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  • L'idea del poema: Studio sulla Gerusalemme conquistata di Torquato Tasso
  • Madison U. Sowell
Matteo Residori . L'idea del poema: Studio sulla Gerusalemme conquistata di Torquato Tasso. Testi e saggi rinascimentali 3. Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore, 2004. 470 pp. index. illus. bibl. €35. ISBN: 88-7642-132-7.

Facts: Tasso completed the Gerusalemme liberata (GL) in 1575. Four years later, owing to bizarre behavior, he was arrested and confined to the Hospital of Sant'Anna in Ferrara, where he remained until 1586. During his confinement the first complete (unauthorized) versions of GL appeared in print (1581) and enjoyed widespread acclaim. Then in 1584 a fierce controversy arose regarding the validity [End Page 840] of the GL as an imitation of the classical epic. The poet responded initially by composing an Apologia (1585), in which he defended his poem against various critics. Eventually he began to rewrite the poem, and in 1593 he published a dramatically altered version under the new title of Gerusalemme conquistata (GC).

Long axiomatic in Tasso studies has been the notion that the GC was produced by an overly sensitive, probably paranoid poet in an effort to please Counter-Reformation censors and assorted critics of the original version. In an enlightening new study Matteo Residori, who is well-versed in the history of sixteenth-century Italian criticism, explores not only why the Ferrarese poet revamped the GL as the GC but also how he accomplished the arduous task. Residori's research into what Tasso meant when he introduced "l'idea del poema" ("the idea of the [heroic] poem") in his Apologia is meticulous and painstaking. While also fluent in modern literary theory, Residori never foregrounds theory at the expense of his text-based arguments. Instead, history and theory form a solid background to close textual analyses of the GC in relation to its myriad sources.

The study is divided into four major sections, followed by an exemplary bibliography (with all the key names and studies from both sides of the Atlantic), three tables and maps, a name index, and an index of passages cited from the GC. The first section, "I nuovi equilibri del poema," focuses on the parasitical nature of the GC ("cresciuto sopra e attorno al testo che vuole superare" [21]), on the attenuation in the revised version of the GL's often heralded "dialettica tra unità e varietà" (32), on the GC's inclusion of "episodi francamente allegorici o la riscrittura in chiave allegorica di episodi preesistenti" (52), and on the adoption "esplicita e sistematica di esempi o modelli testuali autorevoli" (71), such as Homer's Iliad and the Bible.

The second part, "La Gerusalemme trionfante," explicates Tasso's reliance in the GC on medieval chroniclers, such as William of Tyre, who are nevertheless quickly replaced when shown to contradict more authoritative ancient sources, such as biblical accounts: "Quando l'autorità delle cronache e quella dei modelli antichi entrano in conflitto, Tasso non sembra avere esitazioni nello scegliere la seconda" (127). Residori's discussion of the thorny problem "della sopravvivenza del patrimonio classico nella poesia cristiana" (138) in light of Counter-Reformation politics is engaging, but his conclusion will surprise few readers: "la Conquistata adotta in modo non episodico schemi argumentativi, topoi, figure simboliche che appartengono anche alla contemporanea propaganda cattolica" (144).

The third part, "Ritorno alle origini dell'epica e 'pittura di costumi': Il modello dell'Iliade," brilliantly details the massive "Homerization" of Tasso's rewritten epic as per Thomas Greene's useful classifications of Renaissance imitatio as a passage "dall'imitazione 'euristica' a quella 'riproduttiva o sacramentale'" (173). Residori makes a convincing case that the Virgilian emphasis in the GL is replaced in the GC by a clear preference for the more ancient Iliad for one basic reason: "Il passaggio dal modello latino a quello Greco comporta . . . in termini platonici, un'approssimazione all''idea' stessa di poema; è il gesto di chi pretende di eliminare [End Page 841] tutte le mediazioni, tutta l'infinita serie delle 'copie' interposte, per risalre fino all'integrità e alla verità assoluta del primo esemplare" (175). From this idea also emerges the fundamental reason for the GC's poetic shortcomings: the Homeric accretions sadly create "profonde...


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pp. 840-842
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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