Tasso, Torquato

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Tasso, Torquato

Torquato Tasso (tōrkwä´tō täs´sō), 1544–95, Italian poet, one of the foremost writers and a tragic figure of the Renaissance. Educated in Naples by Jesuits, he later studied law and philosophy (1560–1562) at the Univ. of Padua. Rinaldo (1562), a chivalric poem, brought him fame when he was 18; after completing his studies at the Univ. of Bologna, he received an invitation (1565) to join the brilliant court of the Este at Ferrara, where he remained for many years. There he wrote beautiful lyric poems, the charming pastoral play Aminta (completed 1573), and the first version (completed 1575) of his masterpiece, Jerusalem Delivered (Ital. Gerusalemme liberata), an epic of the exploits of Godfrey of Boulogne during the First Crusade. A victim of his own religious scruples, he submitted the epic to literary and church authorities, whose judgment was unduly severe. He began the difficult task of revising it to suit his critics and to assuage his own doubts. He was frustrated by conditions at court, where he felt unappreciated by his patrons and envied by his colleagues. Psychologically unstable, he developed a persecution complex that led to a fit of violence in 1579. He was confined, first in a convent, then intermittently (1579–87) in a hospital, while controversy concerning his work continued. A complete version of his epic was published without his permission in 1581. In his last years, he lived with the Gonzagas in Mantua and then wandered restlessly throughout Italy searching for ideal working conditions at other courts. He died at a monastery in Rome shortly before he was to have been crowned poet laureate. Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered was lauded both as the embodiment of lyric sentiment and as the greatest poem of the Counter-Reformation. The religious motif is strong, the subplots of love and adventure are well developed, and chivalric exploits are recounted in a majestic classical style. The work had enormous influence on English poets, especially Milton. The legend of Tasso's doomed love for Leonora d'Este was immortalized in works by Byron, Goethe, and others and made Tasso a romantic hero. There are several good translations of Tasso's works.

See studies by C. P. Brand (1965), G. Getto (1968), and J. A. Kates (1983).

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