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Torquato Tasso
(1554 - 1595) Italy

Torquato Tasso

Poet

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Born at Sorrento, he was at first law student at Padua. He overcame his father's opposition to a literary career by the success of his romantic poem Rinaldo (1562), dedicated to Cardinal Luigi d'Este, who took him to Paris, where he met the members of the Pléiade. Later he was under the patronage of the Cardinal's brother, Duke Alfonso d'Este of Ferrara, for whose court theatre he wrote his pastoral play Aminta (1573).

His greatest work is his romantic epic of the First Crusade La Gerusalemme liberata (Gerusalem Delivered, 1574), followed by the Gerusalemme conquistata (Jerusalem Conquered, 1576), written during the period when he was mentally unstable. He was in constant terror of criticism, and his conduct made it necessary fort the Duke Alfonso II to lock him up as mad from 1579 to 1586.

The legend of his passion for Leonora d'Este, the duke's discovery of it, and his consequent imprisonment, is no longer credited, but was for long widey belieevd. When freed, he went in Rome, where the pope granted him a life allowance, but two years later, he died.

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Tasso's homosexuality is proved by his letters. He had a difficult relationship with a young courtier, Orazio Orlando, while Leonora was to him just his "beard" to hide his homosexuality. Also the attempt to stab a servant "who was prying on his love encounter with Leonora", was nothing but an attempt to be thought a straight man.

In a letter that Tasso wrote in May 1576 to one Luca Scalabrino, a man in love with him, who craved to have sex with the poet, Tasso wrote:

"Your Lordship in the last letter asks me forgiveness because You didn't show Your lust for me, and in the previous letters You wrote me that You fear I'm upset with You, because you revealed me this carnal desire ..."

Later Tasso writes to Scalabrino a letter about one of his students whom he is in love with, the 21-year-old Orazio Ariosto:

"I love him, and I'm ready to love him for several months, because the impression of this love into my soul is too much strong, and is impossible to erase it in a few days... And yet I hope that ime will totally heal this love illness from my soul. For sure I woul like to be able not to be in love with him, because as much as his manners are gentle, I'd like him not to be harsh towards me. ... I call my feeling 'love' and not just affection, because after all love it is. I wasn't aware of that before, because I didn't yet feel inside me none of those sexual appetites that love generally awakes, not even when we were in bed together.

But now I clearly perceive that I have been and is not a friend, but a quite honnest lover, because I feel a terribel pain, not only because he doesn't respond to my love, but also because I can't talk with him with that freedom I was used to, and being far from him pains me very much. During the night I always wake up with his image in my mind, and reflecting into my soul upon how much I loved and honoured him, and how much he despised and offended me ... I become so much distressed that two or three times I bitterly weeped..."

Tasso wrote also a poem "To a lovely young man":

How have I to call you, God or human?
You are blindfolded, like the handsome
God, and the Love God you really are
Who to stop with me opens his wings.
For sure, you are Love, as love you radiate, so
That I became at once a tender lover,
And my heart, who was of hard diamond made,
I feel becoming tender with each of your darts.
Work upon me as you like, with a torch or an arrow:
Tie me with each knot; and if you'll defy me,
You can unsheathe the sword of the daring Mars.
I ask for your war, or for the peace of others:
With you I'll reign again; but your beloved
Soul, at least, from far away may smile at me.

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Source: Vittorio Ferrarini, "Babilonia" n. 130 - et alii

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