As Congress ponders what to do to get the country out of its financial mess, and even considers some consequences to impose upon those malefactors of great wealth who brought us to this pretty pass, it may be instructive to consider the punishment that Dante imagined for the greedy–the avaricious on the one hand and the spendthrift on the other–whom he consigned to Hell’s fourth circle.
Thus we descended into the fourth hollow, taking more of the
woeful bank that gathers in the evil of the whole universe. Ah,
Justice of God! Who heapeth up so many new travails and penalties
as I saw? And why doth our sin so waste us? As doth the wave,
yonder upon Charybdis, which is broken on that which it
encounters, so it behoves that here the people counterdance.
Here saw I people more than elsewhere many, and from one side and
the other with great howls rolling weights by force of chest.
They struck against each other, and then just there each turned,
rolling backward, crying, “Why keepest thou?” and “Why flingest
thou away?” Thus they turned through the dark circle on either
hand to the opposite point, still crying out their opprobrious
verse; then each, when he had come through his half circle,
wheeled round to the other joust.
And I, who had my heart well-nigh pierced through, said, “My
Master, now declare to me what folk is this, and if all these
tonsured ones on our left were clerks.”
And he to me, “All of these were so asquint in mind in the first
life that they made no spending there with measure. Clearly
enough their voices bay it out, when they come to the two points
of the circle where the contrary sin divides them. These were
clerks who have no hairy covering on their head, and Popes and
Cardinals, in whom avarice practices its excess.”
And I, “Master, among such as these I ought surely to recognize
some who were polluted with these evils.”
And he to me, “Vain thought thou harborest; the undiscerning life
that made them foul, to all recognition now makes them dim.
Forever will they come to the two buttings; these will rise from
the sepulchre with closed fist, and these with shorn hair.
Ill-giving and ill-keeping have taken from them the fair world,
and set them to this scuffle; such as it is, I adorn not words
for it. Now canst thou, son, see the brief jest of the goods that
are committed unto Fortune, for which the human race so scramble;
for all the gold that is beneath the moon, or that ever was, of
these weary souls could not make a single one repose.”
They’ve been reduced to indistinguishable creatures, mere propulsive forces eternally shoving great weights around in their ceaseless push for lucre.