baldanza”:

Il bel candor de la mutata vesta
egli medesmo riguardando ammira,
poscia verso l'antica alta foresta
con secura baldanza i passi gira.


More important, Sofronia's uncertain hue as she mounts to the stake (“un colore / che non è pallidezza, ma candore” [2.26.8])—echoed by the “bianca pallidezza” of Sveno's fearful troops on their entry into battle) is recalled in the “bel candor” of Rinaldo's armor. This time, however, “candor” definitely replaces “pallor”: “La rugiada del ciel in su le sue spoglie cade … / e sí l'asperge che 'l pallor ne toglie / e induce in esse un lucido candore.”

Thus, Rinaldo's purification on the Mount of Olives offers what might be called a recuperation of all of the scenes examined heretofore. As Rinaldo becomes worthy to follow Sveno's image and serve as a model to the reader of the poem, he redeems and replaces the earlier moments of error. On an allegorical level, within the configurations of the Christian scheme of conversion, Sveno might be seen as the old Adam, the errant self that Rinaldo must leave behind him in order to be reborn as a new man dedicated to the Crusade. Yet this movement of the soul can only be represented through the conjunction of a narrative and a body. And in this conjunction lies the ideological function of the martyr's example. Sveno offers an image of the Counter-Reformation self, which Tasso sets in contrast to more problematic figures whose exemplarity is marred by vestiges of humanist or chivalric individualism.


The conjunction of body and narrative offered by the figure of Sveno has importance as well for the history of literary genres in early modernity. I should like to illustrate this importance by comparing Tasso's poem with Don Quixote, the other major narrative text of the period—a text concerned not with promoting exemplary figures but with parodying them. Cervantes speaks in propria persona only once in his novel. In the prologue to its second half—that is to say, in what are probably the last words he wrote before publication—he complains to his reader of slanderous remarks made about him by his literary rival Avellaneda, the author of the spurious Quixote which appeared after the first volume of Cervantes's work. Cervantes grumbles that Avellaneda has made fun of him for being old and for having only one hand. The other hand was lost fighting the Turks at the battle of Lepanto, in 1571: “What I cannot ignore,” writes Cervantes, “is that Avellaneda describes me as old and maimed, as if it were in my hand to hold back time and keep it from passing through me, or as if my infirmity had come about in some tavern instead of in the most noble occasion ever seen by centuries past, present or to come.”18 Cervantes acknowledges that he is caught in history, unable to arrest the passage of time through his very body. Yet the metaphorical hand or “mano” which cannot halt time's passage is redeemed by the symbolic function of the very real hand which Cervantes lost at the battle of Lepanto, fighting, like the heroes of Tasso's epic, against the infidel. And this wound, this “manquedad” or lack, as Cervantes calls it, lends his exploits at Lepanto and his subsequent captivity in North Africa a significance that transcends history. As a wounded participant in the greatest battle ever seen, past, present, or to come, Cervantes enjoys exemplary status, which he goes on to describe in terms recalling Tasso's praise of martyrdom: “If my wounds do not shine in the eyes of those who see them, they are at least esteemed by those who know their origin … The wounds which the soldier shows in his face and breast are stars guiding others to the heaven of honor.”19 If Tasso inserts the figure of the martyr into Virgilian epic as an ideologically charged exemplar of Counter-Reformation virtue, Cervantes here figures himself as an exemplar of Spanish military excellence whose wounds lead the reader to heaven, like the wounds of Tasso's martyrs. Cervantes's problem, however, is that he is neither consistently heroic, like a humanist exemplar, nor dead, like a martyr. Though his wounds seem to signify martyrdom, the narrative of his life did not close at Lepanto. He is a martyr who had the luck to survive—thus, he is no martyr at all. Because his life continues, Cervantes's scars have become, to the uninformed observer, ambiguous signs, potentially the traces of a tavern brawl. Cervantes's wounds are a writing wrenched from its frame of historical reference, orphaned from the moment of presence in which it was, however painfully, inscribed on his body. This openness and ambiguity point to the pathetic biographical underpinning of Cervantes's protests. For the last years of his adventurous life were increasingly taken up with repeated futile attempts to obtain a royal pension to compensate for his lost hand and his suffering. Indeed, these bitter words are written at a time when the glorious Battle of Lepanto is forty years past, little more than a distant heroic glimmer in the dark sky of Spanish imperial collapse.

This moment of self-description suggests the personal tragedy which mediates between the high drama of an epic of martyrdom like the Gerusalemme liberata and the low comedy of Cervantes's novel. Cervantes himself is living proof of the limits of both humanist exemplarity and martyrdom as models of selfhood. Yet it is out of this failure that a new literary genre is born. For, having lost the hand which would permit him to act, Cervantes's only choice is to use the other hand to write. With this other hand he draws the fable of Don Quixote, whose wounds are the result of tavern brawls, who sets out to conquer infidel kingdoms by the force of his arm, “por el valor de su brazo.” Cervantes's failed martyrdom and unnoticed exemplary virtue give way to the narrative of a hero who believes himself to be exemplary and invulnerable, but who, as he rides through the chaotic world of the novel, slowly and painfully learns otherwise. Cervantes's misinterpreted body is redeemed by the bruised body of Don Quixote, a body on which scars are the marks, not of virtue or beatitude, as they are for Alexander the Great and Sveno, but of self-knowledge. And this redemption occurs, not through a series of heroic deeds, but through the processes of memory and judgment, through the increasing self-consciousness which leads Quixote ultimately to reject his madness and return to the quotidian world. As Quixote says on his deathbed, “Now I am no longer Don Quixote of La Mancha, but Alonso Quixano, the man whose habits earned him the name of the Good.”20 It is no longer heroic deeds or miracles of virtue that lead to renown, but simply good behavior, costumbres. Don Quixote's education occurs, not through the imitation of heroic models, the “illustrious men” who moved the soul of Petrarch, but from his own attempt to accept the mortality of his bruised and aching body. From this reflection on the limits of the body is born the new narrative form of the novel—the form that will replace documents of aristocratic heroism such as the Gerusalemme liberata and define new models of the self for the bourgeois era.21


  1. “Me quidem nichil est quod moveat quantum exempla clarorum hominum,” Francesco Petrarca, Le familiari, ed. V. Rossi (Florence: Sansoni, 1933-1942) 6.4, my translation.

  2. The representation of exemplars aids in the promotion of what Michel Foucault has deemed “arts of existence,” “those intentional and voluntary actions by which men not only set themselves rules of conduct, but also seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their singular being.” See his discussion in The Use of Pleasure, tr. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1985) 10ff. On the representation of self-transformation in the Renaissance, see Thomas M. Greene, “The Flexibility of the Self in Renaissance Literature,” The Disciplines of Criticism, ed. Peter Demetz, Thomas M. Greene, and Lowry Nelson, Jr. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968) 241-68, as well as Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). For background on the exemplar theory of history, see George H. Nadel, “Philosophy of History before Historicism,” History and Theory 3.3 (1964) 291-315, and Reinhart Koselleck, “Historia Magistra Vitae,” Natur und Geschichte: Karl Löwith zum 70 Geburtstag (Stuttgart: W. Kohlammer, 1967). For the traditions of humanist pedagogy, see Eugenio Garin, L'educazione in Europa: 1400-1600 (Bari: Laterza, 1964), as well as the recent study by Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987).

  3. I cite from Cristoforo Landino: scritti critici e teorici, ed. Roberto Cardini (Rome: Bulzoni, 1974) 1.215. Translation mine.

  4. The full title of Denores's treatise is Discorso a que' principii, cause et accrescimenti che la comedia, la tragedia et il poema eroico ricevono della filosofia morale et civile e de' governatori delle republiche. It can be found in Bernard Weinberg's Trattati di poetica e retorica del cinquecento (Bari: Laterza, 1972) 3.375-419. An argument similar to Denores's was made by Nicolò degli Oddi, in his Dialogo in difesa di Camillo Pelegrini of 1587. Full discussion of the late-Renaissance Italian attempt to appropriate Aristotle can be found in Weinberg's A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967).

  5. I have used Francesco Flora's edition of the Prose of Tasso (Milan: Rizzoli, 1935). See 368ff.

  6. For the relationship between notions of selfhood and narrative in pre-modern cultures, see Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1981) 61ff.

  7. For a discussion in the Apologia of the differences between history and poetry, see vol. 5 of Bruno Maier's edition of the Opere (Milan: Rizzoli, 1965), 345ff. There is no space here to offer a full analysis of Tasso's attempt to resolve the complicated debates on the relationship between history and poetry in the late sixteenth century. For good background on these problems, see Weinberg's History, passim., Baxter Hathaway's The Age of Criticism: The Late Renaissance in Italy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1962) 152ff., and Alban K. Forcione's Cervantes, Aristotle and the “Persiles” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970).

  8. In his study L'uniforme cristiano e il multiforme pagano (Milan: Il Saggiatore, 1983), Sergio Zatti speaks of “la netta distinzione politica e morale fra Goffredo e i ‘compagni erranti,’ che egli è chiamato a riunificare nel nome del fine militare cristiano” (14). He notes the ideological tension between Counter Reformation authoritarianism and “un umanesimo laico, materialista e pluralista” (12), which sets up a series of ontological, psychological, and generic binary oppositions that structure the poem: one/many; conformity/deviance; epic/romance. Margaret Ferguson's fine discussion of Tasso in Trials of Desire: Renaissance Defenses of Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) analyzes the poem along similar lines.

  9. See, for example, 1.4 and 17.39. All quotations from the Gerusalemme liberata will refer to Lanfranco Caretti's edition (Turin: Einaudi, 1980). Canto, stanza, and line numbers will be indicated in parentheses following each citation.

  10. For the references to ancient epic in this scene, I am indebted to Caretti's notes.

  11. Raimondo's hesitation will be corrected in the duel between Argante and Tancredi in canto 19. Tancredi disarms Argante and then demands that he surrender: “Renditi—grida, e gli fa nuove offerte, / senza noiarlo, il vincitore cortese” (19.25.5-6). When, instead of surrendering, Argante attempts most uncourteously to wound his conqueror in the heel, Tancredi slays him. For this parallel, I am indebted to an unpublished paper by Lauren Scancarelli Seem entitled “The Limits of Chivalry: Tasso and the Virgilian Solution.” On the Christian camp as a scene of ideological and personal struggle, see Riccardo Bruscagli, “Il campo cristiano nella ‘Liberata,’” Stagioni della civilità estense (Pisa: Nistri Lischi, 1983) 187-223.

  12. On the doctrinal implications of Goffredo's error, see Fredi Chiapelli, Il conoscitore del caos (Rome: Bulzoni, 1981) 99ff. For Goffredo's development through the poem, see Ulrich Leo, Ritterepos Gottesepos (Köln: Bohlau Verlag, 1958), and Eugenio Donadoni, Torquato Tasso: Saggio Critico (Florence: Batistelli, 1920). In his study Poets Historical: Dynastic Epic in the Renaissance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982) 139, Andrew Fichter likens Goffredo's entry into the battle at the midpoint of the poem to Christ's entry into human form at the midpoint of history. He neglects to follow up the implications of the fact that Goffredo's descent is a descent into error, however. On Tasso's attempt to repress past ideology—including his own humanist education—see Ferguson's discussion in Trials of Desire.

  13. For a discussion of the incongruity between Sveno's errant life and his holy death, see Donadoni, Torquato Tasso 415.

  14. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, tr. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984) 149.

  15. The text appears in Le prose diverse di Torquato Tasso, ed. Cesare Guasti (Florence: 1875), 2.317-78.

  16. In Book 22, chapter 19 of the City of God, St. Augustine points out that martyrs are the only Christians who will not receive new and perfect bodies in heaven. This is so, he says, because their wounds must stand as the marks of their suffering for Christ. This tradition is echoed in Counter-Reformation discussions of artistic representation. Thus, for example, Giovanni Andrea Gilio da Fabriano, in a dialogue on painting (in his Due dialoghi [Rome, 1564]), reproaches Michelangelo for representing martyrs without their wounds—thereby focusing attention upon their physical beauty instead of their piety.

  17. The obvious literary predecessor to Sveno is Manfred, the martyr whom Dante encounters in the third canto of Purgatorio. As John Freccero notes in an essay on the scene, Manfred's wounds are the marks of his life in history: “His wounds, apparently accidental, are in fact signs of his identity and distinction … Their presence in the Purgatorio is at the same time the poet's mark, his intervention in the fiction that otherwise purports to be an unmediated representation of the other world” (“Manfred's Wounds and the Poetics of the Purgatorio,Centre and Labyrinth: Essays in Honor of Northrop Fyre, ed. Elenore Cook, et al. [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983] 73). Tasso's poetic strategy would seem to oppose Dante's. In a representation which roots itself in history, wounds become marks of divinity.

  18. References are to Walter Starkie's translation of Don Quixote (New York: Signet, 1979). I have altered Starkie's version to conform more closely to the original. I here cite p. 525.

  19. Cervantes 526.

  20. Cervantes 1045.

  21. The problem of imitation as a structuring element in the novel has, of course, its own history. See, on this question, René Girard's fundamental study Deceit, Desire and the Novel, tr. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965).

David Quint (essay date spring 1990)

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SOURCE: Quint, David. “Political Allegory in the Gerusalemme Liberata.Renaissance Quarterly 43, no. 1 (spring 1990): 1-24.

[In the following essay, Quint discusses the religious aspects of Gerusalemme liberata, which, he argues, celebrates the triumph of the Counter-Reformation.]

In 1553, six years before Tasso first began to sketch the poem that was to become the Gerusalemme liberata, the Catholic monarchs Philip II and Mary Tudor acceded to the throne of England, after the Protestant reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. The event was celebrated in an encomiastic oration, De vestituta in Anglia religione (“On the restoration of religion in England”), by the minor Modenese humanist, Antonio Fiordibello. In one passage Fiordibello searches for a precedent to the achievement of the new English rulers.

Quorum igitur Regum, Imperatorumque res gestae tam amplae unquam ac tam magnificae & gloriosae fuerunt, ut sint cum vestrae hujus actionis pietate, amplitudine, gloria comparandae? Admirari solent plerique vel maxime res a Gottjfredo Boemundo, & Balduino clarissimis Ducis gestas, qui cum ingentibus olim copiis ex his occidentis partibus in Asiam profecti, victis ac superatis Christiani nominis hostibus, urbem Hierosolima, & sanctissimum illud Christi liberatoris nostri sepulcrum receperunt. Et sane illi optime de Christiana Republica meriti fuerunt, neque adversus hostes res ulla unquam a Majoribus nostris gesta est gloriosor atque praeclarior. Verum meo quidem judicio factum vestrum gloriosius est, atque praestantius. Illi enim Christianis hominibus, si qui peregrinari Religionis caussa vellent, ad Christi Sepulcrum iter patefecerunt. Vos tantae huic nationi aditum ad caelestem patriam & ad Christum ipsum aperuistis. Illi loca illa quae fuerunt tanquam nostrae Religionis incunabula, Ecclesiae reddiderunt. Vos Ecclesiae, magnam ipsius & nobilem in primis partem, quae amissa fuerat, reddidistis: Postremo illi res eas maxima Barbarorum quidem illorum, sed tamen hominum caede gesserunt: vos hosce populos, qui propter ipsorum ab Ecclesia disiunctionem jam perierant, ad vitam revocatis. Et si autem tantem rem sine exercitu, sine vi, sinc armis, pietate tantum & consilio, atque auctoritate perfecistis.1

(The deeds of what kings or emperors were ever so great, magnificent and glorious that they can be compared, for piety, greatness, and glory to this act of yours? Most frequently and especially admired are the exploits of Godfrey, Bohemund, and Baldwin, those most famous of commanders, who once marched out of these western regions into Asia, and having defeated and overcome enemy armies in the name of Christianity, recovered the city of Jerusalem and the holiest sepulchre of our saviour Christ. And truly they were the most deserving of merit from the republic of Christendom, nor were any more glorious or outstanding deeds of prowess ever performed against enemy forces by our ancestors. Even so, in my judgment, this action of yours is the most glorious and outstanding. For they opened the way to Christ's sepulchre for those Christians who wished to make a pilgrimage for the sake of religion: you have opened the entrance to the celestial homeland and to Christ Himself for this great nation. They restored to the Church those places that were, so to speak, the cradle of our Religion. You restored to the Church her own great and especially noble part, which had been lost to her. Finally, they performed their exploits with a great slaughter of those peoples who were indeed barbarian pagans, but nonetheless men: you have recalled to life this English people, who, because of their separation from the Church, were perishing. Moreover, you have accomplished so great a deed without an army, without force, without weapons, but with such great piety, wisdom, and authority.)

For Fiordibello the heroism of the First Crusade finds its modern equivalent in Philip and Mary's reclamation of England for Catholicism, in the efforts of the Counter Reform to recover the territories of the Church lost to heresy. The armed struggle against the Moslem infidel is superseded by the reconversion of Protestants. Fiordibello describes this reconversion as a purely spiritual process of persuasion, and praises it for its lack of violence or coercion—thus glossing over its political character and failing to anticipate the events that gave Bloody Mary Tudor her sobriquet.

This linking of the crusades with the reunification of the Church, suggesting that the reunification is indeed a new crusade, is shared by the ideology and fiction of the Gerusalemme liberata. Tasso's epic portrays the taking of Jerusalem by the knights of the First Crusade under the leadership of Goffredo (Godefroi) of Boulogne. But Goffredo finds himself fighting on two fronts. Before he can conquer the Moslem defenders of Jerusalem, he must restore unity in his own ranks, particularly with regard to the hero Rinaldo, whose defection and eventual return to the Christian army imitates the model of Achilles and gives the poem its generally Iliadic shape. Goffredo's task is spelled out from the first octave of the epic:

Il Ciel gli diè favore, e sotto a i santi
segni ridusse i suoi compagni erranti.(2)

(Heaven favored him and he brought back his errant comrades beneath his holy banners.)

The “santi/segni” refer both to the army banners that indicate allegiance to Goffredo's command and to the cross that is displayed upon the banners: the political errancy of Goffredo's recalcitrant knights is equated with a spiritual, religious error. The equation becomes explicit in one episode of the Liberata, Argillano's revolt against the authority of Goffredo's captainship in canto 8, where a series of topical and literary allusions draw an analogy to the Protestant schism of Tasso's own day. The epic thus depicts a double crusade: against the infidel outside the Church, against disunity and potential heresy within. Moreover, the link that the poem makes between Argillano's rebellion and the disobedience of Rinaldo draws us to a further level of topical allusion involving Tasso's patron, the Este duke of Ferrara, and his relationship with the papacy, the Church in its guise as a temporal, political power.

The seeds of Argillano's revolt in canto 8 are planted when a party of scouts returns to the crusader camp with the report (8.47-56) that a corpse missing both its head and right hand has been found, believed to be that of Rinaldo, whom Goffredo banished three cantos earlier for his unruly violence and insubordination. The belief is false and is the result of a deception engineered by the pagan Armida (10.53-56): the corpse is one of Rinaldo's own victims whom she has clothed in the hero's discarded armor. She has, moreover, planted one of her servants disguised as a shepherd near the body; he hints (8.55) that Rinaldo was killed by soldiers from his own Christian army. That evening the diabolic fury Aletto (Allecto), following plans made at the opening of the canto with her fellow devil Astragorre (1-4), appears in a dream to Argillano, an Italian soldier and compatriot of Rinaldo. In the dream (59-62) he sees the trunk of Rinaldo's body which bears the hero's head in its left hand: the head speaks and tells Argillano that he was murdered by Goffredo, who plans to kill Argillano and his companions as well. Argillano addresses the Italian troops and, after voicing indignation at their common subordination to the foreign Frankish captain, discloses the contents of his dream, accusing Goffredo of having envied the “valor latino” (67) of Rinaldo. The ensuing rebellion spreads (72) to include the Swiss and English soldiers as well. Informed of the uprising, Goffredo prays to God, protesting his abhorrence of civil strife (76), and then goes to meet the mutineers unarmed. Divinely inspired, his face resplendent with celestial majesty, Goffredo is able to restore order to the army simply by his speech and presence. He pardons all except Argillano, who is turned over to him for execution.3

A series of literary models and topical allusions give the episode a layer of contemporary political meaning. The dream vision of Aletto in the guise of the mutilated Rinaldo is drawn from Dante's headless figure of Bertran de Born, who appears among the sowers of discord and schism in Inferno 28.112-142. The Dantesque emblem of the lacerated body-politic is appropriate to the dramatic situation of Argillano's revolt against the head of the Crusader forces. Bertran's placement, moreover, in a canto whose central character is Mohammed (28-63) and which alludes to Fra Dolcino (55-60) suggests that, already for Dante, the crucial body-politic in question is the body of the Church, threatened by heretical schism. This idea is confirmed in Tasso's episode when, according to the plan announced by Astragorre at the beginning of canto 8 (3), Argillano's rebellion spreads first to the Swiss, then to the English troops: to the sixteenth-century Protestant enemies of Rome.

An anti-Protestant polemic may underlie the Virgilian imitation in the episode as well. Conflated with the mutilated ghost of Hector who appears to the dreaming Aeneas in book 2 (268-297) of the Aeneid, the apparition of Aletto to Argillano more clearly recalls the passage of book 7 (415f.) where the same fury assumes a disguise to visit the sleeping Turnus and to instill in him the furor of battle, leading to the war in Italy that takes up the second half of Virgil's epic. Tasso's choice of this model for his episode of rebellion is logical enough: it is Virgil's great depiction of how the irrational violence of war is instigated, and the Virgilian fury is easily assimilated with Christian devils. But I would suggest that this choice was mediated by a recent anti-Lutheran tract of Girolamo Muzio, L'Heretico infuriato, published in 1562. Muzio was a humanist at the court of Urbino, where between 1557 and 1558 he had been a teacher of the young Tasso, at that time the thirteen year old school companion of the ducal heir, Francesco Maria della Rovere.4 Muzio wrote the Heretico infuriato against a certain Matthew of Jena, the Protestant Matthaeus Iudex, who in 1561 had published a pamphlet urging the emperor Ferdinand I to march on Rome and overthrow the pope.5 At the beginning of his tract, Muzio explains its title:

Si meraviglierà peravventura alcuno veduto il titolo di questo Libretto, che essendo tutti gli heretici non solamente infuriati, ma indiavolati, io ad un particulare habbia dato nome di infuriato. Là onde di questo avanti tute le altre cose mi par conveniente che io render ne debbia la ragione. Dico adunque che in leggendo gli scritti di colui, à cui per rispondere mi son mosso, mi si rappresentò alla mente quella infernal furia descritto da Virgilio, la qual co'l suo mortifero suono accese à prender le arme i villani di Latio contra la nobiltà di Troia. Che non altramente un certo Mattheo giudice professor (come egli si scrive) della Academia di Ihenna città di Sassonia autor della scrittura, di ch'io parlo, come spinto dalle ardenti facelle di una delle furie infernali, va fremendo, furiando, & arrabbiando per armar contra noi ogni condition di persone.6

(Someone may perhaps wonder on seeing the title of this little pamphlet that, inasmuch as all heretics are not only furious, but diabolically possessed, that I should have given the name of furious to one in particular. Wherefore I think it fitting that I should give the reason for this before turning to other matters. I say, therefore, that in reading his writings, which have moved me to write a response, there was represented to my mind that infernal fury described by Virgil, which with her deadly trumpet blast kindled the peasants of Latium to take arms against the nobility of Troy. For not otherwise does a certain Matthew the judge and professor, as he titles himself, of the Academy of Jena, a city in Saxony, and author of the writing of which I speak, as if prompted by the burning torches of one of the infernal furies, go ranting, raving, and raging to arm against us men of all conditions.)

Muzio associates Virgil's Allecto with the diabolic inspiration of Protestantism and views the Italian war of the Aeneid as a Lutheran Peasants' Revolt; he expresses a typical Counter Reform horror at the prospect of Protestantism setting the lower orders against their aristocratic social betters. Tasso similarly depicts Argillano's rebellion as a mutiny of the “vulgo folle” (74, 82). And he portrays Argillano as the recipient of a new spiritual inspiration—“gli spira / spirto novo di furor pieno” (62)—that equates the individual inspiration by which the Protestant claims authority outside the community and consensus of the Church with the suggestion of the devil: it is contrasted with a genuine working of the Spirit, the new and unwonted warmth—“un novo inusitato caldo” (77)—that Goffredo feels in response to his prayer.7 Moreover Argillano proposes a deviation from the Crusaders' goal that spells out the nature of his schism in typological terms.

          o pur vorrem lontano
girne da lei, dove l'Eufrate inonda
dove a popolo imbelle in fertil piano
tante ville e città nutre e feconda,
anzi a noi pur? Nostre saranno, io spero,
ne co' Franchi commune avrem l'impero.


(or shall we rather wish to travel far from Goffredo's power, where the Euphrates washes the land, where it nourishes and makes fruitful so many towns and cities on the fertile plain for a people unused to war—let it be for us instead? They will be ours, I hope, nor will we share our dominion with the Franks.)

Urging the Italians to leave Jerusalem to the Franks and to carve out a kingdom of their own, Argillano would lead them into the plain watered by the Euphrates—what appears to be the plain of Shinar (Sennaar) of the bible (Gn. 10:10)—the site first of Babel and its tower, later of Babylon. It was a commonplace for sixteenth-century Catholics and Protestants to accuse each other of building Babylon, the earthly city of confusion, in opposition to Jerusalem, the true Church; both exploited the biblical analogy that had been decisively reshaped by Augustine in his discussion of the two cities in book 14 of The City of God. Tasso may here again follow Muzio, who in chapter 20 of his treatise, identifies Babylon with Saxony, the home of his Lutheran adversary:

Et questa dottrina è nata & nutrita in Alamagna; Et principalmente in Sassonia; donde ho detto essere uscito il libro di questo spirito infuriato; et quindi come una peste appigliando vassi per lo mondo. Questa è adunque quella a superba, & quella temeraria; Questa è quella meretrice, che va fornicando co'Prencipi della terra rimovendogli dal vero culto di Dio; Questa è macchiata del sangue de' Santi, & de propheti, i quali stati sono oppressi da' Prencipi, & da popoli, che procurato hanno di distrugger la Catholica Fede. Questa è fatta habitation di dimonii, & ricetto di tutti gli spiriti immondi; Et questa è la gran Babilonia, che è caduta. Babilonia significa confusione: e dove fu maggior confusione? dove sono più travagliati e perseguitati i Catholici che in quelle parti? dove vissero mai tante heresie in un tempo? … Caduta è la gran Babilonia; caduta è dalla religione; caduta dalla devotione, & dalla vera fede. … La gran Babilonia, la natione fra le Christiane grandissima, et che unita era insieme propriamente come una Città, hora è in se divisa fra Catholici, & heretici; & gli heretici fra loro.8

(And this Protestant doctrine was born and nourished in Germany; and principally in Saxony, whence as I have said issued the book of this furious spirit, and thence, catching like a plague, goes travelling through the world. This is therefore that proud and bold woman, this that whore, that goes fornicating with the Princes of the Earth, removing them from the true worship of God; this is she who is stained with the blood of the saints and prophets, who have been oppressed by the Princes and by the people who have endeavored to destroy the Catholic Faith. She has made herself the habitation of devils and the haven of all unclean spirits; and this is the great Babylon that is fallen; Babylon signifies confusion: and where was there ever greater confusion and where are Catholics more travailed and persecuted than in those regions? Where did so many heresies ever exist at one time? … Fallen is the great Babylon, fallen from religion, fallen from devotion, and from the true faith. … Great Babylon, the largest among Christian nations, and which used to be unified like one city, now is divided against itself between Catholics and heretics, and the heretics among themselves.)

Argillano's exhortation to seek out a Babylonian realm by the Euphrates is thus inscribed by the language of Renaissance religious controversy. The secessionist alternative he offers reinforces the analogy between his revolt and Protestant schism.

As a fomenter of rebellion, Argillano has a prior history of participation in civil strife:

nacque in riva del Tronto e fu nutrito
ne le risse d'odio e di sdegno;
poscia in essiglio spinto, i colli e'l lito
empiè di sangue e depredò quel regno,
sin che ne l'Asia a guerreggiar se 'n venne
e per fama miglior chiaro divenne.


(he was born on the banks of the Tronto and raised amid quarrels of hatred and wrath; then, cast into exile, he filled the hills and shore with blood, and plundered that realm, until he came to do combat in Asia and became renowned with a better fame.)

Argillano's experience is one too often repeated in Renaissance Italy: an exile from his faction-torn city who becomes a bandit and scours the surrounding countryside. The city here is Ascoli Piceno. Located on the banks of the Tronto, it was subject to frequent civil violence and outbreaks of banditry in the sixteenth century. Tasso may have modelled Argillano upon a particular historical bandit, Mariano Parisani, who was active around Ascoli in the 1560s. In 1561 Parisani went into exile from Ascoli after having killed three fellow citizens: a woman cousin, her husband, and her eighty-year-old father-in-law. For the next five years Parisani preyed upon the territory of Ascoli as the leader of a formidable troop of bandits. After defeating several papal forces sent against him, he finally left the region altogether and served as an honored mercenary in the employ of the dukes of Savoy and Tuscany.9 Parisani's career is strikingly parallel to that of Tasso's Argillano, the bandit who turns his prowess to a better military cause. But Argillano has not, in fact, put his strife-ridden past behind him.

The real significance, however, of Tasso's topical allusion lies in the fact that Ascoli belonged to the States of the Church and that its bandits fought against papal troops: it casts Argillano's rebellion as another similar revolt against papal authority. This reading overlaps with the anti-Protestant overtones of the episode: when the revolt spreads to the Swiss and the English the idea seems to be that opposition to the temporal power of the Church is the first dangerous step towards heresy and schism. Conversely, Protestantism is reduced to a purely political problem, a defiance of Rome that is equivalent to the acts of seditious bandits in the Papal States. Yet here, as was the case in Fiordibello's oration, the political problem is given what appears to be a spiritual solution: the sole presence and persuasion of Goffredo are enough to quell Argillano's mutiny. Tasso adds, however, a marvelous supplement at the very end of the episode: legend has it that a winged warrior was seen shielding Goffredo and brandishing a sword still dripping with blood:

sangue era forse di città, di regni
che provocar del Cielo i tardi sdegni.


(it was perhaps the blood of cities and kingdoms that provoked the delayed anger of Heaven.)

Goffredo's spiritual defense may possibly contain force after all, though it is a force transferred to God and his angel of wrath.

Implicit in this reading of Argillano's rebellion as political allegory is the identification, at some level, of Goffredo with the authority of the papacy; the unity that he seeks to maintain in the Crusader forces is the unity of the Church. Peter the Hermit has described what will be the nature of Goffredo's office at the beginning of the Liberata:

Ove un sol non impera, onde i giudici
pendano poi de' premi e de le pene,
onde sian compartite opre ed uffici,
ivi errante il governo esser conviene.
Deh! fate un corpo sol de' membri amici,
fate un capo che gli altri indrizzi e frene,
date ad un sol lo scettro e la possanza,
e sostenga di re vece e sembianza.


(Where there is not one ruler, on whom depends the determination of rewards and punishments, by whom are allotted tasks and duties, there government must be unstable. Ah, make one single body of loving members, make a head that directs and checks the others, give to one alone the sceptre and power, and let him undertake the role and guise of king.)

Here, too, Tasso's language derives from the polemics of the Counter-Reform; as head of the Crusader body-politic, Goffredo resembles not only king, but pope, the Vicar of Christ who on earth assumes the headship of the Church which is the body of Christ.10 Writing a confutation of Luther's arguments, Gaspare Contarini asserts:

Denique sicuti est unum Christianorum corpus, cuius nos membra sumus, ita etiam esse in Ecclesia unum Pontificem, à quo haec unitas contineatur in terris. Nam multitudo principatus mala, & quae unitati valde officiat … Unius erge Ecclesiae unum caput, unusque rector.11

(Therefore just as there is one body of Christians of which we are the members, so is there also one Pontiff in the Church, by whom this unity may be kept together on earth. For a multiple sovereignty is evil and is greatly detrimental to unity. … Of one Church, therefore, there should be one head, one ruler.)

The idea was a commonplace, but a Calvin would challenge it, arguing that the pope was “neither appointed leader of the Church by the Word of God, nor ordained by a legitimate act of the Church, but of his own accord, self-elected” (“certe non verbo Dei constitutum, non legitima ecclesiae vocatione ordinatum ecclesiae principem fuisse, sed volontarium, et a se ipso lectum”).12 Tasso begins his poem with God himself choosing Goffredo as captain of the army; he sends down Gabriel, the bearer of his Word, in a scene that recalls the Annunciation (1.13-17). When Goffredo is subsequently elected by a council of his peers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (32) we are meant to think of a papal election in the College of Cardinals.

Argillano's rebellion against Goffredo's duly constituted authority is not an isolated episode in the Liberata. Argillano is a mirror-figure of the poem's central hero, Rinaldo, in whose name he leads his revolt.13 He repeats Rinaldo's own earlier act of insubordination against Goffredo: Rinaldo's refusal to submit to Goffredo's judgment in canto 5 (42-44) after he has killed the insulting Norwegian prince, Gernando. On that occasion Tancredi persuaded Rinaldo not to fight Goffredo “e con piaghe indegne de' Christiani / trafigger Cristo, ond'ei son membra e parte” (5.46: “and with unworthy wounds upon Christians to wound Christ, of whom they are members and limbs”). Argillano's rebellion thus inflicts the civil strife and wounds on the Christian body politic which Rinaldo had been on the point of inflicting himself. Conversely, Rinaldo's eventual decision to leave the Crusader camp in exile is much like the schismatic departure from Jerusalem that Argillano will later urge upon his followers.14 The two characters are further linked by the issue of Italian political subjugation. Possessed by the devil, the proud Gernando scorns Rinaldo who was born “ne la serva Italia” (5.19), and Gernando's death at Rinaldo's hands is a kind of vindication of Italian honor against the northern “barbaro signor.” (This idea was more forcefully articulated in an earlier version of the poem that survives in manuscript. The character Gernando was formerly named Ernando and was the prince of Castile: the episode was explicitly directed against Spanish hegemony over Italy before Tasso prudently revised it.)15 But when Argillano makes a similar patriotic gesture, it is he who is depicted as diabolically possessed, inciting the Italian troops to rebel against their Frankish captains and a “popolo barbaro e tiranno” (8.63), to avenge affronts that would make Italy and Rome burn with scorn and anger for a thousand years—“tal ch'arder di scorno, arder di sdegno / potrà da qui a mill'anni Italia e Roma” (64).

Argillano is thus a stand-in for Rinaldo, one who discloses the more serious dangers and consequences of the hero's actions, of Rinaldo's assertions of (Italian) independence from Goffredo's rule. And Argillano is also a fall-guy, punished by the poem so that Rinaldo can be forgiven and rehabilitated. In fact, Goffredo demands that Argillano be handed over for justice in the same breath with which he pardons the absent Rinaldo (8.80-81): the hero is welcomed back to do submission to Goffredo (18.1-2), while the revolt of the minor character is sternly put down. The repentant Argillano will later escape from prison to be killed in battle by the pagan warrior Solimano (9.87)—it is probably significant that Solimano beheads him. Rinaldo escapes this fate by killing the same Solimano (20.107) in the poem's final battle.

Argillano and Rinaldo are further, and perhaps most significantly, linked by topical allusion. Rinaldo is the fictional ancestor of the Este dukes of Ferrara, the last of whom, Alfonso II, was Tasso's patron. Ferrara was papal fief, and the Este ruled the city as knights of Saint Peter and vassals of the Apostolic See. Thus Rinaldo's relationship to Goffredo, no less than that of Argillano, the rebellious bandit from Ascoli Piceno, can point to a contemporary conflict between a refractory dependent subject and the Church as a temporal, territorial power. Read as topical allegory, Rinaldo's differences and eventual reconciliation with Goffredo maps out a sufficiently ambivalent relationship between the Este and the papacy. In fact, the recent history of that relationship had been far from easy.

The Este grievances with Rome are neatly listed in a document drawn up for Alfonso II in 1578, entitled “Scrittura onde appaiono i ragionevoli sospetti che Sua Altezza ha di continuo potuto haver che i Pontefici de suoi tempi fossero per muoversi contra di lei” (“Document in which appear the reasonable suspicions that His Highness could continually have had that the popes of his time were about to move against him”).16 This memorandum notes the various disputes, conflicts, slights, and accusations that Alfonso had endured from the papacy, listing them year by year and month by month from 1562 up to the present of 1578, and labelling them in the margin under various reappearing categories: “saltworks,” “precedence,” “reprisals,” “borders” (with the neighboring papal territory of Bologna), “war,” “imputations,” “complaints,” etc. The first two of these were the major source of irritation and discord between the two powers. The saltworks of Comacchio were a major sector of Ferrara's economy, but they constituted competition for the papal saltworks at Cervia. Pius IV and Pius V forbade the production and transport of salt through the duchy to Lombard markets, prohibitions that Alfonso defied, continuing the salt trade unabated while sending ambassadors to negotiate endlessly before ecclesiastical courts in Rome. The other major issue dividing the Este from the papacy was their precedence controversy with the Medici; it became their overriding diplomatic concern during the decades of the 1560s and 1570s, and it had international repercussions.17

The controversy dated back to 1541 when Duke Ercole II claimed for his ambassador a place of greater honor at the papal court than that accorded to the Florentine ambassador of Cosimo I de'Medici: for while the Este could trace their lordship back to the feudal twelfth century, the Medici banker-princes had only recently been ennobled. A diplomatic battle ensued, waged by both ducal houses with elaborate negotiations and hefty bribes. In the 1560s, jurisdiction to determine the question was claimed both by the Emperor Ferdinand, who favored the Este, and by the pope, Pius IV, who was pro-Medici. It was the latter's successor, Pius V, who in 1569 named Cosimo Grand Duke of Tuscany, raising him to a higher rank and to the titles of “Serenissimo” and “Altezza,” and thus guaranteeing him precedence over Alfonso II. The pope was partly moved to his action by his irritation over the issue of the saltworks. Alfonso reacted by refusing to join the Holy League created by Pius in 1570 to fight the Turk—the “Scrittura” makes the unlikely charge that instead the pope “escluse la persona del Signor Duca di Ferrara essendo ella stata proposta per Generale della Lega contra gli infideli” (“excluded the person of the Lord Duke of Ferrara who had been proposed to be the General of the League against the infidels”)18—and the bad blood created by the affair contributed to the emperor's absence from the league as well. Thus Tasso, the poet of the First Crusade, wrote under the patronage of one of the few major Italian courts that did not participate at Lepanto.

There was a third question, not mentioned in the “Scrittura,” that lay ominously in the background of Este relations with the papacy. The same Pius V had on 23 May 1567 issued a bull that forbade illegitimate family lines from inheriting feudal titles in papal domains. The bull seems to have been aimed particularly at Alfonso, who was widely (and, as it turned out, correctly) believed to be sterile—so the Medici ambassador to Ferrara, Bernardo Canigiani, reported in December of the same year19—and who had no legitimate collateral heirs. The very future of the Este in Ferrara was menaced, and, in fact, after Alfonso's death in 1597 the duchy would be swallowed up into the States of the Church. The threat was real, but, as the omission from the “Scrittura” suggests, it does not seem, as some modern scholars have maintained, to have been a central objective of Este diplomacy in the decade following 1567, the period when Tasso was composing his poem. Only in the second half of the 1580s did Alfonso begin to make vain attempts to obtain legitimacy for first one, then another, bastard cousin.20

Relations between Ferrara and Rome were thus strained, and Alfonso sought alliances with other powers to play off against his papal overlords. The Este were also dukes of Modena and Reggio, which they held as imperial fiefs, and Alfonso's marriage in 1565 to Barbara of Austria, the daughter of Ferdinand I, brought him closer into the sphere and protection of the Hapsburg Empire. But the Duke sought other alliances in the north as well. In 1575 the Venetian ambassador Emilio Maria Manolesso reported, mildly scandalized, that Alfonso had gone to the great trouble of learning German, “lingua che non s'impara per dilettazione, come quella che è barbarissima” (“a language that isn't learned for pleasure, because it is most barbarous”), and that he maintained close relations with the Lutheran duke of Saxony.21 But those in the know, Manolesso continued, thought that the duke had no other goal in his friendship with the German Protestants except to use the fearful prospect of their descending upon Italy as a weapon against the pope and Florence. The Florentine ambassador Canigiani recounts actual threats against the pope voiced by Ferrarese courtiers. On 12 July 1568, he wrote back to Cosimo I:

La causa dei sali a Roma si sente che non va a modo del Duca con tutti gli ufitij fatti da l'Imperatore, dal re Cattolico, da molti Cardinali, et in persona dal Signor Don Francesco: e comincerò a creder, che quanto costoro bravano che hanno tanta ragione, e' dichino al solito le bugie et credirsele. Ma il bello è che di questi che trescono, et servono chi tresca al segreto si lasciono uscir di bocca che questo papa stuzzicando un principe si grande et parente di Imperatore et di tanti re et principi grandi, va cercando che e' si chiami quaggiu uno sciame d'Ugonotti: hor vegga l'Eccellenza Vostra Illustrissima con che armi noi vogliamo difender il torto, et far filar Sua Santità che secondo me è un modo di scacciar benevolenza di tutti i principi Christiani: pero io non so che di bocca di Sua Eccellenza esca tal cosa, ne somigliante, et anche non so quanto io lo credessi.22

(One hears that the cause of the saltworks in Rome is not going according to the Duke's wishes, with all the good offices done for him by the Emperor, by the Catholic King of Spain, by many cardinals, and in the person of Signor Don Francesco d'Este: and I begin to think, that as much as they may boast that their cause is so just, they're telling lies as usual and believing them. But the beauty of it is that these intriguers and their servants are secretly letting out that this pope, irritating so great a prince, and a relation of the Emperor and of so many great kings and princes is looking to have him summon down here a swarm of Huguenots: now let Your Most Illustrious Excellency see with what weapons we here want to defend the wrong, and make His Holiness behave, which to my way of thinking is a way to lose the benevolence of all Christian princes: however I don't know whether this or similar things come from the mouth of His Excellency the Duke and I also don't know how much I believe it.)

And Canigiani writes again to Cosimo on 16 January 1570, when the Este were seeking allies in other Italian princely courts to oppose the new title of Grand Duke granted the Medici ruler:

Domenica mattina vidi in corte l'Ambasciatore Guerrino [Guarini] tornato di Savoia et non si può penetrare cosa di sua risposta onde io conietturo che la non sia per costoro secondo l'intenzione, che me ne farebbono un cantar da stordirmi, maxime il Bentivoglio, che vorrebbe poter accender fuoco fra il papa et l'Imperatore, parendoli che in tutta Europa non sia soldato suo pari per servir sua Maestà et si lascia scappare di far calare sciame di Luterani se questo papa stuzzica et simile velenose vanità, con che mi faranno un tratto scoppiar delle risa.23

(Sunday morning I saw at court the Ambassador Guerrino [Guarini] returned from Savoy, and one can't find out anything about his answer, from which I conjecture that it isn't according to their intention, for they would make a song out of it to send me into a stupor if it were, especially Bentivoglio, who would like to be able to light a fire between the pope and the Emperor; it seems to him that in all Europe there is no soldier his equal to serve his imperial Majesty, and he lets out that he would bring down a swarm of Lutherans if this pope keeps causing irritation and similar poisonous vanities, which at a moment will make me burst with laughter.)

A swarm of Huguenots, a swarm of Lutherans. These anticipations of another sack of Rome, the first carried out in 1527 by the Lutheran mercenaries of the emperor Charles V, suggests how the resistance of the Este to papal power could seem to ally itself with Protestant heresy. And the Este, in fact, had played a role in 1527, allowing the imperial army to cross through their territory on its way down the peninsula, for which they were still being blamed by the papacy forty years later.24 There was, moreover, real discussion at the imperial court in 1568 of a new military campaign against Rome: of the kind promoted by Matthaeus Iudex seven years before.25 Entering into the causes of friction between emperor and pope was their respective backing of Ferrara and Tuscany in the precedence controversy. Canigiani is dismissive, but his friend Tasso may have taken the loose talk in Ferrara seriously, and with some reason. His epic doubles the insubordination of the Este avatar Rinaldo with the crypto-Protestant revolt of Argillano.

If at home in Ferrara the Este could assume an aggressive posture towards Rome, they publicly sought reconciliation and a return to the favor of the pope. On 22 July 1569, their ambassador at Rome, Francesco Martello, received a long letter of instructions, outlining the arguments he was to use to ingratiate the Este to Pius V.26 The burning issue was the precedence controversy, and Martello was ordered to read or present to the pope a “succinct abstract” (“succinto estratto”) of nineteen pages, entitled “Servitij fatti dalla serenissima casa di Este alla Santa Sede Apostolica principiando l'anno 773 per tutto l'anno 1474” (“Services rendered the Holy Apostolic See by the most serene house of Este beginning in the year 773 through the year 1474”).27 By heeding this document, Pius was to see “the many and signal services that these Princes have done the Church, exposing their own persons, and how they have continued to aid and serve her always with every readiness, and often to their notable detriment: and with the loss of their own lives and also of many of their dominions” (“quali et quanti siano i segnalati serivitij che questi Principi hanno fatto alla Chiesa con esporsi le persone proprie, et qualmente habbiano continuato di soccorrerla et servirla sempre con ogni prontezza, et spesso con notabile detrimento: et con perdita delle vite proprie et anche di molti stati”).28 In return, the document itself proclaimed, earlier popes had given the Este “privileges with widest concession of every tax and every sort of jurisdiction so that they could repair to them according to their needs, and also created them Grand Dukes (“Duchi Magni”), equal to any other Grand Duke, as grand as he might be” (“privilegij con amplissima concessione d'ogni datio et d'ogni sorte di giuriditione affinche potessero ripararsi secondo il bisogno et anche li criarono Duchi Magni al pare di ogn'altro Magno per magno che possa essere”).29 It continues with a list of sixty-nine episodes from the dynastic history of the Este, all attesting to their services, primarily military, to the Church. The list is drawn from and offers a kind of pre-publication preview of Giovan Battista Pigna's Historia dei Principi d'Este, the major work of literary propaganda produced for the Este during the precedence controversy: a book that, Pigna himself wrote to a Ferrarese ambassador in Rome, was similarly to be presented to the pope as witness to how greatly “the predecessors of His Excellency have been devoted to the Apostolic See and perpetual defenders of the Church” (“i predecessori di Sua Eccellenza siano stati divoti della sede apostolica et perpetui difensori della Chiesa”).30 But between the letter to Martello and the first printing of Pigna's Historia in November, the perfidious Pius had declared in favor of Cosimo on 24 August 1569 and given him the title of Grand Duke that Alfonso claimed for himself.

