In the Middle Ages, priests and poets alike were obsessed with sin, devising a variety of tools to teach their audiences about moral transgressions. Ecclesiastic and literary authorities formulated a number of different models for defining, representing, categorizing, and cataloguing sin in all of its various manifestations. The most popular and most long lasting of these models was the “Seven Deadly Sins.” But the use of this new system raised a number of questions for curious sinners and the writers who attempted to instruct them. Is sin a disposition, and action, or an external force? How does one make restitution for sin? Which sin is the deadliest and why? And how is confessing sins different from sharing sinful secrets? Over the course of this seminar, we will explores the various answers to these questions by analyzing late representations of the Seven Deadly Sins in medieval literature. We will investigate the ways in which theories of sin shifted throughout the period, but we will also consider the medieval underpinnings of modern depiction of the Seven Deadly Sins, such as David Fincher’s 1995 film, /Se7en/.
Seminar led by Susan Phillips, Northwestern University