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Dante's Inferno
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Canto VII

The Fourth Circle, that of the Avaricious and the Prodigal.—Pluto.—Fortune.—The Styx.—The Fifth Circle, that of the Wrathful and the Sullen.

"Pape Satan, pape Satan aleppe,"—began Pluto with his clucking voice. And that gentle Sage, who knew everything, said to comfort me, "Let not thy fear hurt thee; for whatso power he have shall not take from thee the descent of this rock." Then he turned to that swollen lip and said, "Be silent, accursed wolf! inwardly consume thyself with thine own rage: not without cause is this going to the abyss; it is willed on high, there where Michael did vengeance on the proud adultery."[1] As sails swollen by the wind fall in a heap when the mast snaps, so fell to earth the cruel beast.

[1] Adultery, in the sense of infidelity to God.

Thus we descended into the fourth hollow, taking more of the woeful bank that gathers in the evil of the whole universe. Ah, Justice of God! Who heapeth up so many new travails and penalties as I saw? And why doth our sin so waste us? As doth the wave, yonder upon Charybdis, which is broken on that which it encounters, so it behoves that here the people counterdance.

Here saw I people more than elsewhere many, and from one side and the other with great howls rolling weights by force of chest. They struck against each other, and then just there each turned, rolling backward, crying, "Why keepest thou?" and "Why flingest thou away?" Thus they turned through the dark circle on either hand to the opposite point, still crying out their opprobrious verse; then each, when he had come through his half circle, wheeled round to the other joust.

And I, who had my heart well-nigh pierced through, said, "My Master, now declare to me what folk is this, and if all these tonsured ones on our left were clerks."

And he to me, "All of these were so asquint in mind in the first life that they made no spending there with measure. Clearly enough their voices bay it out, when they come to the two points of the circle where the contrary sin divides them. These were clerks who have no hairy covering on their head, and Popes and Cardinals, in whom avarice practices its excess."

And I, "Master, among such as these I ought surely to recognize some who were polluted with these evils."

And he to me, "Vain thought thou harborest; the undiscerning life that made them foul, to all recognition now makes them dim. Forever will they come to the two buttings; these will rise from the sepulchre with closed fist, and these with shorn hair. Ill-giving and ill-keeping have taken from them the fair world, and set them to this scuffle; such as it is, I adorn not words for it. Now canst thou, son, see the brief jest of the goods that are committed unto Fortune, for which the human race so scramble; for all the gold that is beneath the moon, or that ever was, of these weary souls could not make a single one repose."

"Master," said I to him, "now tell me further; this Fortune, on which thou touchest for me, what is it, that hath the goods of the world so in its clutches?

And he to me, "O creatures foolish, how great is that ignorance that harms you! I would have thee now take in my judgment of her. He whose wisdom transcendeth all made the heavens, and gave them their guides, so that every part on every part doth shine, equally distributing the light. In like wise for the splendors of the world, He ordained a general ministress and guide, who should ever and anon transfer the vain goods from race to race, and from one blood to another, beyond the resistance of human wit. Wherefore one race rules, and the other languishes, pursuant to her judgment, which is occult as the snake in the grass. Your wisdom hath no withstanding of her: she provides, judges and maintains her realm, as theirs the other gods. Her permutations have no truce; necessity compels her to be swift, so often cometh he who obtains a turn. This is she who is so set upon the cross, even by those who ought to give her praise, giving her blame amiss and ill report. But she is blessed and hears this not. With the other Primal Creatures glad she turns her sphere, and blessed she rejoices. But now let us descend to greater woe. Already every star sinks that was rising when I set out, and too long stay is forbidden."

We crossed the circle to the other bank, above a fount that boils and pours down through a cleft that proceeds from it. The water was far darker than perse;[1] and we, in company with the dusky waves, entered down through a strange way. A marsh it makes, that is named Styx, this dismal little stream, when it has descended to the foot of the malign gray slopes. And I, who stood intent to gaze, saw muddy people in that swamp, all naked and with look of hurt. They were smiting each other, not only with hands, but with head, and with chest, and with feet, mangling one another piecemeal with their teeth.

[1] Purple-black.

The good Master said, "Son, now thou seest the souls of those whom anger overcame; and likewise I would have thee believe for certain that beneath the water are folk who sigh, and make this water bubble at the surface, as thine eye tells thee wherever it turns. Fixed in the slime, they say, 'Sullen were we in the sweet air that by the Sun is gladdened, bearing within ourselves the sluggish fume; now we are sullen in the black mire.' This hymn they gurgle in their throats, for they cannot speak with entire words."[1]

[1] The sin here punished is that known to the Middle Ages as acedia, or accidie,—slackness in good works, and spiritual gloom and despondency. In the Parson's Tale Chaucer says: "Envie and ire maken bitternesse in heart, which bitternesse is mother of accidie."

Thus we circled a great arc of the foul fen, between the dry bank and the slough, with eyes turned on those who guzzle the mire. We came at length to the foot of a tower.

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