Defeated, the Este waited until Pius' death in 1572 to renew their suit with his successor Gregory XIII. Alfonso now hoped to have Cosimo's title revoked or at least to be awarded the same rank himself. A delegation was sent to Rome on December 18 which included Tasso and Battista Guarini, later the author of the Pastor fido. On December 31, Guarini presented before Gregory and the papal court an accomplished Latin oration that was subsequently published.31 This was a typical “obedientia” oration in which a new pope was to receive congratulations on his accession and a pledge of obedience from the foreign prince.32 Guarini used the occasion to take up again the theme of previous Este service and military assistance to the Apostolic See, this time with the elegant variation of recalling the occasions when such aid had been rendered to popes with the name of Gregory:

Si quis enim diligenter annales praeteritorum temporum contempletur, in nulla alia quamvis numerosa, et altius repetita serie, quam in hac una Gregoriorum certe nobilissima, tot Pontifices unquam reperiet, qui maiore nec animorum consensu, nec temporum concursu, vel huius familiae fidem atque observantiam amplexi fuerint, vel inde beneficia tam ipsorum quam ad Ecclesiae dignitatem spectantia, aut plura certe aut praestantiora retulerint.33

(If anyone should diligently contemplate the annals of past times, in no other series, however numerous or often repeated, as in this most noble one of Gregories will he ever find so many pontiffs, who with a greater consensus of minds, or on more frequent occasions, have embraced the faith and observance of this family, or received from them more numerous or more outstanding services worthy of their own dignity as much as of the dignity of the Church.)

Guarini invokes the cases of Gregory V, Gregory VII, Gregory IX, and Gregory XI, each paired with their respective Este lords and auxiliaries. The series of odd-numbered Gregories irresistibly leads to the present Gregory XIII, whom Guarini assures of Alfonso's devotion:

Haec igitur Romanorum Pontificum, et Estensium Principum constans ac illustrissima series, tam arcto beneficiorum vinculo, tot superatis seculis ad nostra usque tempora couservata, si quid possunt divina in rebus humanis vestigia ad excitandas hominum mentes Alfonsum II Principem nostrum non obscure quidem admonere videtur, ut praeter eum, quem tibi summo Pontifici, tuisque immortalibus meritis debet, excellenti quodam et longe omnium maximo honore et reverentia veneretur: te vero Pater optime ut quorum munus et nomen refers, eorum etiam benevolentiam erga hanc familiam tam de Christiana Republica benemeritam imiteris.34

(Therefore, this constant and most famous series of Roman Pontiffs and Este Princes, conserved together through so many centuries to our present times by a binding chain of beneficial services seems—if traces of divinity in human affairs can do anything to excite the minds of men—clearly indeed to admonish our Prince Alfonso II that, beyond that which he owes you, supreme Pontiff, because of your immortal merits, that he should venerate you with the greatest and most outstanding honor and reverence: you, indeed, excellent Father, as you carry on the title and name of those popes, will also imitate their benevolence towards this family so worthy of merit from the republic of Christendom.)

The quid-pro-quo is clearly spelled out: Este devotion and service in return for papal favor in the disputed areas of the saltworks and precedence, particularly in the latter. What most struck Guarini's audience was his audacious reference to Alfonso by the Grand Ducal title of “Serenissimo.”35

Just what service Alfonso really had to offer Gregory became clearer when the duke himself came to Rome to see the pope in January 1573. The Florentine ambassador in Rome, Alessandro de' Medici, wrote to Cosimo that the duke of Ferrara had come

oltre tutte l'altre cagioni, con disegno di procurar d'entrar nella Lega, dove, quando gli sia concesso, offerisce al Papa di tirarvi anche l'Imperator, sperando con la presenza sua, et con tal offerta non solamente consequir questo suo intento, ma guadagnarvi ancora l'animo di Sua Beatitudine, per l'effetto di tutti li altri desideri suoi.36

(beyond all other reasons with the design of procuring entrance in the [Holy] League, where once it is conceded him to enter, he offers to the Pope to draw in the Emperor, too, hoping with his presence, and with such an offer not only to make good his present intent, but also to gain the mind of His Blessedness in order to effect all his other desires.)

Alfonso was now willing to enter the Holy League he had earlier spurned and promised to guarantee imperial participation as well. The Medici ambassador thought this offer to be a weak bargaining chip, and, in fact, nothing came of it.37 Alfonso and his delegation returned empty-handed from Rome, and the differences between Ferrara and the Church remained unresolved.

The Este did not obtain a reconciliation with the papacy, but their poet appears to offer an idealized version of such a reconciliation in the submission that Rinaldo does to Goffredo. Goffredo has been instructed by a divinely-inspired dream (14.13-14) that he needs the Este knight as much as the latter needs him, and when Rinaldo comes to renew obedience to him, Goffredo rises from his throne to meet him halfway (17.97.7-8). He urges that bygones be bygones:

Ogni triste memoria omai si taccia
e pongansi in oblio l'andate cose.
E per emenda io vorrò sol che faccia,
quai per uso faresti, opre famose.


(Henceforth let every unhappy memory be left unspoken, and let past events be placed in oblivion. And to make amends I shall only wish that you do those famous deeds which you would be wont to do.)

The scene is a much revised version of Achilles' reconciliation with Agamemnon and return to battle in book 19 of the Iliad—there it is Achilles who relinquishes his anger, and Agamemnon who acknowledges his fault and makes amends. But inscribed in this traditional epic plot of commander and chief warrior is the identification of Rinaldo with the Este and Goffredo with papal power and authority: it suggests here a vision of the dukes of Ferrara settling their quarrel with the papacy and resuming their vaunted role as defenders of the Church. This identification is made quite explicitly in the earlier prophecy of Peter the Hermit, who urges the recall of Rinaldo to the army in canto 10 and predicts, in Virgilian accents, the future part that both Rinaldo and his Este descendants will play as champions and upholders of papal might:

Ecco chiaro vegg'io, correndo gli anni,
ch'egli s'oppone a l'empio Augusto e 'l doma;
e sotto l'ombra de gli argentei vanni
l'aquila sua copre la Chiesa e Roma,
che de la fera avrà tolte a gli artigli;
e ben di lui nasceran degni i figli.
          De' figli i figli, e chi verrà da quelli,
quinci avran chiari e memorandi essempi;
e da' Cesari ingiusti e da' rubelli
difenderan le mitre e i sacri tempi.
Premer gli alteri e sollevar gli imbelli,
difender gli innocenti e punir gli empi
fian l'arti lor: così verrà che vole
l'aquila estense oltra le vie del sole.
                    E dritto è ben che, se 'l ver mira e 'l lume,
ministri a Pietro i folgori mortali.
U' per Cristo si pugni, ivi le piume
spiegar dee sempre invitte e trionfali,
ché ciò per suo nativo alto costume
dielle il Cielo e per leggi a lei fatali.
Onde piace là su che in questa degna
impresa, onde partì, chiamato vegna.


(Lo, I see him clearly, as the years course by, oppose and conquer the impious emperor, and I see his Este eagle shelter beneath the shade of its silvery wings the Church and Rome which he has wrested from the claws of that beast, and his sons and descendants will be born worthy of him. Hence the children of his children and those born from them will follow his famous and memorable examples, and they will defend papal mitres and the holy temples of God from unjust and rebellious Caesars. To subject the proud and aid the unwarlike, defend the innocent and punish the wicked, these will be their arts: and thus it will come about that the Este eagle will fly higher than the course of the sun. And it is just, if it sees the truth and the light, that it should put its deadly thunderbolts in the service of Peter. Where there is combat for the sake of Christ, there it must ever spread its wings unconquerable and triumphant, for this is the inborn custom that the fatal laws of Heaven have assigned it. Wherefore it is the pleasure of Heaven that Rinaldo be recalled to this worthy enterprise from which he departed.)

Rinaldo, who will defeat Frederick Barbarossa, the oppressor of the Church, will be followed by other Este rulers who will sustain the papacy against the emperor during the Investiture Controversy and otherwise lend their support to Rome. The logic of the last octave conflates the present crusade with the future defense of the Church: it is because the Este are divinely destined to be the protectors of the papacy that Rinaldo should be brought back now into Goffredo's service. Tasso's fiction, which draws here upon the same sources as Pigna's Historia, repeats the Este diplomatic line that ascribed to the family a special relationship to the Church, a relationship that Alfonso would offer to renew in 1573, pledging military service that he had earlier withheld from the Holy League.38 For Tasso the Este become the chosen ministers of papal power, just as, in the fiction of the poem, Rinaldo has been elected by Providence to be the “essecutor soprano” (14.14.4) of Goffredo's orders. This exaltation of the Este as champions of the Church is given prominence by the position of Peter's prophecy at the end of canto 10, at the very midpoint of the Liberata. The plot and structure of the poem hinge upon the divinely sanctioned return of the errant Rinaldo under Goffredo's command, and in the same way Heaven seems to have decreed the continuation of the historical partnership between the pope and his Este vassals.

If the Liberata thus gives voice to an official line of Este propaganda, Tasso's attitude towards his patrons remains sufficiently ambivalent. Alfonso must presumably have been gratified to see reflected in the story of Rinaldo his family's claims to be the special military servants of the papacy—and thus entitled to special papal consideration. But he would have found less to his liking—had he been able to decipher them—the poem's encoded linkings of Rinaldo to Argillano and of Argillano to heretical schism: the suggestion that the Este quarrels with Rome might ally them with the Protestant enemy.39 Moreover, for all the benevolence that Goffredo shows to the penitent Rinaldo, he remains in charge of the situation, and it is Rinaldo who must do submission to him. Tasso may plead for the return of the Este into the good graces of the pope, but reconciliation is based on their acknowledging and bowing to the Church's higher authority. The depiction of this submission may have given some satisfaction to the poet, whose resentment at his own subordination and powerlessness vis-à-vis his Este patrons should not be excluded from the political equations of his epic. Tasso may have chosen to identify with his patrons' “patron”—the feudal overlord of the dukes of Ferrara.40 There is no necessary contradiction here: Tasso may enjoy portraying the Este's humiliation and still advocate their cause. Within this sado-masochistic dialectic, moreover, it is possible to identify with the rebellious son as well as with the punishing paternal authority, and Tasso can sympathize with his Este hero and with the local Italian political interests he represents when he shows Rinaldo upholding Italian independence and nationalistic honor against the arrogant foreigner Gernando. But by suggesting that behind Rinaldo lurks Argillano, the spectre of lawlessness and Protestant heresy, Tasso argues for the subordination of those local interests to papal rule. By the same token, the identification of Goffredo's supreme power with the Church allows for an Italian nationalism of another kind. A sixteenth-century Italian poet aiming to revive the imperialist formula of Virgilian epic could find in the papacy the only peninsular power with genuinely international claims. In the last chapter of the Prince, Machiavelli had himself looked, perhaps with mere utopian wishful thinking, to a ruler who could use the power of the Church to unite Italy and drive out her foreign conquerors.

The Liberata thus celebrates the triumph of the imperial, Counter-Reform papacy: this is the significance for the larger poem of the specific topical allusions that gather around Rinaldo and Argillano. The peculiar trick of these allusions is to portray the two rebels against Goffredo's authority literally as political subjects of the Church, inhabitants of papal domains. This does not necessarily reduce the universal political concerns of the epic to provincial squabbles in Central Italy, but rather transforms all members of the ideal Church imagined by the epic into similar subjects: this Church is conceived as much as a temporal political power as a spiritual institution, and indeed these two identities become confused and inseparable in the poem as they do in the Papal States. The resulting political picture turns Tasso's First Crusade into an emblem of the Church Militant, whose quest for souls is finally indistinguishable from the imperialist conquest of new territories and dependent subjects.


  1. Fiordibello's text can be found in Jacobi Sadoleti, Opera quae extant omnia (Verona, 1758), 2:435.

  2. Gerusalemme liberata, 1.1.7-8, in Tasso, Opere, ed. Bruno Maier (Milan, 1964).

  3. There is an epic model for Tasso's episode in the mutiny of Julius Caesar's army in the fifth book of Lucan's Pharsalia (237-374). There are no direct verbal echos, but the scenario is the same: the general faces the rage of the mob, puts an end to rebellion merely by his undaunted words and countenance, and demands the execution of the ringleaders. We might be surprised that Tasso should model the pious Goffredo on Lucan's Caesar, who is the clear villain of the Pharsalia. Yet Goffredo plays this same Caesar elsewhere in the Liberata. His interview with Armida in canto 4 recalls the meeting of Caesar and Cleopatra in book 10 of the Pharsalia (80f.)—though Goffredo, unlike Caesar, proves impervious to feminine wiles and charms. His speech to the Crusader army before the climactic battle in canto 20 (14-19) is closely modelled on Caesar's speech to his troops in book 7 before the battle of Pharsalia, while the Egyptian Emireno's speech (25-27) imitates the corresponding speech of Lucan's Pompey (369-373). The identification of Goffredo with Caesar, Lucan's enemy of republican liberty, suggests just how authoritarian is the political thought of Tasso's poem: a celebration of an imperial papacy. It suggests a reading of the Pharsalia against the grain, but perhaps one that is no more odd than Tasso's revision of the Iliad: for Goffredo is also modelled upon Agamemnon, an Agamemnon who is in the right while Rinaldo's Achilles is in the wrong.

  4. Angelo Solerti, Vita di Torquato Tasso (Turin and Rome, 1895), 1:30-31. Solerti, 45, also cites a 1566 letter of Muzio to the poet Francesco Bolognetti in which the former describes his long-entertained idea to write an epic about the First Crusade. For Muzio's career as an anti-Protestant propagandist, see Friedrich Lauchert, Die italienischen literarischen Gegner Luthers (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1912), 653-665.

  5. On Matthaeus Iudex and his oration, see Johannes Janssen, History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages, trans. A. M. Christie (London, 1905), 8:92-95.

  6. L'Heretico infuriato (Rome, 1562), proemio.

  7. Andrew Fichter has remarked on Argillano as an enthusiast in the Protestant mold in his Poets Historical (New Haven and London, 1982), 147.

  8. L'Heretico infuriato, chap. 20. For another example of the Babel-Babylon typology applied to German protestantism, see Robertus Bellarminus, Opera omnia, ed. J. Fevre (Paris, 1873), 9:533.

  9. On Parisani, see Giuseppe Fabiani, Ascoli nel cinquecento (Ascoli Piceno, 1957), 1:299-300. Fabiani, 358, notes the possible connection between Tasso's Argillano and the civil strife endemic to sixteenth-century Ascoli, but he does not identify Argillano with Parisani. See also the study of sixteenth-century banditry in the papal states by Irene Polverini Fosi, La società violenta (Rome, 1985), 54-56. In addition to Parisani, Polverini Fosi, 56, mentions the 1571 plan of the captain Odoardo Odoardi to make a company of 500 or 600 “uomini pericolosi” from among the Ascolan bandits and exiles and to send them, in the wake of Lepanto, to fight for Venice against the Turks: here, too, there is a parallel to the crusading Argillano.

  10. Tasso's discussion of the head-body metaphor in his prose allegory of the Liberata has been extensively analyzed by Michael Murrin in The Allegorical Epic (Chicago and London, 1980), 102-107. Murrin follows the poet and reads this figure of the body-politic in primarily moral terms. The reading that I am advancing here has been anticipated in Robert Durling's discussion of the Liberata in his essay, “The Epic Ideal,” in The Old World: Discovery and Rebirth, ed. David Daiches and Anthony Thorlby (London, 1974), 118-125.

  11. Gaspar Contarenus, Opera (Paris, 1571), 580.

  12. Calvin, Responsio ad Sadoleti Epistolam (1539), in Joannis Calvini Opera Selecta, ed. Peter Barth (Munich, 1926), 1:485-486.

  13. Riccardo Bruscagli has argued that both of the major protagonists of canto 8, Argillano and more especially Sveno, are mirror-figures of Rinaldo. See his chapter, “Il campo cristiano nella Liberata,” in Stagioni nella civiltà estense (Pisa, 1983), 214-222. It might be added that Argillano and Sveno are themselves linked by the fact that both are killed in battle by Solimano.

  14. On the theme of exile in the Liberata, see Sergio Zatti, L'uniforme cristiano e il multiforme pagano (Milan, 1981), 15. Argillano's exile from Ascoli can be added to Zatti's examples. See also Zatti's remarks on Argillano, 30-31.

  15. The episode of “Ernando” in an early manuscript version of canto 5 is reprinted by Lanfranco Caretti at the back of his edition of the Gerusalemme liberata (Milan, 1979), 538-540. Caretti, 655, dates the manuscript to 1565-66.

  16. Modena, Archivio di Stato (hereafter ASM), Archivio Segreto Estense, Casa e stato, busta 512.

  17. Venceslao Santi gives an excellent account of the precedence controversy and of the propaganda war it generated in “La precedenza tra gli Escensi ed i Medici e l'Historia de' Principi d'Este di G. Battista Pigna,” Atti e memorie della R. Depusazione di Storia Patria Ferrarese 9 (1987): 37-122.

  18. The passage is labelled in the margin: “12 Ag. 1570 lega.”

  19. See Canigiani's letter to Cosimo of 12 December 1567: “quasi che ei sia poco atto a la generatione, della quale opinione io so che è anche intrinsecamente il Cardinale da Este, et qualche donna che io conosco: pur sarà quel che dio vorra.” Florence, Archivio di Stato (hereafter, ASF), Archivio Mediceo del Principato, f. 2890. See also the somewhat later report of the Venetian ambassador, Emilio Maria Manolesso, to the senate in 1575: “La commune opinione è che sia inabile a generate”; Relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti al senato ed. Arnaldo Segarizzi (Bari, 1912), 1:42. Alfonso's doctor in 1589 secretly informed the Medici of a congenital defect that rendered the duke sterile but of which Alfonso seems to have been himself unaware. See Alfonso Lazzari, “Il duca Alfonso II nelle note segrete del suo medico particolare,” in idem, Attraverso la storia di Ferrara: Profili e scorci (Rovigo, 1953), 349-351.

  20. Santi, 81, n.t., corrected the assertion of Solerti, 1:179, that Alfonso's visit to Rome was aimed at regulating the line of succession in the duchy of Ferrara, but Solerti's contention, which goes back to Muratori, has been repeated by more recent writers, including Fabio Pittorru in his Torquato Tasso: L'uomo il poeta, il costegiasto (Milan, 1982), 96-99; Pittorru's lively and popular biography otherwise makes many acute and helpful observations about the poet. Alfonso may have been too vain to think that he could not produce an heir: in any event, his principal diplomatic concern in 1572-73 was the precedence controversy. In the diplomatic correspondence from Rome to Ferrara from 1567 to 1575—the period of the composition of the Liberata—the one reference I have found to the bull of Pius V is in a group of notes and memoranda sent by the ambassador, Giulio Masetti, on 18 July 1573: “Il S. Cardinal Bobba ha havuto la cura d'ordine di Nostro Signore di riformare e moderar la bolla di Pio V contra li bastardi”; ASM, Archivio Segreto Estense, Ambasciatori, Roma, busta 87, 387-II-41. Canigiani in a letter of 31 July 1570, reports rumors that Alfonso's brother, the Cardinal Luigi d'Este, was considering giving up his cardinalship in order to marry and produce an heir; ASF, Archivio Mediceo del Principato, f. 2892. For Alfonso's later maneuverings in the 1580s, see Luciano Chiappini, Gli estensi (Varese, 1967), 309-313.

  21. Manolesso in Relazioni, 1:45.

  22. ASF, Archivio Mediceo del Principato, f. 2891.

  23. Ibid., f. 2892.

  24. In the minutes of the letter sent from Ferrara to Francesco Martello on 22 July 1569 are included instructions on how to excuse the Este of responsibility for the events of 1527; this passage is labelled in the margin of the document as section 7. See the “Minuta della lettera di xxij di Luglio al Martello,” ASM, Archivio Segreto Estense, Casa e stato, busta 512.

  25. Janssen, 8:85. Feelings against Rome in the imperial court ran high again in 1570, and Pius' deciding the precedence controversy in favor of Cosimo contributed to the emperor's ire; see ibid., 91.

  26. “Minuta,” as cited in n. 24.

  27. ASM, Archivio Segreto Estense, Casa e stato, busta 512.

  28. This passage of the “Minuta” is labelled section 5.

  29. “Servitij,” as cited in n. 27.

  30. Cited by Santi, 104.

  31. The oration has been reprinted, along with Guarini's preparatory drafts and a detailed description of the historical context, by Ermelinda Armigero Gazzera in Storia d'un ambasciata e d'un orazione di Battista Guarini (1572) (Modena, 1919).

  32. One can compare the orations by the famous orator Marc Antoine Muret pledging the obedience of the French monarchy to the newly elected Pius IV, Pius V, and Gregory XIII: see M. Antonii Mureti Opera Omnia, ed. David Ruhnkenius (Leyden, 1789), 1:45-51, 107-117, and 173-179. The same Muret had been in the employ of the Este as well and wrote obedience orations on their behalf to Pius IV (1:95-99) and Pius V (1:100-107). I am indebted to Eric MacPhail for drawing my attention to these texts.

  33. Gazzera, 39.

  34. Ibid.

  35. Ibid., 28-29. The Medici ambassador in Rome, Alessandro de' Medici, reported back to Cosimo that the pope was displeased and that he would allow the oration to be published only if the offending title of “Serenissimo” were removed: “che se gli concedera quando levano dell'oratione il titolo di Serenissimo, altrimenti no.” Letter of 23 January 1573, ASF, Archivio Mediceo del Principato, f. 3292.

  36. Letter of 17 January 1573, ASF, Archivio Mediceo del Principato, f. 3292.

  37. Ibid.

  38. See Santi, 112-116, on Tasso's possible debt to Pigna's predecessor Girolamo Faletti, author of a Genealogia Marchionum Estensison et ducum Ferrariae.

  39. Here one might consider Pittorru's suggestive attempts, 173-192, to reconstruct the causes of Tasso's imprisonment in 1579. He conjectures that Tasso may have accused his patrons of heresy during his frequent visits to the Ferrarese Inquisition in the later 1570s. The Este locked him up.

  40. This pattern of simultaneous filial revolt and identification with the father is well studied by Margaret W. Ferguson in Trials of Desire (New Haven and London, 1983), 54-136, and by Zatti, esp. 107-114. Zatti describes Tasso's resentment and paranoid response to his powerless position at the Este court, and speaks of Tasso's resistance to the “leggetirannica del principe-padre” (113). Given this strategy of appealing to a higher authority or father over the law of the more immediate father, it is worth noting that Tasso's epic punishes Goffredo himself: he is wounded in canto 11 for fighting before Jerusalem in opposition to the plan of God, the “Padre eterno” (1.7). The importance of this central episode is studied by Fredi Chiappelli in Il conoscitore di caos (Rome, 1981).

Albert Russell Ascoli (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: Ascoli, Albert Russell. “Liberating the Tomb: Difference and Death in Gerusalemme Liberata.Annali d'Italianistica 12 (1994): 159-80.

[In the following essay, Ascoli examines the fundamental importance of entombment and liberation in Gerusalemme liberata.]

Like much Counter-Reformation writing, Tasso's epic of the Crusaders' conquest of Jerusalem represents and then represses several varieties of threatening difference—religious, sexual, racial, psychological, even textual. In his fundamental study of the Liberata, Sergio Zatti (1983) has shown that the struggle of the “uniforme cristiano” to overcome the “multiforme pagano,” that is, the heterodox multiplicity of the Islamic “other,” can be read as an overt allegory of internal difference and otherness. Zatti identifies several strata of internal “difference” and deviation—the tensions within the Christian camp itself (the “compagni erranti” of Goffredo di Buglione, whom one might be tempted to read as so many protestant schismatics [see Quint 1990 & 1993]); the tensions within individual characters such as Rinaldo and Tancredi, whose errant desires take them beyond the pale of the Christian soldier's duties; the tensions within the poet himself (who identifies himself as a “peregrino errante” in need of Duke Alfonso II d'Este's guidance) and within his poem, with its Armida-like recourse to dangerous “fregi,” “diletti,” “dolcezze” which compromise and divide the orthodox truth and goodness, not to mention the historical factuality, of the poem's subject matter.

In what follows I will develop Zatti's argument around the most obvious symbolic and narrative foci of the poem: the Holy Sepulchre, and the Crusaders' collective quest to liberate it.1 In both intra-textual and inter-textual terms, the quest for Christ's empty tomb constitutes the poem's culminating confrontation with the paradigmatic otherness and difference of death. Moreover, the apparently orthodox, devotional, turn to this symbol of a fulfilling life beyond death, a unity beyond multiplicity, conceals as well the yearning for liberation and release of another sort—an annihilation and dispersal capable of freeing Tasso from the vow (voto), the pledged word, the pledge of words, that binds him to his ungrateful patron, to the constraints of an orthodox theology, and to a counter-Reform poetics of epic unity.2

The key passage for my argument is the very last stanza of the poem, and particularly its final two lines:

Così vince Goffredo, ed a lui tanto
avanza ancor de la diurna luce
ch'a la città già liberata, al santo
ostel di Cristo i vincitor conduce.
Né pur deposto il sanguinoso manto
viene al tempio con gli altri il sommo duce;
e qui l'arme sospende, e qui devoto
il gran Sepolcro adora e scioglie il voto.


(“Thus Goffredo triumphs; and enough daylight remains for him to conduct the victors through the now liberated city to the holy resting place of Christ. Without even setting aside his bloody mantle, the highest leader comes to the temple with the others; here he hangs up his arms; here, devout, he adores the great Sepulchre and fulfills [or ‘is released from’] his vow.”)

The adoration of the liberated tomb is the last of a densely packed series of climaxes and plot resolutions carried out over the last three cantos, beginning with Rinaldo's return to the Christian camp, his submission to the authority of Goffredo, and his success in breaking the enchantment of the Wood of Sharon. The walls of the city are then breached by the anti-Babelic siege towers, constructed with the timber taken from the now demon-free forest.4 Then comes the death of Argante at the hand of Tancredi, and the taking of Jerusalem itself, all but the tower of David, by the Crusaders. Now the city must be defended by the Crusaders against the massed pagan armies under the general leadership of the renegade Emireno. While the battle goes on outside the city, its usurper-king, Aladino, is killed and the tower taken. The pagan champions Adrasto, Solimano, and Tisaferno are each defeated in turn. The last “champion,” Armida, is converted by her erstwhile lover, Rinaldo. Goffredo despatches his counterpart, Emireno. He then proceeds, still bloodied, to the Sepulchre to hang up the “arme pietose,” with which he was identified in the first line of the poem, and to fulfill the vow which he had already named in the twenty-third stanza of the first canto as the ultimate goal of the Crusade, in words that are precisely echoed in the final line (I.23.7-8, “né sia chi neghi al peregrin devoto / d'adorar la gran tomba e sciorre il voto”; “nor should anyone prevent the devout pilgrim from adoring the great tomb and fulfilling [being released from] his vow”; cf. I.1.2 and Chiappelli: 214n20).

There is reason to think that the liberation and adoration of the Sepulchre, at least as much as the “liberation of Jerusalem,” should be taken as the central action of the poem in Tasso's own neo-Aristotelian terms (cf. Giamatti: 183).5 It is the last event in the protracted sequence of closures; it is specifically identified as the fulfillment of Goffredo's, and the “others,” motives in carrying out the crusades (releasing them from the vows by which Pope Urban bound them to the enterprise—see canto XI.23-24); and, finally, as we have just seen, it echoes precisely language which set the poem and its events in motion. We know, in fact, that the title, Gerusalemme liberata, was not an authorial choice. The poet had earlier thought to call his poem the Goffredo and later he would retitle a revised, “authorized” version as Gerusalemme conquistata (Pittoru: 246-251). By contrast, in 1581, when the work was first printed, Torquato Tasso was in the third year of a forced eight year confinement (1579-1586) to the Hospital of Sant'Anna and had no direct part in its publication. As the editor, Angelo Ingegneri, who is responsible for affixing the title we know to the poem, noted accurately in a preface, the locution “Gerusalemme liberata” does have a strong textual basis (Pittoru: 248), deriving from two lines at either end of the poem: in the sixteenth stanza of the first canto, Goffredo describes the Crusader's mission as that of “liberar Gierusalem soggetta” (“liberating subject Jerusalem”); while in the poem's final stanza, as we have seen, Goffredo and company pass through “la città già liberata.” They do so, however, while on their way to the “santo / ostel di Cristo,” namely the “gran Sepolcro” itself. And the first two lines of the poem define Tasso's subject as follows: “Canto l'arme pietose e 'l capitano / che ‘l gran sepolcro liberò di Cristo” (“I sing the pious arms and the captain who liberated the great sepulchre of Christ”; emphasis mine). In any case, as we are about to see, the city and the sepulchre converge in symbolic terms, the latter, as it were, unveiling and epitomizing the typological and potentially transcendent meaning of the former.6

Entombment, as has often been pointed out, has a fundamental importance in the dynamic of the Liberata's narrative, prominent examples being the miraculous tomb which arises to mark and honor the martyrdom of Sveno in canto VIII.38-40, and the tomb in which Tancredi places the remains of his beloved Clorinda (XII.79, 94-99; cf. XIII.41-43).7 As the young hero, Sveno, anticipates the more successful Rinaldo, so his tomb “prefigures in little the ‘gran sepolcro’” (Hampton: 114). And his martyr's death represents a heroism alternative and, in Tasso's Counter-Reform ideology, superior to that of the heroes of pagan Rome (Hampton: 118). The motif of the sepulchre is, in fact, one of the primary means by which Tasso sets his poem in dialectical relationship, of resemblance and of difference, to the classical, especially Virgilian, epic, whose principal subject is the destruction and foundation of cities (as we will see further along, it also position him in relation to his vernacular Italian precursors, especially Dante and Ariosto).

This relationship with the Aeneid is already in place in the first couplet of the poem (quoted above), where it is also clearly articulated in terms of the tomb. These lines, of course, closely echo the Virgilian “arma virumque cano,” but with the studied introduction of a Christianized “pietas” as qualifier on “arme,” and the subsumption of the heroic “vir” into the self-sacrificing office of “capitan.” The “gran Sepolcro” of line two also, if slightly less obviously, has its Virgilian equivalent. As is by now well known, the Latin verb “condere,” which designates the foundation of the Roman city in the opening lines of the Aeneid (“tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem” I.33, cf. I.5) also refers to burial (e.g., “animamque sepolcro / condimus” III.67-68, cf. VI.152 [Reckford: 255; Quint 1982: 32]). The word thus bears within itself the fundamental Virgilian paradox of the destruction of one city giving way to the birth of another, along with the recurring linkage between sacrifice and ritual burial of the dead, on the one hand, and on the other, the apotheosis of Rome and its rulers. The implication then is that for Tasso the real meaning of Jerusalem, the typological “visio pacis” and the figure of the City of God on earth, is epitomized by the empty tomb it contains, the promise of eternal life in another world made precisely by the sacrificial descent into the vacancy of death in this one.8 Whereas in Virgil burial is the necessary prelude to the founding of the city (illustrated, vividly, for example, in Aeneid, books 5 and 6)—for Tasso the Holy Sepulchre is the city of God—while the city of man, as Goffredo points out later in his speech defining the crusaders' mission—is nothing but a tomb (cf. Chiappelli: 172-173; Stephens 1989: 193):

Non edifica quei che vuol gl'imperi
su fondamenti fabricar mondani,
.....… ma ben move ruine, ond'egli oppresso
sol construtto un sepolcro abbia a se stesso.

(I.25.1-2, 7-8)

(“He who wants to fabricate empires on worldly foundations, does not build, but rather moves ruin—so that, oppressed, he has only built a sepulchre for himself.”)

Just so, the closing sequence of the Liberata both participates in the classical epic tradition, which invariably terminates in death, and in the Christian overgoing of that tradition. The Iliad, of course, culminates with the deaths of Patroklus and Hektor, and above all with the reconciling burial of both when the wrath of Achilles is set aside in pity for the sorrow of Priam. The Aeneid ends with the “sacrificial” death of Turnus, which clears the way for the union of the Trojans and Latins and hence for Rome to arise.9 Indeed, the entrance of the sword into Turnus's body is described with the word “condit,” recalling the poem's opening lines and forecasting a founding burial (XII.950). This ending had been recently closely imitated by Tasso's imposing precursor and bête noire, Ariosto, in the Orlando furioso,10 and, as we see shall further along, Tasso in turn echoes Ariosto's echoing of Virgil.

Tasso incorporates the classical versions of epic death and burial in his poem, but carefully links them to the otherness of the pagan enemy, rather than to the Christian crusaders. As Lauren Seem has recently argued, the death of Argante in canto XIX rehearses the Virgilian ending, but also transforms it, by removing it from the absolute terminus of the work and by redefining the significance of the enemy's death. In fact, through the death scenes of the greatest pagan champions, Solimano as well as Argante, Tasso emphasizes specifically classical concepts of dying. With Argante a Stoic ethos prevails (“vuol morendo anco parer non vinto” XIX.1; “he wishes even in dying to appear undefeated”; “moriva Argante, e tal moriva qual visse” 26; “Argante died, and he died just as he had lived”); while with Solimano one canto later we find instead a tragic fatalism and despair (XX.73, 104-108). In this case, then, the all-purpose alterity of the pagans becomes a figure for the traditional critique of the classical world-view from a Christian perspective.

This contrast between classical and Christian concepts of heroic dying is brought out with special clarity by Tancredi's insistence that his worthy foe Argante be given the ritual burial and the verbal honor, the terrestrial glory, that his creed demands:

… egli morì qual forte
onde a ragion gli è quell'onor devuto
che solo in terra avanzo è de la morte.


(“he died as a man of strength; whence with reason he is owed that honor which alone remains on earth after death.”)

In the very next stanza, however, Tancredi stresses the sharp limitations on the sheerly nominal fame accruing to his foe, contrasting it with the “extraterrestrial” life beyond death available to Christian believer: he says that he will now go to Jerusalem

ché 'l loco ove morì l'Uomo immortal
può forse al Cielo agevolar la strada,
e sarà pago un mio pensier devoto
d'aver peregrinato al fin del voto.


(“because the place where the immortal Man died, may perhaps ease the way to heaven; and my devout desire [or thought] to have completed a pilgrimage to the end of my vow will be appeased”).

The “devoto/voto” pun which closes the stanza just cited echoes Goffredo's words from the first canto (23.8) and specifically previews the rhymed couplet which ends the poem. At the same time, it stands in direct, contrastive relation with a rhyme that appears just after Tancredi has killed his pagan foe:

Ripone Tancredi il ferro, e poi devoto
ringrazia Dio del trionfal onore;
ma lasciato di forze ha quasi vòto,
la sanguigna vittoria il vincitore


(“Tancredi puts away his sword and thanks God devoutly for this triumphal honor; but the bloody victory has left the victor almost emptied of strength.”)

“Voto,” vow, has been replaced by the identically spelled, “vòto” (“vuoto” in modern Italian, meaning “empty”), indicating Tancredi's own nearness to a death as meaningless as his enemy's. By fulfilling his vow (voto), Tancredi will escape the void (vòto) that has engulfed Argante.

While the “voto/devoto” rhyme appears several times during the course of the poem (for example, at I.23; II.5; III.70; XI.23), usually recalling the Crusaders' devout vows and thus reminding the reader of the narrative's ultimate telos, the introduction of this punning counterpart is held back until the final two cantos, when it suddenly proliferates. As we have just seen it appears in the Tancredi/Argante subplot, which recommences in canto XIX when Argante pointedly reminds Tancredi that he had violated his promised faith (that is, his chivalric vow) to return to battle earlier and accuses him of letting “le promesse ir vòte” (2.6: “your promises were empty”). It crops up again conspicuously in final installment of the Armida/Rinaldo subplot in book XX, where Tasso introduces the first and only rhyming of “voto” with “vòto” (63.7-8: “lo stral volò, ma con lo strale un voto / subito uscì, che vada il colpo a vòto” “the arrow flew [toward Rinaldo], but with the arrow [Armida] let fly a vow that the blow should be in vain”).

A further conjunction of the two homonyms comes in a passage which clearly anticipates Goffredo's laying aside of his “arme pietose,” when Tisaferno vows to dedicate his arms to “Macon” if he succeeds in killing Rinaldo for Armida, a vow destined to remain empty and unfulfilled:

“qui prego il Ciel che 'l mio ardimento aiuti,
e veggia Armida il desiato scempio:
Macon, s'io vinco, i' voto l'arme al tempio.”
          Cosí pregava, e le preghiere ír vòte;
ché ‘l sordo suo Macon nulla n'udiva.

(113.6-8; 114.1-2)

(“‘Here I pray the Heavens that they aid my boldness and that Armida may witness the desired slaughter: Mohammed, if I win I vow my arms to the temple.’ Thus he prayed, but the prayers went unfulfilled, because his deaf Mohammed heard nothing of them.”)

The emptiness of pagan vows and the vacancy of a meaningless death that awaits the neoclassical champions is thus carefully poised by Tasso against the fulfilled vows and the emptiness of a tomb that promises eternal life beyond the grave for “fedeli” such as Tancredi and Goffredo. The “liberated” sepulchre is at once the sign of death and of liberation from death, as of the poem's participation in and alienation from an epic past. And this is true in another sense, as well, one which raises more directly a question of poetics and often places the epic poet himself before, or even within, a tomb like those he represents.

Again, we should begin with the Aeneid, which in book VI adopts the perspective of the Elysian underworld and of the dead to achieve a clarifying vision of Roman history. The Virgilian dead remain oriented toward historical life (Dido, Palinurus, Anchises all share this common trait—that they look back to their own former lives for meaning), while the cyclicality of metempsychosis gives mythic substance to the endless interweaving of death and life implied by the fundamental equivocation of a foundation which is also a burial.11 Nonetheless, only the gaze from beyond the tomb can fully uncover the meaning of Aeneas' epic mission. And in a famously “cryptic” image of the gate of false dreams through which Aeneas returns to the light and to life, Virgil tacitly identifies that gaze of death with an ivory and orphic poetics which are surely those of his own poem.12

Tasso's understanding of Virgil was heavily mediated, above all through the two most powerful post-classical epic poets of the Italian tradition at that time, Dante and Ariosto. Dante, of course, set a formidable, if particular, precedent for revising the Virgilian epic in Christian terms. He is a constant point of reference in Tasso's theoretical discussions of poetry,13 and, as we shall see, also provides the most obvious source for the Gerusalemme's language and thematics of “avowal.” The Commedia, it need hardly be said, openly embraces the perspective of the “oltretomba”—turning the excursus of Virgil's book VI into the substance of Dante's own vision. Death again is the interpreter of life, providing the necessary “alienation” to see and understand it. But now rather than death bending toward life, the meaning of historical life consists precisely and only in its destiny after death (at least at the explicitly doctrinal level). Dante and his poem assume the perspective of the “giudizio universale,” neither before nor inside the tomb, but beyond it.

By contrast, Tasso's immediate precursor, Ariosto, while imitating the end of the Aeneid in the conclusive death of Rodomonte, seems to renounce access to either the Virgilian or the Dantean perspective of the “oltretomba.” For Quint (1979) this ending means nothing more than the inevitability of human dying, redeemed neither by the social-political continuity envisioned by Virgil nor by the religious (and perhaps also political) transcendence of Dante. I, instead, would argue that Ariosto associates his poem's perspective with the “vocal tomba di Merlino” (“the speaking tomb of Merlin” [Ascoli 1987: 361-376]), as well as with the ambiguously parodic apocalypse of the “heaven of the moon” (264-304). In particular I claim that in canto III of the Furioso Merlin, neither alive nor dead, neither saved nor damned, figures the predicament of a poem which has survived its author's death but cannot transcend his limited, living, perspective to give final interpretation either to the meaning of history or to the possibility of a life beyond this one.

Tasso's sepulchre, one might then say, reflects a poetics that yearns for epic totality and Dantean transcendence but that feels its own greater proximity, historical and otherwise, to the errors of Ariostan romance and to the perspective of mortality.14 Like Dante's poem, Tasso's tomb is the sign that true meaning and true life dwell beyond history. Like Ariosto's poem, however, Tasso's remains essentially within the confines of temporality (Greene: 191-192; Murrin: 126). Although the author introduces both the divine and the demonic perspectives into the poem, his characters encounter it principally in dream, and rarely step beyond it literally.15 Tasso's theoretical discussions of epic, in fact, insist programmatically on the necessary “historicity” of its subject, while allowing for the introduction of incidental fictions.16 In Tasso's poem, the tomb is not just the beginning of a journey, as it is for Dante—it is the textual endpoint. You may be able to go beyond it, but Tasso's poetry cannot take you, or him, there.

So far I have made a relatively loose, associative connection between Dantean and Ariostan poetics of “oltretomba” and “tomba,” respectively, and Tasso's terminal image. But there are more specific textual connections that link the Crusaders' and especially Goffredo's quest for the tomb with, on the one hand, both of Tasso's Italian precursors, and, on the other, with the poet's own narrative quest to complete the Liberata. The crucial link, again, is the concept of the “vow,” or “voto.” The Crusaders' vow is clearly, as Aquinas defines it, “a promise made to God,” a paradoxical act of human will which is a “sacrifice of the will,” voluntarily enslaving the soul to God by a commitment to do (or not to do) something.17 It is analogous to and yet sharply distinguished from the ethos of Stoic-chivalric “fides,” or pledged word, which guides the “cavallieri” of romance, Ariostan and otherwise.18 It is also, as we shall see, potentially assimilable to the problem of linguistic and especially poetic referentiality and intentionality, both on the “metaphoric” axis of external reference (poet's word corresponds to historical reality or not) and on the “metonymic” axis of internal unity effected through narrative (poem's ending corresponds, or not, to what is promised at its beginning).19

The Tassian language of avowal, as I have described it so far, clearly derives from Dante's Heaven of the Moon, where dwell souls (Piccarda de' Donati; the Empress Constance) who were by force constrained to break religious vows and thus are placed in the lowest realm of the blessed. Note particularly the “voto”/“vòto” pun that will become so crucial for Tasso:

                    E questa sorte che par giù cotanto,
però n'è data, perché fuor negletti
li nostri voti, e vòti in alcun canto.

(Paradiso III.55-57)

(“And this lot, which appears so lowly, is given to us because our vows were neglected and void in some particular”)20

That Dantean episode, not coincidentally, had earlier become a principal source for Ariosto's parodically transcendent representation of the inconstancy of human minds and words in his famous lunar episode (Orlando furioso XXXIV.67-XXXV.31), where, prominent among the other items in the junk heap of vanities, are “infiniti prieghi e voti … / che da noi peccatori a Dio si fanno (XXXIV.74.7-8: “infinite prayers and vows … which we sinners make to God”; see also 82.6).21

It is important to note here how Tasso's treatment of vows borrows elements from both predecessors but also alters them.22 In Paradiso III-V, Dante represents salvation achieved in spite of contingent historical disruptions in the “sacrifice of the will” to God which is effected by a religious “voto.” Moreover, he also warns stringently, in what may well have appeared to a reader from Tasso's time a signally pre-Lutheran moment, against making vows that cannot and should not be fulfilled (Paradiso V.64-73).23 By contrast, the Christian cavaliers of the Liberata, at least when they are not “erranti,” prove their faith and ensure their salvation by fulfilling their vows, while only the pledges of pagan infidels remain “vuoti.” By insisting on the successful fulfillment of vows, Tasso clearly rejects the Ariostan satire that threatens to generalize Dante's limited acceptance of human weakness and inconstancy in Paradiso III-V to such an extent that it infects and undermines all religious commitments and the belief on which they are founded. But the very vehemence and rigor of his representations of Goffredo's constancy suggests that he was in some ways persuaded by Ariosto's serious, if comically articulated, critique of Dante's treatment of vows: he simply cannot allow for the possibility of a salvation achieved despite the incompleteness of a vow or the outright failure to fulfill it.24 Tasso, haunted by the specter of heterodoxy, yearning for a transcendence of which, however, he can permit himself only the most fugitive glimpses (e.g. I.7-17; XIV.2-19; XX.20-21), finds it crucial to make word match deed in God's (or the Inquisition's or the Duke's) eyes. Refusing alike the accommodating mysteries of Dante and the comfortable demystifications of Ariosto, which perhaps bear a troubling resemblance to the protestant, and especially Lutheran, attacks on religious vows as needless vanities, he represents the making and keeping of vows as not only possible and desirable, but indeed as necessary. For Tasso, it seems, vows provide an essential structure and order for defining and grounding human selves otherwise divided by doubts and corrupted by sensual delights and violent passions.25

Furthermore, in both Dante's heaven of the moon and Ariosto's calque on it, a thematics of vows and human inconstancy gives rise to reflections on the nature of poetic referentiality which, at least implicitly, create a problematic analogy between the word of promise and the poet's fictions. The case of the souls who have left unfulfilled the letter of a vow but whose “absolute will” (IV.109) still cleaves inwardly to God, frames and parallels the account of the metaphorical quality of Scriptural reference, where a failure of referential adequation still points toward the invisible Truth of God:

                    Così parlar conviensi al vostro ingegno,
però che solo da sensato apprende
ciò che fa poscia d'intelletto degno.
                    Per questo la Scrittura condescende
a vostra facultate, e piedi e mano
attribuisce a Dio e altro intende. …


(“It is needful to speak thus to your faculty, since only through sense perception does it apprehend that which it afterwards makes fit for the intellect. For this reason Scripture condescends to your capacity, and attributes hands and feet to God, having other meaning. …”)

And, as Freccero points out, this account of Scriptural figures is applied explicitly and a fortiore to Dante's own representations of the blessed, and thus “the whole of Paradiso … has no existence, even fictional, beyond the metaphoric” (211; cf. 222). Much like Piccarda and Constance, Dante cannot make his “words of promise,” his “poema sacro,” coincide completely with reality.

As I have argued elsewhere, Ariosto's “allegory of poets and theologians” in the lunar episode turns precisely this acknowledgement of the non-correspondence of human language and intellect to divine referent against the authoritative texts in which faith should be grounded and which claim to offer a referential bridge between human history and God's eternity—first of all the Commedia itself, everywhere echoed and nowhere taken seriously—but also, more devastatingly, the New Testament, whose most authoritative scribe, St. John of the Gospel and of Revelations, is on hand to reduce himself and his texts to the status of lying flattery (Ascoli: 285-291).

Tasso too moves analogically from the domain of his narrative and thematic representations into a consideration of the status of the poetics that subtends those representations, and in a way that suggests he has both Dante and Ariosto's critique of Dante in mind as he does so. Just as at the thematic level, so at that of “metapoetics” Tasso moves anxiously between his two predecessors. While he is, like Dante, trying to write a poem that is unequivocally Christian, and thus cannot include Ariosto's playful near-sacrilege, he has also taken to heart the Furioso's exposé of the dangers inherent in claiming access through human words to ultimate Truth, and especially the mad pride of putting poetry at or near the level of sacred Scripture, or of adopting a transcendent, eschatological perspective that begins to resemble God's own. The consequence of such considerations is that noted above: the abandonment of the perspective of the “oltretomba” in favor of a quest for a “gran tomba” which, however, gestures beyond itself to a higher reality of eternal life.

