The Divine Comedy: Inferno By Dante Alighieri Summary and Analysis Canto VII

Summary

Dante and Virgil enter the fourth circle and are stopped by the raging Plutus, but Dante then chastises Plutus as he has chastised the monsters in previous circles. Plutus collapses, falls to the ground, and the poets pass.

Dante gets his first glimpse of Circle IV, the circle for the Wasters and the Hoarders. Their punishment is that they are rolling enormous weights at one another, the Wasters shouting, "Why do you hoard?" and the Hoarders shouting, "Why do you waste?" After they clash, the souls hurry their weights back again, only to repeat the action, all the while screaming.

Virgil reminds Dante that time has passed quickly and that they must descend to another circle. They cross to the other bank and find a fountain of strange, dark water, which flows in a stream down through a crack in the rock. Following this stream to the foot of the rocks, they come to the marsh called Styx.

In the Styx, Dante finds people immersed in mud, striking one another with hands, feet, and head, as well as biting one another. Virgil tells him that he is looking at souls destroyed by anger, and that more lie under the waters of Styx, making bubbles with each cry. Virgil repeats their words, which cannot be fully understood. The souls talk of the sullenness of their lives, when they should've been happy in the light of the sun, and that they now live sullen forever. The poets circle the filthy marsh and at last come to a high tower that has no name.

Analysis

Plutus, mythological god of wealth and riches, guards the Hoarders and Wasters, (misers and spendthrifts). Plutus' words are untranslatable, though some believe that they are a kind of incantation to Satan. Again and again the monsters of Hell challenge the poets, and yet Virgil again upholds the holy decree that allows Dante to continue his pilgrimage.

Keeping with Dante's theme, the sinners in this circle, like the sinners in other circles, live eternally in a punishment that fits their sin. The Hoarders and the Wasters are housed together, constantly fighting against their opposite, never to win, just as they couldn't win on Earth. Retribution also holds true for the Wrathful, who spend eternity suffering in their own and other's wrath, and the Sullen, who spend eternity alone and joyless, just as they did in life.

The question immediately arises as to why Dante places hoarders and spendthrifts in a circle lower than the Gluttons. That is, why is hoarding and spending more horrible than mere gluttony? The Gluttons misused the natural products of the world, which, for Dante, was not as bad as the misers and spendthrifts who hoarded and had no respect for the manmade objects (that is, money and property) of Earth. The distinction, however, is not vitally important. What is poetically significant, however, is that these two types of people were opposites in life, thus the punishment for them in Hell is mutual antagonism after death.

Virgil's discussion of Dame Fortune explains why these sinners are placed below the Gluttons. Dame Fortune is one of God's chosen ministers, who doles out luck and misfortune in a preordained manner. The Hoarders and Wasters, however, believed that they could outrun her; thus they believed that they could outrun God.

Dante again takes traditional mythological figures and distorts them. The Styx is called a marsh; in mythology it was a river (the river of Hate), one of the five rivers of Hades, and its boatman was Charon. Dante rather fully describes the source of the Styx.

The Styx serves a double purpose. It separates upper Hell from nether Hell, and it also functions as the circle for the Wrathful. Because the wrathful people were hateful during their lifetime, they now reside in a river of hate. These people are divided into three categories. There are three different kinds of wrath: the actively wrathful, the sullen (who kept wrath inside and are choking below the surface), and the vindictive.

First is open and violent hatred, and their punishment is that they strike out at each other in almost any fashion; the second type of hatred is the slow, sullen hatred. The punishment for this type is that they choke on their own rage, gurgling in the filth of Styx, unable to express themselves because they become choked on their own malevolent hatred. Finally, the vindictive strike out at others.

Dante's character begins to change in this circle. Here the poets come to the end of the first section of Hell, that of incontinence, and move to the second section, that of violence, which begins in the fifth circle. Dante is less fazed by what he sees in the fourth and fifth circle than he has previously been in earlier circles. Dante is becoming able to see sin as something terrible, and he is progressively less likely to feel sorry for the sinners, though he does feel sorry for sinners in a later canto. The sinners in the first section went from those less likely to hurt another human to those that probably did cause harm to others. Such is the structure of Dante's Hell.

Glossary

Michael Bible. one of the archangels.

Charybdis old name of a whirlpool off the Northeast coast of Sicily, in the Strait of Messina (now called Galofalo).

Permutations any radical alteration; total transformation.

Styx The River of Hate; in Inferno, a terrible marsh where the Wrathful and Sullen reside.

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As the poets reach the final circle of Hell called Judecca, in what condition do they find the sinners there?




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