Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 February 2020
This chapter demonstrates the significance of avarice in Dante’s Christian ethics, and in his own moral biography. As Peraldus’s treatise ‘De avaritia’ demonstrates, the sin of avarice may include a disordered love of power and knowledge as well as of wealth, and its opposing vice of prodigality. In particular, amor filiorum [the love of children] is highlighted as a perilous occasion to avarice.
Amor filiorum is the interpretative key to Dante’s terrace of avarice, which is structured chiastically around the figure of Hugh Capet at its centre (Purg. xx, 40–96). The examples of poverty (16–33) and avarice (97–123) all concern the impact of poverty on family dependents; the shewolf (4–15) and the poor shepherds (124–41) emphasise the failure of the Church’s pastors to protect their flock from avarice; the prologue (1–3) and epilogue (142–51) concern the avaricious desire for knowledge. Hugh Capet’s genealogy of ancestral line (Purg. XX) is framed by the avaricious Ottobono dei Fieschi’s genealogy of popes (Purg. XIX) and the prodigal Statius’s genealogy of ethical poets (Purg. XXI–XXII).
Through his poetic cypher Statius, Dante implies that avarice (in its subspecies, and opposing vice, prodigality) was his own sin, and the cause of his overthrow by the she-wolf in Inferno I.