Sunday, May 25, 2014

Envy and Dante

I'm not proud to admit it, but I sometimes struggle with envy and jealousy. Especially now that we've been experiencing infertility. However, this is something I've struggled with at other points in my life, and I know I need to fight against it.

Recently I shared this with a priest in confession. He mentioned that in Dante's Divine Comedy, the envious are inflicted with blindness, so they can't see what's going on around them (and in this priest's interpretation, therefore not be envious). The priest also encouraged me to look up the virtue that counteracts envy and jealously. This virtue is kindness (and generosity) for it's own sake.

This conversation led me to do some searching on the Divine Comedy. I found a recap in the article, "What Dante Can Teach us About Envy":

"Now the spiritual medicine for envy, as Dante presents it on the mountain, is ingenious. It is an enforced blindness. The once-envious souls cannot eye one another askance, because they cannot see at all. Their eyes are sutured shut with an iron wire
as hunters seel
the wild hawk’s eyes to train him to be tame
And rest unruffled. (71-72)
They must be tamed—Dante the pilgrim will pick up the metaphor later on—before they may climb the mountain. That suggests there is something savage in envy, something a social order must overcome. And that fact is underscored by all that these blind sinners say and do. Because they are blind, sitting near the edge of a precipice, they must rely upon one another—intimately, bodily, helplessly—to keep safe:
In humble horsehair they were covered all,
propped back to back to bear each other up,
while everyone was propped against the wall. (58-60)."
One thing I've learned the hard way is that envy and jealousy are isolating. Often I'm guilty of turning inward in self-pity, rather than outward in charity and generosity. From the perspective of the Divine Comedy it seems that blindness is the perfect antidote for envy: Upon being blinded the envious sinners are forced to reach outside of themselves for help and support.

I know that when I reach outside of myself to share in someone else's burdens, listen to a friend, or help another in need, my own load is also lightened, and in a way I feel less blind on my own path.


  1. Dealing with feelings of jealousy is so hard, especially with IF. Because the thing we long for and see almost everyone else getting is just so wonderful! It's not like we're jealous of our neighbor's house or yacht or fancy TV... it's that they get to be mom and dad while we can't! I think ours is a special kind of jealousy, because our desires are so strong. I almost wish I could be blind to all the pg going on around me. It would certainly make the jealousy go away! I like the solution of trying to turn away from jealousy by focusing on kindness. Thanks for pointing that out. Hugs and prayers for you on your continued journey!

  2. Wow! You have a great confessor! This is good stuff- so accurate and thought provoking! I have nothing intelligent to add because it is way past my bedtime but this is really really helpful to me so thank you:-)

  3. Interesting thoughts....Maybe I should try to help others more so I will quit with my own self-pity. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for confessing that you struggle with jealousy--I do too, and I always feel so ashamed by it! But I agree with Infertile, your confessor offered some great advice on how to combat this temptation. Very helpful to read--thank you, and God bless you!! :)