Envying thy Neighbor: Pleasure, Identity, and Gender in Late Medieval Literature


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




This project examines the emotion of envy, especially in its medieval form, as one of the “seven deadly sins.” Envy posed difficulties for Christian writers who assumed that all earthly desire is oriented toward a pleasurable object. Envy—understood as a largely painful experience—demanded a different idea of human desire and action. Treatises on confession and literary works manifest the ways that medieval authors wrestled with the moral dilemmas posed by envy, offering a theory of desire that focuses on one’s relationship with others, rather than with pleasure per se. Medieval treatments of envy illuminate the Christian reception of classical ethics and offer useful ethical frameworks for modern treatments of emotion and desire.