Jerusalem Delivered (Gerusalemme Liberata)

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Jerusalem Delivered (Gerusalemme Liberata)

by Torquato Tasso


An epic poem set in 1099 during the first crusade; written from 1560 to 1581; published in Italian (as Gerusalemme Liberata) in 1581, in English in 1600.


Led by their captain, Godfrey, a group of Christian knights confront psychological and physical obstacles on their way to free the shrine of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem from Muslim rule.

Events In History At The Time The Poem Takes Place

The Poem in Focus

Events in History at the Time the Poem Was Written

For More Information

Torquato Tasso (1544-95) was born in Sorrento, Italy. At the age of 10, he was forced to literally follow in the footsteps of his father, the poet Bernardo Tasso, who moved first to Rome, then to Bergamo, Urbino, and Venice. The elder Tasso focused on writing compositions for his various patrons and writing his own epic poem, the Amadigi (1560, based on a Spanish chivalric romance Amadis de Gaula [1508]). At the age of 16, the younger Tasso had already begun a first attempt at the subject of Jerusalem Delivered, which he abandoned in order to focus on the Rinaldo, a short poem about the adventures of the legendary knight. His education began at the court of Urbino and continued at the universities of Bologna and Padova from 1560 to 1565. That same year, 1565, saw the beginning of his lifelong relationship to the Este family of Ferrara, at first as attendant to Cardinal Luigi D’Este. In 1572 Tasso passed into the service of Duke of Ferrara Alfonso II D’Este as court poet for the family’s. In the end, his writings would embrace nearly every genre, including plays, lyric and narrative poems, dialogues, and literary criticism. Tasso’s most memorable works remain the pastoral play Aminta (1573), Jerusalem Delivered—which consumed more than two decades in the making—and its revision Jerusalem Conquered (Gerusalemme Conquistata, 1593). Despite Tasso’s continuing doubts about the content and structure of the Liberate, the poem successfully melded together the themes of earlier romance chivalric verse with classical epic structure, meanwhile keeping pace with the religious, Counter Reformation sensibilities of his readers.

Events In History At The Time The Poem Takes Place

The First Crusade—background

In November of 1095, Pope Urban II gave a speech at a council in Clermont, France, calling upon the knights of Christian Europe to help recapture the shrine of the Holy Sepulcher from Muslim rule. He urged the Western European knights to come to the aid of the Byzantine Church (in the East) by waging war against the Muslims. At the time, Muslim rule extended from the East into southern Spain and Sicily. Before the eleventh century, the relationship between Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land had been relatively peaceful, but later Christian pilgrims suffered persecution at the hands of some Muslim rulers, such as alHakim (985-1021?), leader of the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt, under whose rule the church of the Holy Sepulcher was destroyed in 1009-10. Internal affairs under al-Hakim were tempestuous too; he became embroiled in a conflict in Syria and in Palestine with the Seljuk Turks, who continued to expand their domains in the eastern Islamic world. Under al-Hakim’s successors, the church was rebuilt. Christians resumed their pilgrimages, but Seljuk pressure grew and the conflict between Eastern powers made the journey treacherous. The conflicts preoccupying leaders in the East offered Western crusaders a perfect opportunity to proceed with their plans to reconquer the Holy Land. So in the 1090s, when the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus called upon Europe to come to his aid in protecting Near Eastern Christians from Seljuk oppression, the papacy was more than willing to answer his plea. Comenus himself had no de-signs on Jerusalem. The emperor wanted to re-capture the mercantile city of Antioch, and he in fact tried to dissuade the crusaders from pursuing their larger goal—but to no avail.

The First Crusade—its execution

Plans were made for the crusaders’ departure on the day of the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, August 15, 1096. As it turned out, the pope got more than he bargained for when he attempted to raise a Christian army. His zealous sermons throughout Europe influenced not only the noblemen he set out to recruit, but commoners too. The commoners departed before the crusades officially got underway, mounting what became known as the People’s Crusade, led by charismatic personalities such as Peter the Hermit. Although his group managed to reach Constantinople, many did not, for lack of supplies and organization. Others faltered because of their own unruliness, some of them stopping to massacre Jews in the Rhineland of Germany. After reaching Constantinople, Peter’s group and others like it would join the main army of the princely crusade.

