Date of Award

Spring 1973

Document Type





The purpose of this thesis is to take a philosophical look at the Divine Comedy of Dante. Since Dante is sometimes referred to as the ethical poet, I will limit myself to studying his ethical system. In the course of his epic, Dante travels down into the underworld, as Virgil's Aeneas did, then up the slopes of the mountain of Purgatory, and finally arrives at the Empyrean, where the Godhead dwells in Heaven. Virgil, the symbol of human reason, leads him through both the Inferno and the Purgatorio. At almost the summit of Purgatory, Beatrice, the symbol of divine revelation, relieves Virgil of his task and guides the poet the remainder of the way. In this paper I will deal with the parts where Virgil is involved, or to the parts where philosophy is stressed.

Since this is still a broad undertaking, I have further limited myself to Dante's threefold division of Hell, that of incontinence, violence, and treachery, as my major point of focus. The medieval mind was intrigued and ruled by hierarchical structures. With this in mind, I find it necessary to supplement this threefold plan with a gradated scale of corresponding vices in order to form a cohesive whole. Many Dante scholars and critics maintain that the key to understanding the Divine Comedy lies in the second part of his work, the Purgatorio. If this be true in particular cases, I shall use it as a critical comparision to the Inferno, in setting up a hierarchical structure of ethics. The use of the Purgatory will also point to a positive element of his ethics, rather than a series of negations as presented in the Inferno. Sources that I have found to be invaluable in my research are the Sumrna Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle and Karl Vossler's Medieval Culture: A Study of Dante and His Times, the product of a lifetime of study and research. With few exceptions, I will omit any incidental details and personages, which Dante mentions throughout the entirety of his poem. Also, I will exclude most of the punishments and rewards which Dante so beautifully allegorizes. All of these elements would seem to hinder the philosophical purpose in writing and categorizing the derived ethical system.