Tasso’s Dialogues
by Dain Trafton

Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) is one of the greatest and most prolific writers of European literature.  His sonnets and other lyrics, his pastoral drama Aminta, his masterpiece, Jerusalem Delivered, an epic on the First Crusade, and his many other works in poetry and prose have been admired, imitated, and translated since they first appeared.  In his introductory letter to The Faerie Queene (1590), Spenser cites Tasso, along with Homer, Virgil, and Ariosto, as a model for his own great poem.  To Milton, whose debts to Tasso are both wide and deep, he is “the illustrious poet” and “great Tasso.”

Among Tasso’s most interesting minor works are the twenty-five dialogues that he composed during the final two decades of his life, when controversies over the theological and political content of the Jerusalem Delivered and troubles with his patron, Alfonso d’Este, the powerful Duke of Ferrara, drove him to the edge of emotional collapse–and sometimes, it seems, over the edge.  Much about Tasso’s life in this period remains shrouded in mystery, but the dialogues provide fascinating insights–especially into the circumstances that led to his visits to the Inquisition and ultimately to his seven-year imprisonment (1579-86), at Alfonso’s behest, in the hospital of Sant’Anna in Ferrara.  In the dialogue Tasso apparently found a form that allowed him to explore prudently and indirectly the controversies that Alfonso and other authorities in late-Renaissance Italy wished to suppress.  Taken as a whole, Tasso’s dialogues cover a wide range of dangerous topics–domestic, aesthetic, political, philosophical, and religious–topics that were of intense interest to Tasso and his contemporaries (and that have their analogues today).

This book presents three of Tasso’s characteristic dialogues and his Discourse on the Art of the Dialogue in modern English translations with facing-page Italian texts.  The introduction and annotations (by Chrysostom member Dain Trafton and his colleague Carnes Lord) are designed to put Tasso’s works into the context of his life and to bring out their enduring themes.