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Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso
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Jerusalem Delivered

by Torquato Tasso

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English (4)  Italian (1)  All languages (5)
Showing 4 of 4
John Addington Symonds a nineteenth century critic said that Torquato Tasso thought he was writing a religious heroic poem but Jerusalem Delivered (Gerusalemme liberata) turned out to be a poem of sentiment and passion. First published in 1581 it was immediately popular and a complete translation by Edward Fairfax appeared in 1600 and this was the version that I read. The Fairfax translation is considered a work of literature in its own right because he took liberties with Tasso’s original, heightening the passion and sentiment as he thought fit. It reads beautifully with some purple passages that sing out from the page:

"So, in the passing of a day, doth pass
The bud and blossom of the life of man,
Nor e'er doth flourish more, but like the grass
Cut down, becometh withered, pale and wan:
Oh gather then the rose while time thou hast
Short is the day, done when it scant began,
Gather the rose of love, while yet thou mayest,
Loving, be loved; embracing, be embraced.”


Tasso’s long poem of 20 cantos is subdivided by Fairfax into stanzas of eight lines with a rhyming scheme that adds to the ease of reading.

Jerusalem Delivered is a romantic treatment of the first crusade when Godfrey led a force of 80,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 horse and reached Jerusalem in 1099. He captured the city after a siege of five weeks and ruled for a year. The poem tells the story of the siege but also tells of the love affairs between the French knights and the pagan (Moslem) women. Although Godfrey (Goffredo) is the hero of the history poem and the voice of reason and piety, it is the warriors Rinaldo and Tancredi who grab the attention. Rinaldo is tempted by the pagan sorceress Armida who lures him away from the fighting and encourages his banishment by Godfrey. The entrapment gradually turns into a real love affair which overwhelms the two characters. Tancredi falls in love with the warrior pagan woman Clorinda but kills her when he doesn’t realise who she is on the battle field:


But now, alas, the fatal hour arrives
That her sweet life must leave that tender hold,
His sword into her bosom deep he drives,
And bathed in lukewarm blood his iron cold,
Between her breasts the cruel weapon rives
Her curious square, embossed with swelling gold,
Her knees grow weak, the pains of death she feels,
And like a falling cedar bends and reels.


When he removes her helmet he is mortified, but Clorinda’s last request is that he baptise her, so that he can save her soul. Tancredi is beset with visions of Clorinda throughout the poem, but there is yet another pagan women in love with him: Erminia who he saved and protected at the battle of Antioch on the way to Jerusalem. Tasso’s female characters are as strong as their male counterparts whether they are warriors, or sorceresses.

Tasso’s poem is a carefully planned epic and differs in this respect from Ariosto’s “[Orlando Furioso]” and Spenser’s [Faerie Queen]. It has its fair share of fantasy for example the isle of temptation created by Armida or the pagan sorcerer Ismen’s spells that guard a sacred wood and on the christian side there is the archangel Michael who intervenes in critical moments on the battlefield, but they are interwoven into the overall scheme of Tasso’s story and don’t feel like fantasy add-ons. The battle scenes are rich in detail and Tasso/Fairfax’s poetry rises to the occasion, it certainly has an epic feel.

Tasso makes his pagan characters as heroic and as chivalrous as their christian counterparts. It would appear that he was worried about the way his poem would be read by his catholic patrons and he submitted it for scrutiny before publication and then worried himself to the point of insanity with revisions; eventually producing Gerusalemme Conquistata, which excised the romantic and fantasy elements and which nobody reads today.

Not everything in Jerusalem Delivered is wonderful, there are some cantos that look backward to earlier poetry, for example the majority of canto 17 is little more than a list of the leaders of the Egyptian army who are travelling to Jerusalem to support their Moslem compatriots, however the longueurs are few and far between and for the most part this is a very readable poem with some exciting battle scenes and plenty of romance with not a little compassion and even a hint of eroticism:

These naked wantons, tender, fair and white,
Moved so far the warriors' stubborn hearts,
That on their shapes they gazed with delight;
The nymphs applied their sweet alluring arts,
And one of them above the waters quite,
Lift up her head, her breasts and higher parts,
And all that might weak eyes subdue and take,
Her lower beauties veiled the gentle lake.


One of the great epic poems of the Renaissance and for me the Fairfax translation was a five star read. ( )
3 vote baswood | Aug 18, 2018 |
This is an epic poem about the First Crusade to liberate the Holy Land. Little read today, it was once consider a must read during the Renaissance. Tasso imitates Homer and Virgil in composing this work and pits love against duty within the main characters. A work that should be resurrected. ( )
1 vote JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
The fame of Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata was known far and wide during the Renaissance but sadly, it is far from everyday reading today. This work, describing in twenty masterful cantos the taking of Jerusalem during the first crusade, is one of the masterpieces of epic poetry; in the same lofty realms as Paradise Lost and Dante's Inferno.

The poem is largely fantasy, although it draws many of its characters from the historical record, along with some of the geography and a modicum of history. While the modern view of the crusades is that of a dark hour in church history, full of bigotry and inhumanity, Tasso paints it as a glorious adventure, in the full romantic, chivalric tradition. Surprisingly, however, he makes the characters of the Islamic defenders of Jerusalem very human, rendering them in a remarkably (for the time) sympathetic light. While the poem has strong religious overtones, it is clear that Soliman, Argante, Clorinda and Armida are all characters who are motivated by chivalry and love, and not necessarily by religion. The poem was written in the Renaissance, but it still contains numerous strong female characters. from Clorinda, the Muslim warrior princess who is slain by Tancred during a battle in which neither recognizes their lover, to Armida, the sorceress who steals Rinaldo away from the Christians in Circe-like fashion, loving him and hating him all at once.

