Jerusalem Delivered

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Clorinda Rescues Olindo and Sophronia by Eugène Delacroix, painting in the Neue Pinakothek.

Jerusalem Delivered (Italian: La Gerusalemme liberata) is an epic poem by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso first published in 1581, which tells a largely mythified version of the First Crusade in which Catholic knights, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, battle Muslims in order to take Jerusalem. The poem is composed of eight line stanzas grouped into 20 cantos of varying length.

The work belongs to the Renaissance tradition of the Italian romantic epic poem, and Tasso frequently borrows plot elements and character types directly from Ariosto's Orlando furioso. Tasso's poem also has elements inspired by the classical epics of Homer and Virgil (especially in those sections of their works that tell of sieges and warfare). One of the most characteristic literary devices in Tasso's poem is the emotional conundrum endured by characters torn between their heart and their duty; the depiction of love at odds with martial valour or honor is a central source of lyrical passion in the poem.

Tasso's choice of subject matter, an actual historic conflict between Christians and Muslims (albeit with fantastical elements added), had a historical grounding, and created compositional implications (the narrative subject matter had a fixed endpoint and could not be endlessly spun out in multiple volumes) that are lacking in other Renaissance epics. Like other works of the period which portray conflicts between Christians and Muslims, this subject matter had a topical resonance to readers of the period, as the Ottoman Empire was advancing through Eastern Europe.

Composition and publication[edit]

Tasso began work on the poem in the mid-1560s. Originally, it bore the title Il Goffredo. It was completed in April, 1575 and that summer the poet read his work to Duke Alfonso of Ferrara and Lucrezia, Duchess of Urbino. A pirate edition of 14 cantos from the poem appeared in Venice in 1580. The first complete editions of Gerusalemme liberata were published in Parma and Ferrara in 1581.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

"Erminia" redirects here. For other uses, see Erminia (disambiguation).
Rinaldo and Armida, by François Boucher.

The poem tells of the initial disunity and setbacks of the Christians and their ultimate success. The most famous sequences include the following:

Sofronia (in English: Sophronia), a Christian maiden of Jerusalem, accuses herself of a crime in order to avert a general massacre of the Christians by the Muslim king. In an attempt to save her, her lover Olindo accuses himself in turn, and each lover pleads with the authorities in order to save the other.

Clorinda, a warrior-maiden, joins the Muslims, but the Christian knight Tancredi (in English: Tancred) falls in love with her. During a night battle in which she sets the Christian siege tower on fire, she is mistakenly killed by her lover, but she converts to Christianity before dying. The character of Clorinda is inspired in part by Virgil's Camilla and by Bradamante in Ariosto; the circumstances of her birth (a Caucasian girl born to African parents) are modeled on the lead character (Chariclea) from the ancient Greek novel by Heliodorus of Emesa.

Erminia discovers the wounded Tancred, by Guercino, 1619 (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome).

Another maiden of the region, the Princess Erminia (or "Hermine") of Antioch, also falls in love with Tancredi and betrays her people to help him, but she grows jealous when she learns that Tancredi loves Clorinda. One night she steals Clorinda's armor and leaves the city, in an attempt to find Tancredi, but she is attacked by Christian soldiers (who mistake her for Clorinda) and she flees into the forest, where she is cared for by a family of shepherds. Later in the poem we find her again in the company of Armida's ladies, but Erminia abandons her Muslim people and goes over to the Christian side. When Tancredi is dangerously wounded in combat, she heals him.

The witch Armida (modeled on Circe in Homer and the witch Alcina in Ariosto's epic) enters the Christian camp asking for their aid; her seductions divide the knights against each other and a group leaves with her, only to be transformed into animals by her magic.

