Dante’s Commedia is often referred to as “the Summa in verse”[i] due to the influence of Thomas Aquinas upon Dante’s theological, philosophical, and moral formation. Aquinas is himself influenced by Aristotle, whom he regards as “The Philosopher.” Dante was undoubtedly familiar with Aristotle.[ii] Thus, by way of Aquinas’ influence upon Dante, and Dante’s own knowledge of Aristotle, we can see elements of Aristotelian thought put into verse, albeit Aristotelian thought strengthened and refined by the Christian faith of Aquinas and Dante. This essay intends to explore Aristotle’s understanding of the varied human responses to anger and then see how Dante’s poetic imagery expresses or expands upon Aristotle’s thinking. This will be done by way of exegesis and comparison of Aristotle and Dante’s work while utilizing Thomas’ commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics as the link. It is hoped that Aristotle and Dante’s unique insights may shed mutual light upon one another.
Before we look at the specific passage in the Ethics it is necessary to express concisely how the passage is framed within Aristotle’s entire work. Aristotle begins the Ethics by stating, “Every art [τέχνη – “art, skill, cunning of hand”][iii] and every investigation [μέθοδος – “pursuit of knowledge, investigation”][iv], and likewise every practical pursuit [πρᾶξις – “doing”][v] or undertaking [προαίρεσις – “purpose, resolution”][vi], seems to aim at some good: hence it has been well said that the Good is That at which all things aim.”[vii] In the Ethics Aristotle explores what this means in all its diversity. There are a variety of Goods at which we aim, as well as a hierarchy amongst the Goods. There is a lack of understanding regarding what the universal conception of the Good is, and what the Good is in relation to particulars. Also, there is the possibility of a rejection of the Good. For humans, the Good is different from that which is the Good for plants or animals, and this is due to our specific difference. The specific difference is our capacity to reason.[viii] This specific difference defines and clarifies the specific function or aim of human life. To live in a good way, or to live exercising our capacity to reason in a good way, means to live virtuously (ἀρετή – “goodness, excellence, of any kind”).[ix] If humans live in this way consistently and fully we will be happy (εὐδαιμονία – “true, full happiness”).[x]