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The History of Italian Literature has for centuries presented Torquato Tasso as the incarnation of the scruples and obsessions of the Counter-Reformation, Giacomo Leopardi, who knew very well the work and the soul of Tasso, found in him a poetic affinity and I would say a very deep moral affinity. If you look for substantive affinities between Tasso and Leopardi and do not stop at the surface, you come to the conclusion that one of the stronger contact points, if not the strongest is represented by homosexuality. The “Liberated Jerusalem” is the poem of the impossible love; the final duel between Tancredi and Clorinda make you think  to the famous phrase: "everyone kills the one he loves" in Querelle de Brest of Fassbinder on Jean Genet's novel.

Tasso's official story is already complicated in itself, few characters have such a frantic life full of anxieties and upheavals. Tasso was a man of court, of course, the typical jar vase between iron vases, a man who suffered the violence of court life in all its forms, until the forcible hospitalization in St. Anna's madhouse. Mind illness? Segregation for political reasons? Or something else? We will never know.

But besides the official story of Tasso there is a secret story that is good to know and in this secret story homosexuality has a fundamental role, but be careful not to assimilate the homosexuality of Tasso to the modern concept of homosexuality.

In order to understand Tasso's homosexuality you have to enter the spirit of his time, in a counter-reformist environment where heterosexuality was already a taboo and homosexuality was violently repressed at least in public. At that time the expression “internalized homophobia” would have had a pregnancy that is now largely vanished. There was no talk about homosexuality except in a lesser tone with regard to classical literature. Understanding to be homosexual could be really traumatic and the idea of coming out in public was sometimes equivalent to suicide.

I intend to dwell here on a short period of Tasso's life from May 1576 to January 1577. I remember that Tasso in 1576, to the usual feelings of frustration for his poor life to which he had been forced, although he was already a famous poet, had added another cause of concern: the idea of being spied.

Caused by the courtier Ercole Fucci, he had slapped him and Fucci had replied giving Tasso some stick shots. A servant had revealed to Tasso that in his absence Ascanio Giraldini, another courtier, had tried to force the door of his room to try to seize some Tasso’s manuscripts.

So Tasso wrote to Scipio Gonzaga:

"Now, Monsignor Luca, may even tell me that I'm too suspicious! I cannot help but tell you one of Brunello's works. Each time I went out of the Ducal Palace, he asked me for the key of my rooms, telling me that he wanted to use it for love affairs, and I gave it to him, but locking the room where I kept the books and the writings. In that room there was a box in which, beyond my compositions, I kept most of the letters from your Lordship and from Monsignor Luca, and especially those containing some poetic advice [omissis] As I suspected something, I started hunting news, and in the end I came to know from a servant of my neighbor Luigi Montesucoli, that, while I was in Modena during Lent, he saw, when it was already night, that with Brunello also came into my rooms a smith. Then I went looking for that smith and found him, and he confessed that he had been to the Ducal Palace to open a room of which, who brought him there, said he lost the key. Your Lordship can infer the rest. This is one of Brunello's frauds, but there are others, no less beautiful, and I think there are some more important, but I cannot prove it. It is my consolation that I destroyed all the letters from your Lordship and from Monsignor Luca, in which something was said freely, except those in which the details of the Sperone affair are concerned. For now I close here my letter and kiss with every affection hands to your most illustrious Lordship. Letter sent by Ferrara."(1)

Monsignor (a term at that time also used for lay people) Luca, of whom Tasso speaks is Luca Scalabrino, a high-ranking cultural character of whom I was unable to find the exact date of birth but more or less coetaneous of Tasso. Scalabrino had fallen in love with Tasso and was kind enough to mention such a thing  to the 21-year-old Horace Ariosto (descendant of the author of the “Orlando furioso”) who, in turn, had reported the news to Tasso himself, who at first reacted badly.