The princely crusade was another enterprise altogether. It was a diverse group, including (1) Godfrey of Bouillon and his brothers Eustace and Baldwin from France, (2) Bohemond and his nephew Tancred of Otranto in southern Italy, and (3) Count Raymond IV of Toulouse, together with the pope’s legate Adhémar, Bishop of Le Puy. De-spite the diversity, though, these crusaders achieved more success than their predecessors, which is hardly surprising given their training and store of supplies. These three armies, along with a fourth led by Robert of Normandy, Count Stephen of Blois, and Robert II of Flanders, left Europe and arrived in Constantinople between December 1096 and May of 1097. After convening there, they almost immediately departed for Nicaea in Asia Minor with 50,000 men—nobles, pilgrims, and other non-combatants who latched on to the group. The heavily armed garrison of Nicaea surrendered on June 19, and the crusaders once again took to the road, this time marching towards Dorylaeum, also in Asia Minor, which fell in July of the same year. By October, they had reached and laid siege to Antioch in northern Syria. The siege would go on for months. Early chroniclers blamed military reverses that were suffered by the crusaders on their lust, pointing to brothels in their camps. Apparently the Council of Princes shared the anxiety, for at Antioch, the Council “drove out the women from the army [camp] … lest they, stained by the defilement of dissipation, displease the Lord” (Fulcher of Chartres in Billings, p. 49). Antioch finally fell in June of 1098, and the crusaders gave it to one of their own, Bohemond, to rule.

Although the Christian forces had marched 700 miles without a single defeat, the most important leg of their journey, the reconquest of Jerusalem, loomed ahead. As they pitched their tents under the city’s walls in June of 1099, they most certainly were aware of the complexity of the task before them. Jerusalem’s defenses were difficult to breach, especially since the garrison’s commander had ordered nearly all the water sources outside the city to be poisoned and had petitioned the Egyptians for help. It is at this juncture in the crusaders’ quest that Jerusalem Delivered takes place. In his epic portrayal, Tasso replicates some real-life details of the task that awaited the crusaders, as well as their decision to construct siege engines (to throw projectiles) and siege towers (to help them scale the city’s walls). The final attack was set for the evening of July 13 from two separate towers on the northern and southern sides of the city. After more than a day of fighting and repeated attempts to burn his siege tower, Godfrey became the first crusader to cross over from it into Jerusalem on the morning of July 15. On the same day, what was left of the Muslim forces surrendered to Tancred, who had his banner flown over the al-Aqsa mosque. A massacre followed that became legendary for its cruelty, which was documented in historical chronicles:

Forthwith, they joyfully rushed into the city to pursue and kill the nefarious enemies. … Some Saracens, Arabs, and Ethiopians took refuge in the tower of David, others fled to the temples of the Lord and of Solomon. A great fight took place in the court and porch of the temples, where they were unable to escape from our gladiators. Many fled to the roof of the temple of Solomon, and were shot with arrows, so that they fell to the ground dead. In this temple almost ten thousand were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet colored to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.

(Fulcher of Chartres in Duncan and Krey)

Tasso reproduces the fierceness of the bloody final struggle for control over the holy city, relating how the crusader Raymond “came to a field all slick and smoking red,/for it was steeped in more blood hour by hour,/ so that it seemed a kingdom of the dead, where Death displayed the trophies of his power” (Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, p. 403). But Tasso mentions nothing of this massacre of the innocents, preferring instead to offer up his heroes as examples of pious magnanimity for his readers.

Women And The Crusades

Women played a key role in the acquisition and development of the crusader states in the Holy Land. Many of the wives accompanied their husbands on the crusade while others stayed home and took charge of the governance of their husband’s lands and titles (the fiefs, or estates, of vassals under his control). Those who joined their husbands in the enterprise might benefit from the feudal custom that allowed a wife to succeed her husband as ruler of a fief or kingdom, including any terri-tory he might have won along the way.


