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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything a Book Needs, 28 July 2010
This review is from: The Liberation of Jerusalem (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
The first Crusade told as a poem. This has everything a book needs, a terrific plot with an enormous cast of characters, a desperate struggle between two evenly matched opponents, love, valor, determination, magic, luck, intrigue, cowardice and leadership. All wrapped up in great language and very human understanding for both sides. The fact that this is a poem hardly matters; it's just a great work of art.

First a quick explanation; this is an epic poem and therefore subject to a set of rules that Tasso claimed were that the poem should deal with heroic characters; and the subject should be historical but sufficiently remote to allow the poet some license for invention. Other Epic poems include The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Le Mort D'Artur, The Inferno and Paradise Lost and the custom is to cross refer to other epics and use some of their structure and even parts of their stories. They also tend to be rather long and this one is some 400 pages. All in all then a daunting prospect for the average reader (me for example) who does not have a full grasp of the cross references, isn't that keen on poetry and isn't clued up on the relevant period of history - in this case the first Crusade.

Secondly, some technical comments; Tasso was Italian and so naturally wrote in his native tongue and chose a poetic meter known as hendecasyllabic. This volume is a translation into English and uses iambic pentameter as the closest English approximation to the Italian rhythm, and this was the meter that Shakespeare and Milton used. It has ten beats to each line of poetry but alternating between stressed and unstressed beats (deDUM deDUM deDUM deDUM deDUM as Wikipedia explains) so:

Ah, happy death if love is left behind

Becomes

AhHAPP yDEATH ifLOVE isLEFT beHIND

Fortunately the reader can completely ignore this since the rhythm is effectively in the background, rather in the way that percussion provides a backbone to, say, great rock music where normally voice, guitar or keyboard dominate.

The rhyme structure is that each verse has eight lines (ottava rima) and whereas at school each line tended to rhyme with the next one (aa bb cc dd etc), known as rhyming couplets, here the pattern is abacbcdd. Now, one of the things I hate about poetry is the way that sense has to be twisted around to fit the rhyme and that is especially noticeable in rhyming couplets, which is partly why I detested Keats so much. The rhyme pattern here is much more subtle and in fact the reader will hardly notice the rhymes and consequently the meaning of the poem flows much more easily.

Finally this is a fantastic translation by Max Wickert and you would never know that the poem was not originally written in English. He must have the most superb vocabulary and sense of language - I absolutely take my hat off to him.

Right. Having covered the technical stuff, what have we got here? In a nutshell a wonderful driving narrative of the story of the first Crusade to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims. Tasso of course is Christian so there is never any doubt about which side he is on but, although the Muslims are the bad guys, Tasso is very even handed about such matters as valor and nobility and certainly sees the human strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the conflict.

The year is 1098 and the pious and wise French duke Godfrey de Bouillon has a vision from God calling him to retake Jerusalem. He gathers around him Europe's finest warrior knights, in particular Rinaldo and Tancred, and a massive army that lays siege to Jerusalem, which is under the kingship of Aladdin (not the one with the lamp) supported by Solyman, Argant and the female warrior Clorinda. The cast of characters is gigantic (there is a glossary in which 61 names alone begin with the letter A) and includes not only knights and warriors but also magicians, hermits, heavenly and diabolic creatures and temptresses for the knights' favour.

Two great love stories run through the plot, Armida is a Syrian Sorceress who causes great mischief amongst the Crusaders but ends in tormented love with Rinaldo, whilst Erminia is a pagan princess of Arminia who falls in love with Tancred. The knights flip flop between their duty to heaven - to recapture Jerusalem - and their passion for these women.

Around and about these love affairs is the whole gamut of war. Intrigue, both within and between armies, strategy and luck, leadership and cowardice, brutality and delicacy. There are some fantastic battle scenes that outdo anything CGI can provide on modern cinema because Tasso combines explicit and brutal violence with insight into the physical prowess, mental daring and the meaning of the battle for the combatants. His battles are very real and usually the outcome is close and honours even.

But this is not at all a dry account of a campaign, because each side enlists agencies of light and dark respectively to their aid. There is a magic forest that cannot be cut down by the Crusaders, but God supplies them with water during the heat of August when otherwise they would die. There are side plots and adventures aplenty, each one raising new dangers for the Crusaders.

Eventually, but only just, Godfrey wins Jerusalem and becomes its king -historical fact - by that point you will have fallen under the spell of this amazing, exciting, thoughtful and knowing work. It has inspired dozens of artists, writers and composers down the years and, unless you have a heart of stone, it will inspire you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting, dramatic and passionate, 26 Nov. 2009
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Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Liberation of Jerusalem (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
In the Gerusalemme Liberata Tasso sets out, and succeeds, in writing what may be the quintessential Renaissance epic: drawing obviously on Homer and Vergil he doesn't just try to match classical epic but to over-reach it. By Christianising the heroic quest he gives a different kind of moral and spiritual framework to the genre which is both recognisable and transformed.

But this is no dry, dull read: exciting, dramatic and passionate, this is set during the first crusade as the Christian army besige Jerusalem and is full of heroism, love, romance and magic.

Tancred's love for the 'pagan' female warrior Clorinda; Rinaldo's sexual obsession with the beguiling enchantress Armida; Erminia's own love for Tancred fill the poem with human emotion. And the fight scenes of heroic duels are quite nail-biting at points.

Wickert translates this brilliantly into eight-line stanzas, and uses rhyme rhythmically and well. As with other epic poems, the best way is to forget the fact that it's poetry and simply follow the sense of the text: the rhyme then takes care of itself and adds a subtle rather than plodding emphasis and pleasure to the text.

Hugely influential, this certainly influenced Spenser and Milton. But it's worth reading not just for its status within the epic tradition but as a genuinely pleasurable and engrossing story in its own right.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good translation, 20 Mar. 2015
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D. J. Favager (Wirral) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Liberation of Jerusalem (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
I'd read this in Italian a while ago using a prose translation. I think this verse edition was actually more enjoyable. The poem itself is not the greatest epic but if you like the genre it is a pretty good example and the translation is well done.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Clever, 2 May 2011
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Christian (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Liberation of Jerusalem (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
Let me first address why this review falls short of five stars; ironically it is for the reason that makes me admire the undertaking here...the very structure of the poem. Tasso has written a classic; aping the tradition of Homer, Virgil and even drawing on Aristoto. Each verse is eight lines long with rhyming couplets ending the line. This means that sometimes sentences run over a paragraph and into the next as this structure is maintained. I also admire the translation ensuring that the very heart of the peopm is maintained. It is exquisite.

But it was the very structure that put me off. By sticking so solidly to the strucutre it looses some readability and made this a huge effort to read, most especially towards the beginning. In some ways I would draw a parallel (probably the only time this will be drawn) with Crichton's Eaters of the Dead where you have to struggle through the historically accurate opening chapters in order to reach a slightly more mystical and rewarding story. A woven tale of historical truths and untruths.

As a casual reader of the classics, I most prize readability, even over a gripping tale as I believe you should derive pleasure from the very words as well as the meaning behind them. Finishing this book I am glad to have done so, and also I recognise that a second reading may leave me feeling slightly warmer about it. For now, I would point others in the direction of Virgil rather than Tasso.
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The Liberation of Jerusalem (Oxford World's Classics)
The Liberation of Jerusalem (Oxford World's Classics) by Torquato Tasso (Paperback - 12 Feb. 2009)
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