Torquato Tasso composed his first epic poem, Rinaldo at the age of eighteen. It combines romantic epic — a form popularized by Italian masters like Boiardo and Ariosto — with the classical influences from Virgil and Aristotle. Despite Tasso’s youth, his Rinaldo was a remarkably original achievement in terms of style, organization and plot. Tasso’s story-telling abilities are clear as he manages to shape an enormous array of characters, geographical backdrops, uncanny events and mysterious devices into an impressively unified narrative.
The hero of the poem begins his quest for knighthood spurred on by his sense of unworthiness in the shadow of Orlando, his world-famous cousin. Rinaldo quickly enters a world of jousts and maidens, love and magic spells, hidden enemies and secret friends, disastrous shipwrecks, enchanted castles and unexpected meetings. Tasso’s work has all the elements of the best of Renaissance tales of noble fortunes gone wrong and righted.
Max Wickert’s introduction opens the reader to the literary scene of mid-cinquecento Italy: a complex world of competition, jealousy and innovation. In this world Tasso’s own father Bernardo, a court poet and diplomat, had tried his hand at an enormous epic, Amadigi, which met with more prestige than success. Planning to protect his son from the disappointments of a writer’s life, he arranged for him to study law at the University of Padua. The call of the literary life proved too strong, however. While he should have been pursuing his legal studies, Torquato published his Rinaldo at Venice in 1562, only two years after his father’s own epic.
“Wickert’s magnificent translation — the first in ottava rima verse — finally allows the Rinaldo to take its place in the English-speaking world alongside Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and Tasso’s own Gerusalemme Liberata. First-time readers will be surprised and delighted by this account of young Rinaldo’s romance adventures under the sway of love and desire for glory, written when Tasso was himself just a teenager.”
—Jo Ann Cavallo, Professor & Chair
Columbia University Department of Italian
Introduction, bibliography, glossary, chronology, plot summary, index.