Torquato Tasso

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Tasso, Torquato

(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).

Tasso, Torquato


Born Mar. 11, 1544, in Sorrento; died Apr. 25,1595, in Rome. Italian poet; son of the poet B. Tasso.

Tasso graduated from the University of Bologna in 1565. In 1572 he became the court poet of Alfonso II d’Este, duke of Ferrara. Influenced by the Counter-Reformation, Tasso renounced philosophical skepticism; he developed a morbid religiosity and a persecution complex. From 1579 to 1586, on the duke’s order, he was confined in a hospital for the insane. In the last years of his life he wandered the cities of Italy.

Tasso’s works combined traits of the Renaissance style with those of the succeeding styles of classicism and the baroque. His Renaissance nature and love lyrics of the 1560’s and early 1570’s gave way to naturalistic, hyperbolic baroque poetry, written between 1579 and 1586. Tasso’s pastoral drama Aminta (1573, published 1580), imbued with a pantheistic perception of the world and an awareness of the power of love, was a Renaissance work with a tendency toward classicism. The treatise Discourses on the Poetic Art (1565–66, published 1587) and its second version, Discourses on the Heroic Poem (1594), based on Aristotle’s poetics, constituted the theoretical basis of Tasso’s new mixed genre, which combined the classical epic with the chivalric narrative poem of L. Ariosto.

Tasso’s chief work was the historical narrative poem Goffredo(written 1574–75), published in full as Jerusalem Delivered (1580; Russian translation by D. Min, vols. 1–3,1900). While the poem dealt with the First Crusade, it also reflected the military clashes taking place during the 1570’s between the European nations and the Turks. It contrasted the principles of humanism and individualism, typical of the Renaissance, and the ethics of the Counter-Reformation. Tasso’s poetic model was the Iliad. The poem’s second version, Jerusalem Conquered (1593), reflected an orthodox Catholic viewpoint. Tasso’s works influenced Western European literature of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the figure of Tasso appeared in works by Goethe, Byron, and K. N. Batiushkov.


Opere, vols. 1–33. Edited by G. Rosini. Pisa, 1821–32.
Tuttelepoesie. Edited by L. Caretti. [Milan, 1957.]
Opere[vols. 1–2. Milan, 1961–68].
In Russian translation:
Aminta. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937.


Rozanov, M. Pushkin, Tasso, Aretino. [Moscow-Leningrad, 1937.]
De Sanctis, F. Istoriia ital’ianskoi literatury, vol. 2. Moscow, 1964.
Mokul’skii, S. S. Ital’ianskaia literatura: Vozrozhdenie i Prosveshchenie. Moscow, 1966.
Storia della letteratura italiana, vol. 4. Edited by E. Cecchi and N. Sapegno. [Milan, 1966.]