It is not surprising, especially in light of the Dantean and Ariostan “pretexts” just discussed, that Tasso's metapoetic concerns appear most explicitly in the incomplete and uneasy parallel between the Crusader's vow to take Jerusalem and his commitment to write the poem in which the story of their vow and its consequences is narrated (Chiappelli: 178-181; Langer: 43-44; Zatti 1983: 93 & 1991: 207-208). In the fourth stanza of the first canto, Tasso makes one of his rare first person appearances in the poem, in order to define his own and his text's relationship to their patron, Duke Alfonso II d'Este:

Tu, magnanimo Alfonso, il qual ritogli,
al furor di fortuna e guidi in porto
me peregrino errante, e fra gli scogli
e fra l'onde agitato e quasi absorto,
queste mie carte in lieta fronte accogli,
che quasi in voto a te sacrate i' porto

[emphasis mine].

(“You, magnanimous Alfonso, who remove me from the fury of Fortune and guide me, a wandering pilgrim, to port, who had been tossed and almost consumed among the waves and cliffs, gather up with a glad countenance these my pages which I bring consecrated to you almost as a vow.”)

Tasso's wandering or errant pilgrimage is thus a shakier version of that of the “peregrin devoto” who Goffredo soon after imagines seeking out the Sepulchre in safety (I.23)—his offering “quasi in voto” to Alfonso a less stable variant on that generic pilgrim's, and Goffredo's own, vow. The substance of the “voto” is first of all a commitment to writing a poem, this poem. But the “carte … sacrate”—consecrated if not truly sacred—figure not only as the fruit of a vow, but as the verbal record of that vow, both the promised words and the words of promise themselves. Otherwise put, Tasso dramatizes his poem as a vow to be fulfilled, a word to be kept. Thus, when Goffredo “scioglie il voto” with the simultaneous liberation of Jerusalem and the Sepulchre, Tasso analogically fulfills, and is thus symbolically released from, his vow as well, as he completes his representation of Goffredo's vow and its fulfillment (Martinelli: 13 & 17).

To understand more fully the significance of this convergence between the narrative that Tasso writes and the “metanarrative” of Tasso's writing, we need to consider further why it is that the poem focuses so intensely on the “voto” or vow and especially why it is so consistently paired with the action of “scioglimento”26—literally the release or dissipation which signifies the fulfillment of a vow but also denotes its annihilation. As I began to suggest above, a vow is a formal promise that binds and constrains the one who makes it to transform a word or metaphorically verbal intention into an internal and external reality.27 In Tasso's world, then, the chivalric pledge or promise of faith (“fede”) which dominates the world of Ariosto (where it is, however, almost always violated or contaminated)28 is conflated with and/or superseded by the Christian believer's “voto”—just as the cavalier's aimless errancy is replaced by the Crusader's directed pilgrimage. The human word of promise thus looks to ground itself in the Logos, the Word of God.

In either case, chivalric or Christian, the paradigmatic narrative structure of the “voto” should be clear (cf. Hampton: 98-100). Between the pilgrim-crusader's pledged word and its fulfillment lies the story told in Tasso's poem, between Tasso's poetic “voto” and its conclusion—and its hoped for coincidence with historical and/or transcendent reality—lie the words of the Liberata themselves. In this connection it is crucial that Tasso consistently uses the verb “sciogliere” and derivatives in his theoretical discussions of the “unfolding” and “tying together” of narrative form, and that this word marks the parallel between religious and poetic quests just as strongly as the echoes of “voto” do.29 At the same time, “scioglimento” is itself a name for the liberation that both the Crusaders and the poet seek—by achieving the freedom of city and tomb from the oppression of the “Other,” Goffredo and the Crusaders achieve their own freedom from the constraint, their freely assumed bondage, to fulfill a word of promise; by “tying together” the various loose ends resolved in cantos XVIII-XX, Tasso paradoxically unties the knot (“scioglie il nodo”) of narrative complication into the simplicity of unity and the silence of ending.

It is no accident then that the terminus of both vows, the scene of their liberating “scioglimento” is the Holy Sepulchre: “adorar 'l gran sepolcro e scioglie il voto.”30 The freedom of release from a binding vow is closely identified in the text with the corporeal disintegration of a physical death, albeit one whose ultimate significance is eternal life. The application to the story of “'l capitan” is clear enough. The death of the historical Goffredo took place in the year following the conquest of Jerusalem (1099). And within Tasso's text the character's physical demise is already predicted during the appearance of Ugone in canto XIV, where it is directly contrasted with the possibility of earthly rule over the conquered Jerusalem, which devolves upon his otherwise undistinguished brother.31 For Goffredo, presumably, the adoration of the Tomb and his release into death signify the departure from the pain of this world into the beatitude of the next, and perhaps as well the transcendence of the constraints of impersonally allegorical “role-playing.” As “capitan,” we know, he plays head to Rinaldo's hand throughout the poem, and in the final lines he is still the “sommo duce” who leads (“conduce”) the others (“altri”) into the blessed anonymity of individual redemption.32

For Tasso, by contrast, the meaning of this conclusive release out of narrative and of language itself is not so obvious. His “carte” after all, were only offered “quasi in voto” (I.4.6), and, at least as he presents them at the beginning of the poem, they are only a pledge in earnest, the avowal of a future vow, of something else to be written—the story of Alfonso's successful “emulation” of Goffredo's Crusade (cf. Langer: 44). Moreover, as a “peregrino errante” (who not once but twice in a single stanza uses the word “quasi” of himself [cf. I.4.4: “quasi absorto”]), he dwells uncertainly between the “cavallieri erranti” who populate Ariosto's seemingly endless romance (and who are apparently never able to make faithfully pledged word and historical reality coincide) and the “peregrino devoto” who is the hero of the Liberata.33

My final gloss on the last line of the Liberata will require yet another detour out of Tasso's poem and back into Orlando furioso. Attention has recently been called to the Ariostan reminiscence in Liberata canto 1, stanza 4—showing that Tasso's initial hope to be brought into safe haven after voyaging on dangerous seas clearly echoes Ariosto's image of a return to friendly shores after a long, “errant,” voyage on the open ocean of poetry at the beginning of the forty-sixth and final canto of the Furioso (Langer: 43-44; Zatti 1991: 206-208). Tasso's “voto” to his patron thus corresponds and responds to Ariosto's hope “nel lido i voti scioglier” (“to fulfill my vows [by arriving] on the shore”), which in turn refers us back to the reference to a promise made to his patron, Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, in the second stanza of the Furioso's first canto. In this way, Tasso expresses the terrors of romance error—the straying of poetic multiplicity, heterodoxy, and difference that he consistently associates in his theoretical writings with Ariosto—only in order to avoid them, apotropaically.34 But if Tasso begins where Ariosto ends, he ends there as well, since the closing lines of the Liberata echo the Furioso just as directly as the opening stanzas do, the Ariostan “nel lido i voti scioglier spero” recurring in the Tassian “scioglie il voto.”35

At one level, these repetitions means that Tasso's obsession with the error which he attempts to project onto the poetic “Other,” Ariosto, has not been overcome by poem's close, and remains a haunting presence internal to the Liberata. But it means something else as well. Despite the celebratory scene that Ariosto projects for the arrival of his “carte” on the poetic shoreline where its courtly readers await it, the “scioglimento” of vows has a darker side for him too. In fact, the “lido” of courtly readers is haunted by an accompanying reference to the banks of the river Styx (Furioso XLVI.9.5-6)—that is, to the possibility that the real terminus of Ariosto's poetic journey is precisely death (Ascoli 1987: 364-365; cf. Quint 1979). And indeed the metaphor of “scioglimento” returns again in the very last stanza of the poem, where the embittered soul of the dying Rodomonte is described as “sciolta dal corpo più freddo che ghiaccio” (140.6: “released from the body, colder than ice”; emphasis mine) as he plummets down to that other river of the dead, Acheron. Ariosto's solution to this threat, I have argued, is first to defer the moment of deathly “scioglimento” as long as possible, but also to figure the poem itself as “vocal tomba,” the loquacious sepulchre which goes on speaking long after its author's life has ended.

Like Ariosto before him, Tasso obliquely confronts the abyss between language and death precisely at the point when his poem is drawing to its close. A number of passages are suggestive in this regard,36 but an unusually dense constellation of references occurs in a six stanza stretch near the end of canto XX. Gildippe and Odoardo, “amanti e sposi,” dying by the hand of Solimano “vorrian formar, né pon formar parole” (100.3: “would like to form words, but are unable to do so”). Failure to speak is here, as often, the clear index of impending death. Their deaths, however, unleash the words of others: “Allor scioglie la Fama i vanni al volo; le lingue al grido” (101.1-2: “then Fame releases her wings to flight, and tongues to shouting”; emphasis mine). The locution “scioglie … il volo” obviously anticipates “scioglie il voto,”37 while creating a defining contrast with it. Fama, the notoriously unreliable personification of the public circulation of language which purports to bear witness to the significant events of history, but in fact indiscriminately mixes truth with falsehood (see Aeneid IV.173-197, esp. 190 “pariter facta atque infecta canebat”), is the demonized opposite of voto, the private performance of a given linguistic promise—which, when successful, precisely converts word into deed, establishing iron bonds of reference. The juxtaposition of the two moments may well recall the opening ambivalence of the Tassian narrator who seeks pardon for adding “fregi al ver” (I.2.7), contaminating truth with fiction, moral teaching with illicit pleasure38—an ambivalence from which the poet hopes to be released precisely by the fulfillment of his narratological vow.

The episode in fact begins with an apostrophe to the defunct Gildippe and Odoardo, in which the narrator makes one of his rare appearances:

Gildippe ed Odoardo, i casi vostri
duri ed acerbi e i fatti onesti e degni
(se tanto lice a i miei toscani inchiostri)
consacrerò fra' peregrini ingegni,
sí ch'ogn'età quasi ben nati mostri
di virtute e d'amor v'additi e segni,
e co 'l suo pianto alcun servo d'Amore
la morte vostra e le mie rime onore.

(94; emphasis mine)

(“Gildippe and Odoardo, if so much is permitted to my Tuscan pen, I will consecrate your harsh and bitter fates and your noble and worthy deeds among those of rare wit, so that every age will point you out and signal you as excellent examples of virtue and of love, and [so that] some servant of Love may, with his tears, honor your death and my rhymes.”)

These lines position the narrator's poetic language at a mid-point between the consecrating efficacy of avowal (“consacrerò fra' peregrini ingegni,” with a double echo of I.4) and the divulgative function of Fama. Moreover, they set up a suggestive parallel between the represented death and the representing rhymes (“la morte vostra e le mie rime onore”).

Immediately after the slaughter of the married heroes, their murderer, Solimano, witnesses Adrasto's mortal failure to “solver[e] della vendetta i voti” against Rinaldo (102.5: “to be released [by fulfillment] from the vows of vengeance”), and soon finds himself doomed too, unable to speak out for fear: “scioglier talor la lingua e parlar vole, / ma non seguon la voce o la parola” (105.7-8: “he yearns to loose his tongue and speak, but words and voice do not follow”; emphasis mine). The power of Tasso's “arte musaica” binds together, in the space of five stanzas, four key terms that all begin with “vo” (volo, voti, vole, voce) making absolutely clear the link between failure of voice and end of life, and along with them the disappearance of the willing (vole) self that, we have already seen, both affirms and negates itself in the making of a vow. The negative, even tragic, implications of vows unfulfilled and words unpronounced are articulated largely in relation to the pagan champion Solimano (as the “voto/vuoto” pun was earlier to Argante and Tisaferno) and they certainly contrast with the fulfillment of Goffredo's Christian vow, even as they prepare us to appreciate its full implications. What is, again, not so clear is their relation to the near-vow of the Tassian narrator to which the repeated emphasis on voice links them even more closely than to Goffredo's.

For the narrator-poet as “peregrino errante,” to “scioglier il voto” at poem's end may be as much as to “scioglier la lingua,” that is, to transcend death, Ariosto-like, by proving that one can still speak through one's surviving books.39 But this is not the point where the narrator begins to speak, but rather that where he ceases to do so. We have already seen that to fulfill a vow is also to be released from the bondage of words—to be precisely free to remain silent at last, to exchange the “voto” for what Tasso has carefully identified as its sonorous opposite and double, the “vuoto” or void—and thus to lose oneself in the nullity of the tomb.40 Like Goffredo in his earlier vision of the “cittadini de la città celeste,” the Heavenly Jerusalem of which this one is merely a prefiguring type, Tasso yearns to be free not only from a vow but also from terrestrial life itself: “il mortal laccio / sciolgasi omai” (XIV.7.7-8: “let the mortal knot be loosed at last”; emphasis mine). In other words, to recognize the echo of an Ariostan “pre-text” in the final line of the Liberata is to understand that Goffredo and Tasso have each pursued quests to fulfill and to be released from vows which have the empty tomb, metonym both of death and of its possible transcendence, as their telos.41 But it is also to notice that what this relentless drive to be released from vow, narrative, and life means for the narrator is finally far less certain and reassuring than it is for the “Captain.”

For Ariosto no vows, including his own, can be fulfilled, since word never truly coincides with deed, poem never fully intersects with history, much less what may lie beyond it. By accepting the contradiction at the heart of language that makes truth and falsehood, goodness and corruption, unity and multiplicity, sameness and alterity inseparable companions, Ariosto can luxuriate in the protracted deviations of romance. His “lucido intervallo” of writing (Furioso XXIV.3.4) is then actually a genial madness which by accepting its own alterity is able to forestall, for a time, the terminal difference of death, and then to reconcile it with the disembodied voice that lingers on in verse.

Tasso knows just as well as Ariosto the irrepressible differences within his own language—the contamination of truth and goodness with fictional “fregi” and seductive “diletti.” But for him the threat of difference, whether textual, or psychological (in the form of impending madness), or religious (in the form of the heterodoxy he seeks to purge to the point of submitting himself voluntarily to the Inquisition), or political (in the form of his tormented relationship with Duke Alfonso II), or all of the above, leads him in another direction entirely, one quite in keeping with the age of academic culture, despotic courts, and Counter-Reform in which he lived. From beginning to end of the Liberata, he pursues the liberating and enslaving closure of a narrative vow, which will bring together word and reality,42 abolishing all threatening otherness, sheltering him, as Alfonso could not, from the destiny of the “peregrino errante.”43 From beginning to end of the Liberata, however, he seems aware that his literary pilgrimage will go inevitably astray, that his vow can never be fulfilled and that hence he can never be released from it, this side of the tomb. Where for Ariosto madness is the best defense against death, for Tasso, death, and above all the silence that comes with it, seems the only alternative to an endlessly loquacious madness.44 Only there can one be freed from the ineluctable servitude of the unkeepable vow; only there, in the shadow of difference itself, can one escape from the horror of the many differences of which world and self alike are composed.


  1. The centrality of this image and this quest have only recently identified as such: see Chiappelli: esp. 171-75, 178-83, 214n20, 227n46; Hampton: 99-100, cf. 113-15.

  2. Exegesis of the theme of the voto in the Liberata is also a fairly recent development. In addition to the just cited passages from Chiappelli (plus 222n104 and 227-28nn146-51) and Hampton, see Raimondi: 201-02 and Langer: 43.

  3. Italian quotations are from the Caretti edition. Translations are my own throughout.

  4. For a development of this idea, see Quint 1993: 403n72. In a classic and extremely powerful example of Tassian ambivalence, the historical city of Jerusalem stands at once as the typological prefiguration of the city of God and as its own symbolic antithesis, Babel-Babylon, particularly in the final seige when it is defended against the Christians by the “popol misto” of pagandom.

  5. On Tasso's theoretical commitment to Aristotle's dictum of unity of action, see Discorsi dell' Arte Poetica, book II, translated in Rhu 1993: esp. 114-20.

  6. See Derla: 475, “La struttura spaziale della Liberata è ordinata infatti intorno a un centro cosmico (Gerusalemme e il Sepolcro di Cristo: il Centro del Centro).” Stephens 1989: 193 makes the compelling suggestion that the number, 144, of the final stanza has apocalyptic resonance. And see note 8 below.

  7. See Ferguson's reading of the Clorinda episode (126-30) as well as her treatment of the thematics of the sepulchre in lines 27-32 and 55-60 of the “Canzone al Metauro” (74-77). For related explorations of the thematics of death in the poem, see Fichter: 143-53; Martinelli: 155-58.

  8. On Jerusalem as “visio pacis,” see, for example, Guibert of Nogent: col.25D-26A; Isidore of Seville: VIII.i.6. For the figurative convergence between the enclosed spaces of the tomb and the hortus conclusus, see Chiappelli: 182-84, 229n166. On the typological significance of Tasso's Jerusalem see Giamatti: 183 et passim; Raimondi: 126-28; Fichter: 127, 153; Martinelli: 155; Stephens 1989: 193. For a dissenting view, see Murrin: 126. Tasso, in the Apologia in difesa de la Gerusalemme liberata, puts it thus: “perché alcuni di loro [i savi] dicono che Gerusalemme, secondo vari sensi, ora è nome di città, ora figura dell'anima fedele, ora della chiesa militante, ora della trionfante, non sarà stimata vana l'allegoria ch'io ne feci, a la quale posso aggiungere il senso che leva in alto: perché nella visione di Goffredo ed in altri luoghi della celeste Gerusalemme significo la Chiesa trionfante” (485). See also the Allegoria del poema, translated in Rhu 1993: esp. 156-57, 160-61.

  9. In the Apologia (434) Tasso observes that in the poems of Homer and Virgil, the deaths of Hector and Tumus are “principalissime.”

  10. For the imitation of Virgil and a survey of the range of interpretive possibilities in the close of the Furioso see Sitterson. Ariosto criticism has been divided between those who stress the poem's plural, “romance” or Ovidian, form (e.g., Javitch 1976 & 1984) and those who insist on the importance of the addition of epic, neo-Virgilian elements of structure to the earlier chivalric poems of Boiardo and others (Quint 1979; Fichter; Ascoli). See Kallendorf on the question of how Virgil was read and rewritten in the Quattrocento and before.

  11. On the classical models of the otherworld which most influenced Virgil, see Homer, Odyssey, book XI, and Plato's Myth of Er in Republic, book X, which is also the locus classicus for metempsychosis.

  12. This image has been a perennial crux. My suggestion is that the gate of ivory is anticipated associatively by a series of images in Book VI: at lines 645-47 Vergil refers periphrastically to Orpheus, priest of Apollo and archetypal poet, mentioning specifically his “ivory quill” (“pectine … eburno”), which clearly anticipates the “porta … eburna” of VI.898. Orpheus is also mentioned earlier (VI.119-20), there with suggestive reference to his attempt to bring his dead wife back to the land of the living, out of Hades. For parallels between Aeneas' descent to Hell and Orpheus', see Putnam, 41-48, who does not note this particular connection. Orpheus' descent is recounted at length in Georgics IV, where he is clearly linked qua poet-figure to Virgil himself. Reinforcing the general theme of vatic song and artistic creation are the description of Daedalus' carvings (14-33), as well as the encounter with Musaeus, “optime vates,” and other prophetic singers (661-76) in Elysium. The ivory gate is anticipated by the vision of the tree of false dreams at lines 281-94.

  13. See, for example, Discorsi dell'arte poetica, translated in Rhu 1993: esp. 119, 139, 142-45. See Looney.

  14. For Tasso's complex attitude toward Ariosto's romance (which he insisted on seeing as failed epic), see Ferguson 1983: esp. 54, 62-70; Quint 1983: 102-06, 116-17; Langer: 43-44; Zatti 1991: 203-16. On his attitude toward the epic/romance question, see Discorsi dell'arte poetica, translated in Rhu 1993: esp. 120-34; and, in addition to the previously cited critics, Fichter: 153 and Looney

  15. Even the magical aids of the “Mago d'Ascalona” remain technically within the realm of the natural, using sublunary Fortune as a primary agent (on the Mago, see Quint 1983: esp. 94-97).

  16. On Tasso's complex sense of the relation between historical fact and the matter of poetry, see especially his Discorsi dell'arte poetica, book 1, translated in Rhu 1993. See also Durling: 192-195 and note 38 below.

  17. Aquinas II.II q. 88, esp. art. 1. For Aquinas, vows are a subspecies of sacrifice (II.II. q.85), as they are for Dante as well (Paradiso V.43-44). Thus it is not surprising that Tasso's “voto” figures as both “promise and offering” (pace Langer: 43).

  18. On Tasso's general relation to the sixteenth century instantiation of the chivalric code of honor, see Erspamer 1982. On his attitudes toward chivalric romance, see note 14 above.

  19. I adapt Jakobson's distinction between the metaphoric and metonymic poles of language.

  20. Text and translation of the Commedia are taken from Singleton. I am indebted to Walter Stephens and to John Freccero for insisting on the importance of Paradiso III-V for understanding the “voto/vòto” connection in Tasso. I have found Freccero's suggestions concerning the poetics articulated in the early cantos of Paradiso particularly helpful in developing my argument. Ferguson points to Tasso's allusion to Dante's Piccarda in the dialogue Del piacere onesto, again in connection with his father's “involuntary” breaking of obligations (91).

  21. Citations are taken from the Bigi edition of Orlando furioso. On this aspect of the episode see Ascoli: 264-304, esp. 285-286 and nn.

  22. For a subtle discussion of Tasso's interweaving of Dantean and Ariostan pretexts in another connection, see Looney. See also Ferguson: 57, 106-107 et passim.

  23. Admittedly, even Aquinas (II.II.q.88) puts some qualifications on what vows are appropriate and to whom.

  24. It is, however, true, as Hampton points out (107-08), that Goffredo must give up a “personal” vow to fight as a common soldier in order to fulfill the greater demands of the collective vow to liberate the Holy Sepulchre. On “Goffredo's error” in canto XI, and the place of this individual vow in that larger context, see Bruscagli, esp. 221-22.

  25. It is in this sense that we should interpret Tasso's hyperbolic outburst in the Apologia: “rompendosi il giuramento si guasterebbe il mondo” (423). Conversely, it illuminates his reluctance to make a commitment concerning a possible change of patrons in a letter to Scipione Gonzaga of 24 March 1576: “non volendo prometter io cosa che non volessi osservare con la mia ruina, non mi risolvo di venire ad una risoluta promessa …” and “non mi legarò con nuovo nodo così forte, ch'io non mi possa con buona occasione disciorre” (#57 in Guasti ed.; emphasis mine). Note the metaphorics of binding and loosing that accompany the voto of the Liberata as well; cf. notes 26, 29 & 35 below.

  26. On the recurrence of the verb “sciogliere” and derivatives in the poem, see Chiappelli: 153-54.

  27. In the Apologia Tasso defines “giuramento” (which though not identical with “voto” is related to it) as “un parlare confermato co 'l nome di dio, o vero un parlare con venerazione divina che non riceve altra pruova: e colui pare che pecchi in estremo grado, il quale fa giuramento falso” (423). Compare Cicero's definition of “fides, id est dictorum conventorumque constantia et veritas” and especially the Stoic etymology which he gives for the word, “quia fiat, quod dictum est, appellatam fidem” (De officiis I.vii.23: “faith, that is, constancy and truth in what is spoken and what is agreed,” “Because it calls into being what is spoken, it is called faith”; my translation). Faith in this active, moral sense is the virtuous agency which makes it possible to fulfill a promise or vow, religious, political, or otherwise.

  28. For “fede” as the paradigmatic value of the Furioso see Saccone 1974 and 1983. For a critique of that account, see Bonifazi, Ascoli 1987, esp. 285-86, 329-31 and nn, Zatti 1990: 95-106 and nn. Ferguson (62-70) is especially valuable on this score in her discussion of Tasso's attack on the confused faith of Ruggiero in his Apologia (esp. 422-25), which she sees as connected to his own father's catastrophically divided loyalties.

  29. Zatti 1983: 123 & n. Relevant examples are in the Apologia, “Aristotile parla di quella necessità senza la quale non si potrebbe legare o sciogliere la favola” (453), and in several of the Lettere, notably that of 16 September 1575 to Luca Scalabrini (#45 in Guasti ed.), with its discussion of the “soluzione per macchina.” In the latter text Tasso makes the metaphor of narrative promise explicit: “Il poeta fornisce come comincia, e osserva quel che prometta” (107).

  30. In light of Zatti's compelling findings (1992) concerning the representational, poetic associations of the word “manto” and the systematic echoes which invest both landscape and characters with those associations (cf. IV.25.8: “[Armida] fa manto del ver alla menzogna”), perhaps we should add the phrase describing Goffredo's still-bloody garb (“né pur deposto il sanguinoso manto” XX.144.5) to the list of terms that create a doubling between Goffredo's story and Tasso's story-telling.

  31. In XX.20, Goffredo concluding his hortatory speech to the troops has his head surrounded by a lampant halo of light which some take to be a sign of future rule (“segno / alcun pensollo di futuro regno”), which, however, the reader will take figuratively, already alerted to the imminence of Goffredo's death.

  32. On the vexed question of the deployment of political and moral allegory in the poem, see Derla, Murrin, Rhu 1988, and Stephens 1991, contra.

  33. See Klopp; Chiappelli: 180-81 & 224n154; Zatti 1983: 96-97, 112. Langer puts it succinctly: “Tasso recasts the poet figure as ‘peregrino,’ but cannot avoid adding the ambiguous ‘errante,’ which is not only a depiction of Christian life as a peregrination between birth and death, but also recalls Ariosto's ‘errare sempre’ (XLVI.1.6)” (44). As Ferguson notes, in the Apologia Tasso applies the word “peregrino” to express his own sense of alienation, corporeal and familial: “invoco la memoria, come fanno i poeti, e colui [Bernardo Tasso] che me la diede insieme con l'intelletto, quando il mando ad abitare in questo corpo quasi peregrino” (426). See also the autobiographical “Canzone al Metauro,” line 4, where Tasso describes himself as “fugace peregrino.”

  34. See note 14 above.

  35. As we have already begun to see, the final canto of Tasso's poem is in fact thick not only with “voti” but also with the imagery of “scioglimento,” and the synonymous “solvere,” in a variety of contexts, e.g., stanzas 71, 91, 101, 102, 105, 135-36, 144.

  36. For example: 33.7-8, “poi fèr la gola e tronca al crudo Alarco / de la voce e del cibo il doppio varco”; 39.5-8, “Trafitto è … insin là dove il riso / ha suo principio, e 'l cor dilata e spande, / talché (strano spettacolo ed orrendo!) / ridea sforzato e si moria ridendo”; See also 51.5-8; 56.7-8; 77.3-5; 89.7-8.

  37. See XX.63.7-8, cited above in the text, for an explicit juxtaposition of “voto” and “volo” earlier in the same canto.

  38. On the ambivalent poetics defined in I.2, see Zatti 1983: esp. 34-37; on the Tassian obsession with a language of “dissimulation” where truth and falschood intertwine indistinguishably, see Erspamer 1989 and Zatti 1992. See Greene: 180.

  39. For an explicit and wildly overdetermined Tassian variant on this humanistic topos see the Apologia, “mio padre, il quale è morto nel sepolcro, si può dire ch'è vivo nel poema, chi cerca d'offendere la sua poesia, procura dargli morte un altra volta” (415), as well as the gloss of Ferguson 59-60.

  40. Compare the brief, suggestive remarks of Raimondi: “il motivo del ‘voto’ percorre tutto il poema e ne fissa ora limpidamente l'ultima nota … di là dal quale ricominicia forse il conflitto delle ambivalenze e delle contraddizioni che il racconto ha tentato di sciogliere prima di approdare al silenzio, dove il fine è veramente origine” (201).

  41. My reading here is influenced, if not fully determined, by Walter Benjamin's understanding of how, in the Baroque period, the allegory of transcendent Presence gave place to the allegory of death and absence. Schematically, Tasso might be said to be “pre-Baroque” in the sense of hovering at a threshold between representing Otherness as divine presence, on the one hand, and, on the other, as the staring vacancy of the tomb. I would wish, in any case, to be more prudent than Benjamin, by taking at face value the traditional symbolism of the Holy Sepulchre, but also to insist that the incompleteness of the analogy between Goffredo's vow and quest and Tasso's (“quasi in voto,” etc.) opens the way to a freer interpretation of the latter's relationship to the poem's terminal image.

  42. Stephens 1991 has argued that against the “alieniloquium” of allegory, Tasso sought to develop a sacramental “system of poetic signification that, in its own terms, was designed to unify Gerusalemme liberata by bridging the gap between signifier and signified” (247). I have suggested that this is precisely the problematic which develops around the vow, which also shares the sacrificial character of sacrament. Applying my conclusions to Stephens' argument, one would conclude that Tasso certainly aspires to such a unitary mode of signification, but that he betrays over and over again the anxiety that it is unattainable.

  43. As note 33 above began to suggest, the word “peregrino,” as both adjective and substantive, has deservedly received much attention in the criticism. As Klopp shows admirably, Tasso's most common use of the adjective is in reference to language, especially to the Aristotelian question of the employment of strange or foreign words in poetry, a fact which reinforces the connection between the psychic drama of the poet-pilgrim and the “viaggio testuale” of his language. For my purposes it is crucial that in Tasso's Italian “peregrino” means not only “pilgrim,” but also “new,” “strange,” and, especially, “different” (see also Chiappelli: 180).

  44. This drama can be described in a more “objective” way as well, in terms of the poem's protracted compositional history. The Liberata is a text with a decisive ending, but it is also a text which its author never finished writing. The endless, anxious revisionary process partly documented in the “poetic letters” of 1575-76 gives eloquent testimony to Tasso's sense of the simultaneous necessity and impossibility of bringing the writing of the poem to a definitive close.

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Dennis Looney (essay date 1996)

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SOURCE: Looney, Dennis. “Tasso's Allegory of the Source in Gerusalemme Liberata.” In Compromising the Classics: Romance Epic Narrative in the Italian Renaissance, pp. 142-69. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Looney claims that Tasso uses an episode in Gerusalemme liberata concerning a source of water as an allegory of his own use of literary sources.]

Dice ancora Aristotele che … quella [la favola] de l'epopeia è simile a vino troppo inacquato.

Tasso, Discorsi del Poema Eroico1

In the previous chapter, we observed Torquato Tasso's troubled reaction to the fusion of sources in Ariosto's Furioso. In chapter 1, by contrast, we saw how Torquanto's father, Bernardo, was able to accept the Furioso into his personal canon, despite its problematic confusion of romance and epic. Here I shall deal more directly with Torquato's ability and need to compromise sources in his own poem. In this reading of Gerusalemme Liberata, I argue that Torquato inscribed in the poem an allegory of imitative poetics, which provides the critic with a theoretical gloss on the poet's use of sources. Tasso develops an episode in the story line of canto 13 around a literal source of water—a spring in the desert outside of Jerusalem—to highlight a crisis in his use of literary sources for his intertextual narrative. The behavior of certain of his characters in response to a severe paucity of water stands allegorically for Tasso's treatment of his own sources. Torquato, we discover, is in many ways the ultimate compromiser.


In canto 13 of the Liberata, Tasso's poem on the First Crusade, a Greek soldier deserts the Christian army under cover of darkness. Misconstruing the deserter's actions as exemplary, some of his fellow crusaders decide to imitate him. The sequence of events threatens to dissolve the uneasy Christian alliance mustered against the Saracen enemy, which has secured defensive positions inside Jerusalem. The desertion also threatens to end the crusade, for without a cohesive army the Christian forces have no chance against the entrenched infidel. The desertion, therefore, also challenges the very narrative of the poem: if too many soldiers follow the Greek deserter, the war effort ends and the poem becomes at best a narrative of the adventures of individual knights wending their way back to western Europe. But the alliance does not dissolve and the poem does not turn into a collection of separate odysseys. The First Crusade ends with a Christian victory. Why then is the episode of desertion included in the poem?

Tasso drew the material for canto 13 from the historical record. A certain Taticius, who had been sent to the alliance by the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, did indeed encourage soldiers under his command to desert the army. For the details of this crisis, Tasso consulted a variety of historical sources in composing the episode. But his account of the desertion indicates that he had ulterior motives for introducing the scene into his highly selective retelling of the First Crusade. Historical accuracy aside, his additional reasons for appropriating the factual record were poetic and theoretical. The episode of Tatino (the Italianized form of the deserter's name in Latin, Tatinus) gave Tasso the opportunity to theorize and allegorize his dependence on literary sources. The episode allowed Tasso to address the following questions: How was he to work sources of conflicting ideological content and form into the Liberata? How, in particular, was he to combine elements of classical epic and vernacular romance in a Christian context?

I have found no critic who satisfactorily discusses the second half of canto 13, let alone one who discusses it in terms of the conflict among its sources.2 Most critics ignore the episode altogether as they rush from the favored scenes of Tancredi and Clorinda in 12-13 to Rinaldo on Armida's isle in 14-16. Fredi Chiappelli addresses the issue of the episode's sources, but disparagingly: “la descrizione della siccità è uno dei passi compositi della Gerusalemme, e non dei più riusciti” (551). (the description of the drought is one of the patchwork passages of the Gerusalemme, and not one of the most successful.) Chiappelli is aware of the many parts that make up the poetic whole—to use his image, the patchwork or “composite” whole—but he is critical of the art that binds the parts together. He continues more specifically: “La concezione generale dell'episodio è biblica … In questa concezione biblica si manifesta di tanto in tanto un accento personale, … Ma in generale, la condotta della narrazione vuol essere monumentale, e secondo la monumentalità classica, il solito tempio cristiano eretto con colonne e frantumi pagani, Santa Maria ‘sopra’ Minerva” (551). (The general conceptual framework of the passage is biblical. … In this framework every so often one becomes aware of an individualized accent. … But, in general, the conduct of the narration strives for monumentality, and, in accordance with classical monumentality, it strives to establish the usual Christian temple erected with pagan columns and fragments, Santa Maria “over” Minerva.) In Chiappelli's image the combination of sources creates a structure that is like a Christian church built over the site of a classical temple. So far, so good. But the critic errs, I believe, in assuming that Tasso endowed one of the components, a prominent allusion to the book of Exodus, with a priority over the others: “… convinto com'era il poeta della sua architettura ispirata all'Esodo” (551). (… convinced as the poet was in his architecture, which had been inspired by the book of Exodus.) Is the poet really “convinced” that the allusion to Exodus perfects his narrative? Rather, is he not forced to incorporate allusions to the Bible into his poem by literary critics authorized by the Church hierarchy? I shall argue below that this second question more accurately corresponds to the situation. Tasso's incorporation of the allusion to Exodus, however, is more subtle than it appears at first glance, for the poet compromises it with nonbiblical allusions. Chiappelli's architectural metaphor does not properly encompass the notion of rendering sources impure by mixing them together. And yet Tasso consistently blends sources—biblical, classical, and vernacular—and, consequently, tensions and incongruities fill his poetry, or, as I put it above, such tensions create conflicts of subject matter and poetic form. What distinguishes canto 13 is that Tasso resorts to allegory in an attempt to dramatize and resolve the narrative's intertextual conflicts.

Canto 13 is the thematic middle of the narrative, the fulcrum on which the poem's action turns.3 Tasso reflects on this dramatic point in the narrative, both in the poem and in a letter in which he refers to the canto's centrality. In an oration near the end of canto 13, which I shall consider in more detail below, God declares to the faithful in heaven that the Christian army has suffered long enough. He commands a new order of events to unfold: “Or cominci novello ordin di cose” (13.73.5). (Now let a new order of things begin.) From this moment forward, the narrative moves inexorably toward a Christian victory. In a letter to one of his supporters, Scipione Gonzaga, Tasso gave a simple account for this change of circumstance: it derives from God's grace. In the letter he also discusses the centrality of canto 13, noting that Scipione has not yet come to the halfway point in the plot because he has read only through canto 10. Distinguishing the poem's “quanto” from its “favola” Tasso notes that 10 is halfway through the poem's twenty cantos but that 13 is actually halfway through its plot.4 In canto 13, the themes associated with the pagan successes of the first half of the poem come to an end and the thematic development of the plot turns to the Christians' advantage. As Tasso puts it, “Ma nel mezzo del terzodecimo le cose cominciano a rivoltarsi in meglio … e così di mano in mano tutte le cose succedono prospere.”5

If the first half of the poem comes to an end, the second half must begin anew. Indeed the plot of the Liberata can be said to start over with the jussive subjunctives of God's speech, which establishes a new order by commanding, among other things, that Rinaldo be brought back into the Christian army (13.73.7). This new beginning of the poem is inaugurated thematically in canto 14, in which Carlo and Ubaldo seek out the magus of Ascalon, who instructs them on how to recover Rinaldo. Carlo and Ubaldo encounter the magus walking on the waters of a river that flows into the sea on the coast of southern Palestine. The magus leads them to his dwelling beneath the bed of the river, where he shows them the fountainhead of the world's water. The vision of the primeval aqueduct is mysteriously dramatic and sets an appropriate tone at the beginning of the quest for Rinaldo. But it is more than merely an overture to adventure. As David Quint has shown in his study on the source topos in Renaissance literature, Tasso's portrayal of the ultimate source has implications for his poetics.6

Such a reading of the scene in canto 14 depends on a close analysis of its intertextual dynamism. Analyzing in particular the allusions to the Book of Job and to the lunar episode in Orlando Furioso 34-35, Quint interprets the fountainhead in the magus's cave as a symbol of the limitations of human knowledge. Carlo and Ubaldo learn that the true source of knowledge, the Truth itself, is far above this magical place deep within the earth: God is the ultimate source and verification of all earthly sources. Tasso uses the symbol of the source, in Quint's reading, to reinforce his concept of God's relationship to creation.7 Quint moves from a discussion of the literary sources of canto 14 to an analysis of the Counter-Reformation aesthetics that required Tasso to locate the authority for his poetic originality in the extratextual domain of the Christian God, far beyond the realm of the earthbound author. The discovery of God's ultimate power in canto 14 constitutes a turning in the poem that, for Quint, depends on Tasso's allusions to Ariosto and the Bible (102). But a complementary reading of cantos 13 and 14 might also consider how the Liberata itself moves intratextually toward the shift in canto 14. One might note, for example, how Tasso develops the narrative through his description of the dried-up sources in canto 13, which precedes the vision of the source of all earthly water in 14. We should now observe how the interplay of sources within the poem brings its first half to an end in canto 13, and how these literary sources contribute to the peripeteia of canto 14.

Canto 13 begins with a description of how Ismeno, the pagan wizard, infests the forest of Sharon with demons (1-16). It continues with a section on the magic forest (17-48) and the drought (49-69). The canto ends with God's response to Goffredo's prayer in the form of a saving rain that replenishes the dried-up sources on which the Christians depend for their water (70-80). There is a progression in the representation of marvelous elements in the canto, moving from the pagan bewitching of nature to God's successful overcoming of the pagans.

The black magic of the pagan wizard works against the Christian army. His demons terrify the army's heroes, Alcasto and Tancredi, who flee the forest. The forest, however, is the source of lumber, which the crusaders need to build their war machines in order to besiege Jerusalem. The campaign halts when Tancredi, admitting defeat, confirms Alcasto's report to Goffredo: “No, no, più non potrei (vinto mi chiamo) / né corteccia scorzar, né sveller ramo” (49.7-8). (No, no, I can do no more [I confess myself beaten], neither to split the bark nor pluck the bough.) Goffredo reacts predictably: he comes up with a plan to enter the forest on his own to fell the needed trees. It is not the first time that the captain has attempted to assume the role of foot soldier (cf. 11.54ff.). But Piero the Hermit intervenes to prevent the leader's rash act.

At stanza 51, Piero makes one of several prophecies about the end to come:

“Lascia il pensier audace: altri conviene
che de le piante sue la selva spoglie.
Già la fatal nave a l'erme arene
la prora accosta e l'auree vele accoglie;
già, rotte l'indegnissime catene,
l'aspettato guerrier dal lido scioglie:
non è lontana omai l'ora prescritta
che sia presa Siòn, l'oste sconfitta.”

“Abandon your hardy plan; it falls to another to spoil the forest of its trees. Already the destined ship is beaching her prow on the solitary sands, and furls her golden sails; already, his most disgraceful fetters broken, the expected warrior weighs anchor from the shore. Now not far off is the fated hour when Sion can be taken, her host discomfited.”

Piero foresees the defeat of the enemy at the poem's conclusion, so acquainted is he with the total vision of God. He foresees that the boat to rescue Rinaldo is already on its way (“già,” 3). He knows that the crisis will be resolved sometime after the hero returns to the Christian camp. It is for Rinaldo to confront the enchanted forest upon reconciling himself with Goffredo. Thus Piero, the man of God, draws the lines of the second half of the plot.

But the prophecy serves another function at this crux in the narrative, for it echoes the critical vocabulary of generic conflict and resolution. In deterring Goffredo from entering the wood, Piero is warning the would-be epic hero against the dangers of romance. If Goffredo deviates from his course and enters the wood, he risks entanglement in unhealthy narrative patterns of the sort Tasso argues against throughout the Discorsi when he claims that romance is an aberration of epic. Piero's choice of vocabulary explains why the leader's intervention is not necessary. At 51.5, the verb that describes Rinaldo coming down from the beach, “scioglie,” is the technical term used to denote narrative resolution. The same verb brings the entire narrative to its conclusion in canto 20 by marking Goffredo's fulfillment of his vow to retake Jerusalem (20.144.8).8 When Piero says that the “chains” are already broken (51.4), he uses an equally connotative term. Sixteenth-century critics used “catena” to describe the interlaced structure of the typical romance narrative, as we saw in our discussion of Giraldi Cinzio in chapter 3. Piero means that the chains of Armida's control over Rinaldo have been broken; we, however, can also understand him to mean that the interlaced network of romancelike stories has been interrupted by the linear inevitability of the Liberata's epic thrust. What Piero foretells is that the romance is over; we are at the beginning of something new in the design of the narrative. To be sure, this literary-critical prophecy is not without a touch of irony, for, although the romance has supposedly ended, we see its chains dismantled ever so slowly over the next seven cantos.

This sets the scene for the description of the drought, which, in spite of Piero's prediction of eventual victory, is suspenseful. Ismeno predicts the drought near the opening of canto 13 as he reports the progress of his magical endeavors to the king of Jerusalem, Aladino (13.13):

Soggiunse appresso: “Or cosa aggiungo a queste
fatte da me ch'a me non meno aggrada.
Sappi che tosto nel Leon celeste
Marte co 'l sol fia ch'ad unir si vada,
né tempreran le fiamme lor moleste
aure, o nembi di pioggia o di rugiada,
ché quanto in cielo appar, tutto predice
ardissima arsura ed infelice: …”

He added then: “To these things accomplished by me I add now a matter that to me is no less pleasing. Mars is soon going to be in conjunction with the sun, in the heavenly Lion, and no breezes or clouds of rain or dew will be tempering their noisome flames; for all the signs that appear in the heavens predict a most parched and hapless drought …”

There is a structural parallel between the pagan prophet and his patron at the beginning of the canto and Piero and Goffredo at midpoint. The parallel suggests the limitations of Ismeno's prediction, its shortsightedness when compared with the all-encompassing vision of Piero the Hermit. Nevertheless, Ismeno's prediction, based on his reading of the zodiac, is accurate: the “arsura” descends with a consummate destruction upon the Christians in the second half of stanza 52:

Ma nel Cancro celeste omai raccolto
apporta arsura inusitata il sole,
ch'a i suoi disegni, a i suoi guerrier nemica,
insopportabil rende ogni fatica.

But now the sun, being entered into Cancer, brings on unwonted heat, inimical to his plans and to his soldiery, that renders every task unbearable.

Tasso's outline of the events of the First Crusade is based, as I noted above, on the historical record. His main source is Belli sacri historia, an extensive chronicle written by the twelfth-century archbishop William of Tyre. The first printed edition of the Latin work was published in 1549, and it was quickly followed by numerous translations in the vernacular, including an Italian version published in 1562.9 The chronicle details the problems the crusaders faced when they entered the deserts of Palestine in the summer of 1097, overdressed and ill-prepared for the intense heat and scarcity of water. While William never refers to an actual drought, he repeatedly describes the destructive effect of the sun and the consequent lack of water. At 13.53-58, Tasso follows more or less the general description given in William's chronicle, where William recounts how the invading forces dissipated their energies in Palestine searching for drinking water. So also does Tasso depict his characters exhausting themselves in search of relief. He embellishes this recasting of the historical record with allusions to Vergil's Georgics and Lucretius's De rerum natura to compose a striking narration of the drought's effect on the terrain, on the crusaders' horses, and on the crusaders themselves.

William develops the narrative of his history with a clear sense of how an episode should begin and end. He prepares for the section on the summer of 1097 by commenting on the arid topography surrounding Jerusalem. He reproaches a postclassical historian, Solinus, for remarks in his Polyhistor about Jerusalem's geographical setting:

The city lies in arid surroundings, entirely lacking in water. Since there are no rills, springs, or rivers, the people depend upon rain water only. During the winter season it is their custom to collect this in cisterns, which are numerous throughout the city. Thus it is preserved for use during the year. Hence I am surprised at the statement of Solinus that Judea is famous for its waters. He says in the Polyhistor: “Judea is renowned for its waters, but the nature of these varies.” I cannot account for the discrepancy except by saying either that he did not tell the truth about the matter or that the face of the earth became changed later.10

William's revised estimation of the water supply in Jerusalem is conspicuous, and it might have caught Tasso's attention and quite possibly led him to create the center of his narrative around the drought. Tasso might also have appreciated William's skepticism toward his predecessor, a corrective attitude Tasso cultivates toward his sources, including even William. Tasso intentionally lodged the plot of the Liberata in a past event that was close enough to his own time to appear realistic and yet distant enough to allow the poet freedom to manipulate the historical sources.11 At this point in his poetic version of the crusade, he follows William's account; later in the canto, however, he will make significant changes.

William describes how the Saracens used the drought and the heat of summer to their advantage. One of their strategies involved plugging all the springs in the vicinity of Jerusalem, thus blocking, as far as possible, the Christians from potable water (348).12 In William's description, which he gives twice (at 8.4 and 8.7), the citizens of Jerusalem react immediately upon learning that the crusaders are near:

cives, praecognito nostrorum adventu, ora fontium et cisternarum quae in circuitu urbis erant, usque ad quinque vel sex milliaria, ut populus siti fatigatus ab urbis obsidione desisteret, obstruxerant


The citizens, once our advance had been recognized, stopped up the mouths of the fountains and wells which were within a five- or six-mile radius of the city, so that thirst would exhaust our people and make them cease from laying siege to the town.

Canto 13 of the Liberata includes a narrative of a similar tactic (58.4-8):

ma pur la sete è il pessimo de' mali,
però che di Giudea l'iniquo donno
con veneni e con succhi aspri e mortali
più de l'inferna Stige e d'Acheronte
torbido fece e livido ogni fonte.

[B]ut yet the thirst is the worst evil of all, for Judaea's wicked lord made every spring filthy and unwholesome with poisons and secretions more bitter and deadly than hellish Styx and Acheron.

