Dante’s Inferno: Canto 6 Retelling — The Gluttonous

Chapter 6: The Gluttonous

When Dante regained consciousness, he discovered that he was in a new section of Hell — the third Circle. Here cold rain and hail and snow fell incessantly, creating mud and a stink like that of a gigantic garbage dump.

Dante and Virgil saw Cerberus, a three-headed dog with a swollen belly whose job was to howl incessantly to make the sinners here wish they were deaf, although the sinners also howled. Cerberus is also the guard of the third Circle. Like the sinners, Cerberus was a glutton, and Cerberus often bit the gluttons.

Once again we see a Circle that is devoted to punishing sinners who are guilty of incontinence, Virgil thought. These sinners were not able to control themselves. They put their desires ahead of their reason. They made their desires — not their reason — supreme in their lives. These sinners ate or drank way too much. They became obese or alcoholic.

Virgil had been this way before, and he knew what to do. To keep Cerberus busy long enough that he and Dante could pass, Virgil threw heaps of mud down Cerberus’ three throats. Busy swallowing the mud, Cerberus let them pass.

The sinners whom Dante and Virgil passed lay on the ground. They seemed to have human form, but they lacked bodies. Only on Judgment Day would their souls be reunited with their bodies.

One sinner saw Dante and quickly sat up and said, “Do you know who I am? We lived at the same time for a while.”

Dante looked closely at the sinner, but he admitted, “Your punishment must have changed you because I don’t recognize you. But please tell who you are.”

The sinner said, “Your own city — Florence, which is filled with envious people — once claimed me as a citizen. I am damned to this Circle because of my sin of gluttony. The Florentines gave me a nickname: Ciacco.”

Ciacco is a fitting name for a glutton such as you, Virgil thought. It means Hog or Pig.

“Ciacco,” Dante said, “I pity you, and I want to cry, but since you mentioned Florence, can you tell me what will happen to that city that I love? The city has two political parties that fight each other. What is going to happen to them? Are all the men in Florence envious?”

“After much more fighting, one party will drive out the other party,” Ciacco replied. “Then within three years the positions will be reversed, and the party that was victorious will be defeated, and the party that was defeated will be victorious. Two men in Florence are just, but no one will listen to them.”

I understand more than you do, Dante, Virgil thought. Ciacco is making a prophecy of your upcoming exile when you will be forbidden ever to return to your beloved Florence on pain of death. Like the other souls in the Inferno, I am able to see the future. However, I won’t tell you about your upcoming exile. I am your teacher, but teachers don’t tell all they know. Some things are better for a student to think about and discover for him- or herself.

Dante asked, “Can you give me some more information, please? What has happened to Farinata degli Uberti, to Tegghiaio Aldobrandini, to Jacopo Rusticucci, and to Mosca dei Lamberti? Where are they? Are they in Heaven or in Hell?”

“They are in Hell,” Ciacco answered. “Their sins are worse than mine, so they are in deeper Circles than I am. If you continue your journey downward, you will see them. But if you ever make it again to the sweet, living world, remember me and ask our mutual friends to remember me.”

The deeper we go into Hell, the worse the sins that are being punished, Virgil thought. High in Hell, many of the sinners still want to be remembered on Earth. Very low in Hell, many of the sinners prefer to be entirely forgotten on Earth because of the vileness of their sins.

Ciacco’s gaze lost focus. He squinted, and then he lay down again in the mud with the other gluttons.

Virgil told Dante, “Ciacco will stay like that until Judgment Day. On that day, his soul will be reunited with his body.”

“What will happen when his soul is reunited with his body?” Dante asked. “Will his torment be increased or lessened or just the same as now?”

“You have studied philosophy,” Virgil replied. “Human beings were created with both a body and a soul. Together, body and soul are more perfect than they are separately. What is perfect can feel more perfectly than what is not perfect can feel. The sinners in Hell will feel their pain more intently, and the saved souls in the Supreme Emperor’s kingdom will feel their bliss more intently.”

They continued walking.

This is another example of contrapasso, Virgil thought. Mud is plentiful in the third Circle of the Inferno because rain is always falling. The gluttons wanted to enjoy the good things, but now they are forced to live in uncomfortable surroundings — surroundings much like a muddy pigsty. The gluttons made pigs of themselves while living, and now, although they are dead, they live like pigs. The gluttons sleep in the mud like pigs, just like a glutton would go to sleep after enjoying a huge meal. After talking with Dante, Ciacco was unable to focus his eyes; he is now in a stupor, just as a glutton would be in a stupor after eating a huge meal. In addition, Cerberus bites the gluttons the way that the gluttons bit into their food.

Dante and Virgil then saw Plutus, the arch-enemy of Humankind.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:

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