Alice Balestrino

Panel 2A: Literary Transcodifications/2
Session 2 – July 1, 15:30 – 17:30

“I’m Not the Hero Type.” Marvel’s Infinity Saga as Chivalric Romance

Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1516) is an epic poem that expanded the Medieval tradition of the chivalric romance that had its roots in the Carolingian cycle of the French chanson de geste, in particular La Chanson de Roland. The pivotal aspect of Ariosto’s epic, however, is its problematic and opaque relation to the chivalric code; indeed, in the OF there is a subversion of this tradition from the inside, grounded in its author’s awareness of living in a time of “crisis in human self-perception,” as well as in politics and religion (Ascoli, Ariosto’s Bitter Harmony, 4). Hence, the OF represents a chivalric world in crisis, confronted by existential turmoil and the necessity to renegotiate its identity.

This paper intends to speculate on this distressed chivalric code as an ideological stance and a literary strategy apt to express the anxieties of a society whose identity is in crisis, not exclusively of the Italian Cinquecento. Although related to different time and space, and elaborated in a different medium, I will argue that the Marvel Studios’ “Infinity Saga” (2008-2019) – in particular, the Iron Man and The Avengers movies – may be considered a re-configuration and actualization of this chivalric code in crisis. The narrative structure of the auto-generative entrelacement, the presence of a number of heroes-combatants each with their own aventure but united by a fundamental quest, the historical and political context of moral absolutism (good vs. evil) define the Infinity Saga as a chivalric romance. However, the ethical and self-doubting questions posed in particular in Captain America: Civil War (2016) uncover an ideology in crisis, that of post-9/11 American Exceptionalism; a framework addressed since the very beginning of the saga (Iron Man, 2008) and problematized as the superheroes’ quest unfolds. In this sense, the Marvel super-heroic code resembles Ariosto’s chivalric code and the compound of the Infinity Saga may be read as a chivalric romance.


Alice Balestrino holds a Ph.D. in American literature from “Sapienza” University of Rome. Her dissertation “Extra-Vacant Narrative. Reading Holocaust Fiction in the Post-9/11 Age” elaborates the philosophical concept of vacancy as a reading strategy for Holocaust uchronias and autofictions published in the aftermath of 9/11. She has published on Holocaust literature and postmemory, on alternate histories, on post-9/11 fiction, and on narrative strategies for the representation of memory in graphic novels: “Placing Time, Timing Space. Memory as Border and Line of (Hi)Stories in Richard McGuire’s Graphic Narrative Here,RIAS – Review of International American Studies. She is now pursuing a second Ph.D. in Italian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign where she also holds an appointment as Research Assistant at the International Forum for US Studies.