A Cornelian dilemma (dilemme cornélien) (also spelt in translation with two "l"'s i.e. "Corneillian") is a dilemma in which someone is obliged to choose between two courses of action either of which will have a detrimental effect on themselves or on someone near to them. In classical drama, this will typically involve the protagonist experiencing an inner conflict that forces them to choose between love and honour or inclination and duty.
The Cornelian dilemma is named after French dramatist Pierre Corneille, in whose play Le Cid (1636) the protagonist, Rodrigue, is torn between two desires: that of the love of Chimène, or avenging his family, who have been wronged by Chimène's father. Rodrigue can either seek revenge and lose the love of his beloved, or renounce revenge and lose his honour: thus embodying the Corneilian Dilemma.
This dilemma is seen in:
- Star Trek: Voyager Episode "Latent Image".
- Star Trek The Next Generation Episode "The Perfect Mate": Kamala the Metamorph learns the meaning of duty from Captain Picard, and chooses to fulfill her duty despite having fallen in love with the Captain.
- Batman: The Dark Knight, where Batman must choose between saving Rachel or Harvey Dent
- Saint's Row 3: The final mission choosing between saving Shaundi or killing Killbane.
- Grand Theft Auto IV: The penultimate mission involves choosing whether it is Roman Bellic or Kate McReary who will be killed.