1. One of the several literary activities pursued by Scipio Gentili [1563 - 1616] during his stay in England was that he appointed himself fugleman of the contemporary poet he admired above all others, Torquato Tasso. In 1584 he published no less than three volumes of partial Latin translations of Gerusalemme Liberata (completed in 1575, first authorized printing 1580). NOTE1 These were:
1. T. Tassi Solymeidis Lib. I (printed by John Wolfe, London, 1584) (Short Title Catalogue nr. 23700, Early English Books reel 359]. Prefaced by a dedicatory poem to Queen Elizabeth.
2. Solymeidos libri duo priores de Torquati Tassi (printed by John Wolfe, London, 1584) [Short Title Catalogue nr. 23701, Early English Books reel 1587].
3. Plutonis Concilium ex Initio Quarti Libri Solymeidos (printed by John Wolfe, London, 1584) [Short Title Catalogue nr. 23702, Early English Books reel 1085]. Prefaced by a dedicatory epistle to Sir Philip Sidney.
Additionally, in 1586 Wolfe, brought out a commentary on Tasso written in Italian (Annotationi di Scipio Gentili sopra La Gerusalemme Liberata di Torquato Tasso, printed by John Wolfe, London, 1586) [Short Title Catalogue 2nd ed. nr. 11728.8, Early English Books reel 1878]. For some reason, the title page pretends that this volume was printed on the Continent. It is difficult to see why: did Gentili leave England under some sort of cloud? His set of notes was reprinted repeatedly, most recently in 1760. A digitized photographic reproduction of the 1617 Genoa edition may be downloaded here.
2. It is likely that his translation found immediate favor with the educated reading public. The most obvious explanation for his following his original publication of Book I with a second volume containing Books I and II so quickly is that the original volume sold out, and that his partial translation of Book IV was a further attempt to capitalize on the success of the venture. A further sign of the translation’s popularity is that a reprint of the original Book I translation was issued by Aldo Manuzio at Venice in the following year.
3. It is impossible to be quite sure of Gentili’s purpose in making this translation. Perhaps his only intention was to stimulate interest in the poet whom he obviously regarded as the greatest of his time. Possibly, too, he saw this partial translation as a way of ingratiating himself with a queen whom he knew to be a Tasso devotee; certainly his dedicatory poem could be alleged to support this view. Or did he ever nurse the ambition of rendering the whole poem into Latin, publishing it as he went? A tradition that he did translate all its twenty Books seems easily discounted, NOTE 2 and fact that he skipped Book III suggests that he only intended to translate extracts, but we have reason to regret that he stopped where he did. The genius of Neo-Latin poetry has always run strongly to shorter work: while one can point to any number of first-rate or at least interesting epyllia (of which Gentili’s own Nereus is an example), it is difficult to name a successful Renaissance Latin epic. A full translation of Gerusalemme Liberata by Gentili would probably have been the closest approximation to such a thing in the Neo-Latin repertoire.
4. These translations had a visible impact on English literature. Elsewhere I have shown how the author of the anonymous hexameter poem (in all probability by George Peele) Pareus printed at Oxford in 1585 concocted a powerful and adaptable formula for writing political-propagandistic narrative, and how an important part of this formula was drawn from Tasso by way of Plutonis Concilium. NOTE 3 In all probability the author of this work was George Peele, who was a member of the same literary circle, centered on Christ Church, which contained William Gager and Scipio’s brother Alberico Gentili. The Tasso-based elements in this formula include a hybrid Pluto-Satan, deeply resentful for having been banished from heaven and craving revenge, and the council he summons in order to discuss his plans for launching a new rebellion against God and His forces on earth. In stark contrast to the dumb machine-Satan Dante places at the bottom of his Inferno, this new Satan is highly articulate, adroit in the rhetorical arts, and cunningly fertile in invention (there is, in fact, more than a little Machiavelli in his makeup). As such, he is a Satan refashioned to suit Renaissance needs and tastes. Subsequent poems that repeated the Pareus formula included Thomas Campion’s De Pulverea Coniuratione, NOTE 4 William Alabaster’s Elisaeis, NOTE 5 Michael Wallace’s In Serenissimi Regis Iacobi Britanniae Magnae, Galliarum, Hiberniae etc. Monarchae ab Immanissima Papanae Factionis Hominum Coniuratione Liberationem Faelicissimam Carmen Epichartikon, NOTE 6 Francis Herring’s Pietas Pontifica, NOTE 7 Phineas Fletcher’s Locustae, and ultimately John