The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1199

For six years the Crusaders remain in the Holy Land, meeting with success. Tripoli, Antioch, and Acre are in their hands, and a large force of Christian knights occupies Palestine. Yet there is a lassitude among the nobles; they are tired and satiated with fighting. They cannot generate enough warlike...

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For six years the Crusaders remain in the Holy Land, meeting with success. Tripoli, Antioch, and Acre are in their hands, and a large force of Christian knights occupies Palestine. Yet there is a lassitude among the nobles; they are tired and satiated with fighting. They cannot generate enough warlike spirit to continue to the real objective of their Crusade, the capture of Jerusalem. In the spring of the seventh year, God sends the Archangel Gabriel to Godfrey de Bouillon, ordering him to assemble all his knights and encouraging him to begin the march on Jerusalem. Obeying the Lord’s command, Godfrey calls a council of the great nobles and reminds them stirringly of their vows. When Peter the Hermit adds his exhortations, the Crusaders accept their charge, and all preparations are made to attack the Holy City.

Within the walls of Jerusalem the wicked King Aladine hears of the projected attack. At the urging of Ismeno the sorcerer, he sends soldiers to steal the statue of the Virgin Mary, hoping to make the Christian symbol a Palladium for Jerusalem. The next morning, the statue disappears. Enraged when he cannot find the culprit who spirited away the statue, Aladine orders a general massacre of all his Christian subjects. To save her coreligionists, the beautiful and pure Sophronia confesses to the theft. Aladine has her bound to the stake. As her guards are about to light the fire, Olindo, who long loved Sophronia in vain, attempts to save her by confessing that he himself stole the statue.

Aladine orders them both burned. While they are at the stake, Sophronia admits her love for Olindo. They are saved from burning, however, by the arrival of Clorinda, a beautiful woman warrior who knows that both are admitting the theft to save the other Christians from death. Released, Sophronia and Olindo flee the city. Clorinda is a great warrior who scorns female dress. On a previous campaign she had met Tancred, a mighty Christian noble. Tancred fell in love with her; but she rejected his love. On the other hand, Erminia of Antioch was enamored of Tancred when he took her city, but Tancred feels only friendship for her.

The Christians come within sight of Jerusalem. A foraging party encounters first a small force under Clorinda. She is so valorous that she defeats them. The king of Egypt, whose army is advancing to the aid of Jerusalem, sends Argantes to parley with Godfrey. The Crusader chief haughtily rejects the overtures of the Egyptians, and Argantes angrily joins the infidel defenders of the Holy City. Although the Crusaders meet with some initial successes, Argantes is always a formidable opponent.

Satan is annoyed at the prospect of the fall of Jerusalem. He induces Armida, an enchantress, to visit the Christian camp and tell a false story of persecution. Many of the knights succumb to her wiles and eagerly seek permission to redress her wrongs. Godfrey is suspicious of her, but he allows ten knights chosen by lot to accompany her. In the night forty others slip away to join her, and she leads the fifty to her castle, where she changes them into fishes. Their loss is a great blow to Godfrey because the pagans are slaying many of his men.

Rinaldo, one of the Italian knights among the Crusaders, seeks the captaincy of a band of Norwegian adventurers. Gernando, who seeks the same post, quarrels with him, and in a joust Gernando is killed. For this breach of discipline Rinaldo is banished.

When Argantes challenges to personal combat any champion in the Crusaders’ camp, Tancred is chosen to meet him. On the way to the fight, Tancred sees Clorinda and stops to admire her. Otho, his companion, takes advantage of his bemusement and rushes in ahead to the battle. Otho is defeated by Argantes and taken prisoner. Then Tancred, realizing what happened, advances to meet the pagan knight. Both men are wounded in the mighty, day-long duel. They retire to recuperate, agreeing to meet again in six days.