Armida tries to kill the greatest Christian knight Rinaldo (the same name of a Carolingian paladin count that appears in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso [III, 30]; he is the son of Bertoldo and was the reputed founder of the House of Este); but she falls in love with him instead and takes him away to a magical island where he becomes infatuated with her caresses and grows idle. Two Christian knights seek out the hidden fortress, brave the dangers that guard it and, by giving Rinaldo a mirror of diamond, force him to see himself in his effeminated and amorous state and to return to the war, leaving Armida heartbroken. Armida grieves at this loss and raises an army to kill Rinaldo and fight the Christians, but her champions are all defeated. She attempts suicide, but Rinaldo finds her in time and prevents her. Rinaldo then begs her to convert to Christianity, and Armida, her heart softened, consents. (This sequence echoes a similar storyline in Ariosto: the witch Alcina ensnares the knight Ruggiero, but the spell is broken by a magic ring that the good sorceress Melissa brings him; earlier antecedents include Calypso's attempt to keep Odysseus on her island Ogygia and Morgan le Fay taking Ogier the Dane off to a faraway island.)


The poem was immensely successful throughout Europe and over the next two centuries various sections were frequently adapted as individual storylines for madrigals, operas, plays, ballets and masquerades; scenes from the poem were also depicted in paintings and frescoes (for example, at Fontainebleau in France, in the Villa Valmarana (Lisiera) in the Veneto, and at Hohenschwangau in Germany). For the work's immense influence on painters and musicians, see "Works based on . . ." below.

Certain critics of the period however were less enthusiastic, and Tasso came under much criticism for the magical extravagance and narrative confusion of his poem. Before his death, he rewrote the poem virtually from scratch, under a new title (La Gerusalemme Conquistata, or "Jerusalem Conquered"). This revised version, however, has found little favor with either audiences or critics.

Gerusalemme liberata and English literature[edit]

The fame of Tasso's poem quickly spread throughout the European continent. In England, Sidney, Daniel and Drayton seem to have admired it, and, most importantly, Edmund Spenser described Tasso as an "excellente poete" and made use of elements from Gerusalemme liberata in The Faerie Queene. The description of Redcrosse's vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem in the First Book owes something to Rinaldo's morning vision in Canto 18 of "Gerusalemme". In the twelfth canto of Book Two, Spenser's enchantress Acrasia is partly modelled on Tasso's Armida and the English poet directly imitated two stanzas from the Italian[2] The portrayal of Satan and the demons in the first two books of Milton's Paradise Lost is also indebted to Tasso's poem. The first attempt to translate Gerusalemme liberata was made by Richard Carew, who published his version of the first five cantos as Godfrey of Bulloigne or the recoverie of Hierusalem in 1594. More significant was the complete rendering by Edward Fairfax which appeared in 1600 and has been acclaimed as one of the finest English verse translations. (There is also an eighteenth-century translation by John Hoole, and modern versions by Anthony Esolen and Max Wickert.) Tasso's poem remained popular among educated English readers and was, at least until the end of the 19th century, considered one of the supreme achievements of Western literature. Somewhat eclipsed in the Modernist period, its fame is showing signs of recovering.[3]

Works based on Jerusalem Delivered[edit]

Nicolas Poussin's Tancred and Erminia (Hermitage Museum, 1630s).

Music and operas[edit]


  • Max Turiel. Clorinda Deleste, El Camino del Sol. Partially adapted from Gerusalemme Liberata. ISBN 84-934710-8-9. Ediciones La Sirena 2006.



  • William Faulkner's short story 'Carcassonne' uses imagery from the epic as its central thematic motif.



  1. ^ Caretti pp.lxv and lxix
  2. ^ Compare the "Song of the Rose" in The Faerie Queene, Book 2, Canto 12, Stanzas 74-5 and Gerusalemme liberata Canto 16, Stanzas 14–15
  3. ^ This section: Roberto Weiss, introduction to the Fairfax translation of Jerusalem Delivered (Centaur Classics, 1962)
  4. ^ For a longer list, see the "Appendix" in Max Wickert's "The Liberation of Jerusalem" (Oxford University Press, 2009)


  • Gerusalemme liberata ed. Luca Caretti (Mondadori, 1983)

External links (translations etc.)[edit]