On May 9, 1576, Tasso writes to Scalabrino:

Luca Scalabrino. - Rome. 1576

"You are absolutely wrong and you cannot be disturbed by this. Writing to me is wrong in substance and form, but I only blame myself.

This is Just enough to answer a part of your letter, to which I will answer in more detail after having read not the Greek alphabet one time, but all the Psalms ten or twenty times [after careful evaluation]. Be sure, however, that I have always loved you and sincerely love you. I am not so crazy, that loving you as I love you, I cause your shame with my great ardor. I’m completely master of my secrets and I can, without offending anyone, reveal what I want and to whom I want. Of the secrets of others I speak only so much as it is pleasing to those who entrust them to my discretion. And if I have talked to your father about your disease, against your will, I have done it only because I’m worried about your health, of which I am determined not to worry more than you like; but, for the love I have for you, so that I am satisfied with you, never hiding any of my thoughts, please do not use with me any particular secrecy on some of your affections or projects that are well known to others, do not be angry with me, if anything, by accident, is reported to me, or at least, please, show your disdain jut to me without manifesting it to others, because you cannot do such a thing without showing that you love me just a little and consider me of little value. I said more than I wanted to say: forgive me, because the hand, driven by just pain, has gone beyond will.
But now let's move on to another topic.
From Ferrara on the 9th of May.
Loving brother and servant the Tasso."(2)

Scalabrino was afraid of the language of Tasso and sent to Ariosto a letter in which he accused him of having gossip with everyone, and in particular with Tasso well known for not being able to keep the tongue in place. Scalabrino already considered himself in very difficult situations but, shortly after, the fears were set aside and the dialogue between Tasso and Scalabrino became explicit.

To Luca Scalabrino, - Rome. 1576
"Your Lordship, with his last letter, asks me for forgiveness for not making me aware of his concupiscible love, and with the letters he has written before, has always shown me to believe that I was angry with him for the fact that he did not reveal to me his carnal desire, and gave me a very honest explanation of his secrecy and silence kept with me. I, who wanted to confirm the decision I made many years ago, that is, to consider Your Lordship not only as a dear and cordial friend, but as the dearest and closest of all friends, that is, as part of my soul, I no longer want to leave you in this mistake and in this deception: and if you don’t deceive yourself, but only want to show so, I don’t want to leave this possibility, nor can I endure that at least in my things and in what belongs to me, you don’t match my naivety, whether silly or philosophical. Know therefore that I did not despise you because Your Lordship had not shown me is love (because you had no obligation), but because you were driven to such an injury as to let Ariosto notify me the question. Not only did you get angry, but you wrote to Ariosto in a way that manifested that you had felt seriously offended by him. Then you wrote to me a letter full of contempt on which I add nothing. You had a good reason to think that Ariosto had revealed this secret to me, who don’t keep my secrets; but you certainly did not have any reason to say so openly with so bad words to him and me, against my reputation. The friend must hide the defects of his friend, and I, who consider myself the most polite man in the world, have never said anything that could displease you, either in this or any other occasion, except that I said of your infirmity to your father and to Monsignor Antenore, for the great concern of your health. And God testifies to me that I did not say anything about you, except for what I knew and believed it was according to your desires. But here I quit my complaint. I will remember only the many kindnesses and loving-kindness I have received from you, and of this banality I will not keep memory, but I will forgive the impetus of those letters and your nature, as I pray to forgive my nature the bitterness of some letters, in which, exhorting you to correct yourself, I used tones too harsh and vehement.

We are equal, as it is said, I begin now, and since the love and confidence I have for you have not diminished at all, I will carefully avoid to provoke your anger. I ask you forgiveness for my previous letters. You do not need to ask forgiveness to me as to a superior, because in nothing I’m superior and in many things I am after you. But if you want to do so, do it without hurting me in the act of giving me satisfaction, because the reason that you are asking me for forgiveness is not for the superiority of my person but for that of the cause; and I grant you my pardon, and you give it to me and let it over! ... and stop talking about these things ... I mean, I'm all yours." (3)

These are probably the letters the courtiers were looking for in the rooms of Tasso!

