Dante's Inferno Canto 7: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Clayton Tarr

Clayton has taught college English and has a PhD in literature.

This lesson begins with a short contextual overview of Dante's 'Inferno'. It proceeds with a summary of Canto 7 and then finishes with an analysis of some of the canto's important themes.

Context to Remember

Dante was a fourteenth-century poet (meaning he lived in the 1300s), whose most famous work is called the Inferno. The Inferno is an epic poem , meaning that it is a long narrative poem that usually follows a hero through some adventures. It is broken up into many cantos, which are long sections of poetry. The cantos correspond with the levels of Hell that the poet Dante and his guide, the Greek poet Virgil, move downwards through.

In the beginning of the Inferno, Dante wanders into a dark wood, where he is waylaid by three animals--a lion, a leopard, and a wolf--which roughly correspond to the three types of sins that Dante will encounter in Hell. Thereafter, he meets the 'shadow' of Virgil, who leads him through the gates of Hell ('abandon all hope, ye who enter here'). They pass through the realm of the 'uncommitted' and then cross the river Acheron into Hell.

The first circle of Hell is reserved for those in limbo--the unbaptised and non-Christians who were good people. The second circle is for carnal sinners, the people who put their fleshly desires above reasonable pursuits. Finally, the third circle is populated by the gluttonous.

Summary of Canto 7

Each of the cantos in the Inferno begins with a short prose 'argument' that describes some of the events that follow. The argument for Canto 7 tells readers that Dante meets Plutus, the deity of wealth. The circle of Hell that Plutus presides over contains the avaricious and the prodigal. The former are people who would hoard possessions and money, while the latter are people who spent too freely or wasted material things.

As the poem begins, Dante descends into the fourth circle. There he sees many people, howling, while 'Rolling weights forward by main force of chest' (27). These people, the hoarders vs. those who squander, would 'clash' together and then turn back to run into one another again and again. Virgil explains that these people were 'Clerks,' 'Popes,' and 'Cardinals,' in 'whom doth Avarice practice its excess' (46-48).

Virgil then begins talking about personified Fortune. 'Personified 'means an abstract idea that gains a sort of human form. Fortune 'giveth and taketh away,' so to speak, building countries and then making them crumble. Virgil describes Fortune: 'That she might change at times the empty treasures / From race to race, from one blood to another, / Beyond resistance of all human wisdom' (79-81).

Gustave Dore, The Inferno, Canto 7
Gustave Dore, The Inferno, Canto 7

Analysis of Canto 7

The fourth circle of Hell is interesting because it comes after the levels where the carnal sinners and the overly indulgent reside. This suggests that those who hoard or squander money and material goods must suffer a worse punishment than those who succumb to temptation and desire.

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