Milton’s in Quintum Novembris (while it is a very different kind of work, John Donne’s 1611 Ignatius his Conclave may also be indebted to Tasso’s hellish council, NOTE 8 and one may also mention Thomas Campion’s Ad Thamesin and the Sixth Eclogue of Thomas Watson’s 1592 Amintae Gaudia as other works which feature a strikingly similar conception of Satan). Since this Tasso-based narrative traditio had taken shape considerably before the appearance any English translation, one can only conclude that Tasso exerted his influence through the medium of Gentili’s Latin version. This is especially plausible since George Peele, the probable author of Pareus, belonged to the Christ Church-based literary circle with which Alberico Gentili was closely associated, and it would seem likely that Pareus was published through the instrumentality of the leading light of that circle, William Gager. It would appear that governmental permission to set up a press at Oxford involved some manner of bargain that a certain amount of literature would be printed of a distinctly propagandistic nature, and that Gager shouldered the responsibility for writing a fair amount of this stuff, and also of encouraging others to contribute more of the same. In any event, the importance of this traditio cannot be overemphasized: the new-model Satan it introduced into English literature. In tracing the history of this new Satan introduced into English literature by Gentili’s translation, one is simultaneously tracing the literary pedigree of the Satan of Paradise Lost.
5. More generally, Gerusaleme Liberata rapidly became extremely popular in England; as Gentili shrewdly remind her in his dedicatory poem, the poem even became a personal favorate of Elizabeth, who committed whole stanzas to memory. Tasso’s considerable impact on Elizabethan literature has been traced by others. NOTE 9 Some English readers of course were familiar with Gerusalemme Liberata through the Italian original. In 1594 the first five cantos became available in English in the translation of Sir Richard Carew of Anthony, and in 1600 Edward Fairfax published a translation of the whole work. In the case of individual writers, no doubt it is often difficult to ascertain through which particular channel they gained their familiarity with Tasso, but surely part of the credit belongs to Gentili.
6. Gentili’s translation is likewise faithful to the original (with the notable exception that he does not preserve the stanzaic organization of the original), but sometimes has a curious effect. He added to his first two volumes a poem of his own praising Tasso, which concludes by describing the poet as one:
Quem Maro, ab Elysia surgat si valle, Latinis
Donaret auribus libens.
[“…whom Vergil, were he to arise from Elysium’s vale, would gladly bestow upon Latin ears.”]
These words are highly significant. It is agreed by all students that Vergil was an important influence on the Italian poet. Suppressing Tasso’s stanzas and translating his work into Latin hexameters had the effect of emphasizing its Vergilian heritage with a vengeance. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the first lines of the poem:
Arma ducemque cano, Solymae qui primus in oris
Aeterni tumulum regis, monimentaque fecit
Libera; multum ille et dextra molitus, et arte,
Multa quoque et magni passus sub pondere facti.
Obstitit hic horrens frustra Cocytus, et omnis
Mixta Asiae Libyaeque manus, namque Optimus illi
Favit, et incerta socios regione vagantes
Sancta suos hominum genitor sub signa coegit.
Tu, quae falsis non unquam Heliconis in antris
Aurea labenti circumdas tempora lauro,
Sed coelo in magno choreis immixta beatis
Siderea frontem fulges innexa corona
Aeternum, tu, Musa, meae nunc influe menti,
Tu liquidam indulge vocem; tuque, optima virgo,
Da mihi, da veniam facilis, si vera nitenti
Ornatu intexam fingens, aliisque pererrans
Delitiis spargam, atque tuis.
It would be difficult to write lines more imitative of the proem of the Aeneid. Other passages also have a intensified Vergilian ring when rendered in Latin, and are rendered so as to recall passages of the Aeneid. In his translation of Book IV, perhaps most memorably, Gentili’s rendition serves to remind us that Pluto’s hate-filled rant was written by a poet very conscious of aggrieved Juno’s great hortatory speech to Allecto in Book VII, and the grand review of the Crusader forces in Book I takes its inspiration from the review of the forces of Italy in the same Book. Other such passages are the description of God looking down and seeing the idle crusaders at I.52 - 58 (cf. Aen. I.223 - 6); His charge to the angel to go down and rouse them, and the angel’s departure after donning wings at I.99 - 108 (cf. Aeneid IV.238 - 41); the opening of the gates of War at II.679 - 94 (cf. Aeneid VII.607 - 14, embellished by details from Aen. I.293 - 6).
