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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

War balances

The Battle of Lepanto in a cartoon
by G. A. Sartorio, about 1930

Now, in Tasso's fictional narrative of the First Crusade, two Christian knights both called Robert (respectively from Frisia and Normandy), volunteer to go and defend the harbor of Joppe/Jaffa. Meanwhile Argantes, one of the main leaders of the Muslim army, attacks a fort that has been built by the Crusaders near the harbor -- by piling up their very ships. This whole, long section did not exist in the Gerusalemme Liberata, it was added in the Conquistata after the model of the Iliad. This serves two purposes: 1. Giving Tasso's poem a Homeric solemnity, and

2. Counterbalancing the war, so that, while the Christian army besieges the Muslim army in Jerusalem, the opposite occurs in Jaffa. This sort of "fairness doctrine" or "equal treatment" played a key role in Renaissance literature, worldview, and practice. The actual Battle of Lepanto, 1571, did not aim at 'destroying Islam' but simply at re-establishing the military balance in the Mediterranean Sea by "showing that Turkey was not unbeatable," as reminded by a Christian soldier who had been there: Miguel De Cervantes. Argantes speaks:

[GC 17: 90.7b - 91.6]

". . . I will not come back
without glory and booty, O fellows!
I hope I'll adorn the Asian coast and farthest
territories with enemy spoils, rather,
by depriving the Franks of the den     i.e. Westerners
where their extreme hope now lies.
You just follow me, and I feel that
the slow, the scared will become bold!"

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