David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 20: Fifth Ledge — Avarice and Wastefulness (Hugh Capet)”

Canto 20: Fifth Ledge — Avarice and Wastefulness (Hugh Capet)

  • Briefly describe the exempla (examples) of the virtue that is opposed to Avariciousness that are presented in Canto 20.

Dante does not question Pope Adrian V anymore, although he would have liked to. The souls in Purgatory are helpful and do such things as tell the pilgrims where are the stairs to climb to reach a higher terrace, and Dante uses good etiquette and leaves when Pope Adrian V requests him to leave so that he can return to purging his sins. Pope Adrian V is keeping his eyes on the prize.

Dante notices the many, many souls being purged of the sin of Avariciousness on this ledge, and he exclaims,

God damn you, ageless She-Wolf, you whose greed,

whose never-sated appetite, has claimed

more victims than all other beasts of prey!

(Musa 20.10-12)

Accursed mayst thou be, thou old she-wolf,

That more than all the other beasts hast prey,

Because of hunger infinitely hollow!

(Longfellow 20.10-12)

Dante also hears the souls proclaiming the exempla of Detachment from Riches:

1) Mary Gave Birth to Christ in a Stable

The Christmas story is well known. Mary was pregnant and about to give birth, but no room was available in an inn; therefore, Mary gave birth in a stable. She accepted this, and she did not complain about it. The Christmas story in told in Luke, chapter 2:

1:And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2:(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3:And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4:And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5:To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6:And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7:And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Note: A manger is a trough that animals eat out of, and so it is thought that Mary gave birth in a stable. Mangers are often found in stables.

2) The Roman Fabricius Refused to Betray His Country for Money

Gaius Fabricius Luscinus was incorruptible, refusing to take bribes, and he died poor. The Romans paid for his burial, and the Romans paid for the dowries of his daughters.

This information comes fromThe Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature:

Fabricius Lusc[i]nus, Gaius, (‘blind in one eye’)a hero of the Romans’ war with Pyrrhus(280–272 BC), a novus homowho was twice consul and was admired in later times for his old-style virtues of austerity, high principle, and incorruptibility. He refused bribes from Pyrrhus when he was sent to him by the Romans in 280 to negotiate an exchange of prisoners; and in the campaign of 278 when he was consul and in command of the Roman forces, he sent back to Pyrrhus the latter’s treacherous doctor who had offered to poison him. This generous act paved the way for Pyrrhus’ withdrawal from Italy. Fabricius was a notably strict censor in 275. At his death he left no money to provide his daughters’ dowry, which was given by the senate.

Source: “Gaius Fabricius Luscinus.” The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Oxford University Press, 1993, 2003.Answers.com08 Nov. 2008.

3) Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) Saved Three Destitute Girls from Prostitution by Providing Them with Dowries

Saint Nicholas provided dowries for three girls so that they could be married instead of being sold into slavery or forced into prostitution:

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value — a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home — providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for Saint Nicholas. And so Saint Nicholas is a gift-giver.

Source: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=38

And yes, Saint Nicholas was a real person, and yes, Saint Nicholas later became better known as Santa Claus.

  • Write a short character analysis of Hugh Capet.

Dante’s second encounter on this terrace is with Hugh Capet, a 10th-century French king who founded a line of descendants who also were French kings. The Capetian kings ruled France from 987 until 1328 — seven years after Dante’s death.

Hugh Capet tells Dante the Pilgrim about the Capetian family history. This history does include a number of factual errors, but they do not lessen the value of The Divine Comedy. Mark Musa notes that scholars disagree on who the speaker is. Some scholars think that the figure is Hugh Capet, while others think that the figure is Hugh I, aka Hugh the Great, who died in 956, a few years before Hugh Capet assumed the throne. (Hugh Capet was Hugh the Great’s son.) Mr. Musa writes, “All are agreed that Dante, like many of his contemporaries, had confused the two figures, and also that his knowledge of late tenth-century French history was inadequate” (220).

Dante disliked the French kings for several reasons:

1) Dante supported the Holy Roman Empire, and he felt that the French kings were weakening that empire.

2) Dante also felt that the French kings were a bad influence on the Papacy, especially during the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, which lasted from 1309-1377. During this time, seven Popes — all of whom were French — resided in France rather than in Rome.

3) Dante was outraged when the bullies of King Phillip IV (the Fair) roughed up Pope Boniface VIII. As we know, Dante detested Pope Boniface VIII, but he still felt that no one should rough up a Pope. Pope Boniface VIII died on 11 October 1303, one month after he was badly beaten.

