Dante and Epicurus
A Dualistic Vision of Secular and Spiritual Fulfilment

George Corbett


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Dante Alighieri
(1265-1321)
Italian poet
 10 other titles

Epicurus
(341-270 BCE)
Athenian philosopher

Italian Perspectives 25

Legenda: Oxford, 2013
£45.00 ($89.50 US)    202pp
ISBN: 978-1-907975-79-0


Dante and Epicurus seem poles apart. Dante, a committed Christian, depicted in the Commedia a vision of the afterlife and God’s divine justice. Epicurus, a pagan philosopher, taught that the soul is mortal and that all religion is vain superstition. And yet Epicurus is, for Dante, not only the quintessential heretic but an ethical ally. The key to this apparent paradox lies in the heterodox dualism – between man’s two goals of secular felicity and spiritual beatitude – at the heart of Dante’s ethical, political and theological thought.

Corbett’s full-length treatment of Dante’s reception and polemical representation of Epicurus addresses a major gap in the scholarship. Furthermore the study’s focus on fault lines in Dante’s vision of the afterlife – where the theological tensions implicit in his dualism surface – opens a new way to read the Commedia as a whole in dualistic terms.

George Corbett is Junior Research Fellow of Trinity College, and Affiliated Lecturer of the Department of Italian, the University of Cambridge.

Reviews:

  • ‘Considered from the point of view of what Corbett’s book has to say about Dante and one of the—theologically speaking—more problematic spirits on his horizon, it is to be welcomed, its sense of Dante’s appreciation of an Epicurus notable for something other than mere sensuality but wedded, even so, to a species of mortalism making inevitably for his reprobation within the Christian scheme of things emerging from it both clearly and convincingly.’ — John Took, Speculum 89.2, April 2014, 466-68
  • ‘George Corbett writes with great clarity and logic, drawing on a wide range of resources from early commentators (among whom he moves with ease) and the whole of Dante’s œuvre to a host of modern Dante critics. Points of comparison and continuity rather than of palinodic rewriting are sought between the Commedia and the ‘minor works’, and the author is bold and confident in his challenges to various prevalent critical assumptions. The ambiguities surrounding Epicurus before and during Dante’s day are persuasively elucidated, with good, nuanced background on mediators such as Cicero, Augustine, and Albert the Great.’ — Jennifer Rushworth, Modern Language Review 109.3, July 2014, 821-22


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