When Erminia hears of Tancred’s wounds, she puts on Clorinda’s armor and goes to his camp to attend him. He hears of her coming and waits impatiently, thinking his beloved Clorinda is approaching. Erminia is surprised by the sentries, and in her maidenly timidity she runs away to take refuge with a shepherd. When the supposed Clorinda does not arrive, Tancred goes in search of her and comes to the castle of Armida, where he is cast into a dungeon. Godfrey receives word that Sweno, prince of Denmark, who was occupying Palestine, was surprised by pagan knights and killed with all his followers. The messenger announces that he is divinely appointed to deliver Sweno’s sword to Rinaldo. Although Rinaldo is still absent, Godfrey sets out to avenge the Palestine garrison.

Godfrey and his army fight valiantly, but Argantes and Clorinda are fighters too powerful for the shaken Christians to overcome. Then Tancred and the fifty knights, who were freed from Armida’s enchantment, arrive to rout the pagans. Godfrey learns that the missing men were liberated by Rinaldo. Peter the Hermit is then divinely inspired to foretell the glorious future of Rinaldo.

In preparation for the attack on Jerusalem, the Christians celebrate a solemn mass on the Mount of Olives before they begin the assault. Wounded by one of Clorinda’s arrows, Godfrey retires from the battle while an angel heals his wound. The Christians set up rams and towers to break the defense of the city.

At night Clorinda comes out of the city walls and sets fire to the great tower by which the Christians are preparing to scale the wall. She is seen, however, by the Crusaders, and Tancred engages her in combat. After he runs his sword through her breast, he discovers to his sorrow that he killed his love. He has time to ask her pardon and baptize her before her death.

Godfrey is taken in a vision to heaven where he talks with Hugh, the former commander of the French forces. Hugh bids him recall Rinaldo, and Godfrey sends two knights to find the banished Italian. On the Fortunate Islands the messengers discovers the Palace of Armida where Rinaldo, now in love with the enchantress, is dallying with his lady love. The sight of the two knights quickly reminds him of his duty. Leaving his love, he joins the besieging forces of Godfrey.

With the arrival of Rinaldo, the Christians are greatly heartened. Then the Archangel Michael appears to Godfrey and shows him the souls of all the Christians who died in the Crusades. With this inspiration, the Crusaders redouble their efforts to capture Jerusalem. The walls of the city are breached. Tancred meets Argantes and kills him in single combat. Finally the victorious invaders storm through the streets and sack the Holy City. When the Egyptians arrive to help the pagan defenders of Jerusalem, they, too, are beaten and their king is slain by Godfrey. Armida, all hope gone, surrenders herself to Rinaldo, who is the most valorous of the conquerors. After the fighting is over, Godfrey and all his army worship at the Holy Sepulchre.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 260

Bowra, C. M. “Tasso and the Romance of Christian Chivalry.” In From Virgil to Milton. New York: Macmillan, 1961. Analyzes the plot elements that show how Tasso integrated romance with Christian sentiment. Finds it the product both of the Counter-Reformation and a court life steeped in chivalric tradition.

Fichter, Andrew. “Tasso: Romance, Epic, and Christian Epic.” In Poets Historical, Dynastic Epic in the Renaissance. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982. Suggests that Tasso’s purpose was to construct a true Christian epic with the formal properties of the classical epic. The theme of regeneration provides the required unity.

Giametti, A. Bartlett. “Tasso.” In The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966. Summarizes the plot, with special attention to Tasso’s sensuous treatment of the lovers. Argues that Tasso attempts to incorporate classical and romantic materials into a Christian point of view.

Greene, Thomas M. “The Counter-Reformation: Tasso.” In The Descent from Heaven. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. With frequent quotations from Jerusalem Delivered, suggests that this poem is composed of several elements: a framework of history, echoes of earlier poets, lyricism, a feeling for sensuous beauty, the flavor of court life, a formal self-consciousness, the moral climate of the Counter-Reformation, and Platonism.

Roditi, Edouard. “Torquato Tasso: The Transition from Baroque to Neo-Classicism.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 6 (1947-1948): 235-245. Suggests that Tasso strives to move away from baroque license toward classical restraint, carefully placing the Christian marvels above magic and enchantment. His classicism is also evident in his careful attention to stanza form.

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