In mid-December of 1576 the confidence between Tasso and Scalabrino is such that Tasso confesses to Scalabrino that he has fallen in love with the 21-year-old Horace Ariosto, whom Tasso simply calls the Lord omitting the name.

To Luca Scalabrino – Rome, Date December 14, 1576

"I saw the Lord's letter, it’s very good, but what? I never doubted his wit, and now I am sure of this and wish him every success. But you admire in him the aptitude to eloquence, and I the disposition to be courtier, for he has learned more about this art within a few months in the schools, than I did in many years in the court.

In the end, I do not deceive myself, and speak for the sake of science, not by suspicion or by conjecture; you can believe what you like; but if you were here or were present at one or two of our reasonings, you would clarify in part your ideas; because he treats me so that he doesn’t care to leave me satisfied; for him it’s enough that I cannot be able to make the others understand that he offends me. I love him, and I love him for a few months, because love impressed in my soul an emotion too much strong, that cannot be removed in a few days, by an offense of any gravity; and I hope that time will medicate my soul for this loving infirmity, and will make it perfectly healthy.

Certainly I would not love him, because the more his wisdom is loving, and his way of doing towards everybody, the more his particular way of doing towards me seems hateful to me, this particular behavior has just begun, coming from I don’t know what affection, if not from emulation, or from the desire to satisfy others, what I believe most. I call this my love, and not benevolence because, in sum, it is love: I had not noticed it before, because I did not feel waking up within me any of those appetites that love uses to bring, even in bed where we were together. But now I clearly realize that I have been and I am not a friend, but a very honest lover, because I feel great pain, not only because he matches me little in love, but also because I cannot talk to him with the freedom, I was used to, and his absence is squeezing me gravely. In the night I never wake up that her image is not the first to come to my mind, and rethinking in my soul how much I have loved and honored him, and how much he has mocked and offended me, and what is most important to me (since it seems to me very resolute in his decision not to love me), I'm so afraid that two or three times I have cried bitterly, and if I'm saying the fake, God will not remember me. I would hope that if he was certain of my soul, he would have to love me, but how can he be certain of it, being certain of his thought, and judging ex aliorum ingenio (according to the reasoning of others)? And if you, to whom no affection of my soul was ever concealed, and that should have known so long how I can pretend, you doubt it, it is right that he who has less knowledge, doubts it. That’s enough about him."(4)

Tasso and Scalabrino exchange letters on Horatio Ariosto even if the language is not always understandable because we don’t possess Scalabrino's letters.
A Luca Scalabrino. - Rome.
"But keep your beliefs (if you believe what you write), that it is good for me to keep my certainty; in fact, I don’t like it, but it hurts me, that I would, if it were possible, don’t know so much inside as I know about this particular.

You, however judicious you are, will never be praised for that. That magnanimous courtesy, and that suffering of my overwhelming suspicion, real voices, sonorous and witty concepts, where are they born, and where do they come from? In response, I will just say that, in the future, I will be very careful to give myself in prey to a friend, so that it is not only difficult, but boring, to escape him. Now I approve what I said in other times inhuman, that you should love in such a way that it is easy to stop loving. The counsel you give me, I accept it as dictated by love, although it was first given to me by those who didn’t love me very much; when my bosses, who love me well, sought to create in me that confidence, of which my soul, at the beginning of this affliction, was completely full. I don’t know whether I will use it or not, but because men are not faithful, and I am poor in wealth and value, may God guard my innocence, and here is the end of these speeches. Be healthy.
Of Modena on January 6 [1577]".(5)
This last letter is of January 1577. Tasso, disappointed with Ariosto, begins a turbulent relationship with the young courtier: Horace Orlando. Tasso fears that the thing may become of public domain and tries to appear heterosexual as far as it is possible. On June 17, being spied on by a servant, launches a knife against him.

