The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 1199 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.