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Dante's Deadly Sins: Moral Philosophy In Hell

Raymond Angelo Belliotti (Original Author)
ISBN: 978-0-470-67105-4
224 pages
November 2011, Wiley-Blackwell


Dante’s Deadly Sins is a unique study of the moral philosophy behind Dante’s master work that considers the Commedia as he intended, namely, as a practical guide to moral betterment. Focusing on Inferno and Purgatorio, Belliotti examines the puzzles and paradoxes of Dante’s moral assumptions, his treatment of the 7 deadly sins, and how 10 of his most powerful moral lessons anticipate modern existentialism.
  • Analyzes the moral philosophy underpinning one of the greatest works of world culture
  • Summarizes the Inferno and Purgatorio, while underscoring their moral implications
  • Explains and evaluates Dante’s understanding of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ and the ultimate role they play as the basis of human transgression.
  • Provides a detailed discussion of the philosophical concepts of moral desert and the law of contrapasso, using character case studies within Dante’s work
  • Connects the poem’s moral themes to our own contemporary condition
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Table of Contents

About the Author x

Preface xii

The Rationale xii

The Origin xiii

Acknowledgments xvii

Introduction 1

The Historical Context 1

The Life of Dante 3

Later Writings 8

The Commedia 12

Dante's Death 14

Aims of this Book 15

Dante as Moral Philosopher 17

1 Inferno 19

Dante's Mission 19

The Journey Begins 20

Vestibule (Ante-Hell): The Indecisive Neutrals 21

Upper Hell: Sins of Unrestrained Desire (the Wolf) 23

River Styx, Walls of the City of Dis 28

Lower Hell: Sins of Malice Leading to Violence (the Lion) 30

Lower Hell: Sins of Malice Leading to Fraud (the Leopard) 34

Dante's Existential Lessons in Hell 46

2 Purgatorio 48

Purgatory in a Nutshell 48

The Journey Continues 50

Ante-Purgatory: Late Repentants 50

Gate of Purgatory 56

The First Three Terraces: Misdirected Love 57

The Fourth Terrace: Deficient Love of the Good 62

The Final Three Terraces: Excessive Love of Secondary Goods 64

Dante's Existential Lessons in Purgatory 71

3 The Notion of Desert and the Law of Contrapasso 73

The Notion of Desert 73

The Contrapasso 81

The Problem of Proportionality 87

First Case Study: Francesca 90

Second Case Study: Brutus and Cassius 92

Third Case Study: Epicurus 99

Dante's Moral Conception 102

4 Paradoxes and Puzzles: Virgil and Cato 104

The Paradox of Virgil 105

Summary of the Paradox of Virgil 111

The Strange Case of Cato 116

"The Perfect Stoic" 117

Dante's Decision 120

Dante and Conflict 123

5 The Seven Deadly Sins 124

Historical Background 124

Superbia (Pride) 127

Invidia (Envy) 129

Ira (Wrath) 133

Acedia (Sloth) 137

Avaritia (Avarice) 138

Gula (Gluttony) 139

Luxuria (Lust) 140

The Antidote: Righteous Love 142

The Bridge to Salvation 148

6 Dante's Existential Moral Lessons 149

Dante and Existentialism 149

Jean-Paul Sartre and Hell 150

Dante's Ten Existential Lessons 157

Individualism and Community 176

Personal Strategies 179

Bibliography 185

Index 193

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Author Information

Raymond Angelo Belliotti is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia. He has published ten other books, including What Is the Meaning of Human Life? (2001), Happiness Is Overrated (2004), Watching Baseball Seeing Philosophy (2008), Niccolò Machiavelli (2008), and Roman Philosophy and the Good Life (2009). Belliotti has received the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, the William T. Hagan Young Scholar/Artist Award, the Kasling Lecture Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship, and the SUNY Foundation Research and Scholarship Recognition Award.
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“In this thought-provoking book Belliotti draws Dante’s Commedia into conversation with existentialist philosophy. . . Despite these questions, Belliotti’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in Dante. In it the reader will find a refreshingly different take on the moral vision underscored by Dante’s Commedia.”  (The Heythrop Journal, 24 July 2015)

Belliotti demonstrates remarkable parallels between Dante’s moral vision and modern Existentialist philosophy. He skillfully elucidates moral possibilities that we too confront when challenged by evildoing, punishment, freedom, and love.
Robert Ginsberg, Director, The International Center for the Arts, Humanities, and Value Inquiry

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