A few centuries after the death of Jesus Christ, an edifice arose to commemorate the site at which people said he had been crucified, buried, and resurrected. The edifice, the shrine of the Holy Sepulchre, was first erected by Emperor constantine (285?–337); originally it consisted of a trio of connected parts: a basilica-shaped building, an open-air atrium around the Golgotha, or Rock of Calvary, where Jesus is believed to have been executed, and an open-air rotunda around the re-mains of the cave identified as his burial place, later covered by a dome. Despite fires, a large earthquake, and the basilica’s destruction and restoration, the Church retained this essential form until 1009, when the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim ordered that it be destroyed and all of its Christian symbols removed. Much of the structure surrounding Jesus’s tomb was demolished, but evidence suggests that some part of it survived, and that Christians used it as the basis for a second restoration in 1012. An account by a Persian traveler confirms that by 1047 the church was fully restored. It would now remain intact until the first crusaders, the ones featured in Jerusalem Delivered, reached the edifice in 1099; victorious, they quickly set out to enlarge the church and connect its three parts under one roof adding a bell tower. In 1149 the remodeled church was consecrated; it has endured in the form that the crusaders gave it to the present day.

Christian chroniclers often speak of women carrying water to the fighting men during sieges. The chroniclers also, as noted, mention camp brothels, alluding to the presence of women who catered to the crusaders’ lustful cravings. These chroniclers do not, however, speak of the women participating directly in battle. However, according to some of the Muslim records there were women warriors “in men’s garb and … prominent in the thick of the fray” amongst the crusaders who “act[ed] in the manner of those endowed with intellect al-though they [were] ladies” (Hillenbrand, p. 348). Though there is no mention of Muslim women participating in the first crusade, Arabic literature is filled with examples of the woman warrior, and Arabic epics feature “many leading female heroes” as well as “their male counterparts” (Kruk, p. 100). The same is true of Tasso’s Liberata, where women feature prominently, from the captive Erminia to the Muslim warrior princess Clorinda to the Christian wife Gildippe, who fights alongside her husband Edward to the death. The appearance and eventual defeat of a warrior princess on the battlefield is not without precedent in the literary models available to Tasso. This is particularly true of his Princess Clorinda. Tasso borrows many details of her story from classical epic, from descriptions of the Amazons of Penthesilea in Homer’s Iliad and Camilla in Virgil’s Aeneid. In Jerusalem Delivered, unlike her male counterparts, who are based on actual historical figures, Clorinda is a complete fiction on Tasso’s part.

The Poem in Focus

Plot summary

At the outset of the poem, the speaker recounts that it has already been six years since the crusaders left their homes. From the celestial city, God looks down upon the troops and finds most of them lost in their own cares. They have forgotten the importance of their mission of recapturing the Holy Sepulcher; only Godfrey remains full of zeal for the completion of the enterprise. Thus, God sends down the archangel Gabriel to inform Godfrey that the knight will serve as the captain of the Christian forces and that they should continue to Jerusalem without delay. Upon Peter the Hermit’s suggestion, the troops then elect Godfrey captain and begin the march. On the way, they engage in several skirmishes with the enemy. Two Christian champions, Rinaldo and Tancred, first exchange blows with the Muslim troops in this fray, including their formidable warrior Argante and their warrior princess Clorinda.

From the high walls of the city, Erminia, a princess whose kingdom of Antioch has already been conquered by the crusaders, points out the strongest members of the Christian forces to the Muslim ruler of Jerusalem, Aladin. They include the young paladin Rinaldo, who is already famous for his strength and prowess in the field yet re-mains a boy in many respects, and Tancred, who is so lost in his thoughts, in particular his love for the female warrior—Clorinda—whom he has just seen on the battlefield but not yet met, that he is completely distracted from the task at hand. Meanwhile, Erminia is secretly in love with Tancred from the time when she was his prisoner but tries to disguise her longing under a veil of hate for her former captor.

Satan decides that if God will sustain the crusaders, then Satan must do the same for their enemies, since the spread of Christianity diminishes his power and influence in the world of men and women. So he sends forth his legions to wreak havoc amongst the Christians in any way possible. At the same time, another enemy of the crusaders, the wizard Hydrotes, sends his niece Armida, herself a sorceress, to wreak havoc of a different sort. She enters the Christian camp in the guise of a damsel in distress, her presence further complicating the fate of the Christian forces. Armida weaves a false tale of how she has fled from the unwarranted advances of a lecherous uncle and was forewarned in a dream of her imminent death by poison should she choose to stay. Many of the knights fall prey to her charms and ten are chosen to accompany her after Godfrey refuses her plea for the aid of the whole army. She eventually imprisons all the knights who follow her, which amounts to more than the chosen ten, in an enchanted castle on the banks of the Dead Sea. Rinaldo is not with them; the competition for Armida became so fierce and spiteful that in a fit of rage he killed a crusader, Gernando, and was therefore forced to quit the camp altogether.

