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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Un(s)even: St Anne's Asylum

(a bit cropped; reworked from Delacroix)

In Il Mondo Creato there are some hints at the seven horrible years (1579-1586) that Tasso spent at St Anne's "Hospital" -- actually an asylum and a jail -- in Ferrara. The only sources describing him as having gone insane come from Alphonse II of Este, the Duke of Ferrara, who imprisoned him, and the documents parroting Alphonse's. As a matter of fact, during those years (except the very first one, in total seclusion) Tasso wrote letters and essays that witness all of his intelligence, his culture, his interest in the historical and political events. As it has been highlighted and documented by Fabio Pittorru in his 1982 biography of the poet, Tasso's "fault" consisted in having threatened to reveal the corruption of the Court, which would have involved a powerful Cardinal. He was not internalised because he was crazy, but in order to drive him crazy. Basically, the punitive methods that would be adopted in the USSR too.

St Anne's Hospital was used as a setting by the 19th century poet and scholar Giacomo Leopardi for his Dialogue between Torquato Tasso and his Home Genius (see here an English translation of the whole text), probably the most brilliant insight into Tasso's worldview in the history of Italian criticism, which usually feeds on commonplace and ideology.