Of course, many other elements of a personal nature such as stress for Jerusalem's composition, the frustrations for the misunderstandings he faced, and the obsessive fear of being spied, besides possible reasons of religious, political and diplomatic nature, have influenced in a very complex way Tasso’s biography, but, of course, there is also homosexuality among the elements which have determined his life. 

(1) “Ora dica M. Luca ch’io son troppo sospettoso. Non posso tacer una delle prodezze di Brunello. Egli sempre, ch’io andava fuori mi dimandava la chiave delle mie stanze, mostrando di volersene servir in fatti d’amore, e io gliela concedeva, serrando però la camera dov’io tenea i libri e le scritture. Nella quale era una cassetta, in cui oltre le mie composizioni, io riserbava gran parte delle lettere di V.s. e di M. Luca, e quelle particolarmente, che contenevano alcuno avvertimento poetico [omissis] Con questo sospetto cominciai ad andar pescando, e intesi finalmente da un servitor del Conte Luigi Montesucoli mio vicino, che quando io era in questa Quaresima in Modana , vide entrare col Brunello, essendo già notte, un magnano [fabbro] nelle mie stanze. Tanto andai poi cercando. che trovai il magnano, il qual mi confessò d’essere stato in corte ad aprir una camera, della quale diceva il conduttor d’aver perduta la chiave. V.s. argomenti il resto, quella è una delle sue frodi, ma ce ne son molte altre, non men belle: e credo che ve ne siano alcune di molta maggiore importanza; ma io non me ne posso accertare. Mi consola che io stracciava tutte le lettere di V.s. e di M. Luca nelle quali era detta liberamente alcuna cosa, trattone quelle de i particolari dello Sperone. Altro non mi occorre per ora, se non che a V.s. Illustr. bacio con ogni affetto le mani. Di Ferrara.” 

(2) A Luca Scalabrino. - Roma. 1576 
“Avete il torto in mille modi; e sia detto con vostra pace. Scrivendo a me, peccate in materia ed in forma; ma io non ne incolpo se non me stesso. Tanto mi basta di rispondere ad una parte de la vostra lettera, a la quale risponderò più a lungo come avrò letto non una volta l’Alfabeto greco, ma dieci o venti volte i Salmi: frattanto siate sicuro che io v’ho sempre amato, e vi amo svisceratamente; non sono ancora tanto pazzo che, amandovi com’io fo , debba con tanto ardore procurare la vostra vergogna. De’ miei secreti sono signore, e posso senza offesa altrui, rivelarne quella parte che mi piace a chi voglio. De gli altrui, tanto ne dico quanto piace a chi li commette a la mia fede; e se io altre volte ho discoperto, contro vostra voglia, a vostro padre il vostro male, l’ho fatto per soverchio zelo de la vostra salute, de la quale son risoluto di non volere aver maggior cura di quella che voi vogliate che s’abbia: ma ben vuo’ pregarvi, per l’amore che vi porto, che se io rimango sodisfatto di voi, a cui nulla ascosi mai de i miei pensieri, che non usiate meco estraordinaria secretezza di alcuni vostri o affetti o disegni che a molti son palesi, né dobbiate poi sdegnarvi contra me se alcuna particella a caso, non la cercando io, me n’è riferita; o almeno sfogate meco tutto questo sdegno senza dimostrarlo altrui; che ciò non potete fare, che non diate insieme a divedere che poco m’amiate e nulla mi prezziate. Ho detto più di quello ch’io voleva: perdonatemi; che la mano, spronata da un giusto dolore, è trascorsa mal grado de la volontà.
Ora passiamo ad altra materia.
Di Ferrara, il IX di Maggio Amorevol Fratello e S. (servitore) Il Tasso” 