The Muslim warrior Argante, impatient for the battle to begin, wants to decide the fate of Jerusalem by means of a duel to the death with just one Christian champion. The Christians select Tancred to face him and after many hours of fierce blows, their fight is suspended until the following day. Erminia watches the entire scene from on high, and, fearing for Tancred’s life after she envisions him calling for her help in a dream, resolves to sneak into the Christian camp. In order to easily leave the city, she steals Clorinda’s armor and pretends to be the female warrior herself. When she reaches the camp, she is ambushed and forced to flee because the knights believe her to be Clorinda. Tancred awakens during the confusion and chases her too, but gets waylaid. He eventually comes upon Armida’s castle and is imprisoned by the sorceress. Thus Tancred joins the ranks of the Christian champions led astray by personal desire and no longer in the service of the crusaders.

At dawn the next day, the renegade Erminia awakens to find herself in an idyllic setting far from the battlefield. She encounters some local shepherds and decides to escape the war by taking refuge among them. Back in Jerusalem, Argante is eager to resume the duel but Tancred is nowhere to be found. He taunts the Christians and even challenges Godfrey. However, the aging knight Raymond convinces the captain not to take up the challenge for he is too valuable to the camp as its leader. Shortly afterward, Raymond is chosen by lot to replace Tancred and with the help of an angel amazes both Argante and the crowd by skillfully holding his own against such an intimidating opponent. Satan’s demons then come to the aid of Argante and the duel dissolves into a melee until a violent storm forces everyone to retreat.

A messenger, Charles, arrives at the Christian camp and tells of the young prince Sven of Denmark, who, on the way to help them, was defeated and killed by the Turkish sultan Soliman. The sultan, only recently ousted from his kingdom by the Christians, sought revenge. As the soul survivor of the massacre, Charles has come to pass on Sven’s sword to Rinaldo, whom Sven tried to emulate as a model of the perfect knight. The crusaders are so moved by this story that when reports surface about the discovery of a headless body with Rinaldo’s coat of arms, the entire camp is in doubt and anguish over the whereabouts of their champion. Incited through a dream sent by Alecto, an infernal fury of classical mythology, the Italian crusader Argillan accuses Godfrey of having murdered his compatriot Rinaldo out of envy and rallies together the other Italians to overthrow their leader. When the violent mob arrives at his tent, Godfrey prays to God for help in quelling the mutiny, and divine grace infuses him with a new regal presence, which, coupled with his harsh words, quells the strife. Argillan is imprisoned for his treason and yet another attempt at ruining the Christians’ enterprise is thwarted.

That night Soliman and his forces assault the camp with the help of Clorinda and Argante. Fortunately Rinaldo has managed by this time to free Tancred and the rest of Armida’s prisoners. When they return, the tide of battle turns, and the crusaders are able to hold off their rivals.

Yet another divine intervention in the form of the archangel Michael arrives to send Satan’s demons back to hell so they will no longer impede the crusaders. For their part, the Christian troops make a solemn procession to the Mount of Olives, one of the places Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, to invoke God’s favor in the final assault on Jerusalem. They decide to construct large wooden siege machinery in order to breach the city’s defenses. Interrupted by night’s arrival, they await the following day to resume their battle.

