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Dante Alighieri

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Canto 7

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 7 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 7 | Summary



As Virgil and Dante continue to climb downward toward the fourth circle of Hell, they are challenged by the demon Plutus. Once again Virgil explains that Dante's journey has been "willed on high," and Plutus collapses to the ground. They enter the fourth circle where Dante sees many spirits pushing against heavy weights. Those who hoard (the avaricious, or greedy) and those who squander (who are "prodigal," or wasteful) push their weights against one another in a large circle, while berating each other for their sins. Virgil then explains that God allowed Fortune to guide the way goods and riches are distributed among humankind. The avaricious and prodigal did not rightly use the resources given them by Fortune.

Next, Virgil leads Dante downward further, to the fifth circle. They follow a path along the banks of the river Styx, a swampy, muddy river. In the mud, those whose sin was anger must fight each other, biting and hitting with their bare hands. Under the water's surface, the souls of those who were sullen sigh and choke on the mud, making the water bubble and foam. They cannot speak, but gurgle out a description of their sin. Moving on, the two poets come to the base of a tower.


Once again, as Dante and Virgil move into a new circle, they are confronted by some creature that acts as guardian or gatekeeper there. Here it is Plutus, the god of wealth in Greek mythology, who resembles a wolf, like the insatiable she-wolf from Canto 1. Appropriately, Dante transforms him into a guardian of the greedy in Hell. This is a revealing choice: Dante repeatedly refers to the evils of Florence, his home city, which he thinks has been transformed by greed, materialism, and ambition. For Dante, sin is not just about doing harm. Instead, sin is anything that causes the sinner to leave the straight path, the path that keeps him or her close to God and mindful of the eternal life to come, and creates too much focus on humankind's temporary life on Earth.

Like the two previous circles, the fourth circle is where those whose sins are the result of lack of self-control rather than the desire to do harm are punished; these sins are sometimes called sins of incontinence. In the second circle, sinners who cannot control their lust are punished, in the third are those who could not control their eating and drinking, and in the fourth are those who cannot control their hoarding and spending. These sorts of excesses were seen as the opposite of the virtue of moderation. Because the sins of being miserly and being wasteful are opposites, the principle of contrapasso is evident in their opposing punishments: they walk in opposite directions, and push heavy weights against each other in opposite directions.

At the fifth circle where the wrathful and sullen are found, those who gave in to anger are forced to fight continually, a punishment that suits the sin. The sullen may be punished alongside the wrathful because it is the bitterness of anger that causes their sullenness. They are punished in the muddy river because they wasted the sweetness of life that God gave them. The river Styx is another element of mythology Dante has repurposed. In Greek mythology, it formed the border between the land of the living and Hades. The river Styx also figures prominently in Virgil's Aeneid.

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