This document was originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 5. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 7-10.

Tasso's beautiful pastoral drama or love-idyll, Aminta, is highly esteemed in Italy, and deserves to be better known in other languages. It was composed while he was still engaged on his great epic, whose splendor has thrown into the shade his minor works. Aminta belongs to the period of his happiness at the court of Ferara, then the most brilliant in Italy. It was intended especially for the entertainment of the great ladies who had graciously received him and befriended him. The duke's unmarried sisters, Leonora and Lucrezia d'Este, were his seniors by about ten years, had admitted the poet to their familiarity, and there is reason to believe that neither of them was indifferent to him personally. It is commonly reported that he had fallen in love with Leonora, and that the hopelessness of union with the object of his affection was the prime source of his subsequent insanity. While there is a plausibility in this report, it is more probable that his love was bestowed on Leonora Scandiano, a lady of the court.

Aminta was first performed in 1573 before the duke Alphonso and his court, to the intense delight of that gay and cultured assembly. The duke's sister, Lucrezia, who had been married to the prince of Urbino, sent for the author to read it to her at Pesaro, and in the following spring it was performed with renewed applause at her court. The sensitive poet was as much enchanted with the rapturous favor of the audience at these exhibitions as they, in turn, were with the exquisite beauties and honeyed melodies of his pastoral drama. This skillful blending of poetry, music and dramatic art exactly suited the spirit of the age in which it appeared. It was at that very time that music was becoming the main art of Italy. Thenceforth the penetrating influence of this enchanting composition was felt in opera and cantata for more than two centuries, and throughout Europe.

The plot of this lyrical drama is simple. Aminta, we may note at the outset, is not a female name, but the Italian form of the Greek masculine Amyntas. This shepherd hero, if he may so be called, has spent his boyhood in constant companionship with the shepherdess Sylvia. But a sad change has come over their relation since his boyish friendship has ripened into ardent love. The crisis came when she was deluded into attempting to charm away the pain of a pretended bee's sting on his lip by kissing him. Thenceforth she has repelled his increasing and persistent attentions and declares herself a votary of Diana. She becomes a huntress and finds pleasure only in the chase of wild beasts. Such is the story told partly by Aminta to his friend Thyrsis, and partly by Sylvia to her confidant Daphne, who pleads Aminta's cause in vain. Sylvia even declares that she hates her former comrade, and Aminta, in despair at her avoidance of him, threatens that his misery must end in death, which alone can appease her. But Sylvia before starting on a hunting expidition with her friend, goes to bathe in a favorite pool. There the girls are surprised by a fierce satyr, who seizes and carries off Sylvia while Daphne escapes to give an alarm. Aminta hastens to the woods and finds Sylvia tightly bound to a tree, fastened by her hair and girdle and twigs. Though hesitating at first to approach, he partially releases her, when she, vexed at being discovered in such distress, bids him begone without thanking him. The dismayed Aminta speedily retires, and Sylvia, unfastening the twigs which still detained her, flees in the opposite direction. But in the next act a messenger brings word that Aminta, rushing to the brow of a precipice, has thrown himself headlong. Sylvia, overcome with horror at hearing of his death, begs to be lead to the place, that she may atone for her fault. The lover's body is found at the foot of a cliff, and a shepherd who was standing near reports that the fall was broken by a tree and bushes. Sylvia flings herself upon the lifeless form and laments her past cruelty and hardness of heart. Aminta revives, and, opening his eyes, finds himself clasped in her arms. It soon appears that, except for some scratches and bruises, he has escaped serious injury. "Happy is he who has given so great proof of his love and now tastes relish." Such is the argument of this lyrical drama, which is divided into five acts, each closing with an ode sung by a chorus of shepherds.

Tasso is thought to have represented himself in the character of Thyrsis, and from his mouth we take his glowing, forceful and impressive description of his admission to court:

I, with all this fine foreknowledge, went
To the great city; and, by Heaven's kind will,
Came where they live so happily. The first sound
I heard was a delightful harmony,
Which issued forth, of voices loud and sweet;--
Sirens, and swans, and nymphs, a heavenly noise
Of heavenly things;--which gave me such delight,
That, all admiring, and amazing, and joyed,
I stopped a while quite motionless. There stood
Within the entrance, as if keeping guard
Of those fine things, one of a high-souled aspect,
Stalwart withal, of whom I was in doubt
Whether to think him better knight or leader.
He, with a look at once benign and grave,
In royal guise, invited me within;
He, great and in esteem; me, lorn and lowly.
Oh, the sensations and the sights which then
Shower'd on me. Goddesses I saw, and nymphs
Graceful and beautiful, and harpers fine
As Linus or as Orpheus; and more deities,
All without veil or cloud, bright as the virgin
Aurora, when she glads immortal eyes,
And sows her beams and dew-drops, silver and gold.



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