There is, one notices immediately, a variant on the historical event in Tasso's version: whereas in William's account the pagans merely block the springs and wells, in Tasso's, the king of Jerusalem, Aladino, poisons the springs.14 This strategy had already been announced at the beginning of the poem. In canto 1, Aladino ruins the countryside so that the Franks glean no sustenance as they invade: “turba le fonti e i rivi, e le pure onde / di veneni mortiferi confonde” (89.7-8).15 ([H]e roils the springs and the streams and mingles their pure waters with death-dealing poisons.) Only in the context of the drought in canto 13 does that act, heretofore disregarded in the narrative, assume dire consequences for the Christian forces.16

Describing Aladino's act twice provides the poet the opportunity to lend some variety to the second version. Indeed, the passage in canto 13 reads like a schoolboy exercise in variatio in relation to that of canto 1: “le fonti” becomes “ogni fonte”; “turba” becomes “fece torbido”; “veneni mortiferi” becomes “veneni mortali.” These superficial changes tend not to affect the content of the passage at all. There is, however, a notable addition to the description in 13 that invites further interpretation: “succhi aspri” (58.6). This phrase recalls the Lucretian allusion at the beginning of the poem in which poetry itself is likened to a mixture of bitter and sweet liquids (1.3):17

Sai che là corre il mondo ove più versi
di sue dolcezze il lusinghier Parnaso,
e che 'l vero, condito in molli versi,
i più schivi allettando ha persuaso.
Così a l'egro fanciul porgiamo aspersi
di soavi licor gli orli del vaso:
succhi amari ingannato intanto ei beve,
e da l'inganno suo vita riceve.

You know that the world flocks there where feigning Parnassus most pours out her sweetnesses, and that the truth in fluent verses hidden has by its charm persuaded the most forward. So we present to the feverish child the rim of the glass sprinkled over with sweet liquids: he drinks deceived the bitter medicine and from his deception receives life.

Aladino pollutes the springs of Jerusalem with “bitter juices,” as a doctor coats the rim of a cup with sweet liquids to trick a sick child into drinking the “bitter juices” of medicine within the cup.18 At first glance the analogy would seem to be turned on its head. Lucretius coats the bitter with the sweet, but Tasso coats—in fact, he almost contaminates totally—the sweet with the bitter. It has been argued—correctly, I believe—that Aladin's contamination of the wells reflects Tasso's ambiguity about literary pleasure and implies a potential threat to orthodox Christian ideology.19

The mixing of water and poison is analogous to Tasso's mixing of literary sources that conflict in their content and/or form. Stanza 58 does not raise the issue of generic conflict, which we have already encountered in the prophetic language of stanza 51, but it draws our attention to a mixture of sources. First, Tasso must confront the historical source: William of Tyre's chronicle. Second, there are the internal allusions Tasso makes to the beginning of his own poem. Third, in line 7 the poet calls on a classical commonplace to compare the poisoned springs around Jerusalem to the infernal waters of the Styx and the Acheron—an image brought into the Italian tradition by Dante's Inferno. And fourth, there is the biblical source for Aladino's actions: 2 Chronicles 32:2-4 recounts that a king of ancient Judah, Hezekiah, used a similar tactic when the Assyrians once besieged Jerusalem.

The four sources of stanza 58 can be classified into two kinds of allusions: intratextual and intertextual.20 The intratextual is the one made within the poem to the poem itself, for example, the allusion in 13.58 to 1.3. The intertextual allusions of stanza 58 are to texts beyond the Liberata, which are historical, classical (perhaps filtered through a medieval vernacular source), and biblical. The intratextual allusion in 58 focuses the reader's attention, somewhat paradoxically, on the essentially intertextual nature of the stanza. By inviting the reader to consider the stanza in theoretical terms (as the allusion to the beginning of the poem does), Tasso focuses the reader's attention on his sources and on the way in which he, like his character Aladino, mixes them.

The most noticeable detail in Tasso's mixture is the inherent opposition between Aladino and Hezekiah. Any significant parallel to Hezekiah must reverse the biblical model: Aladino, an infidel, who keeps the Christians from taking back what is rightfully theirs, is compared implicitly to Hezekiah, a man of God, who defends Jerusalem against the invading Assyrians. The parallel highlights what the two kings do not share, namely, a faith in the Judeo-Christian deity. Hezekiah's faith in God allows him to overcome his enemy, while Aladino's infidelity leaves him vulnerable to the Christian deity's machinations. At the end of canto 13, God answers Goffredo's prayer for rain and thus foils Aladino's strategy to defeat the crusaders by desiccation. Tasso's allusive recall of the Bible in stanza 58 sets up this later moment in his narrative.21


A discussion of Tasso's sources in stanza 58—a microcosm of his poetics in the canto—leads one invariably back to the narrative of the drought in canto 13. The poet gives the reader a tour of the parched countryside and the languishing Christian army22 before he shifts his focus to the drought's effect on the morale of the crusaders themselves (64):

Così languia la terra, e 'n tale stato
egri giaceansi i miseri mortali,
e 'l buon popol fedel, già disperato
di vittoria, temea gli ultimi mali;
e risonar s'udia per ogni lato
universal lamento in voci tali;
“Che più spera Goffredo o che più bada,
sì che tutto il suo campo a morte cada?”

So languished the countryside and in such state the wretched mortals lay in their afflication; and the faithful, having lost all hope of victory, began to fear extremity of evils; and on every side a universal complaint could be heard echoing in such words as these: “What more does Godfrey expect? or what is he waiting for—until his whole host drops dead?”

The speech, delivered by an unidentified narrative voice, continues in this troubled tone for three stanzas, dwelling on the inequity of the general situation. Its tone recalls the harangue of Thersites against Agamemnon in Iliad 2.212ff., and that of Drances against Turnus in Aeneid 11.336ff., although there are no points of direct linguistic imitation of these classical models.

Goffredo, however, is not suffering to the same degree as his men; indeed he hardly suffers at all (67):

“Or mira d'uom c'ha il titolo di pio
providenza pietosa, animo umano:
la salute de' suoi porre in oblio
per conservarsi onor dannoso e vano;
e veggendo a noi secchi i fonti e 'l rio,
per sé l'acque condur fa dal Giordano,
e fra pochi sedendo a mensa lieta,
mescolar l'onde fresche al vin di Creta.”

“Now look at the humane spirit, the compassionate care of a man who is called the Good; he forgets about the well-being of his men in order to preserve for himself a vain and destructive honor. And seeing the springs and the river dry for us, he has water fetched from Jordan for himself, and sitting at his cheerful feast with a few companions, he has cold water mixed with his Cretan wine.”

The captain, mocked for his piety, has designed his own private water supply, which enables him to continue cutting his wine at dinner with fresh water in spite of the desiccated springs, on which his soldiers can no longer depend. The observation is articulated in the rhetoric of revolt, the masses with their collective pronoun “noi” versus the captain who is doing things “per sé.” More exactly, Tasso's grammatical construction in line 6 indicates that Goffredo is not acting as a direct agent in all of this: “per sé l'acque condur fa dal Giordano.” He has his water supplied from no less than the Jordan River. The detail is historically accurate. The crusaders often traveled as far inland as the Jordan to procure drinking water when droughts hindered the progress of their various campaigns.23 But there is more at stake in the passage than historical accuracy.

Goffredo's exclusive water supply enables a curious mixture of water and wine. His use of the Jordan speaks for itself. The verbal attack in lines 5-8 implies that Goffredo is selfishly abusing the sacred water of the most holy river in Christendom. The plural “acque” (waters) suggests the exaggerated extent of the abuse. The very presence of wine on his table is a further indication of how little Goffredo suffers from the drought. The chroniclers recount how wine, a part of daily rations, became more scarce and costly as the water supply dwindled.24 And why does he mix these waters with a “vin di Creta” (Cretan wine)? Tasso reports in his poem that the islands of Chios and Crete provided wine for the crusaders: “e Scio pietrosa gli vendemmi e Creta” (1.78.8) (and rocky Scio her vintages, and Crete). And the same passage in canto 1 clearly borrows from William of Tyre's description of the crusaders' march from Tripoli toward Jerusalem, during which friendly supply ships hugged the coast as the army proceeded southward.25 But William does not go so far as to specify which wines the crusaders drank.

Nonetheless, Tasso's reference to Cretan wine is a realistic historical detail. Unlike mainland Greece, the island of Crete has a large supply of fresh water that makes it an effective agricultural region, for which it has been famous since antiquity.26 Pliny the Elder, among others, praised the wines of Crete, especially its sweet raisin wines.27 From as early as the second millennium b.c., the island's position at the eastern end of the Mediterranean basin made it an important commercial link among the economic centers of Italy, Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Levant.28 Thus its wines were exported early on and continued to be shipped to other countries throughout its early history.29 This is true for the period of Byzantine control over the island (961-1204)—at the time of the First Crusade—as well as for the era of Venetian dominion (1204-1669). The Venetians, as one might expect, excelled in marketing Cretan wine all over northern Europe.30 By the time Tasso was writing, Pliny's sweet wine had come to be one of the favorite drinks of the English and French, which they called, respectively, “malmsey” and “malvesie,” after one of the stops along the Venetian trade route from Crete to the north, Monemvasía. It seems likely that Tasso's participation in goliardic and courtly life during the 1560s and 1570s would have made him aware of the sociohistorical connotations of alluding to wine from Crete.

A literary rationale also coordinates the details in this passage, even to such a minute detail as the provenance of Goffredo's wine. When an Italian poet trained in the humanistic tradition, as Tasso was, refers to Crete, he conjures up the mythic legends associated with the island: Jupiter's birthplace, Minos, the Minotaur in Daedalus's labyrinth, and others. Moreover, these legends are refracted through well-known passages of Italian medieval literature in Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.31 Writers closer to his specific narrative tradition, Boiardo and Ariosto, also employ the myths of Crete.32 Ariosto even comments on the need to cut the heavy wine of the “treacherous Greeks” in a humorous passage of his Satire 2.46-57.

Of greater interest for Tasso's reference to Crete in stanza 67, however, is a reference in one of Ariosto's last writings to wine from Candia, the Italian name for Crete. In the Marganorre episode added to the 1532 edition of the Furioso, the evil misogynist, Marganorre, develops his hatred for women in response to a deadly Cretan wine, for a poisoned “vin dolce di Candia” (sweet wine from Candia) kills Tanacro, Marganorre's son (37.67-75). The Cretan wine in the Furioso, like Goffredo's wine in canto 13, is introduced in a sacramental context. Ariosto's character, Tanacro, dies after having drunk the poisoned wine during the Eucharist celebration at his wedding mass. In both texts wine from Crete symbolizes the perversion of community: in Ariosto's episode the perversion leads to a dramatic coupled death (Tanacro and his unwilling fiancée, Drusilla, who prepared the poison, both die); in Tasso's episode, the perversion threatens the military alliance of the Christian side. Again, as with the historical details outlined above, there is no positive proof that Tasso's passage alludes to the Furioso, although, certainly, the two passages become mutually enlightened if taken together. In any case, the mixing of Greek wine possessed a significant cultural resonance for Tasso and his contemporaries.

Let us continue with our reading of canto 13. The Franks under Goffredo's immediate command criticize his mixture of wine and water. Because the Christian coalition he commands is formed of diverse crusaders from various parts of Europe, the potential for schism is great. While his own troops criticize him in words alone, other members of the coalition openly defy him and the alliance begins to crack along ethnic lines. The lone Greek leader, Tatino, who commands those soldiers sent personally by the Byzantine emperor, is the first to desert. Diverse chroniclers record that this desertion did indeed take place—however, not when the crusaders were besieging Jerusalem, but rather Antioch. Why then does Tasso change the locale? The answer lies in his willingness to alter the historical record for the sake of his poem's unified epic narrative.33 Unity requires a concentration of disparate actions in one theater; Tatino's desertion had to be moved to the desert near Jerusalem.

Tatino is introduced in the catalog of the Christian troops in 1.50-51:34

Venian dietro ducento in Grecia nati,
che son quasi di ferro in tutto scarchi;
pendon spade ritorte a l'un de' lati,
suonano al tergo lor faretre ed archi;
asciutti hanno i cavalli, al corso usati,
a la fatica invitti, al cibo parchi;
ne l'assalir son pronti e nel ritrarsi,
e combatton fuggendo erranti e sparsi.
Tatin regge la schiera, e sol fu questi
che, greco, accompagnò l'arme latine.
Oh vergogna! oh misfatto! or non avesti
tu, Grecia, quelle guerre a te vicine?
E pur quasi a spettacolo sedesti,
lenta aspettando de' grand'atti il fine.
Or, se tu se' vil serva, è il tuo servaggio
(non ti lagnar) giustizia, e non oltraggio.

Behind them came two hundred born in Greece, who are almost entirely free of any steel; crescent swords hang down at their sides; quivers and bows rattle on their backs; wiry horses they have, inured to running, tireless in effort, sparing in diet: they are quick to attack and quick to sound retreat, and roving and scattered wage war by taking flight. / Tatin rules the band, and he was the only one who, being Greek, accompanied the Latin armies. Oh shame! oh crime! were not those wars near neighbor to you, Greece? and yet you sat, as at a spectacle, sluggishly awaiting the outcome of great actions. Now, if you are a common slave, your servitude (make no complaint) is a justice not an outrage.

The narrator uses the appearance of the Greek contingent to criticize the country for its weak-willed effort. Although the war takes place near Greece, the Greeks have dispatched only two hundred soldiers, merely a pack of scouts to lead the crusaders through Asia Minor.35

Tasso's impassioned attack on Tatino has specific implications for Greece as a whole. Filling the role of spectators at a drama (1.51.5-6), the Greeks betray the cultural heritage they bequeathed to the West in their refusal to campaign aggressively against the Saracens. The wording of couplet 51.5-6 recalls Athenian tragedy, the cultural product of that brief period of relative peace from 480 to 430 b.c., when the democratic and cultural legacy of ancient Athens first took form. Subsequent references to the evil emperor (1.69-70) also suggest that the present ruler of the Byzantine empire has cynically disregarded the legacy of the Athenian golden age. Only the European peoples are able to protect and preserve what the Greeks no longer treasure.

Indeed, Tatino in canto 1 might at first appear an active exception to Greek passivity. But any hope that this activity might result in some heroic deed later in the narrative is in vain. Once again Tasso follows William's historical narrative from the beginning to the point that satisfies his own purposes. William foresees Tatino's desertion because of his unreliability as an agent of the emperor. The rubric for the chapter in which he first mentions Tatino is direct: “One Tatino, a servant of the emperor, a very crafty man of notorious wickedness, becomes associated with our leaders.”36 He continues this description in a similar vein, reading into his physiognomy Tatino's moral shortcomings: “He was a wicked and treacherous man, whose slit nostrils were a sign of his evil mind” (150); the emperor is said to have “relied greatly upon his malice and unscrupulous duplicity” (150); and William declares from the outset that Tatino is responsible for “directing his nefarious schemes” (150). Clearly, for William the chronicler, Tatino is no shining star of probity.

The portrayal of Greeks as crafty masters of language is a topos of politicized rhetoric in the European Middle Ages. The literary archetype of clever Odysseus had long since become part of the common ground of Western culture. William's emphasis on the man as a liar is not out of order in this respect. During the Renaissance, leading up to Tasso's day, Italian culture continued to embrace the same stereotype of Greeks, probably for similar reasons. Ariosto provides a glimpse of this popular attitude in his play I suppositi (2.1.27-28), in which one character advises another: “Non ti fidare di lui, ch' egli è fallace e più bugiardo che se in Creta o in Affrica nato fusse.”37 (Don't trust him, because he's false and more of a liar than if he'd been born in Crete or Africa.) The stereotypes held firm through Tasso's lifetime, with a new villain of similar malicious qualities being added in the second half of the sixteenth century: the Turk. Ironically, the historical Tatino was probably not Greek but Saracen or Turk. Another chronicler of the crusaders' march through Asia minor, Anna Komnena, the emperor's daughter, claimed that the Byzantine army had captured Tatino's father in a battle and that the son, a kind of human war prize, had been raised in the imperial court.38 But to return to Tasso's narrative, it mattered little whether Tatino was Greek, African (i.e., Saracen), or Turk. It mattered much more that he was not European and that he was untrustworthy.

In stanzas 64 through 67, the Franks criticize Goffredo's abundance of water. Tatino, however, is more direct (68-69):

Così i Franchi dicean; ma 'l duce greco
che 'l lor vessillo è di seguir già stanco,
“Perché morir qui?” disse “e perché meco
far che la schiera mia ne vegna manco?
Se ne la sua follia Goffredo è cieco,
siasi in suo danno e del suo popol franco:
a noi che noce?” E senza tor licenza,
notturna fece e tacita partenza.
Mosse l'essempio assai, come al dì chiaro
fu noto; e d'imitarlo alcun risolve.
Quei che seguir Clotareo ed Ademaro
e gli altri duci ch'or son ossa e polve,
poi che la fede che a color giuraro
ha disciolto colei che tutto solve,
già trattano di fuga, e già qualcuno
parte furtivamente a l'aer bruno.

So spoke the Franks; but the Greekish captain, who is already tired of following their standard, said: “Why die here? and why let my division grow weaker, along with me? If Godfrey is blinded in his folly, let it be to his own hurt and that of the Frankish people: what harm in that for us?” And without obtaining permission he made his departure, in silence and by night. / The example caused a great stir when it became known by light of day, and some resolve to follow it. Those who were followers of Clothar and Adhemar and the other captains that now are dust and bones—since that which releases all has released the fealty that they swore to them—now consider flight; and already some have departed secretly in the darkened air.

In stanza 68 Tatino speaks, presumably to himself; then he takes leave, forsaking the camp by night. In an irrational sequence of tenses, the Christian army learns of his action the following day: the preterite verb forms “mosse” and “fu noto” shift unexpectedly to the dramatic present of “risolve.” The Greek leader has established an example in the past that heightens the crusaders' resolve to imitate it.

Like stanzas 51 and 58, the opening couplet of 69 is striking for its vocabulary drawn from the lexicon of sixteenth-century discourse on imitatio. Contemporary Renaissance descriptions of poetic imitation typically focus on one, usually modern, poet's imitation of a medieval or classical text. The words, “essempio,” “imitare,” and “seguir,” essential to the critical discourse of imitation, suggest that Tasso wants to do more with stanza 69 than merely further the plot through the description of Tatino's desertion. The terminology, found throughout Tasso's Discorsi dell'arte poetica, focuses our attention on the theoretical possibilities of the episode.39 But first we need to examine the reaction of Goffredo to the exemplary Tatino, for our reading of Tatino's action is, of necessity, refracted through Goffredo's reading.

Goffredo, ever consonant with his epithet “pio,” prays for guidance when confronted with Tatino's desertion. Although he entertains possible violent responses to the soldier's bad example, his purposeful prayers allow him to avoid such temptation. From his misadventure in canto 11 (of which Piero reminds him in 13.51) he had learned the inappropriateness of intervening as a foot soldier. Rinaldo's murder of Gernando in canto 5 taught him that it would be dangerous for his troops to overreact at this point in the plot.40 So at this turning point in the narrative, Goffredo shuns direct action and puts his faith in God (13.70):

Ben se l'ode Goffredo e ben se 'l vede,
e i più aspri rimedi avria ben pronti,
ma gli schiva ed aborre; e con la fede
che faria stare i fiumi e gir i monti,
devotamente al Re del mondo chiede
che gli apra omai de la sua grazia i fonti:
giunge le palme, e fiammaggianti in zelo
gli occhi rivolge e le parole al Cielo: …

Godfrey hears it clearly and sees it clearly and could have had ready at hand the most stringent remedies; but those he shuns and abhors, and with the faith that could make the mountains move and the rivers stand, devoutly he prays the King of the universe that He open now the wellsprings of His grace: he clasps his hands and directs his eyes and his words aflame with zeal to Heaven: …

Goffredo's faithfulness in lines 3-4 has biblical overtones. In a phrase that recalls Jesus's own definition of faith, the narrator describes faith as empowering Goffredo's prayer so that it might “make rivers stand and mountains move.”41 Jesus preaches several times to his disciples about the efficacy of prayer, which can, through faith, effect miracles. Once he speaks to them of the withering of the fig tree: “Amen dico vobis, si habueritis fidem, et non haesitaveritis, non solum de ficulnea facietis, sed et si monti huic dixeritis: Tolle, et iacta te in mare, fiet. Et omnia quaecumque petieritis in oratione credentes, accipietis” (Matthew 21:21-22). (Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.) In a similar way, Goffredo's faith leads him to embrace the expectations of God, which are expressed repeatedly by Piero the Hermit. Here is Goffredo's prayer (71):

“Padre e Signor, s'al popol tuo piovesti
già le dolci rugiade entro al deserto,
s'a mortal mano già virtù porgesti
romper le pietre e trar del monte aperto
un vivo fiume, or rinovella in questi
gli stessi essempi; e s'ineguale è il merto,
adempi di tua grazia i lor difetti,
e giovi lor che tuoi guerrier sian detti.”

Our father and our Lord, if once you rained down the grateful dew on your people in the wilderness; if once you placed the power in mortal hands to break open the rocks and draw a living stream from the riven mountain; now renew in these the same examples.42 And if their merit is unequal, supply their deficiencies with Thy grace, and let it be to their profit that they be called Thy soldiers.”

The narrator plays with the vocabulary and imagery of sources when he describes the prayer in 70.6 as a request for God to open “the wellsprings of His grace.”43 Tellingly, the prayer, given in full in stanza 71, actually requests water. But the request comes by way of an example. Goffredo asks God to provide the crusaders with the same food he gave the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, thus putting himself in a position analogous to that of Moses. The mutinous crusaders, for their part, are comparable to the grumbling Israelites. In effect, Goffredo prays for a positive example to interpose between his army and Tatino's negative example. Just as God rained down sweet dew and drew forth from the rocks a living stream at Moses' request, so should he “now renew in these [warriors] the same examples.”

Goffredo is portrayed here as exhibiting a sincere parental concern for his charges. But underlying the leader's request on behalf of his men is the impinging vocabulary of literary imitation that shapes the scene. At stake is the proper sort of exemplarity: Tatino's or God's. The men of Clotareo and Ademaro (69.3), who can no longer follow their dead Frankish leaders, are given two options: should they follow a Greek or the God of the Old Testament? For the crusaders, there is a quick and easy answer to this question; for the poet, inasmuch as the question also applies to his imitative poiesis, the answer is much more complicated and leads to the heart of Tasso's allegory of the source.

Goffredo's prayer is immediately effective. God responds with a miraculous rainstorm and reaffirms Goffredo's authority, just as he intervened several times to reaffirm the authority of Moses. And as the threat of desertion ends, the second half of the poem begins. That beginning is marked by God's language of inauguration in stanza 73, which echoes Goffredo's remarks in 71. The divine proclamation on the new beginning (“Or cominci novello ordin di cose,” 73.5) corresponds to Goffredo's request that God renew the examples witnessed by the Israelites (“or rinovella in questi / gli stessi essempi,” 71.5-6). The implication of the comparison between Goffredo's request and God's reply is simple: to go forward one must first go back. The ancient past becomes an occasion to rewrite the present and shape the future. Imitatio is based on the same principle: one must go back (into literary history, into a literary source) in order to proceed.

Again, the issue of choice arises. In 71 the poet chooses to follow the Old Testament, strengthening the Christian underpinnings of the poem. The directness of Goffredo's reference to the Israelites has given rise to much enthusiastic criticism among Tasso's modern readers, as if the poet had triumphed by depending so obviously on a scriptural passage. De Maldè, for example, comments on how the passage in canto 13 and the story from Exodus are, with some minor exceptions, identical: “… tutto è identico nei due esemplari” (284). (… everything in the two texts is identical.) He then advances the forced claim that Moses and Goffredo are exact equivalents: “Mosè nel Vecchio Testamento fa perfetto riscontro a Goffredo nella Liberata” (284). (Moses in the Old Testament is a perfect counterpart to Goffredo in the Liberata.)

But can such a positive reaction, with its presupposition of an overt and unsophisticated imitation of a source, be accepted? Perhaps, but only by considering certain extra-poetic ideological demands. The technique of poets writing in the tradition of Tasso's vernacular humanism involves the cultivation of a deliberate elusiveness in the use of literary sources. A transparent allusion, moreover, is very probably obvious for a specific reason, that is, the decision to showcase a source can often be attributed to ideology. Writing under the tightening strictures of post-Tridentine aesthetics, Tasso became increasingly uncomfortable with the un-Christian qualities of the classical epic tradition that underlay much of the Liberata. The Roman censors, at least, were unhappy with the poem's un-Christian elements. Accordingly, the poet found himself in an awkward position. He reflects on his discomfort in many of the “lettere poetiche” written in 1575-76, the period when he was preparing the final draft of the Liberata. He openly had to demonstrate his commitment to Christian morals and aesthetics—whether or not that commitment might be central to his narrative. Perhaps, in his evocation of the famous passage from Exodus, Tasso intended to satisfy such an ideological requirement. To liken Goffredo to Moses was not really the point of the allusion; its purpose was to make Tasso resemble the kind of poet the Roman “revisori” demanded that he be.

No competent Christian reader would have failed to notice the source of Goffredo's prayer. If the ideologues were placated by its orthodoxy, all well and good. But if it is correct to interpret the allusion to Exodus as an ideological ploy on the part of Tasso, then the poet had his cake and ate it too. For no reader familiar with classical texts could avoid the additional fact that the context and the effect of the prayer are distinctly classical. When the prayer metamorphoses into a plural subject, “queste preghiere” (72.1), which fly up to God like winged birds, the learned reader recalls, among other classical motifs, the eagles of Zeus, who mediate between mortals and gods. Here as elsewhere in Tasso, such a plurality is antithetical to the ideal of Christian uniformity.44 Once the prayers arrive at their destination, they evoke God's speech (73), which includes the very classical sounding verse already mentioned above: “Or cominci novello ordin di cose” (73.5). Indeed, God invokes the messianic rhetoric associated with many passages from the Bible, but at the same time he sounds remarkably similar to the narrator of Vergil's Eclogue 4.5: “magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.” (the great line of the centuries begins anew.)45 Medieval and Renaissance readers interpreted the Vergilian passage as an example of the classical author's visionary, prophetic proto-Christianity. Therefore, in a sense, the literary culture of Tasso's day had already worked out this elaborate compromise for him. God speaks with a classical accent, yet it is a voice sanctioned by the ecclesiastical tradition.

Tasso's allusion to the Vergilian new order straddles and combines the realms of the biblical and the classical, only to be punctuated by one of the poem's most noticeable neoclassical touches, the majestic nod of the deity.46 God, looking very much like Jupiter, effects his will with a cataclysmic shake of the head: “Così dicendo, il capo mosse …” (74.1). (Thus speaking, He nodded His head. …)47 The un-Christian reaction of the deity undermines any aura of Christianity surrounding Goffredo's prayer. If in stanza 71 Tasso has appeased those readers who are eager to censure him, by stanzas 72 and 74 he is composing once again as he wills.

What is the point of the allegory of the source in Liberata 13? Before considering this question, first let me review the sequence of events in the episode of the drought. There are six principal moments: (1) the sources around the city of Jerusalem dry up and are poisoned; (2) while his troops languish, Goffredo enjoys wine cut with water brought from the Jordan; (3) Tatino, the Greek soldier, deserts the Christian army; (4) certain crusaders follow Tatino's lead; (5) Goffredo prays that God end the drought; (6) God responds to Goffredo's prayer.

One way to read these events allegorically might be as follows. A crisis confronts the poet in regard to his literary sources. The exact nature of the crisis is never specified, but one deduces that it involves these issues: which specific sources should the poet use; what is the appropriate context in which to mix sources; and to what extent should the poet mix sources? One option the text suggests involves the rejection of a model from the vernacular tradition of medieval romance in favor of a Greek model from the classical tradition. Tatino's lead is followed by those soldiers who served under Clotareo and Ademaro, leaders killed by Clorinda earlier in the narrative (11.43-44). On the one hand, Ademaro, a historical figure, and Clotareo, Tasso's invention, stand in the allegory as emblems of romance; on the other, Tatino stands for classical Greek sources.48 The crusaders who desert the army in imitation of Tatino can no longer follow the leads of their medievalizing captains of romance. They follow a Greek leader instead. Classical epic, one may conclude, assumes a greater importance when romance falls short.

Another option, the one which I believe is favored by the plot, is to isolate different and better examples for literary models, which can be identified with the Christian tradition. When Goffredo, in open imitation of Moses, prays for rain, he acts the part of a readily identifiable Christian example. Thus, in the allegory of the source the sequence of possible models shifts from romance to classical to Christian.

Tasso designed this allegory, as I have discussed above, for public consumption. It represents his response to the crisis that the Counter Reformation caused for humanistically trained poets like himself. He nominally accepts and respects the dominant ideology of the Counter Reformation. Since the “revisori” working for the Church are critical of the inclusion of too much of the wrong sort of classicism, he controls his references to the pagan classics. And since the “revisori” require a stronger biblical underpinning for the text, Tasso satisfies that requirement by including traditional and obvious allusions to the Bible.

The full allegoresis is, however, more complicated than the reading outlined above would suggest. For what Tasso does with his sources in actuality—his poetic solution to the problem in conjunction with his ideological solution—does not conform neatly to the interpretation I have proposed. In other words, there is an alternate allegorical interpretation also at play, a poetic (and less public) solution to the crisis of his sources.

Having satisfied the “revisori,” Tasso proceeds in the following way: as Aladino does with water and poison, and as Goffredo does with wine and water, so Tasso mixes his own different sources. One could say that he dilutes and cuts his sources even to the point of contamination, and, as I pointed out above, diluting and cutting might be considered “contamination” in the classical sense. In earlier chapters I have discussed how Boiardo and Ariosto engage in similar programs of imitative poiesis. Ariosto, in particular, thematizes the mixture of sources in his poem with the scene of Orlando muddying the spring in canto 23 of the Furioso, much as Tasso thematizes the mixture of his sources in canto 13. But neither Boiardo nor Ariosto had to confront the issue of Christian poetry and its appropriate sources as fully as Tasso did. The contaminated source does not have the same profound moral implications for poets writing before the Council of Trent.

Tasso's thematizing of his sources, therefore, must necessarily, at one level of reception or another, have moral overtones. Yet, to assert that Goffredo and Aladino are more realistic figures for the poet than Moses, who also creates his own sources anew, is a striking way of countering the Church's moral censorship. And although it may have smacked of blasphemy to some, the two soldiers do correspond more accurately as archetypes for Tasso than does Moses. It is not until the nineteenth century, with the rebellion against classicism, that readers' expectations require poets to be “new.” Not until then will a poet have to draw forth from the rock, as it were, a hidden stream, a novel vein of poetry. Not until the nineteenth century will a kind of Mosaic creativity be forced upon poets.


What to make of the allegory of the source in canto 13 becomes a moot point in the drastically revised version of the poem published in 1593 and retitled Gerusalemme Conquistata. The principal motivation behind the revision was to align the poem with the requirements of the ecclesiastical “revisori,” who had harassed the poet since the mid-1570s when the Liberata first came into circulation.49 The Conquistata, then, represents the ideological capitulation of Tasso to those critics who were determined to have the poem conform to post-Tridentine literary doctrine.

In the revision of the Liberata, much of canto 13 is altered and cut. The second version of the poem increases the number of cantos from twenty to twenty-four, displacing the description of the drought in canto 13 of the Liberata to canto 19 of the Conquistata.50 Noteworthy in this reshaping of the episode is the total excision of Tatino's desertion. By cutting stanzas 64-70 of Liberata 13, Tasso cuts the anonymous lament against Goffredo, which culminates with the description of the captain's mixing of the wine and water. Also cut are the stanzas that describe Tatino's reaction to Goffredo and the effect of the desertion on the crusaders. Gone, therefore, from the description of the drought in the Conquistata are all references to imitation and exemplarity. Even the Exodus-inspired request of Goffredo to “renew in these [warriors] the same examples [that were shown to the Israelites]” is recast significantly: “or rinnovella in questi / le grazie antiche” (19.134.6-7). (Now renew in these warriors the acts of ancient grace.) In the revised version of Goffredo's prayer, “examples” become “acts of ancient grace.” The phrase in the Conquistata carries the same basic sense as the phrase in the earlier version, but it does not contain any of the seeds of the Liberata's allegory of exemplarity. From the Liberata's examples to the Conquistata's grace, we move into a very different poem.51

Tasso cut the episode of Tatino for several reasons. In addition to reshaping the poem to suit the presiding morality of the Counter Reformation, Tasso's editing is an attempt to free himself from the agon between the genres of epic and romance, which gives the Liberata much of its energy. His editorial cutting heavily favors epic in the Conquistata: several scenes of epic inspiration are added to the final version, with extensive allusions made in particular to Homer's Iliad.52 At the same time, much of what Tasso removes from the final version of the poem falls within the generic boundaries of romance. No longer, for instance, do we find the stories of Sofronia and Olindo, Erminia among the shepherds, and Armida's conversion of the Christian knights into fish.53

But the episode of Tatino was not excised because it is romancelike. It is absent, I believe, for two other reasons: (1) it contains an implicit critique of the Greek poetic tradition; and (2) it raises concerns about the moral efficacy of literary fictions. The story of Tatino impeded Tasso as he revised his poem into a composition that was to be a Christian-Homeric epic. I have argued that the allegory in Liberata 13 is in part a contest between Greek and biblical sources in which the Greek sources “lose.” But Homer's Iliad, as noted above, becomes central to Tasso's redefinition of his Christian epic; and Homer's poem, needless to say, is a Greek source. Were the episode of Tatino remaining in the Conquistata, it would run glaringly counter to the poet's intentions in composing his new epic. For this reason alone, Tatino's episode had become painfully out of line.

The story of Tatino's desertion raises the issue of the moral efficacy of literature and the problem of exemplarity in general. Throughout this study, imitatio has referred to literary imitation almost exclusively, but the word, especially in Tasso's post-Tridentine world, has moral implications as well. Just as there may be limitations to the mimetic possibilities of a literary example, so may there be limitations to the behavior of a specific character within a literary work of art. Put simply, Tatino sets a bad example for conduct.

The disappearance of the Tatino episode from the Conquistata, however, does not signal an end to Tasso's critical posturing. In an essay that accompanied the publication of the revised poem, Tasso openly reflects on his rewriting of the Liberata.54 “Ma perchè in quella [poesia] de' Toscani erano famosi i duo fonti di Merlino, de' quali uno accendeva Amore, l'altro l'estingueva, volli piuttosto, a guisa di emulo, che d'imitatore irrigare di nuovi fonti i campi della Poesia, derivandoli non dalle favole Francesche o Inglesi ma dalle sacre Lettere. …”55 (But because in that poetry of the Tuscans there were two famous fountains of Merlin, one of which kindled Love, the other of which extinguished it, I wanted to irrigate the fields of Poetry with new springs, more like an emulator than an imitator, deriving them not from French or English stories but from sacred Letters. …) The mere fact that Tasso makes this claim and the way in which he does so are as important as what he says. In the Conquistata he prefers to depend on sacred literature instead of French or English “favole,” filtered through poets writing in Tuscan like Pulci or, I believe, Ariosto. By this he means presumably that he is no longer dependent on the stories or plots that make up the two cycles of medieval romance, Carolingian or French, on the one hand, Arthurian or English, on the other. The choice of “favole” as noun in juxtaposition to “sacre lettere” points to the limitations of secular writing: it is as false as a fable. What Tasso means by “sacre lettere,” however, only becomes clear as the passage from the “Giudizio” continues: “… ma dalle sacre Lettere, perciocchè nell'Opuscolo sessagesimo primo di S. Tommaso, nel qual si tratta De dilectione Dei, & Proximi, si legge di cinque fonti misteriosi, che possono significare i cinque generi della sostanza sensibile …” (141). (… but from sacred Letters, since in the sixty-first pamphlet of St. Thomas, in which is treated De dilectione Dei, & Proximi, one reads of five mysterious fountains, which can signify the five kinds of perceptible substance. …) “Sacred” in this context does not refer to the Bible or to the canonical texts of the earliest church fathers; rather, in a very medievalizing vein, “sacred letters” refers to the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Thus, in cantos 8 and 21 of the Conquistata, Tasso's example of a sacred literary source is appropriately an elaborate description of a literal source of water that he borrows from Aquinas's De dilectione Dei: a five-tiered fountain, which for Aquinas represents an allegory of the five elements that make up the medieval cosmos (earth, water, air, fire, and quintessence). The fountain, first described in canto 8 when seen by Tancredi, is the source that bestows holy wisdom upon the wayward Riccardo/Rinaldo in canto 21. Tasso's allegory of the fountain is Dantesque in its use of Thomistic philosophy to explicate the object as the font of eternal wisdom. It is, also, clearly a different kind of allegory from the humanistic one of poetic sources in canto 13 of the Liberata. The allegory of the fountain in the Conquistata culminates in God, not in poetry.

In order to highlight his dependence on the sacred sources of the Christian tradition, Tasso establishes a controversy between medieval vernacular literature and “sacre lettere.” The controversy is similar to Tatino's allegorical episode, in which the Greek tradition is juxtaposed to the Judeo-Christian tradition to the detriment of the former. In the Conquistata, or at least in Tasso's description of the poem, a similar controversy is resolved once again in favor of religious tradition. One could say, perhaps, that the one contest replaces the other: the contest between Greek and sacred literature in the Tatino episode from the earlier version of Tasso's poem is replaced by a contest between medieval and sacred in the later one.

But there is much exaggeration in these implied agons. For all of Tasso's inclusions and omissions to suggest theoretical problems on the part of the poet, one must note the romance plots in the Conquistata that are not omitted.56 Nor does he omit classical sources from the Liberata after the Tatino episode. As we have seen, he immediately resumes the narrative with a classical description of a nodding Jupiter who makes it rain on the crusaders. Both Tatino and the five-tiered fountain may easily appear to the reader as a superimposed poetics of intertextuality. And as such they become “declarations” that reveal as much about Tasso's strategies for composing as they do about his actual compositions. Tasso rationalized his contamination of sources, especially in his revision of the Liberata into the Conquistata, on the grounds of decorum, be it toward Christian poetic conventions or toward the requirements of classical epic. But his focus ultimately was limited to specific episodes of the poem and thus it allowed the poet to do what he wanted in other parts.

Throughout this chapter—indeed throughout this book—I have considered how a poet's choice of sources affects the organization of his poem's narrative. Tasso the poet, symbolized by the leader of the Christians, Goffredo, chooses and mixes his sources, sometimes from classical epic, sometimes from chivalric romance, sometimes from the Bible and its exegetical tradition. The result of this combination is a veritable Christianized “romance-epic.” In the introduction I invoked this term to label the long poems of the Renaissance, although I simultaneously indicated the problematic, critical compromise it suggests. Let me add here by way of conclusion further comments on “romance-epic” and the literary beast the term aims to describe.

The epigraph to this chapter taken from Tasso's prose would not seem to have a direct impact on a discussion involving romance: “Aristotle goes on to say that … [the plot] … of epic is like excessively watered wine.”57 This observation from the final section of Tasso's Discorsi del Poema Eroico paraphrases Aristotle's Poetics 1462b. Tasso employs Aristotle's rivalry between tragedy and epic as a foil to conclude his own essay. The ending, however, is an ambiguous one. Tasso observes that Aristotle is for the most part critical of epic, especially its distended plot, which he contrasts with the more unified plot of tragedy. Tasso, for his part, appropriates Aristotle's argument against epic as a purely negative attack so that he might subvert or “revise” it. After all, epic narrative, with its compound plot, renders greater pleasure—a compounded delight, as it were—for the reader. He then concludes that the compounded narrative of epic, not the plot of tragedy, is the better: “… così aviene peraventura tra le favole che le più composte siano le migliori” (2: 382). (… thus it happens by chance among plots that the most compounded are the best.)58

While Tasso does not refer directly to romance in this final section of the Discorsi, it would seem that he is proposing an analogy that pertains to the vernacular genre: Aristotle deals with tragedy versus epic, much as Tasso deals with epic versus romance. Tasso's assertions about classical epic narrative can be applied to romance, the distended, amplified plot of which also yields a multitude of pleasures. Romance is certainly “among the most compounded” of all narratives. In this criticism, as in that regarding the sources of his poem, Tasso follows the widely known bare bones of Aristotle's arguments on tragedy and epic to deflect attention from his real concern in this analysis, the narrative designs of romance and epic. One reason for the theoretical decoy might be that, as the theorist in him could not completely condemn the counterclassical aspects of the romance narrative, so the poet in him could not totally abandon those same features. What we have, then, is a description of classical epic narrative in terms taken from the vocabulary of romance. We have confusion, yes, but it is, I believe, a calculated and literal “mixing together” of the genres in Tasso's theory.

Aristotle's image of watered-down wine complements the image of mixing water and wine in the Liberata. Aristotle writes: “If the epic poet takes a single plot, either it is set forth so briefly as to seem curtailed, or if it conforms to the limit of length it seems thin and diluted” (1462b). But Tasso, unlike Aristotle, is not critical of the mixture of sources in his plot qua mixture; his problem is with what kinds of sources get mixed together in the first place. His difficulty is the combining of epic and romance elements in a Christian context. We could say that he is trying to baptize a hybrid made out of Aristotle's Homer and Ariosto: “Ariostotle,” if you will. I employed Tasso's image of the Furioso's narrative as a misshapen beast in discussing Ariosto's poem in chapter 4; Tasso's Liberata is certainly no less bizarre in its configuration, for the theoretical boundaries that circumscribe the Liberata's creation delimit a literary gerrymander of gargantuan complexities.

Tasso spent his career trying to resolve the demands of Aristotelian criticism without denying the romance heritage of his father, Ariosto, Boiardo, and Pulci, among others. It is appropriate that Torquato leave Aristotle behind while trying to recuperate the epic plot, which he interprets as a good plot to the degree that it contains intermingled and compounded parts characteristic of romance. His final metaphor for disregarding Aristotle's position on epic narrative is that of the traveler:

Concedamisi dunque ch'in questa ed in alcune altre poche opinioni lasci Aristotele … perciò che in questa diversità di parere io imiterò coloro i quali ne la divisione de le strade sogliono dividersi per breve spazio, e poi tornano a congiungersi ne l'amplissima strada, la qual conduce a qualche altissima meta o ad alcuna nobilissima città piena di magnifiche e di reali abitazioni ed ornata di templi e di palazzi e d'altre fabriche reali e maravigliose.

(2: 383)

Let me then be permitted to part company with Aristotle on this and some few other matters. … In this divergence of view I shall imitate those whom a branching of the road separates for a brief while; later they return and meet on the broad highway that leads to some lofty destination, some noble city, filled with magnificent regal dwellings, and adorned with temples and palaces and other majestic architectural marvels.

As Tasso takes his leave of Aristotelian authority, even as he proposes, promises, to join Aristotle further down the theoretical road, he reveals his undiminished and abiding attraction to the genre of romance. For where else is that traveler headed but into the world of romance, that literary realm of fantastic and wondrous fabrications? It is a civilized and urbane, even decorous, view of romance, to be sure, but romance no less. It is, one might say, a classically correct romance. Ever the compromiser, Tasso came to the end of his life still somewhere between the first and last phrases of the Discorsi del Poema Eroico, somewhere between the opposing poles of “i poemi eroici” and “altre fabriche reali e maravigliose.”


  1. Scritti 2: 379. For the passage from Aristotle, see Poetics 1462b1-2.

  2. There are several studies on Tasso's sources, all dating from the era of positivist criticism: Vincenzo Vivaldi, Sulle fonti della GL, Prolegomeni ad uno studio completo sulle fonti della GL, and La GL studiata nelle sue fonti; Salvatore Multineddu, Le fonti della GL; and Ettore de Maldè, Le fonti della GL.

  3. This is not to contest Walter Stephens's argument that the poem's midpoint comes at the beginning of canto 11, with the scene of the Eucharist on the Mt. of Olives (11.1-15). The calculus of a poem that tries to be at once classical, romance, and biblical will allow for the reckoning of different midpoints.

  4. In his introduction, Raimondi, in a similar vein, notes that canto 13 represents the symbolic center of the poem with its idealized geography in encapsulated form: forest and city with desert in between (pp. lxv-vi).

  5. The full text in question reads: “Voglio però che sappia, che questa è più tosto metà del quanto, che de la favola; perch'il mezzo veramente de la favola è nel terzodecimo, perchè sin a quello le cose de' cristiani vanno peggiorando. … Ma nel mezzo del terzodecimo le cose cominciano a rivoltarsi in meglio: viene, per grazia di Dio, a' prieghi di Goffredo la pioggia; e così di mano in mano tutte le cose succedono prospere” (Le lettere di Torquato Tasso 1: 66). (But I want you [Scipione Gonzaga] to know that this is half of the poem's length, rather than its plot. The true middle of the plot is in the thirteenth canto, because up to that canto the situation for the Christians worsens. … But in the middle of the thirteenth canto the situation begins to change for the better: the rain, by the grace of God, comes in answer to Goffredo's prayers. And in this way, bit by bit, their situation works out favorably.)

  6. Origin 92-117.

  7. Tasso invokes a similar notion in a passage from the Discorsi to account for the relationship between the artist and his own aesthetic creation. See the concluding pages of Discorso 2 (Scritti 1: 41-42).

  8. For an acute discussion of the poem's ending, see Ascoli, “Liberating the Tomb,” especially pp. 171ff., where he considers the meaning of “sciogliere.”

  9. For a recent biography of William, see Peter W. Edbury and John Gordon Rowe, William of Tyre: Historian of the Latin East. The editio princeps of William's history was published in Basil (1549) by N. Brylingerum. Gioseppe Horologgi's translation in Italian was published in Venice by V. Valgrisi (1562).

  10. William of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea 1: 346-47. See also 347, n. 25: “Solinus Polyhistor xxxv. William's critical attitude here toward this postclassical writer is that of a modern scholar. In this chapter he tests his source, both by the observed facts of geography and by his knowledge of ancient history. The contrast between William's acceptance of so much legendary material in the previous book—probably written about 1171—and the more critical attitude displayed in this chapter—probably written in 1182—reflects his growth as an historian.”

  11. See his remarks on the “vero alterato” in Discorso 2 (Scritti 1: 20). In Discorso 1 (Scritti 1: 11-12), he goes into some detail on the liberty a poet should take with the historical record when necessary.

  12. Other accounts of the First Crusade similarly describe the problems caused by the lack of water. See Gesta Francorum 19, 88, 100; also Peter Tudebode, Historia de Hierosolymitano Itinere 114-15.

  13. I follow the Latin text cited in the notes of Maier's ed. of the Liberata (39). The translation is my own.

  14. William of Tyre does not refer to the poisoning of the water supply; pace Chiappelli (554, n. 58.3).

  15. It is worth noting that the old shepherd, the former courtier who hosts Erminia, revels in the pure drinking water of his sylvan hideaway “che non tem'io che di venen s'asperga” (7.10.6) (and I have no fear lest it be mixed with poison).

  16. I am assuming that at 13.58.5-8, Aladino does not repeat the action described in 1.89.7-8, namely, that he does not repoison the springs. I take the passage in 13 to be the same action merely described for a second time, although I am aware of its temporal ambiguity. Had Tasso wanted to be clear he could have used the pluperfect tense, “aveva fatto,” rather than the preterite form, “fece,” at 13.58.8.

  17. Michael Murrin suggests that Tasso may have been inspired to use the Lucretian analogy by the argument of Maximus of Tyre, a Platonist of late antiquity whose lectures Tasso was studying as he revised the Liberata (Allegorical Epic 98-100).

