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.
‘George Corbett's book elegantly and lucidly addresses the relationship of Epicurean philosophy upon Dante's own ethical reasoning. As such, this work fills a gap left open not only in Dante studies, but within wider medieval studies as well, from which, as Corbett reminds us, Epicureanism has long been ignored. [...] While the book tackles issues of a highly philosophical nature, it does so consistently in a clear and accessible style. [...] Corbett's work will appeal not only to Dantists, but to scholars of philosophy, literature, and the Middle Ages, as well. As such, it is an outstanding book that proposes and skilfully realizes a truly ambitious project.’ — Lorenzo Valterza, Medium Aevum LXXXIII.2, 2014, 349-50
‘George Corbett approfondisce il rapporto fra Dante e la filosofia epicurea alla luce di un approccio critico più ampio, volto a dimostrare la permanenza, nella Commedia, della visione dualistica dantesca.’ — Giulia Gaimari, L'Alighieri 43, 2014, 165-68
‘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 (full text online)
‘L'importante lavoro di George Corbett si propone di indagare in maniera esaustiva l'influenza esercitata dal pensiero filosofico epicureo nell'opera dantesca [...] l'autore si interroga su due questioni fondamentali: quali sono i testi che possono aver influenzato la ricezione di Dante dell'Epicureismo e in che modo il poeta riesce a rappresentare Epicuro e gli epicurei nelle sue opere.’ — Claudia Tardelli Terry, Italian Studies 69.3, November 2014, 449-50
‘Corbett's book is well written, accurate, and rigorously argued. The thesis that Dante's Commedia presents a dualistic vision of the fulfilment of mankind is innovative and compelling for a new scholarly criticism of the Commedia. The first part on Dante's reception of Epicureanism is the most persuasive and ground-breaking; it shows how the reconstruction of Dante's sources is essential for understanding his reception of ancient literature and philosophy.’ — Filippo Gianferrari, Annali d'Italianistica 32, 2014, 593-95
‘Stunningly readable with potent, clear argumentation, Corbett’s nonetheless highly academic presentation of Dante’s dualism in the context of the poet’s literary integration of the figure and philosophy of Epicurus reads like a page-turner. Furthermore, Corbett’s innovative methodological approach is cradled by a no less than masterful organization throughout the book. [...] The topic and breadth of the book, perhaps, lend themselves better to students and scholars versed well enough with the traditions of the philosophers, biblical exegetes and scholarly commentators that orbit so closely Dante’s works. Readers with a grasp of Latin will take double pleasure in reading volumes of quotes from their original sources as well as in their English translations. Corbett’s book, overall, is a must-have for the bookshelves of the committed dantista.’ — Elsie Emslie Stevens, Italica 41.4, 2014, 833-35
‘George Corbett presenta un volume nel quale viene ripercorsa, con ampiezza e profondità di indagine, l’importante questione relativa ai rapporti fra Dante e l’epicureismo […] Il volume di Corbett si configura senza alcun dubbio, quindi, come un serio e notevole tentativo di far luce in modo esaustivo e corretto su un non irrilevante nodo problematico dell’universo filosofico e poetico dantesco, insieme punto d’arrivo di una lunga e ininterrotta tradizione esegetica e punto di partenza per nuovi, auspicabili interventi critici.’ — Armando Bisanti, Studi Medievali series 3 vol 56, 2015, 444-45
Corbett, George, Dante and Epicurus: A Dualistic Vision of Secular and Spiritual Fulfilment, Italian Perspectives, 25 (Legenda, 2013)
First footnote reference:35 George Corbett, Dante and Epicurus: A Dualistic Vision of Secular and Spiritual Fulfilment, Italian Perspectives, 25 (Legenda, 2013), p. 21.