Hugh Capet is very critical of his own descendants:

1) Charles of Valois, Philip the Fair’s brother, played a role in helping the Black Guelfs take control of Florence in 1301, thereby exiling Dante. This happened on All Souls’ Day, which is celebrated on November 1.

2) Charles of Anjou, King of Naples, was believed to have poisoned Saint Thomas Aquinas because Saint Thomas was going to give a bad report about him to the 1274 Ecumenical Council of Lyons. Charles asked Saint Thomas what he was going to say about him. Saint Thomas replied, “Only the truth.” Although people of Dante’s day — and Dante himself — believed this story, it is now known to be false.

  • Why does Dante dislike the physical beating of his enemy, Pope Boniface VIII?

Hugh Capet says,

“That past and future crimes may seem as naught,

I see the fleur-de-lisenter Alagna (the Italian city of Alagna)

and in His vicar Christ made him prisoner.

I see the gall and vinegar renewed;

I see Him being mocked a second time,

killed once again between the living thieves.”

(Musa 20.85-90)

Of course, Hugh Capet is speaking, and of course, Dante the Poet is putting words in Hugh Capet’s mouth. Pope Boniface VIII was Dante’s enemy, and yet Dante disapproved of the beating that the bullies of the French King Philip the Fair gave to him. Why? Quite simply, Pope Boniface VIII, although he will end up in the Inferno, is the Vicar of Christ, and quite simply, he ought not to endure such treatment.

Often, Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise will hold surprises. This is one of those surprises.

  • Briefly describe the exempla (examples) of Avariciousness that are presented in Canto 20.

Hugh Capet explains that on this level by day all the penitents cite examples of generosity, but at night, they cite examples of avarice.

These are the exempla of avarice:

1) Pygmalion, Carthaginian Dido’s Brother, Who Killed Her Husband for His Wealth

Dido was the Queen of Carthage. She was married to Sychaeus, but her brother, Pygmalion, killed him out of greed. Because of that, Dido fled. Landing in northern Africa, she founded Carthage. In Virgil’s Aeneid, she has an affair with Aeneas, and after he leaves her to fulfill his destiny in Italy, she commits suicide. In Dante’s Inferno, she is in Circle 2, which punishes the lustful.

2) Midas, Who Wished that Everything He Touch Would Turn to Gold

The story of Minos is well known. He was so greedy that he wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. The god Bacchus heard and granted his prayer. Unfortunately, whenever Midas wanted to drink something, the liquid would turn to gold. Whenever he tried to eat something, the food turned to gold. And when his young son ran to him for a hug, his son turned into a statue made of gold. Fortunately, Bacchus took back his gift when Midas requested him to.

3) Achan, Who Stole Items that were Consecrated to the Lord

Joshua ordered that trumpets be blown, and the walls of the city of Jericho fell down, so the Jews conquered the city. The Spoils of Joshua were supposed to be consecrated to (that is, set aside for) the Lord, but a Jew named Achan stole some of the spoils. He stole “a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight” (Joshua 7:21). Because of his transgression, he confessed his sin, and then he and his children were stoned to death — the other Jews threw heavy stones at them and killed them.

This is part of the story as told in Joshua 6:17-19 (King James Version):

17: And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.

18: And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.

19: But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD. 

This is the rest of the story as told in the King James Version of Joshua 7:19-26:

19: And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.

20: And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done:

21: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.

22: So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it.

23: And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD.

24: And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.

25: And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.

26: And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.

4) Sapphira, Who Tried to Cheat the Apostles

Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold some land for the Apostles, but he kept part of the money (with his wife’s knowledge) rather than turning over all of the money to the Apostles. Peter rebuked him, and he fell dead. Later, Peter rebuked her, and she fell dead.

This is the story as told in the King James Version of Acts 5:1-11:

1:But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,

2:And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet

3:But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?

4:Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.

5:And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.

6:And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.

7:And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.

8:And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.

9:Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.

10:Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.

11:And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

5) Heliodorus, Who Wanted to Steal Treasures from a Temple in Jerusalem

Heliodorus wanted to steal treasures from a temple, but a man in golden armor appeared. The man was riding a horse that kicked Heliodorus.

This is the story as told in the King James Version of 2 Maccabees (Apocrypha), chapter 3, verses 1-27:

1: Now when the holy city was inhabited with all peace, and the laws were kept very well, because of the godliness of Onias the high priest, and his hatred of wickedness,

2: It came to pass that even the kings themselves did honour the place, and magnify the temple with their best gifts;

3: Insomuch that Seleucus of Asia of his own revenues bare all the costs belonging to the service of the sacrifices.

