“Canto 7: The Wasters, Hoarders, Wrathful, and Sullen (or Slothful)”
- Why is Plutus a fitting choice to be the guard over the Wasters (the Spendthrifts) and the Hoarders (the Misers)?
In Canto 7 of the Inferno, Dante writes about the Wasters and the Hoarders. These are people who either save as much money as possible and never spend it or people who spend every penny they can and never save anything. Both types of people are sinners. To be good with money, we need to spend some money to acquire necessities and good things; however, we also need to have an emergency fund. When it comes to money, we need to seek a mean between extremes.
The Wasters and the Hoarders are both incontinent with money. The Wasters value too much what money can buy, and the Hoarders value too much the money itself.
Plutus is also known as Pluto, and he is the pagan god of wealth, as well as the god who ruled the Underworld. (Some other authorities regard Plutus and Pluto as two separate gods.) It is fitting that he rules the Underworld because much wealth (gold, silver, diamonds) comes from under the ground. His association with wealth makes him a fitting guard for the Wasters and the Hoarders.
- How are the Wasters and the Hoarders punished?
The Wasters are Spendthrifts, who spent every penny they could, saving nothing for emergencies. The Hoarders are Misers, who saved every penny they could, spending little even to make themselves comfortable. These two opposed groups are condemned to roll great weights at each other. Each group sets off in an opposing direction around the Circle, then meet and crash the weights together, one group crying “Why hoard?” (Musa, Inferno7.30) and the other group crying “Why waste?” (Musa, Inferno7.30). Then they roll the weights back and meet again on the other side of the Circle.
Interestingly, in his illustrations for The Divine Comedy, Gustave Doré represents the huge weights as huge bags of coins.
- Why is the punishment of the Wasters (the Spendthrifts) and the Hoarders (the Misers) fitting?
These two groups were opposed to each other in life; now they are eternally opposed to each other in death.
In addition, Dante does not recognize any of the souls here. These souls were undiscerning in life — they did not know what true wealth is. Now, in death the souls are unable to be discerned by the living Dante.
Dante does recognize that some of the souls were monks by their haircuts, but he does not know their names. Popes are mentioned as being guilty of being greedy for money — the first time we have Popes mentioned in Hell. During the Middle Ages, priests, monks, cardinals, and popes were often criticized for their greed.
Dante says that he should recognize some of the souls here, but Virgil tells him this:
And he to me: “Vain thought thou entertainest;
The undiscerning life which made them sordid
Now makes them unto all discernment dim.”
By the way, the late comedian Bill Hicks and his comedian friends loved to watch such religious programs as The PTL[Praise the Lord]Club. They used to make bets about how long it would take the preacher to stop talking about Jesus and start talking about dollars. (Source: Cynthia True, American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story, p. 103.)
- What is Aristotle’s Mean Between Extremes?
This theory of the mean between extremes is a famous part of Aristotle’s ethical thought. He believed in moderation — as most Greeks did. If you had too much or too little of something, you would suffer from an excess or a deficiency of that thing. Think about food. If you eat too much food, you will be overweight. If you eat too little food, you will be underweight. You need to eat the right amount of food so that you will have a healthy weight. What you need is exactly the right amount. A different example: Courage is the mean between the extremes of Rashness (excess) and Cowardice (deficiency). Here are some means and their extremes:
Rashness (Excess); Courage (Virtue); Cowardice (Deficiency)
Prodigality (Excess); Liberality (Virtue); Miserliness (Deficiency)
Vanity (Excess); Nobility (Virtue); Ignobility (Deficiency)
Hot Temper (Excess); Good Temper (Virtue); Indifference (Deficiency)
Boastfulness (Excess); Truthfulness (Virtue); False Modesty (Deficiency)
Each set of three represents the excess, mean, and deficiency of a certain activity. The first set is about the activity of confidence; the second set, giving and getting money; the third set, honor and dishonor; the fourth set, anger; the final set, truthfulness.
One point to notice is that not all activities have a mean between extremes. Some activities are already excessive in themselves. Thus, adultery is always wrong. You will never be able to commit adultery with the right woman (or man) at the right time and in the right manner. (You should never say, “I don’t want to commit too little adultery or too much adultery; I just want to commit exactly the right amount of adultery”!) Also, the mean can vary among people. In determining how much food to eat, the mean for a weightlifter will be much greater than the mean for an inactive person.
The Greeks, of course, believed in moderation. The temple of Apollo at Delphi bore this inscription: “Nothing in excess.” Comedian Ernie Kovacs’ tombstone, however, says, “Nothing in moderation.”
- How does Aristotle’s Mean Between Extremes apply to the Wasters (the Spendthrifts) and the Hoarders (the Misers).
