"For I have battled with mine agony, / And made me wings wherewith to overfly / The narrow circus of my dungeon wall, / And freed the Holy Sepulchre from thrall; / And revell'd among men and things divine, / And pour'd my spirit over Palestine" (Lord Byron, “The Lament of Tasso”)
All in all, “La Gerusalemme liberata“, Jerusalem Delivered, is a narrative mess. The plot is confused, at best, cogency and convincing stringency is what happens in other epics, Classical and Renaissance and Tasso’s fabulating and inventiveness are reminiscent of Medieval epic poetry rather than Virgil and Homer, a pathetic display for an Italian 16th century poet and nevertheless, poor, mad Tasso landed a coup with his very own epic poem that would influence the tempestuous souls of artists, poets, composers and painters, for the next 300 years. The magical portrayal of the First Crusade, having as much in common with the historical events as the manifest content of a dream one has after reading the “Gesta Francorum” and a very heavy dinner, is a story full of high emotion, love, duty, enchantment, melancholy, in short: passionate sentiment in a form of heightened poetic expressiveness that forestalls the greatest literary works of the Romantic Movement centuries later. When Tasso had finished his opus magnum at the age of 31, he was physically and emotionally exhausted, and caught in the intrigues of the rivalling Renaissance courts of Florence and Ferrara, his way of grief began that reads like a novel all by itself.
His strange relationship to his benefactresses, Lucezia and Leonora d’Este, Princesses at the court of Ferrara, both en years his senior, possibly full of unrequited love, that drew him back to the court of Ferrara like a magnet, his self-denunciation as a heretic with the local inquisition, seven years in the madhouse of St Anna, his dialogues on ethical and philosophical topics he wrote there, being long past the zenith of his poetical genius, but already counted among the great ones of contemporary literature on eye-level with Petrarch and Ariosto and to be awarded with a crown of laurels as king of the poets by Pope Clement VIII on the Capitol in Rome, Tasso died a few days before the ceremony in the convent of Sant’Onofrio on Trastevere Hill, probably just of being Tasso, at the age of 51. English and German poets, from Spenser and Milton to Byron and Goethe, erected various literary monuments in his honour and Tasso and his “La Gerusalemme liberata“ became a milestone in the western art canon.
Depicted below is Eugène Delacroix’s “Tasso in the Madhouse” (1839)
And more on.
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