The Naturalization of Torquato Tasso’s Narrative Theory by the French Academy

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Although neoclassical rules were commonly associated with the founding of the French Academy by Richelieu in 1635, their origin is actually Italian. The first Latin translation of Aristotle’s Poetics in 1494 stimulated an unprecedented interest in the conceptions of poetic art. Italian scholars translated and commented on his work throughout the sixteenth century. Torquato Tasso is perhaps the most eloquent champion of the codification of the neoclassical prescriptive rules. In his heroic poem, “Jerusalem Delivered,” Tasso attempts to appropriate Aristotle’s “Poetics” to the Christian moralistic needs propagated after the Council of Trent (1545–1563). His theoretical writings on poetics, “Discourses of Poetic Art” and their subsequent version, “Discourses of the Heroic Poem” became a model for theorists of the French Academy in the seventeenth century. The article analyzes this cultural adaptation of the Italian readings of Aristotle’s “Poetics” to the French national context of growing absolutism.