  18. The adjectives “aspro” (13.58.6) and “amaro” (1.3.7) are synonymous.

  19. Sergio Zatti, in a comparative reading of these passages, adduces other lexical parallels to interpret the mixture of bitter and sweet in the poisoned springs of 13 as a gloss on the mixture of sweetened medicine in canto 1. He reads 13 as a passage about literature in which the mixture of water and poison is like the mixture of sweet liquids and medicine, of truth and lies, of fact and fiction in stanza 3 of canto 1 (L'uniforme cristiano 157-63).

  20. For more on this distinction see the discussion above in the introduction and chapter 4.

  21. The biblical books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles describe how Hezekiah prepared his kingdom for a massive invasion by the Assyrians. Concluding that the citizens of Jerusalem had sufficient water to withstand a long siege, Hezekiah contrived to stop up all the springs near Jerusalem. The reference to the “Siloè” in Tasso's text (59.1) alludes to the spring of Gihon that flows into the Pool of Siloam (or “Siloè”). It also calls to mind the career of Hezekiah, who had a tunnel drilled seventeen hundred feet through the rocky bluff on which Jerusalem rests to serve as a conduit from a spring outside the city to a reservoir inside the city walls called the Pool of Siloam. The tunnel, a kind of hidden aqueduct, was an incredible feat of engineering in its day. For a description of Hezekiah's Tunnel, as it came to be called, see The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible 486. Other passages on the tunnel are 2 Kings 20:20, Ecclesiasticus 48:17, and Isaiah 22:9-11. The tunnel also figures prominently in certain manuscript readings of the text of 2 Samuel 5:6-9, which recounts how David used the aqueduct to sneak into Jerusalem in order to capture it from the Jebusites. Hezekiah's various accomplishments are recorded in several books of the Bible in addition to the passage from 2 Chronicles cited above. Of note for Tasso's image of the poisoned source is Proverbs 25:26, a passage rabbinical tradition attributes to scholars in Hezekiah's court. The proverb in question takes the corrupted spring as its symbol for the honest man who falters when confronted with injustice: “Fons turbatus pede et vena corrupta, Iustus cadens coram impio.” (Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.) The passage suggests further that Hezekiah is associated with the kind of imagery Tasso develops over the course of canto 13.

    Tasso's scene alludes to this passage from 2 Chronicles: “Quod cum vidisset Ezechias, venisse scilicet Sennacherib, et totum belli impetum verti contra Ierusalem, inito cum principibus consilio, virisque fortissimis ut obturarent capita fontium, qui erant extra urbem: et hoc omnium decernente sententia, congregavit plurimam multitudinem, et obturaverunt cunctos fontes, et rivum, qui fluebat in medio terrae, dicentes: Ne veniant reges Assyriorum, et inveniant aquarum abundantiam” (2 Chronicles 32:2-4). (And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem, he planned with his officers and his mighty men to stop the water of the springs that were outside the city; and they helped him. A great many people were gathered, and they stopped all the springs and the brook that flowed through the land, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?”)

  22. In L'uniforme cristiano, Zatti notes that Tasso colors his description of the drought with the vocabulary of sexual languor. He correctly points out that “languir” (62.1, 63.1, 64.1), “vaneggiar” (56.4), and “bramare” (57.8) are part of the poem's lexicon of desire. He concludes that repressed sexual desire is rearing its head in the encamped army and in the landscape of the desert itself (159). But the desire, which no one denies, need not be understood only in Freudian terms. In the Liberata there is as much longing for textual integrity, for sources that can be brought together into one whole, as there is for sexual fulfillment.

  23. Marshall W. Baldwin, The First Hundred Years 1: 335.

  24. See, e.g., Gesta Francorum 62.

  25. A History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea 1: 329-30.

  26. See Linda Rose, “Crete.”

  27. See Pliny, Naturalis Historia, XIV, 11, 81: “passum a Cretico Cilicium probatur et Africum.” (Next after the raisin-wine of Crete those of Cilicia and of Africa are held in esteem.) For text and trans. see Rackham's ed., 4: 240-41.

  28. William Addison Laidlaw, “Crete” 242.

  29. See the remarks of Eliyahu Ashtor, Levant Trade in the Later Middle Ages 364.

  30. John Julius Norwich, A History of Venice 269-70.

  31. Dante associates Crete with the Minotaur (Inf 12.25). Petrarch refers to the island as the place of superstitions: “Creta, vetus superstitionum domus, aliis vivit” (Fam 15.7.14). Boccaccio refers to Cretan legends throughout his work; see, e.g., his entry on Europa, “Cretensium regina,” in De mulieribus claris; see also Genealogia 2.62; Teseida 5.17.

  32. Boiardo refers to myths associated with Crete in Innamorato 2.8.16; likewise Ariosto in Furioso 20.23; 25.36-37.

  33. Tasso also rewrote the historical record because he wanted the role of deserter to be filled by a Greek. He could have chosen, e.g., Ugone of Vermandois, brother of Philip I, king of France, who also deserts the army at a crucial juncture in the campaign. But Tasso not only disregards this detail of the historical record; he accords Ugone a place of honor in the catalog of the troops in 1.37.

  34. The same stanzas with slight changes also occur in the Gerusalemme Conquistata 1.71-72.

  35. Tasso revises the Greek contribution to one thousand soldiers in the Conquistata, but he remains critical of Greek lethargy.

  36. A History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea 1: 150.

  37. For the stereotype of Greeks as liars, also see OF 29.18.8.

  38. A History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea 1: 150, n. 35.

  39. See, e.g., in Discorso 2, Tasso's remarks on Trissino and Ariosto: “… ove il Trissino, d'altra parte, che i poemi d'Omero religiosamente si propose d'imitare” (Scritti 1: 26) (… Trissino, on the other, who proposed to imitate the poems of Homer devoutly); “… giudico nondimeno che [Ariosto] non sia da esser seguìto nella moltitudine delle azioni” (Scritti 1: 27) (… I myself still think that Ariosto should not be imitated in the matter of multiple plots).

  40. David Quint discusses the allegorical implications of the trouble within the Christian alliance in “Political Allegory in the GL,” now in Epic and Empire 213-47.

  41. Although there are many passages in the Bible where faith is glossed as the ability to move mountains (e.g., Matthew 17:19, 1 Corinthians 13:2), I find no biblical passage in which faith is defined as the ability to stop the flow of rivers. Matthew 17:19 reads: “… si habueritis fidem, sicut granum sinapis, dicetis monti huic: Transi hinc illuc, et transibit, et nihil impossibile erit vobis.” (… if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move hence to yonder place,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.) Paul repeats the image at 1 Corinthians 13:2: “… et si habuero omnem fidem ita ut montes transferam, charitatem autem non habuero, nihil sum.” (… and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.)

  42. I have adapted Nash's translation of this clause.

  43. In poetic or archaic Italian the masculine “i fonti” denotes the figurative use of “source”; contrast Tasso's use of “le fonti” for actual springs of water (1.89.7). For a list of examples of the figurative use, see the entry in the Crusca dictionary, para. 6.

  44. For a full study of the dynamics of the one and the many in the poem, see Zatti, L'uniforme cristiano 9-44.

  45. Trans. Fairclough.

  46. Salvatore Multineddu (Le fonti 147-48) compares Tasso's scene with the description of Zeus's nod in Iliad 1.488-533. I think it is more likely that Tasso is invoking the topos rather than the specific passage in Homer.

  47. Tasso's description of the effect of the nod is also classical in its detail, as one of Tasso's earliest commentators, Guastavini, notes: “i Romani gli augurî da sinistra avevano per felici” (cited in Caretti 2: 440). (The Romans considered omens from the left auspicious.)

  48. In this interpretation one might argue that Tatino stands for classical sources in general. Indeed, the textual tradition of the poem is ambiguous enough on the spelling of Tatino's name that some editors read “Latino.” This in turn has caused many commentators, e.g., Chiappelli (64, n.51.1), to warn against confusing Tatino with the character, Latino, of 9.27. Tasso's autograph manuscripts suggest that he himself was indecisive about the character's name. See Solerti's discussion of these textual problems (1: 53).

  49. C. P. Brand discusses some of the other reasons for the revisions, such as Tasso's stylistic maturity, his greater focus on Homer as a structural model, and his long-standing desire to reduce the episodic part of the plot; see his Torquato Tasso 123-32.

  50. The reordering is as follows (with some additions and much editing): GL 13.1-52 → GC 16.1-56; GL 13.53-63 and 71-80 → GC 19.120-30 and 134-43; stanzas 64-70 of canto 13 are cut from GC. See the schematic comparison of the two narratives by Angelo Solerti, “Ragguaglio della favola …” in Gerusalemme Conquistata, ed. Luigi Bonfigli 2: 385-409.

  51. In Writing from History, Timothy Hampton discusses the transformation of Tasso's rhetoric of exemplarity in the Liberata into a rhetoric of martyrdom in the Conquistata.

  52. The Homeric scenes, however, are not all successful. As Brand has noted, “Tasso's attempt to add epic grandeur by means of new episodes mostly imitating Homer also fails to add aristically to the poem: the battle of the ships, the death of Ruperto, the reactions of Riccardo, are unnecessary complications in an already over-laden military action” (Tasso 128).

  53. These examples and several others are listed by Brand, Tasso 125.

  54. The full title of the essay is “Del giudizio sopra la Gerusalemme di Torquato Tasso da lui medesimo riformata” in Opere 4: 129-76.

  55. “Giudizio” 141.

  56. E.g., he does not remove the sultry description of Armida's garden and its bathing nymphs in GL 16.

  57. Discourses on the Heroic Poem 202-03.

  58. Cavalchini and Samuel translate: “… so among fables the most composite are the best.” I prefer to render “favole” here as “plots” rather than “fables”.


Abbreviations of works cited frequently:


GL = Gerusalemme Liberata

Met = Ovid, Metamorphoses

OF = Orlando Furioso

OI = Orlando Innamorato

Secondary Materials

DBI = Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani

GSLI = Giornale Storico della Letteratura Italiana

JMRS = Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies

MLN = Modern Language Notes

PMLA = Publications of the Modern Language Association

TAPA = Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association

Primary Sources

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Trans. and comm. Charles S. Singleton. 6 vols. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977.

Aristotle. The Poetics. Trans. W. Hamilton Fyfe. 1927. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1973.

Gesta Francorum. Ed. and trans. Rosalind Hill. London: Nelson, 1962.

Pliny. Natural History. Ed. H. Rackham et al. 10 vols. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1938-63.

Tasso, Torquato. Apologia del S. Torquato Tasso, In difesa della sua GL … Ferrara: Baldini, 1586.

———. “Del giudizio sopra la Gerusalemme di Torquato Tasso da lui medesimo riformata.” Opere 4: 129-76.

———. Discourses on the Heroic Poem. Trans. Mariella Cavalchini and Irene Samuel. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1973.

———. Gerusalemme Conquistata. Ed. Luigi Bonfigli. 2 vols. Bari: Laterza, 1934.

———. GL. Ed. Lanfranco Caretti. Milan: Mondadori, 1957.

———. GL. Ed. Fredi Chiapelli. Milan: Rusconi, 1982.

———. GL. Ed. Marziano Guglielminetti. Milan: Garzanti, 1974.

———. GL. Ed. Bruno Maier. Intro. Ezio Raimondi. 1963. Rpt. Milan: Rizzoli, 1982.

———. GL. Trans. Ralph Nash. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1987.

———. GL. Ed. Angelo Solerti. 3 vols. Florence: Barbèra, 1986.

———. Le lettere di Torquato Tasso … Ed. Cesare Guasti. 5 vols. Naples: Rondinella, 1857.

———. Opere. 6 vols. Florence: S.A.R. per li Tartini e Franchi, 1724.

———. Postille alla Divina Commedia. Ed. Enrico Celani. Città di Castello: Lapi, 1895.

———. Rinaldo. Ed. Michael Sherberg. Ravenna: Longo, 1990.

———. Scritti sull'arte poetica. Ed. Ettore Mazzali. Milan: Ricciardi, 1959. Rpt. 2 vols. Turin: Einaudi, 1977.

———. “To Maurizio Cataneo.” Letter in Apologia in difesa dell GL. Ferrara: Cagnacini, 1585.

Vergil. Virgil with an English Translation: Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid. Trans. H. Rushton Fairclough. 2 vols. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1922.

William of Tyre. A History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea. Trans. and ann. Emily Atwater Babcock and A. C. Krey. 2 vols. New York: Columbia UP, 1943.

Secondary Sources

Ascoli, Albert Russel. Ariosto's Bitter Harmony: Crisis and Evasion in the Italian Renaissance. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987.

———. “Liberating the Tomb: Difference and Death in GL.Annali d'italianistica 12 (1994): 159-80.

Ashtor, Eliyahu. Levant Trade in the Later Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983.

Baldwin, Marshall W., ed. The First Hundred Years. 2nd ed. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1969. Vol. 1 of A History of the Crusades. Kenneth M. Setton, gen. ed. 6 vols. 1969-85.

Brand, C. P. Torquato Tasso. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1965.

Crusca. Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca. 11 vols. Florence: Cellini, 1863-1923.

Edbury, Peter W., and John Gordon Rowe. William of Tyre: Historian of the Latin East. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

Laidlaw, William Addison. “Crete.” Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1949.

Maldè, Ettore de. Le fonti della GL. Parma: Tipografia Cooperativa, 1910.

Multineddu, Salvatore. Le fonti della GL. Turin: Clausen, 1895.

Murrin, Michael. The Allegorical Epic: Essays in Its Rise and Decline. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980.

Norwich, John Julius. A History of Venice. New York: Knopf, 1982.

Quint, David. Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

———. Origin and Originality in Renaissance Literature. New Haven: Yale UP, 1983.

Raimondi, Ezio. Intertestualità e storia letteraria: Da Dante a Montale. Bologna: CUSL, 1991.

Rose, Linda. “Crete.” Dictionary of the Middle Ages. 13 vols. New York: Scribner's, 1982-89. 3: 678.

Solerti, Angelo. “Ragguaglio della favola …” Gerusalemme Conquistata. Ed. Luigi Bonfigli. 2: 385-409.

Stephens, Walter. Lecture. NEH Summer Institute on Ariosto and Tasso at Northwestern University. Evanston, 19 July 1990.

Vivaldo, Vicenzo. La GL studiata nelle sue fonti. Trani: Vecchi, 1907.

———. Prolegomeni ad uno studio completo sulle fonti della GL. Trani: Vecchi, 1904.

———. Sulle fonti della GL. 2 vols. Catanzaro: Caliò, 1893.

The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible. Ed. George Ernest Wright and Floyd Vivian Filson and intro. William Foxwell Albright. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1945.

Zatti, Sergio. L'uniforme cristiano e il multiforme pagano. Milan: Il Saggiatore, 1983.

Giovanni Da Pozzo (essay date autumn 1997)

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SOURCE: Da Pozzo, Giovanni. “Last Assaults and Delayed Victory in Tasso's Liberata.1Italica 74, no. 3 (autumn 1997): 319-38.

[In the following essay, Da Pozzo considers impulses toward both indeterminacy and finality in Gerusalemme liberata.]

In the series of critical interpretations over the past ten years, a variety of methodological combinations have been presented regarding the reading of Tasso's main poem both in its singular parts as well as a complete work. These combinations demonstrate not only the ability to renew contemporary critical activity in this field of study, but they also contain these interpretative contributions within the Mannerist field, where Tasso seems to have been placed. It is certainly not necessary to refer to the most significant critical contributions as it would be equivalent to telling the recent history of Tasso's criticism, which is already available in specialized literary reviews.

As for Mannerism,2 with which Tasso is often associated, one could observe that in general terms it is frequently used as an alternative to Pre-Baroque. This practice, motivated by the notion that Baroque was a more effective referent because it was considered more clear and homogeneous, produced the opinion that Baroque was able to be used more efficiently as a cultural signpost. Such is the case with the prefix “pre-” placed before the noun, which should be enough to identify the specificity of the concept expressed. However, the Baroque elements even in their precursorial traits and their diverse national forms present somewhat of an analogy though they are completely different from the so-called essence of Mannerism in their expressive techniques in relation to specific areas of study in the arts.

Recently a different idea has surfaced with the purpose of better identifying the very substance of these attributed cultural elements as Mannerist in the second half of the sixteenth century, thus distinguishing this period and using the term “post-manner,” in analogy, I believe, to the concept of “post-modern,” referring to the realism in art during the second half of the century. Jacopo Bassano, for example, or his contemporaries from the Veneto region, turned to a more direct representation of natural form in direct opposition to their teachers and are considered “post-mannerist” as an indication of this opposition to the modernity that Mannerism painting from the mid 1500s, the true style, seemed to have brought about and wanted to impose. But this indication also seems too much open to undetermined suggestions since the use of “post” in our culture tends to enter into a sort of inflation. Nevertheless, this reference to a post-mannerist movement in the Cinquecento does not fully respond to the specific instances that the critics feel are still present in the literary field.

On the other hand, I am not discussing the merits of other attempts at structuralist interpretations of texts from the late Cinquecento. These interpretations are based on precise and particular instances and, on the whole, are not more widely interrelated.

Given these results, we are tempted to propose a circumstantial experiment: to avoid tentatively the problem of using a name to indicate this style and this type of writing, which is usually labeled as Mannerist, and to prefer instead to focus on the whole with the utmost of attention to the qualifiable expressive intentions as indicators of Mannerism. Such indicators would serve to analyze concretely which elements are not casual, but substantial and recurring, in their persistent desire to reveal themselves.

The circumstance of Tasso's thematic offers the occasion to reflect upon a substantial wholeness that easily lends itself to this purpose and is constituted in Tasso's main poem from the description of the final attack on Jerusalem and the last attack against the Egyptian army which is followed by the victory of the Christian armies. Almost three entire cantos, the final ones in the poem, are of interest when one refers to that part of the poem which takes place around 1575, before the ulterior revision of the text and the later elaboration of the Conquistata.

The reason for such a study is constituted by some elements linked in an intentional way to Tasso's expression. They are the density of episodes and the facts determined by the condensing of the story, even if it was unnecessary; the strategic character of the final situation of the diegesis (Aristotle's narration) to control the closing of the minor stories that link themselves to the major ones which were left incomplete; the permanent uncertainty that, in spite of the final, necessary Christian victory, resurfaces whenever and resurges as soon as it can under various forms in order to create such an effect; the reconnecting of elements that go together but are, only in appearance, peripherally reproducing unifying traces to the central flow of action. Only the concrete analytical verification, of course, renders the perspicuousness of the ways in which this happens, and thus, the stylistic character by which it is brought to life.

A much more complete documentation and illustration of examples would be possible. It is necessary, however, to mention at least some of them.

The limits within which it seems proper to develop this investigation are those of stanza 45 of canto XVIII, when at the back of the Jerusalem wall the new wooden tower has just been built by the Crusaders, and stanza 108 of canto XX, when it is explicitly said that fate points definitely toward the Christians.

All of this constitutes a large narrative unity and is laboriously prepared. The essential event of the conquest happens here at this point in which it must concretely manifest itself. In order to render the difficulty of the obvious victory, as well as the heroic tension with which it occurs, certain events and cross references are combined and thus generate the impression that a definite solution is not immediately found. Tasso's intent is to put into motion two current elements: the close bond of multiple events and the necessary and protracted links of the same final conquest, creating a second front of resistance and menace at the same time that the text concludes.

This also brings an energetic renewal of the delay technique that had been used in the past with great refinement and security since the time of the Aminta. But the technique of delay used in Aminta was exclusively actualized to give the appropriate echo of the delicious language that, in its alternating lyrical and narrative moments, always moves in an oscillating equilibrium between happiness and the contemplation of a possible avoided tragedy.

In the Liberata, on the contrary, the narrative delay technique responds to much more complex intentions: the delayed space in the story cannot, by its nature, lose anything of importance; the moment of final conquest tends to crumble and the plot thickens with events; the same act of the conquest expands and is not definable at a precise moment. For an instant, in fact, one could have the impression, forgetting about the largest references that derive from Christian ideological beliefs, that the conquest could possibly not even happen.

One of the principle tactics particularly vital in the variations and movement of the story is the diversity often manifested in a duality, like the others' presence, as a different and alternative presence that presents itself in a sinuous and hidden manner: hence also the idea of the institutional duality assigned to the guide of the Christian army. The official captain of the army is and undoubtedly remains Goffredo di Buglione. But Rinaldo is not the guide in terms of the individual military worth in as much as he is the instrument of hope and initiative and the projection into the future, in a positive way, for his family. Indeed, since the first time Rinaldo appears in the poem, God's look recognizes him as a warrior endowed with an “animo guerriero” and “spiriti di riposo impazienti,”3 not eager for rewards or dominions, but impatient to do honourable deeds. Baldovino, Tancredi, and Boemondo, on the other hand, are all distracted, having abandoned the great project of the military and religious task for which they had originally left their own native countries.

If Goffredo is the guide of the army and the depository of the acknowledged authority, and has in himself the source of the command (so that he considers, rebukes, orders to achieve the great project of the conquest of the holy city), Rinaldo is the power already prepared to renew the will of it: both here, at the beginning of the poem, when, desiring action, he pays attention to the great ancient facts remembered by Guelfo in his narration.4 Likewise, after returning from the islands of Fortune where he has been segregated by Armida because of her fascination for him, after regaining consciousness of his duties, as if he had to give evidence to his will to retrieve the time not spent in the war, Rinaldo will enter the enchanted forest, just at the beginning of canto XVII, in order to conquer the evil, opposing forces. In this way it will be possible to get new timber to rebuild the wooden tower burnt by the Pagans to lean it against the city walls and thus pick up, in short, the renewal of the war.

One could say that in the character of Rinaldo the duality is activated in a particular important way, qualifying itself as the initial instrument that gives twice the operative impulse of the Christian army in the first and, again, in the eighteenth canto, taking into account many different and complex implications.

Rinaldo is the first to arrive at the top of the besieged city's wall (XVIII.78); but it is Goffredo who plants the crusaders flag on top of the same wall (XVIII.99) with each having his own duties to attend to which resolves the awkward situation of who has preminence/predominance between the two. But, returning to Rinaldo who is already on top of the wall, one of the most important segments noted here is the end of the eighteenth canto with the city of Jerusalem in view, invaded by Christian ranks according to the last stanza of the canto, which reveals a sight of collapse, of destruction and rampant death:

Entra allor vincitore il campo tutto
per le mura non sol, ma per le porte;
ch'è già aperto, abbattuto, arso e destrutto
ciò che lor s'opponea rinchiuso e forte.
Spazia l'ira del ferro; e va co'l lutto
e con l'orror, compagni suoi, la morte.
Ristagna il sangue in gorghi, e corre in rivi
pien di corpi estinti e di mal vivi.


These are verses that seem to announce the fall of the city; they assure that the moment of its fall has arrived. The word “death” is the strongest term that unifies the last part of the eighteenth canto with the next one.

But, on the contrary, the initial point of the nineteenth canto, which isolates the heroic figure of Argante who remains to combat by himself on the wall, reproposes the idea of a strenuous resistance that gives again space to the drama of the great personal conflicts in preparing for the duel between Tancredi and Argante, which forms the first part of this penultimate canto. And this drama creates the suggestion, clearly perceivable through the expansion of a personal episode, of a defensive renewal that seems to resound through the entire city.

The duel between Tancredi and Argante is a main episode by itself, precisely because of the tension of style and richness of emotion by which it is shaped. And neither here nor throughout the entire canto, otherness and duality do not separate, since the corpse of Argante will be carried together with the alive Tancredi, in the name of an honor due to an heroic warrior. But the bond of duality works again after that duel, in continuing to structure the following actions that complete canto XIX and by which the last one is formed.

This entire process creates a very complex texture of forces that now makes us inclined to believe the end of the resistance is near. Yet it also makes us consider the possibility of the Pagans continuing it. All this is possible because of Tasso's very sharp and far-sighted stylistic consciousness.5 The duality introduces itself, above and beyond these individual conflicts, as a presence in the basic structure of the narrative.6

In effect, the city is almost completely destroyed, but the pagan resistance is not over, not even after Argante's death. The otherness-duality returns in the form of a recharged propelling force in the sense that it inserts one of the two elements inside the city, coinciding with the Egyptian army, about whose presence the Christians will hear soon after, while it is coming on its way to help the besieged in Jerusalem.

The resistance to Christian assaults parts, then, in two sites: one is placed in the tower of David, where the prominent pagan chiefs saved, Solimano and king Aladino, retire; the other one finds its seat just in the Egyptian army, which is still far but is approaching, and which will be the reference point for the important enclave of the narration regarding the secret mission of Vafrino, squire of Tancredi, to know the minds, the plans of the new supervened enemies.

A particular point must be specified, because it brings new information, in this case, to the characteristic feature of the quickening though not perfectly balanced construction, typical of Tasso's way of experimenting with what usually is called mannerism in construction. It consists in the fact that previously, before the pagan forces that escaped can retire and the resistance in the tower of David can take shape, Tasso's capability of invention creates another temporary resistance, which is that of the pagan people barred in the temple of Salomon, where they had retired ascending the highest of the civil hills (XIX.31.1-2). Twice Rinaldo runs the length of the walls' perimeter, trying to enter. Like a wolf who goes round the enclosed herd, according to a Homer7 image, he realizes that, for a moment, the “alte torri” and the “ferrate porte” of the temple (XIX.33.8) seem to have given a temporary capacity of resistance to the ranks closed in the temple. But sometimes the premonitory symptoms of an event are more subtle, as when, for example, the Pagans besieged in Jerusalem, passing the two towers remade by Christians before the walls, they see, in comparison with their new machine, “la città più bassa” (XVIII.91.4). By a similar, subtle trait Solimano also, in repeating anxiously what he desires may happen, that is the Crusaders (“i Franchi”) may lose the war, in the same soft-worked anadyplosis through which this idea is expressed, between the end of stanza 54 in XIX canto and the beginning of the 55 (“alfin perdran la guerra” [XIX.54.8]; “E certo i' so che perderanla alfine” [XIX.55.1]), shows us the increasing inquietude because of fear that just the contrary may happen. In a similar way, delicate and varied links to mix different moments in the development of action lay on minimal linguistic variations. One instance is the taking heart of the Pagans who are going to be defeated and who had abandoned the walls in dread at the beginning of canto XIX (“Già la morte, o il consiglio, o la paura / da le difese ogni pagano ha tolto” [XIX.1.1]), where the dread of those lines becomes properly a moment of fear, an attenuated term which helps to justify that relative possibility to restart in the defense (“Finalmente ritorna anco ne' vinti / la virtù che 'l timore avea fugata” [XIX.44.2]).

Then, handling a big pole, Rinaldo strikes the gate and breaks it down, favoring also in this circumstance the entrance of the Crusaders; and the massacre they carry out of the people gathered in the temple is more blame-worthy inasmuch as perpetuated against people considered guilty. These are stanzas rarely read or which the European reader is inclined to drop, precisely because in them the Christian forces are shown as acting cruelly against unarmed people. The indication of a first resistance, which disappears, recalls for the first time, after entering the city, the difficulty the Christians still encounter. At the same time, the surrendering and the subsequent massacre that take place in the pagan temple immediately superimpose a tragic ending. Soon after, the idea is substituted by Solimano and Aladino and the other remaining resisters, who form a stronger and more organized defense in the tower of David.8

It is the fading and resurgence of a new image that must be remembered for the analogy that it presents, for the combining and linking to the later actions. This is where we must shift our attention, since a review of all the signs leading to ideas or hints of a Christian victory would take up too much space here.9

The duality presented in the duels as a propelling element in the story is certainly not a novelty, but a given. Yet Tasso interweaves the duality with an intense series of functions that cannot be compared simply to the usual and customary form of the encounter between the two who look for each other, desiring the union or the suppression of one from the other. One need only consider the case of Tancredi and Argante, who are found by Erminia and Vafrino as they have been after their duel, both bearing traces of deep wounds, one still alive and the other dead, both dead in appearance, at the first sight, and in a different way victims of the death that is spreading throughout the city.

But the duality, with its possible activation, is not only of interest to the characters in couples and their variable possible relationship. The underscoring of an unexpected relationship is verified, much more at this point than in the latter part of the poem, between the theme of weapons and the theme of astuteness, which requires a response of even more effective shrewdness. Vafrino, Tancredi's squire who speaks various languages and knows how to camouflage himself, and is quick-spirited and pliant,10 is dispatched to go to the Egyptian camp, which only by chance has been known to be very far away from the Crusaders. Vafrino's mission11 should enable him to gather information about the Egyptian army and constitutes an essential connection between the theme of weapons and the theme of other people's shrewdness that will be defeated. Vafrino, after the long parenthesis of his mission, does not only report the news about the approaching Egyptian ranks but he also overhears, quite by chance, the way in which the group of eight Egyptian cavalrymen will try to kill Goffredo in the imminent fight: the eight cavalrymen will dress in the same uniforms as his personal guards, wearing only a small sign on their helmets making it possible for them to recognize each other.12 This news will permit Goffredo to cleverly anticipate the danger. Goffredo's guards will change their uniforms just before meeting the Egyptian troops, thus the eight murder-minded will be recognizable because their camouflage will have been eliminated. The would-be assassins, in fact, will be killed and disposed of.13

This is one of the remaining active elements, as well as one of the most important, that take place externally around the figure of Vafrino.14 This should not be a reminder of the analytical reasons of wonderment contained in one particular stanza (for example, the description of the eight cavalrymen approaching Goffredo and the fast and decisive way in which they are eliminated, etc.). Rather, the inner wonderment regarding the fundamental reasons and structure of the story, which not only open themselves to a new relationship between the theme of weapons and the alternative theme of astuteness,15 regroups all this in a weak and accidental bond that, only for a moment and only partially, denies any expectation of obtaining a not indecisive safety. This means that Tasso uses a complex constructive operation in rendering the ideas of wonderment. Particularly, Tasso works not only the more bright and apparent parts of the text but also the more internal and hidden areas by inventing new springs of wonderment so that the relationship between the depth and the surface is really much more complex than what is visible at first glance.

The large structuring loop of Vafrino's mission is related to and constitutes an ulterior delay in the action, but in its substance it is an agile and sinuous narrative collector that reassesses some of the information that, for some time, was left unresolved or suspended.

Vafrino's mission to the Egyptian camp is also the function that verifies, through the readers' perception, the new situation of double correlativity, typical of a deep structure which is profoundly elaborated. This is consistent with the fact that while the last pagan resistance in the tower of David is under control, the Christians from stanza 91 of the 144 that form the last canto, or, if we prefer, until the death of Solimano in stanza 107, are the besiegers of the tower of David at the same time they are being besieged by the Egyptian army from the outside.16 A double function, we can say, that was neither wanted in the act of the besiege in Homer's Iliad, nor in what is recorded in Virgil's Aeneid, at least in reference to an array of real opposite troops that instead we see here in Tasso. The confirmation of this even in the analytical reference texts lies in the fact that at a certain point it is the Christian army that seems to want to break a siege. Tasso emphasizes this with Goffredo's intent to go out: “Uscirem contra a la nemica gente, / nó già star deve in muro o'n vallo chiuso / il campo domator de l'Oriente” (XIX.130.4-6). Such a double relationship of besieger and besieged is the organizational presupposition of the material that tries to substantiate an idea of uncertainty that can find an explicit external cross reference in the declaration of various natural forms in regards to, for example, Heaven's favor that, above all else, is justifiably evident in establishing such a choice.

In Aladino's moment of unexpected contemplative abduction, while he is retreating to the tower of David, he laments the end of his reign, now imminent (XIX.40). On the other hand, Solimano makes the most out of the heroic principle that the kingdom did not fall, that the kingdom is in all of them, the few that count and retreated together (XIX.41). It is in this way that the drapery of complex positive and negative indicators are placed not only in one layer but expand and repeat on different levels and in all directions, completing, divaricating, and throwing themselves again into communicating spaces that are continually being invented and generate an ever increasing volume of movement. All of this clearly shows how the insertions of episodes come from a strong need for communication in which descriptive lines seem to be motivated only by lyrical reasons. They also become, on the contrary, the instrument that connects and unites the episodes and events that somehow, in the end, lead back to the final destination of the action.

The addition of linked episodes, which is so evident in these last cantos, seems to be a necessity in uniting the lines of the stories that remained suspended; it is the entire need to spread out the narrative material according to a perspective that is, on the whole, unbalanced and very rational and that within its rationality allows the reentering of the saved curved lines of the story to finally weave together from various sections into one moment toward the end of the text. This is born from the need to straighten out all of the converging facts brought into the complex conquest while contemporaneously operating as a course of action that delays its own completion.

The condensing of inventions and connections carries with it the complication of temporal references that passes from the beginning of the basic notations of coinciding events to more complex formulas, linked to the working out of meanings either of those previously indicated, or those related to subsequent facts, or simply consisting in the anticipation of predicted events and approaching deadlines.17 But the two great temporal markers, synthetically expressed, which link to themselves all the other chronologic bearings, are the two jutting “Già,” at the beginning of both the penultimate and last canto. They each cause the reader to think of the facts as though they had almost entirely occurred, while on the contrary, immediately after, the most tragic and heroic episodes, regarding those who are still resisting, are still occurring in new dramatic forms.18

The existential analogy of actions permits, for example, that after having taken the city, when the Crusaders, at the end of the XVIII canto, enter from all directions, each singular resistance is given the highest value because it elevates their heroism, which feeds upon the feeling of general uncertainty.

From this point, the entire series of gratuitous delays, which are necessary for the expressive needs of Tasso's poetry, disappear, unfolding the thin inventions that mark again the organized nuances of tension and suspense. This is such a tangible truth that only in stanza 108 of canto XX does Tasso explicitly show that Fortune is now on the Crusaders' side:

e Fortuna, che varia e instabil erra,
più non osò por la vittoria in forse,
ma fermò i giri, e sotto i duci stessi
s'unì co' Franchi e militò con essi.


It is exactly this precision, revealed at the end of the poem, that makes us think about the dualism that once again manifests itself towards the end of the text and, this time, in quite a different manner.19 In addition, at the height of the operating forces in the poem, those good and Christian on one side and those diabolic and pagan on the other, another divarication takes place that in part refers to the problems present in the classical epic tradition, the distinction between divine will and Fortune as two different realities that are certainly not described in a consistent way but, in any case, are very clear. It is well known that divine will had, from the beginning, taken the side of the Christians; it intervenes during the moments more or less opportune to incite the Crusaders. Fortune is the term that carries the narrator into the flow of traditional epic poetry where suspense, which by nature must dominate and is cautiously handled by Tasso, is the customary and exact element of the literary genre of the poem.20

In this dramatic and oscillating scenery, the moments also are emphasized in which the poet pauses and shows how savagery in the raid of the city is practiced also by Christians, in this way revealing Tasso's intent to defend verisimilitude even at this point.21 On the whole, it is an active system of varying expression that updates in different ways the constant desire for liberation contrasted with suspense.

On the other hand, the episode of Vafrino's mission to the Egyptian camp is only in one aspect a narrative enclave, and cannot be compared to the wide digressive insertion, from XV to XVII canto, in the story that constitutes the removal of Rinaldo who falls in love with Armida and went to the Fortunate Island (and to the similar journey made by Carlo and Ubaldo who take him back to war as the most valuable knight); the aim of the episode is to recover the lover that must be taken back to the battlegrounds. Here, instead, the expedition of Vafrino and his figure is a tool that is used in more than one way: as a hidden observer of a new waiting military situation; as a reason for the unexpected meetings (Erminia, Tancredi, Argante); as an occasion to provoke the telling of facts that have remained incomplete; as a tool that places the casualness in relief by intermingling it with larger intentions (the explanations of the impending threat that casually presents itself to Goffredo, or the casual meeting between Vafrino and Erminia); as a citation of a new informative element about the structure of the Egyptian army that, in spite of its sprawling disorganization, remits into discussion the possibility of Christian victory, due to the information of the pagan vast military ranks.

While a conclusion is suggested by the attention given to the completion of other minor stories (only a part of Erminia's story is known at this point; the uncertainty of what has happened to Tancredi is only now revealed when he is found injured, etc.), the events that create a new threat, in particular the approaching Egyptian army, oppose the understood and necessary victory of the Crusaders claimed by Catholic ideology, and are shared with a much disputed narrative purpose and complex meaning that react on two levels and that are tightly woven together.

The care in joining the plots of some of the remaining unfinished stories is evident both in the penultimate as well as in the last canto with some selected passages. This obviously responds to the desire to create the idea of a marked space with accurate and analytical terms when they refer to previous, close narrations, but instead are given as summarized information when referring to the stories of more importance, connected with facts of local history. Among the many examples, let us review the particular case in canto XIX.26.5-6, where Argante was menacing while dying and did not languish (“e tal morìa qual visse: / minacciava morendo e non languia”), that is later reintroduced in XIX.102.6-8, when he is found by Erminia and Vafrino, who come back to Jerusalem, with the same attitude he assumed when dead (“e poi vider nel sangue un guerrier morto / che le vie tutte ingombra, e la gran faccia / tien volta al cielo e morto anco minaccia”).

The overall effect is that, against a rich intersection of plans in motion, a variety of uncertain messages grow inside the singular stories that form the larger picture and correspond to the converging messages about the various uncertainties of human life. Destiny's general uncertainty is followed by the behavior of biased contradictions of singular individuals. It is precisely their non-unitized destiny, thus their destiny's ambiguousness, which enlarges the view of their individual situations at the moment in which the main action converges upon a single outcome.

The necessity to reconnect the partial and peripheral parts to a more defined unifying process, which raises the attention toward a high and persistant reason for undertaking, continues to pay careful attention to the varied choices that are noticeable only when compared to one another and to all of the relevant analytical elements. A good part of the unifying bonds pass through the figures of Goffredo and Rinaldo, through places of muted memories, and also through the character of Armida or the head commander of the Egyptian army, who makes their appearance toward the end of the poem.

Goffredo's exhortatory speech at the beginning of canto XX has a clear unifying function; the hint, precisely of the ‘santo acquisto’ (XX. 19.6) recalls the “glorioso acquisto” of the first canto (I.1.4), even at the moment of the final battle. Still, in canto XX Rinaldo's final speech to Armida can be remembered, when he wishes her a definitive serenity and her sweetened response; or the mentioning of Goffredo's “famosa mano” (XX.137.8), which takes Emireno to his death, and is the same “mano” metonymically remembered since the first canto (“Molto egli oprò col senno e con la mano” [I.1.3]) to recall the entire action of the Christians' chief; as well as many other analogous cases.

The different shapes, the numerous levels of reference, the extremely selective linguistical choices, and the partially simplified manner in which these processes are expressed constitute a concentrated nodal point that is a significant part of Tasso's expressive style, both in his epic poetry as well as in a large part of his other writings.

This analysis, of course, should also be extended to the Conquistata, but there is no space here to do it. However, we can say that also in this last work, the phenomena mentioned above are confirmed, in a broader variety of released attitudes.

Surely these traits of Tasso's narration style are not the only ones used by the poet in the Liberata, but appear in other forms as well. Nevertheless, those we have described have a value of fundamental choices that, concentrating on themselves, signify more directly the whole of these stylistic preferences in an essential moment of shaping the text. At the same time, they also reveal the vital and more continuous impetus that vibrates through Tasso's existential experience. There is no doubt about the impossibility of cataloguing, in the polarized scheme in which the text seems to be organized, all the contemplative glances toward the mixture of reality that substantially involves every human event and that by itself, according to the feelings of the poet, produces astonishment or rather dismay. About these moments of Tasso's expressiveness, it is possible to assemble a good number of examples: from the sense of beauty felt in the horror of weapons, to the entanglement of gestures and feelings of Gildippe and Odoardo, slaughtered by Solimano.22

The term “mannerism” has often been used to indicate all of these interlaced systems of expression, which can also be found in other texts of the second half of the seventeenth century, consciously based on a difficult counterbalancing of the inner components. The term assumes a remarkable convenience because it includes the main idea of a scheme that claims not to be perfect and equalized, but a balancing of forms that is fond of being denied; of an attraction to the void, frustrated by a continuous anxiety of filling every space and that prefers to let itself be felt instead of being openly explicit in revealing itself. Nevertheless, from an historical point of view, we are dealing with a term that does not give satisfactory answers to the requirements of interpretative problems concerning many texts in Italian literature of the late 1500s. This includes those of Tasso, because in a pertinent way the reference to the history of art is prevalent, and in particular to the reality of painting. And this trend occurs for the most part relating to events which took place 30 or 50 years before, in the culture of the Cinquecento.

The term “mannerism,” used by everyone of us for its flexibility, does not offer a complete reference to the internal correspondence of facts and stylistic choices located at deep levels in a text; to the opposition and connections of processes activated and entangled with the idea of movement in narration; to the obsessive and doubtful increase of reasons, not only of images, which we can see in the last cantos of Tasso's poem and in many other texts of the late sixteenth century.

Mannerism in art, in the most striking way we can perceive it, tries to identify each figure through a sort of different aggregation of the substance used, which spreads fluidity throughout the whole, more than by a persistent refining of each individual trait. Rather than the specific sign of the individual traits, inside of this “fluid” pictorial climate, the idea of inter-exchangeability of movements has a basic importance in Mannerism. Therefore Mannerism, from this point of view, is connected also with a condition of anxiety and doubt. Perhaps this is the point it has in common with what is present also in literature, but that, on the contrary, because of the specific character of its verbal construction, should be named with a different term, just to allow to mannerism that wide implied hedonistic tendency in sketching that exists in “mannerist” painting but too often is not so obvious in literature.

How then would we label this manner, this kind of style, in a more pertinent fashion and leave the term “mannerism,” as it seems right to do, to the Art historians and critics? We could suggest the term syncretionism, a neologism invented on the spot, a newly minted coinage, surely of difficult currency, but a term that could underline the flowing of this message through the structures of the language and the way in which this style of writing is filled with counterweights and internal tensions; or, we could name it in another way. The point is that it is important to agree upon the characteristics of the previous examined narrative processes and the distinctive quality of their literary achievement in comparison to other similar traits in the field of art.

In the literary culture of the late 1500s, the interweaving of figures is the movement that operates, in a certain way, as if it were conditioned by a “preventive préclusion,” by an intellectual anticipatory prohibition, arising just at the moment that the movement starts, as if there were many doubts about the final efficacy in communicating its complex and partially frustrated message.

Syncretionism, or some other term like this, while we are waiting for something better, could be used to signify the whole of the features we have discussed here, and which are also present in many literary texts of the late 1500s, provided we refer only to the formal construction and not to poetics or ideology. Such a term may have an advantage when referring to construction and expressiveness together, of their enucleating the close rising and interaction of the inventions of the narrative episodes, or the temporary random shifting of the main attention into the polychrome scenery of the vibrating expressiveness.

These choices, much favored by Tasso, take shape in a succession of analogical events, linked by similarity of forms, which progressively modify the parallel relationship in regard to those in which they were initially associated. Likewise, the initial analogy of different forms, sometimes offered as a founding factor, modulates itself and enhances its autonomous traits which seem to overtake their own characters and place themselves in a periferic space of the story. This seems to induce these deflecting bonds, not because the continuation of narration requires it but because of a sort of arbitrary, irresistable but temporary compulsion, to be subjected to the shaping forces working in that very moment. And in the same time, the need of bringing the idea of unity into the foreground urges Tasso to resort back to cross-referencing through which evidence of final intent is emphasized. And these marks, obviously, do not always blend perfectly with the whole organism of expression elaborated so far.

It will be necessary to have, as the Germans would say, an “aktive Geduld,” an active patience, to find the proper lenses that focus on this terminological proposal and clearly identify all of the ingredients of expressiveness that correspond to it in the literary texts of that time.

For the moment, the features pointed out above seem to be strongly significant of the evident and also sharply hidden contrasts of the late Cinquecento according to the reflection they have in Tasso's poetry, in its most concentrated figures I have been pleased to outline here.


  1. The text printed here was presented as a paper at the Conference Torquato Tasso and the Expressive Culture of Late Renaissance Ferrara, at Harvard University, April 13-14, 1996.

  2. Among literary crities, the first to use the term is E. Robert Curtius in his Europäische Literatur und Lateinisches Mittelalter (Bern: A. Francke, 1948). In the field of art, the discussion originates with Max Dvorák, “Über Greco und der Manierismus” Kunstgeschichte als Geistesgeschichte (München: Piper, 1928). For various reasons, the following are among the important critical contributions: Eugenio Battisti “Lo spirito del Manierismo,” Letteratura 4 (1956): Giusta Niece Fasola, “Storiografia del Manierismo,” Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Lionello Venturi I (Roma: De Luca, 1956): Gustav René Hocke, “Die Welt als Labyrinth,” Manierismus in der Literatur (Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH, 1959), Ital. trans., Il manierismo della letteratura (Milano: Il Saggiatore, 1965).

    I refer as well to Jacques Legrand, “Le Maniérisme européen” Critique 152 (1960); Arnold Hauser, Sozialgeschichte der Kunst und Literatur (München: Beck, 1958), Ital. trans., Storia sociale dell'arte, 4 vols. (Torino: Einaudi, 1955: 1st Italian ed., 1964; reprint 1987); Achille Bonito Oliva, L'ideologia del traditore, Arte, maniera, manierismo (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1976); Achille Bonito Oliva, Minori maniere: dal Cinquecento alla transavanguardia (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1985). A strong stand against the concept of mannerism in painting in reference to the second half of the sixteenth century, especially to Jacopo Bassano's works, is expressed by Roger Rearick quite recently in his “Post-Maniera,” La ragione e l'arte. Torquato Tasso e la Repubblica Veneta, a cura di Giovanni Da Pozzo (Venezia: Il Cardo, 1995).

    Some indications concerning the use of mannerism in literature can be found in Leo Olschki, Struttura spirituale e linguistica del mondo neolatino (Bari: Laterza, 1935). For the field of Italian literature, we select here only the references to Georg Weise, “Manierismo e letteratura,” Rivista di letterature moderne e comparate 13 (1960) and “Storia del termine ‘manierismo,’” Manierismo, Barocco, Rococò: concetti e termini. Convegno internazionale, Roma 21-24 aprile 1960. Relazioni e discussioni (Roma: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1962. Problemi attuali di scienza e di cultura, quaderno n. 52); Riccardo Scrivano, Il manierismo nella letteratura del Cinquecento (Padova: Liviana, 1959), and the review of Dante Della Terza, “Manierismo nella letteratura del Cinquecento,” Belfagor 15 (1960); Ludwig Binswanger, Tre forme di esistenza mancata. Esaltazione fissata, stramberia, manierismo, Ital. trans. (Milano: Il Saggiatore, 1964); Edoardo Taddeo, “Il manierismo letterario e Domenico Venier,” Studi secenteschi 10 (1970); Edoardo Taddeo, Il manierismo letterario e i lirici veneziani del tardo Cinquecento (Roma: Bulzoni, 1974); Georg Weise, Il manierismo, Bilancio critico del problema stilistico e culturale (Firenze: Olschki 1971); Tibor Klaniczay, La crisi del Rinascimento e il manierismo (Roma: Bulzoni, 1973); Amedeo Quondam “La trasgressione del codice: problemi del codice: problemi del Manierismo e proposte sul metodo,” Letteratura e critica, Studi in onore di Natalino Sapegno II (Roma: Bulzoni, 1975); Amedeo Quondam, La parola nel labirinto. Società e scrittura nel manierismo a Napoli (Bari: Laterza, 1976); Georg Weise, Manierismo e letteratura (Firenze: Olschki, 1976); Wolfgang Drost, Strukturen des Manierismus in Literatur und Bildener Kunst. Eine Studie zu den trauerspielen Vincenzo Giustis (1532-1619) von Wolfgang Drost (Heidelberg: C. Winter Universitätsverlag, Göttingen, Hubert, 1977); Andrea Gareffi, Le voci dipinte, Figura e parola nel manierismo italiano (Roma: Bulzoni, 1981). Gerhard Regn, “Tasso und der Manierismus,” Romanistisches Jahrbuch 38 (1987). The outline drafted more than thirty years ago by Ezio Raimondi, “Per la nozione di manierismo letterario,” in the cited volume of the proceedings of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei Conference published in 1962, is still remarkably important for this subject. The use of italics to add emphasis in quotations from the text is mine.

  3. Liberata I.10.3 and 4: as Baldovino is overcome by “cupido ingegno,” I.9.1. Boemondo aims at great exploits. Citations from the Liberata are followed by the number of the canto (in Roman numerals), the stanza, and, when necessary, the verses (in Arabic numerals). The quotations are taken from Tutte le poesie di Torquato Tasso, a cura di Lanfranco Caretti (Milano: Mondadori, 1957), I use italics for emphasis in quotations from the text.

  4. God Himself observes Rinaldo straining to listen to the stories of Guelfo: “scorge che da la bocca intento pende / di Guelfo, e i chiari antichi esempi apprende” (I.10.7-8).

  5. The prolongation of resistance, within the general framework, is made possible particularly by the intervention from the outside of the Egyptian army about which we first have news through a message carried by a dove flying towards the besieged in Jerusalem. The dove falls into the hands of Goffredo when, intercepted by a falcon, it takes refuge in his lap (XVIII.49.1-3). The head of the Egyptian army, in the message, summons the besieged pagans to resist four or five days more. And we should note that Tasso makes us aware of a very different point of view, a perspective quite opposite to that of the Christians, which is that of the Egyptian army. The Egyptian general, in fact, but in a sense of his own, speaks of liberation: “… resisti e dura / insino al quarto o insino al giorno quinto, ch'io vengo a liberar coteste mura / e vedrai tosto il tuo nemico vinto” (XVIII.52.1-4).

    This sign, then, is interpreted by Goffredo as the will of Divine Providence to reveal everything to the Christians and therefore considered a positive one. Other signs, even if only subtly hinted, of a fortunate result for the Christian forces emerge again, in a more distinct way, in canto XVIII. For instance: “e lui fortuna or guida, / perché 'l nemico a sé dovuto uccida” (XVIII.67.7-8) (referring to Goffredo) and “è giunta l'ora / ch'esca Sion di servitù crudele” (XVIII.92.5-6), constitutes partial signaling of the will to provide aid toward victory. And thus also, precisely, on the ground of the fights, in XVIII.104.5-6, is emphasized one of the most important concessions of control by the defense: “Ma il re cedendo alfin di là si parte perch'ivi disperata è la difesa.”

    Another subtle underlining of the idea of an approaching definitive victory comes at the point where we are shown the change from personal duel to a general description of the Christians invading the city: “Mentre qui segue la solinga guerra … l'ira de' vincitor trascorre ed erra / per la città” (XIX.29.3-4), where the characterization of the Christians as victorious will prove an anticipation of the actual course taken by the events.

  6. Duality penetrates, sometimes, even into remote recesses of the text: for example, along with the plan to kill Goffredo, prepared by eight horsemen of the Egyptian army, which Vafrino will learn of at the end of canto XIX: there is set also, as a doubling of purpose, the promise made by Altamoro to kill Rinaldo: “ch'assai tosto averrà che l'empia testa / di quel Rinaldo a piè tronca ti veggia, / o menarolti prigionier con questa / ultrice mano, ove prigion tu 'l chieggia” (XXI.71.3-6).

  7. Perhaps their suggestive power derives from Homer as well as that of the rounds made along the walls by Rinaldo (but twice only, in comparison with the three times by Hector fleeing Achilles beneath the walls of Troy; fewer turns, but a subtle evocation of the idea of a defense that seems invincible).

  8. The withdrawal into the tower of David has, however, another consequence, rapidly alluded to, of great importance. From the tower the pagans will control the way to the Holy Sepulchre, as they will be able to hurl stocks at anyone trying to go there. And this position of partial power, achieved by a besieged group, will be held almost until the last moment, the definitive conclusion of all the action.

    The tower of David is important, therefore, not only in itself, as a center of resistance not eliminated, but also as a site that still blocks the accomplishment of the “alta impresa,” that of winning “il gran Sepolcro” (and to be noticed is the perfect linkage of the beginning with the ending of the poem: I.1.2 and XX.144.8) fulfilling the vow.

    The importance, in fact minor, of the pagan resistance in the tower is related to the importance of the site from which that defense is controlled. The temple “che fu magion di Dio” (XIX.38.2) that is paganized, has already fallen; but the true one, the “gran Sepolcro,” has not yet been taken. This is thus a further structure of the plot, in relation to the main vectors of action sustaining the dominant tension within the text. And the whole effect is that of partially shifting the specific reasons of wonder. The tower is besieged by the Christian army, and hopes to receive help from the outside, from the Egyptian army; yet at the same time it plays a crucial role in controlling a place very important to both armies. And the Christian army, besieging the tower, is about to be pressed from the outside by the Egyptian army.

  9. In various subtle ways, indicators of the shifting balance between pagan resistance and Christian victory continue to figure in cantos XIX and XX: Rinaldo watching the temple of Salomon “trovò chiuse le porte e trovò molte / difese apparecchiate in su le cime” (XIX.34.3-4). These verses give us an idea of the defense of an almost new city, only a short one, after the Christians have reached the top of the painfully conquered city walls of Jerusalem. And pertinent to the assault of a city is also what Rinaldo, almost like a battering ram, does with a beam, placed against the portal of the temple of Salomon: “Non l'ariete di far più si vanti” (XIX.37.5). Solimano, in a burst of noble pride, declares that royal dignity, his own, is the true dignity, the essential basis of any rebound, even in the face of the loss of the kingdom (“Tolgaci i regni pur sorte nemica, / ché 'l regal pregio è nostro e 'n noi dimora” [XIX.41.3-4]); the very same attitude of Goffredo, in the last canto so appears in the eyes of everyone “ch'altrui certa vittoria indi presume” (XX.7.1-2) because “Novo favor del Cielo in lui riluce” (XX.7.3); and even the exhortatory address of Emireno, chief of the Egyptians, to his soldiers, is much more abrupt, less compact and tense than Goffredo's to the Christians (cfr. XX.24.5-8; XX.25.1-2; XX.25.7-26.8; XX.27.1-4).

    The departure of Solimano and Aladino from the tower resembles one from a city, although we do not yet know whether it will succeed in breaking the siege (“seguon poi gli altri ed Aladino stesso” [XX.76.6]). On the other hand, a new moment of uncertainty arises as well as a possibility of the Christians in part retiring/retreating again (“Il Guascon ritirandosi cedeva” [XX.83.1]). This possibility, however, is quickly succeeded by a contrasting one (“ma se ne gìa disperso il popol siro” [XX.83.2]). The impulse that leads Solimano to face the decisive moment of his existence is committed to an ambiguous combination of two forces; the “proveder divino” (XX.75.1) and that particular attraction to death that prompts him to leave no stone unturned (“o che sia ch'a la morte ormai vicino / d'andarle incontro stimolar si sente” [XX.75.5-6]); two reasons linked and not incompatible, although the first seems more pressing. Meanwhile, the non-definitive combination of those two forces feeds the subsequent narration. The opposing impulses, supported by a poetic of the verisimilitude, if not precisely of “meraviglia,” in many ways guide us through the passing considerations of the mutability of military fortunes (“così varian le cose in un momento” [XX.88.6]), more and more favorable to the Christians. And the downward trend that leads to the pagan defeat, culminates, surely not by chance, in the defeat, expressed as silence, on the part of the divinity opposed to the Christian God, that Mahomet, whose name alone is saved, invoked by Tisaferno to get help in overcoming Rinaldo; but in vain, because “'l sordo suo Macon nulla n'udiva'” (XX.114.2).

    The last actions of war (XX.143) are confined to the Egyptian camp, while the poet reminds us that the city is already liberated. Goffredo “scioglie il voto” on the “Gran Sepolcro” (XX.144.8), wearing his mantle stained with enemy blood, confirming by this image the important link between the theme of piety and of arms presented in the first line of the poem. Only four lines before, Tasso's keen concern with allusiveness of meaning in every detail has led him to specify that “ormai sol resta / piccolo avanzo del gran campo estinto” (XX.140.1-2) and Altamoro is “con mezza spada e con mezzo elmo in testa / da cento lancie ripercosso e cinto” (XX.140.5-6).

  10. He resembles in this the black devil who carries elders of Santa Zita, in the fifth ‘bolgia’ of the VIII circle in Dante's Inferno (“con l'ali aperte e sovra i piè leggero” [XXI.33]).

  11. The mission of Vafrino begins in XIX.56.5 and ends with canto XIX.131.

  12. The one who reveals this news to Vafrino is Erminia (“Son—gli divisa—otto guerrier di corte, / tra quali il più famoso è Ormondo il forte” [XIX.86.7-8]). She is the same modest and bashful girl who in this penultimate canto undergoes a big change, because she declares openly her love for Tancredi and reveals herself resolute as never before. This is another constructional-functional element of wonder tightly linked with the flow of the action.

  13. To one piece of trickery is opposed another, as Raimondo explains: “Così la fraude a te palese fatta / sarà da quel medesmo in chi s'appiatta” (XIX.129.7-8). The success of the Christian counter-move will lead, at the proper time, to a true massacre of the eight deceiving warriors: “Va in tanti pezzi Ormondo e i suoi consorti / che il cadavero pur non resta ai morti” (XX.46.7-8).

  14. Functionally speaking, Vafrino is important for two main reasons, arising from within the situation in which he finds himself. One is that he finds out how the eight cavalrymen of the Egyptian army intend to kill Goffredo. The other is, in a word, the reopening and closing again of the theme of adventure and its linking once more to the theme of arms, even though there is no substantial dysfunction between the two; this implies an addition of merging effects. Vafrino, too, as a ‘minor’ but important character, passes through brief moments of uncertainty as he ponders (“sospeso e dubbio” [XIX.65.6], he is called when he is to be compelled in a more analytic way to discover how the Egyptians will prepare their trick). His problem will come in investigating what he has discovered.

    Vafrino's sense of reality (see XIX.119 and XIX.120) in managing things and persons alternates sometimes with the same sly-comic spirit that will reach a higher, more complex level of humor in some minor characters of Shakespeare's plays. We see here when Vafrino fears being recognized in his real identity by Erminia, who is approaching him, and whom he has not yet recognized, and determines to present himself as a braggart squire: “Anch'io / vorrei d'alcuna bella esser campione, / e troncar pensarei co'l ferro mio / il capo o di Rinaldo o del Buglione, / Chiedila pure a me, se n'hai desio, / la testa d'alcun barbaro barone” (XIX.78.1-6). Here the simulation is perfect, because additionally the term “barbaro” is employed by Vafrino in a sense just opposite to its usual meaning. The exploratory expedition of Vafrino, on a minor scale, but in a well-pondered way, is parallel to Rinaldo's to Armida (which on the contrary is an impassioned one with no practical target). Vafrino, too, is useful to the army and to the crusade; and this without the risk of his evading the duty of returning to his army. In his case, the variety or diversity that makes the inner movement of the text more complex lies in Vafrino's not being one of the main characters of the army, but an almost random character invented, we might say, at the last moment. And Vafrino is able not only to give a judgment about the opposing army he has investigated (XIX.122.1-4); he also reminds Rinaldo of the three most valiant among them (Altamoro, Adrasto, Tisaferno) who will have a large part in the action of canto XX.

  15. The secret action of Vafrino is represented, as it happens, in very rapid strokes (“l'arti e gli ordini osserva” [XIX.60.4]; “spia gli occulti disegni” [XIX.60.6]; he locks into the inside of the tent of the enemy's captain, which is torn “si che i secreti del signor mal cela” [XIX.61.5] and “mille ripensa inusitate frodi” [XIX.76.2]). Not to be forgotten is the fact that the weapons of those who will try to kill Goffredo are defined “mentite,” that is, ‘treacherous’ (“l'arme mentite” [XIX.65.1]; “e quali sieno le mentite arme” [XIX.65.8]), a word which, to the reader of good memory, is posed, of course, in linked opposition to the “armi pietose” that from the first canto on only the Crusaders have in their hands.

  16. The Egyptian camp is the mass that is going to surround the former besiegers, the Christians. But at the same time this mass brings up the idea of a strong, compact entity, immediately after an analogous one, that of the city, which has been crushed. In a word, everything tells us that the Egyptian camp, in view of the changing situation, will press the Crusaders afterwards from the outside; also, that this mass is rising as a double of the forcefulness, impulse, energy and solidity that the city, as a structure defending itself, has already lost. Vafrino will not circle the Egyptian camp in order to enter it unseen. He will take the straightest way in and enter into a new situation, in which, beside opposing troops and enemy strength, hidden trickery is growing: “Spia gli occulti disegni e parte intende” (XIX.60.6). Together with the idea of a new menace approaching (“a vista fu del poderoso campo” [XIX.57.8]) there is also an idea of rich forces and varied colours which by themselves contrast with the uniformity of those belonging to the besieged in Jerusalem. Hence variety and concentration together: “Qui l'Africa tutta / traslata viene e qui l'Asia è condutta” (XIX.58.7-8).

  17. See, for example, not only the formulas of simple coincidence of events (the dawn of the new day and the attack on the city in XVIII.64.1-2), the participation of nature in the renewal of a military action (“Non fu mai l'aría si serena e bella” [XX.5.3-8]), but also the more complex chronological indications (“già pur da ritener tempo non parmi” [XVIII.54.1]; “Ma i Franchi pria che 'l terzo di sia giunto” [XVIII.61.1-2]; “Del di cui de l'assalto il di successe” [XVIII.62.1-2]).

  18. Già la morte, o il consiglio, o la paura” (XIX.1.1) and “Già il sole avea desti i mortali a l'opre” (XX.1.1) are the emphatic canto openings, suggestive of a void left behind.

  19. The strict duality of Gildippe and Odoardo puts almost a symbolic seal upon the fading out of biological distinctions (masculine-feminine) in the face of death. At the start of the description of them, wonder arises from the perfectly blended correlation of their acts in fighting (“Arte di schermo nova e non più udita,” etc., of stanza 36 of canto XX); then wonder comes from the shifting of these signs into those of the shroud in which death envelops them (“Vorrian formar né pon formar parole, / forman sospiri di parole in vece: / l'un mira l'altro, e l'un pur come sòle / si stringe a l'altro mentre ancor ciò lece: / e si cela in un punto ad ambi il die, / e congiunte se 'n van l'anime pie” [XX.100.3-8]). But, at the same time wonder at what is called ‘mixture’ may rise from what is said about Ardonio, who falls under the strokes of Altamoro and “ridea sforzato e si moria ridendo” (XX.39.8); from the mix of the dead and the living, which catches our eye before the middle of the last canto (“Giace il cavallo al suo padrone appresso / giace il compagno appo il compagno estinto, / giace il nemico appo il nemico, e spesso / su 'l morto il vivo, il vincitor su 'l vinto, / Non v'è silenzio e non v'è grido espresso, / ma odi un non so che roco e indistinto: / fremiti di furor, mormorî d'ira, / gemiti di chi langue e di chi spira” [XX.51]); and the change from the gleam to the foulness of the arms during the battle (XX.52) and the nearby, parallel vision of Solimano looking upon the “tragedia dello stato umano” (XX.73.1-6); or even the idea expressed of a kingdom, the soil of which is no longer ruled, but instead bitten, at the moment when he, too, falls, no longer reigning, and dies (“il re cade e con singulto orrendo / la terra ove regnò morde morendo” [XX.89.7-8]), and finally the complex interweaving of feelings that replaces Armida in a dramatic position, just at the moment when she again sees Rinaldo in the battle (both described with functional obviousness linked to their characters and made too evident in its rational outline: Rinaldo [enemy] goes against the Pagans [enemies] to deal them death, but saves Armida [enemy/friend] from death and in doing so, from the point of view of Armida, causes her new death); where the play, the network of rising and contrasting reasons is presented as an aesthetic act, as one of inlay and syncretic moving action.

  20. Fortune is, in explicit words, evoked through Vafrino's exploit, which allows the Christians to know the ways in which the Egyptians plan to kill Goffredo (“Fortuna alfin (quel che per sé non pote) / isviluppò d'ogni suo dubbio i nodi, / sì ch'ei distinto e manifesto intese / come l'insidie al pio Buglion sian tese” [XIX.76.5-8]). This occurs thanks to the lucky encounter with Erminia. And once again, in this canto, aggressive femininity and delicate, bashful femininity brush against each other in the characters of Erminia and Armida, then partly blend.

  21. The full picture of Christian violence is given in two stanzas, the 29th and the 30th, of canto XIX: “l'ira de' vincitor trascorre ed erra / per la città su 'l popolo 'nocente” (29.3-4) and in a more detailed description: “Fuggian premendo i pargoletti al seno / le meste madri co' capegli sciolti, / e 'l predator, di spoglie e di rapine / carco, stringea le vergini nel crine” (30.5-8) where one can see Tasso's delicate skill in linguistic choices operating even in describing violence.

    Nevertheless, Christian violence, as represented by Tasso, does not exclude an idea that it may occur justifiably: “Rende misera strage atra e funesta / l'alta magion che fu magion di Dio. / O giustizia del Ciel, quanto men presta / tanto più grave sovra il popol rio! / Dal tuo secreto proveder fu desta / l'ira ne' cor pietosi, e incrudeìo. / Lavò co'l sangue suo l'empio pagano / quel tempio che già fatto avea profano” (XIX.38). Thus, “pietose” (holy) arms become for a moment arms used by pitying hearts turned cruel through “giustizia del ciel” (God's justice).

  22. At first, in their rhythmic way of using the sword against their enemies (“Arte di scherma nova e non più udita / a i magnanimi amanti usar vedresti: oblia di sé la guardia, é l'altrui vita / difende intentamente e quella e questi. / Ribatte i colpi la guerriera ardita / che vengono al suo caro aspri e molesti” [XX.36.1-6], etc.); then when they expire, in the merging of their deaths.

Sergio Zatti (essay date 1999)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10820

SOURCE: Zatti, Sergio. “Epic in the Age of Dissimulation: Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata.” In Renaissance Transactions: Ariosto and Tasso, edited by Valeria Finucci, pp. 115-45. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Zatti argues that the “theme of dissimulation—the disguising of bodies, sentiments, or intentions—plays such a large role in the Gerusalemme liberata because Tasso's text is itself born from a discourse of dissimulation.”]

The themes I wish to consider here may be counted among those that best justify the Gerusalemme liberata's placement among so-called mannerist texts. These themes absorb from mannerist literature the principle of a self-reflexive moment, wherein the semantic referent appears inscribed in the act of textual enunciation.1 In other words, I wish to argue that the theme of dissimulation—the disguising of bodies, sentiments, or intentions—plays such a large role in the Gerusalemme liberata because Tasso's text is itself born from a discourse of dissimulation:

                    O Musa, tu che di caduchi allori
non circondi la fronte in Elicona,
ma su nel cielo infra i beati cori
hai di stelle immortali aurea corona,
tu spira al petto mio celesti ardori,
tu rischiara il mio canto, e tu perdona
s'intesso fregi al ver, s'adorno in parte
d'altri diletti, che de' tuoi, le carte.
                    Sai che là corre il mondo over più versi
di sue dolcezze il lusinghier Parnaso,
e che'l vero, condito in molli versi,
i più schivi allettando ha persuaso.
Così a l'egro fanciul porgiamo aspersi
di soavi licor gli orli del vaso:
succhi amari ingannato intanto ei beve,
e da l'inganno suo vita riceve.(2)

The Lucretian ascendancy of these verses was almost too familiar to theoreticians of Counter-Reformation poetics who were torn between instruction and delight.3 Masked beneath the pleasure of writing, Tasso's work displays a didactic purpose: it dissimulates a deceit intended to bring health (and this is, let us note, not a simple question of dosing out poetic alchemies, as in the Horatian miscere utile dulci, but a vertical relationship of “above” and “below,” of “outside” and “inside”). The simile of the drinking glass does nothing more than develop, on a different semantic register, intentions already declared in two complementary metaphors, that of the embroidery, which embellishes the discourse of historic and religious truth, and that of “other” delights that adorn the pages of this epic and Christian poem.

But in this forced compromise the awareness of a textual “error” inevitably accepted and undertaken is most acutely revealed, so much so that the muse, abandoning the canonical function of inspirer, must become the indulgent accomplice of a poet who requests pardon in advance for his deviance.4 To say what this error, and its dissimulation, consists of would require too long a discussion—which in any event I have already attempted elsewhere.5 Such a discussion would turn precisely on the structure of compromise of which the whole poem is an expression, for it is balanced between Christian ideology—the straight path leading to the liberation of Jerusalem—and “pagan” temptations that render this path full of obstacles and labyrinthine; between the will to epic unity, which constitutes the narrative scheme declared by the poet, and the dispersive romance variety, which represents its deviant fascination. What kind of operation is Tasso performing at the opening of his tale? Does he celebrate pedagogic authoritarianism or, rather, use his verses as a convenient safe-conduct for the irrational? In a period anguished by dissimulation at court and in the political and religious realms, he tortures himself by casting his poetry as the legitimation of a deception. If every fictio presupposes a truth at the same time that it dissimulates it, the aim of the deception is what counts: will his poetry be Armida's dishonest simulation (“fa manto del ver alla menzogna”) or Erminia's innocent fraud (“nasconde [amore] sotto il manto dell'odio”)?

A possible answer may emerge if we contextualize the author's discourse within other components of Tasso's text that contribute to a broad and conspicuous thematics of concealment in the Liberata: these include false and tempting speeches (Alete's mellifuous embassy in canto 2 or Armida's deceitful tale in canto 4); repressed sentiments (Erminia's in canto 3) or masked intentions (Eustazio's in cantos 4 and 5); and the disguising of bodies (by Erminia, when she first puts on Clorinda's armor and then the shepherdess's clothes; by Clorinda herself, whose changed armor generates Tancredi's tragic misunderstanding). But I also propose to show how different phenomenologies of “dissimulation”6 take on relevant formal and structural functions in the Liberata:

1. The theme's linguistic cloak obeys the same dialectic of above/below, outside/inside belonging to the poem's rhetoric of compromise. In fact, the “textual” metaphor7 materializes itself in the various disguisings of characters and orients the conceptual movement of the protasis, because friezes and ornaments correspond to the cloak and the veil beneath which each person's identity is dissimulated, since they contaminate the truth of writing;

2. The epic discourse that programmatically “dissimulates” (when it does not explicitly banish) the romance code, still makes use of the modern chivalric tradition of “marvelous” amplification of the fabula. Conceived under the sign of error or misunderstanding, betrayal or fiction, the idea of variety and of the multiple that the epic unity would still like to discipline comes up again at the text's surface and expands its structural plot: such is the case, for example, of the instances of “courtesy” opportunistically advanced by the Christian Eustazio, entrapped by Armida, against the superior mission of the crusade. These, as we shall see, tend to inscribe the chivalric code within a discourse of dissimulation.


Let us begin the investigation with an episode that is minor, but is located emphatically on the threshold of the narrative action. The embassy of Alete and Argante (2.57-end), sent by the king of Egypt to gauge Goffredo's real war strategies, offers the poet the occasion to present a pair of “characters” matched according to opposite and complementary principles: one, Argante, is rude and threatening, but genuine; the other, Alete, is diplomatic and smooth-spoken.8 Tasso's intent is specifically to have the barbarous nobility of one of the poem's future protagonists emerge from the contrast, but here I shall consider the other character. Alete's moral and psychological characterization (“parlar fecondo e lusinghiero e scorto, / pieghevoli costumi e vario ingegno / al finger pronto, a l‘ingannare accorto: / gran fabro di calunnie, adorne in modi / novi, che sono accuse, e paion lodi,” 2.58)9 is the premise of a discourse that hides a message of threatening content behind the flattery of Goffredo (“cominció poscia, e di sua bocca uscieno / più che mel dolci d'eloquenza i fiumi,” 2.61).10 In these two brief quotations reappear, underscored by my emphasis, precisely the two semantic fields inaugurated in the protasis by the textual metaphor (“s'adorno in parte”) and the simile of the drinking glass (“i soavi licor”); moreover, Alete's “parlar lusinghiero” bears a disquieting relation to “lusinghier Parnaso.”

Let us go forward and look now at a character considerably more important than the obscure Alete, and a liar par excellence, Armida. In canto 4, she arrives at the Christian camp to bring division and jealousy, and in this she plays the traditional role that ancient epics usually assigned to Discord, sent by enemy gods, just as here Armida is sent by Satan. In order to provoke pity and to seduce, the lady recounts her made-up story of persecution, presenting herself as the innocent victim of an uncle greedy for wealth and power. The event, which in its general scheme shows traces of analogous episodes from the romance tradition, refers therefore to that tradition as to a language of deceit.11 Armida is the instrument of the powerful magus Idraote, who counts no less on her beauty as a woman than on her arts as a witch to draw away troops from the crusader army. In the speech in which he tells her her mission, a wholly Counter-Reformation raison d'état is invoked to justify politically the demonical mandate and at the same time to furnish an alibi for the introduction of the amorous element as disturbance of epic action. In my view, the interest in these octaves comes from the extraordinary complexity of their figural fabric:

                    Dice:—O diletta mia, che sotto biondi
capelli e fra sì tenere sembianze
canuto senno e cor virile ascondi,
e già ne l'arti mie me stesso avanze,
gran pensier volgo; e se tu lui secondi,
seguiteran gli effetti a le speranze.
Tessi la tela ch'io ti mostro ordita,
di cauto vecchio essecutrice ardita.
                    Vanne al campo nemico: ivi s'impieghi
ogn'arte feminil ch'amore alletti.
Bagna di pianto e fa' melati i preghi,
tronca e confondi co' sospiri i detti:
beltà dolente e miserabil pieghi
al tuo volere i più ostinati petti.
Vela il soverchio ardir con la vergogna,
e fa manto del vero a la menzogna.(12)
                    Prendi, s'esser potrà, Goffredo a l'esca
de' dolci sguardi e de' be' detti adorni,
sì ch'a l'uomo invaghito omai rincresca
l'incominciata guerra, e la distorni.
Se ciò non puoi, gli altri più grandi adesca:
menagli in parte ond'alcun mai non torni.—
Poi distingue i consigli; al fin le dice:
—Per la fe', per la patria il tutto lice.—


The use of the Petrarchan formula of the lady who “sotto biondi capei [nasconde] canuta mente”14 functions here as a strategy of covering and hiding. This is confirmed a while later by the double metaphor of the velo and the manto, which are designated as the operative instruments of the seductress. But the complementary figure of “weaving” is also present to enrich an already familiar image, a woof to be inserted on a warp that is already prepared, and which evokes, in turn, the Siren's song foretold by the “melati preghi” and later crowned by the “pensati inganni” that Armida “spiega / in suon che di dolcezza i sensi lega” (4.38). The compactness of this rhetorical fabric is the same as that of poetic deceit, and it insinuates the threat of a dangerous exchange of health and sickness:

                    Ahi crudo Amor, ch'egualmente n'ancide
l'assenzio e ‘l mel che tu fra noi dispensi,
e d'ogni tempo egualmente mortali
vengon da te le medicine e i mali!


We can easily see that the long segment dedicated to the presence of Armida in the Christian camp (4.28-96; 5.60-85) represents the narrative extension of this figural field. The lady's fascination results from a game of transparencies issuing from her external semblance (the visible covered, the hidden uncovered), an eroticism of veils and mantles meant to awaken the others' desire without satisfying it.16 Armida's seductive strategy is balanced, in fact, between offer and refusal, stimulus and brake, ostentation and mask. The proteiform variety of her “being,” converted into a pure phenomenal succession of “appearances,” is explicated according to the occasion and the addressee:

                    Usa ogn'arte la donna, onde sia colto
ne la sua rete alcun novello amante;
né con tutti, né sempre un stesso volto
serba, ma cangia a tempo atti e sembiante.
Or tien pudica il guardo in sé raccolto,
or lo rivolge cupido e vagante:
la sferza in quegli, il freno adopra in questi,
come lor vede in amar lenti o presti.


What appears to be simple “sprezzatura” (albeit with some ambiguities) in chaste Sofronia, Armida's Christian rival, who “sua beltà non cura,” in Armida becomes the art and calculus of “dissimulation” aimed at “dishonest” ends:

                    Lodata passa e vagheggiata Armida
fra le cupide turbe e se n'avede.
No ‘l mostra già, benché in suo cor ne rida
e ne disegni alte vittorie o prede.


The distinction between outer semblance and inner state between the two women is truly subtle. On the one hand, the haughty virgin Sofronia, who is noticed by everybody, does not notice anybody (“mirata da ciascun passa e non mira”) and makes her veil into an instrument of chastity (“nel vel ristretta”) rather than of arthfulness; on the other hand, Armida does not hide her beauty (“non coprì le sue bellezze e non l'espose”) but captures the male eye with her neglecta venustas:

Non sai ben dir s'adorna o se negletta,
se caso od arte il bel volto compose.
Di natura, d'Amor, de' cieli amici
le negligenze sue sono artifici.


In effect, the attitudes of both, as Tasso describes them, correspond to techniques amply codified by the various artes amatoriae of the sixteenth century, a sort of subaltern equivalent and feminine declension of the strategies of courtly success based on the homologous values of grazia and sprezzatura.20 Sofronia's extreme equilibrium is broken in Armida, due to the excess of calculated intention that renders vain every “innocence” in artifice. In this, the contrast between the two women is consistent with the development of mannerist and Counter-Reformation thought that was tilting the compromise toward one of the extremes, already ambiguous in Castiglione, of “sprezzatura” and “simulazione.”21

The discourse of feminine fakery has, among its effects, that of generating other deceitful discourses, which at times displace our attention from the figural thickness of the text to the joints of its structure. Armida's most illustrious victim in this incursion into the Christian camp is, as I have already suggested, Eustazio, Goffredo's younger brother. Entrapped like so many by the lady's beauty and her seductive arts, he does not hesitate to believe her story and would therefore like Goffredo to dedicate himself to helping her by diverting precious forces from the siege. The brief argument between the two of them, based once again on the contrastive effect of their characters—Goffredo as firm and unmovable and Eustazio as fragile to temptations—has profound implications for the diversified strategies of epos and romance. The captain's mistrust coincides with the defense of the mission committed to him—and therefore with the epic linearity of the text—and subordinates digressive adventure to the typical romance structure of deferral.22 As he will explain after yielding to the decisions of an assembly favorable to Eustazio's requests, his opinion was in fact “non di negare alla donzella / ma di darle in stagion matura aita” (5.3). On the other hand, Eustazio, who as head of the “guerrieri di ventura” is less bound to collective obligations, calls on barely believable demands of “cortesia,” putting into play “il dover, ch'a dar tenuto / è l'ordin nostro a le donzelle aiuto” (4.80), that is, giving priority to the logic of “romance”:

                    Ah! non sia ver, per Dio, che si ridica
in Francia, o dove in pregio è cortesia,
che si fugga da noi rischio o fatica
per cagion così giusta e così pia.
Io per me qui depongo elmo e lorica,
qui mi cingo la spada, e più non fia
ch'adopri indegnamente arme o destriero,
o ‘l nome usurpi mai di cavaliero.


The above coincides with a moral delegitimation of the chivalric code, invoked for the purpose of “dissimulation”:

                    e con sì adorno inganno
cerca di ricoprir la mente accesa
sotto altro zelo; e gli altri anco d'onore
fingon desio quel ch'è desio d'amore.



The discourse of deceit is entrusted not only to Armida's great machinations or Eustazio's little hypocrisies, for in the case of Erminia and her innocent deceits (6.88) this discourse is necessary to guarantee the woman's survival within the contradictory condition of “enemy/lover.” As we know, Erminia loves Tancredi, whose war slave she once was. Treated courteously at first and then freed, she is forced by her origin and faith to serve the pagan cause. In the classic scene of teichoscopia in canto 3, inspired by the famous Homeric model (Iliad 3), Erminia points out to King Aladino the most illustrious warriors of the Christian army, as she looks down on them from a high tower. When Tancredi's turn comes, she must mask the true nature of her sentiments before her interlocutor, simulating hatred and a thirst for revenge:

                    Poi gli dice infingevole, e nasconde
sotto il manto de l'odio altro desio:
—Oimè! bene il conosco, ed ho ben donde
fra mille riconoscerlo deggia io,
ché spesso il vidi i campi e le profonde
fosse del sangue empir del popol mio.
Ahi quanto è crudo nel ferire! a piaga
ch'ei faccia, erba non giova od arte maga.
                    Egli è il prence Tancredi: oh prigioniero
mio fosse un giorno! e no'l vorrei già morto;
vivo il vorrei, perch'in me desse al fero
desio dolce vendetta alcun conforto.—
Così parlava, e de' suoi detti il vero
da chi l'udiva in altro senso è torto;
e fuor n'uscì con le sue voci estreme
misto un sospir che ‘ndarno ella già preme.


The ambiguity of Erminia's discourse, confined to a “mask” that commits violence against her “person,” plays on the transliteration of amorous language, the accomplice being that Petrarchan code that intends for “wounds” the amorous kind, and for “prisoner” and “revenge” the skirmishes of the erotic duel.26 This is one exemplary case among many in a poem where military conflict solicits the activation of an agonistic rhetoric that imprints the language of love (2.34-35).27

The extreme stylistic compactness of Tasso's lexicon permits almost no distinction, at least on the surface, between Erminia's “honest dissimulation” (“e nasconde sotto il manto de l'odio / altro desio”) and Armida's “dishonest” kind (“fa manto del vero a la menzogna”) and that of Eustazio (“e con sì adorno inganno / cerca di ricoprir la mente accesa / sotto altro zelo”). In Erminia's case the reification of the metaphor works with such determination as to impose on the character a rhetoric of action beyond that of language. If dissimulation consists essentially of a “knitting” and a “covering” of the word, the double disguising to which Erminia is later constrained will appear to follow perfectly: first under the lying warrior clothes of Clorinda (“finger mi vuo' Clorinda; e ricoperta / sotto l'imagin sua d'uscir son certa,” 6.87), then under coarse country clothes, when, being intercepted while she seeks to aid a wounded Tancredi, she takes refuge in the ancient woods and finds comfort among the shepherds. Her condition as an oppressed and torn woman is demonstrated, as previously when putting on Clorinda's heavy armor (“Co ‘l durissimo acciar preme ed offende / il delicato collo e l'aurea chioma, / e la tenera man lo scudo prende, / pur troppo grave e insopportabil soma,” 6.92),28 in the discomfort of an incongruous and unnatural disguise:

                    La fanciulla regal di rozze spoglie
s'ammanta, e cinge al crin ruvido velo;
ma nel moto de gli occhi e de le membra
non già di boschi abitatrice sembra.
                    Non copre abito vil la nobil luce
e quanto è in lei d'altero e di gentile,
e fuor la maestà regia traluce
per gli atti ancor de l'esercizio umile.


The dialectic of disguise is to all effects double: first we note the disguise of the character, who when speaking, dressing, or posing, allows to shine through a nature contrary to what is given on the surface, and shows how much necessity imposes a mask that is not the result of a free choice but of a self-repression painfully suffered. Second, the epic-Christian discourse is itself full of disguises, for the romance digressions that lie beneath false epic appearances are disguised as constriction and “errantry” (Erminia “erró senza consiglio e senza guida,” 7.3), either as evasive regression in the ancient chivalric woods or as labored refuge in the pastoral arcadia, a locus amoenus removed both from war and from the court, where already the Aminta, however, in these same years was verifying the impossibility of the idyll.30


The same armor, furtively taken by Erminia, will be laid down by Clorinda in exchange for “rusty and black” arms that foreground the tragic misunderstanding that causes her her death. Once again, therefore, disguise lies at the origin of romance peripezia, accepted here in its most anguished meaning of “errore.” That the character lives artistically in an extraordinary dialectics of covering/uncovering has been splendidly demonstrated by Fredi Chiappelli; for my part, I have elsewhere underscored the transgressive value, alongside the edifying one, that a similar change of semblances and wrappings has for this character.31 Here I will add that Clorinda's final and fatal disguise functions both as the dissimulation of an identity (still unknown even to the character herself) and as the liberation of an amorous language that earlier was inhibited by the cuirasses of religious and knightly militancy or, rather, by epic constraints. Only through the misunderstanding of a mask can the contact between the two lovers, their reciprocal recognition, be manifest—and then only in a tragic way and with the edifying purpose that constitutes the necessary alibi for it. Even Clorinda, like her friend Erminia but without being aware of it, lives in the misunderstanding of an unknown condition (that of being Christian) and of a repudiated nature (that of being a woman). This disjuncture is foretold by the miracle of her birth as the white daughter of a black mother, her first, congenital “disguise.” Clorinda's mask is importantly not only that of her bogus faith and pagan militancy, but also that of her denial of femininity and eros under virile semblances and military armor (not imposed, as in the case of Erminia, but indeed sought as a function of a “dissimulated” identity):

                    Costei gl'ingegni feminili e gli usi
tutti sprezzò sin da l'età più acerba:
a i lavori d'Aracne, a l'ago, a i fusi
inchinar non degnò la man superba.
Fuggì gli abiti molli e i lochi chiusi,
chè ne' campi onestate anco si serba;
armò d'orgoglio il volto, e si compiacque
rigido farlo, e pur rigido piacque.


Another exchange of armor has Rinaldo as its protagonist and is a no less significant metamorphosis of identity. The young Italian knight, in line of succession to Dudone, raises his arms against the Norwegian prince Gernando, provoked by his poisonous insinuations, and kills him. Then, in order not to incur Goffredo's law, he abandons the Christian camp and seeks glory elsewhere, far from the walls of Jerusalem, in free and adventuresome undertakings. In tune with the new romance world, at a certain point Rinaldo chooses to lay down his crusader arms in order to wear those of an enemy he has killed (14.53). The exchange of arms, as I noted earlier, is a manifestly symbolic act, since this new pagan-like identity is a return to the old one, to the condition of knight errant in which Tasso had celebrated this character in his youthful romance, Rinaldo. By betraying his Christian mission, Rinaldo situates himself in the field of error and deviance, whose indices are the “enemy” emblems and the regression into the romance space of “adventure.”33 In both cases, Clorinda's and Rinaldo's, the ambiguity of the masks permits the liberation of an “other” dimension with respect to the heroic-Christian epos: respectively, the amorous and the adventurous.34

Given these premises, the parabola of the “errant” must fatally extinguish itself in Armida's amorous prison. In the poem, the lady is the knowing artifex of transformation and mutation: she is, at once, Circe—who acts on the identity of others (6.86 and 10.66)—and Proteus—who acts on her own identity: “tentò ella mill'arti, e in mille forme / quasi Proteo novel gli apparse inanti,” 5.63).35 The magus's operation is an active transformation of reality. But this reality, in a character swept away in an ephemeral game of appearances, is perceived negatively as illusion, inconsistency, and deceit (as in Goffredo's skeptical reflection: “ché nel mondo mutabile e leggiero / costanza è spesso il variar pensiero,” 5.3). Now the Armida of canto 16 plays two opposite roles in the space of a few octaves: that of the seductress who has lost her force as a result of being deceived by love, which she habitually instills in others, and that of the maga, whose magic is called into question by a force that, though defeated by a superior power, still tries tenaciously to govern the world of cognitive illusion and sentimental inconstancy. The poet's identification with her (when she is defeated) and with her magical world (which is about to dissolve) corresponds to the lost illusion of arresting the universe's continual metamorphosis, a metamorphosis of which Armida is the emblematic cipher. Her condemnation, on the other hand, is justified by the poet's awareness of the deceit performed against reason and truth.


The traits of Armida in canto 16 are, initially, her usual ones: her sprezzatura is studied negligence, which makes appear natural what instead is the fruit of calculation. Thus, Armida “langue per vezzo” (languishes under his caress); in her breast “le peregrine rose” (the stranger roses) are linked “a i nativi gigli” (with native lilies); if at first “‘l crin sparge incomposto al vento estivo,” (her hair she looses in disarray to the summery air) she then braids the locks and disciplines “con ordin vago i lor lascivi errori” (into lovely order their wanton wanderings). The new element is that the character finds perfect equivalence in the well-known aemulatio of art and nature that characterizes the amorous scenario of canto 16:

                    e quel che ‘l bello e ‘l caro accresce a l'opre,
l'arte, che tutto fa, nulla si scopre.
                    Stimi (sì misto il culto è co'l negletto)
sol naturali e gli ornamenti e i siti.
Di natura arte par, che per diletto
l'imitatrice sua scherzando imiti.
L'aura, non ch'altro, è de la maga effetto,
l'aura che rende gli alberi fioriti:
co' fiori eterni eterno il frutto dura,
e mentre spunta l'un, l'altro matura.


The more nature resembles its Edenic origin the more it increases in the onlooker the suspicion of its falsity, of the simplicity that betrays the mask. Since the model of affectation and false naturalness has substituted authentic and primal naturalness in the magic place of the Liberata, the simplicity of these places becomes paradoxically the sign of the presence of magic artifice, and therefore of deception. “Artificio di ogni artificio è metter sommo artificio in alcuna cosa e far che non appaia; e ciò che la rende più bella e cara, per non vi si scorgere affettazione,” Guastavini comments in a note on Tasso's passage.37 Such a comment echoes an ancient and complex tradition. Ancient because the application of the principle of eloquence dates back at least to the Anonymous of the Sublime: “l'arte infatti è perfetta quando sembra esser natura, e dal canto suo la natura ha realizzato il suo scopo quando contiene in sè dissimulata l'arte” (ch. 22).38 Complex, because it is situated at the intersection of diverse cultural referents. In fact, naturalness and artifice (“sì misto è ‘l culto co ‘l negletto”) sum up an aesthetic ideal that informs many sixteenth-century artistic theories.39 They are inspired, that is, by that canon of sprezzatura and grazia that, transferred to the area of behavioral norms, is the founding rule of the courtier's success: “Però si pò dir quella esser vera arte che non pare esser arte: né più in altro si ha da poner studio, che nel nasconderla: perché se è scoperta, leva in tutto il credito e fa l'omo poco estimato.”40

It is precisely to Castiglione, the honored master of courtiership, that Tasso will link himself in the Malpiglio, where the theme of acquiring grace at court leads to an admired and nostalgic mourning for a golden age in which sprezzatura still permitted—even via the crooked path of simulation of “nature”—the expression of the individual virtue. Now instead, feigning is one of the main virtues, he writes, and the courtier's life is a daily trial. Thus one's goal is to defend oneself against the envy of others (of one's equals and of the prince himself), a self-defensive strategy of dissimulation that seeks to hide, more than exalt (“appari il cortigiano a occultare piuttosto che apparere”), man's virtues and merits: “[l'uomo di corte] non soltanto nelle dispute, ma in tutte l'azioni della vita dovrebbe contender, cedendo in quella guisa che fanno alcuni esperti lottatori, i quali piegandosi a quella parte dove gli tira l'avversario, con questo pieghevole artificio più facilmente il gettano a terra.”41

It is to Tasso that another Torquato, Accetto, largely makes reference, more than half a century later in claiming that: often it is more virtuous to dissimulate virtue not with the veil of vice, but by not showing all its rays, as not to offend envy's impaired right and the fear of others (“spesso è virtù sopra virtù il dissimular la virtù, non col velo del vizio, ma col non dimostrarne tutti i raggi, per non offender la vista inferma dell'invidia e dell'altrui timore”). His discussion, rediscovered today with great interest after Croce first gave attention to it years ago, offers noteworthy starting-points for an analysis of Armida and her magical realm.42 Here I am not so much interested in the theoretical and practical justifications of dissimulation (in relation to the courtier's life or to religious life), all the more since Armida's dissimulation is everything but “honest.” But two points that Accetto focuses on come close to my concerns. First, Accetto forges a nexus between dissimulation and ostentation. These two attitudes appear opposite and turn out instead to be complementary because the character who constructs a mask in reality hides himself in order better to appear as he wants to appear.43 Second, Accetto's extension of the concept of the human realm to the natural one makes of dissimulation a key for universal interpretation (with implicit religious reference to a post mortem where all the masks will fall off and the pure and naked truth will triumph—the ideological subtext for the same baroque antithesis of being/appearing):

se pur si considera la natura per tante altre opere di qua giù, si conosce che tutto il bello non è altro che una gentil dissimulazione. Dico il bello de' corpi che stanno soggetti alla mutazione, e veggansi tra questi i fiori e tra' fiori la lor reina; e si troverà che la rosa par bella perchè a prima vista dissimula di esser cosa tanto caduca, e quasi con una semplice superficie di vermiglio fa restar gli occhi in un certo modo persuasi ch'ella sia porpora immortale; ma in breve, come disse Torquato Tasso:

“quella non par che desiata inanti
fu da mille donzelle e mille amanti”


perché la dissimulazione in lei non può durare. E tanto si può dir di un volto di rose, anzi di quanto per la terra riluce tra le più belle schiere d'Amore; e benchè della bellezza mortale sia solito dirsi di non parer cosa terrena, quando poi si considera il vero, già non è altro che un cadavero dissimulato dal favor dell'età, che ancor si sostiene nel riscontro di quelle parti e di que' colori che han da dividersi e cedere alla forza del tempo e della morte.”

(Ch. 9, “Del bene che si produce dalla dissimulazione”)

Accetto plucks the simile of the rose, bending it to singular signification, precisely in Armida's garden, where the destiny of the metamorphosis of bodies is dissimulated in illusionistic stability, and nature repeats the rhetorical paradox of a deceit with honest aims. If feminine seduction is the unscrupulous use of a “proteiform” art of variatio, the dissimulation of which Accetto speaks reduces this plurality to an oxymoron, fixes it in the coincidentia oppositorum. And in fact it is in Armida that the two contrasting extremes are linked, the supreme grace of the lady and the horrid repugnance of the monster. The same very beautiful creature who fascinated Rinaldo in the garden (canto 16) reappears to him among the trunks of the enchanted wood (canto 18) in the form of a frightful giant, Briareus, the last incarnation of Proteus:

                    Egli alza il ferro, e ‘l suo pregar non cura;
ma colei si trasmuta (oh novi mostri!)
sì come avien che d'una altra figura,
trasformando repente, il sogno mostri.
Così ingrossò le membra e tornò oscura
la faccia e vi sparir gli avori e gli ostri;
crebbe in gigante altissimo, e si feo
con cento armate braccia un Briareo.


Consistent with the identification observed earlier between character and nature, the Edenic landscape that was created by her magic art—the only possible perpetuation in the Christian world of the classical locus of the golden age—becomes transformed at Armida's hand. It can survive, in fact, only as dissimulation of an artifice that is quickly demystified: the garden is pure appearance that hides a substance of opposite meaning. When Armida, having abandoned the hope of keeping Rinaldo, dissolves the garden and the palace with just one gesture, not a trace remains of this enchanted realm:

                    Come imagin talor d'immensa mole
forman nubi ne l'aria e poco dura,
che ‘l vento la disperde o solve il sole,
come sogno se ‘n va ch'egro figura,
così sparver gli alberghi, e restar sole
l'alpe e l'orror che fece ivi natura.


The Edenic semblances make room for that very horrid nature which beautiful appearances had dissimulated up to now. Significant, I would say, is the shifting from character to landscape carried out here by Tasso with respect to the Ariostan model: thanks to Melissa's ring, Ariosto's Ruggiero unmasks Alcina's identity as a repellent old woman, but the poem does not tell us anything about the nature of the Edenic world the witch had prepared for him (a typical and easily recognizable Renaissance court).46 In this instance, Ariosto dismantles the mechanism of allegory. In Tasso, on the other hand, Armida keeps intact her prerogatives of beauty and seduction, but her realm is pure appearance, behind which lies hidden the naked horror of nature, a squalid and sterile desert. In the Gerusalemme liberata, thus, the relation of identity between beauty and horror remains quite solid.

Armida's habitual residence is, moreover, situated on the banks of the Dead Sea, where once there arose the damned cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and it is there that she makes her return after the dissolution of her magical world:

                    Al fin giungemmo al loco ove già scese
fiamma dal cielo in dilatate falde,
e di natura vendicò l'offese
sovra le genti in mal oprar sì salde.
Fu già terra feconda, almo paese,
or acque son bituminose e calde
e steril lago: e quanto ei torpe e gira,
compressa è l'aria e grave il puzzo spira.


The place is therefore a biblical-Dantesque realm of horror surrounding a marvelous castle where the Edenic scene, the locus amoenus, is punctually renewed (10.62-64).48 Both metamorphoses in time, as in the case of the garden, or here contiguity in space, imply an equivalence, a coincidence of opposites, pleasure and horror. Moreover, is not perhaps the demonic space of the wood of Saron the most clamorous overturning of the preceding Edenic scene? Already horrible by nature (13.2-3), it increases its own sinister fascination when its trunks are populated by demons through the enchantments produced by the pagan magus Ismeno. But the wood is not simply the garden's opposite, it is also its redoubling, because it contains the garden in turn (18.18-24); it is its antithesis as well as its equivalent. The art of simulation exalts the intuition of a reality in constant metamorphosis, trapping the elusiveness of mutation in a dialectic of contraries. This multiplicity of “appearances” is fixed in antithesis since Tasso, to his dismay, cannot reduce it to the singularity of “being.” Therefore, demonic wood and Edenic garden, infernal monsters and beautiful women, all exist in ambiguous cohabitation.

But also succhi amari and soavi licor mingle in a single brew. In confirmation of diffidences that Tasso's writing does not succeed in dissimulating, it is in Armida's magic realm that the “fonte del riso” arises, where we are tempted to recognize a sort of upturned mirror of the poetic drinking glass:

                    Un fonte sorge in lei che vaghe e monde
ha l'acque sì che i riguardanti asseta;
ma dentro a i freddi suoi cristalli asconde
di tosco estran malvagità secreta,
ch'un picciol sorso di sue lucide onde
inebria l'alma tosto e la fa lieta,
indi a rider uom move, e tanto il riso
s'avanza alfin ch'ei ne rimane ucciso.


Even this fonte is inspired by the dialectic of dissimulation, or of an above and a below, of an outside and an inside, which, far from corresponding to one another, are polarized in the antithesis of the “acque vaghe e monde” and of the “tosco estran.” The beneficent deceit of poetic medicine can be painfully converted into the “malvagità secreta” of a pleasure that kills.50


An analysis of Tasso's representation of nature must include a comment on the great poetry of the night, which represents by common judgment one of the poetic vertices of the Gerusalemme liberata. The consistent metaphorics that characterize these nocturnals manifest profound connections with the arguments treated thus far. Compare these four descriptions:

“Era la notte, e ‘l suo stellato velo / chiaro spiegava e senza nube alcuna” (“It was night, and she spread forth her starry veil in clarity and without a single cloud,” 6.103)

“Sorge intanto la notte, e ‘l velo nero / per l'aria spiega e l'ampia terra abbraccia” (“Meanwhile Night is rising and spreads her black veil through the air and takes the broad earth in her embrace,” 10.78)

“[M]a poi, quando stendendo il fosco manto / la notte in occidente il dì chiudea, / tra duo suoi cavalieri e due matrone / ricovrava in disparte al padiglione” (“But then when night, extending her dark mantle, shut up the daylight in the west, with two of her knights and two maids of honor she took shelter apart in her pavilion,” 5.60)

“Ma già distendon l'ombre orrido velo / che di rossi vapor si sparge e tigne … votò Pluton gli abissi, e la sua notte / tutta versò da le tartaree grotte” (“But now the shadows spread a horrible veil that is sprinkled over and stained with reddened mists … Pluto emptied the abyss, and poured forth all his own realm of night from the caverns of Tartarus,” 9.15)

In cantos 6.103 and 10.78, the nocturnal veil is pure and joyful transparency, the carrier of a sleep that will be just compensation for the labors of living. But in the two other cases sleep is full of disquiet and torments of desire (5.60) or anguished by the nightmares of a night coming from the realm of Satan (9.15). All four passages contain the “textual” metaphor velo and manto.51 We may simply say that we are fully within the code; but why such a constancy of images, almost a figural obsession, a métaphore obsédante? Doesn't this metaphor also find its semantic reason in that dialectic, encountered at various levels, of covering and dissimulating, a dialectic of an appearance that hides—repressing or saving, according to the case—a secret being? If the sweetness (but also the deceit) of poetry is expressed in the superimposition of ornaments of the marvelous over the plot of truth, the beauty (but also the deceit) of the world materializes neoplatonically in a velo or a manto that hide the true nature of things. Beauty and knowledge, seduction and truth seem to be for Tasso in irremediable antithesis: the veil and the cloak that one would want to tear in order to possess the truth, or penetrate for erotic satisfaction (or simply lay down—Accetto docet [ch. 23]—in order to render triumphant the authentic value of man) are also the locus of erotic temptation and poetic pleasure: succhi amari and soavi licor can ambiguously coexist, but they cannot be reconciled, because they dissimulate in harmony a radical oxymoron.

In the moment of greatest triumph of the destructive pagan force—during the drought that strikes the crusader camp, already run through with shudders of sedition—the night, invoked as relief of daylight heat—declares instead its complicity with evil:

                    Non ha poscia la notte ombre più liete,
ma del caldo del sol paiono impresse,
e di travi di foco e di comete
e d'altri fregi ardenti il velo intesse.
Né pur, misera terra, a la tua sete
son da l'avara luna almen concesse
sue rugiadose stille, e l'erbe e i fiori
bramano indarno i lor vitali umori.
                    Da le notti inquiete il dolce sonno
bandito fugge, e i languidi mortali
lusingando ritrarlo a sé no ‘l ponno;
ma pur la sete è il pessimo de’ mali,
però che di Giudea l'iniquo donno
con veneni e con succhi aspri e mortali
più de l'inferna Stige e d'Acheronte
torbido fece e livido ogni fonte.


The night seems to be Satan's gaze: “rosseggian gli occhi, e di veneno infetto / come infausta cometa il guardo splende” (4.7). But allusively evoked by the succhi aspri e mortali in significant antithesis with the vitali umori, it is the poetic discourse which appears most threatened by the poisoned lymph, the most ambiguous and compromised, by means of the “textual” metaphor, with the tempations of Armida and the horrors of Satan. How much awareness is there in Tasso of this risky contaminatio? Textual error, the deceit of the word, shines through in the plot of writing much more painfully than one would be led to suspect at first sight. In effect, in the Liberata we find confronted and practiced at its highest degree of awareness the artifice of all Counter-Reformation poetics, where the bitter juices of instructive purpose and the soft liquors of sensual pleasure, combined in a daring mixture, are justified, but also denied, reciprocally. Poetic language, which by its nature feeds on “ornaments” or pleasant deceits, is called upon contradictorily to serve the purpose of the highest truth, the historic and Christian one.

Nevertheless, the dark night by which Tasso's poetry is ambiguously compromised is also an anxiety for liberation toward the light:

                    Notte, che nel profondo oscuro seno
chiudesti e ne l'oblio fatto sì grande,
piacciati ch'io ne ‘l tragga e ‘n bel sereno
a le future età lo spieghi e mande.
Viva la fama loro; e tra lor gloria
splenda del fosco tuo l'alta memoria.


Singing here of the fatal encounter between Tancredi and Clorinda, Tasso wishes that darkness, which, cloak-like, encloses the memory of that epic duel (“splenda del fosco tuo l'alta memoria”), might allow it to continue to shine, and let the glory of the two knights live on through his poetry (“viva la fama loro”). Tasso's poetry celebrates at once the truth torn from the darkness, and the darkness that dissimulates this truth, since that instrument of deceit which is the language of the poet is also truth's only way of access.54


  1. On the subject, see Ulivi, Sozzi, and Scianatico. For a different interpretation, see Erspamer.

  2. “O Muse, that do not wreathe your brow on Helicon with fading bays, but among the blessed choirs in Heaven above possess a golden crown of deathless stars: breathe into my breast celestial ardors, illuminate my song, and grant me pardon if with the truth I interweave embroiderings, if partly with pleasures other than yours I ornament my pages. // You know that the world flocks there where feigning Parnassus most pours out her sweetnesses, and that the truth in fluent verses hidden has by its charms persuaded the most froward. So we present to the feverish child the rim of the glass sprinkled over with sweet liquids: he drinks deceived the bitter medicine and from his deception receives life” (Liberata, 1. 2-3). Hereafter references to cantos and octaves appear directly in the text. Translation by Nash.

  3. The verses of De Rerum Natura 1.936-42 recur, among others, in Ammirato and Denores (reprinted in Weinberg). See also Speroni 736. Tasso may have been able to read a version in his father Bernardo's Amadigi: “Come talor un medico, che vuole / gabbar l'infermo per fargli salute, / celar l'amaro sotto il dolce suole, / acciocch'egli di ber non lo rifiute; / così sotto figmenti di parole, / di chimere da noi non conosciute, / danno i poeti molti documenti / al volgo ignaro, ed all'inferme menti” (51.1).

  4. On criticism born of this protasis, see Guastavini, Risposta, 5.288-89. Guastavini defended Tasso from the accusation of following the old, authoritative thesis of poetry as fiction and cover of truth.

  5. See my book L'uniforme cristiano.

  6. While establishing a conceptual distinction between simulation and dissimulation, I should also point out that their complementarity often becomes a substantial synonymic coincidence in the usus scribendi of many sixteenth-century authors. In this essay it will be inevitable sometimes to use this semantic contiguity. The most essential definition of difference that I know of is Accetto's canonical text, Della dissimulazione onesta (1641): “La dissimulazione è una industria di non far veder le cose come sono. Si simula quello che non è, si dissimula quello che è.” In his critical edition of this text, Nigro demonstrates that such a conceptual distinction is also present in Tasso's “Malpiglio,” although not rendered terminologically explicit (51, n. 1).

  7. For the historical course, see Gorni. Although slighly unresponsive to the ambiguities and tensions in Tasso's writing, Gorni is right in stating that: “Il poeta è ancora tessitore, ma si contenta di ornare una tela non ordita da lui: l'arte sua antica gli è sottratta, e dalle sue mani escono solo ‘fregi al ver’ di cui egli si affretta a chiedere licenza” (29-30).

  8. One can capture antiphrastically the character of the man already in the etymology of the word: “A-lete” means without hiding, without simulation. A suggestion for such a choice could have come to Tasso from a text such as Etica Nicomachea, a work very much in circulation in the sixteenth century, in which the term “philalethes” recurs in opposition to simulators of words and actions (1127 a-b).

  9. Exalted “by a flowing and feigning and prudent speech, by compliant manners and a shifty nature, ready at pretense, experienced at deception. A great fabricator of slanders, he decks out in novel terms what appear to be praises and are accusations.”

  10. “[T]hen he began and rivers of eloquence sweeter than honey issued from his mouth.”

  11. One of the most respected historical critics of Tasso's sources, Vincenzo Vivaldi, points to similar narratives in texts such as Costante, Angelica innamorata, Palmerino d'Oliva, and Amadigi. See Sulle fonti, 1.80. Vivaldi notes that research on chivalric antecedents, refused by Tasso less in intention than in practice, could be just as productive as the typical investigation of classical ties in heroic poems.

  12. This simulated discourse contains, however, its own unmasking, since the weaver of deceits presents herself as victim of others' deceits. Alluding to her uncle's doubleness, Armida speaks of a “maligno … pensiero interno” hiding “sotto contrario manto” (4.45) and of deceits that he “adorna e tesse” to his own advantage (4.58).

  13. “He says: ‘O my dear, who under golden hair and outward beauties so delicate keep concealed a manly heart and gray-haired wisdom, and in my arts already outstrip myself, I am revolving a great plan. And, if you lend it your aid, the results will answer to our hopes. Weave the web that I show you all laid out, a bold-hearted agent for a cautious old man. // Go to the enemy camp; there make use of every feminine art that entices to love. Bathe your entreaties in tears and make them honied; cut off your words and mingle them with sighs. A grieving and piteous beauty may work the most obdurate breasts to your will. Your overmuch boldness veil with maidenly modesty, and make of the truth a mantle for your lying. // If it be possible, take Godfrey with the bait of your sweet glances and lovely fashioned speech, so that the war stirred up may grow wearisome now to a man enamoured, and he may carry it elsewhere. If that you cannot do, angle for the greatest of the others; lead them off into a region whence none may ever return.’ Then he details his plans; at last he says: ‘For the Faith, for the Fatherland, all is permitted.’”

  14. Petrarch, 213.3.

  15. “Ah cruel Love, how equally are we destroyed by the honey and the gall that you dispense to us; and equally fatal come from you at once the sickness and the remedies.”

  16. “[D]'auro ha la chioma, ed or dal bianco velo / traluce involta, or discoperta appare” (94.29); “Mostra il bel petto le sue nevi ignude, / onde il foco d'Amor si nutre e desta. / Parte appar de le mamme acerbe e crude, / parte altrui ne ricopre invida vesta” (4.31); “Come per acqua o per cristallo intero / trapassa il raggio, e no'l divide o parte, / per entro il chiuso manto osa il pensiero / sì penetrar ne la vietata parte” (4.32). In Malpiglio, the dissimulation of hidden spiritual beauties is predicated as a seductive courtly technique, since a virtue that hides itself, but gives itself fleetingly to the others' gaze, hastens the desire that its treasures be brought to light: “Questo nascondersi nondimeno si può fare con alcuno avedimento, per lo quale la picciola parte che si dimostri genera desiderio di quella che si ricopre, e una certa stima e opinion de gli uomini e del principe medesimo, che dentro si nasconda a un non so che di raro e di singolare e di perfetto” (2.558-59).

  17. “The lady uses every art by which any new lover may be caught in her net; nor does she keep the same countenance for all, nor at all times, but changes her looks and acts to suit the moment. Now she keeps her gaze at home shamefast, now sends it abroad wanton and wandering. On these she uses the bridle, on those the whip, as she sees that they are forward or slow in loving.”

  18. “Praised and desired Armida passes among the lustful troops; and she is aware of it: she gives no sign, though in her heart she smiles and projects great victories and plunders from it.”

  19. “You do not quite know whether to say she adorns or neglects herself, whether accident or art composed her lovely face. Her negligencies are the artifices of Nature, of Love, of her friendly stars.” On Sofronia, see Erspamer 123-25.

  20. For Patrizi, Betussi's two treatises, Dialogo amoroso (1543) and Il Raverta (1544) had proposed again “il tema della dissimulazione in una ricca casistica amorosa.” Even as early as Piccolomini's Raffaella (1539), he writes, one could see “una strategia seduttiva che si appoggia … sul principio della ‘sprezzatura’ (dell'atto di seduzione) e della dissimulazione (dei sentimenti non ‘convenienti’)” (882-83).

  21. For a correction of a somewhat conventional classicism, see Ferroni 138-43. I have been developing some of the issues above in a forthcoming article, “Torquato Tasso in the Age of Dissimulation.”

  22. See my essay “Il Furioso.

  23. “Ah, let it not be (for God's sake) that it be reported in France, or wheresoever courtesy is prized, that peril or travail for cause so just and pious is shunned by us. For myself, I lay down here my helmet and cuirass, here I unbuckle my sword, and will no more unworthily manage arms or steed, or ever usurp the name of knight-at-arms.”

  24. “And with such ornamental fabling seeks to hide under a different zeal his mind inflamed; and the others too pretend desire of honor in that which is desire of love.” The courtesy code as organic to a precise narrative genre had in the “romanzo” of Tasso's father still intact positive connotations: “Ch'ei ben sa, che difender le donzelle / da violenza d'uomo iniquo e rio, / di cui son l'arme sol lagrime belle, / officio è di guerrier cortese e pio” (Amadigi, 84.39). In Goffredo instead there has been a splitting of the two historically knit values of courtesy and pietas.

  25. “Then she speaks, feigning, and hides beneath the mask of hatred a different passion: ‘Ay me, I know him indeed, and indeed I have reason that I ought to recognize him amid a thousand; for often have I seen him fill the fields and the deep ditches with the blood of my people. Ah, how cruel he is in wounding! The wound that he makes no medicine avails, nor magic art. // He is Prince Tancredi: oh, would that he were some day my prisoner! and sure I would not want him dead. I would want him alive, that sweet revenge might render me some comfort for my fierce desire.’ So she spoke: and the truth of her speech by him who heard her is twisted to another sense. And with her last words issued forth an intermingled sigh that now she represses in vain.”

  26. One can find also in Petrarch the roots of Erminia's mimic dissimulation, beyond the verbal one: “et così aven che l'animo ciascuna / sua passion sotto ‘l contrario manto / ricopre co la vista or chiara or bruna” (102.9-11).

  27. Another example of the reification of the amorous language due to its explicit metaliterary conscience can be found in the lament of Olindo condemned to the stake, together with his beloved Sofronia: “Quest'è quel laccio ond'io sperai / teco accoppiarmi in compagnia di vita? / questo è quel foco ch'io credea ch'i cori / ne dovesse infiammar d'eguali ardori? / Altre fiamme, altri nodi Amor promise, / altri ce n'apparecchia iniqua sorte.”

  28. “With hardest steel she oppresses and offends her delicate neck and golden hair; and her tender hand takes up the shield—a burden too heavy and insupportable.”

  29. “The royal maiden clothes herself in rough garments and binds a rustic kerchief round her hair; but in the movements of her eyes and limbs she appears not always a dweller in the groves. // The peasantish habit does not hide the noble light, and all that there is in her of the proud and generous; and her regal majesty shines forth even through the actions of her humble daily round.”

  30. See Barberi Squarotti.

  31. Chiappelli describes Clorinda's destiny as “larvale” (56-65). See also Zatti, L'uniforme, 137-42.

  32. “She from her earliest age altogether disprized the feminine nature and its usages; her proud hand did not deign to bend to the tasks of Arachne, to the needle, to the spindle. She avoided soft habits and sheltered places, who yet in the fields preserves her chastity. She armored her countenance in pride, and it pleased her to keep it severe; and though severe it was pleasing.”

  33. The episode where Rinaldo, full of indignation for Goffredo, goes into voluntary exile from the Christian camp is clearly inspired by the incident that inaugurates the narrative movement of the Iliad (there, offended by Agamennon, Achilles retires in a tent, thus compromising the fortunes of the war). Tasso himself confirms the point in his Lettere poetiche. It pays to notice, however, that he uses the episode to play on the double registers of the romance and of the epic codes, thus transforming the rejection of epic authority into romance, and paganizing the adventures. See Quint 470.

  34. Only in one case does the disguise not have painful or dramatic connotations. Such is the case of Vafrino, Tancredi's squire, an expert in both Arabic language and customs, who uses a disguise to introduce himself into the Egyptian camp. Here too the name “means” (in Latin “vafer” means cunning, shrewd, sagacious), and the character is lively and adaptable: “uom pronto e destro e sovra i pie' leggiero, / audace sì, ma cautamente audace, / che parla in molte lingue, e varia il noto / suon de la voce e ‘l portamento e ‘l moto” (18.75). The praise (in Erasmus) and the condemnation (in Calvin) of “vafrities” had divided the sixteenth-century religious world over Nicodemitic dissimulation. See Biondi. On Vafrino as a somewhat anomalous “comic” or “low” type in a heroic poem, see Jenni.

  35. On this complementarity, see Rousset 29-30.

  36. “[A]nd (what increases the beauty and price of the work) the art that makes it all is nowhere revealed. // You would judge (so mingled is negligence with care) both the grounds and their improvements only natural. It seems an art of nature, that for her own pleasure playfully imitates her imitator. The very breeze (not to speak of the rest) is the work of the sorceress, the breeze that causes the trees to be in flower: with blossoms eternal eternal lasts the fruit, and while the one buds forth, the other ripens.”

  37. See Guastavini, Discorsi. D'Angelo retraces such a tradition along the double register of rhetorical and esoteric doctrines.

  38. See Praz 111.

  39. On this, see Chiappelli's note in the 1982 edition of Tasso, Gerusalemme (632); for the concept, see Monk.

  40. Castiglione, 1.26. Mario Equicola's treatise De natura de Amore (1525) applied the principle (the art of “ben dire” and the Ovidian technique of seduction) to the lover's eloquence.

  41. Dialoghi, 561. Dissimulation as a play of mirrors pervades many aspects of the Tassian universe. Even the duelling technique, in which Tasso was a celebrated master throughout the seventeenth century, seems modeled in fact after a game of pretence and simulations that does not substantially differ from Armida's seductive technique. See the first duel between Tancredi and Argante:

                        Cautamente ciascuno a i colpi move
    la destra, a i guardi l'occhio, a i passi il piede;
    si reca in atti vari, in guardie nove:
    or gira intorno, or cresce inanzi, or cede,
    or quivi ferire accenna e poscia altrove,
    dove non minacciò ferir si vede,
    or di sé discoprire alcuna parte,
    e tentar di schernir l'arte con l'arte.
                        De la spada Tancredi e de lo scudo
    mal guardato al pagan dimostra il fianco;
    corre egli per ferirlo, e intanto nudo
    di riparo si lascia il lato manco.
    Tancredi con un colpo il ferro crudo
    del nemico ribatte, e lui fere anco;
    nè poi, ciò fatto, in ritirarsi tarda,
    ma si raccoglie e si ristringe in guarda.


    To remain on the “art of war” subject, some diversions ordered by Goffredo during the siege of Jerusalem confirm this tactical principle of dissimulation: “Machine ed arme poscia ivi più spesse / dimostra ove adoprarle egli men pensa; / e il deluso pagan si riconforta / ch'oppor le vede a la munita porta” (18.55, 62). In Convivio, Dante recognizes also the rhetorical figure for dissimulation, taking it probably from Cicero (De oratore 2.67.269) which he describes in these terms: “E questa cotale figura in rettorica è molto laudabile, e anco necessaria, cioè quando le parole sono a una persona e la ‘ntenzione è un'altra” (3.10.7). To exemplify it, he gives this extraordinary simile which brings us back to the figuration in Tasso: “Ed è simigliante a l'opera di quello savio guerriero che combatte lo castello da uno lato per levare la difesa da l'altro.”

  42. The first modern edition came in 1928; two years later Croce and Caramella edited the treatise for the volume Politici, 143-73.

  43. See Rousset 267-76.

  44. “He raises the sword and pays her prayers no heed; but she is transformed (O new monstrosities!) even as it happens that out of one shape a dream projects another, suddenly transmuted. So she magnified her limbs and turned her countenance dark, and the crimson and the ivory vanished away. She grew to a huge giant and became a Briareus with a hundred armed hands.”

  45. “As sometimes the clouds in the middle air form images of a mighty mass, and last but little time, for the wind disperses them or sun dissolves; as a dream that an invalid fashions goes away; so disappeared the buildings and only remained the mountains and waving shades that Nature created there.”

  46. Ariosto 7.8-79. A propos of Ariosto, let us remember that he too took up the theme of simulation/dissimulation in two famous prologues: “Quantunque il simular” (4.1-3) and “Oh quante sono incantatrici” (8.1-3). In both cases, he legitimized as “honest” the fiction used by Bradamante and Ruggiero for self-defense against the professional betrayers Brunello and Alcina.

  47. “At last we arrived at the place where flame of old descended from heaven in swollen flakes, and upon a people so hardened in evil-doing avenged their offenses against nature. It was once a fertile land, a prosperous contryside; now the waters are bituminous and warm and the lake sterile; and wherever it twists and winds, the air is thick and breathes a heavy stench.”

  48. The biblical source is Genesis 19:24 (“Dominus pluit super Sodoman et Gomorrham sulphur et ignem a Domino de caelo”); the Dantesque one is double: “Sovra tutto ‘l sabbion, d'un cader lento, / piovean di foco dilatate falde, / come di neve in alpe sanza vento” (Inferno 14.28-30) and “I' vedea lei, ma non vedea in essa / mai che le bolle che ‘l bollor levava, / e gonfiar tutta, e riseder compressa” (Inferno 21.19-21).

  49. “On it wells up a spring that has waters so pure and inviting that it rouses thirst in those who look upon it: but it conceals within its crystal cold the secret malice of a strange venom, for one little draught of its shining waters straightaway intoxicates the soul and makes it giddy; then it moves a man to laughter; and in the end his laughing proceeds so far that he lies dead of it.”

  50. This is exactly what Tasso fears in his mature reflections on poetics so much so that he chose to solve the knot politically: “Però al politico s'appartiene di considerare quale poesia debba esser proibita, e qual diletto, acciochè il piacere, il quale dee essere in vece di quel mele di cui s'unge il vaso quando si dà la medicina a' fanciulli, non facesse effetto di pestifero veleno, o non tenesse occupati gli animi in vana lezione” (Discorsi, 67).

  51. Both terms are used by Accetto to define dissimulation through a metaphor (chs. 1, 5, 14, 23, 24, 25). In chapter 4 there is perhaps the best image: “non essendo altro il dissimulare che un velo composto di tenebre oneste e di rispetti violenti, da che non si forma il falso, ma si dà qualche riposo al vero, per dimostrarlo a tempo” (42).

  52. “No pleasanter thereafter are the shades of night, but they seem minted from the heat of the sun, and her veil interwoven with pillars of fire and comets and such blazing gauds. And to your thirst, O wretched Earth, not even her dewy exhalations are granted by the miserly moon; and grasses and flowers long in vain for their life-giving moisture. // Sweet sleep flees banished from these restless nights; and suffering mortals cannot call it back by any blandishment; but yet the thirst is the worst evil of all, for Judaea's wicked lord made every spring filthy and unwholesome with poisons and secretions more bitter and deadly than hellish Styx and Acheron.”

  53. “O Night, that would hold enclosed within your deep dark breast and in oblivion exploit so great, please you that I may draw it forth and in the clear serene display it and send it on to future ages. Let their fame survive; and amid their glory a noble memorial of your darkness shine.”

  54. A somewhat different version of this essay appears in Italian in Zatti, L'ombra.

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. Il convivio. Ed. Enzo Quaglio. Florence: Le Monnier, 1964.

———. La divina commedia: Inferno. Ed. Charles Singleton. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1970.

Ariosto, Ludovico. Orlando furioso. 2 vols. Milan: Garzanti, 1974.

Accetto, Torquato. Della dissimulazione onesta. Ed. Silvano Nigro. Genoa: Costa & Nolan, 1983.

———. Della dissimulazione onesta. Politici e moralisti del Seicento. Ed. Benedetto Croce and Santino Caramella. Bari: Laterza, 1930. 143-73.

Barberi-Squarotti, Giorgio. “La tragicità dell‘Aminta.Fine dell'idillio: da Dante a Marino. Genoa: Melangolo, 1978. 139-74.

Biondi, A. “La giustificazione della simulazione nel Cinquecento.” Eresia e riforma nell'Italia del Cinquecento. Florence: Sansoni, 1974.

Castiglione, Baldassarre. Il libro del cortegiano. Ed. Ettore Bonora. Milan: Mursia, 1972.

Chiappelli, Fredi. Il conoscitore del caos: una ‘vis abdita’ nel linguaggio tassesco. Roma: Bulzoni, 1981.

D'Angelo, P. “‘Celare l'arte’: per una storia del precetto ‘Ars est celare artem.’” Intersezioni 6.2 (1986): 321-42.

Erspamer, Francesco. “Il pensiero debole di Torquato Tasso.” La menzogna. Ed. Francesco Cardini. Florence: Ponte alle Grazie, 1989. 120-36.

Ferroni, Giulio. “Sprezzatura e simulazione.” La corte e il cortegiano. Vol. 1. Ed. Carlo Ossola. Rome: Bulzoni, 1980.

Gorni, Guglielmo. “La metafora del testo.” Strumenti critici 38 (1979): 18-32.

Guastavini, Giulio. Discorsi ed annotazioni sopra la Gerusalemme Liberata di Torquato Tasso. Pavia: Appresso gli eredi di Gierolamo Bartoli, 1592.

———. Risposta ad alcune opposizioni fatte alla proposizione e invocazione usata dal Tasso nella Gerusalemme Liberata. Opere, by Torquato Tasso. Ed. Giovanni Rosini. Pisa: Niccolo Capurro, 1828.

Jenni, Adolfo. “Il realismo borghese nella Liberata e il personaggio di Vafrino.” Lettere italiane 12.4 (1960): 401-13.

Monk, Samuel Holt. “A Grace beyond the Reach of Art.” Journal of the History of Ideas 5 (1944): 131-50.

Ovid. Ars Amatoria. Liber 1. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977.

Patrizi, Giorgio. “Il libro del cortigiano e la trattatistica sul comportamento.” Letteratura italiana. Le forme del testo. La prosa. Vol. 3, bk. 2. Ed. Alberto Asor Rosa. Turin: Einaudi, 1984.

Petrarca, Francesco. Petrarch's Lyric Poems. Ed. and trans. Robert Durling. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1976.

Praz, Mario. “Il giardino di Armida.” Il giardino dei sensi. Studi sul manierismo e il barocco. Milan: Mondadori. 1975.

Quint, David. “La barca dell'avventura nell'epica rinascimentale.” Intersezioni 5.3 (1985): 467-88.

Rousset, Jean. La letteratura dell'età barocca in Francia: Circe e il Pavone. Bologna: Mulino, 1985.

Scianatico, Giovanna. “Le Tasse et le Manierisme.” Revue de littérature comparée 4 (1988): 545-57.

Sozzi, Bartolo. “Il Tasso e il ‘Manierismo.’” Studi Tassiani 32 (1984): 111-22.

Speroni, Sperone. “Dialogo della Istoria.” Trattatisti del Cinquecento, Vol. 1. Ed. Mario Pozzi. Milan: Ricciardi, 1978. 725-84.

Tasso, Bernardo. L'Amadigi di Bernardo Tasso colla vita dell'autore e varie illustrazioni dell'opera. Bergamo: Lancellotti, 1755.

Tasso, Torquato. Dialoghi. Ed. Ezio Raimondi. Firenze: Sansoni, 1958.

———. Discorsi dell'arte poetica e del poema eroico. Ed. Luigi Poma. Bari: Laterza, 1964.

———. Gerusalemme liberata. Ed. Bartolo Sozzi. Milan: Feltrinelli, 1961.

———. Gerusalemme liberata. Ed. Fredi Chiappelli. Milan: Rusconi, 1982.

———. Jerusalem Delivered. Trans. Ralph Nash. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1987.

———. Lettere poetiche. Parma: Guanda, 1995.

———. “Il Malpiglio overo de la corte.” Dialoghi.

Ulivi, Ferruccio. Il manierismo del Tasso e altri studi. Florence: Olschki, 1966.

Vivaldi, Vincenzo. Sulle fonti della Gerusalemme liberata. Catanzaro: Officina Tip. di G. Calò, 1893.

Weinberg, Bernard, ed. Trattati di poetica e di retorica del Cinquecento. Bari: Laterza, 1974.

Zatti, Sergio. “Il Furioso fra epos e romanzo.” Giornale storico della letteratura italiana 163 (1986): 483-514.

———. L'ombra del Tasso: epica e romanzo nel Cinquecento. Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 1996.

———. L'uniforme cristiano e il multiforme pagano: saggio sulla Gerusalemme Liberata. Milan: Il Saggiatore, 1983.

Walter Stephens (essay date 1999)

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SOURCE: Stephens, Walter. “Trickster, Textor, Architect, Thief: Craft and Comedy in Gerusalemme Liberata.” In Renaissance Transactions: Ariosto and Tasso, edited by Valeria Finucci, pp. 146-77. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Stephens argues that Tasso uses Homeric imitations in Gerusalemme liberata that have important implications for the poem and its representation of authorship.]

In canto 18 of Gerusalemme liberata [GL], writing irrupts into the plot of Tasso's highly intertextual poem. Attacked by a falcon, a carrier pigeon takes refuge with Goffredo, who discovers a letter from the Egyptian general Emireno to King Aladino in Jerusalem, announcing the imminent arrival of Muslim reinforcements for the besieged town. As if this adaptation of Homeric bird omens were not already abundantly explicit, Goffredo announces to his assembled lieutenants that the messenger (freighted with overtones of the Holy Spirit) has brought a revelation from divine providence: “—Vedete come il tutto a noi riveli / la providenza del Signor de' cieli” (“See how the providence of Heaven's king can reveal all things to us”).1 This incident inaugurates an extensive series of Homeric imitations that will occupy much of cantos 18 and 19. The progression and tension among these imitations have striking intertextual and metaliterary implications for Tasso's poem and its representation of authorship.

Tasso's Nestor figure, the aged Raimondo, renowned for his aptitude at tactical deception (bellico frodo, GL 3.62.5), suggests that a spy be sent to discover the Egyptian plan of attack (GL 18.49ff.). Tancredi nominates his squire, a brave, cautious, polyglot master of disguise named Vafrino, for the mission.

                    Venne colui, chiamato; e poi ch'intese
ciò che Goffredo e ‘l suo signor desia,
alzò ridendo il volto ed intraprese
la cura e disse:—Or mi pongo in via.

(GL 18.58)

(He came when summoned; and when he understood what Godfrey and his master wanted, he lifted up his countenance, smiling, and undertook the charge, and said: “Already I am on my way.”)

Why does Vafrino smile? The ironic smiles of Rinaldo notwithstanding, the Liberata has until this moment excluded comedy.2


Perhaps Vafrino smiles because he is a virtuoso trickster. His smile may also signal Tasso's own self-congratulatory confidence, for he entrusts to Vafrino a long Homeric imitatio in which Tancredi's squire rivals two of Odysseus's trickiest adventures. Vafrino's very name embodies Tasso's challenge to Homer, for it declares him the quintessential trickster: it is the diminutive of vafro, the Italianized form of Latin vafer, which denotes the subtlety, craftiness, and cunning of the trickster.3 Tasso scholars have traditionally read Vafrino intertextually, interpreting his name as a riposte to Trissino's Doletto, a treacherous valet in Italia liberata dai Goti. But as their names indicate, both Doletto and Vafrino are modeled on Homer's Dolon, a Trojan spy who appears in book 10 of the Iliad, which is traditionally called the Doloneia. Dolon's name is an allegorical substantive reflecting the Greek dolos or “trick” and its adjectival form dolios; Trissino's Doletto flaunts a name based on dolus, the Latin cognate of dolos, while Vafrino enacts the broader and more suggestive vafer. Tasso's plot eliminates Trissino from the three-way rivalry, however, for Vafrino more resembles Dolon than either resembles Doletto.4

Tasso's challenge to Homer is itself tricky. Although Vafrino is almost magically adept at espionage, Dolon was a failed spy who never penetrated the Greek camp. Odysseus, who was engaged on a symmetrically identical mission for the Greek side, immediately detected Dolon, captured him, tricked him into revealing the layout of the Trojan encampment by implicitly promising to release him, and then allowed Diomedes to kill him. As Jenny Strauss Clay observes, Dolon's allegorical name foregrounds his role as foil to Odysseus: “It is ironically appropriate that Odysseus, the man of doloi par excellence, should be pitted against an opponent named Dolon. … In short, the trickster, Dolon, is outtricked.” This irony was not lost on Euripides, or whoever rewrote the Doloneia in the tragedy Rhesus.5 Subsequent plot developments in the Liberata confirm Vafrino's enactment of Odyssean cunning rather than the failed doloi of Dolon. Thanks to Vafrino's espionage, the Egyptian Ormondo, charged with infiltrating the Christian army and assassinating Goffredo, is recognized and killed before he can act.6

The notion that Odysseus is the consummate dolon of the Doloneia was ratified already in the Odyssey. “I am Odysseus son of Laertes, known before all men / for the study of crafty designs, and my fame goes up to the heavens.”7 Virgil also identified Odysseus with dolus or fraudulent cunning, in Laocoön's famous warning about Greeks bearing gifts, and Ovid and other Latin authors followed suit.8 Tasso's choice of the name Vafrino to designate an epigone of Odysseus is singularly appropriate, for sixteenth-century humanists made vafer Odysseus's characteristic epithet: Ravisius Textor called him callidus et vafer, Robert Estienne vafer consilio, Josse Bade Graecorum omnium vaferrimus, and Erasmus callidus, astutus, et vafer.9 When Tasso wrote Gerusalemme conquistata, he tacitly admitted the relation between his trickster and the Homeric Odysseus by turning Vafrino's exploits into a slavish imitation of the Doloneia, complete with a hapless Dolon-figure for Vafrino to kill during his mission.10


Homer amplifies the defeat of Dolon by making him a shameless boaster. Vafrino courts disaster by inflating Dolon's vaunts, and declaring that he will discover the most intimate thoughts of the enemy leader. Yet despite the hyperbole, Vafrino succeeds fully, and learns every detail of the enemy plan. Tasso's Homeric trickster lore thus signals the reader that, like the providential carrier-pigeon, Vafrino bears knowledge more characteristic of a god or an author than of an ordinary character or actant. Indeed, Fredi Chiappelli observed that Vafrino lays claim to insight in phraseology that recalls God's omniscient glance into the souls of the crusaders:

“Quanta e qual sia quell'oste, e ciò che pensi
il duce loro, a voi ridir prometto:
vantomi in lui scoprir gli intimi sensi
e i secreti pensier tragli del petto.”(11)

(“I promise to tell you how many is that host, and of what quality, and what their captain is thinking; I make it my boast to discover his inmost feelings and to extract from his breast his secret thoughts.”)

Vafrino's explicit claim to quasi-authorial omniscience and the Homeric intertext of his role are reminiscent of Odysseus's prowess as storyteller, including his friendly rivalry with Alkinoös's bard Demodokos. But Tasso will reinforce the metaliterary aspect of Vafrino's exploits by a continual series of references to cloth, clothing, and weaving. These references prepare for the intricate “tissue” of puns and other allusions to the etymological identity of texts and textiles that Tasso weaves when, with the help of Erminia, Vafrino learns the full extent of the Egyptian plans. Textile allusions begin the moment Vafrino is introduced, with a play on tendere:

                    Venne colui, chiamato; e poi ch'intese
ciò che Goffredo e ‘l suo signor desia,
alzò ridendo il volto ed intraprese
la cura e disse:—Or mi pongo in via.
Tosto sarò dove quel campo tese
le tende avrà, non conosciuta spia.

(GL 18.58.1-6; emphasis added)

(He came when summoned; and when he understood what Godfrey and his master wanted, he lifted up his countenance, smiling, and undertook the charge, and said: “Already I am on my way. Soon I shall be where that camp will have spread its tents, a spy unrecognized.”)

Vafrino's smile is perhaps our signal to enjoy the exhilarating convergence of plot, intertext, and metaliterary allusion.

The textile references intensify and become explicitly metaliterary at the moment Vafrino begins to make good his boast of stealing the Egyptian general's inmost thoughts:

                    Di qua di là sollecito s'aggira
per le vie, per le piazze e per le tende.
I guerrier, i destrier, l'arme rimira,
l'arti e gli ordini osserva e i nomi apprende.
Né di ciò pago, a maggior cose aspira:
spia gli occulti disegni e parte intende.
Tanto s'avolge, e così destro e piano,
ch'adito s'apre al padiglion soprano.
                    Vede, mirando qui, sdruscita tela,
ond'ha varco la voce, onde si scerne,
che là proprio risponde ove son de la
stanza regal le ritirate interne,
sì che i secreti del signor mal cela
ad uom ch'ascolti da le parti esterne.
Vafrin vi guata e par ch'ad altro intenda,
come sia cura sua conciar la tenda.

(GL 19.60-61)

Hither and thither he wanders observantly among the streets, the parade grounds and the tents. He watches the soldiers, the horses, the weaponry, observes their disciplines and formations, and learns the names of things. Not satisfied with that, he aspires to greater things: he spies out their hidden designs and partially [understands] them. He so insinuates himself, and is so dexterous and smooth, that an entrance is opened to the chief pavilion.

Looking about him here, he sees a torn canvas from whence a voice is issuing by which he can make out that right there are the inner retreats of the royal chamber, so that the master's secrets are ill concealed from a man who might be listening from the outside. Vafrine pries about there, and appears to be intent on something else, as if it were his business to mend the tent.

Tasso evokes a figurative sense of the term tela (fabric), which in his time related weaving to plots and conspiracies.12 Vafrino's voyeuristic gesture complements and glosses the written message borne by the carrier pigeon, but his peering and listening through the rift in a textile are already explicitly textual and authorial, as the lexical recalls of his initial boast imply. He is an inscribed poet figure whose metaliterary function is precisely to “conciar la tenda,” to discover and eliminate those gaps in tessitura that threaten the desired outcome of Tasso's testo.13 Like the letter-bearing bird, he is a providential figure whose actions are determined by authorial foresight into plot, rather than by stylistic embellishment or chance. The phrase “conciare la tenda” actually echoes the so-called lettere poetiche Tasso wrote to his committee of revisors: there, conciare and its derivatives are his preferred terminology for emendations of all sorts made to the text of his poem.14


Vafrino represents the point where all the valences of trickery converge with all the valences of authorship. He is an inscribed surrogate author or “stage manager,” whose function is to ensure the desirable unfolding of the plot. Northrop Frye named this function architectus, recalling the tricky slave in Plautus who functions as a master builder of deceit or architecton doli.15 The Egyptian plot to assassinate Goffredo will be carried out by means of textile disguise, with counterfeit uniforms and insignia that should render the assassins indistinguishable from Goffredo's own guard; thus, Vafrino's consummate, author-like deceitfulness provides the only solution to the breakdown of plot expectations threatened by the disruption of heraldic signs.

The metaliterary character of Vafrino's role is further inscribed as parody, both intertextually, in his emulation of Odysseus, and intratextually as well, when he mimics the coarse rivalry of Armida's suitors Tisaferno and Adrasto (GL 19.67ff.). The first requirement of both parody and espionage is self-effacement, an extreme mobility or instability of identity. Vafrino's task is all the easier since Tasso postulates no stable, independent identity for him, and recounts nothing about him except his service to Tancredi. Like Odysseus, Vafrino is a “Nobody” because he can be anybody, “an Egyptian from Memphis or a Phoenician from Tyre” (GL 18.60). Odysseus's claim to be No-Man is a pun (outis/mêtis) that “associates the abandonment of heroic identity with the guile” or mêtis, a precondition of dolos, that characterizes Odysseus.16 If Vafrino the arch-parodist is an avatar of Odysseus, Odysseus's own ability to change radically is thematically guaranteed in the Odyssey by the figure of Proteus. Homer refers to Proteus's shape-changing skill as “tricky,” and this trickiness is emblematic of those qualities the Odyssey valorizes, and which Odysseus most fully enacts by withholding his identity and by continually assuming new ones.17 By assimilating him to Odysseus, Tasso makes Vafrino fulfill the Protean freedom from properties and propriety that the elder Pico attributes to the ideal man (Pico 106).

Vafrino's Odyssean changeability enhances his air of a poet: in the Odyssey (11.363-66) and in Plato's Republic the reprehensible poet possesses all the mimetic powers of the consummate trickster. The “bad” Platonic poet is a virtuoso mime, a trickster who can imitate anything and anyone because he displays (and perhaps has) no essence or identity of his own.18 As actor or mime, the trickster further emphasizes the theatricality or contrivedness of the metaliterary dimension he oversees. In these roles as poet and actor, the trickster represents the author as archetype of the magician, a master of illusion and, possibly, of reality itself; one thinks of Bruno and Buffalmacco in the Decameron, of the fictionalized Brunelleschi (a literal architect) in the Novella del Grasso legnaiuolo. Norman O. Brown traced these implications to the Homeric world, showing that “the word [dolos], which in the classical period meant trickery, in archaic Greek carries implications of magic.”19 Certainly there is a shamanistic dimension to the Doloneia, where the animal-skin costumes of the actors bestow or symbolize paranormal and non-human attributes (Clay 118). Thus it is fully appropriate for Vafrino to ride a horse reminiscent of Rabicano, the magical steed who, in Boiardo and Ariosto, was so swift that he left no footprints in the sand.20


An intertextual reading of Vafrino invites further conclusions about Tasso's reading and appropriation of Homer, his representation of authorship, and thence about intentionality within the Liberata.21 If Tasso's trickster behaves like an author, the author himself performs doloi—especially thefts—worthy of Odysseus himself. Like Odysseus or a comedic tricky slave, Tasso becomes a consummate bricoleur, constructing his plots (storylines and conspiracies) from materials “found” and appropriated.

Yet the homologies traced between Vafrino and his author are themselves deceptive so long as they do not account for the presence of Erminia. When the narrating voice abandoned Erminia in canto 7, she was an apprentice poet, inscribing her woes on a forest of trees. Though she was locked in a Petrarchan circuit of celebratory self-pity at that time, she returns in canto 19 as a paradigm of authority and authoriality.22 She sees through the disguise of Vafrino, recognizes him, and barters the information he needs in exchange for another chance to attract Tancredi's notice. Henceforth, Vafrino's mastery and control of Erminia is only apparent, and his occultation of her vital contribution to his intelligence gathering is perhaps only an extension of the secrecy she demands as she attends privately to Tancredi.23 There is a strong sense in which Erminia hijacks Vafrino, for she both defeats him in his role as Odyssean military spy, and then restores that role. To do this, she recasts him as a parodic Odysseus, a trickster valet straight out of Renaissance commedia erudita.

