David Bruce: Dante’s INFERNO: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 6: The Gluttonous”

“Canto 6: The Gluttonous”

  • What does “Incontinence” mean when it is applied to sin?

Being incontinent in a sinful way means not being able to control yourself.

Being incontinent in a sinful way means putting your desires ahead of your reason.

Being incontinent in a sinful way means submitting reason to desire.

  • What are the sins of incontinence?

These are the sins of incontinence:

1) Lust: not being able to control your sexual desire.

2) Gluttony: not being able to control your desire for food and drink.

3) Hoarding Money (Misers) or Spending Money Too Freely (Spendthrifts) — The Hoarders and the Wasters: not being able to control your desire for money — or for the things that money can buy.

4) Being Angry or Being Sullen (or Possibly Being Slothful): not being able to control your attitude.

  • What is the sin of gluttony?

Gluttony is eating and drinking too much.

Gluttony is allowing desire for food and drink to overrule reason.

Gluttony is being obese or alcoholic.

  • The Gluttons are in the third Circle. Why is Cerberus a fitting choice to be a guard to be over the Gluttons?

The next — the third — Circle of Hell punishes the Gluttons, whose guard is Cerberus, the three-headed dog of mythology. Cerberus is a fitting guard of the Gluttons because he is a Glutton himself — having three heads also means having three mouths to feed. When Aeneas visits the Underworld, his guide the Cumaean Sibyl quiets Cerberus by giving him something to eat. In Dante’s Inferno, Dante the Pilgrim’s guide, Virgil, also quiets Cerberus by giving him something to eat — in this case, Virgil throws gobs of mud down Cerberus’ three throats. (In Virgil’s Aeneid, when Aeneas journeys to the Underworld, his guide, the Sibyl, gives Cerberus honey-cakes that are drugged to make the three-headed dog sleep.) Also, of course, having three heads means having six eyes — all the better to keep an eye on the sinners.

  • Describe the punishment of the Gluttons.

Mud is plentiful in the third Circle of the Inferno because rain is always falling. The Gluttons wanted to enjoy the good things, but now they are forced to live in uncomfortable surroundings — surroundings much like a muddy pigsty. The Gluttons made pigs of themselves while living, and now, although they are dead, they live like pigs. Dante the Pilgrim speaks briefly with a Florentine Glutton nicknamed Ciacco. After their brief conversation, Ciacco lies down and goes to sleep in the mud, just like a Glutton would go to sleep after enjoying a huge meal. Ciacco is unable to focus his eyes; he is in a stupor, just as a Glutton would be in a stupor after eating a huge meal. In addition, Cerberus bites the Gluttons the way that the Gluttons bit into their food.

Poet and Divine Comedytranslator John Ciardi refers to the third Circle of Hell as being a “gigantic garbage dump” (Ciardi, Divine Comedy, 54).

  • What does the nickname “Ciacco” mean?

The nickname means “pig” or “hog.” It is a fitting name for a sinner in this particular Circle of Hell.

  • The Damned in the Inferno can foresee the future. What prophecy does Ciacco make to Dante regarding the future of Florence?

Ciacco predicts a few future events. He knows that the Guelfs defeated the Ghibellines in 1289, thus Ciacco reveals that he has knowledge of the past. He now predicts that the Guelfs will be divided into two factions: the White and the Black. In 1301, the White Guelfs will expel the Black Guelfs from Florence. Eventually, the Black Guelfs will defeat the White Guelfs, and in 1302 send them (including Dante) into exile.

We should note that although The Divine Comedyis set in 1300, Dante wrote it after that date, so most of the predictions that are made in The Divine Comedyhad already occurred when Dante wrote the epic poem.

Also, Dante the Pilgrim often does not understand the prophecies that are made to him. It is only in the Paradisethat he fully understands that he will be exiled.

In addition, the three sins responsible for the troubles of Florence, according to Ciacco, are “pride, envy, avarice” (Musa, Inferno5.74). These can remind us of the three beasts symbolizing sin in Canto 1 of the Inferno.

  • Sinners in the upper Circles of the Inferno want to be remembered on Earth.

Ciacco tells Dante the Pilgrim:

“But when thou art again in the sweet world, 

I pray thee to the mind of others bring me;”

(Longfellow 6.88-89)

The word “sweet,” of course, is a good word for a Glutton to use.

We will see later in the Inferno that sinners in the lower Circles do not want to be remembered on Earth. Apparently, their sins are so bad that they do not want to be remembered.

  • Will the punishment of the sinners be more intense following Judgment Day?

Yes, the punishment will be more intense. Right now, the sinners in the Inferno have souls only, not bodies. On Judgment Day, they will be reunited with their bodies (except for the Suicides, as we will see later). Because the sinners will be complete, having both souls and bodies, they will feel their punishment more intensely.

  • Why is the punishment of the Gluttons fitting?

The Gluttons lived a life devoted to pleasure on Earth. They ate and drank too much. Now they are like pigs in a filthy pigsty. They lie in mud the way that pigs do.

  • Do you know of any famous Gluttons?

Diamond Jim Brady lived to eat. He used to go to a restaurant, sit down at the table with his belly a certain number of inches from the table, and then eat until his belly touched the table. He once liked a certain kind of candy, so he ordered several hundred boxes of it. Unfortunately, the candy company could not handle an order of that size, so he gave the candy company an interest-free loan so it could expand the size of its operations. He loved a sauce that was made by a chef in Paris, but the chef would not reveal how the sauce was made. Therefore, Diamond Jim Brady paid a man to go to Paris, work for the chef, learn how to make the sauce, and come back to America and work at a restaurant that Diamond Jim frequented. (Diamond Jim said that he could eat a dishtowel if it were covered with that sauce.) When Diamond Jim died, an autopsy revealed that his stomach had been stretched to four times the size of a normal stomach.

Anyone who has seen Monty Python’s 1983 film The Meaning of Life will remember the Glutton whose stomach explodes because he eats too much. This film still offends, something that makes Monty Python member Eric Idle proud.

George Handel, composer of Messiahand the “Hallelujah Chorus,” was a bit of a glutton. He once ordered a dinner for three at an inn. The food was slow in coming, so he asked the innkeeper when he would be served. The innkeeper said that he would serve the food when the company arrived. Handel replied, “I am the company.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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