Dante awakens in the third circle of Hell, the circle of the Gluttons. A stinking slush falls from the sky and collects on the ground where naked shades howl and roll in the mire.
Cerberus, the three-headed monster, stands over those sunk deep in the slush. He barks furiously and claws and bites all within reach. These spirits howl in the rain and attempt to evade the monster. Seeing the two travelers, Cerberus turns on them and is silenced only when Virgil throws handfuls of the reeking dirt and slime into his three mouths.
The poets make their way across the swamp, walking occasionally on the shades, which seem to have no corporeal bodies. One Glutton sits up from the mire and addresses Dante. The shade is Ciacco, the Hog, and claims to be from Florence and to know Dante. The two speak, and Dante feels sorry for Ciacco's fate.
Dante expresses his sympathy, and then asks Ciacco the fate of Florence and why it is so divided. Ciacco foretells a future war and the defeat and expulsion of one party. He concludes his prophecy, and Dante asks where he can find certain good citizens of Florence. Ciacco tells him that they are much further down in Hell because they committed crimes far worse than his, and that Dante will see them if he travels deeper into Hell. Ciacco then swoons and falls unconscious into the muck.
Virgil tells Dante that Ciacco will remain as he is (in the muck) until the Last Judgment, and the two poets talk of the future life. Dante questions Virgil concerning the Last Judgment, and Virgil answers that, although these souls will never reach perfection, they will be nearer to it after the Last Judgment than before, and therefore, will feel more pain as well as more pleasure.
They continued their course along the way still talking and saying much more than Dante will relate and then they came to a place for descending: There they found Plutus.
Cerberus guards Circle III, and as in mythology, he requires a concession for each of his three mouths (this time the foul mud of the circle suffices) before he permits passage. With his constant hunger, Cerberus is a fitting guardian for the circle of Gluttons, who transformed their lives into a continual feast and did nothing but eat and drink, for which they must now lie like pigs in the mire.
Cerberus should be familiar to the readers of Homer and Virgil. In those works Cerberus had to be placated with some delicacy in each of its mouths. In contrast, Virgil fills each mouth with some dirty slime which is more fitting for the guardian of the gluttons.
In the intellectual progression down through Hell, Dante moves the readers from the circle of lust, a type of sin that was mutual or shared, to the third circle, which includes sin performed in isolation. The glutton is a person with an uncontrolled appetite, who deliberately, in his or her own solitary way, converted natural foods into a sort of god, or at least an object of worship. Therefore, the glutton's punishment is a reversal, and instead of eating the fine delicate foods and wines of the world, he or she is forced to eat filth and mud. Instead of sitting in his or her comfortable house relishing all the sensual aspects of good food and good wine and good surroundings, he or she lies in the foul rain.
Aside from brief mention in earlier cantos, Canto VI includes Dante's first political allusion, which takes the form of an outburst from Ciacco. The voice is Ciacco's, but the words are Dante's. Ciacco's prophecies are the first of many political predictions that recur in the Divine Comedy and especially in Inferno. Because the imaginary journey takes place in 1300, Dante relates as prophecies events that already occurred at the time he composed the poem.
Note that the souls in upper Hell want to be remembered on Earth, while the souls in lower Hell are reluctant to even give Dante their names.
Cerberus Greek and Roman Mythology. the three-headed dog guarding the gate of Hades; in Inferno, Cerberus flays and tortures the Gluttons.
Plutus Greek Mythology. the blind god of wealth.