That same night, the eunuch Arsete, Clorinda’s caretaker since childhood, reveals to Clorinda that she is really a Christian and recounts the tale of Clorinda’s miraculous birth as a white child to the Queen of Ethiopia. He also tells her of his dream predicting her death, preceded by her conversion to Christianity, and begs her not to accompany Argante on a night raid to set fire to the Christians’ wooden towers. She ignores the advice, only to find herself in a fix. After Clorinda and Argante set fire to the towers, she suddenly gets shut out of Jerusalem’s gates and must face the mob of crusaders alone. At a certain point, Clorinda realizes she might be able to sneak away since she is not wearing her own armor and so is unrecognizable to her enemies. Tancred, however, pursues her, unaware that the warrior he is about to exchange blows with is the woman he loves. Tancred and Clorinda duel. The fight dramatizes the mixed themes of love and war in the poem as the virgin warrior dies at her lover’s hand. Tancred only realizes what he has done once it is too late. He begins to recognize the frail voice, whose last words, infused with a “new spirit” of “faith, hope and charity,” beg him to perform her baptism, which he readily does (Jerusalem Delivered, p. 244). It is only when he starts to perform this sacred act that he recognizes his mistake: he finally “saw her, knew her. And he could not move/ or speak./ Ah, thus to see and know his love! (Jerusalem Delivered, p. 244). Her fate is sealed with the following moral: “rebel in life, on her such grace is poured/ that she may die the handmaid of the Lord” (Jerusalem Delivered, p. 244). Desperate at the loss of her, Tancred slips into a despair that almost leads him to the point of suicide until Clorinda’s heavenly spirit appears in a dream, assuring him of her forgiveness and promising that they would one day be reunited in the afterlife.

Their siege machinery now burnt to the ground, the crusaders go to the nearby forest of Saron for wood to rebuild the towers. Shortly before their arrival, the sorcerer Ismen, a master in the black arts, arrives to cast a spell on the forest, making evil spirits inhabit each tree. One by one the knights are bested by this forest, which reproduces images that play on each knight’s deepest fears. When the task falls to Tancred, he enters a clearing with a lone cypress tree. Clorinda’s voice emanates from its branches and, each time he tries to strike it, out spurts blood. The reenactment of her murder proves too much to bear, and he flees.

Just as the situation of the crusaders appears at its worst, a drought befalls them. Both men and animals languish under the heat of the unrelenting desert sun, and Godfrey’s troops question his motives for pressing on when all appears lost. Again Godfrey pleads to God, and again his prayers are answered. This time the Lord declares “the new order now begins,/ prosperity returns and all is well” (Jerusalem Delivered, p. 267). He sends Godfrey a vision in which the spirit of the crusader Hugh of Vermandois inspires him to retrieve Rinaldo from captivity in the palace of Armida. They make their way into its inner garden, after having seen all manner of monsters and sensual delights; shocked, they discover Rinaldo stripped of his valor, entwined with garlands of flowers, and transformed into Love’s slave. The two crusaders show him his reflection in a magical diamond shield which reveals “himself for what he was,/ how tressed with dainty touches, reeking of perfume, his hair in curls and tassels on his vest, his dangling sword effeminate at his side” (Jerusalem Delivered, p. 306). Mortified at this sight, Rinaldo departs immediately. Armida, full of scorn after being abandoned in such a manner, joins the Egyptian army to get revenge. When he returns to the camp, Rinaldo climbs to the Mount of Olives to seek penance and purification for his sins. He then breaks the forest’s spell and declares with a smile, “Such empty fantasies./ A man’s a fool to pause for things like these” (Jerusalem Delivered, p. 343).

Now that the forest has been vanquished, the Christians are able to reconstruct their siege machinery and proceed with their offensive on Jerusalem. They first breach the city’s outer walls, at which point Aladin and Soliman take refuge in the tower of David. The Christian champion Tancred and the Muslim champion Argante step away from the battle to finally resume their duel. In the end Tancred is the victor and kills Argante, but not without suffering serious injury himself. Erminia finds him and saves his life by dint of her knowledge of natural remedies. When the Egyptian army arrives at Jerusalem’s walls, the final battle commences. Soliman leaves the tower, joins the fight, and is cut down by Rinaldo, who then spies Armida. At first she tries to kill Rinaldo with a poisoned arrow, but upon finding herself unable to do so because she still loves him, Armida attempts suicide. Rinaldo stops her and convinces her to switch to his side. When Godfrey defeats Emiren, the captain of the Egyptians, both the battle and the poem come to a close as the pious Godfrey, “with devoted brow, adores the great tomb, and fulfills his vow” (Jerusalem Delivered, p. 413).

