Dante’s Inferno: Canto 7 Retelling — The Wasters, Hoarders, Wrathful, and Sullen

Chapter 7: The Wasters, Hoarders, Wrathful, and Sullen

As Virgil and Dante approached him, Plutus clucked the nonsense words “Papa Satan, pape Satan aleppe!

Virgil reassured Dante, “Plutus has no power to stop you from continuing your journey. Therefore, do not be afraid.”

Virgil then turned on the wolf-like Plutus and shouted, “Be quiet! This man here is on a mission from the Supreme Emperor!”

Plutus, deflated like a sail in a calm, sank to the ground and was quiet.

Plutus is an appropriate guard for Circle 4, Virgil thought. Plutus is also known as Pluto, and he is the pagan god of wealth, as well as the god who ruled the Underworld. It is fitting that he rules the Underworld because much wealth (gold, silver, diamonds) comes from under the ground. His association with wealth makes him a fitting guard for the sinners in Circle 4: the wasters and the hoarders.

Virgil and Dante saw many souls now — more than in the Circles they had already passed through. These souls pushed heavy weights before them in the Circle, and when they met, they crashed the heavy weights together. One group shouted, “Why hoard?” The other group shouted, “Why waste?” Then they went around the Circle again, and they crashed their heavy weights together again, and they shouted again.

“Who are these sinners?” Dante asked Virgil. “From their haircuts, I see that many of them were priests. Were they all priests on this side?”

“These sinners were incontinent when it came to wealth,” Virgil replied. “Neither group could control themselves. One group hoarded their wealth, while the other group wasted their wealth. Many of the sinners you see here were Popes, cardinals, and priests — such people are unfortunately prone to greediness.”

Here we see two groups of sinners being punished together because their sins, although opposites, are closely related, Virgil thought. The wasters and the hoarders are people who either saved as much money as possible and never spent it or people who spent every penny they could and never saved anything. Both types of people are sinners. To be good with money, living people need to spend some money to acquire necessities and good things; however, they also need to have an emergency fund. When it comes to money, living people need to seek a mean between extremes.

Limbo has a library, and so I am familiar with the work of Aristotle, whom I also studied while I was alive and who is also in Limbo so that I can consult him. The theory of the mean between extremes is a famous part of Aristotle’s ethical thought. He believed in moderation — as most Greeks did. If you had too much or too little of something, you would suffer from an excess or a deficiency of that thing. Think about food. If you eat too much food, you will be overweight. If you eat too little food, you will be underweight. You need to eat the right amount of food so that you will have a healthy weight. What you need is exactly the right amount. A different example: Courage is the mean between the extremes of cowardice (deficiency) and rashness (excess). The sinners here failed to find the mean between the extremes of miserliness and of wastefulness.

“Shouldn’t I be able to recognize some of the sinners here?” Dante asked Virgil.

“No, you won’t be able to recognize anybody here,” Virgil replied. “Because of their sinful relationship with wealth, these sinners failed to accomplish anything notable while they were alive. They failed to accomplish something great for Humankind. Because of that, they have no distinguishing characteristics here.

“Well, they do have some distinguishing characteristics, Those who are misers have tight fists; those who are wasters are without hair because they have spent even the hair on their heads. But as for recognizing a sinner and knowing his or her name, forget it.

“These sinners are exactly where they belong. They overvalued either wealth or what wealth can buy, and now no amount of wealth can rescue them from Hell. In Hell as in the living world, they bicker over what belongs to Fortune.”

“Who or what is this Fortune that you mention?” Dante asked.

“Fortune controls all the wealth that ever was and ever will be,” Virgil replied. “Fortune is a minister of God. She sees that money goes from person to person, family to family, country to country. She controls the Wheel of Fortune. At times, a person may be at the top of the Wheel of Fortune and be very prosperous, but as the Wheel turns, that person’s prosperity decreases. The thing to do is to know that the Wheel of Fortune will turn. While riding high on the Wheel of Fortune, save some wealth so that you are at least somewhat prepared when you are riding low on the Wheel of Fortune. The same applies to families and to countries. The Wheel of Fortune turns for individuals, for families as a whole, and for entire countries.

“Human beings dislike Fortune, but they should recognize that she is doing the work of the Supreme Emperor.

“But now let us continue on our journey.”

Virgil and Dante continued walking. They came to a spring, which created a stream of grey water, and they walked along the stream on a rough path. As they walked, the stream of grey water turned into a marsh that Dante learned is named the Styx.

In the marsh they saw muddy, angry sinners moving around and fighting each other. Not only did they hit each other with their hands, but they also kicked and bit each other — so great was their anger.

Virgil said, “Here in this Circle — Circle 5 — you see those who could not control their anger. We see the sinners on top of the marsh, yet other sinners are below the marsh, revealing their presence only by the bubbles rising to the top of the marsh.

“These sinners below the marsh say, if you listen closely, ‘We were sluggish while we were alive, and in our heart was the smoke of sloth. Now we are punished in the muck of Styx.’ So they say, but not clearly.”

The sinners below the marsh are the slothful, Virgil thought. The slothful should have pursued the right things while they were alive, but they were slothful — lazy — and did not pursue them with the zeal that they ought to have shown for the right things. Along with their sloth, they were sullen — they bottled up their anger. It would have been better for them if they had expressed vigorous and righteous anger at sin and sinners.

Virgil and Dante continued walking along the path by the marsh. Eventually, they reached a high tower.

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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