7. The Vergilian elements just noticed were of course introduced by Tasso himself; Gentili only recognized them and underscored them by translating them in strikingly Vergilian verbiage. But (in the portions of Gerusalemme Liberata presently under consideration) Tasso’s programme of imitating Vergil was limited to these passages. In translating Tasso, Gentili employed the usual Renaissance method of Latin versification: while his rendition can scarcely be described as a cento, it is richly laden with tags taken from the works of the major Roman poets, and especially of Vergil. Since this techne of composition was routinized in the Renaissance, one cannot be sure if such was Gentili’s conscious intention, but in any event its use has a profoundly transformative result, because Tasso’s attempts to strike a posture as Vergil’s heir were only intermittent. As rendered in Latin by Gentili, the large number of verbal borrowings from the Aeneid and other items of Roman poetry on virtually every page creates a steady barrage of classical (and, very often, of specifically Vergilian) referentiality, so that by their use Gerusalleme Liberata is coopted into the high traditio of Roman epic literature. In an unrelentingly programmatic manner, therefore, at all points Romanness is woven into the fabric of the poem as a whole, and the translation seems considerably more Aeneid -like than its Italian original. Interestingly, Tasso himself approved of Gentili’s transformative translation, and also of his commentary. Pallant (p. cxviii) quotes from a 1587 letter of Tasso to Alberto Parma:
Già il Signor Scipion Gentili tradusse in versi Latini due libri della mia Gerusalemme. Ha fatto poi l’annotazioni, che ora mi son mandate da V. s. ed io per l’una, e per l’altra dovrei rimanerli in grande obbligazione: e benchè gli effetti siano lodevolissimi, debbono esser misurati ancora dalla voluntà. Leggerò l’annotazioni, come feci I versi latini, leggiadrissimi in vero, e politissimi. Altro testimonio non ho veduto del seper di questo gentiluomo; ma questi son bastevoli, ne più ne richiedo per creder della sua dottrina…
8. When Gentili reprinted his translation of Book I, he took the opportunity to introduce a number of changes and improvements. The text of Book I reproduced here that of the second printing, identified, for Book I only, as B. The variant readings of the first printing are included in the text notes, accessible by clicking red squares set against the lines in which they occur; in the textual notes the first printing is identified as A. The commentary notes on the translations, accessible by clicking blue squares, are strictly limited to identifying the sources of the classical tags to which Gentili liberally availed himself: to do any more would mean writing a commentary on Tasso’s poem itself, rather than on Gentili’s work as a translator.
9. Some readers may wish to compare Gentili’s Latin translation with the Italian original. The Italian text of the poem can be accessed here. Other readers may find an English translation more appropriate for their needs. I have chosen to include the matching portions of the first English translation of Gerusalleme Liberata (albeit a partial one only), that by Sir Richard Carew of Anthony. This appeared in 1594 under the title An Heroicall poeme written in Italian by Seig. Torquato Tasso, and translated into English by R. C. Esquire [Short Title Catalogue 23697 and 23697a, Early English Books reel 1190], and no modern edition of this version exists. Carew’s work is not lacking in merit. In comparing this translation with that of Fairfax, the verdict of Lea and Gang (p. 18) is “Carew’s close rendering, translation in the strictest sense, is more useful as a crib than immediately readable as a poem, but his procedure is always interesting and to be respected, and he is occasionally felicitous.” Since Carew’s translation has never been fully reprinted, there is no harm in presenting the complete text here. The interested reader may care to consult F. E. Haliday’s edition of Carew’s The Survey of Cornwall (London, 1953), which provides a detailed biography of the author (a highly attractive man), and prints extracts from his Tasso translation and various other items by Carew as appendices.
10. In the main, the present text is a transcript of the original printed one. In the interest of modernizing the look of the text, and of assisting reader comprehension, several editorial changes have been introduced. No adjectives, and only proper nouns are capitalized, and no proper name is italicized. I and j, v and u are distinguished. Quotation marks are introduced to identify beginnings and ends of speeches. Commas are eliminated when they appear irrationally at line-end, or are employed only as caesura markers. And, to facilitate citation, stanzas are numbered, although they are not in the original book.