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A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance

The Accademia della Crusca had been founded at Florence


Aristotle

says that both epic and tragedy deal with illustrious actions. Tasso points out that if the actions of tragedy and of epic poetry were both illustrious in the same way, they would both produce the same results; but tragic actions move horror and compassion, while epic actions as a rule do not and need not arouse these emotions. The tragic action consists in the unexpected change of fortune, and in the grandeur of the events carrying with them horror and pity; but the epic action is founded upon undertakings of lofty martial virtue, upon deeds of courtesy, piety, generosity, none of which is proper to tragedy. Hence the characters in epic poetry and in tragedy, though both of the same regal and supreme rank, differ in that the tragic hero is neither perfectly good nor entirely bad, as Aristotle says, while the epic hero must have the very height of virtue, such as AEneas, the type of piety, Amadis, the type of loyalty, Achilles, of martial virtue, and Ulysses, of prudence.

Having formulated these theories of heroic poetry in his youth, Tasso set out to carry them into practice, and his famous _Gerusalemme Liberata_ was the result. This poem, almost immediately after its publication, started a violent controversy, which raged for many years, and which may be regarded as the legitimate outcome of the earlier dispute in connection with the _romanzi_.[236] The _Gerusalemme_ was in fact the centre of critical activity during the latter part of the

century. Shortly after its publication, Camillo Pellegrino published a dialogue, entitled _Il Caraffa_ (1583), in which the _Gerusalemme_ is compared with the _Orlando Furioso_, much to the advantage of the former. Pellegrino finds fault with Ariosto on account of the lack of unity of his poem, the immoral manners imitated, and various imperfections of style and language; and in all of these things, unity, morality, and style, he finds Tasso's poem perfect. This was naturally the signal for a heated and long-continued controversy. The Accademia della Crusca had been founded at Florence, in 1582, and it seems that the members of the new society felt hurt at some sarcastic remarks regarding Florence in one of Tasso's dialogues. Accordingly, the head of the academy, Lionardo Salviati, in a dialogue entitled _L' Infarinato_, wrote an ardent defence of Ariosto; and an acrid and undignified dispute between Tasso and Salviati was begun.[237] Tasso answered the Accademia della Crusca in his _Apologia_; and at the beginning of the next century, Paolo Beni, the commentator on Aristotle's _Poetics_, published his _Comparazione di Omero, Virgilio, e Torquato_, in which Tasso is rated above Homer, Virgil, and Ariosto, not only in dignity, in beauty of style, and in unity of fable, but in every other quality that may be said to constitute perfection in poetry. Before dismissing this whole matter, it should be pointed out that the defenders of Aristotle had absolutely abandoned the position of Giraldi and Pigna, that the _romanzi_ constitute a _genre_ by themselves, and are therefore not subject to Aristotle's law of unity. The question as Giraldi had stated it was this: Does every poem need to have unity? The question as discussed in the Tasso controversy had changed to this form: What is unity? It was taken for granted by both sides in the controversy that every poem must have organic unity; and the authority of Aristotle, in epic as in dramatic poetry, was henceforth supreme. It was to the authority of Aristotle that Tasso's opponents appealed; and Salviati, merely for the purpose of undermining Tasso's pretensions, wrote an extended commentary on the _Poetics_, which still lies in Ms. at Florence, and which has been made use of in the present essay.[238]


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