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Torquato Tasso: a renowned son of Sorrento

- The author of Jerusalem Delivered, of Aminta, of King Torrismondo, of Rinaldo and many other works, was born in Sorrento Coast in 1544 Torquato Tasso was born in Sorrento on March 11th 1544 from Bernardo (who at that time was the secretary of the Prince of Salerno, Ferrante di Sanseverino) and Porzia De’ Rossi. With his family he moved to Salerno (1545) and then to Naples (1551) where he studied at the Jesuits’. In 1554 he reached his father in Rome where (in February 1556) he learned his mother’s death. Few months later he was sent to Bergamo for a short stay, but the year after he joined his father again, who had moved to Urbino, to join the service of Prince Guidobaldo della Rovere. There Torquato, in becoming a fellow student of the hereditary prince Francesco Maria, met men of letters like Bernardo Cappello and Dionigi Atanagi and could enjoy the teaching of Girolamo Muzio, Antonio Galli and Federico Commandino. In particular, he devoted to the study of letters, science and chivalry arts. In 1558 his sister Cornelia - just married to the noble Muzio Sersale – was saved almost miraculously from an invasion on the occasion of which (on June 13th) the Saracens sacked Sorrento and killed most of its inhabitants. This event deeply shook Torquato who probably decided to write down a work dealing with the First Crusade. In 1560, in fact, while staying in Venice, he wrote the book of the Jerusalem he left unfinished to begin the Rinaldo dedicated to Cardinal Luigi d’Este. The following year Tasso began studying law in Padua, but he left it to follow courses of philosophy and eloquence given by teachers like Francesco Piccolomini and Carlo Sigonio. In the town of Veneto the poet wrote various rhymes for the maid of honour of Princess Eleonora d’Este, Lucrezia Bendidio, he resumed the plan to compose a heroic poem and began the work entitled Discourses on the Art of Poetry. After moving to Bologna, in the month of November 1563, he attended here the third and fourth years of his studies, but in the meantime – on the occasion of a visit to his father, turned to the service of Guglielmo Gonzaga duke of Mantua – he met and loved Laura Peperara for whom he wrote various rhymes. Accused to have written a sharp satire against teachers and students of the Bolognese Study, he escaped and returned to Padua where he joined the Academy of the Eterei with the name of Pentito (Repented). After joining the service of Cardinal Luigi d’Este, in 1565 (with whom he would collaborate until the month of April 1571) he frequented the court of the Duke of Ferrara Alfonso, and enjoyed the favours of his sisters Lucrezia and Leonora for whom he composed some of his most beautiful rhymes. Numbered among the salaried courtesans of Duke Alfonso (from January 10th 1572), Tasso devoted himself to the writing of various minor works, but also of L’Aminta (which would be printed in 1580) and to the finishing of Goffredo. It was right this work that, nevertheless, marked the beginning of the misfortunes of the man of letters and was the starting point of those troubles, doubts and problems which caused him serious psychological damages. After becoming a court historiographer, in the month of November 1575, the poet went to Rome, on the occasion of the jubilee year and was introduced to the cardinal de ’ Medici whom he asked for the revision of his poem by renowned men of letters. The task was assigned to Scipione Gonzaga, Flaminio Nobili, Silvio Antoniano and Sperone Speroni. After coming back to Ferrara, Tasso started a laborious revision of the Goffredo which would cause him a sense of rebellion, discouragement and depression besides religious scruples. These scruples induced the poet to think he had been run into heresy and to be judged by the Inquisition that absolved him without making, yet, his worries to be vanished. Being psychologically exhausted, the writer began to feel persecution manias and showed the fear to be poisoned . In June 1577, thinking he was being spied on, he attacked a servant with a knife. After making him be imprisoned for a short period, Duke Alfonso, alarmed by the worsening of his well-educated courtesan, worried by the possibility of compromising his relationships with the Inquisition, besides being disturbed by the delays in the finishing of the work and by the relationships entertained by Tasso with exponents