Pagan Gods and Allegory in the Ylias by Joseph of Exeter

This article traces the reception of pagan concepts (mythological figures, formulae of heroic poems) in Latin poetry of the 12th c. In his Ylias (2. 1–14), Joseph of Exeter creates a passage that can be both read in heathen (when uttered by a character) and Christian (as coming from the author) paradigm. Furia Allecto tormenting Priam is allegorised to stand for “sinister thought” (mala cogitatio). This interpretation is widely used; it is found, for example, in the Architrenius by John of Hauville. Pallas protecting the Troyan citadel from the furies is both a figure of myth and stands for wisdom confronting the passions. The expression “the dead of your exile” (funera exilii tui) can be read through a Christian lens (meaning people who died before Christ), as well as through a Platonic one: earth is a place of exile for souls while their homeland is in the skies. This passage, which allows for a double interpretation, prepares the reader for the dream of Paris at the end of book two (the dream motive itself existed already in the antiquity stemming from the rationalistic rethinking of the Judgment of Paris). Joseph of Exeter described the Judgment of Paris in such a way that it can be interpreted both from the pagan and Christian standpoint. It breeds tragic irony: Paris triumphs, having acquired the benevolence of the goddess, but a Christian reader anticipates the death of the hero who deified his own voluptuousness.