A new form of heroism

Like the close of the eleventh century, the late sixteenth century, during which Tasso wrote his poem, was a period of intense political and religious strife. Early in the sixteenth century (1517), the Christian community had been torn by strife that began to split the community into two branches: the Protestants (who mounted the Protestant Reformation) and the Catholics (who responded with the Counter Reformation). Along with the turmoil came a redefinition of the concept of “good works,” or works worthy of the devout Christian. Apart from the traditional devotional practices of prayer and charitable acts, an individual’s faith was also measured by the extent to which he or she could emulate Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for the good of all Christians in everyday life. This focus on the individual, coupled with Tasso’s interest in the crusades, led to his portrayal of alternative models of heroism to the typical stories of a knight’s quests to save a damsel in distress or recover hidden treasures. Instead of these traditional models, Tasso’s heroes are Christian and Muslim, male and female, physically strong yet psychologically weak. In fact, Jerusalem Delivered “redirects our understanding of heroic action to the inward and psychological [since] he raises to a new pitch the potentiality for heroism in inner action [by] invent [ing] powerful images for such heroism … [such as] Rinaldo’s conquest of his passion for Armida, his achievement of manhood on the Mount of Olives, or the purely psychological heroic action of the enchanted forest” (Kates, p. 124).

The beginning of the poem gives away the entire plot, leaving the parts that follow to reveal what is truly important about the story. Jerusalem Delivered is a poem based on a past event that is unchangeable; thus, its outcome is predetermined. The significance of the first crusade as portrayed by Tasso is not so much the outcome as the journey the crusaders and Godfrey undergo as he “restore [s] his straying men to the banner of the Lord” (Jerusalem Delivered, p. 17). Much of why Godfrey is a suitable captain has to do with his steadfast focus on the singular goal of conquering Jerusalem. He has taken a “vow” to do so, and rescuing damsels in distress or other pursuits worthy of a typical knight’s valor are unimportant by comparison.

Godfrey, however, does not succeed on his own in this poem. While Tasso describes him as the head of the Christian enterprise, the poet identifies Rinaldo as its right arm. Rinaldo embodies the earlier, classical and medieval chivalric notion of what constitutes a hero. A young knight, he possesses the physical strength and courage the mission requires, but his chivalric code of conduct interferes with the goal of freeing Jerusalem. In the end, it is the combination of these two models of heroism—one based on action and a quest for individual glory, the other on religious devotion and a singular focus on a determined objective directed at the common good—that allows the Christians to succeed. Tasso’s shift in perspective anticipates many of the changes the figure of the hero would undergo with the advent of the novel as a literary form. Tasso gives his protagonists a psychological depth that allows the reader to consider them heroic not only for their acts, but also for the intentions that guide them.

Sources and literary context

Tasso studied literary theory intensely (particularly the rules of epics in Aristotle’s Poetics). To his mind, the ideal “heroic poem” was the mixture of the best elements of the chivalric tradition of medieval romance and the classical epic tradition, which took its original inspiration from actual events. Tasso therefore turned to historical chronicles for many of the poem’s details. In fact, he believed that even the marvelous must be lifelike in a poem; this, he thought, could be achieved “by attributing the presence of marvels to a supernatural power capable of producing such effects according to the shared beliefs” of his readership (Biow, p. 128). With this in mind, he drew on the Bible and on The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321; also in WLAIT 7: Italian Literature and Its Times) for a number of his marvels. At the same time, he also sought inspiration from the texts of his day on the soul, demonology, and dream interpretation. There are approximately 14 dream experiences in the Liberata, including visions, apparitions, and nightmares. While the dream had long been an element in epic and religiously inspired literature, Tasso adds another dimension, conveying the anxiety produced by dreams engendered by one’s own fears, as demonstrated by his poem’s enchanted forest.

Tasso drew on the works of his predecessors in other ways as well. No doubt, Tasso was aware of his comparison to his near contemporary Ludovico Ariosto. Although he often criticizes Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (also in WLAIT 7: Italian Literature and Its Times) for digressing from the main narrative and lacking unity of plot, he frequently uses modes of speech and imagery recalling Ariosto’s story.

The most important source for the structure of his work was Aristotle’s already-mentioned Poetics, which, after its rediscovery in 1536, became the cornerstone of discussions on literary theory throughout sixteenth-century Italy. Tasso adopted Aristotle’s notion of unity of plot structure, convinced that it would bring him closer to imitating the ancient epic poems than his predecessors. Both the Aeneid and the Iliad not only inspired episodes in Jerusalem Delivered; Tasso used them as models when distributing themes and episodes throughout his poem.