4: But one Simon of the tribe of Benjamin, who was made governor of the temple, fell out with the high priest about disorder in the city.

5: And when he could not overcome Onias, he gat him to Apollonius the son of Thraseas, who then was governor of Celosyria and Phenice

6: And told him that the treasury in Jerusalem was full of infinite sums of money, so that the multitude of their riches, which did not pertain to the account of the sacrifices, was innumerable, and that it was possible to bring all into the king’s hand.

7: Now when Apollonius came to the king, and had shewed him of the money whereof he was told, the king chose out Heliodorus his treasurer, and sent him with a commandment to bring him the foresaid money.

8: So forthwith Heliodorus took his journey; under a colour of visiting the cities of Celosyria and Phenice, but indeed to fulfil the king’s purpose.

9: And when he was come to Jerusalem, and had been courteously received of the high priest of the city, he told him what intelligence was given of the money, and declared wherefore he came, and asked if these things were so indeed.

10: Then the high priest told him that there was such money laid up for the relief of widows and fatherless children:

11: And that some of it belonged to Hircanus son of Tobias, a man of great dignity, and not as that wicked Simon had misinformed: the sum whereof in all was four hundred talents of silver, and two hundred of gold:

12: And that it was altogether impossible that such wrongs should be done unto them, that had committed it to the holiness of the place, and to the majesty and inviolable sanctity of the temple, honoured over all the world.

13: But Heliodorus, because of the king’s commandment given him, said, That in any wise it must be brought into the king’s treasury.

14: So at the day which he appointed he entered in to order this matter: wherefore there was no small agony throughout the whole city.

15: But the priests, prostrating themselves before the altar in their priests’ vestments, called unto heaven upon him that made a law concerning things given to be kept, that they should safely be preserved for such as had committed them to be kept.

16: Then whoso had looked the high priest in the face, it would have wounded his heart: for his countenance and the changing of his colour declared the inward agony of his mind.

17:For the man was so compassed with fear and horror of the body, that it was manifest to them that looked upon him, what sorrow he had now in his heart.

18: Others ran flocking out of their houses to the general supplication, because the place was like to come into contempt.

19: And the women, girt with sackcloth under their breasts, abounded in the streets, and the virgins that were kept in ran, some to the gates, and some to the walls, and others looked out of the windows.

20: And all, holding their hands toward heaven, made supplication.

21: Then it would have pitied a man to see the falling down of the multitude of all sorts, and the fear of the high priest being in such an agony.

22: They then called upon the Almighty Lord to keep the things committed of trust safe and sure for those that had committed them

23: Nevertheless Heliodorus executed that which was decreed.

24: Now as he was there present himself with his guard about the treasury, the Lord of spirits, and the Prince of all power, caused a great apparition, so that all that presumed to come in with him were astonished at the power of God, and fainted, and were sore afraid.

25: For there appeared unto them an horse with a terrible rider upon him, and adorned with a very fair covering, and he ran fiercely, and smote at Heliodorus with his forefeet, and it seemed that he that sat upon the horse had complete harness of gold.

26: Moreover two other young men appeared before him, notable in strength, excellent in beauty, and comely in apparel, who stood by him on either side; and scourged him continually, and gave him many sore stripes.

27: And Heliodorus fell suddenly unto the ground, and was compassed with great darkness: but they that were with him took him up, and put him into a litter.

6) Polymnestor, Who Killed Polydorus

Polymnestor was a King of Thrace to whom King Priam of Troy entrusted his son, Polydorus, in an attempt to keep him safe. Unfortunately, King Polymnestor coveted the treasure that the prince had, and out of greed, he killed the prince so that he could steal the treasure.

7) Money-Loving Crassus, Partner of Caesar and Pompey, the Mouth of Whose Decapitated Head was Mockingly Filled with Molten Gold by an Enemy King

Crassus is a very wealthy man from Roman history. He, Pompey, and Julius Caesar were triumvirs. He led an army against the Parthians, who in 53 B.C.E. defeated him, cut off his head and right hand, and sent them to King Hyrodes. The king knew of Crassus’ great wealth, and to mock the fallen enemy, he poured melted gold into the mouth of Crassus’ head.

Interestingly, we find out that the exempla are prayers: Hugh Capet refers to them as “the prayers that we must recite” (20.100).

  • What happens at the end of Canto 20?

At the end of Canto 20, the mountain shakes, and all the penitents shout, “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (“Glory to God in the Highest”). This is the song that an angel sang on the eve of the Nativity of Christ.

In Canto 21, we find out why the mountain shakes.


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