The Wasters (Spendthrifts) and the Hoarders (Misers) did not pursue the mean between extremes when it came to money. The Hoarders saved every penny they could, not even spending money on things to make themselves comfortable, and the Wasters spent every penny they could, not saving any for emergencies. A person who pursues the mean between extremes will save some money and spend some money to make his or her life comfortable.
It is a mistake to spend every penny you can borrow and get deep in debt. It is also a mistake to save every penny you can and go hungry (without a good reason) when you have lots of money.
- Do you know of any famous Wasters or Hoarders, either in fact or fiction?
The Wasters throw their money around, spending it all and not saving any. On the other hand, the Hoarders become misers, seldom spending money — even for their own comfort.
For a good example of a Hoarder (Miser), think of Ebenezer Scrooge. However, we need to be aware that Ebenezer Scrooge repented his sins, and therefore he would not end up in the Inferno. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Caroltells the story of how Ebenezer Scrooge stopped being a miser.
For a good example of a Waster, think of someone who wins a $10 million lottery and is broke within a year.
Hetty Green was a famous miser, although she may not have deserved her reputation. Supposedly, she took her son to a charity hospital to have his bad leg treated, although she had millions of dollars to take him to a very good hospital. Her son’s leg had to be amputated. Supposedly, if she had taken him to a better hospital, her son’s leg would not have been amputated. (This story may not be true.)
Hetty Green’s father was a miser. He smoked cheap cigars, and he once declined the gift of an expensive cigar because he was afraid that he would like it and start smoking expensive cigars.
In James Barter’s Artists of the Renaissance, we read of the wealthy businessman Agostino Chigi, who gave a dinner party for Pope Julius II at which the food was served on solid gold plates. After the guests had eaten, the servants did not wash the solid gold plates — they threw them away.
Some people win multi-million-dollar lotteries, get a huge cash payment, and then a few years later, they are broke.
Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey lottery twice (1985, 1986). Evelyn Adams said these things:
- “Winning the lottery isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. I won the American dream but I lost it, too. It was a very hard fall. It’s called rock bottom.”
- “Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out. I never learned one simple word in the English language: ‘No.’ I wish I had the chance to do it all over again. I’d be much smarter about it now.”
- “I was a big-time gambler. I didn’t drop a million dollars, but it was a lot of money. I made mistakes, some I regret, some I don’t. I’m human. I can’t go back now, so I just go forward, one step at a time.”
Date Accessed: 13 March 2008
- Who is Fortune, and what does she do?
Fortune is a minister of God. She sees that money goes from person to person, family to family, country to country. She controls the Wheel of Fortune. At times, a person may be at the top of the Wheel of Fortune and be very prosperous, but as the Wheel turns, that person’s prosperity decreases. The thing to do is to be prepared for the turning of the Wheel of Fortune. Often she is called Lady Fortune.
- How can people be incontinent with their own emotions?
They can be excessive in their emotion, often becoming overly angry.
They can be deficient in their emotion, being sullen rather than becoming angry.
A person who follows the mean between extremes will be angry when there is a good reason to be angry, but will not be angry when there is not a good reason to be angry. This person will show emotion when there is a good reason to show emotion.
- Why is the punishment of the Wrathful and the Sullen (or perhaps they are the Slothful) fitting?
The Wrathful can be found in a marsh, and they attack each other, biting and scratching and head-butting each other. They are not able to control their anger.
Buried in the swamp, their presence noted only by bubbles rising to the top of the water, are the Sullen (or Slothful). Translator Mark Musa believes that the Slothful are found here. In Purgatory, one of the sins purged is Sloth, so it would be unlikely that no Slothful are found in the Inferno. Others believe that these sinners are the Sullen. However, some commentators believe that the Slothful are punished in the Vestibule of the Inferno.
Whether they are Sullen or Slothful, these sinners cannot control themselves. The Sullen should have been happy, and the Slothful should have been vigorous.
Once again, these sinners have failed to achieve a mean between extremes.
- What is frugality?
Frugality is the opposite of wastefulness.
These anecdotes illustrate frugality; the second anecdote is a humorous exaggeration:
The Zen master Gisan was taking a bath. The water was too hot, so he asked a student to add some cold water to the bath. The student brought a bucket of cold water, added some cold water to the bath, and then threw the rest of the water on a rocky path. Gisan scolded the student: “Everything can be used. Why did you waste the rest of the water by pouring it on the path? There are some plants nearby which could have used the water. What right do you have to waste even a drop of water?” The student became enlightened and changed his name to Tekisui, which means “Drop of Water.”(Source: Tsai Chih Chung (editor and illustrator) and Kok Kok Kiang (translator), The Book of Zen, p. 50.)
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