Contemporary circumstances entered into the writing of Jerusalem Delivered too. By the time Tasso began composing Jerusalem Delivered, his patron, Alfonso II d’Este, was engaged in a struggle to preserve the power and lands of his family’s. In 1567, Pope Pius V published a bull banning illegitimate heirs from inheriting feudal titles in papal domains. The bull seemed to be directed at Duke Alfonso, whose title was held by papal grant and who had not produced a legitimate heir. Tasso attempts to resolve his patron’s problem by weaving into Jerusalem Delivered the ancestry of the Este line, portraying the family’s as descendants of the poem’s champion Rinaldo.

Events in History at the Time the Poem Was Written

Early modern Italy—political uncertainty

Whether it is described as a time of crisis or the disintegration of ideals associated with the previous century, it is obvious that some major ideological changes occurred from 1550-1600. Niccolo Machiavelli’s (1469-1527) bleak predictions for Italy’s future in The Prince (also in WLAIT 7: Italian Literature and Its Times) turned into reality as the stability enjoyed under powerful figures such as Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-92) became little more than a fleeting memory. Instead, two world powers, France and Spain, struggled for control over parts of the Italian peninsula and even after the peace established by the treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559 ushered in more stable times, the memory of previous invasions, such as the sack of Rome in 1527, remained fresh in the minds of the public.

In Jerusalem Delivered, Tasso has his speaker address his patron, Alfonso, directly, at times urging him to take up arms in a new crusade after the example of Godfrey. Tasso offers up the poem as an example for Alfonso or any of its readers or listeners: “Strive,” says the speaker, “with Godfrey as your exemplar,/ heed my song well and gird yourself for war” (Jerusalem Delivered, pp. 17-18). In the case of Alfonso the action implied is to undertake a new crusade against the Ottoman Turks. Italy was subject to frequent attacks by the Turks until at least the 1620s. Tasso’s sister Cornelia narrowly escaped capture by a band of Turkish pirates in his hometown of Sorrento, so the threat of these invaders held personal significance for him. In attempting to persuade Alfonso to do battle in the name of the Church, Tasso’s poem brings together his concerns about being a worthy court poet and a good Christian.

Tasso and the Church

In addition to political turmoil, there was a troubling ideological shift in the religious institutions of Tasso’s day. Although the Protestant Reformation in many ways forced the Catholic Church to codify its dogma in an effort to distinguish itself as the one true church, changes in the notion of piety and the shrinking of religious tolerance were already underway by the time Martin Luther took action that instigated the Reformation in 1517. By the late sixteenth century, the Council of Trent, which met in three sessions from 1544-63, had asserted the authority of local bishops and the parish as the center of religious life. The Council also laid the foundations for a more personal, active notion of religious faith than before. This concept was manifested in a number of ways: one consequence was the establishment of the Society of Jesus in 1540, more commonly known as the Jesuit order, which became the right hand of the Church in its missionary and educational efforts for centuries to come. A second consequence was the formation of a commission of six cardinals by Pope Paul III in 1542, later known as the Roman Inquisition.

Tasso’s own relationship to the Church was, like the rest of his life, full of conflict. His father, Bernardo, had participated in the 1522 rebellion of Naples against papal rule, which forced Bernardo into exile along with his patron. Later he grew anxiety-ridden about the relationship between his work and the Church. By the time Tasso completed Jerusalem Delivered, his doubts about it had grown; the response to the initial text he circulated was not entirely positive. So concerned was he about the poem’s various digressions on the subject of love between the Christian knights and the Saracen women that he submitted it for review by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. It approved the work, but this gesture failed to quell his nagging doubts. Tasso grew obsessed with the unresolved conflicts both within the poem and himself.

After Tasso attacked a servant with a knife, Tasso’s patron, Alfonso, sent him to the asylum of St. Ann, where he was allowed visitors and continued to write prolifically. After seven years there, Tasso had improved enough to leave. He began an itinerant existence, wandering among the Italian courts at Mantua, Bergamo, and Naples. He also began to write a number of religiously inspired works, including several madrigals, the tragedy Torrismondo, a poem entitled The Creation of theWorld (iI Mondo Create), and what he deemed his greatest work, Jerusalem Conquered, a refashioning of the earlier Jerusalem poem without any of its romance elements. Remaining religiously inspired, Tasso ultimately gained not only the approval but also the acclaim of the Church. He spent his final days in Rome, where he died before he could accept the honor of being crowned Italy’s poet laureate by Pope Clement VIII.

