Week 8: Dante's Inferno

Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Canto 6-7: Cerberus and Pluto

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Dante now finds himself in the third circle of hell, where he sees the three-headed dog guardian of the underworld, Cerberus. This is where the souls of the gluttonous are sent, and Virgil manages to trick Cerberus by throwing handfuls of dirt in its mouth, which it chews automatically. In the fourth circle of hell, they find Plutus, the Greco-Roman god of wealth, together with the souls of people who were greedy for money. Plutus speaks to Virgil using words of a language that Dante cannot understand, but Virgil does understand and rebukes Plutus, causing him to collapse.

The Third Circle: Cerberus - The Gluttonous

When my senses return, that closed themselves off from pity of those two kindred, who stunned me with complete sadness, I see around me new torments, and new tormented souls, wherever I move, or turn, and wherever I gaze. I am in the third circle, of eternal, accursed, cold and heavy rain: its kind and quality is never new. Large hail, tainted water, and sleet, pour down through the shadowy air: and the earth is putrid that receives it.

Cerberus, the fierce and strange monster, triple-throated, barks dog-like over the people submerged in it. His eyes are crimson, his beard is foul and black, his belly vast, and his limbs are clawed: he snatches the spirits, flays, and quarters them. The rain makes them howl like dogs: they protect one flank with the other: often writhing: miserable wretches.

When Cerberus, the great worm, saw us, he opened his jaws, and showed his fangs: not a limb of his stayed still. My guide, stretching out his hands, grasped earth, and hurled it in fistfuls into his ravening mouth. Like a dog that whines for food, and grows quiet when he eats it, only fighting and struggling to devour it, so did demon Cerberus's loathsome muzzles that bark, like thunder, at the spirits, so that they wish that they were deaf.

We circled along that road, speaking of much more than I repeat: we came to the place where the descent begins, where we found Plutus, the god of wealth, the great enemy.

The Fourth Circle: Plutus - The Avaricious

'Pape Satan, pape Satan aleppe,' Plutus, began to croak, and the gentle sage, who understood all things, comforted me, saying: 'Do not let fear hurt you, since whatever power he has, he will not prevent you descending this rock.'

Then he turned to that swollen face and said: 'Peace, evil wolf! Devour yourself inside, in your rage. Our journey to the depths is not without reason: it is willed on high, there where Michael made war on the great dragon's adulterating pride.'

Like a sail, bellying in the wind, that falls, in a heap, if the mast breaks, so that cruel creature fell to earth. In that way we descended into the fourth circle, taking in a greater width of the dismal bank, that encloses every evil of the universe.

O Divine Justice! Who can tell the many new pains and troubles, that I saw, and why our guilt so destroys us? As the wave, over Charybdis, strikes against the wave it counters, so the people here are made to dance. I found more people here than elsewhere, on the one side and on the other, rolling weights by pushing with their chests, with loud howling. They struck against each other, and then each wheeled around where they were, rolling the reverse way, shouting: 'Why do you hold?' and 'Why do you throw away.'

So they returned along the gloomy circle, from either side to the opposite point, shouting again their measure of reproach. Then each one, when he had reached it, wheeled through his half circle onto the other track. And I, who felt as if my heart were pierced, said: 'My Master, show me now who these people are: and whether all those, with tonsures, on our left were churchmen.'

The avaricious and prodigal churchmen

And he to me: 'They were so twisted in mind in their first life, that they made no balanced expenditure. Their voices bark this out most clearly when they come to the two ends of the circle, where opposing sins divide them. These were priests, that are without hair on their heads, and Popes and Cardinals, in whom avarice does its worst.'

And I: 'Master, surely, amongst this crowd, I ought to recognise some of those tainted with these evils.'

And he to me: 'You link idle thoughts: the life without knowledge, that made them ignoble, now makes them incapable of being known. They will go butting each other to eternity: and these will rise from their graves with grasping fists, and those with shorn hair. Useless giving, and useless keeping, has robbed them of the bright world, and set them to this struggle: what struggle it is, I do not amplify. But you, my son, can see now the vain mockery of the wealth controlled by Fortune, for which the human race fight with each other, since all the gold under the moon, that ever was, could not give peace to one of these weary souls.'

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what are some of Cerberus's physical characteristics?
  • what kind of punishment is suffered by the people greedy for money?
  • what lesson does Virgil want Dante to learn from looking at this scene?

Source: Dante's Inferno, translated by A.S. Kline (2000). Website: Dante and Others.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM