Historical Context

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Italian Renaissance
Tasso is considered the last of the major Italian Renaissance poets. The Italian Renaissance, which began, traditionally, with the Fall of Constantinople in the fifteenth century, was a period of renewed literary, architectural, and artistic creativity that slowly spread across Europe. The Italian Renaissance launched artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Titian; writers like Castiglione, Petrach, and Machiavelli; and artisans like Amati, the teacher of Stradivarius. There was a renewed sense of cultural identity, religious clarity, and pride in nationality. Literature was to be written in Italian rather than Latin. At the same time, educated people were to be knowledgeable about everything from art to warfare, from politics to dancing, and were expected to be able to express this knowledge and these abilities effortlessly. The Italian Renaissance collapsed under its own weight soon after Tasso died, ushering in the Baroque Period, but for its time, the Renaissance was the most important cultural, artistic, and political movement.

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The Crusades
The Crusades were a series of military campaigns ordered by the then universal European Church in Rome against the ever-expanding Turkish/Ottoman Muslim Empire between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries. Although there were Crusades as late as the seventeenth century, the major Crusades were in the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries. The First Crusade, called for by Pope Urban II in 1094, was arguably the most successful. The Ottoman Turks had captured Jerusalem and forced all pilgrims to pay travel taxes. The Turks were Muslim, a monotheistic religion similar to Judaism and Christianity, but for the Medieval Roman Catholic Church, the Muslims were just another group of pagans, like the Jews. Godfrey of Bouillon was selected to head the multinational force to re-take the city with the holiest of Christian shrines, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Christ's tomb) and Mount Calvary (where Christ was crucified). The leaders of the First Crusade secured the cooperation of the Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire and so were able to invade Palestine and conquer Jerusalem. The city was quickly retaken by the Turks in the early twelfth century, thus launching the Second Crusade, lead by Philip of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the Third Crusade, lead by Philip III of France and Richard I of England. However, by that time, the Crusades had deteriorated into European fights with the European kings making deals with the Turkish generals to betray one another. Throughout these military campaigns, the morality of killing thousands of people in the name of God was never addressed. The immorality and increasing length of the Crusades lead to a number of social, political, and religious reforms including the end of serfdom, the rise of the nation-state, and the Protestant Reformation.

The Renaissance Art Epic
The Renaissance Art Epic is a narrowly defined literary genre that involves a mixture of political and religious ideology with traditional heroic poetry and romance elements to express new ideas about life, social ideas, and religious truths. There are two basic types of Art Epics: Religious and Secular. The Religious Art Epic uses biblical or religiously based material as its starting point such as John Milton's Paradise Lost, while Secular Art Epics focus on heroic traditions or invented storylines like Ludvico Ariosto's Orlando Furiouso and Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene . The Renaissance Art Epic, regardless of its type, always uses old ideas about the heroic past like national pride, fighting ability, and the transformation of the hero through a death of some kind, wedded with elements of romance such as female characters, love (whether sexual or courtly), and the supernatural. The epics also usually used heroes out of the...

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