Armida Charms The Crusaders: The Disarming Exoticism Of Pagan Eroticism

In the fourth Canto of The Liberation of Jerusalem, the seductive Syrian sorceress Armida is sent to charm the Christians and succeeds in leading a number of frail knights astray.

ne nos inducas in tentationem
sed libera nos a malo

But where is the Christian knight of our company who would not be tempted by this vision of beauty? And which Christian amongst us has not used his eyes to feed his imagination and then use his imagination to provide pleasing images in lieu of what his eyes are debarred from seeing in the flesh…?

[table “3” not found /]

Is it any wonder that all but the greatest of heart are led into temptation…?

Those two stanzas are among the most arresting I have read so far, although some of the descriptions of the battle scenes come close. I think they are a good indication of how well Wickert handles his material within quite a demanding rhyme scheme.

Talking of rhyme schemes, there is a letter in LRB about a translation by Anthony Esolen of the same poem (called Jerusalem Delivered in his translation). The letter writer, Michael Robertson, speaks of Esolen’s “ingenious solution,” namely:

the optional use of unrhymed odd lines in the sestet to give a rhyme scheme of XAXAXABB, which in Esolen’s hands leads to a fluent and unobtrusive English form of the stanza…

It would be interesting and fruitful to compare these two translations to see whether Wickert’s more demanding rhyme scheme leads him to infelicities that Esolen’s more flexible scheme enables him to avoid. Certainly, there are quite a few weak endings in Wickert’s translation, but following him and seeing how he will cope, and seeing him cope admirably well, is one of the pleasures of reading his translation.