Allegoresis and the Western Epic Tradition from Homer to Tasso
The greatest poetic achievement of the Middle Ages in general, and of vernacular literatures in particular, is undoubtedly Dante's Divine Comedy.! Both in the Late Middle Ages and during the Renaissance there was a continuous debate as to whether Dante's great poem was an epic. The view that it was gradually prevailed, and was proclaimed by the Counter-Reformation. For the purpose of this study we shall treat Dante's work as an epic, but of a special kind. The opening lines of Dante's Inferno, the first canticle ·of his Divine Comedy do not "imitate" Antiquity:
Nel mezzo di cammin di nostra vita,
Mi ritrovai in una selva oscura
Che Ia diritta via era smarrita.
Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood
for I had wandered off from the straight path.2
By not "imitating" the ancients in his incipit Dante signals his intention of creating another kind of epic: the Christian epic.