The fantastical breathes throughout the poem, with enchanted woods that bleed when cut, secret fortresses, hermits with magical staffs, and the Islands of the Blessed. In spite of the wide-ranging plot, the depth of character and the integration of the story are modern in their effect. I literaly hung on every line and read it the way I might have read Tolkien in my youth. (Indeed, I suspect Tolkien may have used Tasso as source material). There is, of course, a vast wash of blood shed with helm-splitting, dismembering accounts of medieval combat, told as if it were a children's tale. The descriptions of siege warfare are rendered with an eye that seems to have been intimately familiar with the craft, each tower, tortoise and mangonel exquisitely described. The geography of the Holy Land and the coast of North Africa seem likewise familiar to the author, although he becomes a little confused beyond Gibraltar. There is a paen to Columbus, the discoverer of the New World, included as a prophecy in Canto Fifteen, but the New World seems to consist largely of heavenly islands. One disconcerting factor is that Tasso's patronage by the house of Este places repeated effusive passages concerning the house's future greatness in the mouths of the crusaders. This patronage is responsible for the central role played by Rinaldo, a scion of the house of Este.

The book itself is a fine trade paperback on high quality paper. The translation, by M. Esolen is at once high-sounding, noble and very readable. Each stanza is rhymed but there is little or no sense of hatchet-made versification. Esolen eschews the use of archaic language and inverted grammar for the sake of rhyme, delivering a steady cadence and dependable style that lend grace and dignity to the poem. Poetic translation can be tough but Esolen pulls this off nicely. I haven't read the original Italian so I can't speak to the veracity of the language but it reads very well in English. The book also contains brief notes on the translation, an introduction, presumably by the translator, the "Allegory of the Poem" presumably by Tasso - although the text does not say, and a terminal scholarly apparatus including a dramatis personae, extensive end notes, a bibliographic essay and an index.

I can not give too high a praise to this book. It is probably the most exciting and interesting piece of literature I have read from prior to the 17th century. I read it as I would a novel, racing forward to try to catch the plot. Now, after being left breathless, I feel the need to read it again, immediately; to savor its many heroic moods and revel in its beautiful metaphors. Alas, I have too much else to do, but I am sure that I will one day return and spend some enchanted time with Godfrey, Tancred, Clorinda and company. ( )
4 vote Neutiquam_Erro | Mar 18, 2008 |
An epic from the era, and the genre, of _The Fairy Queen_, Malory, and the Arthurian and Carolingian cycles -- the 'courtly romantic' style (the term itself escapes me at the moment) parodied in _Don Quixote_.

Everyone should read this poem, and at a very particular period of life, namely, adolescence. Tasso is extremely PG-13, with strong sexual undertones and the like not present in Homer, and is thus not really suited for children; but _Jerusalem Delivered_ is also, at least IMHO, a less multi-faceted work than the Odyssey and Iliad, and not quite as productive to read later in life. It lacks the picturesque moments of Homer's poetry, trading them for much more detailed, more subtle characterization and motivation -- just the thing that an adolescent is best suited to pick up on and appreciate.

Not, of course, that it's inaccessible to adults, or even to younger children; but most earnestly recommended to the age group in between. It would be much better for them than _Lord of the Rings_ -- while scratching the same itch, it might be said. ( )
2 vote ex_ottoyuhr | Jan 21, 2007 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors (110 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tasso, Torquatoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Caretti, LanfrancoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Esolen, Anthony M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fairfarx, EdwardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nelson, John CharlesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tomasi, FrancoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0801863236, Paperback)

Late in the eleventh century the First Crusade culminated in the conquest of Jerusalem by Christian armies. Five centuries later, when Torquato Tasso began to search for a subject worthy of an epic, Jerusalem was governed by a sultan, Europe was in the crisis of religious division, and the Crusades were a nostalgic memory. Tasso turned to the First Crusade both as a subject that would test his poetic ambition and as a reflection on the quandaries of his own time. He sought to create a masterpiece that would deserve comparison with the great epics of the past.

Gerusalemme liberata became one of the most widely read and cherished books of the Renaissance. First published in 1581, it was translated into English by Edward Fairfax in 1600. That translation has been the standard, even though Fairfax was only a good, not a great, poet. Fairfax tried to fit Tasso's verse into Spenserian stanzas, adding to and subtracting from the original and often changing Tasso's meaning.

Anthony Esolen's new translation captures the delight of Tasso's descriptions, the different voices of its cast of characters, the shadings between glory and tragedy—and it does all this in an English as powerful and clear as Tasso's Italian. Tasso's masterpiece finally emerges as an English masterpiece.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:14 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The great sixteenth-century poet vividly imagines the end of the First Crusade, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, and the taking of Jerusalem. This decidedly fictional 1581 account, influenced by Homer and Virgil as well as Ariosto's Orlando Furioso , is heavily seasoned with romance, intrigue, and sorcery. Tasso's poem inspired painters, playwrights, and librettists for centuries. Verse translation by Edward Fairfax.… (more)

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