Reader's Encyclopedia

Tasso, Torquato (1544 - 1595)

Italian poet. He was born at Sorrento and educated by the Jesuits at Naples and by his father, Bernardo Tasso, himself a distinguished man of letters. At Padua, he studied law, then philosophy and eloquence under the influence of Speroni. When eighteen, he wrote a romantic epic, Rinaldo, about the adventures of the hero, a cousin of Orlando (Roland) the paladin. In 1565, he went to Ferrara to serve the Este family and began work on his masterpiece, the Gerusalemme liberata. During the decade he composed several discourses on the art of poetry and wrote Aminta, first performed at the Este court in 1573. A few years later, his physical and mental health began to disintegrate as his sensitive nature was racked by doubts about the critical and religious orthodoxy of his work and by suspicions of hostility toward him on the part of patrons and friends. In 1579 the duke of Ferrara placed him in an asylum, where he languished for seven years in misery, despite such visitors as Montaigne and many expressions of sympathy from the literary world. The fact that his writings in the asylum reveal an anguished rather than a deranged mind prompted later writers like Goethe to picture him as the victim of a romantic but forbidden attachment to the duke's sister Leonora (see Torquato Tasso). In 1586, upon his release, he found himself honored for his Jerusalem, which had appeared during his imprisonment. Despite further wanderings and continuing poor health, he completed in 1586 a tragedy, Torrismondo, and a creation poem. Mondo creato (1607), as well as more critical treatises and many letters. In 1593, he completed a revised version of his masterpiece, called Gerusalemme conquistata (Jerusalem Conquered), to meet critical and ecclesiastical objections. But in Italy and elsewhere, the first version was and remains the celebrated work; the second version has lived only as a document of biographical value. In 1594 Pope Clement VIII planned to crown him with the laurel on the Capitol in Rome, but the poet died in April 1595, before the projected ceremony. From the time of Edward Fairfax's translation into English of Jerusalem Delivered (1594, 1600), Tasso strongly influenced English poets, from Spenser to Byron.