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The Quest for Epic

The Quest for Epic: From Ariosto to Tasso

Introduction by Albert Russell Ascoli
Edited by Dennis Looney
Sally Hill
with Dennis Looney
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  • Book Info
    The Quest for Epic
    Book Description:

    Translated here for the first time into English, Sergio Zatti'sThe Quest for Epicis a selection of studies on the two major poets of the Italian Renaissance, Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso, by one of the most important literary critics writing in Italy today. An original and challenging work,The Quest for Epicdocuments the development of Italian narrative from the chivalric romance at the end of the fifteenth century to the genre of epic in the sixteenth century.

    Zatti focuses on Ariosto'sOrlando Furioso, written in the early 1500s, and progresses to Tasso'sJerusalem Delivered, written at the end of the century, but also touches briefly on Boiardo, Ariosto's great predecessor at the Estense court in Ferrara, as well as on Pulci, Trissino, and many other Italian writers of the period. Zatti highlights the critical debates over narrative form in the sixteenth century that become signposts on the way to literary modernity and the eventual rise of the modern novel. Albert Russell Ascoli's introduction provides context by mapping Zatti's criticism and situating it among Italian and Anglo-American literary critical studies, making a case for the contribution this book will have for English-language readers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8216-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In virtually all histories of the Western narrative tradition, a rupture, opening onto modernity, takes place between the end of the sixteenth and the middle of the seventeenth centuries. In Spain, Cervantes writes ‘the first modern novel,’Don Quixote, parts one and two (1605 and 1615); in England, Milton writes ‘the last epic,’Paradise Lost(1667–1674). The place of Italian literature in this history is notoriously uncertain, even marginal, notwithstanding Erich Auerbach’s claims for the pivotal and complementary roles of Dante and Boccaccio in the emergence of mimetic representation of ‘the secular world.’ And yet, it can be argued,...

  5. 1 The Furioso between Epos and Romance
    (pp. 13-37)

    1 Recent studies have emphasized how the chivalric romance genre supplied Ariosto with a narrative and thematic code that was at once highly flexible and equipped with well-formulated rules. Ariosto was able to change things within this tradition because of his position as heir to a vast literary corpus that was in crisis by his time. He recapitulates the creative resources and expressive formulas of this corpus in an original way.¹ Borrowing a metaphor fromOrlando furioso, one could say that Astolfo’s quest on the moon (that great depository of lost objects) mirrors the relationship between the poem itself and...

  6. 2 The Quest: Considerations on the Form of the Furioso
    (pp. 38-59)

    1 An analysis of the narrative form and thematic organization of theFuriosomust recognize the central function of the quest (inchiesta). As the foundational theme for a whole genre, the quest is the transformation of the ancient chronotope (to borrow a term from Bakhtin) of theaventure, so familiar to the French medieval romance and inherited by Italian chivalric literature. Already in the Arthurian romances – and even more prominently in Chrétien’s last texts and in the whole cycle of the search for the Grail – theaventureis progressively framed within thequête: ‘The point of departure from which the...

  7. 3 Turpin’s Role: Poetry and Truth in the Furioso
    (pp. 60-94)

    1 Many readers have emphasized the narrative self-consciousness that strongly marks Ariosto’s writing. His awareness of theFuriosoas a literary fiction enables him to exploit the function of the metalinguistic norms of narrative design. While these various normative procedures follow different textual strategies, they are certainly linked to the narrator’s decisive entrance into the field of representation. This occurs at the same moment that the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century development of the romance form coincides with the self-conscious and learned reprise of popular epic and its literarytopoi. Formal and technical questions related to ways of telling assume central importance...

  8. 4 Tasso versus Ariosto?
    (pp. 95-113)

    1 There is a curious gap in our literary historiography when it comes to the relationship between Ariosto and Tasso. The two authors have always been treated in autonomous monographs, even in those works whose titles promise something more than a simple, contrasting diptych.¹ The absence of a serious analysis of the formal and ideological nature of their relationship appears all the more curious when we consider that this kind of work represents one of the most lively and original elements specific to the Italian critical tradition, ranging from the positivistQuellenforschung, to Contini’s studies on poetic memory, to more...

  9. 5 The Shattering of the Chivalric World: Ariosto’s Cinque canti
    (pp. 114-134)

    1 Whatever the reasons for Ariosto’s decision not to incorporate theCinque cantiinto the body of theOrlando furioso, this fragment, despite its incompleteness, offers an appropriate dramatic setting for the final artistic representation of the chivalric world. There were already clear signs of crisis in the first edition of theFurioso, and it was probably in the narrative and ideological context of that edition that theCinque canticame into being.¹ Other signs of crisis were to mark the more severe physiognomy of the third edition. The pessimistic aspects of the final version of the poem, which caused...

  10. 6 Christian Uniformity, Pagan Multiplicity
    (pp. 135-159)

    1 Lanfranco Caretti’s approach to interpreting Tasso’s poetry represents the maturation of a critical tradition that began with Francesco De Sanctis’sStoria della letteratura.¹ His famous formula of ‘spiritual dualism’ summarizes this approach. It both establishes a constant reciprocal reference between writing and the ideological-cultural context in which it was written and identifies the ‘entirely new structure’ of theGerusalemme liberatain the context of conflicting impulses and counter-impulses, between unifying and centrifugal forces that influence one another (72).

    Clearing the field of Tasso criticism of romantic impressionism once and for all, Caretti returns to the real historical matrices of...

  11. 7 Errancy, Infirmity, and Conquest: Figures of Conflict
    (pp. 160-194)

    1 In theGerusalemme liberata’sopening stanzas, which serve as its protasis, invocation, and dedication, Tasso gathers together a group of characters whose heterogeneous composition deserves emphasis:

    Canto l’arme pietose e’l capitano

    che ’l gran sepolcro liberò di Cristo.

    Molto egli oprò co ’l senno e con la mano,

    molto soffrì nel glorioso acquisto;

    e in van l’Inferno vi s’oppose, e in vano

    s’armò d’Asia e di Libia il popol misto.

    Il Ciel gli diè favore, e sotto a i santi

    segni ridusse i suoi compagni erranti.

    O Musa, tu che di caduchi allori

    non circondi la fronte in Elicona,...

  12. 8 Torquato Tasso: Epic in the Age of Dissimulation
    (pp. 195-216)

    The era of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, as construed through its political and moral treatises and many of its literary masterpieces, is generally held to be the age of ‘dissimulation,’ just as in art it was the age of shadows and chiaroscuro. But it was a darkness leading towards the light and, ultimately, towards the truth (one need only think of the magnificent works of Caravaggio and Rembrandt). One of the most astute of contemporary observers, Michel de Montaigne, wrote that ‘dissimulation may be counted among the most notable qualities of this century.’¹ Neither virtue nor defect, dissimulation was...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 217-292)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 293-306)
  15. Index
    (pp. 307-315)