The Intricacies of Using Pagan Myths for Christian Purposes in The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost


Rebekah Waltmann

Publication Date

January 2012

Document Type



English Language and Literature


Dr. Prior was a reader on the committee for this thesis.


Because of their universal and artistic nature, the classical myths lend themselves well to use in literature, especially poetry. When used properly, as by Dante and Milton, the myths have the ability to enhance the work; when used poorly, they become gaudy ornamentation. It was, and is, this ability to enhance both the artistry and function of literature that pulled so many poets to the myths, despite the difficulties that could arise when the pagan myths did not quite match the Christian setting. My purpose in this thesis is not to explicate every use of myth within The Divine Comedy or Paradise Lost; it is rather to bring greater appreciation to the complexity behind Dante's and Milton's integration of pagan myths within explicitly Christian works, particularly as they use the myths to strengthen the Christian aspects of the poems. But, as modern readers not as closely tuned into the cultural context or the religious tension between the myths and Christian themes, we do not understand the complexity of appropriately adapting pagan myths to Christian works through which both poets had to navigate, nor may we grasp the ingenuity in the methods used. Thus, this thesis establishes the cultural reactions to the classical myths during the Middle Ages and Renaissance and the subsequent attempts to use the myths, mainly through allegory, and then it analyzes multiple instances of mythological imagery in both works and how each instance adds to the entire artistic and theological aspects of the Comedy and Paradise Lost.