Ego and Super Ego in Dante's Inferno

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Catherine Craven
GHUM200, Tu/Th 12:25
October 23rd, 2012
Compare the relationship between Virgil and Dante in Inferno with Sigmund Freud’s discussion of the conscience or super-ego in Civilization and Its Discontents. How does Freud explain and characterize the relationship between super-ego and ego in the individual? Cite examples of the interaction between Virgil and Dante and compare closely with Freud’s discussion of the psychical agencies, super-ego and ego: To what extent does the dynamic between Virgil and Dante illustrate the same pattern or features?

Freud meets Dante: Ego and Super-Ego in Inferno
In his book Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud offers an explanation for why, as individuals, we tend to punish ourselves with guilt, often times in response to menial things. This explanation has led to the ideas of the ego, and the super-ego. According to Freud, one is responsible for our actions and how the world views us, while the other acts as a “watchdog,” or an authority, in times of wrongdoing. An example of these two concepts is the relationship shared between the characters Dante and Virgil throughout Dante’s poem, The Divine Comedy Volume 1: Inferno. This relationship consists of an authoritative guide and a sinful follower, and therefore Dante and Virgil represent the relationship between the ego and the super-ego.

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud asserts that one of the primary and most important functions of a civilized society is to control the individual’s natural impulses towards aggressive behavior. These impulses, according to Freud, are caused by the ego, which is the element within an individual that is responsible for their actions, decisions, ideas, rationalizations, and logical thought. Therefore, the ego thinks things through, and eventually comes to decisions and actions, regardless of whether or not the things decided upon or thought about are deemed as “bad” by society. Furthermore, the...
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