Thomas: To review: Dante regains consciousness again and sees new torments and souls; this is the third circle. Frozen rain, huge hailstones, dirty water, and black snow fall endlessly on this place, forming a putrid slush. Fat, gluttonous Cerberus feasts endlessly on the souls here. It notices the Poets and faces them, but Virgil throws two fistfuls of the slush down its throats and the three heads stop clamoring and choke on it. Dante's steps fall right through the ethereal souls which lie drowned in the slush. One of these sits up and talks to Dante, a man he knows from Florence but doesn't immediately recognize: it's Ciacco the Hog. Dante asks him to tell the future for Florence, and he prophecies that after many words, it shall come to blood, and the white shall rise over black, routing the Dark Lord's force. However, after three days, the fallen shall rise, and by the "power of one now gripped by many hesitations", Black will dominate White for many years. Then "two are honest, but none will heed them. There, pride, avarice, and envy are the tongues men know and heed, a Babel of despair."
This, particularly seems to be referring to conflict between the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs (Dante's faction).
Thomas: Ciacco stops speaking and Dante asks him about the fate of good men in Florence; Ciacco replies that they lie even deeper in Hell. Virgil explains that these souls will all eventually be summoned to flesh again for judgement before God, Dante asks whether their fates will be the same after their final sentence. Virgil replies, "Look to your science again where it is written: the more a thing is perfect the more it feels of pleasure and of pain. As for these souls, though they can never soar to true perfection, still in the new time they will be nearer it than they were before.” Finally they reach the edge of this layer, guarded by Plutus. This last bit is interesting.
James: Oh? Let's start with that then.
Thomas: The idea that some of these souls may have lesser punishment and more perfection after judgement is interesting and something with which i'm not familiar, since obviously some of the souls deeper in hell like the suicides just get worse when judgement comes.
James: Notice how Virgil says that when we draw closer to perfection, we feel pleasure or pain more closely, so as the souls in hell draw closer to perfection by receiving their bodies again, they will feel more pain, so their punishment increases.
Thomas: Ah, I see.
James: We mentioned before about receiving once again our bodies at the last judgment, which is an integral part of Christian teaching, and as it is posed, having our bodies is more perfect, reiterating the catholic understanding that we are a hypostasis of flesh and spirit, rather than one or the other. I find it really interesting, though, the way that Virgil makes it clear that perfection is linked to FEELING. This continues the theme from the beginning where error is achieved through lack of feeling
Thomas: I find that interesting too, related to the idea that the correct way of living is to live intensely.
Thomas: Returning to the beginning of this Canto, Cerberus I suppose represents gluttony itself, and Virgil (reason) defeats it by showing it its own filth.
James: Why do you think Dante chose Cerberus? I'm not sure if Ciardi himself makes a note of it.
Thomas: Cerberus did have a role in Hades, allowing only the dead to enter (ate live meat) and allowing none to leave, so there's that. it might just be as simple as Cerberus's taste for live flesh, but perhaps there is more to it. What are your thoughts?
James: Of course, you're definitely on the right track. The three heads themselves; what a gluttonous thing to feed for three. What I found interesting was the way he was neutralized; what do you make of it ?
Thomas: The way Virgil force feeds his filth back to him, it is like the action of a mirror.
James: Go on.
Thomas: It’s almost like a hideous and and disgusting person looking in the mirror and recoiling at it.
James: Not bad, but I think the avenue I would take with it is the idea of Cerberus himself. This was the fiercest guard dog in all of mythology; only great heroes could best him (Hercules, et cetera), yet here, he's depicted as easily neutralized. I think what Dante is trying to show us is the nature of gluttony itself: why gluttony is wrong. He's showing us that through gluttony we forget our greatness, our task, and our discipline that the original Cerberus had. We get lost in eating and material things of pleasure, and even this pleasure isn't a good thing. It chokes us, and so we are easily conquered in our lack of discipline and we forget our post.
Thomas: I don't disagree with your interpretation.
James: How about the sinners themselves and their fate? What're your thoughts on them ?
Thomas: I think we've pretty much covered it indirectly: they are choked in their own filth.
James: Indeed. I think their positioning is also telling of it: laying down. The interesting thing is that the thickness of the sludge isn't that deep. After all, Dante and Virgil can walk through it, yet because the gluttons are so full, they cannot easily get up; they are tormented by their own fullness. Dante shows that our punishments and the way our lives are screwed up come from ourselves, that God's justice is one of giving us what we clamour for, and letting the natural consequences flow. I also find it interesting that Cerberus cuts them up with his claws in the same way that they themselves enjoyed cutting meats; I thought it was a fitting addition to the punishment. We see this continuation of the theme of loss of control and loss of stability: those in the hurricane are swept around, and those in the sludge can't pull themselves up easily.