The Divine Comedy: Week 33, Loving a Bad Thing

So, last week we shared Dante's taxonomy of bad loves. Our loves go bad in one of three ways. We can love a bad thing. We can love a good thing lazily. And we can love a good thing excessively.

Also recall that the terraces of Mount Purgatory are each devoted to the purgation of one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

With this two-fold scheme in place, the topography of Mount Purgatory reflects how Dante fits the Seven Deadly Sins into his theory of bad love.

For example, this week let's examine the lowest terraces of Mount Purgatory.

On the three lowest terraces, the sins furthest away from Paradise, we find the Deadly Sins of pride, envy, and wrath. These three sins are examples of what Dante means by "misdirected love," loving a bad thing. These are the worst of the Seven Deadly sins.

What does it mean to love a bad or wicked thing?

Well, in the case of pride, Virgil shares this analysis with the Pilgrim:
There is the man who see his own success
connected to his neighbor's downfall; thus,
he longs to see him fall from eminence.
For Dante, pride is rooted less in love of self (an excessive love) than loving a wicked thing: the downfall of your neighbor. For Dante, pride is rooted in Schadenfreude and what psychologists call "downward social comparison."

Now, we might not like this evaluation of pride. Personally, I think Dante is forcing things a bit here. I think pride is rooted in excessive self love, which would put it in the upper terraces of Purgatory rather than at the bottom.

Regardless, we do see illustrated here what Dante means by loving a bad thing. When we desire that bad things befall others and delight in their failures and misfortunes, well, that's loving a bad thing.

For the sin of envy, Dante makes a very similar analysis:
Next, he who fears to lose honor and fame,
power and favor, if his neighbor rise:
vexed by his good, he wishes for the worst.
Like pride, envy is rooted in social comparison. Where pride is delighting in the fall of others, envy is wishing and desiring their fall. Again we see the point: to wish pain and failure on others is loving a bad thing.

Finally, the sin of wrath is described this way by Virgil:
Finally, he who, wronged, flares up in rage:
with his great passion for revenge, he thinks
only of how to harm his fellow man.
Desiring revenge and wanting to hurt others--the sin of wrath--is another example of loving a bad thing.

These three Deadly Sins--pride, envy, and wrath--are examples of "misdirected love," three examples of loving a bad thing. These are the worst sins which are punished on the lowest slopes of Mount Purgatory.

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