There are still places in America where youth are raised on small farms and have to slop the hogs two or three times a day. They would find Canto VI familiar territory: dogs being tossed gobs of glop to shut them up, pigs wallowing in muck, rain and hail pounding down on one as the chores are being done, for they HAVE to be done regardless of the weather. And here, in the third circle, the weather is always bad.
Gluttony is the sin of the circle, but not really the topic of this Canto. We are reminded again that we are in a moral landscape and Dante the Poet shows how the little touches of description make this come alive in a visceral way. A pig-sty in heavy rain becomes a foul place…
10 Heavy hailstones, filthy water, and snow
11 pour down through gloomy air.
12 The ground it falls on reeks.
Even the guard dog Cerberus is gluttonous…
16 His eyes are red, his beard a greasy black,
17 his belly swollen...
But in this Canto, the greatest glutton of all is the city of Florence, filled with envy to overflowing, abounding in sinful townsmen to the point that this city feeds Hell itself! Dante is recognized by a fellow citizen, Ciacco [‘the pig’], but it is not his sin of gluttony that is lifted up, but the ruinous heart of the city of Florence. The city itself seemed to claim Ciacco and destroy him, not letting him go.
49 And he to me: 'Your city, so full of envy
50 that now the sack spills over,
51 held me in its confines in the sunlit life.
And then we find that many, many from Florence are further down in Hell, and indeed that will be the case. Dante the Poet shows Dante the Pilgrim still and ever fixated on the political machinations of this city that will exile and try to ruin him. But we will also find, as Dante the Pilgrim travels through the three levels of the Medieval Christian universe, that priorities are revealed and reversed. It is good to be suspicious of Dante the Pilgrim as he continues to weep for these who claim it’s not their fault. Francesca in Canto V said ‘love’ made her do it. Ciacco in Canto VI claimed it was the ‘city, so full of evil’ that would not let him be good. And Dante the Pilgrim weeps for them.
I wonder, for myself, how often I still do the same, rarely accepting my own failings, always claiming it is another’s fault or at least the consequence of the present reality is not my fault. Hmmm….
Perfection Leads to Pain
We have a fascinating glimpse in this Canto into the philosophy of Aristotle through the writings of Thomas Aquinas. I won’t go into depth here concerning the sources of this Medieval conceit, but basically it comes from these lines:
103 'Master,' I asked, 'after the great Judgment
104 will these torments be greater, less,
105 or will they stay as harsh as they are now?'
106 And he replied: 'Return to your science,
107 which has it that, in measure of a thing's perfection,
108 it feels both more of pleasure and of pain.
Both Aristotle and Aquinas wrote of the union of physical body and the psyche, or the soul. As the two become one, then the individual is made more perfect, for Aquinas, more Christ like. This led to the belief that the betrayal and crucifixion felt by Christ was infinitely painful to Him because of the infinite perfection and beauty of His incarnational being. Therefore, in Dante’s time it was assumed that at the Final Judgment, everyone would be made whole, or one, but that would also mean that those in Hell would feel their pain in ‘perfect’ ways just as those in Paradise would live in glory in ‘perfect’ ways. I wonder if this is still accepted today?