Synopsis of Torquato Tasso’s Aminta [*]
As next to the Jerusalem Delivered, the Aminta is the strongest title which Tasso has to the admiration of posterity . . . The story of this drama is extremely simple, and (with the exception of the introduction of the Satyr) is sufficiently natural. Aminta, a young shepherd is enamoured of Sylvia, a nymph of uncommon beauty, but who is very cruel, not from any particular aversion to him, but to love in general.
In the first scene of the first act, Daphne, a sister nymph, in vain attempts to persuade Sylvia to become less rigid.
And in the second, Aminta relates to Tirsi, the rise and ill success of his attachment. The act then concludes with a chorus of exquisite sweetness, which Crescimbeni declares to be singly worth the greater part of the compositions of Italian poetry.
It would seem that Tasso had been, at the time of writing it, under the influence of the most violent passion for some unattainable object. He bewails the obstacles which honour opposes to the gratification of mutual desire, and regrets the liberty, or unreproved and innocent licence, of the golden age. . . .
In the second act of the Aminta, a Satyr is introduced complaining of the small effect which his masculine beauties had produced on the heart of Sylvia; and resolving, since neither prayers nor presents had prevailed, to conceal himself near a fountain where she was wont to bathe, and to treat her very rudely.
To this fountain Aminta had been spirited up to go, and, upon his arrival, is fortunate enough to deliver Sylvia from the Satyr, who is binding her naked to a tree.
This we learn from Tirsi in the third act, and from him too we learn that the nymph did not seem very grateful for the interposition of her lover, but had fled away as soon as untied.
Aminta is so afflicted at this, that he is resolved to kill himself, but is prevented by Daphne, the friend of Sylvia, who is a very accommodating sort of a lady, and forbids him to despair. While these two are conversing together, news is brought that Sylvia, after clothing herself, had hurried to the chace, and had pursued a huge wolf into the forest; that her veil had been found, and that near it several wolves were seen licking blood beside a skeleton. On this intelligence Aminta hurries away in despair.
In the fourth act Sylvia re-appears, and accounts for her safety; but at the same time is informed, that it is probable that the intelligence of her death had been fatal to Aminta.
This she at first ridicules, but by degrees becomes alarmed, and her distraction is extreme when she learns that her lover has precipitated himself from a rock, invoking her name, and lamenting her death.
She resolves to find and perform the funeral rites to his dead body, and then to follow him to the grave.
In the fifth act, which is narrative, we find that Aminta had been preserved in his descent by some shrubs and trees which grew from the face of the rock, and that, though much stunned, he was not otherwise injured. Sylvia had arrived during the stupour occasioned by his fall, and when he awakes, he finds himself clasped in her arms, and bathed with her tears.
Such is the outline of the piece which Tasso has adorned with all the magic of the most delicate, and glowing colouring. The language of this pastoral has a certain indescribable infantine naiveté, and what indeed must first and principally strike the person acquainted with the Jerusalem, on opening the Aminta, is this extreme difference of style.
The works of an author havę generally a family air, which betrays an identity of origin. . . . But between the style of the Jerusalem, and that of the Aminta, there is a difference as great as between the tones of the trumpet and the sighs of the Aeolian lyre. The one is lofty, sonorous, and grand; the other is soft, delicate, and sweet. It has been said by Cicero, that, if Jupiter were to converse with men, it would be in the language of Plato; and did a golden age exist, the nymphs would speak the language of the Aminta.
[*] Text from John Black, Life of Torquato Tasso: With an Historical and Critical Account of His Writings, 2 vols. (Edinburgh 1810), 1:360–63. Illustrations from Aminta favola favola boscareccia di Torquato Tasso (1678). Back.
Translation © 2018 Doug Stott