(3) A Luca Scalabrino, - Roma. 1576 
“Vostra Signoria per l’ultima sua mi dimanda perdono di non m’aver palesato il suo amor concupiscibile; e per l’altre sue, che prima m’ha scritto, ha sempre mostrato di credere ch’io sia sdegnato con esso lei, pereh’ella non m’abbia rivelato questo suo desiderio carnale, e rende assai onesta cagione de la sua segretezza e del silenzio usato meco. Io, che ho deliberato di confermar quella deliberazione ch’io feci molt’anni sono; cioè d’aver Vostra Signoria non solo per caro e cordiale amico, ma per lo più caro e per lo più intrinseco di tutti gli altri, ed in somma per parte de l’anima mia; non voglio più lungamente lasciarla in questo errore e in questo inganno: e se pur non s’inganna, ma vuol mostrar d’ingannarsi, non le voglio lasciar questo pretesto, né posso soffrire c’almeno ne le cose mie, e in quel c’appartiene a me, ella non corrisponda a la mia ingenuità, o sciocca o filosofica che sia. Sappia dunque, ch’io non mi sdegnai perché Vostra Signoria non mi scoprisse il suo amore (c’a a questo per nessuna ragione voi eravate obbligato); ma mi sdegnai perché voi vi recaste a cosi grande ingiuria che l’Ariosto me n’accennasse un non so che. Non solo vi sdegnaste, ma a lui scriveste in modo che ben si poteva comprendere che vi riputavate offeso da lui gravemente. A me poi scriveste una lettera piena di tanto disprezzo, che nulla più. Confesso c’avevate occasione di dolervi fra voi stesso, che l’Ariosto avesse palesato questo secreto a me, il quale so mal tacere i miei propri secreti; ma certo nissuna ragione voleva che, per cosa di si poca importanza, cosi apertamente fosser da voi dette parole cosi acerbe e a lui e a me medesmo contra la mia riputazione. L’amico deve ricoprire i difetti de l’amico; ed io, che sono il più loquace uomo del mondo, non ho mai detto cosa alcuna c’a voi possa spiacere, né in questa né in altra occasione; se non solo che palesai a vostro padre ed a m. Antenore la vostra infermità per soverchia gelosia de la vostra salute. E Dio mi sia testimonio, che di nissun altro vostro particolare ho io ragionato, se non in quel modo ch’io ho saputo, non che creduto c’a voi fosse caro. Ma sia qui il fine de le mie querele. Io mi ricorderò solamente le tante cortesie ed amorevolezze ch’io ho ricevuto da voi; e di questa baia non terrò memoria, ma perdonerò l’impeto di quelle lettere a la vostra natura; si come prego voi a perdonare a la mia l’acerbità d’alcune lettere, ne le quali, esortandovi al purgarvi, usava luoghi troppo aspri e veementi. Siam patti e pagati, come si dice: da ora inanzi io, non iscemando punto né de l’amore né de la confidenza che ho in voi, mi guarderò di provocar la vostra collera. Io vi dimando perdono de le lettere passate: a voi non occorre dimandarlo a me com’a superiore, peroché io in nessuna cosa vi sono superiore, e in molte vi cedo. E se pur volete usare questa creanza, usatela senza offendermi, mentre volete sodisfarmi: che non la superiorità de la persona, ma la superiorità de la causa mi fa meritevole che da voi mi sia chiesto perdono; ed io vel concedo, e voi concedetelo a me, e brindisi!... e più non si parli di queste co... In somma, io son tutto vostro.”

