Tasso’s critique and incorporation of chivalric romance: His transformation of achilles in theGerusalemme Liberata

  • Daniel Javitch


The conflicted attitude that Torquato Tasso shows toward chivalric romance in his epic theory also marks his epic practice, as this article illustrates by comparing Rinaldo inGerusalemme liberata to Homer’s Achilles. While there are broad parallels between the two heroes—in particular their angry withdrawal from the fighting, which so hampers their side that no progress to victory can be achieved without their return—the circumstances that follow their defection and that, eventually, prompt their return are quite different. In Tasso’s poem these differences are mostly ascribable to the poet’s incorporation of conventional romance ingredients: the hero’s solitary quest for chivalric adventures, his amorous dalliance and truancy in the realm of an enchantress who falls in love with him, his liberation from her spell thanks to the intervention of a magus, his eventual overcoming of hostile magical forces that impede the progress of his fellow warriors. It also becomes apparent that a salient difference between Rinaldo and Achilles is that the conflict faced by Tasso’s hero is much more internal. Once again it is the matter of romance that allows Tasso to dramatize the personal susceptibility and the regeneration of his protagonist. Despite the negative valence he assigns to the motifs and themes of romance, Tasso depends on romance ingredients to depict the inner transformation that Rinaldo must undergo to make him into a fitter Christian warrior, and there by a hero ethically superior to both his Homeric and chivalric precursors.


Classical Tradition Epic Action Conflict Attitude Epic Poetry Epic Theory 
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  1. 1.
    See Daniel Javitch, “Lo spettro del romanzo nella teoria sull’epica del seidicesimo secolo,”Rinascimento 43 (2003[2004]), 159–176.Google Scholar
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    Torquato Tasso,Prose, ed. E. Mazzali, La Letteratura italiana, storia e testi 22 (Milano-Napoli: Ricciardi, 1959), p. 385.Google Scholar
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    See Tasso,Prose, ed. cit, p. 353.Google Scholar
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    Torquato Tasso,Lettere Poetiche, a cura di Carla Molinari, ser. Biblioteca di scrittori italiani (Parma: Guanda, 1995), p. 116. See also pp. 98–101.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    John Steadman, “Achilles and Renaissance Epic,” in: Horst Meller and Hans-Joachim Zimmermann (eds.),Lebende Antike. Symposion für Rudof Sühnel (Berlin: Schmidt Verlag, 1967), pp. 139–154.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Sergio Zatti,L’ombra del Tasso: epica e romanzo nel Cinquecento, ser. Testi e pretesti (Milano: B. Mondadori, 1996), p. 20.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Javitch
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Comparative LiteratureNew York University, Graduate School of Arts & SciencesNew YorkUSA

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