A man of letters, cultured but without means, Torquato Tasso’s father, Bernardo, entered the most logical profession for a man of his condition: courtier to princes. His longest service was with Ferrante Sanseverino, prince of Salerno, who paid him well and respected his need to write. During the good years of this association, Bernardo, then more than forty years old, decided to marry a noblewoman of Tuscan descent, Porzia de’ Rossi. The union was happy, and, in 1544, a son, Torquato, was born. Educated in the classics, the boy was happy until international political intrigue shattered the family’s existence. Sanseverino was branded a rebel and forced into exile, a fate Bernardo chose to share. At the age of ten, Torquato was allowed to join his now impoverished father in a life of exile, wandering from court to court across Northern Italy, separated from his only sister, Cornelia, and soon orphaned by the sudden death of his beloved mother. His education continued, culminating in legal and philosophical studies at the University of Padua. Torquato proved a less than exemplary student in conduct but a promising poet and intellectual. At eighteen, he published his first important work, Rinaldo, and began writing the first of his love canzonieri, conventional compositions but works that reflected his lifelong commitment to epic literature and lyric poetry. On completion of his studies, he chose to follow his father’s example and his own inclinations, and he became a courtier-poet.
From 1565 to 1577, Tasso was attached to the court of Cardinal Luigi d’Este, in Ferrara, first under Cardinal Luigi and later as “gentleman” of Alfonso Il d’Este, duke of Ferrara. Ferrara was then a major cultural center and an intellectual mecca; there, the chivalric epic romance had flourished under Matteo Maria Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto, music and theater were patronized, and a solid library had been assembled. Court...
(The entire section is 796 words.)