(4) A Luca Scalabrino – Roma Datata 14 dicembre 1576 
“Ho veduta la lettera del Signore, bella certo, ma che? De l’ingegno suo io non dubitai mai, ed ora ne son certissimo e spero di lui ogni gran riuscita. Ma voi ammirate in lui l’attitudine a l’eloquenza, ed io la disposizione a l’esser cortigiano, perché ha più appreso di quest’arte in pochi mesi ne le scole, ch’io non ho fatto in molti anni ne la corte.
In somma io non m’inganno, e parlo per iscienza, non per sospetto, per congettura; voi credete quel che vi pare; ma se qui foste o vi trovaste presente ad uno o due de’ nostri ragionamenti, vi chiarireste in parte; perciocché egli tratta meco in modo, che non si cura di lasciarmi soddisfatto; gli basta solo ch’io non possa far constar ad altri ch’egli m’offenda. Io l’amo, e son per amarlo anco qualche mese, perché troppo gagliarda impressione fu quella, che l’amor fece ne l’animo mio, né si può in pochi dì rimovere, per offesa quanto si voglia grave; pure spero che il tempo medicherà l’animo mio di questa infermità amorosa, e ’l renderà intieramente sano.
Che certo io vorrei non amarlo, perché quanto è amabile l’ingegno suo, e la maniera in universale, tanto dee a me parer odioso un suo particolar procedere verso me, cominciato da poco in qua, e nato non so da qual affetto, se non forse da emulazione, da desiderio di soddisfare altrui, il che più credo. Chiamo questo mio amore, e non benevolenza perché, in somma, è amore: ne prima me n’era accorto e non me n’accorgeva, perché non sentiva destare in me nessuno di quegli appetiti che suol portare l’amore, anche nel letto, ove siamo stati insieme. Ma ora chiaramente mi avveggio ch’io sono stato e sono non amico, ma onestissimo amante, perché sento dolore grandissimo, non solo ch’egli poco mi corrisponde ne l’amore, ma anche di non poter parlar con esso lui con quella libertà, ch’io soleva, e la sua assenza m’affligge gravissimamente. La notte non mi sveglio mai che la sua immagine non sia la prima ad appresentarmisi, e rivolgendo per l’animo mio quanto io l’abbia amato ed onorato, e quanto egli abbia schernito ed offeso me, e, quel che più mi preme (parendomi troppo indurato ne la risoluzione di non amarmi), me n’afliggo tanto, che due o tre volte ho pianto amarissimamente, e s’io in ciò mento, Iddio non si ricordi di me. Spererei che se egli fosse certo de l’animo mio, sarebbe costretto ad amarmi, ma come ne può essere egli certo essendo consapevole del suo, e giudicando ex aliorum ingenio. E se voi, al qual nessuno affetto de l’animo mio fu mai celato, e che ’n tanti anni dovreste aver conosciuto quanto io sappia fingere, ne dubitate, ben è ragione ch’egli, che n’ha minor conoscenza, ne dubiti. Tanto basti intorno a lui.” 

(5) A Luca Scalabrino. — Roma. 
“Tenetevi pur voi la vostra credenza (se pur credete quel che scrivete) ch’a me giova d’attenermi a la mia certezza; anzi, non mi giova, ma mi noce, che vorrei, se fosse possibile, non saper tanto a dentro quanto io so di questo particolare.
Voi per giudizioso, non sarete giammai per questa ragione laudato. Quella magnanima cortesia, e quella pena del mio soverchio sospettare, voci in vero e concetti sonori ed arguti, ove nascono, ed onde vengono? Per risposta altro non dico, se non che per l’avvenire, mi guarderò molto di darmi così in preda ad alcuno amico, che mi sia poi non solo difficile, ma noioso, il ritormigli. Ora approvo quel detto che altre volte riputai inumano, ch’in guisa si debba amare, che sia facile il disamare. Il consiglio che mi date, accetto da voi come amorevole, se ben m’è stato prima dato da coloro che non molto m’amavano ; ove i padroni, che ben mi vogliono, cercavano di generar in me quella confidenza, de la quale l’animo mio, nel principio di questa briga, era in tutto pieno. Non so però s’io l’userò o no, ma perché ne gli uomini non è fede, ed io son povero di fortuna, e di valore, custodisca Iddio la mia innocenza, e qui sia fine a questi discorsi. State sano.
Di Modena il 6 di Gennaio [1577]”. 

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