Did the Latin Middle Ages know the world of the tragic?

  • Francesco Santi Alma Mater Bologna University


The Latin Middle Ages seems alien to the tragic, in principle: the ancient cultures had known and structured themselves around the idea of the god-nature (ultimately indifferent to man), and a sense of the insuperable distance between the finite and the infinite; the Latin Middle Ages knew and thematized the figure of the near and assiduous god, incongruous to the tragic. Paradoxically, however, in the 12th century, when medieval self-consciousness seems to reach its completion and full understanding of its foundation, the practice of tragic writing re-emerges. This is not simply the scholarly recovery of the ancient literary tradition: the near god takes its definitive step in medieval culture, when its nearness consists in stepping aside, becoming a hidden god and – finally – the god of Piety (Vesperbild). The absence of god, which occurs now because of too much love, reintroduces the possibility of the tragic into culture.