With the massed Egyptian army approaching Jerusalem, Tancred had completed his duel with Argante, leaving the Circassian dead and Tancred badly wounded. Erminia, in company with Vafrine (who had been spying for the crusaders in the Egyptian camp), stumbled across Tancred, and had given him much-needed aid and seen him carried away to recover inside the city. Night has now fallen.
Vafrine goes to Godfrey, and tells him of the Egyptians’ plans to kill him and Rinaldo during their imminent attack. Vafrine’s opinion of the strength of the Egyptian army is encouraging: although very large in number, he considers that most of them are of limited value in combat, the exception being one company of Persians.
Godfrey and his commanders then discuss their strategy, deciding to change the dress of the day so that any Egyptian imposters will be caught out of rig, and to fight them out in the open.
The twentieth and final canto starts with the arrival of the Egyptian army late the following day. Godfrey won’t be rushed, though, and decides to join battle at dawn of the next day. When that time comes, he deploys his forces on the plain by the city, with a rear party remaining inside the walls guarding Jerusalem.
Godfrey’s forces take possession of a mound, around which he disposes his men. He then tours each unit before addressing them en masse. Emiren does the same for his Egyptian troops, then the crusader trumpets launch the attack. The first blood is claimed by a crusader woman, Gildippe, who kills the King of Hormuz. She is joined by her husband, Edward, and the couple have a long string of successes fighting together.
Ormondo, wearing false colours as a crusader, gets close to Godfrey in his bid to kill the leader, but is recognised and dies swiftly under a hail of arrows and other weapons. Rinaldo then enters the battle when enemy forces try doubling back on the crusaders and unleashing their archers.
David Teniers the Younger’s painting of Rinaldo’s Feats against the Egyptians from 1628-30 captures Rinaldo in action against his Egyptian foe.
Rinaldo then reaches Armida, who is riding in her golden chariot with a heavily-armed escort.
Teniers shows this in another oil-on-copper painting of Armida in the Battle Against the Saracens from 1628-30. Armida stands on her chariot in her role as an archer. Rinaldo is at the far left, concentrating on fighting those around her.
Armida recognises her lover Rinaldo, and turns first white, then burns with a passionate mixture of anger and desire. Rinaldo, though, passes her by and carries on fighting, ignoring her. Three times Armida takes aim at Rinaldo with her bow, and three times she cannot loose her arrow at him.
Finally, as shown in Johann Friedrich Overbeck’s fresco of Armida as an Archer Aims at Rinaldo (1819-27) in the Casa Massimo in Rome, she lets her arrow fly. It bounces off Rinaldo’s armour, so Armida shoots a succession of arrows which are equally unsuccessful.
Prince Altamor comes up to clear a way through for Armida’s chariot; while he is attending to that, Rinaldo and Godfrey attack his troops and put them to flight.
Soliman has been watching all this from a tower in Jerusalem, and now decides to join the battle, where he quickly claims the lives of many of the crusaders. The wounded Tancred leaves his bed to rescue Raymond, who has been lying injured, and bring him back to safety.
Soliman is attacked by Gildippe, but he strikes back and mortally wounds her. As her husband Edward comforts her in her final moments, Soliman kills him too; the couple appear in the painting from Overbeck’s series shown above, lying dead in the foreground.
Adrastus, who had promised Armida that he would kill Rinaldo and present her with his head, now challenges Rinaldo, who kills him almost immediately. This exposes Soliman, who senses that his death is imminent, and so it proves to be. By now most of the Egyptian forces are in full retreat. Emiren stops their standard-bearer from running away, and persuades him to return to die with honour, as those who remain fighting the crusaders are being slaughtered.
Armida now sits alone in her chariot, her guard of honour dead or run away. Fearing that she will be captured, she mounts one of her horses and rides off. Tissaphernes follows her, but runs into Rinaldo, who quickly kills him. Rinaldo looks around to see where else he might be needed, but the Egyptians are melting away in defeat, and he decides to follow Armida’s tracks.
Those take him to a dark and lonely place, where Armida is nursing her defeat, and has just taken her sharpest arrow with which to kill herself. Rinaldo stops her from doing so. When she turns and sees who it is, she swoons into his arms. He cries tears of pity on her, which wakes her from her faint. She accuses him of being cruel in both his departing and his return, and for stopping her suicide, then dissolves into floods of tears. Rinaldo promises to be her servant and her champion, and to take her back to the lands of her relatives if she wishes.
This dramatic moment has been surprisingly rarely depicted in paint. This image of Cesare Dandini’s Rinaldo and Armida from 1635 is not of high quality, but shows Armida about to impale one of her arrows into herself, and Rinaldo grasping her hand in restraint.
Teniers also paints it in his Reconciliation of Rinaldo and Armida from 1628-30, adhering more literally to Tasso’s words in showing Rinaldo coming from behind.
Godfrey has struck down the standard of the Egyptians. Emiren, their general, makes one last personal attack on Godfrey, who kills him. The leader of the crusaders then takes Altamor captive; the latter promises that he will be ransomed for a great amount of gold and gems. Those Egyptians who have fled to make a last stand at the wall of Jerusalem are finally killed, ending all resistance against the crusaders.
Godfrey finally leads his crusaders back into the city, as the last light of the sun dims in the west. He goes to the temple, where he pays his respects, and fulfills his vow to deliver Jerusalem.
I’m not sure whether this scene of the Consecration of Godfrey (1819-27) in Overbeck’s fresco in the Casa Massimo, Rome, painted between 1819-27 is intended to show these closing moment in Tasso’s epic. Peter the Hermit stands holding the crucifix, as Godfrey, still wearing his armour, sinks on bended knee.
In the next article, I will attempt a short overview, featuring the finest of these many paintings.
Project Gutenberg (free) English translation (Fairfax 1600).
Librivox audiobook of the Fairfax (1600) English translation (free).
Thomas Asbridge (2004) The First Crusade, A New History, Free Press, ISBN 978 0 7432 2084 2.
Anthony M Esolen, translator (2000) Torquato Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, Gerusalemme Liberata, Johns Hopkins UP. ISBN 978 0 801 863233. A superb modern translation into English verse.
John France (1994) Victory in the East, a Military History of the First Crusade, Cambridge UP. ISBN 978 0 521 589871.
Joanthan Riley-Smith, ed (1995) The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, Oxford UP. ISBN 978 0 192 854285.
Jonathan Riley-Smith (2014) The Crusades, A History, 3rd edn., Bloomsbury. ISBN 978 1 4725 1351 9.
Johathan Unglaub (2006) Poussin and the Poetics of Painting, Pictorial Narrative and the Legacy of Tasso, Cambridge UP. ISBN 978 0 521 833677.