of the Family de’ Medici, made him recover in the convent of Ferrara of San Francesco from where the poet escaped on July 27th to reach Sorrento. As he got to his hometown, he presented himself to his sister Cornelia disguised as a shepherd and in order to prove her love for him, he told her about his own death. Though being reassured and cheered up by his family, he missed Ferrara and started a frenetic pilgrimage which brought to Rome, Ferrara, Mantua, Padua, Venice, Pesaro, Urbino and Turin where, though being given a cold welcome by the guards, he found hospitality of Prince Charles Emmanuel and Marquis Filippo d’ Este. In 1579, once more in an almost incredible way, he escaped to return to Ferrara on the occasion of the wedding between Duke Alfonso and Margherita Gonzaga, but few days later, at the Bentivoglios’, he flared up before going to the Ducal Castle to rail against the court. In front of signs of madness he was enclosed in the Hopital of Sant’ Anna to begin a period of detention destined to last until 1586. In the meantime, in 1581, the first edition of the Jerusalem Delivered was published, followed by other editions of it. The work immediately finished at the centre of the public attention and a heated dispute on the supposed superiority of Tasso as against Ludovico Ariosto. Keen to be freed again, Torquato Tasso wrote to many nobles and to Pope Sisto V, but only in the month of July 1586, he was entrusted to the custody of Prince Vincenzo Gonzaga of Mantua, for whom he wrote the Torrismondo, by taking it from the Galealto. Being once again overcome with melancholy, the poet, worrying about the arrival of Alfonso d’Este to Mantua, began to travel again, going from Loreto to Macerata and so to Naples, where he was welcomed in the Monastery of Monte Oliveto, and where he found his inspiration to write a small poem entitled Monte Oliveto. In 1590 he came to Florence where he received a warm welcome by the Granduke of Tuscany, Ferdinando de’ Medici and by the academy members of the Crusca, but hearing of the death of Pope Sisto V, he returned to Mantua to write the Genealogy of Gonzaga house, after staying in Rome, Viterbo, Siena and Bologna. Destined not to have a rest, in 1592 Torquato Tasso returned for the umpteenth time to Naples (where he had been involved in a lawsuit with his relatives for the motherly inheritance) and to Rome. In the capital of the Papal State, the poet – in 1593 – composed The Tears of the Virgin Mary and The Tears of Jesus Christ and so he completed the Jerusalem Conquered. After staying for the last time in Naples, at the Monastery of San Severino where he began to write the poem entitled Della vita di San Benedetto (Of the Life of St. Benedict) – Tasso finally returned to Rome in 1594. There the Pope promised him the poetic crowning, but being ill again, he was recovered at the Convent of Sant’ Onofrio al Gianicolo where he died on April 25th 1595. A long hard period of detention (1579-1586), with which the poet put an end to his inner crisis that had been lasting since 1575. 1580 May. After fourteen months of strict segregation, he was allowed some rooms where he could begin to receive his friends and to write rhymes, letters and mini-dialogues. Most of the works of this period have the purpose to provide the poet with the favour of some princes or to rebut the charges by which he felt, rightly or wrongly, haunted. Very close were also his exchanges of letters with friends and editors about the various printings, mostly arbitrary and unauthorized, which were being made out of his works. In his moments of clearness of mind he composed above all dialogues of which it is useful to give a chronological summary statement also including the ones before and after his imprisonment. Il Forno ovvero de la nobiltà (three editions: 1578 [lost], 1580,1585-1587), Il Beltramo ovvero de la cortesia (1579, then remade in 1585), Il Forestiero Napoletano ovvero de la gelosia (1579, then remade in 1585), Il N. overo de la pietà (1579, then remade in 1585), Il Gonzaga ovvero del piacere onesto (1580), Il Nifo ovvero del piacere (a remaking of the previous: two editions: 1582, 1587), Il Messaggiero (three edions: 1580, 1583, 1587), Il Padre di famiglia (1580), De la dignità (three editions: 1580 [lost], 1585, 1587 [lost]), De la precedenza (1580-1581), Il Romeo ovvero del giuoco (1581), Il Gonzaga secondo (a remaking of the previous; two editions: 1581-1582, 1587), Dialogue (1581, then