As we encounter Dante in the Nineteenth Canto, he is still on the Terrace of the Slothful – the Terrace of Apathy.
Falling into the Siren’s dream, Dante finds he is unable to escape on his own. He needs the help of Reason (Virgil) to unmask the Siren, and to help him awaken. He also needs Divine inspiration (Beatrice) to communicate hope to him.
Dante soon comes to realize that the evil desires inspired by the Siren, the sins of the flesh and the excessive love of material things, are the basis for the purging that will take place on the final three terraces.
As Dante and Virgil arise to a full day’s sun, the Angel of Zeal guides them to the cleft leading to the next level. As the angel invites them to ascend, he fans them with his wings, and pronounces the beatitude, “Benedicti qui lugent” (Blessed are they that mourn) upon Dante.
In so doing he relieves Dante of another “P” from his forehead.
As Dante continues to contemplate all the evil the Siren has caused and can cause, Virgil urges him forward,
“Let it teach your heels to scorn the earth, your eyes
to turn to the high lure the Eternal King
spins with his mighty spheres across the skies” (61-63)
They have arrived at the Terrace of Avarice and Prodigality, where those possessed of the opposite extremes of proprietary incontinence do penance.
“My soul cleaves to the dust,” I heard them cry
over and over as we stood among them;
and every word was swallowed by a sigh.” (73-75)
For, indeed, the pair discover this next group of repentant souls are lying face down n the dirt, weeping and reciting the psalm, “Adhesit pavimento anima mea ” (“My soul clings to the dust; Revive me according to Your word,” Psalm 119:25-32).
It is a totally fitting penance for those who had always looked toward earthly objects for fulfillment. So too, must Dante trample upon earthly enticements and turn his eyes toward Heaven.
The first of these they encounter is the recently deceased Pope (“Successor of Peter”), Adrian V (d.1276), whose few worthy weeks in office were poor compensation for his years of avarice. Adrian explains that because he had so loved earthly goods, rather than heeding God’s call, he and the other greedy souls about him were groveling face down in the dirt as penance.
And what does all this say to us, today?
Well, is there a Madison Avenue? Are we a consumer society? Does conspicuous consumption run riot? Are we ‘born to shop?’
Indeed, Avarice is a sin that our culture not only encourages, but one which demands commitment.
Countless messages scream at us each day:
Get more! Buy more! Have more!
And where does this lead us?
Not only to waste, spoilage, and, worse, to “False Gods.”
It leads us to solitude, loneliness and despair.
I feel the old Simon and Garfunkle song [“The Sound of Silence”] of 1964 is as sadly true now as it was then: “Hello, Darkness my old Friend”…
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
In the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence
As an anonymous blogger recently wrote: The Sound of Silence is the contented quiet of the devil, upon receipt of all his souls.
Materialism alienates us from other people, and, especially from God.
What do I fear more than “The Sound of Silence?”
Hell isn’t brimstone; it isn’t People;
It IS the absence of God.
The absence, the silence that screams at me
– The Emptiness, the Agony,
– The very VOID itself awaits!
Adhesit pavimento anima mea.