Because he is Odyssean and Protean, Vafrino is a compulsive mimic, and Erminia exploits his one moment of excess. When his attempts to learn the crucial details of the Egyptian assassination plot have been momentarily thwarted, his response is hypermimetic: hoping to learn something from the donzelle surrounding Armida, he parodies, “quasi per gioco” (“as if in jest”) the fanfaronades of Adrasto and Tisaferno: “Anch'io / vorrei d'alcuna bella esser campione” (“I too would like to be the champion of some beauty,” GL 19.78). In so doing, he slides into a form of self-parody, but also, like a stage valet in Renaissance comedy, he becomes a parodic Odysseus. The fact that Vafrino's actions have previously retraced those of dolios Odysseus is already a prime qualification for comedic role-play, since tricky slaves in ancient comedy prided themselves on being dolosi and often compared themselves explicitly to “wily Odysseus.”24 Moreover, it was common in Tasso's time to identify the Odyssey as the archetype of comedic plot, as Erasmus did in his adage Ilias malorum: “the learned opine that the plots of tragedies were taken from the Iliad, just as those of comedies were taken from the Odyssey.25

The burlesque of noble courtship is a characteristic routine of the comedic aspiring Odysseus. When Vafrino mimics Tisaferno and Adrasto's courtship of Armida, he enacts a stock scenario much like that in Ariosto's Lena, where the vafro Corbolo makes obscene advances to the eponymous procuress while mediating his master's courtship of the timid heroine. Likewise, in Intrichi d'amore, the one comedy attributed to Tasso, the valet Magagna's lewd engagement to the procuress Bianchetta parodically consummates a vertiginous outbreak of decorous betrothals that has engulfed all but two of the nobler characters. As parodist and eiron, the comedic vafro performs a fundamentally metaliterary function, because hypermimesis is a form of infinite regression: Ariosto's Corbolo openly compares himself to the servi callidi of Roman comedy, but it was already a commonplace for those same Roman stage servants to compare themselves to stage servants.26

Vafrino's moment of mimetic excess destroys his invisibility by giving him a stereotypical theatricality and casting him in a generically recognizable role. The comedic convention is troped as character or personality when Vafrino lowers his guard and smiles a second time, and the gesture reveals his identity to Erminia.27 Erminia is a connoisseur of disguise and convention, and this talent makes her the consummate author surrogate of the Liberata. She steals the scene from Vafrino by appropriating the terms he has offered, not to her, but to another donzella (GL 19.77-79), and claiming him as her champion. But no sooner has she hijacked Vafrino's comedic scene than she replaces him firmly within his more heroic Odyssean role. In so doing, she appropriates a still more powerful role for herself, a role for which the poem has long prepared her. When she declares “Riconosciuto / ho te, Vafrin: e tu me conoscer déi” (“I have recognized you, Vafrine; you ought to know me,” GL 19.80), she reenacts the exploit of the only Homeric character who ever claimed to have penetrated Odysseus's disguises. In book 4 of the Odyssey, Helen recounts how Odysseus infiltrated Troy shortly before its fall:

He flagellated himself with degrading strokes, then threw on a worthless sheet about his shoulders. He looked like a servant. So he crept into the wide-wayed city of the men he was fighting, disguising himself in the likeness of somebody else, a beggar, one who was unlike himself

                                                                                                                                                      … and they all

were taken in. I alone recognized him even in this form, and I questioned him.

(Odyssey 4.243-51)

In fact, Erminia outdoes her Homeric model. Helen confessed that Odysseus “in his craftiness eluded me” and succeeded at his mission: she relates that “after striking many Trojans down with the thin bronze / edge, he went back to the Argives and brought back much information.28

The more thoroughly Vafrino retreats into his Odyssean role, the more completely Erminia defeats him. He vainly attempts Odysseus's most characteristic trick, by telling Erminia the sort of fictional autobiography that Homeric scholars call a Cretan tale (e.g., Clay 124-26). Yet Erminia wins the bluffing match and constrains Vafrino to take her with him. Henceforth Vafrino must play a double role: his price for displaying Odyssean military cunning is to serve Erminia as a comedic tricky valet, mediating the erotic reunion of a feckless hero and a beautiful innamorata. By rewriting Vafrino's role as comedy, Erminia quite literally steals the show. In fact, she steals Vafrino himself: if not from the epic plot, then from his exclusive allegiance to epic roles and to Tancredi. She reveals that Vafrino was once her loyal confidant; even now he owes himself her fedele, and henceforth, he is as much her valet as Tancredi's squire (GL 19.96, 90). Her interactions with Vafrino lock the two of them and Tancredi into something resembling what Louise George Clubb (6-14) calls a theatergram, a stereotyped configuration of actantial roles and vectors of plot.


In the space between Vafrino's two smiles, Tasso's poem modulates from the revelation of God's providence, with all its epic and tragic implications, to comedy, the art form that celebrates purely human providence in all its gritty amorality. Erminia's shift from fecklessness to enterprise resembles nothing so much as the career of certain heroines in Renaissance comedy, for all of whom Lelia of Gl'ingannati may stand as archetype. Lelia disguises herself as a boy and becomes her beloved's valet, in order to maximize her control over the plotting—as both storyline and conspiracy—of her own career as innamorata. From this condensation of two originally separate roles emerges a new character stereotype of the vafra, who mediates her own love affairs under an assumed male identity. Erminia declares herself incapable of fraud (GL 19.89), but this declaration only applies to her epic role as the enslaved seamstress forced to create the disguises of Goffredo's would-be assassins. In fact, she has long been a vafra (however incompetent) in love. She described her first attempt to rejoin Tancredi (while disguised as Clorinda the male impersonator) as an “innocent fraud” inspired by Love and overseen by Fortune, and this conjunction of forces is the arch-paradigm of Renaissance comedy.29 Once Erminia appropriates Vafrino, she is able to repudiate her role as incompetent vafra (errante ancella, wandering maiden, GL 19.101), while maintaining its manipulative advantages.

This play with comedic stereotypes, far more than characterological considerations, stimulates those readers who have debated the vexata quaestio whether Tancredi will ever repay Erminia's love.30 Renaissance comedy is notably indifferent to characterological individuation, and so to the extent that Erminia's story follows theatrical plot paradigms, one might plausibly forecast her eventual success. Indeed, if Erminia's future with Tancredi can be discussed at all, it is only in terms of such paradigms, not in terms of characterization. One might equally well forecast Erminia's success by reading Tancredi from the standpoint of his place in the situations that Erminia and Vafrino construct. To return to the example of Gl'ingannati, Lelia's perseverance does not so much inspire love in her beloved as provoke an almost rational conversion. From the perspective of Renaissance comedy, one could predict a similar conversion on Tancredi's part. Reading backward in light of comedic conventions, one might even interpret Vafrino as a projection or emanation of Tancredi, since Tancredi sends him on the mission that “fortuitously” recovers Erminia. Leo Salingar remarks that the vafro of Roman New Comedy “is no more than an instrument. He is set to solve a problem for someone else.”31 Hence, like Tancredi's earlier pursuit of Erminia when she was disguised in the armor of Clorinda, his volunteering of Vafrino's services in the epic cause could be read tendentiously as Tancredi's unconscious search for Erminia. Vafrino, whose name reveals him as an antonomasia, personifies just the craftiness and heat that the inert, melancholy Tancredi lacks.32 At the same time, Vafrino's mission is the symmetrically reversed, successful repetition of Erminia's earlier attempt at reunion: whereas she knowingly sent her own squire to infiltrate the Christian camp and find Tancredi,33 the latter unwittingly sends Vafrino to infiltrate the camp where Erminia resides. At any rate, Erminia's unmasking and appropriation of Vafrino, her first appearance in the poem since the contretemps precipitated by her own unsuccessful disguise, gives her a control over Tancredi that succeeds precisely—and only—to the extent that it resembles comedic paradigms of erotic reunion.

Thus, the question of Erminia's “destiny” is best posed in terms of a tension between plot conventions or paradigms and mimetic effects or characterization. The expectations of a “happy ending” provoked by intradiegetic symmetries and the typically comedic patterns of love intrigue counterpose the sheer amount of space and speech devoted to Tancredi's obsession with Clorinda. Other typically theatrical elements, like the doubling of Erminia and Clorinda, or the cryptosexual rivalry of Tancredi and Argante, could be invoked on the side of a “happy ending,” yet without resolving the tension. No recourse to character psychology or Tasso's declared intentions for the poem can decide the question either way.34


What remains after such debate is the sheer textuality of Erminia's return to prominence. In theatrical comedy, the doloi or tricks of the crafty servant figure the doloi of the author's solutions to a narrative impasse. Indeed, Northrop Frye (173-74) proposed the theatrical crafty servant as the quintessential architectus or surrogate author. But while Vafrino begins his career as the architectus of “Tasso,” the implicit author or narrating voice of an epic poem, within the text he is subordinated to the unmistakably authorial powers of Erminia. She, too, is an architecta, but it is not at all clear that she is “Tasso's” architecta. Although “the author” exploits her desire for erotic reunion in order to advance the epic plot, it is Erminia who transforms Vafrino into a comedic go-between. Despite her appearance of meekness and timidity, it is Erminia's resistance that makes her interesting to readers, and some of that resistance is directed at “Tasso,” her author.

Erminia's ambivalent relation to authorship is inherent in the thoroughness with which she imitates Helen of Troy. In terms of overt ideologies, both Helen and Erminia are the consummate outsiders; as character, each is an “enemy” wherever she goes, having chosen an allegiance to which she was not born. Indeed, Erminia's name seems to hint at her solitude and isolation.35 But this otherness and isolation is precisely the sign of the author, and both Helen and Erminia rival their authors at a very basic textual level. While her emulation of Helen in the unmasking of Vafrino has escaped notice, many critics have recognized that the poem introduces her through an imitation of Helen's teichoskopia, the scene in book 3 of the Iliad where Helen stands on the walls of Troy and identifies the leaders of the Achaean army for Priam.36 In each heroine's teichoskopia, her voice alternates with that of the poet in such a fashion that by instructing her adoptive king she prefigures—rather than repeating—the author's instruction of his reader or listener.37

In both cases, the heroine assumes authorial powers by taking over the function of herald, the inscribed connoisseur of heroic identity and prowess. As Norman O. Brown observes, the herald was “the ceremonial expert in the rituals that center around the royal palace,” and hence, aside from a bard or other singer, the inscribed figure most available to stand in for the Homeric poet. As much as any poet, the archaic herald depended upon his exact knowledge of the identities and prerogatives of warriors in order to maintain ceremonial order.38 Because he was porte-parole and mediator of differences, the archaic herald was also the archetypal trickster figure, as Odysseus demonstrates. In Iliad 2 he appropriates the role of herald and functions as both trickster (intradiegetically, “in the story”) and architectus (at the metaliterary level). He prevents the Achaeans' desertion by taking Agamemnon's scepter (the herald's badge of office), marshaling the army back to assembly, and defeating the eloquent demagogue Thersites. Dolon, the eponymous victim of Odysseus's craftiness in the Iliad, is also introduced as the only son of a herald.39 Helen's role as inscribed poet in Iliad 3 depends on the thematic continuum bard/herald/trickster even more than does Odysseus's role in the previous book of the poem, a feat that jibes with her status as the one Homeric character capable of besting Odysseus's trickiness.40 Erminia's imitation of that feat leads to a far more explicit victory over Vafrino, Tasso's anointed architectus, than Helen achieved over Odysseus.


Like Vafrino, Erminia demonstrates her relation to authority and authorship through her manipulation of textiles. Although Tasso's allusive exploration of textile textuality begins when Vafrino first boasts of his powers, the allusions do not become explicit until Erminia reveals the true extent of the Egyptian conspiracy, when she “unfolds a tissue of deceit.”

… ei le disse:—Or di' come a la vita
del pio Goffredo altri l'insidie tende.—
Allor colei [Erminia] de la congiura ordita
l'iniqua tela a lui [Vafrino] dispiega e stende.(41)

(He said to her: “Now tell how this man is spreading his [snares] for the life of worthy Godfrey.” Then she unfolds and ravels out for him the wicked web of the planned conspiracy.)

The renewed pun on tela (textile and conspiracy) finally ratifies the textuality of Vafrino's exploits—but only by subordinating him to Erminia, who guards her most important revelations until he has removed her from the Egyptian camp.

Erminia is Tasso's most explicit poet figure, as well as his most powerful, because she so thoroughly imitates Helen. Helen is Homer's arch-weaver, and this skill makes her perhaps the consummate poet figure among all Homeric mortals: she is introduced in the Iliad as weaver and narrator even before she speaks as herald. When Iris arrives to summon her to the ramparts for her teichoskopia, Helen is already weaving a tapestry depicting the Trojan War, and exploiting her privileged information to memorialize the struggle for possession of herself (Iliad 3.121-28). Her knowledge of the besieging troops is thus both authoritative and authorial. When Tasso rewrote canto 3 of the Liberata as canto 7 of the Conquistata [GC], he tacitly admitted how closely Erminia imitates the authorial functions Helen possesses in Iliad 3. When Erminia (now recast as “Nicea”) is called to the ramparts,

… la trovâr che doppia e larga tela
d'aureo e serico stame ella tessea.
Subito a quel chiamar si veste e vela,
qual ninfa in vista, o qual terrena dèa,
lasciando l'opre in cui le guerre antiche
e de' turchi ha conteste aspre fatiche.

(GC 7.36.3-8)

(They found her weaving a double and wide web of gold and silken threads. At their call she dresses and veils herself quickly, looking like some nymph or terrestrial goddess; and she leaves the works in which she has interwoven the ancient wars with the harsh travails of the Turks.)

Tasso clinches the dependence of Erminia/Nicea on Helen in the “contextual” (con-tessere) parallel between “ancient wars” and those of the modern Turks. Nicea's project is “double” because it is intertextual: she is weaving Helen's story as well as her own.42 The Conquistata's descent into slavishness in this passage indicates just how thoroughly Erminia already imitated Helen as arch-architecta and arch-textrix in the Liberata.43 Moreover, the Conquistata inscribes and prefigures its own intertextuality in a textile “pre-text” that mimics Helen's woven narrative of the Trojan War. A wondrous tent, woven by a “maestro accorto” (“skillful master”) ekphrastically relates the antefatti of the tale that Tasso's narrator will recount.44 Tasso's emphasis on male authorship here is highly problematic: because he attributes a Helenesque textile narrative to a male maestro, Helen's residual presence constantly menaces the integrity of Tasso's authorial voice.

This female threat is substantial. Within the Homeric paradigm to which Tasso adheres, women are weavers, and this skill is related to their one means of self-defense, verbal deviousness or dolos.45 But it also figures their status as artists, as mistresses (or masters!) of techné. In Homer, even Penelope (the more obvious characterological prototype of Erminia) is tricky, and expresses her trickiness precisely through her artistic prowess, by weaving and unweaving the supposed shroud of her father-in-law. As feminist critics point out, Homer's Penelope is not the passive prize of patriarchal cliché. She takes an active role in reconstituting her marriage, and the shroud of Laertes, the putative, but absent and impotent master of her household, figures her tenuous but tenacious control over that “unraveling” household. As Penelope tells the disguised Odysseus, “These men try to hasten the marriage. I weave my own wiles.”46 And indeed she was always “tricky” and prized on account of it—the Odyssey implies that her trickiness makes her worthy of Odysseus, and her personal manservant, whom she brought from her father's home to Odysseus's, is allegorically named Dolios.47

Helen's weaving is even more intimately “enmeshed” with her story than Penelope's. The conventionally feminine and inherently tricky or technical act of weaving empowers Helen to appropriate the male-gendered function of herald during her teichoskopia or view from the walls of Troy, thus prefiguring and rivaling the Homeric narrator. All these roles Helen bequeathes to Erminia. Erminia's first task in Tasso's poem is mimicking Helen's appropriation of heraldic and bardic knowledge. As in the Iliad, this use of the displaced female ostensibly serves the epic plot by describing the heroes of “our side” as they appear to the enemy. Yet Erminia's task as herald is even more showily textual than Helen's; in order to identify the armored Christian knights for Aladino and the reader, she must decode their heraldic signs to recall their physical characteristics (GL 3.17.7-8, 37.5ff., 58.5ff.). The more emphatic textuality of Erminia's heraldic moment presages her trickier and more rebellious authorial future, beginning with her “double-cross” of Emireno, when he forces her to design the assassins' fake crusader insignia (GL 19.87-89), and ending with her appropriation of Vafrino.

The fact that heraldic and bardic lore was conventionally reserved for males accounts for the transgressive impression both heroines create, whether ethically as “characters,” or narratologically as actants who momentarily step outside the plot and rival the narrator. But Erminia is more actively transgressive. Her desire for reunion and matrimony with Tancredi threatens to subvert her utility as architecta or authorial problem-solver in the Liberata, both because she mimics Helen's appropriation of authorial functions, and even more because she redefines Vafrino's roles in her pursuit of a happy ending.


Erminia's entire actantial career, rather than one or two scattered moments, is modeled on that of Helen. That systematic dependence is the ultimate though half-hidden cause of readers' fascination with the question whether Erminia will marry Tancredi. Most of her biographers have seen that Erminia was introduced through an imitation of Helen's teichoskopia, but none of them appears to have noticed that the imitation does not end when Erminia finishes identifying the Christian heroes for Aladino. Tasso resumes the imitation when Erminia observes the duel of Tancredi and Argante (GL 6.55.5ff.), so that after three intervening cantos the poem deepens the personal significance of her teichoskopia. In the Iliad, the public or epic significance of Helen's identification of the Achaean heroes is, from her point of view, incidental. She has a personal and erotic motivation for coming to the walls: to witness the duel between Menelaus and Paris, that is, between her legitimate husband and her paramour. Erminia does not fully recall this emotional context until her second teichoskopia, when she observes Tancredi and Argante's duel: her fearful solicitude for Tancredi's safety, and her dread of the religious and political obligation to use her healing arts on Argante rather than Tancredi, mimic and simplify Helen's ambivalent reactions to the duel of her two mates. Erminia's three entrances in Tasso's poem thus expand on Helen's entrances into the Iliad and the Odyssey, respectively: a teichoskopia that hypothesizes an erotic reunion, and an encounter with a trickster whom the heroine interprets as the ideal mediator for that reunion.

Furthermore, because Tasso combined Odysseus's two spying missions to stage the meeting of Erminia and Vafrino, he invites a closer scrutiny of the way Helen contests and revises the Iliadic value system. In her anecdote Helen completely disrupts Odysseus's Iliadic epic ethos by putting him in a situation that is militarily untenable. She claims that after recognizing and unmasking him, she bathed, anointed, and reclothed him before allowing him to continue his mission (Odyssey 4.252-58); yet such hospitality would have nullified his disguise and compromised both his mission and his safety. Whether or not one perceives her anecdote as a lie, it is absurd from the epic—that is, military—standpoint of the Iliad (Winkler 141).

Helen's words do not indicate that she misunderstands the military and strategic nature of Odysseus's task. Rather, her anecdote seems to address other needs that are uniquely hers. In the first place, it establishes her superior cunning and subtlety, for no other mortal claims to recognize Odysseus in disguise (Winkler 140-41). Secondly, Helen's interest in narrative—her own and others'—has one focus, that of the happy ending. In the Odyssey (4.259-64), Helen claims that when she met Odysseus in disguise, she was repentant and homesick.48 Not only is Helen's anecdote an anti-Iliad, her personality in the Odyssey is practically unrecognizable to a reader coming from the Iliad. She narrates her meeting with Odysseus from the perspective of a happy ending, for she is now once more ensconced in Menelaus's household, as his implausibly contented and esteemed wife. Seeing her in her own household, one might doubt whether the Trojan War had ever happened. Moreover, Helen is narrating to Telemachus, and thus her story functions both to congratulate herself for having recognized Telemachus's resemblance to Odysseus, and to reassure him against despairing of reunion with his father. Helen implicitly presents her anecdote of unmasking Odysseus as the foreshadowing of two happy endings, her own return to Menelaus's household, and Odysseus's homecoming to Ithaka.

Her viewpoint is infectious, of course: however silly her anecdote may be in Iliadic terms, it makes perfect sense in the context of her concern with happy endings, and the narrator of the Odyssey employs it to foreshadow the poem's own happy ending, its contestation of Iliadic tragedy. This is an effect of narratology, not of character: the Odyssey as a whole vindicates the themes of Helen's tale in the elementary narrative tension whereby her recognition, testing, and adorning of Odysseus in Troy prefigure Penelope's cagey though courtly response to him when he returns to Ithaka in disguise. Like the Odyssey as a whole, and indeed logically prior to it, Helen revindicates—against verisimilitude and her own character—the values of domesticity, return, and reconciliation against the epic and tragic ethos of separation and loss. Whether Helen actually bathed and primped Odysseus is beside the point, for her story redefines him. Against the whole weight of the Iliad, Helen makes Odysseus's homecoming humanly plausible for the first time in the Odyssey.

Tasso identifies the two heroines through episodic imitation despite their differences in character, for he is less interested in Helen's self-described inconstancy or Erminia's timidity than in their shared trickiness, and in the challenge their suggestive techné poses to the epic narrator. By derailing Vafrino's imitation of the Iliadic Doloneia and making him repeat Helen's domestication of Odysseus, Erminia performs a textual and generic revision similar to Helen's, but even more radical, since the Helen of the Odyssey never challenges its ethos, but only that of the Iliad. The discontinuities between the comedic and tragic Homeric subtexts of Vafrino's career seem to foreshadow the clash of mimetic and diegetic expectations that muddles the destiny of Tancredi and Erminia. Her happy ending is no more verisimilar than Helen's own, and Tasso's suspension of it may even be partially a reaction against the inverisimilitude of Helen's return to domestic contentment. And yet Erminia's mimetically implausible dream gives her considerable power over the narrative, to the point that she can contest the authority of the poet himself.


The idea of a “character” contesting the authority of the agent who writes her is absurd: Erminia is nothing more than the recurrent intersection of proper name, intertextual recall, and certain characteristic expressions of unfulfilled desire. Yet it will not do to maintain that all Erminia's powers within and over the text devolve upon her legitimately from the omnipotent hand of “Tasso” (or Tasso). Tasso's fascination with Helen in her function as Homer's dominant inscribed author-figure must have been considerable, for it seems clear that he modeled Erminia on Helen's consummate skill at authorial roles, as vafra, architecta, and textrix. Tasso's desire to be an author is in some sense a desire to appropriate and “tame” Helen, perhaps somehow to “redeem” her through the figure of Erminia. Thereby, he creates a new problem: how to redeem the function of poet (the Foucaultian author-function) from the competition Erminia represents. Erminia's preoccupations infiltrate and contaminate the very narrating voice of Gerusalemme liberata, in ways that are hidden and tricky.

Erminia's challenge begins from an absurdity. In mimetic or characterological terms, her imitation of Helen observing the duel of Menelaus and Paris makes no sense: Tancredi and Argante are emphatically not fighting for possession of Erminia in the way that Menelaus and Paris fought over Helen. But just as Helen did in her story of unmasking Odysseus, Erminia interprets her experience from a private and sentimental perspective, rather than a public, political, and epic viewpoint. From her point of view, the duel is over possession of her, and that interpretation infiltrates the narration of the poem even before the duel takes place. When Erminia identifies the Christian troops for Aladino in canto 3, the alternation of her voice with that of the narrator creates an elaborately elusive fugue that expands the erotic triangle of Iliad 3 (Paris/Helen/Menelaus) into a tetragon of desire, which explores the hypothetical pairings between Erminia, her alter ego Clorinda, Tancredi, and Argante. This figure is outlined by metonymy, through the sheer physical proximity of the four proper names, and is glossed by the asides of Erminia and the narrator. Later, in canto 6, Erminia acts out the script implied by these pairings, when she rejects her presumed duty to tend the wounds of Argante, dresses in the armor of Clorinda, seeks out Tancredi, and is mistaken by him for Clorinda. Henceforth, throughout the Liberata, the four personages' interactions lock them into a configuration of two interfacing relational triangles that repeats the allusive pairings of Erminia's teichoskopia. This schema of interactantial relations resembles the theatergram of love intrigues that typifies entwined double plots in tragedy and comedy.49

Our attention to these relations is determined entirely by the force of Erminia's desire, which is expressed textually through precise reenactments of Helen's preoccupation with reunion. Argante and Clorinda are inseparable, but they are no more “in love” than Tancredi and Argante were aware of dueling for the hand of Erminia. Their comradeship is readable as repressed or unacknowledged eros only within the tension of their relations to Erminia and Tancredi. Erminia's desire for him highlights and overdetermines vectors of expectation that are created by nothing more than shifting configurations of physical proximity among herself and the other three personages. This is particularly true of the situational symmetries between her search for Tancredi in cantos 6 and 7 and her encounter with Vafrino in canto 19, between Tancredi's nighttime pursuit of her in Clorinda's armor and his nocturnal duel with Clorinda (cantos 6, 7, and 12), and between the outcomes of Tancredi's duels with Clorinda and Argante (GL 12.70, 19.28). But Erminia's desires also inflect the presentation of Clorinda and Argante's habitual companionship, particularly in canto 12, when they reenact the exploits of the Virgilian lovers Nisus and Euryalus. The result is that Erminia's desire diffuses throughout the text, becoming what I have elsewhere called a “desire of the text.”50

In characterological terms, Erminia is an unlikely Helen figure. But Tasso was clearly less interested in Helen's self-confessed inconstancy than in her trickiness, which the Homeric texts present as authorial and authoritative roles: vafra, architecta, textrix. In fact, Tasso's imitative agon with Homer takes place largely through the attempt to appropriate and tame Helen in the figure of Erminia. Yet Erminia is no more tractable with her author than with Tancredi or Vafrino. Her craft makes her the single most valuable architecta for the epic plot, but she exacts a price, for the force of her desire permeates the Tassian narrator's choreography of Tancredi, Clorinda, and Argante. Her command “prepara il guiderdone” (“make ready the fee,” GL 19.114) appears directed at him as well as at Tancredi. By refusing to grant that guiderdone explicitly, the narrator reluctantly acknowledges Erminia's problematic power over the text, and attempts to circumvent it.

In fact, much of the Tassian poet's attempt to constitute his own poetic authority takes place through rivalry with Erminia, as though she were a predecessor poet, rather than his own creation. That paradoxical rivalry derives from the thoroughness with which Erminia emulates and outdoes the figure of Helen. The Tassian poet presents himself as an epigone of Erminia and Helen in the very exordium of the poem by claiming the role of textor, begging his muse's pardon for weaving ornaments into the epic truth of his tale (GL 1.2). A stanza later, he presents himself as a Lucretian trickster-physician of souls, masking bitter medicine with sweet syrups.51 The narrator's chosen roles as poet and physician are conspicuously combined within the plot by Goffredo's medic Erotimo, whose allegorical name suggests the ideal balance between Amore (eros) and Onore (timé) that both Erminia and the Tassian narrator seek. Yet Erotimo fails at both roles: having abandoned poetry for medicine, he stands by impotently as an angel heals Goffredo. Conversely, Erminia succeeds in her role as medica by becoming a poet when, lacking precisely the herb the angel brought to Erotimo, she restores Tancredi to life with nothing but the note potenti e maghe of her song.52 This is Erminia's final homage and challenge to Helen as poet physician: before narrating her encounter with Odysseus, Helen mixed a literal potion to counteract the heartache her tale might cause her husband and guests.53 At the same time, Erminia's song is a potent challenge to the Lucretian ideal of the Tassian poet, for it both revives and appropriates Tancredi. Her command of silence and promise of enlightenment carry an authority that the Tassian narrator never reserves for himself. And she fulfills his ideal of an innocent fraud, a good fraud that gives salute: da l'inganno suo vita riceve (GL 6.88; 19.114; 1.3: “from his deception [he] receives life”).

Erminia is Tasso's most powerful poet figure, and her unruly presence is a challenge the poet himself cannot entirely overcome. Tasso's other Homeric poet figures are less problematic. Even Armida can be defeated by textual means: her Circean skills at metamorphosis, weaving frauds, and magical carmi are neutralized by a long modulation that exploits the Petrarchan common term between “pagan” love magic and the Christian ideal of Mary as perfectly submissive female, or ancella (Stephens, “St. Paul,” 193-99). But Erminia's challenge remains, and the poet's refusal to end her story is an act of resistance rather than mastery. As I noted earlier, Erminia's authoritative return in canto 19 was preceded by an apprenticeship as solitary Petrarchan lyricist in canto 7. Petrarchism was one of a few acceptable outlets for female poetic aspiration in Tasso's time, but it was also the authoritative paradigm for self-construction through poetry. The poet himself is a reconstructed Petrarchan, as countless echoes and verbatim quotes attest in the Liberata. Erminia is the author's principal competitor, and the text's very refusal to grant her an explicit “happy ending” is an ironic index of the thoroughness with which she exercises the powers and prerogatives proper to her author. His domestication of Armida is sudden enough to disturb many readers, but he can only tame Erminia, if at all, by accepting the terms that she dictates.

Tasso's challenge to Homer is in large measure a project to dominate the figure of Helen, but the project can never completely succeed, precisely because Erminia successfully challenges Helen as inscribed author. The cunning with which Tasso camouflages Erminia's dependence on Helen, eliding Helen's personality while maintaining her metaliterary trickiness, backfires by making Erminia an even more deceptive Helen. Erminia's plangent rhetoric of helplessness disguises her actantial resemblance to Helen and captures the romantic imagination of readers, and so it masks the force with which intertextual dynamics actually determine our forecast of her erotic “destiny.” Erminia's quietly defiant appropriation of her beloved is perhaps a figure for her theft of the whole Tassian “show,” and for the thoroughness with which she insinuates comedic paradigms into the epic.


  1. Gerusalemme liberata, ed. Caretti 18.53 (henceforth cited as GL). Translations of GL by Nash, with occasional modifications in square brackets. Other translations my own unless otherwise attributed.

  2. Compare GL 5.12.4 and 5.42.1.

  3. The word vafer seems to appear in Latin only as an adjective. But the substantive vafro did appear in Italian in Tasso's lifetime. Louise George Clubb has drawn my attention to Decio Grisignano, Il vafro: commedia. Rappresentata in Salerno con generale applauso (Venice: Giacomo Vincenci, 1585). I have not yet had access to the text.

  4. Homer, Iliad, book 10 entire, esp. ll. 299-464. Even more than Homer's Dolon, Trissino's Doletto is a thoroughly negative personage (bk. 22). See 3.119ff. in the edition of London, 1779, esp. 3.125: “Doletto, or ti bisogna oprar l'ingegno” (“Doletto, now you must use your wits”). Editors of Tasso also like to compare Vafrino to Boiardo's trickster Brunello, but this personage differs in function and “character” (or ethical tone) both from Vafrino and from Dolon (Caretti, quoting Ferrari, at GL 18.57.3; Guglielminetti [533] demurs).

  5. Clay 117; see the irony in Rhesus where Hector exclaims, “You are well named, my crafty Dolon” (Euripedes 4.14).

  6. GL 19.62-65, 86-88; 20.44-46.

  7. Odyssey 9.19-20; see Segal 131-32; Pucci 185-87.

  8. “[U]lla putatis dona carere dolis Danaum? Sic notus Ulixes?” (Æneid 2.43-44); cf. Metamorphoses 13.1-398.

  9. Defaux ch. 3, esp. pp. 59, 60, 66, 67, 132, 159 n. 20, 162 n. 44, 162-63 n. 46.

  10. Gerusalemme conquistata 16.67-87 (henceforth GC).

  11. GL 18.59.1-4; emphasis added. See Chiappelli's note, p. 740.

  12. E.g., Bruno 142: “ordir qualche tela verso di Bonifacio” (“to weave some web to catch Bonifacio”). See also Tommaseo/Bellini 6:50.

  13. In Discorsi del poema eroico (Scritti 222), Tasso refers to the favola or plot as testura. For analogous uses of tessere and its derivatives, see Scritti 6, 28, 186, 187, 212, 222, 226, 228. See also tessuto, tessere, tessitura, testura, tela, tramare, ordire, intreccio, intrecciare, in Tommaseo/Bellini, as likewise, the pair intrico/intrigo (intricare/intrigare), where the former is to be construed literally, and the latter figuratively.

  14. See especially the noun conciere (e.g., Tasso, Lettere 1.78).

  15. On the dolon as architectus in comedy, see Frye 173, 174, 197. Plautus's Palaestrio in Miles Gloriosus is referred to as architectus by another servant (246). See also Salingar 118. The best treatment of tricksters in classical and Renaissance comedy is Salingar, chs. 3-5 (pp. 76-242). Also of interest is Beecher.

  16. Odyssey 9.366-67, 401-14. See Segal 138; Pucci 183n.; Winkler 144-45.

  17. Brown 19. See also Salingar 94 (on shape-changing), 112 (trickster as shape-changer and “go-between in several senses”). Pucci remarks (86-87) that disguise is Odysseus, since he is always in it.

  18. GL 18.57.2-60.8; Stephens, “Mimesis” 1984: 239; Segal 138; Salingar 103 (on Plato and mimesis as magic), 104 (“The trickster-hero is a projection of the ‘ingenious’ poet”).

  19. Brown 18-19. The connection is not impressionistic, according to Brown, who notes, “The words connoting magical action in the classical period are derived from roots whose original meaning is just as close to the notion of trickery as it is to that of magic” (18).

  20. GL 18.60.7-8; Orlando furioso 15.40 entire and passim.

  21. On Tasso and Homer, see Stephens, “Reading Tasso.”

  22. Migiel notes (67) that Erminia is the only character in GL who “entrusts his or her story to the written word.”

  23. GL 19.119-27, esp. 119.3-4 (“Vafrino a la donzella, e non discosto [da Tancredi], / ritrova albergo assai chiuso e secreto”; “Vafrine finds for the lady—and not far off—a shelter close [to Tancredi] and secret”). Cf. Migiel 70.

  24. Salingar 117, 119. Cf. Palaestrio in Miles Gloriosus 2.2.197-98: “dum consulo / quid agam, quem dolum doloso contra conservo parem” (Plautus 140).

  25. “[I]n Iliade Homerica nullum mali genus non recensetur. Unde ex hac docti putant Tragoediarum argumenta fuisse sumpta, sicut ex Odyssea Comoediarum” (quoted by Defaux 62-63). The persistent figure of the crafty servant makes my opposition of comedy and tragedy preferable in this context to the opposition between epic and romance familiar in scholarship on the Liberata.

  26. E.g., Plautus 142.

  27. Both Ferrari (243) and Guglielminetti (569) note that Erminia's recognition of Vafrino's telltale atto nativo (GL 19.79) recalls Saladino's recognition of Messer Torello in Decameron 10.9.53. The echo seems plausible: Branca says of Torello's smile that it is a “a means of recognition [agnizione] of which there is no trace in Boccaccio's antecedents or in the medieval and early modern short story [la novellistica] in general” (Decameron 1218 n.). Guglielminetti concludes that this resemblance corroborates his contention (533) that Vafrino “has nothing to do with Homer's Dolon,” and is “not an epic product but, so to speak, of a Boccaccian alloy.” Guglielminetti is apparently referring to Boccaccian trickster figures like Maso del Saggio, Bruno, and Buffalmacco (569). Neither Guglielminetti nor Branca appears to have noticed the strong parallels between the novella of Messer Torello and the Odyssey: recognitions, the importance of hospitality, the suitors, the wife's determined fidelity, the husband's surprise last-minute return, and so on. Saladin serves the same role for Torello as Alkinoös did for Odysseus, while a magical flying bed not only works like the Phaeacian ship that returned the sleeping Odysseus to Ithaka, but also recalls the importance of Odysseus's marriage-bed. Above all, this is an Odyssey with a happy ending for all its characters: no one dies and the would-be second husband renounces his claim on “Penelope.” Whether Boccaccio could have intended or Tasso consciously recognized the Odyssean themes in Messer Torello's tale is beside the point: the fact is that Boccaccio's novella is narratologically Odysseyesque, rather than being of a typically Boccaccian “alloy.”

  28. Odyssey 4.257-58; Helen claims that she had to swear not to reveal Odysseus's identity until he was safely returned to the Achaean camp in order to induce him to reveal “all the purpose of the Achaians” (4.253-56).

  29. GL 19.89 and 6.88. Note the matching rhyme schemes (modo/frodo and modi/frodi, respectively). “[T]he trickster in New Comedy is nearly always lucky. … [H]e depends upon Fortune for his complete success as a rule. … But on the other hand, the wheel never completes its turn in New Comedy without the help of a deceiver, whether an impudent slave or a free citizen who keeps something of the buffoon or trickster in him” (Salingar 157).

  30. See Corrigan, Murtaugh, Migiel.

  31. Salingar 107; Frye concurs (197): “The helpful fairy, the grateful dead man, the wonderful servant who has just the qualities the hero needs in a crisis, are all folktale commonplaces. They are romantic intensifications of the comic tricky slave, the author's architectus.

  32. Even Callimaco Guadagni of Machiavelli's Mandragola, one of the craftiest of giovani in commedia erudita, is beset by melancholy and depends on the parasite Ligurio to overcome it.

  33. GL 6.98-100. This nameless personage otherwise has exactly the same minimal attributes as Vafrino; he is a squire (a term that would be inappropriate, except for the fact that Erminia is momentarily in armor) and faithful: un suo fedel scudiero; lo scudiero fedel; “o mio fedele”; quel leale (GL 90.4; 91.1; 99.1; 100.7).

  34. Corrigan maintained that evidence internal to the Liberata demonstrated Erminia would ultimately marry Tancredi. Attempting to read the Erminia subplot against a theory of romance, Murtaugh reached the same conclusion. Migiel (64) correctly warns that, as a text, “[t]he poem in no way sanctions a happy end for Erminia.”

  35. Cf. ermo, eremo, eremita, and GL 19.98: “pur in parte fuggimmi erma e lontana; / e colà vissi in solitaria cella, / cittadina de' boschi e pastorella” (“but I fled to a distant and lonely region and there lived in solitary cell, a shepherdess and citizen of the woods”).

  36. Iliad 3; GL 6. “[T]he scene that became known as the teichoskopia, the viewing from the wall, in which Helen for the first time identifies the chief Achaian leaders for the benefit of Priam (this after nine years of conflict!)” (Else 168). Tasso of course corrects this famous Homeric gaffe by having Erminia's teichoskopia take place as the Christians approach Jerusalem for the first time.

  37. The best treatment of Erminia's interaction with the narrator is in Martinelli 43-49, esp. 48: “Erminia is at once spectator and actor, author and personage, and this referential duplicity finds correspondance on the stylistic level in the ambiguities of her discourse.”

  38. Brown 26-32. Quotation from p. 27. Curiously, Brown does not examine the figures of Odysseus or Helen at all as heralds or tricksters.

  39. On Odysseus as herald, see Iliad 2.169-277; 9.158-59, 299, 312-13. When Odysseus takes Agamemnon's scepter, he first throws aside his cloak, “which was caught up / by Eurybates the herald of Ithaka who followed him” (2.183-84). Athena, who delegates this heraldic duty to Odysseus, then stands beside him “in the likeness of a herald” once he completes it (2.280). Thersites rivals Odysseus with his “endless speech,” and Odysseus calls him “fluent orator” (2.212, 246). On Dolon, Iliad 10.314-17, esp. 314-15: “But there was one among the Trojans, Dolon, Eumedes' / son, the sacred herald's. …”

  40. In Odyssey 4.265-89 Menelaus recounts how Helen almost defeated Odysseus's strategem of the Trojan horse. In her husband's anecdote, Helen figures as a trickster-ventriloquist, counterfeiting the voices of Achaean wives in order to lure out their husbands. Whereas she had compared herself favorably with Odysseus in her own anecdote, Menelaus compares Odysseus favorably to her, hinting at her equality or possible superiority. See further in Winkler, 140-41.

  41. GL 19.86.3-6. As the italics indicate, tendere (agguati, insidie, trappole) (to set ambushes, snares, traps) forms part of the same complex of associations that embraces tessere and tramare.

  42. Cf. Iliad 3.125-28: “[Iris] came on Helen in the chamber; she was weaving a great web, / a red folding robe, and working into it the numerous struggles / of Trojans, breakers of horses, and bronze-armoured Achaians, / struggles that they endured for her sake at the hands of the war-god.”

  43. Remember that Homeric trickiness also catalyzes another descent into slavishness in the Conquistata, the addition of Vafrino's Dolon-like victim.

  44. GC 2.92-3.52. The fact that Erminia imitates Helen's “text” while the Tassian narrative explicitly traces itself to a “source” woven by a male textor exemplifies the dynamic complained of by Joplin.

  45. Segal 134. Conversely, Clorinda's epic ethos, plain speaking, and male-gendered identity figure her repudiation of “Arachne's works.” See GL 2.39.1-4, where “ingegni femminili” (“feminine … [arts]”) recall the Greek techné, which encompasses weaving, magic, and trickery (Brown 22). Note also that Hercules among the “meonie ancelle” (“Maeonian serving maids,” GL 16.3) holds the emblems of “Arachne's works.” See further in Miller.

  46. “Penelope is a master-weaver, and weaving is an appropriate image for the work of the epic poet [of the Odyssey,] who specializes not in recitals of heroic battle but the plotting and counter-plotting of a household in conflict. The weaving in question is not just any old dry goods but specifically tricky and clever designing of interdependent tensions, the warp and woof of crossed purposes and inimical motives. Athena helps Odysseus ‘weave a mêtis,’ a cunning plan to restore himself to his house (13.386), and when he feels the events are closing around him he wonders whether some god is ‘weaving a deceit’ to entrap him (5.356). Penelope, of course, literally weaves a deceit in the form of Laertes' shroud, but she also ‘winds up balls of tricks,’ dolous tolupeuô (19.137), using the word for winding yarn. If weaving is a good metaphor for plotting and the Odyssey is preeminent in such plotting, then it is all the easier to see not only Odysseus but Penelope too as a figure of the poet, quietly working behind the scenes” (Winkler 155-56; see also Foley 89-91, Segal 134-36).

  47. Odyssey 19.137; cf. 2.93ff., 24.125ff. See Segal 134. Penelope refers to the servant Dolios as “my own servant, whom my father gave me to have” when she married Odysseus, and she sees him as mediating her access to male trickery: “let someone … summon the old man Dolios, / … so that he may / go with speed to Laertes and sit beside him and tell him / all, and perhaps he, weaving out the design in his heart, / may go outside” (Odyssey 4.735-41).

  48. In the Iliad she vehemently expresses the same sentiments to Paris after he has forfeited the duel with Menelaus (3.426-36)

  49. Neither Corrigan, Murtaugh, nor Migiel discusses the presence of Argante, though Jovine (38) and Guglielminetti (66-67, 154-55) do. On the double plot in Italian comedy, see Salingar 175-242, esp. 186-87. “In an Italian double plot, the events in each plot are so arranged as to interfere causally with those in the other, and the actions on the stage follow a strictly temporal sequence, so that each plot can react on the other at exactly the right moment” (Salingar 223).

  50. Stephens, “St. Paul,” 173; see also Eco 64, 66, and Stephens, “Reading Tasso,” 296-97. Argante and Clorinda are repeatedly described as coppia and consorti by the narrator and characters in canto 12 (stanzas 7, 11, 15, 44), terms that evoke the couples Olindo and Sofronia and Gildippe and Odoardo (cf. GL 1.56.7, 20.98.4-6, 20.35.7). And the layered rivalry of Argante and Tancredi in canto 19.3-5 is mediated by the memory of Clorinda as donna (lady) rather than warrior.

  51. Commentators unanimously agree in seeing GL 1.3.5-8 as an echo of Lucretius 1.936-42.

  52. “Charms … powerful and magical,” GL 19.113.3-4. On Erminia's powers, see also 6.67 entire. Both passages assimilate her to Goffredo's poet-medic Erotimo (GL 11.70), as well as to the narrating voice (GL 1.3 entire).

  53. “Into the wine of which they were drinking she cast a medicine / of heartsease, free of gall, to make one forget all sorrows. … / Now when she had put the medicine in, and told them to pour it, / taking up the story again she began to speak to them: ‘… [L]isten / to me and be entertained. What I will tell you is plausible’” (Odyssey 4.220-39).

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Further Reading

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Bellamy, Elizabeth J. “Troia Vittrice: Reviving Troy in the Woods of Jerusalem.” In Translations of Power: Narcissism and the Unconscious in Epic History, pp. 131-88. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992.

Examines the influence of the Aeneid on Tasso's writing of Gerusalemme liberata.

Benfell, V. Stanley. “Tasso's God: Narrative Authority in the Gerusalemme Liberata.Modern Philology 97, no. 2, (November 1999): 173-94.

Explores Tasso's attempt to equate God and poet in Gerusalemme liberata.

Chiampi, James T. “Tasso's Rinaldo in the Body of the Text.” Romantic Review 82, no. 4 (November 1990): 487-503.

Provides a philosophical and critical analysis of the character Rinaldo in Gerusalemme liberata.

Chiappelli, Fredi. “A Possible Source-Fission for Two Tasso Characters.” Stanford Italian Review 1, no. 1 (spring 1979): 121-32.

Examines the characters of Argante and Tancredi in Gerusalemme liberata and explores the complementary affinity between them that Tasso created.

Craig, Cynthia C. “Enchantment and Disenchantment: A Study of Magic in the Orlando Furioso and the Gerusalemme Liberata.Comitatus 19 (1988): 20-45.

Considers the similarities and differences between Orlando Furioso and Gerusalemme liberata in the use of magic, enchantment, and illusion.

Finucci, Valeria. “Maternal Imagination and Monstrous Birth: Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata.” In Generation and Degeneration: Tropes of Reproduction in Literature and History from Antiquity through Early Modern Europe, edited by Valeria Finucci and Kevin Brownlee, pp. 41-77. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001.

Examines Tasso's use of the term “monster” in Gerusalemme liberata to refer to a child that resembles neither parent.

Gibbons, David. “Tasso ‘Petroso’: Beyond Petrarchan and Dantean Metaphor in the Gerusalemme liberata.Italian Studies 55 (2000): 83-98.

Explores Petrarch's and Dante's influence on Tasso's writing, especially Gerusalemme liberata.

Migiel, Marilyn. “Clorinda's Fathers.” Stanford Italian Review 10, no. 1 (1991): 93-121.

Explores the character of Clorinda in Gerusalemme liberata from many different perspectives.

———. Gender and Genealogy in Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1993, 192 p..

Provides criticism on Gerusalemme liberata from the perspective of gender, the author's poetics, and reading practices.

Rhu, Lawrence F. “Tasso's Allegory of Gerusalemme liberata.” In The Genesis of Tasso's Narrative Theory: English Translations of the Early Poetics and a Comparative Study of Their Significance, pp. 155-62. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993.

Examines Gerusalemme liberata in terms of the definition of allegory.

Tucker, Ken. “Warring Within and Warring Without: A Psychological Nexus Between Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida and Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered.Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 17, nos. 1-2 (March 1996): 109-24.

Considers similar typological elements in Shakespeare's work and Gerusalemme liberata.

Additional coverage of Tasso's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Epics for Students, Vol. 2; European Writers, Vol. 2; Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 5; Literature Resource Center; Reference Guide to World Literature, eds. 2, 3.

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