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 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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 1459 words.)

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