Publication and reception

In 1580 the first 14 cantos of Jerusalem Delivered were published in an unauthorized version under the title Goffredo (Godfrey). More definitive editions followed in 1581 and 1584 after repeated revisions by both the editors and the poet himself. In 1593, after Tasso removed many of the episodes on love, a completely revised version of the poem was released under the title Jerusalem Conquered. This later version never achieved the popularity or success of the original, but in Tasso’s view, came much closer to the classical epic model.

Jerusalem Delivered, on the other hand, was both an immediate success and a catalyst for controversy. The poem’s content became part of a debate as to which of the two most accomplished modern poets, Ariosto or Tasso, was worthy of the stature afforded to ancients such as Virgil or Homer. There were many individuals, especially among the members of the nascent Academy of the Crusca in Florence who favored Ariosto’s multiplicity of plot and inventiveness to Tasso’s adherence to the Aristotelian principle of unity. Feeling the need to defend his strategy, in 1585 Tasso published the Apology in Defense of the “Jerusalem Delivered.” He argued for the superiority of his epic by explaining that it rested on a concept of unity that was twofold: first it entailed Aristotle’s idea of formal unity and second, the notion that political and religious unity under a single earthly ruler is preferable to the chaos that results when many individuals attempt to rule simultaneously. The earthly ruler in the poem is, of course, Godfrey, earthly head of all the crusaders as God’s chosen emissary, God being the supreme ruler.

The first English translation of the Gerusalemme Liberata by Edward Fairfax appeared in 1600 and subsequently in 1624 under the title Godfrey ofBulloigne. The vast number of references to Tasso throughout this period gives an indication as to the popularity and influence of his work on English poets such as Edmund Spenser and John Milton, whose Paradise Lost, (1667,1674) became but one of several Christian epics that followed in the wake of Tasso’s influential epic. Many of Europe’s later, nineteenth-century Romantic writers viewed Tasso as the supreme example of poetic genius. They tended, however, to compose works not on his poetry but on his biography, works like The Lament of Tasso by Lord Byron (1788-1824) and the play Torquato Tasso by Goethe (1749-1832), both of which recount Tasso’s unrequited love for Leonora D’Este. On the other hand, countless artists and musicians created pieces based on some of the poem’s most memorable episodes—for example, the cantata Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (The Battle of Tancred and Clorinda) by the composer Claudio Monteverdi.

—Jacqualine Dyess

For More Information

Billings, Malcolm. The Cross and the Crescent: A His-tory of the Crusades. New York: Sterling, 1990.

Biow, Douglas George. Mirabile Dictu: Representations of the Marvelous in Medieval and Renaissance Epic. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

Brand, Peter, and Lino Pertile, eds. The Cambridge History of Italian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Duncan, Frederick, and August C. Krey, eds. Gesta Francorum Jerusalem Expugnantium [The Deeds of the Franks Who Attacked Jerusalem]. In Parallel Source Problems in Medieval History. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1912.

Ferguson, Margaret. Trials of Desire: Renaissance Defenses of Desire. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.

Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

Hindley, Geoffrey. The Crusades: A History of Armed Pilgrimage and Holy War. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2003.

Jeffries-Martin, John. “Religion, Renewal, and Reform in the Sixteenth Century.” In Early Modern Italy: 1550-1796. Ed. John A. Marino. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Kates, Judith A. Tasso and Milton: The Problem of Christian Epic. London: Associated University Presses, 1983.

Kruk, Remke. “The Bold and the Beautiful: Women and ‘Fitna’ in the ‘Sirat Dhat Al-Himma’: The Story of Nura.” In Women in the Medieval Islamic World. Ed. Gavin R. G. Hambley. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Tasso, Torquato. Jerusalem Delivered (Gerusalemme Liberata). Trans. Anthony M. Esolen. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

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Jerusalem Delivered (Gerusalemme Liberata)

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