remade in 1587), Il Rangone overo de la pace (1584), Il Malpiglio ovvero de la corte (1585), Il Malpiglio secondo ovvero del fuggir la moltitudine (1585), lA Cavaletta ovvero de la poesia toscana (1585), Il Gianluca ovvero de le maschere (1585), Il Cataneo ovvero de gli idoli (1585), Il Ghirlinzone ovvero l'epita{io (1585), lA Molza ovvero de l'amore (1585), Il Costante ovvero della clemenza (1589), Il Cataneo ovvero de le conclusioni amorose (1590), Il Manso ovvero de l'amicizia (1592), Il Ficino ovvero dell'arte (1592-1593), Il Minturno overo de la bellezza (1592-1593), Il Porzio overo de le virtù (1592.1593), Il Conte overo de l'imprese (1594). November. He returned to Rome. He was a guest of the Gonzagas. He wrote, for the death of the woman loved by Fabio Orsini, Il Rogo amoroso (published then in Venice, in 1608, in the third part of the Rhymes, at Deuchino and Pulciani, with the title of Rogo di Corinna. He continued to compose rhymes for princes. 1589 August. He left the house of Scipione Gonzaga and followed treatments in the convent of Santa Maria Nuova degli Olivetani. He was ill. He tried to return to Naples and to Mantua. He addressed to the Granduke of Tuscany, Ferdinando de’ Medici, to join his service. 1590 April. He left to Florence. He received a warm welcome by the granduke and by the members of the Academy of Crusca, begun now enthusiastic celebrators of the Jerusalem Delivered. He was quiet. He began the remaking of the poem. September. As soon as he heard of the death of Sisto V, he left Florence and returned to Rome. 1591 He was invited by Vincenzo Gonzaga to return to Mantua. He accepted the invitation. March. He came to Mantua, after staying in Viterbo, Siena and Bologna. He continued the remaking of the poem and wrote the Genealogy of the Gonzaga Family (published then in Rome by Marcantonio Foppa, in 1666, at Dragondelli, in the third volume of the Works no more printed). He finally set his rhymes in order and published the first part of them in Mantua at the Osanna (a reprinting, with the adding of a second part, was published in 1592 in Brescia, at Marchetti). August. He joined the retinue of the duke who went to Rome to pay homage to the new pope Innocenzo IX. Being ill again, he was forced to make a stop in Florence. December. He got to Rome. 1592 February. He was invited to Naples by Matteo di Capua by whom he received a warm welcome. He met various men of letters, among whom the young G.B. Marino. He left Matteo di Capua’s house and went to live at G.B. Manso. Here he began the poem Il Mondo Creato (published then in 1605 in Ferrara, at Baldini; but already in 1600 The First Two Days had been published, Venezia, Ciotti). He stroke up a friendship with Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa and famous madrigalist. May. He returned to Rome hoping to achieve the protection and the help of the new pope Clemente VIII, succeeded Innocenzo IX. He finished the dialogue Manso, ovvero de l’amicizia. In Rome he was a guest of Cinzio Passeri Aldobrandini, a nephew of Clemente VIII, a man of letters and a protector of artists. 1593 Tasso wrote The Tears of the Virgin Mary and The Tears of Jesus Christ (published together, in the same year 1593 in Rome at Ferrari). He finished The Jerusalem Conquered (two editions: Rome, Facciotti, 1593; Pavia, Viano, 1594), he dedicated to Cinzio Aldobrandini. 1594 The quarrel with his relatives concerning the motherly inheritance still continued. It was now discussed in a law court, in Naples. June. After a period of illness, he went to Naples to the monastery of San Severino. For the benedictine friars he began to write a poem, Della Vita di San Benedetto (remained unfinished after the seventh stanza and published only recently). The Dialogue Il Conte, overo de l'imprese and the Six Discourses of the Heroic poem, with which Tasso wanted to go beyond the theoretical positions of the Discourses on the Art of Poetry and justify the remaking of the Jerusalem, were published in Naples by Stigliola. November. Called back by Cinzio Aldobrandini, he returned to Rome. The pope gave him a yearly pension and promised him the poetic crowning. 1595 March. He fell ill again. He was brought to the convent of Sant’ Onofrio sul Gianicolo. He felt now he was going to die. April 25th. At 11 a.m. Torquato died and was buried in the small Church of Sant’ Onofrio, in the first chapel on the left.

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